454 and 459 RAAF Squadrons
Flight Lieutenant James Kenneth (Joe) AITKEN
459 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 409366
Date of Birth: 28 Feb 1921
Place of Birth: MELBOURNE, VIC
Date of Enlistment: 15 Aug 1941
Date of Discharge: 4 Jan 1946
Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Date of Death: 24 Apr 2009
Pilot: Bob Norman, (later Sir) - RAAF
Navigator B/Observer: Ken (Joe) Aitken - RAAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: W “Bill” East - RAAF
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner: Jack Simmonds - RAF
From Jack Simmonds memoirs - "Raid on German Headquarters Crete":
Jack recalled many “hairy” experiences. Among them were his responsibilities taking high quality rear-under-hatch bomb-strike pictures, using the hand held F24 camera – a very heavy instrument indeed; and when buffeted by the slip stream during continual evasive formation manoeuvres it was very, very difficult to aim and hold steady on target.
Jack remembered from his memoirs and vital attack on German HQ's in central Rhodes. German military intelligence reports indicated that is was a German HQ for the whole of the Dodecanese. The Baltimore crews were briefed at Berka base, they staged to Mersa Matruh from where they flew in 2 formations, 11 planes led by Bob Norman and 'Hoot' Gibson.
Bob Norman led the first formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 5 planes following Norman's crew (all up 24 souls).
Crew: F/L R.H. Norman (RAAF); F/Off J.K. Aitken, (RAAF); F/Off W.W. East (RAAF) and F/Sgt J.H. Simmonds (RAF)
Aircraft: Baltimore Mk V FW524 'Q'
Jack 'Hoot' Gibson led the second formation - returning safely - 11.20 am to 15.40 pm (from Mersa Matruh) - there were 3 planes following Gibson's crew (all up 16 souls).
Crew: F/Off J.B. Gibson (RAAF); P/Off S.J. Gorman (RAAF); W/Off L.A. Alen, (RAAF) & WO D.N. Hurlstone (RAAF)
Aircraft: Baltimore Mk V FW444 'P'
It was very successful with bomb hits covering the entire target area and there were several direct hits seen on the main HQ building. There were only 20 rounds of inaccurate opposition flak encountered.
Jack Simmonds photographed the scene from Bob Norman's aircraft and later recalled:
"We couldn't find the target at first because of cloud and were wheeling over the island in impeccable formation for some minutes. bob was the flight commander and although a mild sort of bloke, he insisted on everybody being nicely tucked in... Suddenly through a gap in the clouds, we spotted the barracks down below and whilst we were on the turn our navigator, Ken Aitken, dropped his bombs and the rest of the formation did likewise.
I was leaning out the back through the bottom hatch, kneeling to take a photograph. I got such a shock when the bombs hit the target building, that I almost dropped the heavy camera. Fortunately I had my finger on the (camera) trigger and there was no foul up. It was the first time I had seen the bombs actually hit the target smack on. I saw no one down below and presumably the inhabitants were in their shelter but if they weren't then casualties must have been heavy."
The AOC in Chief, RAF Middle East, Air Marshal Sir Keith Park, was also impressed with the Squadron's handiwork, telegramming a congratulatory message. Copies of this signal were made for each of the participating crews to insert in their log books.
The Story behind the telegram - as told by Bob Norman from his book "Bush Pilot".
"Rommel's Afrika Korp had been annihilated and the Allied forces had now landed in Italy and our sister squadron 454, shifted to Italy. In the meantime, the blockade of Rhodes, Melos and Crete was taking effect. The German forces had eaten Rhodes into a famine and there was considerable worry about the local population.
The Red Cross were asked to investigate and the reports proved correct. There was therefore a temporary halt to hostilities while the inhabitants were transferred to the mainland, and then we started again.
Small vessels and caiques were almost non-existent now, so we commenced nuisance raids. These were designed to make the enemy commander think we were about to land a force on a given part of the island. This kept his troops moving and caused the maximum of inconvenience. It used up their fuel and when no raid occurred it upset the morale of the German troops, destroying their faith in their Intelligence organisation.
This pattern was kept up and we had the German troops rushing from one end of Rhodes to the other. For good measure, if we had plenty of fuel, we would fly up and down the coast inviting the "ack-ack" crews to fire on us. They shot off thousands of rounds of 88 mm. shells all of which fell short.
Then to destroy their morale even further, the Red Cross ship, "Gripsholm" was allowed to take off a load of German wounded, but on that very day we carried out a devastating attack on the German headquarters in sight of the "Gripsholm". Since most of the wounded were destined for home, it was important they take home no hope of victory in this area.
New crews were arriving almost weekly and the old crews were being sent back to the Nile Delta for a well deserved break and it wasn't long before I found myself along with others in the top echelon. I had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant and made deputy Flight Commander of B Flight."
Another story from Bob Norman's book "Bush Pilot":
"Eastern Command decided to give the ground crews of 459 a rest as they had been fighting backwards and forwards along the North African coast for nearly 3 years, and although they had individual leave they needed a break in the "green belt" ----- a few months in the lush fields of Palestine would work wonders for them. We packed up and within the hour we were on our way to Ramat David.
The North African desert is absolutely amazing. One can spend months out there and not see a soul other than one's own people, but decide to move and within minutes the place is swarming with desert nomads. They seemed to pop up out of the ground. It would have been alright if they had waited until we had packed up all we wanted and then helped themselves. But they couldn't bear to wait and started carrying away items we intended to take with us. -----"
That being said, Bob went on to describe a funny story of Bill and Jack Simmonds with some 'left-behind German' goods...
"Bill and Jack found a perfectly good German BMW motor-bike in the desert which they rode about the compound. Joe Aitken and Arnold Jones, another new pilot, found a German desert car in which they used to drive to the Mediterranean for swims. They couldn't use any of our fuel, but that didn't matter; there were plenty of dumps of Italian fuel. Joe and Arnold knew they couldn't take the desert car to Ramat David, so they left it in the bundu for the next mob to use.
But Bill and Jack were determined to take the BMW with us, they tried the aircraft door but it wouldn't go through, so they asked me could they use the bomb bay. I said yes, provided they could sling it on the bomb racks and clear of the bomb doors. "I'll give you ten minutes," I said. I knew the Chief didn't want his record of "up and away within the hour" spoiled.
They were still trying to sling the motorbike up when time ran out. The other aircraft were starting their motors so I had to order them away while I closed the bomb doors before starting up. They were like little boys losing a toy. I'm sure I saw tears in their eyes as we taxied away leaving the bike behind."
Joe contacted our Honorary Secretary with the following news:
"Thank you for the newsletter. I was in UK for 2 months, July to September, staying with our son Michael and family in Northamptonshire. I had hoped to see Jack Simmonds when over there but he died before our arrival, a great sorrow and disappointment. We were lucky to have been able to have lunch with his daughters, Linda Butcher and Jackie Tutton, and their respective husbands, George and Tony, at the Crown Hotel, Biggleswade, midway between us and them. It was a great pleasure for us to meet them and a highlight of our trip.
Your work for the association is highly appreciated. My very best wishes for Christmas and the new year. Ken (Joe) Aitken. "