454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. CANR178044
The following speech was given by R Jay Christensen at RCAF Reunion in Ottawa on 15th May,2006.
His Aussie friends in wartime called him "Young Canada" in 1944.
THE ILL-FATED DERNA MISSION by Royal Jay Christensen
While stationed with 454 RAAF Baltimore Squadron in Benghasi, Libya, one of our aircraft was severely damaged on 27/2/44, on its return from Melos in the Aegean Sea by two German ME109's. In the running battle, the Baltimore was riddled with 26 cannon strikes but managed to crash land at the landing ground at Derna, Libya. F/O Ray Crouch was the British RAF pilot and was awarded the DFC for his airmanship. We were notified at Berka 3 of the crash, and a crew of Aussie ground crew were dispatched to Derna to pick up the air crew and also usable parts from the demolished aircraft. Our crew included an Australian Motor Transport driver, an Aussie Aero-engine Mechanic, an Aussie fitter, and a British RAF armourer, and a Canadian radar mechanic. This multi-national group boarded the truck transport and headed for Derna, some 200 miles to the east. We reached the Derna landing ground and found the uninjured air crew billeted at 278 AMES on the airfield.
We were immediately busy salvaging equipment from the crashed Baltimore when an urgent radio message was received at the AMES office. It stated that one of our aircraft had just crashed about 10 miles east of Derna and that the crew were injured and required immediate first aid assistance. We could see the black smoke rising to our east; and since we had the only truck, we were dispatched to the crash scene. There were no real roads, so it was necessary to follow old tank tracks to stay safely away from possible land mines. A deep ravine prevented us from reaching the crash site, so we left one member of our crew to guard the truck and the remaining four men with only first-aid kits walked the remaining distance.
As we came over the last hill, a shocking panorama stopped us in our tracks, and we dove behind some boulders. A huge Swastika on the burning tail of a German Junkers 88 was not what we expected! An open parachute was on the hillside, and an individual was walking on the far side of the smoking debris. Our rifles were being carefully protected back at the truck, and we only had our first-aid kits and equipment in our hands. The individual turned out to be a British Army soldier who had just reached the wreck and was afraid we were German. Two of the German aircrew were dead in the burning aircraft, the third member was killed when his parachute hit the nearby hill. We later learned the Junkers '88 was on a routine reconnaissance flight and was shot down by a British RAF Spitfire aircraft.
The vital moral lesson we quickly learned was NEVER PUT YOUR COMPLETE TRUST IN RADIO COMMUNICATIONS.
Royal Canadian Air Force 1942-1945 CANR178044
In 1940, Great Britain stood alone against the Nazi horde. Her greatest need was for trained technicians to service and maintain her rapidly expanding radar defences. She appealed to Canada and Canada responded. From Dec.1940 to May 1943, five thousand trained Royal Canadian Air Force Officers and Airmen radar Mechanics passed through Pier 21 on their way overseas to serve with the Royal Air Force. Dispersed in penny packets from North Africa and Malta, from Sicily and Italy to Northwest Europe, from the Murmansk run to Australia, from Burma to Britain and “neutral” Turkey, these Canadian radar specialists provided over one third of the RAF's expertise in this critical, war-winning area. In all, over six thousand RCAF radar specialists were sent to serve with the Commonwealth and other Allied Forces.
I was raised on a farm near the town of Magrath, Alberta and received my high school education there.
On June 26,1942 at the age of 19, I enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. An eye muscle co-ordination problem prevented my enlistment as a pilot so I trained as a radar technician. My initial assignment was to No.3 Manning Depot, Edmonton, Alberta where I received my initial boot camp training. My group was transferred to the Uni. Of British Columbia in October,1942 for radio training. Upon graduation in Feb.1943, I was transferred to No.1 Manning Depot in Toronto to await assignment to the radar school at Clinton, Ontario. While in Toronto, my class attended a refresher class at the Uni. Of Toronto. We arrived at No.31 RAF Radio School in Clinton in March 1943 and continued a very concentrated course on the highly confidential radio direction finding equipment which was later called radar. On graduation in July 1943, I was chosen with a new group to go the United States Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas for advanced training on a new airborne radar (ASG & ASD). Actor Tyrone Power was on the base at the same time. We completed the course in late Sept. and returned to Montreal, Quebec for overseas assignment. My only brother, Ted had also joined the Air Force in 1942 and graduated as a pilot at Claresholm, Alberta in August 1943.
Upon my return to Montreal, we were outfitted for travel to the tropics and transported by train to Miami, Florida. It was hot in Miami in Oct,1943 and we were dressed in Air Force blues (wool). Unfortunately our tropical gear was in bond through the U.S. and would be unavailable to us until we reached Nassau. As a result of this combination each of us acquired a severe crotch heat rash, which in my case after 50 years still reoccurs when I return to a hot climate. After a short stay in Miami, we boarded a small passenger boat named St. Jean Baptist and traveled at night to avoid U-Boat problems to Nassau, Bahamas, the jumping off point for our overseas trip. On our arrival at Nassau, the medical officer examined our crotch rash and prescribed a purple lotion for liberal application on the affected areas. The result was 14 purple crotches for the entire stay in Nassau. We were assigned to barracks with individual beds but no mattresses for transients. With only a blanket under us, our bodies resembled waffles each morning. To add insult to injury, we had not been issued on embarkation, the necessary cutlery, plates and cups for our meals at the mess hall. The local cafes donated (unknowingly) these items to us for the war effort.
While waiting for delivery of a new Lockheed Ventura aircraft, a twin engine bomber equipped with ASD radar, we worked at the Operational Training Unit base on B-24 Liberator bombers, which were equipped with ASG radar for anti-submarine patrol. We were also assigned guard duty on the new Ventura aircraft.
Finally the new aircraft arrived and each of us were assigned to separate aircraft for the Ferry Command flight to Africa. I rode the co-pilots seat with Capt. C.C. Baughn for the long flight. Just after take-off from Windsor Field, Capt. Baughn switched from the main cabin tanks to the auxiliary bomb bay fuel tank which caused an immediate loss of power to both engines. A quick fuel changeover saved us from a Caribbean baptism. Stan Payne's plane was grounded in Puerto Rico for instrument trouble so Stan journeyed on by DC-3. Two out of the first 14 aircraft to fly overseas were lost with all onboard. We landed at Puerto Rico, Georgetown, British Guiana, Zandery Field, Dutch Guiana, Belem and Natal, Brazil, Ascension Island and finally Accra, Gold Coast, Africa.
On my next leg to Lagos, Nigeria, I was delayed at the Oshodi Rest Camp for 2 weeks because I lacked proof on yellow fever inoculation. Hank Flynn also landed in the same predicament. Our journey to Cairo, Egypt continued on Christmas Day,1943 with stops at Maiduguri, El Fasher, Karthoum and Wadi Halfa.
From the RAF Transit Camp at Cairo (Heliopolis) I was transferred with Hank Flynn to 454 RAAF Squadron located at Berka 3, Benghazi, Libya. Our trip by rail and truck to Benghazi was a new experience for me with war damage evident in the towns of Tobruk, Derna, Barce and Benghazi. We had our first taste of 8th Army hospitality in the transit camp at Tobruk which was quite grim. As we traveled on by truck our night stops featured bed spaces on concrete floors. I then realized what a comfort my bed without a mattress was in Nassau. Even the sand could be shaped to fit our bodies, but not concrete floors.
We were genuinely welcomed at 454 squadron by the British and the Australians. The Aussies soon nicknamed Flynn “Old Canada” and me “New Canada”. This squadron was equipped with American built Baltimores, a twin engine reconnaissance and light bomber aircraft. Most of the operational flights were over the Mediterranean, Greece and Crete targets. The radar equipment was ASV Mark 11 and IFF. For a short period I operated a radar beacon at Derna, Libya which was the closest North African point to German held Crete. As I remember, the radar beacon was a battery operated modified IFF set. While at Derna, my meals were furnished at 278 AMES which was responsible for rearranging a squadron of dummy Spitfires after each German reconnaissance flight over the airfield. During my stay at Derna, I built a radio out of spare parts. This enabled us to listen to the BBC as well as German stations at night in the tent and was our ear to world news. The German broadcasts included all of the current musical hits of the US dance bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller etc. plus an avalanche of slanted war news and propaganda presented in a sexy voice by Axis Sal.
Our camp at 454 was remote from the airfield for safety reasons and was the typical tent city. It was hot and cold and windy and sandy and loaded with sand fleas and Libyian flies. A purple or blue powder dusted into the blanket each night seemed to discourage the fleas. Our mosquito net over our beds was the only escape from the sticky flies. Our letters to home were always written inside the net. Our food was minimal and monotonous consisting of corned beef, cheese, dried eggs, soya links, and sometimes bread and mutton. We supplemented our diet each evening with scrambled eggs cooked on a Primus stove in our tent. The eggs were obtained from local natives in a trade deal for Woodbine cigarettes. We were issued “V” cigarettes from India but even the natives refused to smoke them. For a time, our radar section had its own German “Jeep” salvaged from the desert for travel from camp to the airfield.
In mid 1944, 454 Squadron was converted to short range light bomber service and moved to Italy to support the British 8th Army. The Radar Section was not needed in this program and the radar personnel were transferred to other Squadrons. I was assigned to 46 RAF Squadron located at Rosetta near Alexandria, Egypt.
45 Squadron was equipped with British made Bristol Beaufighters, a twin engine night fighter, which was responsible for the interception of German reconnaissance planes over Alexandria and the Nile Delta as well as shipping strikes in the Crete and Greece areas. The Beaufighter depended upon British made A1 Mark 8 radar to home in enemy planes. Although effective at lower altitudes, it often failed at higher levels. During my short stay at 46 Squadron, we were unable to down any German JU 88's on reconnaissance flights. A British made Mosquito was later added to the Squadron.
In Sept.1944, I was transferred to Coastal Command in East Africa and assigned to 209 RAF Squadron in Mombasa, Kenya. My trip to Mombasa carried me to Karthoum, Kisumu, Nairobi and then to the port of Mombasa on the east coast of Africa.
This squadron was initially equipped with PBY (Catalina) flying boats, which were employed in anti-submarine patrol and convoy work. I was back again working on ASV Mark 11 radar which was destined to last for most of the war. Radar was a must for any operational flights. Our area was large and included the western side of the Indian Ocean from Mombasa to the Seychelles, around Madagascar Island to Mauritius and the Mozambique Channel. The ground trades were aboard on the operational patrols to detached bases and were responsible for maintenance on these extended operations. I participated on missions to Oamanzi Island, Seychelles, Mauritius and Tulear. Often the flights would last for 12-13 hours on anti-submarine patrols.
Our living conditions were much better at 209 with real beds in thatch roofed barracks. We were still required to sleep in mosquito nets because of the malaria threat. The nets also kept us safe from snakes which often roamed through our barracks. A world record 33 foot python was killed between our camp and the air base. This was also lion country. Many of the Squadron personnel became ill with malaria despite our daily dosage of Mepacrine. This was a happier time for most of us with the European war winding down. We had time to think of promotions which we didn't get and Canadian promises of shadow rank still unfilled. Some of our group received their “A” group rating after completion of the US Navy course at Corpus Christi, Texas as promised; however others including me were still waiting 18 months later. We felt in due time it would happen and be retroactive.
My British radar officer at 209 recommended a promotion for me but it was turned down by the RAF because of my lack of the “A” rating. I refused to take the test because I would lose my retroactivity of 18 months. Then one day out of the blue, I was called into the Officer's office and was told, “Chris, you wrote your test yesterday”. I was a bit startled and asked “How did I do?” “Very well, you made an 87”, he replied.
In March 1945 the Squadron converted to Sunderland 4 engine flying boats for assignment to the Far East. We were trained on British H2S radar and finally said goodbye to ASV Mark 11. Our squadron celebrated V-E Day in May 1945 with the entire squadron victory parade down the rain soaked streets of Mombasa. Shortly thereafter, the Canadians were all transferred to Egypt prior to the squadrons move to Sumatra.
I traveled to Cairo via Karthoum on a South African DC-3. Unfortunately one engine failed north of Karthoum and we were forced to return for extensive repairs. After arrival in Cairo, I was assigned to 111 Maintenance Unit RAF at Tura el Asmant. I worked in the radar repair section located in the caves which were excavated thousands of years ago to provide stone for the pyramids in the Cairo area. We often turned the radar sets on echoes from the pyramids in Ghiza. Most of the radar equipment had been salvaged from damaged aircraft and was reconditioned at this base. We were active in sports and won the championship in the softball league. Our relationship with the British was excellent.
In July 1945, we were moved to an embarkation camp near Suez and later boarded the troop transport M.V. Britannia at Port Said for the trip to England. Our voyage carried us past Malta, Gibraltar and finally docked at Liverpool, England. Troop trains moved us to Bournemouth to await assignment back to Canada. This was a luxurious change from the African environment. The pretty English girls on the Bournemouth beaches were almost more than we could bear after 2 years in Africa. I visited London on one leave from Bournemouth and was there for V-J Day. Final assignment was to Torquay prior to boarding the New Amsterdam at Southhampton for the ocean voyage to Halifax. We reached Canadian soil in Sept. 1945 and traveled by train across Canada to my final destination, Lethbridge, Alberta. After a one month leave, I was discharged from the Air Force in Calgary on Oct.17th,1945.
After my discharge, I returned to the farm and married Leola Bennett of Magrath in July 1946. In 1947, I was repatriated to the United States and regained my US citizenship. We initially resided in Salt Lake City, Utah and I worked for the US Navy as a radar technician for a year at NSD Clearfield, Utah repairing radar and radio equipment from decommissioned naval vessels.
I was fortunate to qualify for university training on the US GI bill and attended the University of Utah for 2 years. In 1950 I was transferred to the University of Houston and pursued a BSc degree in Petroleum Engineering. At graduation in 1952, I received a scholarship award from the American Petroleum Institute and became a member of the Honors Society, Phi Kappa Phi.
My first engineering job was with Magnolia Petroleum of Dallas, Texas and my assignments were in Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. In 1957, I joined Oil Recovery Corporation in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This company specialized in the use of carbon dioxide for the secondary recovery of crude oil. My final job title was Vice President of Production. I became a registered professional engineer in both Texas and Oklahoma.
In 1965 we moved back to Canada and have resided in Calgary even after retirement. I was hired by Huskey Oil and was their Production Manager for 8 years.
During the years after graduation, we were blessed with three wonderful children: Cathi (Food Consultant in Bellevue, Washington), Rod (Petroleum Geologist in Calgary) and Scott (Airline Captain in Devatur, Texas).
In 1973, I became associated with Canadian Hunter Exploration, which in 1976 discovered the giant Elmworth Gas Field in Northwestern Alberta. I remained Vice President of Production until my retirement in 1986.
After retirement, I organized an Alberta Corporation, Cinnaroll Bakeries Limited and obtained an exclusive franchise for Cinnabon (baked cinnamon rolls) in Western Canada. We developed 18 bakeries featuring the Cinnabon rolls. After 10 years our franchise was not renewed and we began a new venture in cinnamon baked products which we named Cinnzeo. This company is now world wide with bakeries in Canada, United States, Phillipines, Malayasia and the Middle East. I am currently Chairman of the Board of this company.