15 October 1940: Escape to Malta – French Aircrew Defect

15 Oct

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Loire 130 (1)

Loire 130 (1)

A French Loire aircraft with a crew of three arrived at Kalfrana today from Bizerta seeking to serve with the Royal Air Force. The Catapult seaplane left base at 0430 hrs this morning along with a second Loire 130. The two aircraft had been destined to join the French battleship Richelieu at Dakar. The second plane has so far failed to arrive at Malta. Swordfish were sent out morning and afternoon to search but no trace of it has been found.

The French air crew have been named as 2nd Maitre Serjeant George Blaize, pilot, 2nd Maitre Serjeant Raoul Gatien, mechanic and 2nd Maitre Serjeant Henri Romanetti, naval airman. Under interrogation the crew stated that they do not belong to the same squadron. They had meant to come to Malta on 18th September in two Glenn Martins with a crew of five in each but engine trouble prevented them from starting.

Both the Loire 130 they came in and the missing aircraft belong to the battleship Richelieu. The planes were among a flight made ready this morning to fly to Morocco to join the ship. However, having long ago agreed to come over to the Axis, the crew took this opportunity to take over the aircraft and make their escape.

French battleship Richelieu

French battleship Richelieu

Romanetti was ground crew on duty guarding the aircraft but instead of sounding the alarm at their actions, he went aboard with the flight crew. They believe their departure was undetected by ground crew as the flying boats were due to set off this morning anyway. However the crews who had been due to fly these aircraft may have thought differently.

This is the first time Maitre Serjeant Blaize has flown a Loire 130. Despite this they had a very good flight, although his landing was described as ‘a bit shaky’. However, Gatien is the normal mechanic for this machine. They ran into thick cloud near Pantelleria and lost sight of the other Loire 130; they suspect it missed Malta and may have landed in the sea. The other pilot had also not flown a Loire before – though he did have a proper wireless operator with him.

Under interrogation the crew gave information on the other aircraft currently at Bizerta, Karouba and Sidi Hammet. They expressed the opinion that Algiers and Tunis are both awaiting a lead from Morocco before they move to join De Gaulle.

The three appeared very fit and cheerful and were quite willing to set out straight away to look for their missing comrades. All three want to join the RAF at once and fight using their Loire 130 aircraft, which is a reconnaissance type with a safe endurance of about five hours, or possibly six. It is in perfect condition, having done only 35 hours since new; and it is fully armed. Maitre Serjeant Romanetti was carrying with him one of the pamphlets dropped on Bizerta by the Latecoere serving at Malta. Maitre Serjeant Blaize has asked for news of his brother Pierre, who flew a Morane 406 to Gibraltar on July 1st , also with the aim of joining the RAF.


Weather  Fine.

0640 hrs  An aircraft is reported approaching Malta from the west. Three Hurricanes are scrambled and shadow the plane until it lands down at Kalafrana. The aircraft is identified as a French Loire 130.

Enemy casualties  Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Granzoto, 257a Squadriglia, 108o Gruppo, 36o Stormo: his body was washed ashore and buried in Pembroke Military Cemetery.


ROYAL NAVY 0715 hrs Swordfish 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm (FAA) reported a large flying boat circling round a hospital ship. On his return he saw a clear track 20-30 miles east of Malta and dropped one bomb where the track ended, seven miles east of the Island; no results seen. A second Swordfish 830 Squadron FAA sighted the hospital ship and a packing case and drum.   A Sunderland 230 Squadron en route to Alexandria reported having led an Italian hospital ship to some floats.

0822-1020 hrs; 1109-1250 hrs; 1421-1620 hrs Three Swordfish 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm searching for missing Loire 130 aircraft; no trace.

AIR HQ Arrivals 1 French Loire. Departures 1 Sunderland.

KALAFRANA Operations by Sunderland aircraft of 228 and 230 squadrons. 1000 hrs One Sunderland 228 Squadron already out on reconnaissance was requested to locate and shadow submarine Regent which was possibly proceeding on the surface and unable to dive; submarine not located. One French Loire arrived from Bizerta for service with RAF.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT Company commanders are to impress on their men the great value the Germans attach to the undermining of morale. This is carried out by ‘frightfulness’ which, more often than not, means concentrated noise caused by such ingenious devices as whistling bombs, etc.


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Posted by on October 15, 2020 in 1940, October 1940


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