"So as soon as we got in the middle of the target—going in was quiet—and as soon as we got in there, the massive searchlights picked us up and then we were caught in the cold"
Well, once we were in the desert, we were over Tobruk, and we got caught, we were supposed to light up the target this time. There was 15 aircraft waiting for us to go in. We had to go in first and light up the target.
We went in at about 12,000 feet. We had all the flares. So as soon as we got in the middle of the target—going in was quiet—and as soon as we got in there, the massive searchlights picked us up and then we were caught in the cold. But we had already dropped our flares, so we just put the nose down, almost 90 degrees and went straight down to get out of the searchlights, which we did.
But when we pulled out, our instruments sort of go haywire, the compass and that. So coming out, the Mediterranean is usually on my right. But going back it’s supposed to be on my left. So I’m sitting there, what’s the Mediterranean doing on my right again? So I said, “Hey Skipper, how come the Med’s on my right? Shouldn’t it be on my left, we’re going home?” He says, “Let me check it out, Dodd.” And sure enough, he said we’re on a reciprocal because our compass was all mixed up because after diving and pulling out, it sort of distorted some of our instruments. And, and the guy says, ”Thanks Dodd, now you can go to sleep.” (laughs)
So anyways, we turned around at 90 degrees and went back. And he said, on the way back, he said, ”Now look it, guys,” he said, “We’re going to have to…we may not have enough gas, we may have to land in the desert, so let’s get the aircraft ready for this case.” And this is a true story. That’s one of the, just one of the things that happened.
When we brought these aircraft out, this is so, where we contributed to the air forces, this is what they had all planned. And we were on 40 Squadron. We were attached to the RAF out in Egypt. Well, our crew was, of the five of us, there was Australians, New Zealanders, English and Canadians. That’s what we were, all mixed up.
So we had the Australians, New Zealanders, Canadian and English in Egypt and no Americans. Americans weren’t in the war then. And we were the ones that kicked Rommel up to Tripoli, when, that’s when the Americans come in after. And the thing was that when we were in the Battle of El-Alamein going out that night, we said, “Hey Mac, take a look over there, what are all those lights?” He said, “They’re not lights, Dodd,” he said, “That’s cannons.” And just like a circle of lights, these cannons were firing. And we had rods on that night, there were around 500 pounders with rods. And they said, ”Why are the rods there?” people asked. I said, “Well the rods are…it’s if you have the bomb with no rods and you’re going after tanks, that bomb will go right through it as the sand and it wouldn’t affect the tanks. As soon as the rod touches the ground, the bomb blows up and that’s how you get the tanks.”
So all these things you had to learn and that’s why everything was so detailed with regards when we’re carrying a load like bombs with rods, because if anything hits them, well, we’re gone, it would blow the whole aircraft up. So all these things contributed to safety, necessity.
We lived mainly in the desert. In fact, slept at night, you have ochicana [Akona] triple sheet, a leather plastic sheet or something. We had to make a hole for our hips and we used our hip bag or part of our bag as a pillow. And we slept in the desert. And it wasn’t very pleasant either, especially if you got into a sandstorm, then you just stay in that tent because you can’t even breathe outside. You can’t even eat or cook because everything goes in your food.
And you get used to. I think it was, what was the temperature some days, it was, oh God, it was up in the 90s. But it was a dry heat, very dry. And what we used to do, we’d wander, they had the Bedouins up there, we’d meet the odd Bedouins with their camels and their…and we had to be careful. In Egypt, I always had carried a pistol on my hip, we had to. But generally, they didn’t bother us too much
And I spoke some Arabic. I forget it all now. I learned to speak in Arabic. And we had a golichip which tells us what to do and I still have it, it’s in my logbook and it gives us some Arabic words that we can talk to the Arabs like again, we were told, you can take the water but never to fill our water flasks out of their well. All these little tips, we were with the Bedouins, you know, were picked up by the Bedouins. And that was an education in itself.
So when you spend a year there, in all that heat, you sort of learn a few things.