R.A.F. Middle East - The Official Story of Air Operations

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R.A.F. Middle East creates anew kind of air power, trained in co-operation with land and sea forces, flexible for attack or defence, designed to control the air over North Africa and the Mediterranean. The enemy came, however, at always greater and greater heights the last one was pursued to nearly 50,000 feet. This fell also to Reynolds, who had been for more than an hour higher than 45,000 feet. His whole cockpit, instrument panel, control column, perspex, were coated thickly with ice. His body was wrenched with pain, his arms were temporarily paralysed and his eyesight for the moment almost failed with weakness. When he met the Ju.86 at a distance o f only 100 yards but at a height o f 50,000 feet, he was physically incapable o f firing his guns the enemy turned and fled towards the sea. Reynolds manoeuvred his Spitfire to follow it by moving the position o f his body in the delicately- balanced aircraft. He caught the Junkers once more, far out over the Mediterranean, and managed to move his hands sufficiently to press the firing button. The Ju.86 was destroyed. The Spitfire completed much o f the journey back to base in a powerless glide. When the pilot started to glide hom eon that flight he glanced round and below him at a remarkable panorama. He could seethe whole o f the eastern Mediterranean outspread alike map beneath him. To the west, in the fine clear air o f this part o f the world, he could see past Benghazi into the Gulf o f S irte to the east, the coastline o f Palestine and Syria with the moun­tains beyond. Behind him lay unrolled the island-sprinkled /Egean. In front lay Egypt revealed atone glance from the coast to beyond Cairo, and the length o f the Suez Canal from Port Said to Suez. A t that moment the pilot might have reflected, though doubtless he had much else to occupy his thoughts, that, overall that territory lie could survey and indeed for many hundreds o f miles beyond even so remarkable a vision, the Service o f which he was a member had established by the spring o f 1942 a true air power. It was organised to fight in equal partnership with the naval forces on the sea beneath him and with the arm yon the land ahead. But chiefly it had learnt to seize command in the third dimension o fall that body o fair which drifted around and beneath him, the air o f the Mediterranean and the Middle East, nevermore comprehensively surveyed than by him at that moment. That was the intangible territory which the R.A .F. and its allied squadrons were then prepared to occupy and hold against all disputants. Its boundaries were limited only by the amount of petrol in an aircraft's tanks. From within those boundaries the squadrons were preparing to strike at the enemy in air, on land,on sea and beneath the sea. The test was to income the late spring o f 1942. Since the entry o f Italy on June 10th, 1940, there had been continual war in that area o f the world, roughly one-third larger than the United States o f America, which is called “the Middle E ast”—a military territory, not that formerly so named by geographers and diplomats. Its operational boundaries had indeed varied a great deal, stretching at different times from the western wadis o f the Libyan desert to the left hand o f the Red Arm yin Persia, from the snow mountains o f the Balkans to the Central African jungles. Some o fit, the Libyan desert, had twice already been conquered from the enemy, and twice lost again in part. Tiny British forces had been driven from the northern areas o f Greece and Crete boldness and endurance in the face o f great odds had held the island o f Malta and extended Allied control from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean at Syria and Palestine to the great expanse o f Iraq and Persia. A series of seeming miracles had wiped out one large Italian Air Force and Army inC yrenaica, an- 7
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