40 Squadron had only recently been converted to Wellington's, starting out the war in Blenheim's. A month after their conversion in October 1940 they deployed to Malta. At 1845 on the 5th of December 1941 twenty Wellington's took off from RAF Luqa. Their target was the Royal Arsenal in Naples. Upon learning of their approach Maresciallo Patriarca took off from Capodichino airfield.
|Maresciallo Vincent Patriarca|
PO Hutt and his flight engineer, Pilot Officer J.E. Miller, were seen to bail out of the crashing Wellington, and later taken prisoner. Of the other four men of the crew nothing is known, however one of the other Wellington's on the raid reported seeing distress lights off the coast, and despite a SAR operation being launched from Malta no trace of them was ever found.
But to close this article I want to talk about a much more daring incident. Earlier in the campaign a pilot called Ken Rees (who was shot down in 1942 and was sent to Stalag Luft III from where he participated in the Great Escape), was flying a solo mission against Naples. On the night of November the 6th over Naples Rees rear gunner spotted a CR.42 in the bright moonlight, closing on them. Rees immediately reacted by throwing his plane into a dive, only to be caught and dazzled by searchlights. By the time he'd regained his vision he was hurtling above the city at 500 feet. Whilst his wild dive had lost the night fighter, the searchlights still had him pinned, so he took the only course open to him, he flew lower. At roof top height he finally lost the searchlights, at this point in his account Rees remarks about how wide the streets of Naples are, so you can imagine how low he was. Suddenly they flashed out into the middle of the harbour, Rees took them down even lower hoping to sneak out to sea and escape.
Suddenly in the gloom loomed a battleship, and they would pass to starboard. The battleship let fly with everything they had, however the surprise of finding a heavy bomber skimming the waves at practically point blank range meant that all of the Italians fire went wide. Rees' front gunner began to rake the battleship, and in Rees own words:
"As we shot past it full throttle, I could see Joe’s .303 Brownings blazing away. Silly bugger was trying to sink a battleship with a pair of .303s."
Despite this hair raising incident the bomber made it back to Malta safely.