Herbert 'Lofty' Lord

Simon Lord is a member of the Association and he is currently writing a book on the Sqn's Blenheim years encompassing all aerial operations. This extract from the forthcoming book covers his grandfather's exploits on the Blenheim during his service in 30 Sqn:

Herbert ‘Lofty’ Lord – 30 Squadron 1938-1941

Herbert 'Lofty' Lord, W.Op/Ag
Herbert Lord, better known as Bert or Lofty, arrived at RAF Habbaniya (formerly Dhibban) in May 1938 to join 30 Sqn which had recently become the first overseas Sqn to receive the Bristol Blenheim MkI. It was here that Lofty would strike up a life long friendship with another new recruit to the Sqn, Johnny Vellacott.

Lofty was assigned to C’ Flight as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner (Wop/Ag). His first taste of flying in the Blenheim came on 7TH September 1938. Lofty’s pilot was Sgt Wilson and the aircraft was K7098. Before the month was through 30 Sqn were mobilised due to the Munich [Crisis] Agreement and flew to Heliopolis, Lofty had completed less than 14 hours of flying.

After the excitement of the Munich crisis and the Sqn’s subsequent recall to Habbaniya, Lofty settled down into day to day Sqn life. The next few months meant training, training and more training in the Blenheim. Such training included bombing practice, photography, radio telephony (R/T), wireless telegraphy (W/T), directional finding (D/F), rear camera gun, night flying, camera obscura, local and cross country flying as well as much more. By September 1939 Lofty had over 187 hours flying under his belt, it was time to put it into practice.

At the outbreak of war 30 Sqn had already arrived at their war station, Ismailia, Egypt. Despite being at war the Sqn’s activities remained much the same, TRAINING, however the emphasis now was on formation flying, bombing practice and gun practice.

Ismailia - Christmas Day 1939
On Christmas Day of 1939 30 Sqn began operational patrols over the Gulf of Suez. The first of these patrols was carried out in Blenheim K7180 piloted by C’ Flights Commander Flt Lt Frank Marlow with Lofty as Wop/Ag. These patrols were to become a daily occurrence with Lofty taking part in his fair share.

With Italy entering the war on 10TH June 1940 all the Sqn’s bombing practice was finally going to be put to good use, however B & C Flights were immediately ordered to convert their Blenheims to Fighters by having a gun pack fitted to the bomb bay in place of the bomb cradles. Flt Lt Marlow and Lofty took two of the Sqn’s Blenheims to the maintenance unit at Aboukir to carry out the conversion.

A day later Marlow and Lofty in K7100 were part of a detachment of two 30 Sqn Fighter Blenheims that flew to Qasaba to commence reconnaissance flights and offensive fighter patrols over the Libyan border.

Blenheim K7177Blenheim K7177
Several patrols were flown by the Blenheims in the ensuing days but with no enemy aircraft seen. The detachment, including Lofty, were relieved by 3 aircraft of ‘A’ Flight on the 25th June whereupon they returned to Ismailia for a much deserved rest. For Lofty the nine-day detachment was a draining experience as can be seen from the comments in his logbook, they progress from ‘very tired’ ‘again tired’ to ‘still tired’ and finally ‘fed up’!

Shortly after the detachment returned to Ismailia the Sqn were ordered to move to Ikingi Mariut, a desert landing ground in the Western Desert. They had been tasked with the Air Defence of Alexandria approximately 20km away.

The Blenheims arrived at Ikingi on the 8th July and the aircraft were ready for operations on the 11th however their first op was as a fighter escort for the Navy on the 12th which Lofty took part in flying in K7177 with Marlow as pilot once more.

On the 13th Lofty was airborne once more in K7177, again as Naval fighter escort with a further two Blenheims from the Sqn, however his pilot on this occasion was 30 Sqn’s adjutant Fg Off Ronald Le Dieu. The other Blenheim’s were piloted by Plt Off Derryk Lea and Flt Lt Al Bocking. When the three Blenheims made contact with the naval fleet they immediately spotted three enemy Savoia 79 bombers preparing to attack. Bocking’s aircraft remained over the fleet in case of further attacks whilst Le Dieu, with Lofty ready for his first action, and Lea engaged the enemy.

Flt Lt Frank MarlowFlt Lt Frank Marlow, 'C' Flight Commander
Le Dieu attacked the number 3 of the enemy formation and the S.79 was seen to dive away with smoke trailing from its starboard wing. Le Dieu then turned his attention to the leader of the enemy aircraft and a burst of fire silenced the rear gunner. Lea’s Blenheim, K7181, made a stern attack on the number 2 S.79 but was caught by a burst of fire from the rear firing belly guns. Lea managed to parachute from the stricken aircraft just as it burst into flames but the Wop/Ag, Sgt Christopher Burt, went down with the aircraft.

Le Dieu, his ammunition exhausted, broke off the engagement and went down to see if he could throw a dinghy to Lea but he could not locate him. Attempts were made to contact the fleet by Wireless but without success so the aircraft returned to base. Plt Off Lea’s body was never recovered.

This action saw 30 Sqn’s first victory of WW2 and Lofty’s first taste of combat however this was overshadowed by the Sqn’s first loss of the war with the deaths of Plt Off Lea and Sgt Burt.

The remainder of July was spent carrying out standing patrols over Alexandria but without sighting any enemy aircraft. These patrols continued throughout August with Lofty pairing up with Frank Marlow for every patrol he undertook. Each patrol was maintained at 18000ft and lasted anything up to two hours although nothing in the way of opposition was encountered.

In front of a Pyramid
The second year of the war started quietly for Lofty with only one standing patrol over Alexandria and an hour of formation flying in the first nine days of September. This was soon to change as ‘Lofty’ and Marlow took K7096 to Maaten Bagush as part of a two aircraft detachment to 202 Group. They were tasked with carrying out protective standing patrols over Mersa Matruh the first of which they carried out on the morning of 10th September with no action. Their second patrol of the day took place early afternoon and no sooner as they had reached their patrol height of 18000ft they spotted a formation of six enemy S.79’s approaching Mersa Matruh from the North East at around 16000ft. The Italian aircraft, flying in two vic formations of three, were attacked by Gladiators and Hurricanes with the leading aircraft of the second formation being shot down. K7096 then attacked the starboard aircraft of the stragglers in the second formation from dead astern, a blind spot on the S.79, opening fire from around 330-400 yards closing to 100 putting the enemy top gunner out of action. Fire was sustained in short bursts until flames emitted from under the port side of the aircraft whereupon the S.79 fell into a steep right hand spiral dive and crashed into the sea.

Further patrols were carried out over Mersa Matruh during the next few days by the same crews but without coming into contact with the enemy, however a change of patrol area on the 15th yielded instant results. Marlow and Lord, again in K7096, in partnership with K7105 piloted by Plt Off John Jarvis with Sgt George Sigsworth as his gunner took off from Maaten Bagush around 1300hrs to patrol Sidi Barrani. Around an hour into the patrol a stick of bombs were dropped to the East of Sidi Barrani followed shortly after by another salvo to the West of the town. The aircraft guilty of this attack, a formation of four S.79’s, were spotted by Lofty heading out to sea and the chase ensued. The enemy aircraft were diving from a height of 10,000 feet down to sea level so it took 25 minutes for the Blenheim’s to overhaul the retreating Savoia’s. K7096 attacked a straggler from 150 yards and pieces of the aircraft were seen to be flying off but the wounded aircraft immediately closed into a tight vic formation.

Lofty by his Blenheim'Lofty' by his Blenheim
The combined firepower of the enemy aircraft forced the Blenheim to increase its range to 300 yards but they continued to press home their attack. K7105 attempted to silence the rear gunners in the remaining aircraft before concentrating their fire on two of the S.79’s claiming damage to both of them. The attack was broken off due to all ammunition being expended and a course was set for base however Lofty reported that the aircraft that they had attacked was losing formation as if crippled. It was later confirmed that this aircraft had indeed failed to reach its base so Lofty and Frank Marlow were credited with their second kill in just five days, an excellent feat for the crew and the dependable K7096.

Lofty spent the remainder of September and October carrying out patrols over Alexandria harbour with no enemy opposition encountered. One thing of note during October was the posting of Lofty’s long term pilot, Flt Lt Frank Marlow to HQ 202 Group. Lofty had flown with ‘C’ Flights commander on over 170 occasions which included the downing of two Savoia 79’s during the previous month.

November 1940 would see a drastic change of scenery and weather for Lofty and the other members of 30 Sqn. Due to the Italian invasion of Greece by way of Albania the versatile 30 Sqn, with their bomber and fighter Blenheim’s, were ordered to move to Greece. The first eight Blenheim’s led by Sqn Ldr Shannon left Ikingi Mariut at 0700hrs on the 3rd November landing at Fuka for re-fuelling before arriving at Eleusis, Greece. Lofty, flying in K7099 piloted by Fg Off Harry Card (one of several Canadian pilots on the Sqn) was amongst the first members of the RAF to arrive in Greece.

EleusisThe boys in Eleusis (pronounced Elefsis), Greece.
Eleusis (pronounced Elefsis} was an unfinished airfield NW of the Greek capital, Athens. Although the accommodation for Lofty and his fellow Sgt aircrew was one room comprised of beds made of wooden boards and straw palliasses it was luxurious compared to the ‘dug in’ tents they had been used to whilst in Egypt. Whilst the scenery of hills and mountains was a spectacular, and welcome, change to the drudgery of the Iraqi and Egyptian sand they also brought an added danger to the aircraft and crews flying amongst them. The weather surrounding the mountains of Greece would be as dangerous to the ‘desert equipped’ Blenheim’s as the enemy fighters would be!

After a number of uneventful fighter patrols over Athens Lofty got into the thick of the action on the 11th November when he joined up with ‘A’ Flight and took part in a three aircraft bombing raid of the Navy Docks at Valona, Albania. This raid, known as the ‘Milk Run’ due to the frequency in which it was carried out, was led by another Canadian, Al Bocking. It required the three Blenheim’s to take off from Eleusis, cross the Gulf of Corinth and then turn north and fly up the West coast of the Greek mainland. After passing Corfu on their left the Blenheims would gain height for the ‘run up’ on the target. Valona harbour was in a deep and narrow bay encircled by mountains with the island of Sazan, bristling with Anti Aircraft guns, at its entrance. Added to this the Blenheims faced the risks of Italian fighter aircraft as well as the atrocious weather over the mountains so all in all Valona was a very dangerous target to attack. Thankfully, on this occasion all three aircraft returned safely. Lofty’s pilot on this raid was Sgt Eric Childs flying Blenheim L1120, tragically, Sgt Childs was killed in action four days later piloting the same Blenheim.

Whilst ‘A’ Flight, 30 Sqn’s Bomber flight, continued to take the fight to the Italians Lofty returned to ‘C’ Flight for the rest of November and the regular interception and standing patrols carried out by the Blenheim Fighters over Athens.

'Lofty' with his friend Johnny Vellacot
With 30 Sqn doing their utmost to support the Greek fight against the Italians the local Athenians took the Sqn personnel to heart. Whenever Lofty and his cohorts ventured into the capital in search of some refreshments they were lauded wherever they went. On entering a bar the locals would stand and applaud the bemused airmen before plying them with free drinks and food. On one occasion several of the ‘tipsy’ aircrew found themselves stuck without any transport back to Eleusis. Luckily they were able to ‘commandeer’ a Steamroller upon which they were able to make their merry way back to base before parking it outside the main gate! I am assured that it was returned to the rightful owners the next day. (Thanks go to the late Johnny Vellacott for this amusing story)

The beginning of December saw 30 Sqn make a concerted effort to disrupt embarkation of troops and supplies from ships in Sarande Harbour. The area was heavily defended by batteries of AA guns situated around the harbour combined with firepower from enemy Destroyers. In addition to defending the supply ships the Destroyers had been shelling the advanced positions of Greek troops. 30 Sqn were tasked with attacking the offending ships so on the 4th December two Blenheims, L6672 piloted by Plt Off Steven Paget and L8462 flown by Fg Off Derryk Walker, with Lofty as his Wop/Ag, took off from Eleusis at 1145hrs with a mixed payload of General Purpose and Incendiary bombs. The aircraft, flying at low level, scored a direct hit on the forward starboard quarter of a Destroyer with their first salvo but their second salvo fell just 15 yards astern of the ship. Lofty’s logbook claims the Destroyer as badly damaged however Paget’s Wop/Ag, Plt Off Kirkman, claimed in his logbook that the Destroyer had been sunk but this could not be confirmed as the aircraft disengaged due to heavy AA fire. Later reports claim the Destroyer, which had been attempting to leave the harbour, was damaged to such an extent that the Italians abandoned it, half submerged and listing to starboard.

December continued to be a busy month for Lofty although an abortive raid on Valona and several fruitless ‘scrambles’ to intercept enemy aircraft must have been frustrating. Lofty’s luck in intercepting enemy aircraft would not change before the turn of the New Year. Lofty was part of six Aircraft patrol on the 30th of December which split into two groups. One group intercepted and shot down an Italian Cant506 float plane whilst the other group saw nothing of interest. Lofty was in the second group!

The beginning of 1941 proved much the same as the end of 1940, fruitless patrols and interceptions where nothing was seen.

After an uneventful 6 weeks Lofty joined 30 Sqn’s recently appointed CO, Sqn Ldr Robert ‘Percy’ Milward, in Blenheim K7182 on an offensive patrol of the West coast up to Corfu. They were partnered by Fg Off Robert ‘Bob’ Davidson, a Canadian pilot of great renown, in K7096. Both aircraft took off from Eleusis at 1015 local time in generally fine but hazy weather. Whilst on patrol they received reports that enemy aircraft had been sighted near the island of Zante so both Blenheims set off in pursuit. The enemy aircraft, a Cant506, was soon overhauled and Milward made the first attack out of the sun, surprising the Italian aircraft. Further attacks were made in quick succession forcing the Float Plane to make an ungainly landing in the sea with its engine cut. The Italian crew we’re seen to wave a white cloth as their attackers circled above.

The Blenheim TurretThe gun turret of a Blenheim - The 'office' for a W.Op/Ag
Four days later Lofty and ‘Bob’ Davidson were out again but this time they were together in K7096 conveying the AOC in C, Air Chief Marshall Longmore, on his tour of inspection to Paramythia where they were to meet the Foreign Secretary, Sir Anthony Eden. They returned, with the AOC in C, to Eleusis the next day, 27th February, in atrocious weather conditions. Lofty's logbook says it all ‘Returned in thunderstorm at 0 feet over the sea, visibility 10 yards – D/F all the way back’. Although the return flight was only 1 hour 15 minutes I’am sure the Air Chief Marshall (not to mention Bob and Lofty) would have been pleased to touchdown back at Eleusis!!

Lofty was on VIP duties again on 6th March when his Blenheim, K7096 once more, was detailed to escort a Sunderland aircraft carrying Sir Anthony Eden from Scaramanga to Crete.

Nine days later five Blenheims, led by CO Sqn Ldr Milward, undertook the hour and a half flight from Eleusis to Paramythia. At the controls of K7179 was Fg Off Davidson with Lofty as his Wop/Ag. They were positioning to Paramythia (Valley of the Fairies) for an early morning attack on enemy aircraft on the aerodrome at Valona.

At 0330hrs the next morning, 16th March, the Blenheims began taking off at ten-minute intervals, Davidson and Lofty with Sgt Gair as Observer, in K7179, were off at 0350hrs. The raid on the target was successful with a number of enemy aircraft being damaged or destroyed. Lofty’s logbook states that his aircraft dropped six bombs, made up of 20lb and 30lb fragmentation bombs, and made three dive attacks using front and rear guns. The AA fire was heavy and accurate although only one Blenheim was slightly damaged, Lofty’s, sustaining a bullet hole to each wing and a shrapnel hole in the nose.

After the successful raid on Valona airfield the Sqn were detailed to make another strike on an enemy airfield, the target this time being Calato, Rhodes. Several Blenheims set off from Eleusis on the 24th March to Heraklion, Crete from where they were to launch a dawn attack in the early hours of the following morning. Lofty’s steed on this raid was L8446 with the CO as pilot and Sgt Gair, once again, as Observer. They set off just after 4am with the aim of making a surprise attack however this plan was scuppered by the weather. With 10/10ths cloud on the approach to the island the Blenheim’s had to drop to 1000ft eventually making landfall some miles north of their target. Whilst searching for Calatos aerodrome the enemy AA defences and fighter aircraft were alerted to the impending attack and all surprise was lost. Despite this setback Sqn Ldr Milward made a (very) low dive attack with all guns concentrated on a line of Heinkel 111’s, one of which was completely destroyed and four others being damaged. Unfortunately Milward’s attack was made at such a height it made it impossible to drop the bombs intended for the enemy. Shortly after their attack an enemy CR42 fighter was seen forcing Milward to jettison the unused bombs into the sea. Fortunately in doing so they avoided any interception and they made good their escape.

With the expected German intervention in the Balkans Lofty returned to Crete, sooner than hoped, on 5th April when six Blenheim’s from the Sqn were ordered to move to Maleme, Crete to carry out convoy escort duties. With the Germans entering the war against Greece the very next day Lofty carried out his escort duties and offensive patrols (or as Lofty described them ‘looking for trouble flights’). He made several flights at the end of April covering the evacuation of troops form Greece enduring heavy fire from Royal Naval ships on more than one occasion.

Lofty was one of the lucky airmen to leave Crete for the relative safety of Egypt prior to the island being besieged by the might of the German Luftwaffe. Five of the Sqn’s aircraft were ordered to return to Egypt for complete overhaul as they were operationally unfit. He took off from the island for the last time on 7th May 1941 and made his last flight in Blenheim, K7099, later the same day.

El Dhaba, May 1940
Lofty’s time on 30 Sqn had seen him fly with 41 different pilots, on a total of 493 flights in Blenheim’s, in a little over two and a half years.

After 30 Sqn Lofty joined 12 Sqn SAAF flying Martin Maryland’s on bombing missions in support of the North African campaign. He was severely injured on one such mission on 27th September 1941 and returned to England to recover from his injuries at the end of that year. A spell as an instructor on Blenheims with 13 O.T.U at Bicester followed before he joined 224 Sqn, Coastal Command, flying in Liberator’s on anti U-Boat patrols over the Bay of Biscay. He was involved in several attacks on U-Boats resulting in the sinking of one such vessel.

Lofty was commissioned in 1943 and awarded the D.F.C in July 1944 citing ‘his excellent record of operational flying’ and his ‘keenness to engage the enemy’. He finally flew his last offensive sortie in early 1945 before being seconded to BOAC.

His civilian career in aviation continued after the war with BOAC, British Eagle and finally Caledonian Airways. He retired from flying in 1973 and emigrated to Australia some years later where he died in 1987.

Herbert ‘Lofty’ Lord was my Grandfather. I could not be any more proud of him.

By Simon Lord

Thank you Simon