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Barry Finch's Trip to the Seaside...

3 Squadron sinks a 3,000-tonne German Destroyer and a Siebel Ferry in one day!


Modern-day Rijeka, Croatia.

By Barry Finch, 3SQN Kittyhawk and Mustang pilot, 1944-45.

November 5th, 1944.

Chas Wannan was going to lead this formation of twelve Kittyhawks across to have a look over a place called Fiume Harbour [today Rijeka, Croatia].  It's right on the coast of Yugoslavia and on the other side of the Adriatic compared to Italy.

And we were briefed one day to do an armed reccy [reconnoitre] of Fiume Harbour.  There had been a naval base there at one stage and it was a deep-water frontage, they could handle quite a few boats, they had a slipway.  I was going to lead top cover.  Top cover is six [fighters], above the other formation, up sun, so that if any other aircraft attacks us, top cover is the one that engages it first and protects the fellows in the bottom section from losing their bombs.  We took off with twelve Kittyhawks with Chas leading in the front and finally we got over Fiume.  The briefing was quite full - we knew exactly what we were going to look for, but we didn't have any definite target as to any specific ship or anything like that; that was up to us.  When Chas got over there they started to throw up a hell of a lot of heavy anti-aircraft fire - the 88mm, that's the black stuff, and it was quite exciting for a while.  Chas said that he could see a small ship down there that was one of the coastal ships ['Siebel ferries'] that looked after the coast of Yugoslavia.


Model of a German catamaran 'Siebel Ferry' by Vince Abbott.  These vessels were widely used in the sheltered waters of the Dalmatian coast.

The reason we were concerned about it was that the Germans had sent a lot of troops down to southern Yugoslavia, in case there was a landing in that part of the world.  (If there had been, they would need some sort of defence down there.)  But now the landing had taken place in Normandy, he wanted to bring his troops out - and there was only about three ways that he could get them out, and one was to bring them through Fiume and try to get to another track inland from there, up into Vienna.  Or he could take them by water from Fiume up into northern Adriatic somewhere. 

So Chas took his six down and they really knocked this thing over.  It was just sailing away and just leaving the harbour.  It sank as they struggled ashore and got the ship more or less beached, but it was all bombed out.

Then [Chas] says, "Alright, you take your lot in and see what you can find.  I think there is something else down there that you might like to look at."  And I found a corvette, a German corvette just heading up the coast.  We went after it and we got three bombs as direct hits, and the rest were all very, very near misses and the thing just disappeared.  One minute it was there and the next it was underwater, it was just incredible.  Down she went like a packet of crackers.

[Axis records show that the German destroyer TA21 Wildfang was sunk on 5/11/1944 at Fiume by 3 SQN RAAF.]


The Wildfang - sunk by Barry and the boys. 
[Previously known as the Italian destroyer Insidioso, it had been siezed on 10/9/1943 at Pola, after the Italian surrender, by German troops.]

I took all the fellows back and rejoined the formation with Chas, and he said, "Would you like to do a reccy and see if the other one is still going, or is it all OK?  Are you quite sure of that?"

And I said, "I'm pretty sure about it, but I'll go back and have a look if you'd like to hang around."

He said, "Alright."

And so I decided to go back alone over the town, and of course this time all the anti-aircraft is firing at me - not twelve aircraft but one!  And it wasn't very pleasant at all, so I thought I'll do a quick trip down at low level.  I could see what I wanted to see already really, and "I'll see if I can sharpen a few up with a bit of a strafe as I go down the hill." - There is a great big hill behind Fiume - and so that's what I did.  And I saw a few hits on buildings, but whether I knocked anybody off I don't know, but I think I did.  And I got out of range and I jumped back up again and pulled in and it was quite OK.

So we were credited with the two ships, one corvette and one Siebel Ferry.  - That was a good trip down.

[This text is an extract from Barry's 2004 “Australians at War” Videotape.]
 

In Memory of Barry Clifford FINCH (6/3/1924 - 8/6/2012)

Barry died in his sleep in Cooma Hospital on the 8th June 2012.  He was aged 88. 
His great loves were his wife (Rosalind Patricia FINCH) sailing, and his time flying in Europe and the Middle East with 3 Squadron.


Barry on the wing of his Mustang III ‘Rosalind’ FX724, at Fano.

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