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An extract from NICKY BARR, AN AUSTRALIAN AIR ACE … by Peter Dornan.
(Chapter: Senussa Adventure. From page 58)
In the middle of a swirling air combat on the morning of 11th of January 1942, near El Agheila in Central Libya, two of Nicky's 3 Squadron colleagues, Bobby Jones and 'Tiny' Cameron, had already been shot down.
However Nicky battled on, working his way onto the tail of a Messerschmitt 109 flown by Hugo Schneider, a nine-victory ace of JG27. Our extract begins just as Nicky opens fire...
…In a few seconds the Me-109 seemed to turn into a flame thrower. Brilliant fire streamed into the wind from the wing and along the fuselage. The plane twisted wildly, then dived towards the desert, crashing in a trail of smoke. There was no chance for Schneider to escape.
Earlier, Nicky had noticed two Me-109s hovering nearby, but now the air appeared clear, so he flew back to the beach at Brega where the Kittyhawk had gone down. By now, the pilot had climbed out of his crashed plane and was standing by it. Nicky recognised him as Bobby Jones by his white gloves. (Some pilots wore lightweight gloves under the heavy leather gloves to keep their hands cool, but most were dark-coloured.) Because they were many kilometres behind enemy lines, and Jones would surely be taken prisoner, Nicky decided to attempt a rescue landing. The terrain nearby seemed suitable.
Nicky lined up his intended landing strip, reduced power, then lowered his undercarriage. He was in the process of lowering his wing flaps to begin his landing glide when he noticed Jones, next to his plane, pointing to about ten o'clock above. Nicky turned in his seat and cursed his vulnerability. There was a 109 coming in on him very fast, all guns blazing, possibly one of the two he had noticed earlier. Luckily for Nicky, the pilot must have been inexperienced as he couldn't press his advantage. With a resounding roar, he overshot Nicky and desperately attempted to climb away, now realising his own precariousness. In the same instant, Nicky reacted. He pulled the flaps and wheels up, pushed on absolutely full throttle, wrenched back on the stick and braced himself. The powerful motor discharged a trail of blue smoke, lifted the Kittyhawk upwards and thrust it forward.
The violent surge quickly closed the gap on the 109 now losing its speed in a climb. Within seconds, the German plane filled his sights. Without hesitating, Nicky fired the six .50 guns, shattering the Messerschmitt's tail and damaging the fuselage. Immediately, smoke poured out through the wing mounting. Within seconds, flames, fanned by the slipstream, seared backwards, emitting a bright red glow inside the now curling black smoke.
The crippled plane fought to stay aloft for some time, but crashed some distance away, unseen by Nicky. In fact, Nicky's attention had been diverted as he caught sight of a second Me-109 which was now directly overhead and climbing into the sun.
As Nicky found out later, this plane was flown by Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz, an ace from II/JG27. Schulz already had nine victories from the Battle of Britain and had fought in Russia. Even though Nicky had picked up considerable speed since his abortive landing attempt, he was still flying relatively slowly, compared to Schulz. Nicky raised the nose and gained some distance, then fired a brief burst at the Messerschmitt's underbelly. His gaze followed the tracers - then bullet holes - as they penetrated the metal skin, but there was no obvious immediate reaction.
Otto Schulz, 1942.
Schulz then wheeled his plane around hard. He possessed a speed and height advantage, and positioned himself perfectly for a quarter attack on Nicky's plane. He fired and Nicky felt the bullets rattle along the Kittyhawk's fuselage - kathump, kathump! Nicky didn't think he had been hit in the engine, but the plane suddenly lost power. Maybe the engine wasn't responding after the effort of coping with the prolonged intense demands for full power. He lost altitude. Then nothing responded. He was still under 1,000 feet and there was no time to lower his wheels or turn the flaps down. (Fighter planes have trimming flaps which help to adjust the plane to a horizontal position if it goes into a dive.) They were activated by a switch and controlled both ailerons as well as elevators, but nothing worked. Nicky was going to have to belly-land. In preparation, he flicked the master switch off, turned the ignition off, checked the tightness of the harness, then braced himself.
The fighter landed with the sound of crumpling metal. A parching cloud of dust swirled around the plane as it continued to career for some distance, grinding the metal underbelly into the sandy shale. Nicky was concerned that the plane might cartwheel or even burst into flames. He desperately wanted to get out. For what seemed an eternity, the plane skidded and rocked out of control, screeching incessantly as the metal ripped a large gash in the earth. Finally, it slithered and grated against an incline to a dead halt.
Mercifully, it didn't burst into flames. Nicky worried that the hatch might have jammed on impact, a common occurrence, but it slid back cleanly. He crawled out, trying numbly to assess his situation, when he noticed the Me-109 circling, as if it might land. It didn't, then Nicky realised it was going to blow up his Kittyhawk. As the 109 came round in a circuit and lined up for a strafing run, Nicky reasoned he wasn't far enough away to be safe if it did blow up. He decided to make it tough for the pilot and unsettle his aim by running directly at the Messerschmitt as it zoomed in low towards him and the Kittyhawk.
Nicky sprinted towards the attacking Me-109. He was back on the athletic field again, but this time he was sprinting for his life. He lifted his knees and hands high, trying to gain purchase in the sand, his legs working like pistons, willing himself forward. The plane started firing. Nicky sidestepped as he watched the 20 mm shells spitting at him, firing beautifully through the nose of the 109.
The bullets smashed into the ground just ahead and to the left of him, crashing and shattering nearby rocks. The explosion caused splinters of rock to ricochet into his legs. He collapsed and dropped to the ground as a searing pain surged through his lower limbs.
The cannon fire continued to zip through the sand, spurting dust skyward and pock-marking the earth, tracing a lethal path to the wrecked Kittyhawk. An instant later, the plane was enveloped in flames and then exploded with a convulsive detonation that rocked the air. The pilot completed a quick circuit to supervise his handiwork, while Nicky waited to see what he would do. The blast had thrown him into a dense clump of camel-thorn and he lay there motionless, forgetting to breathe, wondering whether the pilot would try for a second run at him. To his relief, Schulz flew off, albeit rather unsteadily, as his left wing was drooping. Nicky hoped this had been caused by his own fire. In any case, Nicky assumed the German only intended on making sure the Kittyhawk wouldn't fly again.
For long moments, Nicky lay still and contemplated his situation. It had all happened so fast and he was disoriented. In the space of a few moments, he had shot down three enemy planes and had been downed himself; he had crash-landed, been strafed, then skittled, and he was still alive. Wonder of wonders. He began to feel some elation even, over the severe pain of his wounded legs.
As he was bleeding profusely, his first task was to arrest the haemorrhaging, then to excise the rock splinters from where they had pierced his shins. Then he began to consider his next step. He was behind enemy lines, wounded and without food and water. The molten sun gloated over him. The endless desert wore the blank look of death. What next?
After some moments, Nicky suddenly realised he was not alone. About six Arabs had materialised out of the arid surrounds and were observing him from a distance. They seemed friendly, and two came forward. They noticed his damaged legs and by now Nicky realised he also had some shrapnel in his left elbow. Communicating with them through a rudimentary sign language, some of the Arabs left and came back with some dressings. They looked to be stolen German dressings.
'Justice,' Nicky thought...
Nicky made it back to Allied lines, dressed as a Sennusi nomad:
[AWM Photo 023230] 14 January 1942. O35392 Flying Officer (FO) Andrew William 'Nicky' Barr (1) rests in a tent after traveling three days through enemy territory after his aircraft was shot down. His visitors are Squadron Leader Dixie Chapman (2) and FO Frank Fisher (3).
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, on 10 December 1915, Andrew William Barr grew up in Melbourne, Victoria. In 1939 Barr was selected to play hooker for the Wallabies Rugby Team on their second tour of England. The Wallabies arrived at Southampton, England, on 2 September 1939 and when war was declared on Germany the following day the tour was canceled and the Wallabies returned home to Australia. Barr enlisted in the RAAF on 4 March 1940 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. He joined No 23 Squadron and flew Wirraway aircraft on patrols of the Queensland coast, but demanding more action he joined No.3 Squadron in the Middle East. After being shot down and wounded on 11 January 1942 he was able to make his way back through enemy lines, after the third day he reached Allied territory, bringing back valuable reconnaissance information. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his 'great courage and tenacity' and made the rank of Flight Commander.
Nicky survived several dangerous combat episodes. In May 1942, after destroying an Italian fighter near Tobruk, he made an emergency landing in the desert to make repairs to his overheated Kittyhawk aircraft. With enemy tanks fast approaching, he managed to take off before the repairs were complete and nurse his aircraft back to base. The following day he achieved the rank of Squadron Leader, just six months after he had become a junior Pilot Officer. On 30 May he survived a high-speed crash-landing in a minefield on the front line, but was rescued by Allied troops. On 26 June 1942 Barr's Kittyhawk was set on fire in combat and he baled out. He was taken prisoner of war (POW) and after being transported to Italy he escaped on three occasions, once from a moving train, but each time was recaptured. On his fourth escape attempt he finally broke through German lines with ten other fugitives. He was awarded both the Military Cross (MC) and a Bar to his DFC. Late in 1944 he returned to Australia as Chief Instructor, Fighter Operations, and flew fighter aircraft in New Guinea until his discharge on 8 October 1945.
During his RAAF career, Barr received the nickname 'Nicky' in reference to 'Old Nick', the Devil, and a reputation for his bravery, dedication and great sense of humour. He became No 3 Squadron's top scoring pilot, credited with destroying at least twelve enemy aircraft. After his discharge from the RAAF, Barr became involved in the oilseed industry and the development of the Murray Valley Basin in Victoria. He was appointed to chief executive of Meggitt Ltd and Australian representative and chairman of the International Oil Seed Group. For his services to the industry he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983.
See also our article on Nicky's career in 3 Squadron including links to the fantastic action animation "Desert Dogfighter".
Our review of NICKY BARR, AN AUSTRALIAN AIR ACE, along with a link to a searchable preview, is on our 'Books' page.
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