A Tribute

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FZeroOne
Posts: 419
Joined: Tue Aug 20, 2002 1:42 pm

A Tribute

Postby FZeroOne » Wed May 14, 2003 7:49 am

A Tribute: Wing Commander Adrian Warburton (DSO & Bar, DFC & 2 Bars, US DFC) 30th October, 1940. A RAF Maryland reconnaissance aircraft flies over the major Italian naval base of Taranto, much to the surprise of its defenders, who haven't been expecting anyone to be crazy enough to be out in the current filthy weather. The aeroplane circles a few times, taking photographs, before the Italians start paying attention and begin directing a firestorm of flak at it. The Maryland zooms away, apparently driven off by the rudely awakened AA gunners. Unknown to the Italians, however, an argument has broken out amongst the Marylands crew, who can't agree on the number of battleship they saw in the harbour. The pilot, a young, blonde, blue-eyed RAF Englishman called Adrian Warburton, makes a decision. "We'll have to go in again!" - and he promptly turns straight back towards the now thoroughly alert Italians, who are astonished to see the return of an apparently insane pilot flying his aircraft at high speed, just over the waves, back into the hornets nest. Needless to say, this time, the crew make sure their count tallies, and the Maryland hurries away, pursued by a fighter - which the Marylands gunner shoots down. Upon landing at their airfield on the besieged fortress island of Malta, the Marylands crew find out just how low their pilot had been flying, when they unwrap a radio aerial from their tail-wheel... ...and thus began the legend of Adrian "Warby" Warburton, the uncrowned king of aerial-photo reconnaissance. It nearly didn't happen. Rated "below average" as a pilot by the RAF, Warburton - who was heavily in debt at the time - was only posted to Malta after his commanding officer decided it might be a good idea to get him out of England for a while. Always something of a misfit, Warburton did not seem like much of a prospect, especially when he wrecked a precious aircraft on landing shortly after arriving in Malta. Within a very short time, however, Warburton made an indelible mark, becoming of the most respected characters to operate from Malta - no mean achievement considering he flew from an island that counted Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Lieutenant-Commander David Wankylin VC, and Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park - the man in charge of 11 Group during the Battle of Britain - among its defenders. There are too many Warby stories to relate here; there can be only highlights, such as when he photographed 250 miles of coastal road in one go, despite being chased out to sea by enemy fighters four times - and without a single gap in the pictures. Or the time Warby made to land at an Italian base, completely fooling the ground staff, until he raised his wheels and strafed the airfield. Or, after observing an attack on a pair of enemy ships, Warby circled around the understandably very agitated and hostile vessels until they followed his plane to a dinghy, where they rescued two of the RAF crew that had attacked them. On top of these, and many other exploits, Warby also became a fighter ace; scoring at least eight kills either by himself or shot down by his air gunners. And he still never learned how to take-off or land properly, which led to more than one narrow scrape and a great deal of strained nerves for whoever might be flying with him at the time. However, once actually in the air, Warby was described as "magic"; and he always - always - got his pictures. The amazing counterpoint to Warbys adventures in the air is his romance with one of the most attractive and intelligent girls on Malta, Christina Ratcliffe, a former dancer who would also make her own mark on the embattled islands population. Their relationship reads like something out of a novel, with Warby disappearing for days or weeks at a time, often doing something dangerous, only to reappear unexpectedly with luxury gifts for Christina, or a plane-load of booze for the ground-staff whom Warby preferred to mix with instead of his fellow officers. His timing was worthy of the stage; after a long period of absence from Christina and Malta, he returned on the same day as the arrival of the convoy that saved Malta - the famous Operation Pedestal. After his first tour on Malta, Warby found himself in Egypt, before returning to Malta to take part in preparations for the invasion of Sicily, and then commanding a reconnaissance unit in North Africa. While in the Middle East, he struck up a warm relationship with the newly arrived Americans, which is perhaps not surprising - Americans having always been more accepting of individuals like Warby than perhaps the RAF has. In late 1943, Warby was badly injured in a vehicle accident, and was posted back to the UK to recover. By then, the "below average" pilot was in command of four squadrons and had flown at least 300 operational sorties - and probably many more that only Warby himself ever knew about. Never one to sit still for long, he managed to get posted back onto active duty and on the 12th April, 1944, took off on a photo mission over Europe. Warburton never returned from this mission. He was 26 years old. For many years, what happened to Warby was a mystery. No suitable wreckage was ever found, and there was even a lovely but highly unlikely theory that he had somehow managed to return to Malta and live the rest of his life there in secret with Christina. Then, in August 2002, a wrecked Lightning aircraft - the type Warby was using on his last flight - was found in a field in Southern Germany. Human remains also discovered were later identified as Warburtons. Wing Commander Adrian Warburton (DSO & Bar, DFC & 2 Bars, US DFC), will be buried today at Durnbach Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, near Munich, Germany. There is a lot more to Warbys life than I can recount here but strangely, its not a story thats been told often. Another Malta veteran, Tony Spooner, wrote an excellent book, "Warburtons War", which is now sadly out of print, and Sir Alec Guinness played a pilot strongly based on Warby in the 1953 film "The Malta Story", but other than a couple of passing mentions elsewhere, that was it. There are pilots who flew for the Axis forces that have had more coverage. Happily, a new book - James Hollands "Fortress Malta" - which covers the islands wartime history has just been published, and at long last, Warby gets some much-needed attention. His entry in the index is one of the longer ones... Wherever Warby is now, I'm sure of one thing - hes teaching angels a thing or two about how to really fly...
"The power of bakers, the power of artists; even the power of witches! It must be a power given by God... sometimes we suffer for it."- Ursula, Kikis Delivery Service.

FZeroOne
Posts: 419
Joined: Tue Aug 20, 2002 1:42 pm

A Tribute

Postby FZeroOne » Wed May 14, 2003 2:01 pm

Was a bit pushed for time this morning, so I just want to say thanks to Andy for allowing me to post this here and of course, to all those who *have* managed to tell Warbys story before, so that I could realte it here.
"The power of bakers, the power of artists; even the power of witches! It must be a power given by God... sometimes we suffer for it."- Ursula, Kikis Delivery Service.


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