The Man Who Flew Churchill, March 19th, 2019
My Dad sent me this book called “The Man Who Flew Churchill” by
Bruce West (copyright 1975.)
The book is about the pilot who flew Churchill all about in a
converted B-24 Liberator in WWII named Commando.
The pilots who ferried planes from North America to Europe and
Africa had a very tough job. Many of them died. Most of the planes
were bombers of course. The fighters were sent across the oceans in
I’m halfway through the book and find it very illuminating and
Half way through the book in Chapter 12 is a very interesting
episode. Captain Vanderkloot (an American and the pilot of
Commando) was ordered to fly the plane across the Atlantic from
Brazil to West Africa. He was told to land at Bathurst, an old English
But just up the coast was Dakar, an old French colony that was now
Vichy French and the Nazis were there.
Nearing the coast in darkness (Vanderkloot preferred darkness to
move Churchill about to avoid enemy attacks ); the clouds came in
and Van Derkloot could not use the stars to find his way. He asked
for radio help from Bathhurst.
The Germans in Dakar answered his call for help and gave him a
radio signal. Van Derkloot did not trust this signal and circled the
ocean slowly at low power to save fuel until the sun came up and he
could find his way to Bathhurst where Commando landed safely.
Now I will return to the original story;
Pages 92 – 94 of “ The Man Who Flew Churchill” by Bruce West. I will
abbreviate some paragraphs for clarity and typing ease for me. Ha.
Vanderkloot is in the officer’s bar of the British air field in
Bathhurst west Africa talking and drinking with the British officer
who runs the airbase:
V: Those dirty rascals tried to give me a radio fix that would have
brought me in almost right over their blasted base, where they could
shoot me down without hardly exerting themselves. (V goes on with
his diatribe for several paragraphs).
The Wing Commander listened politely and patiently to
Vanderkloot’s declarations of outrage for some time, casually
sipping his drink, and shaking his head with amusement. The Wing
Commander of the base at Bathhurst then lit a cigarette and said,
W: You should have accepted the courteous offer of the Dakar
V; I should have what!
W: You should have made better use of the Luftwaffe’s thoughtful
gesture. It was probably a perfectly good radio bearing that would
have brought you almost dead on to our station. Their radio
equipment is much superior to ours, you know.
V: Now wait a minute! Why in the name of hell would the Dakar
station be handing out radio fixes to someone like me? Isn’t there
supposed to be a certain amount of ill feeling between the Luftwaffe
and the RAF right now or is it some other war I’m thinking of?
W: Well, perhaps what you say does describe the local situation
quite neatly, at that. There is as you rightly surmise, a great deal of
unseemly competition at present between the Luftwaffe and the
RAF in the other war that’s going on all over the place. But right
here in this neighborhood, things are a little bit different.
W: You see, both the Luftwaffe gang over in Dakar and our boys
here have good reason to believe that Berlin and London have
almost forgotten all about us. If there’s such a thing as an
absolutely poverty-stricken damned air force station, that’s us—
both here and over at Dakar.
W: Why, if either of our stations lost a couple of aircraft in combat,
we’d be almost out of business, with damned little chance of ever
getting back into business, the way the supply situation stands.
So….we’ve arrived at what seems a fairly sensible solution to the
problem. We’ve reached a kind of gentlemen’s understanding to
stop shooting at each other.
W: Oh, we make a daily pass over each other’s station, for the sake
of official reports. But no shooting. None of that nonsense….
The Wing Commander glanced at his wrist watch.
W: They’ll be over at three o’clock this afternoon. We’ll return the
compliment at four.
End copying the book. My synopsis of the ending.
And so it was, the German ME-109’s flew over the British airfield.
The British aircraft mechanics didn’t even look up from their work.
Back to the book:
Bill Vanderkloot came to the conclusion that it was certainly a most
peculiar war being waged out here in that strange corner of Africa.
And that ends chapter twelve.
To me the peculiar war was going on in Europe (again) with white
Christians killing each other by the millions. I’ve never understood
WWI and WWII.
But I do understand aviation in the tropics. I worked on a film in the
Amazon for 6 months maintaining and repairing a piston aircraft
with about the same technology as Commando.
It’s different in the tropics. The climate really does take over. The
bugs, the heat, the diseases….. nature is the enemy. You have to go
there to experience it.