Evading enemy aircraft in the desert

Two fully loaded LRDG Chevrolet 30cwt trucks, 25 May 1942.

Victor Gregg was serving with the Rifle Brigade when he developed a reputation as someone who could navigate in the desert. As a result he found himself ‘volunteered’ as a driver for the Long Range Desert Group.

Whilst they worked in small attack groups far behind enemy lines, from May 1942 Gregg found himself working mostly alone or sometime times with a doctor. His job was as rescue driver, taking the the wounded out of the desert and back to base as quickly as possible:

Once I collected a lad who had been badly shot up when his patrol had engaged a food and fuel convoy on the road west of Derna. I picked him up under cover of darkness but by the time I pulled out from the rendezvous it was getting light. This was bad news, and normally the whole patrol would have made tracks to the south and stayed put until the following night. But the lad was in a bad way. The officer in charge asked me if I thought I could make it. If the lad was to have a chance I would have to leave as soon as possible, so I did. I drove off, leaving the patrol camouflaging their vehicles to hide themselves from the aircraft that would come looking for them at first light.

I had gone about fifty miles inland before I was spotted by an enemy fighter. The method of foiling aircraft attack in the open desert is quite simple. The plane, or planes, would generally attack from behind. What you had to do then was a complete 180-degree turn to face the oncoming attacker. This put the plane at a distinct disadvantage: he couldn’t dive towards you as he would finish up diving into the ground.

So he was forced to fly over you, then he would bank round for another go, at which point you did another 180-degree turn to face him so that he was back to square one. This game of cat and mouse would end when the pilots began to run out of fuel. This was the only method of avoiding being shot up, and could only be carried out in an open, flat place like the Western Desert.

Three times during that long day we were subjected to attacks, until, as night fell, I made a last compass bearing and reached Siwa. The lad lived to fight another day.

The varied and eventful memoir of Victor Gregg’s wartime years was only published in 2011. See Rifleman: A Front-Line Life from Alamein and Dresden to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

A posed close-up view of a Chevrolet truck and its three man crew in the Western Desert. The gunner beside the driver is manning an Italian Breda machine gun, while the soldier in the back is ready with the Lewis gun.

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