As the British army in Tunisia ran into surprisingly stiff German resistance so too did the RAF. The short operational life of most of the men in No 18 Squadron was equal to the most intense periods of combat of any period of the war. They were flying Bristol Bisley aircraft, an armoured ground attack version of the Bristol Blenheim, later known as the Bristol Blenheim MkV.
It was their commanding officer who won the Victoria Cross but the recommendation for the award describes how the risks were alike for all the men in the Squadron:
Acting Wing Commander Hugh Gordon MALCOLM (33322) (deceased) No. 18 Squadron Eastern Air Command (sorties 39, operational hours 108). This officer, who had executed many night intruder attacks against enemy aerodromes in France and the Low Countries, commanded a Bisley squadron which arrived in North Africa on the 11th November, 1942. On the 17th November he was detailed to execute a low level formation attack on Bizerta airfield, taking advantage of cloud cover after the raid. The task was to be abandoned if insufficient cloud was available.
20 miles from the target the sky became clear but Wing Commander Malcolm continued his mission. All bombs were dropped within the airfield perimeter. A JU. 52 and a ME. 109 were shot down and many dispersed aircraft attacked by machine-gun fire. Owing to exceptionally rough weather conditions two of our aircraft were lost by collision, while another was forced down by anti-aircraft fire and a further was shot down by enemy fighters. It was due to this officer’s skilful leadership that the remaining aircraft returned safely.
On the 28th November the squadron, led by Wing Commander Malcolm, again bombed Bizerta airfield from a low altitude and then executed an attack from ground level with machine-guns, in the face of intense return fire. An attack was even made on a party of German soldiers who were trying to extinguish fires caused in the hangers.
The squadron was moved to an advanced airfield on the 1st December and on the 3rd December narrowly escaped attack by a formation of ME 109′s which carried out instead a successful attack on a formation of Lightning aircraft in the immediate neighbourhood.
On the 4th December Wing Commander Malcolm’s squadron was detailed to give Close support to the 1st Army, receiving orders by wireless from the rear link of the Army/Air support Control. He received by this means an instruction to attack an enemy satellite airfield near Chouigui. This was not a legitimate close support target and to attack such an objective with Bisley aircraft needed very accurate timing and close co-ordination with a fighter escort.
Wing Commander Malcolm was fully aware of these facts but, because of the nature of the call, its urgency and the confused state of the fighting, he did not hesitate. He took off immediately with his squadron and proceeded to the target.
When the mission had been completed the squadron was intercepted by an overwhelming force of enemy fighters. One by one its aircraft were shot down until only Wing Commander Malcolm’s aircraft remained. Finally, this was seen to be shot down in flames. The surviving pilots accord him high praise for the manner in which he controlled his hard-pressed squadron and attempted to maintain the formation.
Wing Commander Malcolm was seriously injured in a flying accident before the war but his enthusiasm for flying was undiminished. During the war he proved himself to be an outstanding leader and commanding officer, who brought his squadron to a state of the highest efficiency by his personal example.
Between the 11th November and 4th December the squadron had completed no less than 106 sorties. This officer’s last exploit was the finest example of the courage and unswerving devotion to duty which he had shown throughout his career.
See TNA AIR 2/4890. There is also an Imperial War Museum sound recording.