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Ken McRAE reports the recovery of "his" Bf 109G

You Beauty!  The brand-new 109, "Black 6", is discovered.

During the successful advance of November 1942 in the Western Desert, the Wing was returning to Gambut Satellite airfield, where we had operated from prior to the retreat.  My co-driver and myself were ahead of the convoy and when we had arrived at our Satellite, the only aircraft there was a 3 Sqn. Kittyhawk on jacks.  It had been under repair when we retreated six months earlier, as our orders were not to destroy aircraft that couldn’t be flown out as we'd probably be returning within a few days.  The aircraft appeared to be OK and it was obvious no enemy had operated from the airfield.

Our main object was to find an enemy aircraft that could be flown by our C.O. Bobby Gibbes - so we went to see if there were abandoned aircraft at Gambut Main, several miles away.

There were lots of damaged aircraft and we were delighted to find an almost-new 109.  On examination the damage was slight - mainly no canopy - which must have been jettisoned in flight for the tail plane was damaged where hit by the canopy.

I wrote CV on the fuselage and then realised if we left it unguarded someone else would grab it.  I sent Rex back to the Squadron to notify Bobby of what had happened and saying we would return the following morning.  A team of airmen and a truck was organised to come to Gambut Main early next morning.

In the meantime, three army officers appeared and wanted to know what I was doing with the 109.  I told them that I was taking it back to the Squadron for the C.O. to fly and evaluate its capabilities.  They informed me that they were Intelligence and I couldn’t take it - they wanted to evaluate it.  I told them ‘no way’.  - I had the aircraft and was going to keep it!  

Outranked (I was a Flying Officer) and outnumbered, I did well to convince them the prize was going to 3 Sqn.

We finally compromised … they'd take the name plates from various places on the aircraft - which would allow them to find out where the bits and pieces had been manufactured.  On departing their final remark was, "We’ll get it anyway."

"Maybe," I said, "but not before we’ve flown it."

When Sergeant Palmer returned we parked the vehicle against the fuselage and that night slept under the mainplane.  No one was going to get the 109, which we now knew to be a 109G.

The ground staff arrived early the next morning and the aircraft was towed back to the Sqn.  I imagined the look in the eyes of the C.O. - to see such a prize and in such good condition.

Three or four days later the aircraft was repaired and the C.O. test-flew it and later made more flights.

Eventually the Intelligence people did get the aircraft and Bobby Gibbes flew it back to the Delta area.  (Much later we heard that they had pranged it!)


2 May, 1991

The roll-out today of the restored Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 (Gustav) at RAF Benson, marks the end of a painstaking restoration task of what is believed to be the only existing flying World War II German combat aircraft to have seen active service.

The Messerschmitt, which has been restored by Russ Snadden and his team to the desert livery of III/JG77, in which it was captured in late 1942, has made its first flight, and is scheduled to be delivered to the Imperial War museum at Oxford in about a month's time. It will then be maintained and flown at the museum's expense for three years before going to the RAF museum at Hendon to go on permanent display.

Among the guests at the roll-out will be the two Royal Australian Air Force officers who were closely involved in the capture of the Messerschmitt near Gambut airfield in 1942 - retired Wing Commanders Ken McRae and Bob Gibbes.  Both have been flown to the United Kingdom for the ceremony by Cathay Pacific Airways.

The Restored Bf109 "Black 6"

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