RAF Aircraft Recovery

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by terry obrien, Mar 24, 2016.

  1. terry obrien

    terry obrien New Member

    Hello members,
    I am new to the forum and I am trying to find information on my Uncle George who fought in the Western Desert during WW2 and I hope you can help me find more about his service record.
    I have a series of photos and letters home and a number of stories he related to me of his life whilst in the desert and I would like to put together some notes on this period of his life.
    LAC George O’Brien, service number 701980 was in RAF DMT and served in the BEF until he was brought back from Dunkirk. He then was sent to North Africa and was in the MEF /CMF until being demobbed in 1946.
    In the Western Desert he drove a Thorneycroft Crane rescuing downed aircraft (Kites) and his commanding officer was Squadron Leader Hatchard who was tragically killed in 1942 and who is now buried in the Benghazi War Cemetery. His service in North Africa started in December 1941 and he was at Derna, Tobruk, Gambut, Mersa Matru and El Alamein and a few other places are also mentioned. Then pictures are of Tunis and Sardinia finally to Italy and I remember him mentioning Naples and Rome. His service in MEF/CMF finished in December 1945 and he was demobbed in February 1946.
    Most of the photographs have the date 1942 and show German and allied aircraft that had crashed in the desert. He is shown rescuing some of the British ones. Strangely there is one photograph that shows the date 1940 and is of who looks like a civil servant in Tunis. He may have picked that up when he got there in 1944 of course.
    Is there any way I can produce a time line of his travels as I am not sure whether they are travelling back to Cairo or on the advance to Tunis?
    I know he met up with the Americans at one point and there is a picture of a victory parade in Tunis that mentions General Montgomery and the Free French and I expect that was on the return journey. The pictures from Sardinia are dated May 1944 so it must be either before or after mainland Italy.
    Does anyone know which unit he was attached to and any more details on his service record? He was awarded the Africa Star ….. (something that I cant read,) then Italy, Defence.
    Hope you can help kind regards

    Terry O’Brien
  2. BFBSM

    BFBSM Very Senior Member

    I hope the following may help with sorting unit:


    Rank:Squadron LeaderService No:87565Date of Death:14/12/1942Age:32Regiment/Service:Royal Air Force Volunteer ReserveAwards:Mentioned in Despatches Grave Reference: 8. C. 10. Cemetery:BENGHAZI WAR CEMETERYAdditional Information:Son of Edward Charles Hatchard and of Lilian Emily Hatchard (nee Nelms); husband of Denise Mary Catherine Hatchard (nee Parr), of South Kensington.

  3. Peter Clare

    Peter Clare Very Senior Member

  4. RCG

    RCG Senior Member, Deceased

    The date he enrolled.

    701000 to 702935 July 1939 RAFVR Military Training Act
  5. terry obrien

    terry obrien New Member

    Thank you all for the replies, they are very helpful and most welcome.

    It looks as though the only way is to go through the RAF records office,
    I think the local library has a an account for genealogy purposes so I will try that first.

    Peter on the application forms you sent it asks for copies of death cert. this may make it impossible to research all my family all of whom were in the services is that the only route?
  6. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    The RAF Disclosure of Service Record is the only way to get the full information to trace his service career.

    A scatter gun approach may give snapshots but in the long run will cost much more in time and expense than either obtaining death certs or NoK permission.

    If you wish to do this approach then as a starter Hatchard is listed in the RAF Overseas Death Register that you could examine via the library geni account.

    Although this is mainly for finding the GRO register page and year to obtain a death cert it also contains a reference to unit serving at time of death.

    The unit is not always 100% accurate with transcription errors and previous unit details creeping in.

    In Hatchard's case it adds to the CWGC detail by adding the unit of AD Salvage.

    This is the early formation of aircraft recovery in the Western Desert consisting of a Base Unit and Advanced Unit

    So plugging Advanced Salvage Unit it the Discovery search engine of The National Archives and limiting to the AIR series gives the following hit


    This is the Unit Operations Record Book and is effectively the War Diary.

    It is open to personal inspection at the TNA or you can get a copy by tasking one of the file copy bods on here.

    Hatchard's MiD is a New Year Honour List Gazetted entry giving no unit or citation so no further info on unit or cause there


  7. terry obrien

    terry obrien New Member

    Thank you kindly for your time and work looking this up. It's a great help and has moved the game on for me as I am now pretty certain that my uncle was in an AD Salvage Unit as he told me he was in an advanced unit that spent time out behind the lines. I will try and put the undated photos in a chronological order now the ones I am most unsure about, Gambut, must be around the time he took other photographs in 1942 and as the advanced Salvage unit was set up in 1942 and he told me he was forward of the British guns at El Alamein on the Big Push so it must have been on the advance.
    I am having trouble writing in my word doc then the forum wont allow me to paste so writing this as fast as I can. I will see if I can find out from KEW as you suggest.

    many thanks and best regards

  8. Sara Sheldrake

    Sara Sheldrake New Member


    I wondered if anyone, in particular Terry, had found anything more about Edward John Charles Hatchard? He was my great grandfather and I've been trying to find out why he was mentioned in dispatches and how he died.

    Many thanks

  9. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    His service record is the only definitive way of getting this info. It should state exactly which Aircraft Salvage Unit(s) (ASU(s)) he served in.

    You will then need to get hold of their relevant Operational Record Books (ORBs) (the RAF version of a War Diary) which should help you fill in the blanks in your timeline and any further research. These are available at TNA (Kew). There are also chaps on this forum who will make a copy for you (and much cheaper than TNA)

    15 years ago I was convinced my dad went to North Africa and Italy as he had the Africa and Italy Medals and the Armoured Brigade I knew he definitely served with went there. His service records later showed that he only joined this Brigade in late 1944 and got the Italy medal for his service in Greece. Before then, I had no idea that after his evacuation from Dunkirk he went to Liverpool during the Blitz.or he had gone to 8th Army initially with 1st Armoured Division and miraculously escaped from the Germans during the Gazala gallop. Only to get sick just before El Alamein, then get transferred to a Royal Artillery HAA Regiment in North Africa from 1942-1944. I didn't know he was caught up in a short but bloody civil war in Athens.

    Dad left me many badges, photos, foreign currency and his medals. But none of the above would have come out if I hadn't got his service records.

    Hope this helps


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