Author(s): SIMPSON BILL
History | No Category
In the early morning of 20 April 1942, 47 Spitfire Vs of 601 and 603 Squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force launched from the deck of the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp, which had sailed to a position in the western Mediterranean Sea north of Algiers. The planes were bound for Malta. At the time, the island was under heavy siege by Axis naval and air forces. Salvatore Walcott's Spitfire never made it; he crash landed in North Africa, part of Vichy France. After attempting to escape twice, Walcott was liberated by the Allies at the end of 1942, He returned to the UK and joined the US Army Air Corps and continued to serve as a pilot until the end of the war and afterwards with USAF during the Berlin airlift. These are the bare bones of the story: but was that landing in Africa 'an inexplicable defection', as it has been described? Author Bill Simpson examines the evidence, including an exploration of American and British attitudes to men like Walcott who served under foreign flags. Walcott's story has been discussed for many years on WWII forums and mentioned in books. Here is the truth. Did the Spitfire's undercarriage fail to retract, as he claimed, or did he lose his nerve? Does the fact that Walcott gained a reputation as a risk-taker in the USAF indicate a 'Lord Jim' narrative, whereby he tried to make up for a moment of cowardice?