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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. E W Whitley


Eric William Whitley was born in Auckland on 17th August 1908. He was educated at Kings College there. In May 1930 he left for the UK to join the RAF. He successfully applied for a short service commission and entered the service in December.

On the 19th Whitley was posted to 4 FTS Abu Sueir, Egypt, making his first flight there on 7th January 1931. With his training completed, he joined 84 Squadron at Shaibah, Iraq on 10th November.



He returned to the UK in late 1933 and in late January 1934 he was posted to 17 Squadron at Upavon. Whitley was appointed 'C' Flight Commander in April 1935. In mid-September 1935 he went to CFS Upavon for an instructors course.

On 1st January 1936 he was posted to 10 FTS Ternhill and he became a Flight Commander in January 1937. Whitley took command of RAF Marham on 5th December 1938, remaining there until 6th November 1939, when he went to Leconfield to form and command 245 Squadron.

It became operational with Hurricanes on 25th April 1940 and moved north to Drem in May. After being detached to Hawkinge to take part in operations over Dunkirk, 245 returned to Scotland but was detached to Hawkinge again in June, to carry out patrols and bomber-escorts to France.

On the 20th Whitley led a successful low-level attack on the airfield at Rouen-Boos, in which many aircraft were destroyed on the ground. For this action he was awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th July 1940).

Whitley was posted away to HQ 13 Group, Newcastle on 19th December 1940 for a Wing Commander post.

In early June 1941 he went to Uxbridge to prepare for overseas service, arriving in the Middle East at the end of the month. He took command of 259 Wing in Palestine in mid-July and planned the air defence of Cyprus and the Syrian coast.

On 19th October 1941 Whitley went on attachment to Air HQ Libya. He was given command of a diversionary force, made up of one Hurricane and one Blenheim squadron, together with an armoured car unit, to guard the airfields from which the aircraft would operate.

' Whitforce' operated from bases in the heart of the Cyrenaican desert, with the task of attacking Rommel's supply lines south of Benghazi.

Although completely isolated, and with its landing grounds under frequent attack by enemy bombers, 'Whitforce' destroyed several hundred enemy vehicles and more than thirty enemy aircraft on the ground and in the air.

The force was disbanded in early January 1942 and Whitley became Wing Leader 234 Wing in the Western Desert. He took command of the Wing on 23rd May, as an Acting Group Captain, received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 11th June 1942) and the DSO (gazetted 18th September 1942).

Whitley went to 212 Group on 26th December and moved to 209 Group in early February, planning fighter operations from Palestinian and Syrian bases.

He moved to 210 Group on 9th October 1943 and remained there until mid-April 1944, when he returned to the UK.

After a short spell at HQ 9 Group Whitley took command of the Fighter Leaders School at Milfield on 24th July, moved to CFF in mid-October, remaining until 12th March 1945 when he was posted to command 58 OTU.

He retired from the RAF on 9th September 1952 as a Group Captain.

Whitley died in New Zealand on 25th October 1973.


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