Bob Cowper - Emergency landing in the Sahara desert
Department of Veterans' Affairs
So having found land, I flew in a little bit to get away from the coast where all the action was going on – everyone – the Germans and Italians were all retreating then. So I flew out far enough so we'd be in the Sahara Desert – far enough to work our way – we'd try to walk back to – if we got down. So I got down – the engines were coughing and I turned my landing light on – and I found the dunes were going this way and that way – so I didn't want to fly across them –so I found, I just had enough petrol to keep going along enough to find I can land in between the dunes. So I went down and I did the best landing that I've ever done in my whole life – I never want to – but we didn't put the wheels down – we just landed in the sand – and we knew we were behind enemy lines there – we were quite certain we were behind enemy lines.
First of all we knew that this aircraft was one that had information on it that the German would have had – although at the time the Germans were just busy trying to get out of the way. Rommel and all the Italians on the main had packed it in anyway – they were fleeing into Tunisia.
So we landed safely – but we found out quick enough – Bill took my revolver and ran over to towards where [he could] see all the traffic – he found the sign with Zuwarah on it – that's where we were in Zuwarah in Tunisia – that's the name of the town – we knew the enemy were there, he saw the enemy – we came back and we went to set fire to the aircraft which sounds easy but the wind was blowing a fair bit – and I took the tops off both of the petrol tanks and I threw a match in and it just went 'swoosh' – no fire – so I tried the other one and it did the same 'swoosh' – no fire.
They didn't have any gas left in them – so then all I could do I went and got the Very Pistol – I fired the Very Pistol – it had the colours of the day – I fired that into both the tanks and we set fire to it. And we left there, we walked inland enough – to walk back to where we knew – Tripoli had been taken – we were probably only about 60 miles from there if all went well.