Valona, Vlorë | Albania
[photo credits | Brian Curragh]
751514 Sgt John Merifield
[photo credits | © IWM ME(RAF) 1100]
Aircrew of ‘A’ Flight, No. 30 Squadron RAF, collect their equipment and board Bristol Blenheim Mark I, K7095 ‘VT-G’, at Eleusis, Greece, for a raid on Italian targets in Albania.
K7095 was shot down in flames, on the 11th of April 1941, when an explosive bullet hit the port tank. Sergeant 816150 John Crooks was KiA, over Athens area.
[photo credits | © IWM ME(RAF) 292 ]
The funeral cortege of Sergeant John Merifield passing down a street in Athens to the English Church, where he was interred. Merifield, an air gunner serving with No. 30 Squadron RAF, was the first RAF casualty of the campaign in Greece. He was killed during the RAF’s first offensive action on 6 November 1940, when Bristol Blenheims of the Squadron were attacked by Italian fighters while bombing Valona airfield in Albania.
[credits | British Pathe]
Athens, Greece: Pan from Greek coast to deck of cruiser, approaching Athens. Shot underneath suns (6″?) of officers looking through glasses. LV Pan of Greek coast. Shot British spotting sea plane in air. LV Pan of Greek port. Shot RAF men on deck of cruiser pan to quayside. GV shot people running along quayside cheering. Pan from people on balcony to troops coming off ship. LV troops coming off ship. SV RAF chap coming off ship. Back view: RAF coming off ship, other men on quayside. Pan of Greek types to GV troops lining up on quayside. SV Troops lining up on quayside. GTV Athens…LIBRARY NO. 4323
Merifield’s funeral on 2:27’
[credits | CWGC Archives]
Wednesday, 6 November 1940
|Aircrew||Pilot. 565957 Sgt George Waddington Ratlidge – Safe
Air Obs. 515623 Sgt R K Walker – Safe
W/Op/Air Gnr. 751514 Sgt John Merifield – KiA
Flight Wing Commander Willets ordered, on November 5th, an offensive reconnaissance of the harbor at Sarande, along the road from Valona to Tepelene and from Tepelene to Argyrokastron. The Italian ground forces had formed a bridge, head across the river Kalamas, about 3 miles NNE of Egoumenitsa. The aircraft had to return to base before dark and to report immediately to the RAF HQ, Grande Bretagne Hotel, located in the central square of Syntagma in Athens.
The weather was fine and clear. Three (3) aircraft took off at 11.20 hours, led by Sqn/Ldr U. Y. Shannon, for an offensive recce to Sarande, Tepelene and Valona. They landed to refuel in Trikala and took off again at 13.48 hours. In Sarande two (2) ships were seen, bombs were dropped and in Valona fifty (50) Italian aircraft were located on the ground. The 250 lb bombs were dropped from 2,500 to 1.000 feet and the aerodrome was taken in surprise.
While No2 aircraft completed the reconnaissance in Tepelene (later reported little movement of troops and equipment), CR.42s from 364 Squadriglia (150 Gruppo CT) chased the Blenheims No1 and No3 for about 20 minutes, close to Corfu and Capitano Magaldi Nicola claimed one (1) aircraft.
The Blenheims, ‘with a considerable number of holes’, made it back to Eleusis but Sgt Merifield was hit and lost his life, in the rear of No3 aircraft.
Sgt Merifield is officially the first RAF airman who lost his life, during the Greek Campaign 1940-41. The funeral took place in Athens. Full military honors were given, with two flags: The British and the Greek. Represented by King George II of Greece and attended by Prime Minister Metaxas and Air Vice-Marshal D’ Albiac, who had just arrived from Middle East.
From: Officer Commanding, No. 30 Squadron
F.B. Casualty – L8462 on 6.11.1940
1. In accordance with H.Q.M.E. letter S.45977/P.1. of 21st August 1940, and further to this Unit’s signals A.8. of 6/11 and M.1. of 7/11 the following report is submitted.
2. The casualty is type “2 A(1)” the circumstances as follows:-
L8462 – Pilot Sgt Ratlidge, Air Obs. Sgt Walker, A/G Sgt Merrifield, was one of a flight of 3 Blenheims taking part in a bombing raid on Valona, Albania. After the bombs had been dropped one Italian Fighter CR.42 engaged the flight and holed L.8462 in a number of places and killing Sgt. Merrifield. The aircraft has been repaired in the Unit.
We confirm that Sergeant Merrifield (sic) lost his life on the 6th November 1940, when the Blenheim aircraft in which he was flying as air-gunner was attacked by an Italian fighter taking part in a bombing raid on Valona, Albania. The two other members of the crew were uninjured. This airman was buried at Athens.
Whilst we cannot definitely establish that he was the first member of the RAF to give his life in defense of Greece we can state, after an exhaustive search of our records that there is no earlier recorded casualty known to have fallen in Greece.
Antonelos Thanos for airwargreece.com | Updated: 06 March 2021
Sources: The National Archives (UK), The Commonwealth War Graves, Imperial War Museums, Blenheims over Greece and Crete, 1940 – 1941 (Brian Cull), Air war for Yugoslavia Greece and Crete, 1940 – 41 (Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia), British Pathé, Håkans aviation page, Curragh Brian’s blog.