By Liana Jacob
INCREDIBLE vintage photographs documenting the mysterious disappearance of American pilot Bud Walcott, who went missing during WW2 only to be later found in Britain, have been unveiled in a new book that uncovers the bare bones of the story.
Fascinating pictures show Bud’s future-wife posing in a traditional graduation shot, while another shows the aftermath of the horrific crash of Bud’s Thunderbolt at Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, USA.
Further images show pilots Ed Tobin, ‘Shorty’ Keough and Andy Mamedoff trying out the Eagle Squadron patch. They fought with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Battle of Britain during WW2.
The French destroyer Mogador can also be seen after being struck by Royal Navy fire during the attack at Mers-el-Kebir, while the collection also includes an old group photo of 603 Squadron pilots on the deck of the USS Wasp, with Walcott in the back row.
The pictures are featured in Bill Simpson’s new book, ‘Spitfire Deserters? The American Pilot Who Went Missing’, which is published by Amberley Publishing. Bill’s book questions the reasons that Bud disappeared on April 20 1942, when 47 Spitfire Vs launched from the deck of the American aircraft carrier, the USS Wasp.
“For the forty-six pilots, it all had a nightmarish quality – they had been suddenly thrust into the middle of the most vicious and unforgiving air battle of the war,” Bill said.
“Some said it was worse than the desperate fighting of 1940 over the south of England, which stopped the German invasion of Britain and became known as ‘the Battle of Britain’.
“Forty-six Spitfires arrived on Malta but forty-seven had set off early that morning from the deck of the USS Wasp, an American aircraft carrier that had slipped into the western end of the Mediterranean in utmost secrecy after carrying the little British fighters and their pilots from the River Clyde in Britain to make the hazardous take-off from the carrier’s deck.”
Launching from a position just north of Algiers, the planes were headed for Malta, with the island under heavy siege by Axis forces at the time. Salvatore ‘Bud’ Walcott’s Spitfire never made it; he crash-landed in North Africa, part of Vichy France, and was interned.
After trying to escape, he was liberated at the end of 1942 and returned to the UK, where he joined the US Army Air Corps and continued to serve as a pilot until the end of WW2. He continued to serve with the US Air Force after the war, too, taking part in the famous Berlin airlift.
“One Spitfire had failed to arrive. A signal from Malta to the Air Ministry in London stated that the pilot ‘intended to desert’. Had ‘previously landed for no good reason in Irish free state but not interned’,” Bill said.
“And for some, this became a shameful incident in the RAF’s now 100-year history. Long after the war was over, it was said that the pilot’s fear of a death on Malta had preyed upon his mind, so he had chosen to desert rather than confront the enemy.
“There is an irony in Bud’s return to North Africa and his changed circumstances – initially an internee suffering severe deprivations, he was now a member of a victorious army. Did he appreciate the irony? Did he harbour any thoughts of revenge like the unnamed inmate who swam ashore to take revenge on the French officer who had caused so much misery? Probably not.”
Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing is published by Amberley Publishing and is available here: https://www.amberley-books.com/spitfire-deserter.html