For those who don't know, Wiki page of the incident sums up. I don't have much knowledge about communication systems of WWII, but I know how radio communication work. This page has

The aircraft flew on a 150 degree course toward Benina Airfield. The craft radioed for a directional reading from the HF/DF station at Benina and received a reading of 330 degrees from Benina. The actions of the pilot in flying 440 miles [710 km] into the desert, however, indicate the navigator probably took a reciprocal reading off the back of the radio directional loop antenna from a position beyond and south of Benina but 'on course'. The pilot flew into the desert, thinking he was still over the Mediterranean and on his way to Benina.

After reading, I thought that there could be a way to save those men by using a right method of radio communication.


1 Answer 1


The issue here is that the HF/DF (High Frequency Direction Finder) at Benina had only a single loop antenna, with a symmetrical gain. This means that a signal from an aircraft at a bearing of 150 degrees (where the aircraft actually was) and a bearing of 330 degrees (where the aircraft was told it was by the radio operator at Benina) look exactly the same.

The on-board ADF (Automatic Direction Finder), which would have kept this from being a problem in the first place, was reportedly inoperative.

Thus the pilot believed that he was on course to Benina, when in fact he was on course directly away from Benina.

Had the pilot been aware of the possibility that he had already overflown the base, there are ways to disambiguate the result. For instance, he could have changed course to the right and asked for a new reading. This would show as a course change to the right if the navigator were reading the correct bearing and as a course change to the left if he was reading the reciprocal heading.

In the situation where the pilot stays on course, there is no way to fix this using technology. At some point, the pilot could have realized he had been flying too long to possibly still be on course to Benina. Lacking this sort of realization, the flight was doomed.

  • $\begingroup$ The Wikipedia page mentions "flares fired to attract their attention" which suggests that somebody at the base knew that they'd overflown it; whatever breakdown prevented that knowledge from reaching the crew probably contributed to the accident. Also, the Wikipedia page states that the ADF in the aircraft was inoperative; that is "technology of its time" that absolutely would have prevented the accident. Sadly, equipment of any era can fail, sometimes with tragic results. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:33
  • $\begingroup$ @RalphJ I'm not so sure the flares mean they knew it had flown over. The fact that the search took place in the Mediterranean instead of the desert indicates nobody did in fact know that... Perhaps they were just firing flares periodically? $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Fair point; without knowing more about why the flares were fired, it's hard to know if a really key piece of the puzzle was known but ignored (i.e. they'd overflown, but radio operators & SAR bosses didn't believe the report), or if that piece simply wasn't there at all (nobody knew they'd overflown & the flares where just periodic). $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:51

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