Shot down but not forgotten: The RAAF Beaufighter pilot Amichai Honig’ story

Aircraft wrecks, Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Research and photos by George Karelas and Manolis Bardanis

It all started with a black and white photo, depicting an aerial attack against a ship.

Rated among the best in Greece, respected researchers George Karelas and Manolis Bardanis, managed to connect the dots and after a painstaking process and thorough research, they managed to identify the details of this air attack against Axis shipping in Greece and unravel the sad story of the KIA airmen, the ship’s identity and the resting place of at least one airman.

The area where the "Andrea Contarini" was attacked by the 4 RAAF Beaufighters (Google Earth maps)
The area where the “Andrea Contarini” was attacked by the 4 RAAF Beaufighters (Google Earth maps)

On 30 August 1943, Amichai Honig piloted one of four Beaufighters in an attack on shipping near Preveza. His Beaufighter (serial V523) struck one ship, but subsequently was shot down, killing Honig and the navigator, Sergeant Finlay.

Αndrea Contarini 1913 εδώ με παλαιότερό του όνομα Cato , το 1938 πωλήθηκε στην Ιταλία και μετονομάστηκε σε Andrea Contarini. ( 1,436 tons)
The “Αndrea Contarini” (1,438 tons) with her older name “Cato” in 1913. She was renamed in 1938.

In the summer of 1943, Allied aircraft began attacks against Axis targets in Greece. It had been two long years since the capitulation of the country in 1941 and the winds of change were blowing over the ravaged country.

Numbered were the days of the foreign oppressors, Germans, Italians and Bulgarians.

At 7:27 a.m. on this fateful day, four RAAF aircraft took off from Berka airfield in Libya.

Their mission was to to identify and attack Axis naval targets on the coast of Western Greece.

At 9:44 they were flying over the west coast of Lefkada island.

While the mission was nearing its end and at about 10:20 hrs., the four aircraft located a ship off the coast of the island.

Each aircraft carried 250-pound bombs and Flying Officer Amichai Honig, born in 1919 in Perth, Australia, initiated the attack, strafing the Italian ship. Tracer bullets from his guns hit the ship, but his bombs failed to sink it.

Φωτογραφίες από την επίθεση .Απο το βιβλίο του Chris Goss (Combat over the Meriterannean φωτογραφίες 82 & 84 μη ταυτοποιημένες, ταυτοποίηση Καρέλας Γιώργος))
The actual attack, as identified by George Karelas. This photo is from Chris Goss’ book Combat over the Mediterranean

To the horror of his colleagues, Honig’s Beaufighter was hit by a/a fire and engulfed in flames, ditched at sea, at a close distance from the ship.

The pilot of the fourth aircraft reported that he had seen an inflatable boat near the wreckage of the downed plane.

ORBs – ημερολόγιο συμβάντων 225 sqn SAAF Link
ORB 225 sqn RAAF

For seven long years Honig and Finlay were considered MIA and no one knew if they were alive or not, lost at sea or buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Greece.

Flight Officer Amichai Honig
Flight Officer Amichai Honig

Honig’s parents decided to go to Greece to obtain information about their son, but the Greek government refused to grant them entry clearance initially. Eventually, they got the license.

For almost a month, they traveled from place to place, talking to villagers, talking to fishermen and asking people about their son.

When Honig’s parents were about to leave, they were approached by a local who recalled witnessing the burial of a British pilot.

A boy who was present when the pilot was buried had seen the Italians take off his suit and bury him.

Finally, close to Preveza, they found the grave of a British pilot.

The Honig family had the remains buried on 31 May 1950, in Hadera.

The next riddle to be solved by Greek research experts George Karelas and Manolis Bardanis, was the identity of the Italian ship.

Letter announcing Honig’s death

The ship was the “Andrea Contarini”. According to Italian files from the Difesa del Traffico con Albania, Grecia by the Uficio Storico della Marina Militare, the ship was attacked on the Lefkada Canal but only sustained minor damage. Eventually, the ship sailed to the port of Preveza on the same day.

The aircraft wreck has not yet been located.