DIGITAL ISSUE NINE
For all those1 who still run to the window when something flies over...
DIGITAL ISSUE NINE
BATTLE OF BRITAIN SPECIAL
IN THIS ISSUE ARCHIE McINNES 1919 - 2019 Managing Director: Simon Parry (Co-Founder) Editor and Design Director: Mark Postlethwaite (Co-Founder) Technical Director: Wesley Cornell (Co-Founder)
BUSINESS AS USUAL WHEN DID THE BATTLE START AND END ?
Contributors to this issue: Jonny Cracknell Andrew Thomas Simon Parry
Jeff Carless Geoff Leach
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ONE OF OUR PILOTS IS MISSING
elcome to issue 9 of Wingleader Magazine. The Battle of Britain has been written about ever since it took place in the summer of 1940. Over the years however, new authors have tended to focus on the ‘big’ days simply because the spadework research had already been done by the likes of Alfred Price and Frank Mason. This has resulted in many parts of the Battle being forgotten and many errors being repeated again and again. In 2015, Simon Parry and I decided to go back to basics and embarked on a publishing project that would cover every day of the Battle using only original source material. We are currently working on Volume 8 of what became The Battle of Britain Combat Archive and have already uncovered and published a great deal of new and interesting material. In this issue of we give you a flavour of some of the lesser know stories from this epic battle. We hope you find them interesting.
THEY ALSO SERVED On the cover: Me109s into Battle by Mark Postlethwaite
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Mark Postlethwaite. September 2019
On 31 July 2019, shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday party with friends and family, Archie McInnes passed away. Archie was one of the very last of The Few, having flown with 601 and 238 Squadrons in the Battle of Britain. We were going to write a small tribute to him but after hearing his biographer and friend Jonny Cracknell’s eulogy at Archie’s funeral, we felt that there was no greater tribute than Jonny’s words which we reproduce below.
hen I was first asked by Sandra to say a few words here today I wasn’t convinced I was necessarily worthy. Not least given the incredible honour it is to be here and how special Archie was – but also, I had only known Archie well for a relatively short period of his life during his last couple of years. As everyone here will well know, Archie certainly left a huge impact on everybody he met. His charm, presence and warmth, combined with his ever-modest attitude endeared him to absolutely everybody. He left people and audiences both enthralled and captivated by his honest, unique and incredible stories of his wartime experiences and beyond. Born on the 31st July 1919, just outside Glasgow, Archie was to be the eldest of five children. As a toddler, his mother and father relocated from Scotland down to London during the mid-1920s when his father, who had served with distinction during the Great War, had bought into a laundry supply business. Archie enjoyed a wonderful upbringing alongside his siblings – Margaret, Janet, Alice and brother Ian. He particularly enjoyed the freedom his younger days offered – making his own entertainment and cycling which he was particularly fond of. Following his education through Seafield and Kings College Schools, Archie eventually joined his father working for his laundry firm. After learning to drive, Archie, in his own words, ‘started to look where the girls were’, as most teenagers do! But he also had a burning desire to fly. Inspired by making toy models as a boy, the experience of a flight aged 12 in an Avro 504 whilst on holiday in Bognor Regis and watching Air Displays at Hendon had all whetted his appetite.
Archie McInnes 1919 -2019
When aged around 15 things literally took off when Archie was afforded an aerobatic flight in a Tiger Moth, shortly followed by a visit to Hawker Aircraft Limited, thanks to a connected family friend, where they were building the then latest fighter aircraft – the Hurricane. Archie even managed to sit in one, hot off the production line – not knowing that a few years later he would be flying one into War. From that moment on, Archie wanted to become a pilot and in 1938 the RAF Volunteer Reserve afforded him the opportunity – not only to fly, but to be paid for it. Archie successfully went through his training programme and when War was declared in September 1939 he was immediately called up. Further flight training ensued on Tiger Moths and the Miles Magister aircraft before he received his wings and was posted to Aston Down Training Unit for conversion onto the Hawker Hurricane. Eventually posted to No. 601 Squadron at Exeter in September 1940, with the Battle of Britain already raging, Archie gathered further flight experience before a posting to No. 238 Squadron at Chilbolton in early October where he flew 9 recorded operational flights during the tail-end of the Battle of Britain. But for Archie and the ‘Few’, the Battle didn’t end on the 31st and the war continued as did skirmishes with the enemy over English soil. Archie was eventually posted with the Squadron to the Middle East and took off, once again in a Hurricane, from the deck of aircraft carrier HMS Victorious on the 14th June 1941 flying via Malta, onto Egypt. Landing precariously at both with dregs of fuel left, Archie’s squadron supported shipping convoys and bomber sweeps in the Canal Zone area and into Libya. It was however on the 30th October 1941 that Archie’s operational flying and his life would change. After an engagement with enemy aircraft, Archie was shot down by a Messerschmitt 109. Blacking out on impact with the ground, Archie suffered horrendous injuries – his left arm was badly damaged and was eventually amputated, he had also broken his neck and later in hospital suffered severely with both septicaemia and typhoid. His injuries and condition were so bad that having his arm amputated at such a young age wasn’t a care to him at the time. A long road to recovery commenced, passing through Egypt and South Africa where Archie made some great friends and had some happy memories, despite the circumstances, before his eventual repatriation home to his grateful parents in London. Eventually deemed fit to return to service duties, Archie spent nine months in the Air Ministry, but office work wasn’t for him, and he desperately wanted to fly again. His request was eventually accepted, and he passed the necessary medicals & exams before finally returning to non-combat flying with both 691 and 595 Squadrons between 1943-1945. Here he flew a range of aircraft, including his old friend the Hurricane, doing co-operative work with the Navy, Army and Home Guard. A quite remarkable achievement to have returned to flying, not least with his disability, but the
Eventually released from RAF service in 1946, with the war over Archie went back to civilian life & undertook a variety of jobs including back in the laundry trade, the bedding industry, supplying hairdressing goods and working with emergency power supplies to name a few. It was during this period that Archie’s life was once again to change when he met the love of his life – Helen Frank who he would marry in 1950. An old family and childhood friendship quickly blossomed into a lifelong partnership. A few years later they were blessed with their daughter Sandra, before the family relocated with Archie’s work up to Cambridge, where he was now in the industry of producing wine in a bag with his long-term friend Jimmy Phillips. The business was eventually sold off and Archie ended up working at Papworth Industries in the luxury travel goods business. Retirement came for both Archie and Helen – allowing Archie more time to play golf and for them both to enjoy regular family holidays to the Isle of Arran. They continued to enjoy the peace and quiet of retired, village life until November 2006 when Archie’s world suffered a devastating blow as Helen passed away. Sandra continued to care for Archie and, as he had done his whole life, he dusted himself down and carried on. He continued playing golf with friends until he was 94 when his mobility no longer permitted it, and he made the occasional appearance on the airshow scene which was where I first met Archie back in 2016. I have been extremely privileged over the last couple of years to witness first-hand the utmost joy of not only Archie experiencing many belated opportunities - but also seeing the admiration, respect and love from all the people that he encountered. For me personally, it was a dream come true as an ordinary enthusiast to be able to get to know and spend such treasured time with one of my boyhood fighter pilot heroes. Archie, for me, perfectly represented and personified the greatest generation now very much sadly in their twilight. His was very nearly one of the many untold, yet such brave and inspirational stories which would have been tragically lost to time. Just seen as doing his duty at such a young age, and who bore scars of war for the rest of his life after losing his left arm. Yet he didn’t let this deter him in life, or from doing the things he loved flying again, playing golf and having a family. He has left me with so many incredible memories in such a short space of time, and whilst it is impossible to ever repay the debt that we owe Archie and the servicemen he represents, I hope the last few months have given something back to the final chapter of Archie’s incredible life.
mental strength having suffered all that had gone before. It wasn’t all without incident however, and Archie continued to brush off some near misses to fulfil his love of flight. These included his modified arm breaking on him mid-flight, and the wire cable of a barrage balloon shearing the wingtip off his Hurricane.
It goes without saying that none of the opportunities that Archie managed to experience recently would have happened without his selfless attitude, his willingness and his determination â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a characteristic which has shone through his entire and eventful life. From leaping back into a Hurricane for the first time in over 70 years, to again flying in a Spitfire last year over the Kent skies. None of these opportunities could have happened without the wonderful organisations and aircraft operators who gave their time & effort to help arrange and facilitate out of total respect and admiration for Archie. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Peter Monk and the BHHH, James Brown and the Aircraft Restoration Company, Bentley Priory Museum, Mark Postlethwaite and Squadron Leader Ian Smith to name just a few. My huge thanks to them all, and I know how grateful both Archie and Sandra were for each and every occasion. Aside from his service involvement, Archie was clearly adored by a much broader circle. This was evident at his 100th Birthday lunch which I was lucky enough to attend on his very final day at Bourn Golf Club where he was surrounded by many old friends and family. As shocking and devastating as it was to hear that Archie passed that very same evening, the comfort was that Archie had seen in this incredible milestone surrounded by those dear to him. I also know how incredibly grateful Archie was to daughter Sandra for her love, time and care in sacrificing so much to look after him in his later years. He really did appreciate everything she did and often mentioned that she saved him from the fear of loneliness following the death of his beloved wife Helen. I think the greatest reward and satisfaction from my involvement with Archie has to be seeing the incredible National and International recognition he has now received. Archie never thought himself nor his story was of any interest and would no doubt have been astounded by the response following his passing - from the National TV and newspaper coverage, the overall media response and the hundreds of thousands of tribute messages across social media. His story and legacy now shared, for both him and his family - and which will hopefully continue to inspire future generations for many years to come. The only regret is that it came so late in his life. Ever modest Archie once said to me he was never one of the stars of the show when talking about his wartime involvement. Well, to everyone he met, he was and will continue to be a star. Thank you and God bless you Archie.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
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Although the Battle of Britain lasted officially from 10 July - 31 October 1940, there was considerable action before and after those dates. In particular, the month of November 1940 saw many large scale combats as the RAF tried to deal with vast formations of marauding Me109 fighter bombers. Simon Parry looks at the events of 1 November 1940 when as far as the RAF pilots were concerned, it was business as usual.
1 November 1940
t 15.10, the second air raid of the day approached Portsmouth. Gun sites of the 5th Anti Aircraft Division reported Me109s, Me110s and Ju88s approaching Portsmouth from the south east at 25,000 feet. Three gun sites opened fire before they saw fighters intercepting the raid. Two Hurricanes were reported to have been shot down, one near Walberton and the other in the Meon Valley between Wickham and Droxford. The pilot of one baled out and was safe. At 15.35 6 bombs were dropped to the west of Langstone Harbour. Finally, at 15.45, a searchlight site saw a yellow-nosed Me109 flying at 1,000 feet, 400 yards from them. It circled, flew back over them at 200 feet, an opened fire with machine guns. The soldiers manning the searchlight returned fire with three Lewis Guns, then the aircraft crash-landed 400 yards away from
If the men of the 5th Anti Aircraft Division had a close-up and personal view of the day’s action, Fighter Command had the broader picture. Action around the east and southeast coasts of England had been continuous since 06.00 hours as patrols attempted to intercept small raids that goaded them into action, in all, 946 pilots flew 140 patrols – a work-rate similar to most days of accepted ‘Battle of Britain’ period. The afternoon raid over Portland was said to consist of 32 aircraft that appeared from the direction of Le Havre, then split into two groups of aircraft. One group crossed the coast over Portsmouth, then flew to Southampton and back before withdrawing. The second group came in over Selsey Bill and flew directly to Portsmouth. Five squadrons were scrambled to intercept, four sighted the raiders and two engaged the enemy. The two squadrons that succeeded in joining battle were 145 and 213, both operating from Tangmere. 145 Squadron’s Intelligence Report noted: 11 Hurricanes took off from Tangmere at 15.15 to patrol base with 213 Squadron leading. The two squadrons climbed, circling behind the aerodrome. While they were still climbing and flying towards Selsey Bill at a height of 20,000 feet P/O Offenberg (Green 2) who was weaving behind and above the squadron suddenly saw an Me109 passing him in a shallow dive, with the obvious intention of attacking the rest of the squadron.
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them. Two Post Office telephone linesmen, armed only with shovels, captured the pilot.
COMBAT REPORT - 145 SQUADRON P/O Offenberg Green 2 - About 15.50 hours I was Green 2 weaving behind the rest of the flight. I was 500 behind and 50 yards above. The order had just been received to vector 180, smoke trails were everywhere and we were still climbing and had just reached 20,000 ft, when I saw a ’plane coming from behind and to the right in a shallow dive. At first I thought it was a Hurricane, but as he passed I saw the square wing of an Me109. I immediately gave chase and opened fire at 450 yards from astern. As soon as I fired he turned away from the rest of the formation in a large circle to the right, heading for the sea, still in a shallow dive. Almost immediately there was a thick column of grey smoke from his radiator. I continued looking behind to make sure I was not pursued and as he turned towards land, I turned inside him and closed the distance to 200 yards, firing a deflection shot. At this moment I saw bits leave his aircraft and the smoke was increasingly thick. I followed him down from above, firing a deflection shot as I did a vertical diving attack and saw my de Wilde ammunition exploding in his aircraft. I followed him until he disappeared through the clouds just to the west of Selsey Bill.
Jean Henri Marie Offenberg who was killed in a flying accident on 22 January 1942.
When I opened fire from 450 yards I aimed first above the middle of the left wing and this struck his radiator. Thus I used only my port guns allowing for the convergence at 250 yards.
P/O Offenberg was correct in his report for had succeeded in holing the radiator of Obltn Hermann Reifferscheidt’s Me109 which he belly landed near the searchlight post at Mapson’s Farm, Selsey. He had been unlucky, for RAF Air Intelligence could find only three other bullet holes in his Me109, two in the propeller blades - and one in the port wing.
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Offenberg’s adversary - Me109 ‘White 9’ of 1/JG2
Above: Oberleutnant Hermann Reifferscheidt, the pilot of ‘White 9’ on 1 November 1940. Left: Reifferscheidt’s Me109 after his forced landing at Mapson’s Farm near Selsey.
Sighted approximately 16 Me109s flying towards Portsmouth at 26,000 ft. On reaching coast E/A split into two sections. One section proceeded towards Portsmouth and commenced a dive-bombing attack, while the other section swung around to the rear of our squadron. I selected one E/A and followed him down in the dive but was unable to close up sufficiently owing to his excessive speed. At 15,000 ft E/A reduced his angle of dive but
still continued to lose height until he had reached a position approximately 3 miles south of the Isle of Wight. Here he proceeded to orbit and I was able to close in and deliver a shallow quarter attack at 50 yards range. E/A appeared to be completely surprised and took no evasive action. After a short burst of fire E/A dived steeply into the sea.* * No Luftwaffe loss can be found to correspond to this account. The Me109 pilots who MacDonald had seen swing round to the rear of his squadron shot down two of his Hurricanes. One of these was 23-year-old Polish pilot Bolesław Własnowolski. His Hurricane, V7221 – ‘AK-V’, fell at Liphook
Game Farm, Stoughton, taking him to his death. This was the crash noted by the 5th Anti Aircraft Division as being at Walberton. The identity of the second aircraft ‘in the Meon Valley between Wickham and Droxford’ remained unrecorded. 213 Squadron’s diarist noted that Własnowolski had ‘Crashed’ and that the other eleven Hurricanes had landed back at Tangmere. Right: Bolesław Andrzej Własnowolski had flown with 32 and 607 Squadrons during the Battle before joining 213 Squadron on 17 September. He was one of a handful of The Few to shoot down German aircraft whilst serving with three different squadrons. Below: Własnowolski’s Hurricane V7221.
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Jean Offenberg’s alertness had saved his fellow pilots from being ‘bounced’, but the men of 213 Squadron were not so lucky. Leading the squadron was the 28-year-old Scotsman Squadron Leader Duncan MacDonald, who reported:
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it in the County Archive and followed this up with a visit to Wickham. There he found Eric, now 74, who pointed out the place where the aircraft had crashed and Ian sought permission from the MoD to excavate its remains. In the UK, the permission of both the landowner and MoD is required before any aircraft remains can be recovered. In this case the landowner had granted his consent, but the MoD refused permission on the grounds that the aircraft and its pilot could not be positively identified, even though Ian Hutton had provided the serial number N2608. There was, it seems, some confusion between Własnowolski’s aircraft and the one at Wickham.
Above: A map showing the aircraft involved and crash sites for the combat that took place at 15.15hrs on 1 November 1940 over the Portsmouth area.
The aeroplane crash near the village of Wickham had caused great excitement. Hampshire County Police reported the crash at Frith’s Farm; the plane was completely smashed, but its pilot landed in a tree ¾ of a mile away and was not injured. 10-year-old Eric Tucker watched a Hurricane coming from the east and trailing smoke and said the pilot baled out and landed in Bere Forest. Eric cycled to Frith Farm to see the aircraft before it was carried away on a Queen Mary trailer and after
the farmer had tidied-up his field the incident passed into local folklore.
Unearthing the Wickham Hurricane Over 60 years passed before memories of the plane crash were stirred again. Ian Hutton was carrying out research into war-time Hampshire when he discovered reference to
A further fifteen years passed before the mystery of the ‘Wickham Hurricane’ was addressed again. Dr Phil Marter of Winchester University’s archaeology department was seeking a project suitable for his summer school students studying conflict archaeology. In previous years, Dr Marter had been involved in joint German – Dutch – British excavations of RAF bombers in Europe; now it was his ‘turn’ to host an excavation. He had also been the resident archaeologist for the TV series ‘WW2 Treasure Hunters’ and worked closely with a regular team of aviation archaeologists – could a suitable site be found within commuting distance of the university? The ‘Wickham Hurricane’ emerged at the top of a very short list, but the problem of its identity remained. While gathering material for his on-going series of books, the Battle of Britain Combat Archive, Simon Parry and his research team unearthed new information. The Air Ministry Form 78 showing the history of Hurricane N2608 recorded that it was allocated to 213 Squadron on 7th October 1940 and that it was
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Above: The Wickham Hurricane turned out to be N2608 AK-F which was flown by F/O Clark in the combat of 1 November 1940.
struck off charge on 1st November 1940 ‘Burnt Out’. Unfortunately, the squadron’s Operations Record Book does not list the aircraft serial numbers, only the individual squadron letter, meaning that no pilot could be linked to N2608 and without a pilot the MoD would not grant permission to excavate. With the time of crash established and the knowledge that N2608 was lost with 213 Squadron, there had to be a simple answer. 213 Squadron’s Operations Record Book gave a list of the eleven pilots who took off for this engagement:
‘A’ Flight K F H E F C
S/Ldr MacDonald F/O Clark Sgt Adair P/O Kearsey F/Lt Kellow Sgt Snowdon
‘B’ Flight X V J W R
F/O Sizer P/O Wlasnowolski Sgt Barrow P/O Lockhart P/O Cottam
Despite two aircraft clearly being lost, all are recorded as landing between 15.30 and 16.15 hrs, except P/O Wlasnowolski. Interestingly, at 17.15 hrs only eight pilots took off again:
‘A’ Flight H E F C
Sgt Adair P/O Kearsey F/Lt Kellow Sgt Snowdon
‘B’ Flight X J W R
F/O Sizer Sgt Barrow P/O Lockhart P/O Cottam
Other than P/O Wlasnowolski, the pilots who did not take off were S/Ldr MacDonald and F/O Clark. S/Ldr MacDonald had submitted his combat report and therefore had definitely returned intact, which left only F/O Clark unaccounted for. The application to excavate the aircraft at Wickham was re-submitted with full supporting documentation to the MoD as N2608 ‘AK-F’ flown by F/O Hugh Desmond Clark. This time permission was granted. Phil Marter, his students and a handful of the regular aviation archaeology team began a three-day excavation at Frith Farm on July 25th
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2019. It rapidly became clear that the Hurricane was not deeply buried and that almost all the wreckage had been removed in 1940, but by combining traditional archaeological methods with a knowledge of Hurricanes a great deal was discovered. After the top soil had been removed, the outline of the impact crater became visible as a darker, disturbed, area of sandy earth with traces of corroded aluminium and rusted steel. A surprising result of the careful ‘troweling’ was the appearance of a ‘bowwave’ of earth pushed up in front of the aircraft as it buried itself. The wings inboard of the undercarriage mountings had also penetrated the ground, leaving a distinct outline of an aircraft’s centre section. A cross-section of the crater itself was then excavated along the axis of the assumed line of flight. This proved that the assumption was correct as the deepest parts were in the north east corner where the nose of the Hurricane was expected to be.
Above: The remarkable ‘bow wave’ created by the Hurricane hitting the soil with a huge amount of energy. Background image: The crash site at Wickham as the team commence the dig.
N2608 had approached from the south east in a dive of approximately 45 degrees, hitting the downward slope of the hill. The engine had penetrated the sandy soil to a depth of 1.5 meters and the remainder of the
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aircraft had either scattered itself further down the slope, evidenced by a scatter of small finds, or burnt in the shallow crater. The RAF salvage team had pulled the Merlin from the crater
and had thrown various small pieces into it to help level and restore the field - including a tiny brass plate, smaller than a matchbox, bearing the aircraftâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s serial number, N2608.
Above: An artistâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s impression of the crash sequence of Hurricane N2608 at Wickham. The aircraft hit the steep hill at an angle, burying the engine, whilst the rest of the wreckage tumbled down the hill in a fireball. (Piotr Forkasiewicz)
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Above: The small manufacturer’s plate which was riveted to the airframe – only two plates carrying the RAF serial number were fitted to Hurricanes, making positive identification of a wreck difficult. Left The SU Carburettor plate from the engine.
Much as the aircraft’s identity had become a mystery, so had the career of its pilot, Hugh Clark. He had been born in Liskeard, Cornwall, in 1919 and went to the RAF College Cranwell as a Flight Cadet in January 1937. Showing early signs of a career as a senior officer, he became a Kings Cadet and won a cap as a Hockey Blue. He joined 213 Squadron in 1939, but was posted to 85 Squadron in France on 13th May 1940. He was shot down just three days later on May 16th. Following his recovery from his injuries he re-joined 213 Squadron on 19th August, but was shot down again six days later over Portland on 25th August. This time suffered burns to his hands and face and was admitted first to hospital in Weymouth and later Weston-superMare, being discharged in October to return to 213 Squadron. He next flew at 10.45 on 1st November on a 25 minute local familiarisation
Above: Hugh Clark on his Cranwell photo.
flight. 55 minutes later he flew an uneventful patrol with the squadron. On his next flight he was shot down – for the third time. Hugh Clark seems not to have flown operationally again, but assumed staff positions in Canada, India, the Far East and Japan before returning to the UK in 1947. He retired from the RAF with the rank of Wing Commander in October 1960 and it is assumed that he emigrated as no record has been found of his death in the UK. The students, on their first aircraft dig, were astonished at the ability of the aircraft team to identify tiny, deformed and corroded items, much as they might identify fragments of pottery. They then went on to write an excavation report in the same way they would for any archaeological project. A question was raised by the students; ‘Was it a Battle of Britain dig – or not?’ And if the Battle of Britain had ‘ended’ how had there been a dog-fight between Hurricanes and Messerschmitts over Portsmouth?
Heinkel 59 forced down by RAF fighters on 9 July 1940, the day before the Battle of Britain ‘officially’ began.
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WHEN DID THE BATTLE START AND END? 17
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So why did the Battle of Britain last officially from 10 July - 31 October 1940? Who set these arbitary dates? Simon Parry looks at the reasoning behind choosing this period and considers whether they made the right decision.
ver the years, hundreds of books have been written about the Battle of Britain with each action, crash and pilot being researched in great detail. Take a step just outside the official dates however, and the research dries up. The lack of published information concerning the loss of Hurricane N2608 in the previous story is due entirely to the action occurring ‘after the Battle of Britain’ – about 16 hours after - so who set the parameters? Personnel of Fighter Command saw no difference between July 9th and July 10th, nor October 30th and November 1st. The Luftwaffe had no concept of a ‘Battle of Britain’ at all, the assault on England was a long campaign that evolved and modified until it moved on to Russia in 1941.
Left: One of the most famous victims of the Battle of Britain was this Italian Fiat CR42, shot down on 11 November 1940, nearly two weeks after the ‘official’ end of the Battle.
During his speech on 18th June 1940, Winston Churchill declared, ‘The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin’. Thus, even before the Luftwaffe assault began in earnest, the nation had been gifted a most stirring phrase. The ‘official’ period of the ‘Battle of Britain’ was defined in the dispatch written by Dowding and submitted to the Secretary of State for Air on 20th August, 1941. In this comprehensive analysis of the Battle, Dowding wrote in Paragraph 11: ‘It is difficult to fix the exact date on which the “Battle of Britain” can be said to have begun. Operations of various kinds merged into one another almost insensibly, and there are grounds for choosing the date of the 8th August, on which was made the first attack in force against laid objectives in this country, as the beginning of the Battle.” However, after further considering German tactics and the heavy attacks made upon coastal convoys, Dowding added, in part of Paragraph 13:
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Left and below: Another well known victim of the Battle of Britain was this Dornier 17Z 3Z+GS of 8/KG77 which crash landed in a hop field near Tonbridge in Kent on 3 July 1940, a week before the start of the Battle. Photos of this Dornier frequently appear in Battle of Britain publications.
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“I have therefore, somewhat arbitrarily, chosen the events of the 10th July as the opening of the Battle. Although many attacks had previously been made on convoys, and even on land objectives such as Portland, the 10th July saw the employment by the Germans of the first really big formation (70 aircraft) intended primarily to bring our Fighter Defence to battle on a large scale.” An end date of 31st October was easier for Dowding to define, ‘The “Battle of Britain” may be said to have ended when Fighter and Fighter-Bomber raids died down.’ This dispatch was published in full as a supplement to the London Gazette on 11th September 1946.
Dowding had given careful consideration to the beginning date of ‘His Battle’, although the sceptics might argue that he chose July 10th because it was the first occasion on which his RAF had come out ‘on top’. But was he correct in saying that the ‘Fighter and Fighter-Bomber raids died down’ ? An analysis of the claims made by Fighter Command’s pilots in the last days of October and through November does show a downward trend in activity around the magic date of 30th October, but there were still hectic days ahead. However, in battle it is the victor who writes history and decides when it begins - and when it ends.
Left: This unfortunate Me110 has appeared in countless Battle of Britain books but was actually shot down on 24 May by pilots of 74 Squadron near Dunkirk.
Claims made by Fighter Command for enemy aircraft damaged, probably destroyed or destroyed. END OF OCTOBER 1940
Gloster E.28/39 W4041/G makes a low pass over the airfield during a test flight.
ONE OF OUR PILOTS IS MISSING
How could one of ‘The Few’ disappear at the height of the Battle of Britain only a few miles from London?
85 Squadron pilots scramble to their waiting Hurricanes. On the extreme left is Hugh Ellis who ‘disappeared’ on 1 September 1940.
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How could one of ‘The Few’ disappear at the height of the Battle of Britain only a few miles from London? We explore how an administrative error led to a tragic oversight that took 50 years to resolve.
1st September 1940
t 13.50, 85 Squadron was one of ten squadrons scrambled to intercept the second major raid of the day, estimated to be between 150 and 200 aircraft approaching Biggin Hill. 85 Squadron’s 11 Hurricanes took off from Croydon and were climbing over Kenley when they were ‘bounced’ by a group of Me109s. The Hurricane pilots of 79 Squadron had similarly been scrambled from Biggin Hill and, as they also climbed to meet the raid, they too were ‘bounced’. The Me109s from JG26, including ‘Aces’ like Galland and Schöpfel, came from above and passed through the Hurricanes which were ‘cut to pieces’. Within minutes, six Hurricanes were falling from the sky within a few miles of each other.
85 Squadron Hurricanes climbing through cloud. At this point they are an ideal target for German fighters who would be patrolling far above them. With speed, height and the element of surprise on their side, the German fighters would simply dive on the RAF formation, shoot at their chosen target and dive away, no need to engage in a dogfight whatsoever.
Trevor Bryant-Fenn and Brian Noble of 79 Squadron were both shot down and described their experiences to historian Colin Brown in 1984.
79 Squadron’s combat
‘There had been a lot of activity already on Sunday 1st September and the readiness aircraft were airborne. At about mid-day, an order came through to scramble all available aircraft to patrol over Biggin at 20,000 feet. There were only two aircraft in my section, mine W6670 and the other flown by Brian Noble.
Whilst turning left to run through the formation, I felt a dull thud and simultaneously saw a burst of flame below my feet indicating a hit in the main fuel tank in front of the instrument panel. My remaining memory is of releasing the locking pin on my harness, pushing the stick hard forward to convert the left turn into a ‘bunt’, the effect of which was to project me out of the cockpit; fortunately the preamble to an attack was to slide the canopy back to allow for just such a hurried exit! I recall having some trouble pulling the parachute ripcord – my hands having been burned – and I lost some nails on both hands.
We took off and gained height and at about 17,000 feet saw a mass of aircraft with fighter cover above us and heading for London. We climbed to their height and identified about 30 Dornier 17s with Me109s behind and above. Brian Noble was echelon starboard to me. I got a Dornier in my sights and pressed the firing button when tracer fire started overtaking me from behind. I felt a thump on the leg and a fire started down by the right rudder pedal. Flames started building up in the cockpit so I decided to quit. The next thing I remember is being on the end of a parachute – some Me109s milling around and another parachute not far away. ‘A Hurricane was in a vertical dive in flames – probably mine. I landed at Dunton Green. I am not sure where my aircraft ended up. The other parachute had Brian Noble on the end – he landed in the Marley lake at Riverhead. We met again some hours later in the same ward at Sevenoaks Hospital.’
‘I remember being recalled from the Officer’s Mess after a vain attempt to eat a hurried luncheon and being ‘scrambled’ immediately on arriving back at dispersal. Subsequently, during the climb, we intercepted a large Luftwaffe bomber formation and made a somewhat hurried attack, although to what effect I do not remember as I found myself crossing through the bomber formation (height 12-15,000 feet) and surrounded by enemy aircraft and tracer and cannon fire.
I recall only two brief moments whilst parachuting down – one of being close to another parachuting airman at one time, whilst both of us were ‘investigated’ by a friendly fighter and secondly of being over water into which I fell almost immediately. This in fact was the Marley sand and gravel pit at Riverhead, Sevenoaks and from which I was promptly rescued by the local LDV, one of whom took me to the local hospital at Sevenoaks, where I was to spend the next month in company with Trevor Bryant-Fenn, my section leader on that sortie.’ Brian Noble
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‘Biggin Hill was under regular air attack at the time so pilots were dispersed at night. I and two others spent the Saturday night at the home of Sir Waldron Smithers MP at Knockholt. I well recall chatting with Sir Waldron and Lady Smithers in their garden after breakfast before returning to the airfield. It was a beautiful sunny morning, not a cloud in sight.
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85 Squadron’s Battle
Patrick Woods-Scawen, was leading five Hurricanes of 85 Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight when it was ‘bounced’. His Hurricane was seen to spiral down and crash in a meadow between Welcomes Road and Hermitage Road, not far from Kenley airfield. Police and ARP reported the crash and the local fire brigade put out the burning grass, but there was no sign of the pilot’s body. It was hoped that he had managed to bale out and that he would appear again in the mess that evening, but he did not. His body was found five days later in thick undergrowth at a house called ‘The Ivies’ in Kenley Lane. His parachute was unopened.
Arthur Gowers’ Hurricane was set on fire just south of Kenley. He baled out with serious burns.
Below: 85 Squadron pilots and ground crew with one of their Hurricanes in July 1940.
19-year-old Glendon Booth’s Hurricane was also set alight. He baled out from his blazing cockpit but his clothing and parachute were both on fire. Witnesses looked on as Glendon, with one shoe on and one off, his clothing tattered and flapping behind him, collided with a telephone pole and then fell onto a rose arch. A cannon shell had hit his parachute pack, damaging it so that the canopy failed to deploy correctly, his highspeed landing had broken a leg, and arm, and fractured his spine. Paralysed by his spinal injury he fought for life until succumbing to a kidney infection five months later. Three of ‘B’ Flight’s five pilots had been shot down within minutes. Of the fourth member of 85 Squadron, from ‘A’ Flight, 21-year-old John Ellis, known as ‘Hugh’, there was no news.
Over the following hours, five of the six aircraft wrecks were located and reports written. 79 Squadron reported at 23.10 hours that night that Hurricane L2062 had been shot down over Chelsfield and that its pilot, Brian
Noble, was in Sevenoaks Hospital. Salvage was required. The 6th – unaccounted for - aircraft was that of ‘Hugh’ Ellis - he was reported as ‘missing’, and his parents duly informed.
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Six Hurricanes Down Five Wrecks Found
Nearly two weeks after his son had been reported missing ‘Hugh’ Ellis’s father wrote to the Air Ministry seeking further details:
September 13th 1940 Dear Sir, Reference C7/742068 I duly received your letter of September 3rd confirming your wire of a day or two previously that my son Sergt John Hugh Mortimer Ellis of No.85 Squadron R.A.F. is missing. I rather expected that something more would have been discovered by this time as I understand the action from which he failed to return was over the Kenley area of Surrey on Sunday afternoon, September 1st. I take it a machine and pilot could not remain undiscovered coming down on the land in the middle of the day for any length of time. I also trust that all possible measures are taken to trace missing airmen and so allay the terrible suspense of waiting for news. My son was very keen on doing all he possibly could for the ‘Air Force’ and his country. I should like to feel that the ‘Air Force’ are as keen on investigating all avenues that might throw light on his absence. I would very much like to know if any of his colleagues who took part in this action could throw any light on the matter, or if you have any suggestions to advance. One feels so helpless to do anything and would like to feel reassured that everything possible is being done to find out what has happened. Please let me have an early reply and oblige. I am, Yours sincerely F J Ellis
Above: Sergeant John Hugh Mortimer Ellis,. fondly remembered by all in 85 Squadron.
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1st September 1940 around 14.00hrs
The news that a body had been recovered from the Chelsfield crash site, which of course should have contained no body or parachute, went unnoticed by 49 Maintenance Unit and no other office of the Air Ministry was informed. The ‘body’, now in the hands of the Police, was not identified and no written record was kept of its fate. As the weeks passed by enquiries continued and Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, Commanding Office of 85 Squadron, replied to the Air Ministry on 4th October 1940.
No.85 Squadron, Royal Air Force Station, Church Fenton, Near Tadcaster, Yorks,
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There being no urgency, three weeks passed before a firm of civilian contractors arrived at Chelsfield to recover the wreckage of the Hurricane that Brian Noble had baled out from. With so many aircraft wrecks littering south-east England at the height of the Battle, a firm of civilian contractors, A V Nichols Ltd, had been employed to assist the RAF in salvaging them. Nichols reported to the RAF’s 49 Maintenance Unit on September 24th that during their recovery they had found a flying boot with a foot inside, a parachute and finally the ‘Pilot’s body’. The ‘body’ with its personal effects were handed to the police, the hole was filled in and the workers went on to their next job.
4th October, 1940. Sir, F.B. CASUALTY – HURRICANE P.2673 – 1.9.40. 742069 Sergt Ellis, J H M – (Missing). I have the honour to refer to your letter /40/P.4 Cas dated 27th September, 1940, and to forward the following report in connection with the above flying battle casualty. At about 13.35 hours on 1.9.40, the squadron while on patrol, sighted approximately 150 – 200 e/a consisting of Dorniers 17 and 215, Mes 109 and 110 near Biggin Hill. When e/a were sighted the squadron was 5,000 feet below and while climbing to engage, were continually attacked by Me109s and 110s. It is presumed that Sergeant Ellis was shot down by enemy fighters before having time to engage the bombers, and that he crashed in the Biggin Hill – Kenley area. Search for his body and aircraft was undertaken by Kenley, but up till now no word has been received from them. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant, (Sgd.) Peter Townsend Squadron Leader, Commanding, No.85 Squadron, R.A.F.
Right: Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, the C/O of 85 Squadron who would later become well known for his relationship with Princess Margaret during the 1950s.
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There being no further information regarding ‘Hugh’ Ellis, his father was informed that death was now to be presumed, as was standard procedure for an airman lost at sea. His father still questioned how his son could simply disappear when so far from the sea:
28th February 1941. Dear Sir, Reference C7/742068.
The Air Commodore in charge of Air Force records took up the father’s case:
RECORD OFFICE, ROYAL AIR FORCE, RUISLIP, MIDDLESEX.
Peter Townsend, now a Wing Commander, finalised the matter with a further letter to Hugh’s father that came to the conclusion that he had indeed been lost to the sea and that his body would never be found:
Reference No: No.85 Squadron, 858/701/13/P.1 R.A.F. Station, Debden, Essex 4th April, 1941.
I duly received yours of the 26th inst, and note that as no news has been received of my son J H M Ellis, it is proposed to take official action to presume his death.
Date 25th March 1941.
I very much regret to say that I have heard nothing further respecting my son, or have any evidence regarding him at all.
I should very much like to know if the absence of any news means that you have found no trace of his ‘Hurricane’, which should be possible to identify by Registration No. or something, or if he has simply vanished without a trace of either himself or his plane. I am naturally anxious to know if possible what has happened to him, even if the news is not pleasant. Thanking you in anticipation of your early reply, I am Yours faithfully, F J Ellis
Dear Mr Ellis, Subject: 742068 SGT ELLIS J H M.
I have the honour to enclose a copy of a letter received from the next of kin of the above named airman, together with a copy of my reply thereto. This reply was based on a report from the Officer Commanding, No.85 Squadron who quoted his report No.855/701/13/P1 dated 4.10.40. It is felt that it is hardly conceivable that no trace of aircraft or airman should have been found in the area referred to during a period of six months and that the next of kin may very well feel this too. I am therefore referring the matter to you with the request that you will communicate with Mr Ellis in due course. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant Air Commodore, Air Officer i/c Records Royal Air Force
I have with me a copy of a letter from you to the Air Officer i/c Records, requesting news of your son Hugh. We have had to reply to the Air Ministry and inform them that we have received no further news of your son’s death. We suspected, you remember, that he lost his life in the neighbourhood of Kenley, but as neither that Station nor any other can produce evidence of his having been killed in their sectors, we are now forced to the conclusion that he was killed over the sea. This conclusion is supported by the fact that F/Lt Allard, his section leader, made a forced landing at Lympne and had presumably been engaged over the sea or near the coast. Yours sincerely, (sgd) P W Townsend, Wing Commander, Commanding, No.85 Squadron, R.A.F.
Some years later, historian Andy Saunders pursued Hugh’s story with the assistance of his surviving family. He surmised that the grave of an unknown airman at St Mary Cray Cemetery could be where the remains taken by the police from Chelsfield were interred. Yet there remained the recorded ‘fact’ that Brian Noble’s
Hurricane fell at Chelsfield – and he was alive and well and living in Devon – but body parts had been twice found at the crash site.
solve the matter once and for all, but correspondence with the MoD indicated they would not sanction any such effort.
Evidence that the Chelsfield crash site was where ‘Hugh’ Ellis died seemed overwhelming. Only a proper excavation of the site could
In 1992 a team lead by a Battle of Britain enthusiast – Mark Kirby - decided to excavate the site with the backing of both the Ellis
Hurricane P3408 VY-K of 85 Squadron shows the standard Battle of Britain Hurricane markings and camouflage apart from the sky undersides extending half way up the nose. This was only seen on 85 and 17 Squadron Hurricanes and is believed to have appeared when the order was sent out in June 1940 to replace the black and white undersides with sky. There was no official direction as to where the undersides ended so these ground crews took a creative approach to the nose area!
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That was how the matter rested for over 30 years until a local man, Ken Anscombe, dug at the Chelsfield crash site to find parts for his private museum. Although he never admitted it, others present at the time have spoken of human remains being found - and quietly ignored.
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family and land owner, but in contravention of the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 – knowingly breaking the law. During the excavation, human remains left behind in 1940 and ignored in the 1970’s were recovered along with parts of the Hurricane. Crucially, part of an engine cowling was found to have the aircraft’s serial number stamped in to it – P2673 – Hugh Ellis’ Hurricane. The police took custody of the remains and in July 1993 the Coroner formally identified them as those of John Hugh Mortimer Ellis. Hugh was finally laid to rest in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Brookwood, Surrey, on 1st October 1993 – 50 years and one month after he had been shot down.
85 Squadron on patrol towards the end of the Battle of Britain. By this time the squadron had reintroduced the hexagon emblem on its aircraft, painted underneath the cockpit. Note the variation in underwing roundel sizes, a result of some being applied in the factory and some, (on older aircraft), being painted in the field by the ground crews.
His parents did not live to see him identified. His Commanding Officer in 1940, wrote to Andy Saunders, ‘I should like flowers at his funeral to be placed on his grave from me – flowers of blue, yellow and white. Blue for the sky, yellow for his hair and white for the flying overalls he invariably wore’. ‘Hugh’ Ellis had been engaged to be married to his fiancé Peggy. Following his death she never married for, as Peggy’s sister who did attend the funeral said, ‘Her heart had died with Hugh’.
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‘FRIENDLY’ FIRE 31
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Friendly Fire, Blue on Blue - call it what you will – is as old as warfare itself. The advent of air warfare added a new problem – how to tell friend from foe in the blink of an eye and at a distance. By the time of the Battle of Britain, closing speeds could exceed 700mph and opposing fighters looked extremely similar. Accidents were bound to happen, and did. Here we look at just a few of the known incidents that took place.
ess than 30 years after the birth of air combat, the pilots in the Battle of Britain faced new difficulties. A pilot was expected to see his target through his goggles, a gun sight , a thick armoured-glass screen and the propeller arc. Dazzling sunlight above the clouds caused strange optical illusions that lead pilots to report all manner of ‘silver’ aircraft and ‘roundels’ surrounding the German crosses – in reality simply reflections. Life-or-death decisions were made in fractions of a second. Perpetrators were rarely aware of their error although RAF ‘victims’ frequently recorded attacks by unidentified Hurricanes and Spitfires. We reconstruct three very different incidents for which ample evidence exists.
Left: The wreck of Denis Robinson’s 152 Squadron Spitfire after being shot down on 8 August 1940. Denis (pictured above) was flying again a few days later and was to be involved in the shooting down of 87 Squadron’s commanding officer on 15 August, in a huge dogfight over the Portland area.
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S/L ‘Shovel’ - Gregg 15 August 1940 Squadron Leader Lovell-Gregg – Shovel to his friends – lead 87 Squadron’s eleven Hurricanes away from Exeter at 17.30 hours on August 15th, 1940. His orders were to intercept a large raid, estimated at 200 to 300 aircraft approaching Portland*. When Lovell-Gregg’s Hurricanes arrived over Portland two other squadrons were already engaged in combat; 13 Hurricanes of 213 Squadron and 9 Spitfires of 152 Squadron. In the dogfights that followed, 87 Squadron lost two Hurricanes and their pilots and two more aircraft were damaged in crash landings. 152 Squadron had 3 Spitfires damaged and one shot down into the sea. 213 Squadron lost one Hurricane and its pilot, with one other Hurricane returning damaged. The Luftwaffe lost 4 Ju87s plus one seriously damaged, 4 Me110s and a Ju88. Seven of 87 Squadron’s Hurricanes landed at Exeter and enquiries began to made about the other four. The crash landings of Sgt Cowley and P/O Jay accounted for two. Of P/O Comely there was no news and eventually it was concluded that he had fallen in the sea. ‘Shovel’ was found to have died in his Hurricane when it crashed into a wood near the famous Swannery at Abbotsbury – it was presumed that he had been shot down by an Me110 and this has been recorded ever since.
Above: The combat that took place over Portland on the afternoon of 15 August 1940 87 Squadron lost four Hurricanes in this savage combat. Sgt Cowley (far left) and P/O Jay (middle left) force landed their damaged aircraft. P/O Comely (middle right) and S/L Lovell-Gregg (far right) were shot down and killed.
However, it is recorded in the Operations Record Book for 152 Squadron that Sgt Robinson shot down an Me109 – that crashed into a wood near Abbotsbury.
*Luftwaffe records record 147 aircraft; 47 Ju87s, 40 Me110s and 60 Me109s.
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...extract from 152 Squadron ORB Whilst on patrol over Portland F/Lt Boitel-Gill led an attack on a large formation of Ju87s. He fired on one which broke up in the air. He then attacked two Me110s both of which burst into flames. His own machine was extremely badly damaged. His bringing it back to base was undoubtedly a magnificent effort. P/O Hogg carried out three attacks on this same formation but without apparent result. Sgt Barker also attacked this formation and he reports that fire ceased from the rear gunner of the machine he attacked. He then attacked an Me110 and it went into a steep spiral dive with smoke coming from both engines. He did not see it hit the sea. P/O Marrs attacked a Ju87 and also had a dogfight with an Me110 without result. P/O Akroyd attacked a Ju87 and saw his Perspex splinter and the machine went down from formation. He followed it down but was then attacked and his machine was so much damaged and his rudder jammed, he returned to base. Sgt Robinson attacked an Me109 which he followed down and saw burst into flames and crash in a wood near Abbotsbury.* Editor’s note: To be fair to Denis Robinson, the aircraft that he shot at and the aircraft that he followed down could have been two entirely different aircraft. Many pilots fired at a target and then, after losing sight of it in a manoeuvre, spotted a smoking aircraft and understandably assumed that it was the one they fired at. This common misconcepton led to numerous incidents where several pilots claimed the same aircraft, all in good faith and believing that it was ‘their’ 109.
Terence Gunion Lovell-Gregg (27)
New Zealander Terence Gunion Lovell-Gregg was born in Wanganui, in September 1912 and was the son of a doctor. Intending to follow in his father’s footsteps he began to study medicine, but despite his talent he could not progress as quickly as he would have liked because of his young age. He was equally talented when he took up flying and was the youngest person to qualify for a flying licence in New Zealand or Australia. Wanting to join the RAF he paid his own passage to the UK and was accepted by the RAF in October 1930. After training, Lovell-Gregg joined 41 Squadron in 1932. Clearly a talented pilot, he flew in Iraq with 30 Squadron, converted to floatplanes, became an instructor and then an examiner. In 1939 he was with 5 Group Bomber Command, but applied to convert to Hurricanes, which he did at 6 OTU in May 1940. He was posted to 87 Squadron on 15 June and assumed command of the squadron on 12 July.
The final moments of Lovell-Gregg were witnessed by Fred Lexter – a swanherd at Abbotsbury Swannery. Fred saw the burning Hurricane pass over Chesil Beach and smash through trees near the swannery, disintegrating and throwing the pilot’s body clear. F/Lt Ian ‘Widge’ Gleed represented the squadron at Lovell-Gregg’s funeral in Holy Trinity Churchyard, Warmwell. He wrote this moving account in his 1942 book ‘Arise to Conquer’. It seems impossible to believe that the Union Jack covers the remains of the cheerful ‘Shovel’. We crawl along the road. For God’s sake, why the Hell can’t we get a move on? What the Hell is the use of prolonging the agony? We pass through a narrow lane lined with oak trees. Oh, ‘Shovel’, why were you so reckless? We come to a halt. I jump down. We are by a high stone wall; behind it is a small village church, a warm grey in the sun. The pall-bearers lift the coffin onto their shoulders, the Union Jack nearly slips off. We follow the coffin, up through the wooden lych-gate, up a stone path round to the graveyard. The rows of gravestones look very neat in the thick uncut grass. It looked alright until you saw the hole,
surrounded by newly dug earth; it is in the shadow of tall trees that surround the church. You would love your graveyard if you could see it ‘Shovel’; it is very peaceful. Perhaps you can see it: I wonder if you are smiling at us now. The Padre was in the graveyard in his flowing robes. The coffin was laid by the grave; we took up our positions opposite to the firing party; the Padre stood at the head of the grave and said the burial service: ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust, etc, etc. My thoughts were elsewhere – with ‘Shovel’ at a party in Leeds. I was suddenly startled into reality by the firing squad: they fired rather a ragged volley. A few leaves dropped down from the overhanging branches of the trees. The coffin was lowered slowly into the hole; the flag had been removed. The brass plate and fittings glinted in the sun: ‘Terence Gunion Lovell-Gregg. Royal New Zealand Air Force.’ I stooped down, picked up a handful of earth and threw it on top of the coffin. The Last Post rang through the air. The service was over. I walked round to the head of the grave and saluted. ‘Au revoir, Shovel; you leave behind happy memories.’ We walked out of the shade of the trees into brilliant sunshine.
several bursts and saw bits come flying off. He was obviously damaged and I doubt that he got very much further.
“My day had started well. A fellow pilot had repaid a long standing debt of £5, a considerable amount in those days.
“I found the Ju88 next and managed to get in behind him. One of my guns had already jammed but I carried on and fired off the rest of my ammunition. One of the wings was well alight but I didn’t see the 88 crash as a line of bullets hit the left hand side of my cockpit. There was a dreadful din. The dash panel disintegrated and the engine began to run a bit rough. A bullet had nicked my left arm and other bits of shrapnel embedded themselves in it.
“With the fiver firmly in my trouser pocket I left Exeter and had little trouble in spotting the bombers. By then there were a total of about 200 of them spread out all over Portland. The first aircraft I shot at was a 109. I gave him
“The 109 that had hit me dived away and I saw two white bars on it. Later the Squadron Intelligence Officer told me that this was probably Helmut Wick. With my plane fairly badly hit I decided that this was no place to
One of the very few Friendly Fire incidents that were reported as such came on August 11th – just four days before Lovell-Gregg was brought down – and again it was a Hurricane of 87 Squadron in a huge dogfight off Portland. John Cock later recalled:
be, so I pulled back the hood and rolled the plane over. I tried to get out, but got stuck on something, so I kicked the stick forward and shot out into space. I grabbed the rip cord and pulled it. When the ’chute opened I was still hanging on to the handle for all I was worth. I put it in my jacket pocket and kept it as a souvenir! “Floating down I could see and hear the other aircraft whirling around. I felt a bit vulnerable, especially when my parachute cords fell around me. Another Me 109 was shooting at me! Dennis David got onto the 109 and I watched him shoot the aircraft down. The pilot didn’t get out of that one. “When I hit the water my ’chute began to drag me towards Portland. I thought about hanging on and sailing ashore but I soon realised that the ’chute was taking me the
A glorious air to air study of Ian Gleed’s 87 Squadron Hurricane LK-A. The squadron was unfortunate to be on the receiving end of ‘friendly fire’ twice in a week.
wrong way. I managed to release it and started to swim to the beach, about a quarter of a mile away. My arm was beginning to hurt and the left half of my Mae West had been punctured by the bullet so I floated a bit ‘left wing low’. I had already taken off my boots and considered that losing my trousers would ease the situation a bit. As they floated away I suddenly remembered my fiver in the pocket! I couldn’t quite reach them and I often wondered if anyone ever found my £5.” Eventually Pilot Officer John Cock reached Chesil Beach to be greeted by some Home Guards armed with shot guns. John Cock’s Hurricane fell into The Fleet, a few miles from Chickerel. 238 Squadron’s Yellow 2 (Sergeant Domagala ) described what had really happened.
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John Cock 11 August 1940
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238 SQUADRON INTELLIGENCE REPORT A and B Flights, 238 Squadron 150+ e/a 10.35 hrs 2 miles east of Weymouth and 5 miles east of Swanage ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights of 238 Squadron ordered to patrol Portland at 20,000 feet and encountered a mixed force of Me109s, He111s, Do215s and possibly some Do17s. The number of e/a is stated to be 150 plus. There was broken cloud at 6,000 feet of 5/10ths, visibility unlimited, and above wisps of high cloud at 20,000 – 30,000 feet. ‘B’ Flight climbed into sun and getting sight of e/a - Green Section to left and above Blue Section. Yellow Section went into line astern and sat above whilst Red Section went down from 20,000 to 6,000 feet to attack. The Me109s were dive bombing from about 10,000 feet and the bombing was pretty accurate. Red 2 seeing an oil storage tank on Portland Bill burning and also another small fire on the Head. The engagement resolved itself into a general melee by Red and Yellow Sections at 6,000 feet 2 miles east of Weymouth, and Green and Blue Sections were also engaged apparently 5 miles south of Swanage, according to Green 1, but Blue Section is missing. Yellow 2 (Sgt Domagala) opened fire on an Me109 with a very short 2 second burst at 50 yards range quarter but a Hurricane came into his line of sight and caught the tail end of the burst and the left wing of the a/c was smoking and the pilot baled out near Chesil Beach south of Chickerell.
Yellow 1 gave line astern but I broke away to the right and engaged an Me109. Just as I opened fire at the E/A a Hurricane appeared in my line of sight between the E/A and myself and got the tail end of the the burst which was a very short burst of 2 secs at range of 50 yds, quarter attack. My burst went into the left wing of the Hurricane which was smoking and the pilot baled out. I watched him come down and then attacked another Me after climbing. Sgt Domagała - Yellow 2, A Flt, 238 Squadron
Right: Polish pilot Sgt Marian Domagała who saw John Cock’s Hurricane fly through his field of fire and reported as such upon landing.
The battle over Portland on the morning of 11 August 1940 was one of the biggest individual combats of the entire Battle of Britain. Over 200 aircraft were involved and fifteen RAF pilots were killed along with a similar number on the German side.
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These two maps show the approximate crash locations of all the aircraft shot down that morning. Below is the wider view and left is a close up of the shaded box which covers the Portland/Weymouth area.
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238 Squadron was in the centre of the action on 11 August, losing four pilots killed as did 601 Squadron. This 238 Squadron Hurricane flown by Sgt Pidd was lucky to return home with shredded elevators and a badly damaged engine.
An artist’s impression of this incident showing Blenheim T1804 LA-E flown by P/O D N Woodger under attack by 1 (RCAF) Squadron Hurricanes. (Piotr Forkasiewicz)
The most well-known Friendly Fire incident during the Battle of Britain occurred on the afternoon of August 24th. A huge raid was approaching Portsmouth - 46 Ju88s, 203 Me109s and 99 Me110s. Six squadrons were scrambled, but only 234, 17 and 249 Squadrons went into combat, bringing down one Me109 and one Me110. 609 Squadron’s 12 Spitfires found themselves 5,000 below the enemy and were lucky to have only two aircraft damaged when they were ‘bounced’. Last to arrive were the 12 Hurricanes on 1(RCAF) Squadron. The Canadian squadron was for the first time scrambled to engage the enemy and were to patrol Tangmere while the squadrons stationed there were in action. At nearby Thorney Island 235 Squadron had sent up three of its Blenheims to patrol their airfield during the raid on Portsmouth. Unfortunately, the eager and inexperienced Canadians then encountered the Blenheims and the following pilots submitted claims: F/Lt G R McGregor Ju88 destroyed. F/O J-P J Desloges - shared F/O A D Nesbit Ju88 damaged. F/O A Mc L Yuile - shared F/O W P Sprenger - shared – Only when the squadron landed at Tangmere were they made aware of their error. Squadron Leader McNab, who had correctly identified the Blenheims, then flew to Thorney Island to apologize to the men of 235 Squadron
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1 (RCAF) Squadron’s Disastrous Debut 24 August 1940
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The Canadian pilots of 1 (RCAF) Squadron line up for a photo on 12th September 1940. Back Row L-R; F/Lt W R Pollock, F/Os C W Trevena, C E Briese, P B Pitcher, P W Lochnan, F/Lt E M Reyno, F/Os S T Blaiklock, R W Norris, A M Yuile, Capt W D Rankin. Front Row L-R; F/Os O J Peterson, W P Sprenger, S/L E A McNab, F/Os E W Beardmore, A D Nesbitt and B E Christmas
On the following pages we reproduce letters written by the senior officers in Fighter Command in response to the tragedy.
235 Sqn Blenheim Z5736 Sgt K E Naish and Sgt W G Owen both safe. Damaged by 1 (RCAF) Squadron Hurricane over Thorney Island. 235 Sqn Blenheim N3531 F/Lt F W Flood and crew - safe. Damaged by 1 (RCAF) Squadron Hurricanes over Thorney Island. 235 Sqn Blenheim T1804 LA-E P/O D N Woodger - missing. Sgt D L Wright (gunner) - killed. Shot down by 1 (RCAF) Squadron Hurricanes over Thorney Island and crashed into Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex.
27th August, 1940. Sir, I have the honour to inform you that on the 24th August, 1940 I received a report from the Air Officer Commanding No.16 Group that two Blenheims of No.235 Squadron had been shot down over Thorney Island aerodrome by Hurricane fighters at 16.40 hours that same day. Enquiries were at once instituted in this Command and reports received from Air Officer Commanding, No.11 Group have led me to conclude that No.1 Squadron, R.C.A.F. was responsible for this accident. 2. The incident occurred during intensive fighting in the Portsmouth area in which some 200 enemy aircraft and eleven squadrons of this Command were engaged. No.1 Squadron R.C.A.F. was in action on this occasion for the first time which, in my view, is a fact for which full allowance must be made in assessing responsibility for this accident. 3. The following papers bearing on the incident are attached to this letter for your consideration. A – First report received of the accident from No.16 Group. B – Reports by Officer Commanding No.1 Squadron R.C.A.F. C – Statement by Wing Commander G H Vasse of the Air Fighting Development Unit on an examination of cine gun camera film. D – Covering Report by Air Officer Commanding, No.11 Group.
(A) 16 Group Report
4. In my view these papers make the facts of the accident sufficiently clear and I would suggest that a formal Court of Inquiry is scarcely necessary. I would request, therefore, that you will take this matter up as you think fit with the Headquarters, Royal Canadian Air Force in London and inform me if it is thought that any further action is required.
Blenheims 235 F, A1 and E circled Thorney Aerodrome for fighter protection from 16.15 during air raid at 8,000 feet. 16.40. 235E was approached by Hurricane; all Blenheims fired recognition cartridges; Hurricane attacked and shot 235E down in flames. 235E went down southwards and fell in sea off Wittering. One body picked up by boat, the other occupant of a/c may have baled out.
5. I have no doubt that all concerned view this tragic mistake with the sincerest regret and I have already expressed my personal grief to the Air Officer Commanding, Coastal Command. (Sgd). Dowding
16.40. 235 A1 attacked by six Hurricanes. First attack hit wings, fuselage, starboard engine and holed Perspex; avoiding action taken and another cartridge fired; second attack made without result; crash landing on aerodrome wheels up and flaps both out of action. Pilot and gunner unhurt, bar scratches and bruises.
Air Chief Marshal, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command, Royal Air Force.
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235 Squadron Casualties 24 August 1940
HEADQUARTERS, FIGHTER COMMAND, ROYAL AIR FORCE, BENTLEY PRIORY, STANMORE, MIDDLESEX.
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(B) REPORT ON INTERCEPTION BY NO.1 CANADIAN SQUADRON ON 24-8-40 At 15.57, four sections of No.1 Canadian Squadron were ordered to patrol base at 15,000 feet. Sections were Blue, Yellow, Red, Green, with Green Section acting as the protective unit above the formation. The squadron was then ordered to patrol Tangmere at 10,000 feet. On arrival at destination, it was noted that a large volume of smoke was coming from Portsmouth and puffs of anti-aircraft fire lay at about 15,000 feet. A large number of aircraft were seen proceeding towards France far out to sea. Caribou Leader contacted Tangmere by R/T but received no further orders, and no communication for the next 15 minutes. Three twin-engine single rudder aircraft were observed by Caribou Leader in line astern coming from the direction of Portsmouth at about 3,000 feet below. The squadron was put into line astern and ordered to attack. Blue Section led by the Squadron Leader led the attack with Red Section following. Yellow Section did not attack and Green Section remained on guard. Blue Leader on approaching the three aircraft discovered them to be Blenheims so broke off the attack. All aircraft in Blue and Red Sections broke away as well, no rounds were fired. The attack took place about two miles west of Tangmere. Red Section lost sight of the squadron and made a left turn bringing them to the shore of the Solent, directly south of Thorney Island. The leader observed two twin-engine aircraft a few hundred feet below, inline astern, flying easterly along the coast. The section attacked but the leader thought he saw a white band on the tail so pulled aside to verify, at the same time calling on the R/T that he believed them to be friendly, which neither Red 2 or 3 received. No markings of any kind were noted and mid-fuselage turret seen. Red 2 attacked and saw smoke coming from the starboard engine. He ran into a strong defensive fire but cannot say from what position. The aircraft was turning slightly to the right but was not observed further. The section reformed and did not engage again. Yellow Section which did not follow Blue and Red into the attack on the three Blenheims, reformed on Blue Section to chase three aircraft out to sea off Selsey Bill. Yellow Leader saw five twin-engine aircraft heading south to the sea, at position he estimated to be about five miles east of Ryde. He led his section over and attacked the rearmost aircraft, which was a low wing twin-engine monoplane, and a very dark even colouring on top. There was no mid-fuselage or rear turret and he believes it had a single rudder. No wing or fuselage markings were seen. He closed from his dive at 600 yards where intensive defensive fire started. This fire continued until shortly after he opened fire. The closing range was about 200 yards when fire was observed along the left side of the fuselage. Yellow Two attacked from a right deflection closing to astern. No return fire was noticed but the right engine burst into flame and the aircraft began to fall to the left. Yellow 3 attacked and got a good plan view of the aircraft, the top surface was very dark and no mid-fuselage turret was observed and no upper markings of any kind. It is his impression that there was a single rudder. The aircraft broke up in the air and fell into the sea where the petrol remained burning on the surface some distance from where the aircraft entered the water. One tank had burst free in the air. Yellow Leader turned towards Selsey Bill as his section could not find him. He noted a twin-engine aircraft turning in from the sea just west of Selsey Bill, with the starboard engine smoking. He fired a short burst and exhausted his ammunition. This aircraft was not observed further. During all attacks no recognition lights were seen by any pilots and unfortunately due to the excitement of the unit’s first engagement, no times were kept. Blue Section returned to base on orders from ‘Garter’. The remainder with the exception of Red 2 landed at Tangmere to refuel and rearm. Red 2 landed at Middle Wallop. All returned to Northolt later. The above narrative was drawn up by the Officer Commanding squadron and Intelligence Officer after a consultation of all pilots concerned.
(Sgd.) E A McNab, S/Ldr Officer Commanding, No.1 Canadian Squadron
(C) REPORT FROM AIR FIGHTING DEVELOPMENT UNIT ON CINE GUN CAMERA FILM TAKEN BY NO.1 (CANADIAN) SQUADRON IN ACTION 24TH AUGUST, 1940. Upon instructions of Station Commander, I inspected a film, reportedly taken by Flying Officer Desloges, upon which were a few images of an aircraft. The film is very indistinct, but I am of the opinion that the aircraft was a Blenheim. (Sgd.) G H Vasse, W/Cdr Commander, A.F.D.U.
I have to submit the enclosed report from the Officer Commanding No.1 (Canadian) Squadron as a result of a report from Coastal Command that two Blenheims of No.235 Squadron were shot down by fighters in the neighbourhood of Thorney Island on the afternoon of Saturday, August 24th. 2. During the attack on Portsmouth, five fighter squadrons from this Group were despatched to engage the enemy, but No.1 (Canadian) Squadron was the only squadron that reported having engaged any aircraft in the vicinity of Thorney Island where the two Blenheims were attacked by fighters. 3. The A.A. guns in the area concerned report having seen a Blenheim shot down in flames by one of our fighters, after dropping the colours of the day. The same source also reports that a second Blenheim was attacked over Thorney Island. Neither the guns nor Observer Corps posts report enemy aircraft shot down in this vicinity. 4. No.1 (Canadian) Squadron was despatched by Group Commander from Northolt to protect Tangmere, Thorney Island, Ford and Westhampnett aerodromes, as the three fighter squadrons from that sector had been detailed to intercept the enemy raids approaching Portsmouth from the south. 5. From the attached report, and a written statement by the A.F.D.U. as a result of examination of the cine-camera films taken during the engagement, it appears that No.1 (Canadian) Squadron attacked the Blenheims in mistake for enemy aircraft. 6. When interviewed by the Group Commander, Squadron Leader McNab stated that during his first attack on the Blenheim, he omitted to tell the remaining members of his squadron that the aircraft he had ordered them to attack were friendly. During his second attack on a Blenheim, he warned his following fighters that the target was friendly, but unfortunately neither his No.2 nor No.3 received the message. 7. No.1 (Canadian) Squadron was passed by Northolt as operationally trained by day on August 16th. Being a new squadron, however, they have purposely been kept in a back sector and used to reinforce fully trained squadrons in forward sectors to give this squadron fighting experience under the best conditions. This was the first occasion in which this squadron has actually taken part in an engagement, and their regrettable mistake can only be attributed to over-anxiety to engage the enemy. 8. This squadron commenced its training at Middle Wallop on June 24th, 1940, continued its training for a period at Croydon alongside No.111 Squadron, and was given a weekâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s special training in air fighting under the expert guidance of the A.F.D.U. at Northolt before finally being declared operational by day. It is difficult to understand how either the Squadron Commander or any of his pilots could fail to recognise a Blenheim after two monthsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; intensive training in this country, and I can only repeat that the regrettable incident is accountable to over-anxiety to engage the enemy. 9. I take this opportunity of offering the most sincere regrets that a squadron trained in this Group should have been responsible for unnecessary loss of life among British pilots. I am confident, however, that No.1(Canadian) Squadron will not be responsible for a second regrettable incident, and hope that they will be permitted to remain in No.11 Group to wipe out their unfortunate mistake by destroying the enemy in combat. (Sgd.) K R Park Air Vice-Marshal, Commanding, No.11 Group, Royal Air Force.
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(D) From: Headquarters, No.11 Group. To: Headquarters, Fighter Command. Ref: 11G/470/1. Date: 25th August, 1940.
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Left: Two camera gun sequences showing an Me110 flashing in front of the lens in a split second and a single engined fighter under attack from the rear, Me109 or Spitfire? Below: A camera gun still of a Ju88 under attack. Bottom: a Blenheim photographed from a similar angle.
The pilots of 1 (RCAF) Squadron went on to play a vital part in the Battle of Britain, as both Dowding and Park knew they would. They also knew that incidents of â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;friendlyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; fire would continue as their pilots were making split second identification decisions through perspex and goggles in the heat of battle. This eventually led to both sides introducing more distinctive markings for their aircraft; The German fighters adopted yellow noses and rudders for their Me109s and the RAF introduced a sky coloured band around the rear fuselage and a sky coloured spinner which came into use just after the Battle.
They Also Served... Lesser known stories of the Battle of Britain
K5200, the prototype Gladiator flew regular armed sorties throughout the Battle of Britain as part of RAE Farnboroughâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s defence flight.
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As Britain stood alone in the summer of 1940, all available aircraft were employed to defend the islands. Andrew Thomas looks at a couple of unlikely types that were there, ready to do their bit no matter what the odds!
Air-Sea Rescue encounter
fter a brief, and undistinguished, career as a front line naval fighter, during the summer of 1940 many Blackburn Rocs were switched to second line tasks. Some were transferred to the RAF and in the summer of 1940 joined No 2 Anti Aircraft Co-operation Unit at Gosport, Hampshire, which was very much right in the front line. The unit had previously undertaken some operations during the Dunkirk evacuation conducting Operation ‘Flash’ that involved towing high intensity flares behind a Skua to illuminate any German E-boats in the area for other aircraft to attack. With increasing activity over the Channel, from early August 2 AACU was ordered to fly some embryonic air sea rescue sorties looking for downed airmen. For example, on 8 August, Plt Off Derek Clarke, inevitably known as ‘Nobby’ and who had been Mentioned in Despatches for Op ‘Flash’, flew a search sortie in unarmed Roc L3131 looking for downed pilots and survivors of the attacks on Convoy Peewit south of the Isle of Wight. He spotted a
Blackburn Rocs in formation circa 1939.
Ten days later on the 18th, Luftwaffe Ju 87 Stukas attacked Gosport and so 2 AACU was ordered to place four Rocs with armed turrets (they were usually unarmed) dispersed around the airfield for anti-aircraft defence! It took some time to fully equip them with guns and radios but by 8 September, two were operational. The following day, Roc L3085 was allocated to Nobby Clarke who selected Sgt Mercer as his gunner. Clarke also personalised his camouflaged Roc with a red ‘Saint’ within a red-framed yellow diamond on the fuselage. Clarke’s Roc, which was the only operational aircraft at Gosport, was officially declared operational on the 12th and after every AA Coop sortie, he and Mercer harmonised the guns and trained for more warlike work.
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pilot and, despite being shot at by the vessel, alerted the armed trawler HMT Bassett (T68) that closed and picked up a German pilot, thought to have been Oblt Martin Müller of Stab I/StG 3 whose Stuka had been shot down by Hurricanes. There was no sign of Uffz Kramp, his gunner. After another heavy attack against Portsmouth on the 12th, Clarke was out in a Skua looking for a Spitfire pilot when at 3,000 feet he was attacked by a Messerschmitt Bf 109. By swiftly popping the dive brakes, Clarke’s Skua rapidly descended to 30 feet above the sea and evaded the attacker. Above: The armed turret of Clarke’s Roc, L3085 showing its four Browning guns. On 18 August 1940, four Rocs were dispersed around the airfield at Gosport with armed turrets to act as anti aircraft defence posts! (via author) Below: Nobby Clarke’s personally marked Blackburn Roc, L3085 which carried his ‘Saint’ marking on the rear fuselage. (D H Clarke via T Bishop)
During a raid on the Spitfire factory at Woolston by a large force of He 111s during the late afternoon of 26 September, several defending Hurricanes from 238 and 607 Sqns had been shot down off the Isle of Wight. When the losses became apparent, 2 AACU was ordered to send an aircraft to search for survivors about 15 miles south west of St Catherine’s Point. There had been German
WORLD WAR II losses too and their efficient Air-Sea Rescue service was also soon out looking for downed airmen. At 17.45 Clarke, with Sgt Hunt as gunner, got airborne in L3085 and in the gloom of the evening searched over the grey sea. About ¾ hour later Clarke noticed what he took to be a Swordfish seaplane in the distance, but closing saw its camouflage and large black crosses and realised that it was German! They had come across a Heinkel He 59 (probably of Seenotflugkommando 1) also engaged on an ASR search and as the Roc approached, the Heinkel’s three gunners opened fire, hitting the Roc’s port wing. Hunt responded, but as the Roc’s guns could not depress, Clarke was forced to fly at zero feet
below the low flying seaplane as Clarke later described: “At 300 yards he looked terribly close. I lifted from nil feet – my airscrew had already flung spray over the windscreen - to 20 feet and dipped my starboard wing, slowly easing on top rudder to keep a straight course. “Fire” I yelled! The muzzle shock wave drummed against my ears and the tracer twisted towards the enemy. Yes, we were hitting him!” The Heinkel floatplane began running for France and safety as time and again Clarke positioned the Roc for Hunt to fire brief bursts that struck home each time. However, the German gunners were also hitting the Roc, and
as the French coast approached, a frustrated Clarke was forced to break off and head for Gosport where he landed at 19.40. Short of fuel, the Roc’s Perseus engine stopped soon after landing! The enemy fire during the 25-minute action had been accurate and ten hits were found on the Roc, including two (fortunately) unexploded incendiary rounds in the fuel tank. ‘Nobby’ Clarke was credited with a He 59 seaplane damaged – the only combat claim made by a Roc in RAF colours - and first of his five air combat claims. It was thought to have been the first combat between two ASR aircraft and probably the most unusual air combat of the epic Battle.
Above: Plt Off Nobby Clarke with 2 AACU in 1940 (D H Clarke via C F Shores) Above left: The opposition was a twin-engined Heinkel He 59 floatplane which was also engaged on ASR duties and which was credited as damaged. (via A Price)
Subsequently – and much to his chagrin - the young pilot received a rebuke from his AOC for this combat. However, Clarke’s appeal to Air Marshal Bowhill, C in C Coastal Command, resulted in the AOC apologising to his young subordinate – though as Clarke recalled, the enforced apology was not a pleasant experience! Interestingly, although Clarke and his gunner had engaged in air combat, they did not later qualify for the Battle of Britain clasp*.
* Only airmen flying with RAF Fighter Command squadrons were eligible for the clasp.
hortly after the Luftwaffe assault on England began on 21 July, the Gladiator-equipped Shetlands Fighter Flight under Flt Lt George Chater left Sumburgh for the tiny grass airfield at Roborough in Devon which had two grass strips that formed an â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; shape. Its task was to defend the port of Plymouth. There on 1 August it became
the nucleus of 247 Squadron, and gradually expanded to 12 Gladiator IIs for day and night fighter duties. Although not yet operational, the next day George Chater in N5622 and Sgt Arthur Makins in N5648 flew a patrol and in the misty, foggy weather off Barnstaple in north Devon intercepted what they thought was a Ju 88 that they forced to land at Roborough. Fortunately, there was no damage as it was Blenheim IV R3602/FA-N of 236 Sqn flown by Plt Off Dugald Lumsden and his crew.
Right: When 247 Sqn was formed its first CO was Flt Lt George Chater. (247 Sqn Assoc) Below: Gladiator II N2308/HP-B of 247 Squadron at Roborough for the defence of Plymouth during September 1940. (R C B Ashworth)
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Gladiators in the Battle of Britain
WORLD WAR II No 247 Squadron was declared fully operational on the 13th as part of Fighter Command’s 10 Group. Because of the state of the runways at Roborough, initially only a day standby was held there, with night readiness being held at St Eval in Cornwall by six aircraft that flew there each evening. One of the newly posted pilots was Sgt Jim Renvoize who recalled:
“There were no facilities at Roborough apart from a couple of huts.” The squadron mounted patrols from both airfields, though the biplanes would always be at a disadvantage against the faster enemy bombers. On 21 August, Sgt ‘Tommy’ Thomas suffered 247’s first contact with the Luftwaffe
when during a night scramble he had to make a forced landing near Werrington, Devon. He had been chasing an enemy aircraft but was unable to make contact. Another new pilot was Sgt ‘Eddie’ Edwards who flew his first operational sortie on 8 September 1940.
Above: Sgt ‘Tommy’ Thomas poses in front of a 247 Squadron Gladiator at Roborough. He was killed during a night patrol in late October. (J Renvoize via R C B Ashworth)
“I made no interceptions other than sighting He 111s returning to France not far from Plymouth and there was no way by which we could catch them!” That was 247’s first sight of the enemy since moving south and occurred on the afternoon of the 25th. Sgt Renovoize patrolling at 15,000 feet spotted a formation Do 17s escorted by
a dozen Bf 110s near Start Point heading for Plymouth. He attempted a head on attack and was soon joined by three more Gladiators, including O’Brian’s, but the enemy formation was attacked by Hurricanes and broken up. Unfortunately, the individual Dorniers proved too quick for the biplanes as they departed southwards. As the autumn approached and the weather deteriorated, the enemy increasingly turned to night attacks, so the squadron’s Gladiators
Above: One of the new pilots posted in to 247 Squadron at Roborough was Sgt M F ‘Eddie’ Edwards. (Author’s collection) Below: Gladiator II N5682/HP-K of 247 Squadron at Roborough awaiting a scramble. (P G O’Brian)
increased their amount of night flying. Sadly, this also led to its first casualty when, during a night patrol, Sgt Robert ‘Tommy’ Thomas was killed when he flew into high ground in N5644. The squadron’s first night interception came during a major raid by a hundred bombers on Plymouth on 28 October when the B Flight commander, Fg Off Richard Winter, spotted a
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During mid-September, the squadron came under command of Flt Lt Peter O’Brian, who recalled that during his three months or so flying Gladiators by day and night:
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gale hit Orkney, N2276/H was blown into the ops block and badly damaged. Patrols with the biplanes continued into the autumn but with no contact and as the crisis passed, 804 returned to Naval control.
Above: Sea Gladiator N2275 of 804 Sqn at Hatston in September 1940 (R H P Carver via R C Sturtivant)
Heinkel at 15,000 feet near Callington and fired two bursts from astern and below, apparently inconclusive. In spite of many patrols, enemy contacts were, perhaps fortunately, elusive. However, during the evening of 6 November the final Fighter Command engagement of the day took place when at 1915, Winter in N2035 was on patrol. Near Coverack he spotted a Heinkel about 500 yards away and closed to about 500 feet below the bomber, firing a 5 second burst. He then delivered another attack after which the enemy descended slightly and was later credited as damaged.
This proved to be the last engagement by a home based Gladiator pilot, though 247 Squadron continued its Gladiator patrols into the New Year. In the north, the Sea Gladiators of 804 Naval Air Squadron based at Hatston on Orkney for the defence of the Home Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow came under the operational control of Fighter Command. Under Lt Cdr John Cockburn, that day 804 had eight Sea Gladiators of which six were serviceable, and 13 pilots. However, two weeks later when a
The Gladiators of 247 and 804 Squadrons were not the only ones to be flown operationally during the Battle of Britain however, as during the Battle a number of RAF Stations formed small (and probably unofficial) Defence Flights. These SDF’s were intended purely for local airfield defence and used whatever fighter aircraft were available. Stations known to have used Gladiators include Croydon and Gosport, while the RAE at Farnborough also had a SDF which was formed on 17 August 1940. It held armed aircraft at short notice to patrol the local area, pilots flying a variety of aircraft on a first come, first served basis! It had two Gladiators, K7946 and, interestingly, the original prototype – K5200. This flew the SDF’s first Gladiator patrol with Sqn Ldr Watt at the controls on 25 August and the aircraft flew armed patrols almost daily through September and October in the very heart of the Battle. Perhaps fortunately the Gladiators did not encounter the enemy and the RAE SDF’s 53rd and last Gladiator patrol was made by Plt Off Roly Falk in K5200 on 25 October 1940.
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