41 Squadron Attacks a Distillery
9 December 1941 – A southerly wind of 10-15 mph with 7/10ths cloud at 6,000 feet and 6-8 miles visibility. It was a generally quiet day operationally today, and only two sections of two pilots were airborne.
In the first of these, a section undertook an uneventful shipping reconnaissance, 13:25-14:40 (Buckley & Rayner), but it constituted Plt Off John Buckley’s first and in fact only operational sortie with the Squadron. The second was a successful Rhubarb to France by Sgt Plts Arthur Glen (AA902) and Charles Valiquet (W3770).
The two pilots were airborne as Blue Section at 14:09 and tasked with attacking ‘Target 57’, a distillery at Le Buc, between Thiétreville and Ypreville, southeast of Fécamp. Traversing the Channel at sea level on a vector of 158° from Merston, the two pilots made landfall in cloud cover at St. Pierre-en-Port, east of Fécamp, and then flew at ground level on a course of about 195° until they reached a tree-lined road between Le Buc and Ypreville.
Sighting the distillery about 500 yards to starboard of their position, Glen led Valiquet to the target and they went straight into the attack, first from south to north, Glen strafing the distillery with a two-second burst of cannon and machine-gun fire and Valiquet expending a one-and-a-half-second burst. Both pilots registered strikes but noticed no other effect of their fire. Making a circuit of the target, they repeated their first attack from south to north, both firing and striking the distillery again, but on this occasion eliciting grey-green and ‘reddish’ smoke.
They made a full circuit again, and came in a third time from south to north. On this occasion, Glen was unable to position himself correctly for an attack and therefore did not open fire. Following 300 yards behind, Valiquet took his lead and also did not fire. By now, however, “volumes of heavy smoke”(1) were pouring from the top of the distillery. Now trying a new tactic, Glen banked around and made a long run over the fields from north to south, this time opening fire from 300 yards and aiming low. He later reported:
“I continued firing until forced to break off to avoid running into the Still. Very concentrated hits were seen at the base of the Still and a terrific sheet of flame enveloped the whole building. I made one or two circuits of the target before leaving and when I came away the whole Still was burning very fiercely with flames issuing from all windows and through the roof. The flames were 200 to 300 feet high.”(2)
It is not clear whether Valiquet fired on the fourth run, but he does state in his Combat Report that he took pictures of the target on each of his attacks with his cinegun camera. However, they do not appear to have survived amongst those in the Imperial War Museum’s collection.
On the way back out, the pair shot up a moving Army lorry in the same vicinity, but no results of their attack were observed as they darted over the top of it on the deck. They stayed as low as possible as they made for the coast, which they crossed two miles west of St. Pierre-en-Port. Setting a course of 340°, the two pilots headed quickly back across the Channel to make landfall on the English coast at Shoreham.
They landed at 15:12, and Glen claimed the distillery destroyed, reasoning in his Combat Report that, “In view of the fierceness of the fire and the rapid hold it gained it would be impossible to save the Still and I claim this target as destroyed.”(3) He shared the victory with Valiquet.
At some stage during the attacks, however, they had come under light machine gun fire from the ground near the distillery, and one of the two Spitfires sustained slight damage to its wing. The ORB makes no mention of it, but as Glen does not mention it in his comment on the operation in his logbook, it may have been Valiquet’s aircraft that sustained the damage. In any case, neither pilot was injured.
Separately today, three Dutch pilots were posted to the Squadron from 57 OTU at Hawarden: 26-year-old Plt Off Leendert C. M. ‘Kees’ van Eendenburg, 25-year-old Plt Off Albert ‘Peter’ van Rood, and 26-year-old Fg Off Bram ‘Bob’ van der Stok. They were not only the first Dutch to ever serve on the Squadron, but also the first of many pilots from the Continent that would join the Squadron before the cessation of hostilities.
NOTES TO TEXT: (1), (2) & (3) Combat Report for Sgt Plt Arthur A. Glen, No. 230, 9 December 1941, TNA AIR 50/18.
1. Sgt Plt Arthur ‘Pinky’ Glen would go on to command 41 Sqn, a role he held from January to May 1944.
2. Bram van der Stok would later become one of only three men to make a ‘home run’ from the March 1944 ‘Great escape’.
[Excerpt from Steve Brew’s "Blood, Sweat and Courage" (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction, please, without prior permission.]
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