A cloudy day with continuous rain and good to poor visibility. At 12:20, Flt Lt Norman Ryder, was sent up to investigate an inbound raid off Whitby. Within four minutes of Raid X32 appearing on the board in 13 Group Headquarters’ Operations Room, he was airborne from Catterick, flying Spitfire Ia, N3114.
He was initially sent to Redcar, with an order to sweep the area between the Redcar and Whitby, on his way to the coast. When just north of Guisborough, however, Ryder was advised the aircraft was now bombing shipping three to four miles north of Whitby, and ordered to immediately head to that location. He opened up to 4½ lb. boost and crossed the coast at Staithes at a height of just 400 feet. He could not fly much higher as the poor conditions would not allow him. The cloud cover was 9/10ths to 10/10ths at a base of around 600 feet, and visibility was very poor with fog and driving rain.
When a few miles out to sea, Ryder was given a new vector of 30° to intercept the still unidentified aircraft. He soon spotted it, however, 60° to starboard, approximately three to four miles off the coast, on a course of 080° and at an estimated airspeed of 100 mph. Ryder approached the aircraft, and circled it anti-clockwise whilst he identified it as a Heinkel 111H, recognising it by the “cutaway “V” in rudder and long glass nose and fine shaping of fuselage and tail. Starboard cross [on] fuselage hardly distinguishable, but port cross very clear and looked very white with two figures behind it which could not be distinguished.”
Ryder also noticed that the port engine was disabled, which was the result of anti-aircraft fire from HM minesweepers 'Lilac' and 'Walnut', accounting for its low airspeed and his ability to circle the bomber without difficulty. When the Heinkel’s crew saw Ryder, they attempted to climb away but were making slow progress owing to the damaged engine. The pilot was unable to take any other evasive action, and could therefore not avoid Ryder’s expected attack. However, they were not going to go down without a fight.
Ryder needed to be quick if he was going to make an attack before the bomber disappeared into the cloud cover, and so came around behind it as fast as he could, lining himself up dead astern for a ‘No. 1 Fighting Area Attack’. As he did so, he saw red flashes emanating from the dorsal gun, but no tracers. It was misty and raining at the time, but he judged his position approximately 400 yards behind the aircraft, and made a wingspan allowance of 80 feet. Aiming his reflector gun sight on the starboard engine, he opened fire with a single six-second burst as he closed to 200 yards, with his closing speed of approximately 70 mph.
Although he had expended around 800 rounds, he observed no effect of his fire on the engine. He felt this may have been the result of rain on his windscreen and the light buffeting he experienced in the bomber’s slipstream. Deciding to try again, he broke away to port to make a full 360° turn and execute a second No. 1 Attack. Just as he broke off, however, he heard two distinct bangs under his engine, though there was no noticeable effect on his aircraft.
As he came around full circle, readying himself to open fire when the He111 was in his sight again, he saw “grey smoke from above and black smoke from below [the] starboard engine, and [a] momentary burst of flame from [the] region of the spinner”. Realising his first attack had indeed hit the target, he did not open fire after all, but rather continued through on an arc to port.
The He111 now reacted to the damage. The starboard engine was only idling and the aircraft started to lose altitude; it was not far down to sea level. Realising the bomber was finished, Ryder discontinued his attack and positioned himself off its starboard side to watch it slowly descend towards the sea, now around 15 miles northeast of Whitby.
Despite the rough sea, the bomber floated for around five minutes on its wings and fuselage, allowing Ryder to circle it a few times, intending to draw nearby ships to the crew’s aid. Before long, the Scarborough drifter Silver Line approached.
Whilst circling, Ryder checked the state of his aircraft in an effort to determine the cause of the two bangs he had heard during his attack. He checked the airframe over, then the instruments, and thereby noticed his oil temperature was steadily rising. He deduced that he had probably been hit by return fire and felt the two bangs were likely the sound of a bullet entering and then exiting his engine.
Realising that there was no way his aircraft would make it back to the coast in this condition, he circled a nearby trawler so they knew he was there and in difficulty. With his oil gauge now reading almost 100° Centigrade, his engine failing, and his cockpit heating up and filling with oil fumes, Ryder radioed Control to inform them of the situation.
Weighing up the possibilities, he realised he would not make it to the coast, and his low altitude also meant a parachute descent was out of the question. As his altitude fell further and time was running out, it became quite clear that his only option was to ditch. When just 40 feet above the surface of the water, with seconds of flight left, he informed Control he was doing just that.
Then he hit the water. He later recalled, “I stalled on the water at 65 m.p.h. with a loud crash. [The] aircraft immediately dug its nose in and came to [a] vertical position, tail up, and sank immediately. I think the whole touch down and sinking was simultaneous.
My next clear recollection was realising that I was below the surface, and that everything appeared green. I undid my harness and commenced to get clear. The A/C was sinking rapidly and when almost clear my parachute caught under the sliding roof. I then got partly back into the cockpit and out again, and finally got clear and commenced to swim to the surface. The tail plane passed just in front of my face. Pressure was very great and green light had changed to dull black.”
By the time Ryder broke to the surface, his lungs had almost reached bursting point and he gasped for air. Now rising and falling in a five-to-six-foot swell, he released his parachute and trod water, hoping the trawler he had circled would soon find him. He attempted to remove his flying helmet but each time he stopped paddling to remove it, he sank, so gave up. He then tried to blow more air into his Mae West, but the strain on his lungs from holding his breath, coupled with the physical effort of treading water to keep his head above the surface, made this impossible, too. He felt his sodden clothing getting heavier, but kept himself up with the assistance of his parachute, which he kept hold of throughout, though in time it, too, became waterlogged and began to sink.
As he came to the peak of a roller, Ryder was relieved to see a trawler not too far away, coming in his direction. Moments later, it pulled alongside and a boat-hook was extended towards him. He was heaved on deck and taken into a cabin to reduce his exposure to the elements. He was told he was aboard the Grimsby-crewed trawler, Alaska. The crew helped him to remove his wet clothing as he was physically exhausted and vomiting sea water. They did not have any alcohol or spirit to warm him, but made him as comfortable as possible.
Meanwhile, at Catterick, 41 Squadron were anxious and had difficulty finding out what was going on. It wasn’t until 14:30 that news was finally received, much to everyone’s relief, that Ryder had been picked up alive. He was landed at Hartlepool and hospitalised for three days.
The five-man crew of the Heinkel was brought ashore at Scarborough by the drifter Silver Line and taken into captivity. They were identified as Gruppenkommandeur Obstlt Hans Hefele, who was a passenger on the operation, Lt Rudolf Behnisch, the pilot, Lt Georg Kempe, the Observer, Uffz Albert Weber, the Wireless Operator, and Uffz Alfred Bächle, the Mechanic. Kempe had been wounded in the head and was taken to hospital, but the remaining four men were taken to the police station, where they were fed before being collected by the military. At Burniston Barracks, they revealed they were on an armed reconnaissance flight in He111H-3, 1H+AC, of Lübeck-Blankensee based Stab II/KG26.
As this was the first time a Spitfire had ditched in the sea – and the pilot had survived to tell the tale – both the Air Ministry and Supermarine were interested in the circumstances of Ryder’s escape. He was asked to make recommendations and his detailed report provided invaluable information for training pilots in what to do when ditching; it is understood he spent some time lecturing other pilots on surviving ditching in the sea. Some of these recommendations are included in his Combat Reports, and suggest that a pilot finding himself in such a situation should:
• Tighten straps and inflate “Mae West”,
• Open hood and possibly door.
• Close radiator flaps and pancake at 70 m.p.h.
• Aircraft immediately tucks its nose in (with sea running) and assumes a vertical position, tail up, and sinks.
• Release Sutton harness and parachute and evacuate, push away hard to clear tail plane.
Whilst this was 41 Squadron’s first loss of an aircraft in action during the War, the major newspapers reported it was also the first British home based fighter to be shot down by an enemy aircraft, for fifty German aircraft already shot down by the RAF. Additionally, the 13 Group ORB records that Ryder’s He111 was the 27th enemy aircraft shot down by the Group since September 1939.
Ryder was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 19 April for the ‘coolness and courage’ he showed today, thereby receiving the first decoration to be bestowed upon a 41 Squadron pilot during World War II, and the first DFC awarded the unit since 1919. The citation reads,
“During April this officer was ordered to investigate an enemy raid at sea and took off alone in bad visibility and low cloud. He sighted an enemy aircraft and, observing that its port engine was out of action, he promptly attacked the starboard engine and after disabling it with one burst of fire the aircraft fell into the sea. Afterwards Flight Lieutenant Ryder found that his own aircraft was losing power and he was forced to come down on the sea, whereupon his aircraft immediately dived. When at a considerable depth he managed, with great difficulty, to extricate himself from the cockpit and was then picked up by a nearby trawler. His accurate flying made the interception a success, and his coolness and courage materially contributed to his own rescue and the collection of much valuable information. He set a splendid example of courage and discipline to his squadron.”
[Text: Excerpts from Steve Brew's book "Blood, Sweat and Courage" (Fonthill, 2014; Images: 1. A portrait of Flt Lt E. Norman Ryder DFC, drawn by Captain Cuthbert Orde on 4 January 1941. Crown copyright expired, 2. Flt Lt Norman Ryder DFC, late Nov 1940, snip from IWM Image CH 001871, 3. Ryder was flying Spitfire Ia, N3114, EB-J, when he claimed a Heinkel He111 on 3 April 1940, but was shot down by return fire and ditched in the North Sea. This profile commissioned specifically for "Blood, Sweat and Courage" © Gaëtan Marie]
'NOBALL' TARGETS, 1943-1944
Tangmere's Spitfire XII Wing participated in a single Ramrod on 5 December 1943, which constituted the first ever Noball target not only by the Wing but also by Allied forces in general. ‘Noball’ was a code-name for targets related to the V1 flying bomb.
Allied intelligence of German rocket-propelled technology had been building for some months and significant data had been gathered by agents in Germany, Denmark and France, including photographs and sketches.
By late October 1943, sufficient concern had been raised to justify a decision to have RAF Photographic Reconnaissance squadrons photograph all of northern France. During the following month, the first photographs were obtained of ‘ski ramps’ and of ‘midget aircraft’ on one such ramp. By the end of November, 72 ski ramps had been photographed and, as a result, the British-American Combined Chiefs of Staff gave the order to launch “Crossbow Operations against Ski Sites” on 2 December.
The first attacks were planned for 5 December at St. Josse-au-Bois in the Pas-de-Calais and at Ligescourt in Picardie, which were the targets that the Spitfire XII Wing supported today. The Wing would support another eight such attacks during December 1943 (totalling nine out of 13 operations by the Wing that month), twenty-one in January 1944 (constituting every operation by the Wing that month) and another eight attacks during February (80% of the Wing’s operations).
By early 1944, the damage wrought by Allied attacks on Noball sites had compelled the Germans to move to mobile launch ramps, the first of which was complete by 25 February. By this time, however, the Spitfire XII Wing had been split up and although 41 Squadron supported another eleven attacks on Noball targets during March and April 1944, the unit was withdrawn from Ramrod operations altogether from 28 April. They were then deployed instead on ground attack operations in preparation for the launch of Operation Overlord.
It should be emphasised that, all this time, not a single V1 was launched against the United Kingdom and all the attacks that 41 Squadron, and indeed the Spitfire XII Wing, were involved in during late 1943 and early 1944 were of a purely precautionary and preventative nature.
However, whilst 41 Squadron was relieved of operations against Noball sites at the end of April 1944, it would only be a brief respite; less than two months later the Squadron was called upon again against the V1 – this time, however, in a defensive role against aerial targets rather than stationary ground targets.
[Excerpt from my "Blood, Sweat and Valour" (Fonthill, 2012). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission, please.]
Text contributed by Doug Wanstall (firstname.lastname@example.org) Twitter
The picture is of my grandfather, John Wanstall who witnessed the dogfight and the plane belly landing. the reaction on Twitter and facebook has been amazing and shows just how much people care about our history, heritage and the brave souls that protected us.
The wreckage of the Messerschmitt Bf 109E4 (‘White 6’) piloted by Leutnant Heinz Schnabel
Schnabel was captured after his Messerschmitt Bf 109E4 (‘White 6’) was shot down and crash landed in Kent on 5 September 1940 during the Battle of Britain. Schnabel was a member of Jagdgeschwader 3 (1 Staffel (squadron)) and was an ace with six confirmed 'kills' to his name at the time.
"5 September 1940: 1./JG3 Messerschmitt Bf109E-4 (nr.1985). Engine damaged in combat with fighters during escort sortie for Do17s to Croydon and belly-landed on Handen Farm, Chaphill, near Aldington, 10.10 a.m. Possibly one of those attacked by F/L J.T. Webster of No.41 Squadron. FF Lt Heinz Schnabel captured slightly wounded. Aircraft White 6 + 100% write-off."
"Leutnant Heinz Schnabel and Oberleutnant Harry Wappler were two German prisoners of war (PoW) who made a daring, but unsuccessful attempt, to fly from captivity in England to the Netherlands during the Second World War. They managed to hijack a training aircraft and then attempt to fly to the continent, only to turn back due to lack of fuel. They were subsequently caught and later transferred to Canada for the rest of the war." - (info via wikipedia)
(Colorised by Paul Kerestes from Romania)
This article originally appeared on the BBC's World War Two People's War website.
The events leading to Squadron Leader HRL Hood DFC being officially listed as Missing are complex; contemporary records are now incomplete, contradictory and vague. By assembling the facts available, supplemented by eye-witness accounts and tangible relics, a clearer picture emerges which could possibly explain Squadron Leader Hoods true fate.At 1500 hrs on Thursday, 5 September 1940, Squadron Leader Hood led 12 Spitfires of 41 Squadron from Hornchurch with orders to patrol Maidstone at 15,000ft. Hood flew as Blue 1 of 'B' Flight, rearguard cover being provided by 'A' Flight, led by Flight Lieutenant Norman Ryder. The scramble was a hurried affair and, as the squadron climbed away from Hornchurch, a large enemy formation was encountered flying up the Thames Estuary towards London: He111s, Do17s and Ju88s escorted by Me109s. Other Fighter Command squadrons had been vectored to intercept this raid; the Hurricanes of North Weald's 249 Squadron, Debden's 17 and 73 Squadrons, Northolt's 303 Squadron and Stapleford's 46 Squadron.
41 Squadron Pilot Officer Wally Wallens recalls:
"As usual I was flying Number 2 on 'Robin' Hood leading 'B' Flight and, being unable to gain height advantage and position in time, 'Robin' put us in line-astern and open echelon port and attacked head-on, a desperate manoeuvre that could age one very prematurely. Within seconds all hell broke loose and, as the action developed, 'B' Flight was overwhelmingly attacked by the 109s.
"Only four Spitfires from 41 Squadron failed to return this engagement. Pilot Officer Tony Lovell had parachuted out of his burning aircraft over South Benfleet and returned to Hornchurch. Pilot Officer Wallens had force-landed, near Orsett, with a cannon shell through his leg and had been taken to hospital. One pilot was confirmed killed in action. His body was identified as that of Flight Lieutenant Webster DFC. Squadron Leader Hood was officially recorded as 'Missing'."
Reg Lovett of 73 Squadron
Another casualty of this interception and relevant to our investigation was Flight Lieutenant Reg Lovett DFC of 73 Squadron. That unit's Intelligence Report states that:
"A and B flights took off from Castle Camps at 14.55 hrs with orders to orbit North of Gravesend. At 1510 approx. enemy formation sighted about 1 mile to south being engaged by A/A at 19,000ft. E/A flying westwards in 3 vics, in line astern. A Flight led by F/Lt Lovett DFC attacked the rearmost formation. Leader commenced quarter attack, but as E/A travelling very fast it developed into astern attack at 350 yards. Leader experienced considerable cross fire and was hit by MG fire on the port side. Closed to 300 yards, but hit on starboard leading edge by cannon shell, and in breaking away a Spitfire came upwards almost vertically and they collided. Leader baled out and landed near Rochford, uninjured after a delayed drop."
Throughout this engagement, numerous aircraft fell to the earth below, observed by many military, police and ARP personnel, in addition to the general public. The majority of aircraft fell in the Nevendon area of Essex, adjacent to the A127, the main arterial road between London and Southend-on-Sea.
The ARP telephone messages recorded:
"At 15.30 approx. at Nevendon 0.25 mile SE Nevendon Hall. Machine Wrecked. Spitfire. Pilot baled out unhurt.
"At 15.30 approx. Wickford. Fuselage, part body and one wing fell Cranfield Park Road 400 yards SW Tye Corner. Wing bears marking K, believed British."
Further details were recorded in the War Diaries of local military units. The aircraft losses noted in the ARP records were also present in these diaries, but the following additional information was noted:
"312 Searchlight Battery RA: A wing apparently belonging to a British fighter was recovered at M177010. One British pilot picked up dead on the Arterial Road at M1710.
"37th AA Brigade RA: Spitfire crashed in Nevendon M180101. The pilots parachute became entangled with the plane and he was killed."
An eyewitness describes the eventsJohn Watson was working at The Old Cricketers garage in Nevendon:
"I could see and hear aircraft very high. Something fell into the centre of the junction and Mr Ryder, the proprietor of the shop on the corner, ran out and picked up what turned out to be a 303 bullet. As I looked up I saw an aircraft coming down. Part of the wing of this aircraft was missing and it was accompanied by a Spitfire wing. I was certain that I saw a complete Spitfire with its wing cut off, both tumbling down together. The wing came down in the direction of Wickford; the aircraft I believe may be the one which came down about 75 yards North of the present junction of Courtaulds Road and Archers Fields, on land now belonging to Essex Water and part of the treatment works. I could see a parachute coming down in the direction of North Benfleet.
"As all this was going on, my attention was drawn to a Messerschmitt 109 which was also coming down in a perfect tail spin and on fire. I looked back just in time to see the British aircraft crash down nearby. As soon as I finished work, I was able to visit the crash site of the aircraft. The Hurricane had been badly damaged on hitting the ground and I was not able to get too close."
For many years, various publications suggested that Terry Webster and Robin Hood had collided, but it appears more likely, given the evidence from the 73 Squadron report, that Webster actually collided with Flight Lieutenant Lovett's Hurricane. Therefore, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Hurricane which crashed a quarter of a mile South East of Nevendon Hall/Archers Fields was the aircraft vacated by the latter. This is corroborated by items recovered by Roland Wilson, on whose land the aircraft crashed. A Hurricane radio mast and Merlin II engine limitations plate were removed from the wreckage before the area was cordoned off by the authorities.
The fragmentary remains of the aircraft reported on the Northern side of the arterial road were found by numerous local people. Walter Smith found the seat of the Spitfire, used by the family as a makeshift chair for many years. Roland Wilson encountered the entire tail section of the Spitfire and, daunted by the size of his souvenir, satisfied himself by removing the rudder mass balance weight and stub aerial for his collection. More importantly, some weeks later, Roland discovered an unopened parachute pack in open fields North of where he had found the Spitfire tail section. The parachute was marked 'WEBSTER'. Roland handed over the parachute to Nevendon Police, who congratulated him for his honesty. This event was recorded briefly within the Brentwood and Southend-on-Sea Police diary:
"17.35 30.9.40. Nevendon. Parachute and engine of a Spitfire which crashed 5.9.40 found in a field at Nevendon."
Youngsters find Spitfire wreckage a day or so after 5 September, thirteen year old Sam Armfield and his younger sister, Brenda, were on their way through scrubland, known locally as 'The Police Bushes' on account of being opposite the A127 Police Houses. The youngsters were en-route to fish at a pond. In the wasteland they were astonished to encounter the virtually intact wreckage of a Spitfire which was lying on the surface and hidden by the tall bushes. The entire fuselage forward of the control panel was missing, but there was no other indication of battle damage.
"The Spitfire obviously couldn't be seen from the main road, otherwise soldiers or Home Guard would have been guarding the aircraft. I don't recall any signs of bullet or cannon holes and no blood or anything in the cockpit - we would have looked for that sort of thing. The tail wheel was clear of the ground and we all commented on what a good wheelbarrow wheel it would make. None of us could remove it. We all took turns to climb in the cockpit and pretend to fly it, but we were all reluctant to press the gun firing button on the control column. We were able to remove the gun inspection covers and discovered that all the ammunition had been exhausted and the webbing belts were slightly frayed from passing through the guns."
Brenda Armfield recalls that she discovered the severed port wing on the other side of the bushes, some eight feet away from the main wreckage. The wing had separated at the last inboard gun position and the Browning machine gun was exposed. Brenda used the small screwdriver from her sewing kit to take off the ammunition feed chute, which was already loose. The boys were jealous of her prize and made unsuccessful attempts to remove the gun itself.
Every evening after school the youngsters would rush home to play on the aircraft and make further attempts to remove various souvenirs. Although they told no adults about 'their' Spitfire, after about a week they arrived to find that the wreck had been removed. The engine of this aircraft appears to have fallen further West of the main crash location, near Great Wasketts Farm. Apparently, the Merlin was shattered and many fragments lay scattered about the impact spot. The engine was guarded by a member of the LDV, although Sam Armfield managed to obtain some souvenirs which have since been identified as being of Rolls-Royce Merlin origin.
Although the eye-witnesses have identified this aircraft as a Spitfire, the lack of battle damage confirms the fact that it could not have been Lovett's Hurricane, which had been badly damaged by the enemy - 73 Squadron Intelligence Report refers. Only one Spitfire remains unaccounted for: Squadron Leader Hood's P9428 EB - R. This may well have been his aircraft.
It is quite possible that the Spitfire discovered by Sam Armfield was that referred to in the War Diary of the 37th AA Brigade RA, although it is unclear why the wreckage was not discovered by the authorities earlier. The report states that the pilot's parachute became entangled with the plane prior to his death. However, there appears to be no firm evidence to confirm the recovery of the body of the pilot from this particular aircraft, or its subsequent burial. It is understood from the Pitsea undertaker, Mr Green (who was responsible that day for the recovery of a German Casualty, Hauptmann Fritz Ultsch) that the bodies of all airmen were initially taken to local mortuaries before being collected en-masse by Frank Rivett and Sons of Hornchurch. The bodies were then transferred to RAF Hornchurch for distribution and burial. The records of Frank Rivett and Sons were apparently destroyed during the Blitz.
The Luftwaffe cemetery
The absence of any records relating to local undertakers makes positive identification of the final resting place of this pilot difficult to establish. Allied airmen were generally buried in the graveyard at St Andrews Church, Hornchurch, unless it was requested otherwise by the family of the deceased.
Luftwaffe casualties were interred at Becontree Cemetery and it is here that an interesting anomaly has been noted. Within the Barking and Dagenham Burial Register, Entry No. 5176 records the burial of a Walter Heatz/Heatry (Register no. 5/09/11) on 12 September 1940 in grave B1:684 - the day after the burial of Hauptmann Fritz Ultsch. The GWGC have confirmed that they have no record of any relevant casualty and, consequently, the body has never been transferred to Cannock Chase. Interestingly, the original entry 5176 in the Burial Register has been altered at some time in the past and the name of Walter Heatz has been crossed out and the name Walter Klotz added in pencil. The name Walter Heatz then reappears lower down in the register under Entry No. 5206, on 26 October 1940, where the name unknown has been crossed out and W. Heatz added, also being buried in Grave B1:684. Given that some major errors were obviously made at this time, further research is currently being undertaken to examine the possibility that this grave may actually be the final resting place of Squadron Leader Hilary Richard Lionel 'Robin' Hood DFC.
In conclusion, it is believed that whilst attacking the bombers head-on, B Flight of 41 Squadron were bounced by JG54. The exact cause of Squadron Leader Hood's loss remains unconfirmed, although there is one combat claim by Timmerman of 1/JG54 which may possibly relate to this casualty. Hood appears to have baled out, but his parachute became entangled with his aircraft with fatal consequences. Spitfire P9428 then tumbled down, engine-less and minus its port wing, landing near the arterial road in Nevendon.
Whatever injuries Squadron Leader Hood sustained whilst baling out will never be know, but it must be presumed that they were such that personal identification was not possible. As it has recently been accepted that Flight Lieutenant Rushmer lies in the 'unknown' grave at Staplehurst, there are no other unidentified RAF casualties with this date of death. Could it be, therefore, that at some point between collection of the body and its eventual burial, a mistake has been made leading to Hood's burial as a non-existent German airman? I doubt we will ever know, but from the evidence available, and fantastic as this theory sounds, it has to be considered a very distinct possibility.
The following pictures and war record were provided by Peter Lee about his cousin, Flight Sergeant Teddy Watts.
WATTS, Edward George Hullet ‘Teddy’, 1051882, RAFVR;
b London, 11 Feb 19;
ed Holborn GS;
joined RAFVR, 29 Jul 40; 9 EFTS, Ansty, 1940; Crse 28, 9 SFTS (Master & Hurr), Hullavington, 1940-16 Apr 41;
plt badge & Sgt Plt, 16 Apr 41;
Crse 20, 57 OTU (Spit), Hwdn, 23 Apr-9 Jun 41;
RF/WUL in Spit Ia, K9942, Hwdn, 16 May 41;
501 Sqn (Spit II), Chilbolton, 19 Jun 41;
145 Sqn (Spit II), Merston, 10 Jul 41;
485 (NZ) Sqn (Spit Vb), Redhill, 1 Sep 41;
41 Sqn, 3 Dec 41-12 Apr 42;
7 days leave, 22 Dec 41;
7 days leave, 22 Jan 42;
Flt Sgt, ca Apr 42;
SD/KIA in Spit Vb, W3450, in combat w FW190s during Circus 122 to Hazebrouck Marshalling Yards, 12 Apr 42, aged 22;
s of Edward A. & Beatrice Watts, & husb of Margaret Watts of Stockwell, London;
bur Plot 2, Row 3, Grave 5, Dunkirk Town Cem Nord, F.
On this day in 1918, the Royal Air Force was formed following an Order in Council made by His Majesty King George V on 22 March 1918, resulting in the union of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and Royal Flying Corps (RFC).
On the inauguration of the Royal Air Force, His Majesty the King, sent the following telegram to Lord Rothermere, the President of the Air Council:
"Today the Royal Air Force, of which you are Minister in Charge, comes into existence as the third arm of the Defences of the Empire. As General-in-Chief I congratulate you on its birth, and I trust that it may enjoy a vigorous and successful life."
100 years later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has issued this statement from Buckingham Palace:
For more information on RAF100 events around the UK you can visit the official website:
THE OTHER ENEMY
The Luftwaffe was not the only enemy as the so-called ‘Phoney War’ continued into the new year; the weather also wrought havoc this winter in England’s northeast.
The first serious snows had fallen in November 1939, which made flying difficult. After one particularly heavy dumping, snow ploughs were brought out and every available hand at the station was issued a spade or similar tool and put to work clearing a usable landing strip. After much sweat and effort, a single runway was cleared, which was lined with large mounds of shovelled snow. It was intersected at various points with entry and exit paths leading to the perimeter track and dispersals areas.
It was a bitterly cold winter throughout the United Kingdom and at the beginning of January 1940 the country experienced its coldest conditions since 1894, the thermometer falling below 0°F in many places. The Thames froze over at Kingston, lochs froze up in Scotland, and ice covered stretches of the Humber, Mersey and Severn. The southeast suffered its heaviest snowfall for forty years.
On the Continent, the icy conditions stretched from Scandinavia to Italy. France reported it was their coldest winter since 1917 and several people died of the cold in Italy, the temperature falling in Milan in late January 1940 to 14°F. Even on the other side of the Atlantic, Washington DC bemoaned the fall of 15 inches of snow, whilst Richmond, Virginia, experienced the heaviest snowfall in over 30 years.
RAF Catterick, too, was hit with heavy snows in late January. Seven inches were dumped on the aerodrome on the 22nd of the month, and more snowfall followed on the 26th and 27th. As a result, the airfield was closed on 27 January, and all operations were cancelled until the end of the month.
Plt Off ‘Wally’ Wallens recalled the difficulties facing him and his fellow pilots in the snow;
“It was a very dodgy operation, taking off and landing in such conditions, particularly with the Spitfires having such restricted visibility when taxying [sic], ploughing about in clouds of snow, pilots not knowing whether they were on or off the runway.
[…] Landing on packed snow in bright sunlight could be very tricky as, like landing an amphibian on still, glassy water, one’s judgement of height could be so affected that one might hold off much too high or virtually fly into the deck with a resounding thump.”(1)
On 29 January, two runways were cleared for emergency flying by 400 men from the Catterick Army Camp and, on 1 February, 219 Squadron’s Blenheims were permitted to fly again; permission for 41 Squadron’s Spitfires followed a day later. The weather did not, however, improve a great deal into the first weeks of February and flying was kept to a minimum. Flt Sgt ‘Shippy’ Shipman recalled the monotony of this lack of activity,
“There were many long hours of waiting and thinking. One read books and played cards until one was sick of both. Boredom was the immediate enemy, and sleep was often the result. We had one young pilot officer who became so irritable, angry and tensed up that he did nothing but pace up and down by himself; he was almost a nervous wreck. Another pilot went down with an ulcer.”(2)
[Excerpt from my “Blood, Sweat and Courage” (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission.
Quotes: (1) "Flying Made My Arms Ache"; Sqn Ldr R. W. ‘Wally’ Wallens, DFC, retd., 1990, Self Publishing Association Ltd; (2) "One of ‘The Few’; The Memoirs of Wing Commander Ted ‘Shippy’ Shipman AFC", John Shipman, 2008, Pen & Sword. Image © Swanwick family.]
6/10ths cloud with early mist and fog, in a southwesterly wind of 10 mph, and poor visibility. 41 Squadron was airborne on three patrols today, but was only called upon to intercept the first of the seven raids mounted by the Luftwaffe. Three of these were directed against Kent and London, two on Portsmouth, one on shipping in the Thames Estuary and one on Dover. Although the attacks were “more varied than hitherto”, they were generally of a smaller nature than recently.
The first attack commenced when nine Me109s crossed in at Dover, penetrated as far as the Sittingbourne area, and dropped bombs in that area and at Dover. A second formation of nine Me109s crossed in 15 minutes behind them, and circled the Canterbury area until 08:30.
11 Group had Kenley’s 253 and 605 Squadrons in the air at the time, having been airborne since 07:35, and they were ordered onto the Maidstone patrol line in anticipation of the initial plots making landfall. When this occurred, 41 and 603 Squadrons were also sent up at 07:50, too, 41 Squadron’s contingent comprising ten pilots under Flt Lt Norman Ryder. The Wing was airborne minutes later and ordered onto the Rochford Patrol Line, but when the Kenley Wing intercepted the Luftwaffe, the Hornchurch Wing was moved onto the Maidstone line to replace them.
41 and 603 were subsequently ordered to intercept the second formation of nine, designated Raid 7, but did not see any sign of them. However, it was believed that the Luftwaffe had nonetheless seen them, as they were recognised by the Observer Corps to have turned about and dived for the French coast. The Kenley Wing was more successful, and although 253 Squadron was unable to engage the Luftwaffe, 605 Squadron succeeded in claiming one Me109 destroyed, two probable and four damaged, although they sustained the loss of their Officer Commanding, Sqn Ldr Archie McKellar, who was killed in action.
It was on return from this patrol, however, that 41 Squadron’s Plt Off Norman Brown (P7507) had a flying accident that could have had a fatal outcome. He was amongst five pilots that inadvertently entered the London Balloon Barrage, and was lucky to have survived when he struck a balloon cable and crash-landed near Dagenham, just east of London. Brown was injured in the accident and his aircraft, initially considered to have only suffered Category C damage, was struck from charge ten days later.
Brown recalled many years later that whilst the Squadron was on the patrol, the weather had deteriorated over Hornchurch during their time away, and B Flight’s pilots were directed to land at RAF Gravesend instead. This was executed without problem and they subsequently had sufficient time at the airfield to refuel and enjoy some breakfast before they were recalled to Hornchurch.
However, as Flt Lt Tony Lovell’s aircraft would not start again, he was left behind at Gravesend and Plt Off Denys Mileham took the lead of the remaining five.4 As the weather was still poor, however, they flew in close formation but ultimately lost their way and accidentally entered the Barrage Balloon area east of London.
In the low cloud cover, the pilots did not realise their error. They were below the level of the balloons themselves, and the cables would have been the only indication they were there. Under the prevailing conditions, however, the cables would have been practically invisible. Indeed, Brown saw nothing until he had struck one of the obscured hazards. He remembered,
“The first I knew of any problem was the flight performing a very tight turn, at which point I struck a balloon cable. I thought of trying to get out but decided against it for a number of reasons. I slid down the cable, losing speed, finally stalling and doing a ‘flick roll’, at which point I lost a part of the wing and the cable apparently broke… and I went into a steep dive. In pulling out of the dive, I met serious control problems and the aircraft rolled onto its back and at this point I thought it was the end as I was only a few hundred feet up. Somehow or other the Spit was turned the right way up in a shallow dive and I found that as long as I did not try to pull out I could prevent it from turning again.”
A Barking schoolboy by the name of Tommy Thomas was watching the incident from the forecourt of his grandfather’s garage on Ripple Road. He recalled seeing two Spitfires suddenly break through 10/10ths cloud just east of the old Barking Power Station, when the higher of the two suddenly banked to port with a balloon cable around the port wing.
He remembered hearing a loud “swish and twang” as the cable hit the ground just in front of the petrol pumps. The balloon, to which the cable belonged, was located on the green opposite the Ship and Shovel Public House on Ripple Road. Still coming down at this time, Brown recalled that,
“Luckily I spotted an open building site just beyond the railway line, so I directed the machine there. As the site was small and surrounded by houses, I deliberately aimed to strike a six foot metal boundary fence in the hope it would take some speed off. I recall automatically going to select ‘flaps down’ but the airspeed was much too high. On crashing, the aircraft turned over violently and the hood smashed closed and I was trapped for what seemed a lifetime and I suppose I went completely berserk, as I was sure I was about to be cremated.”
After what seemed to Brown “an eternity”, he was rescued from his upturned aircraft and was able to walk away with no physical injuries. The incident would, however, continue to haunt him for many years to come. He recalled, “From that day I started a series of horrific nightmares and I could scarcely bear to sit in a Spitfire with the hood closed. […] In retrospect, and with the wisdom of years, it is clear that I should have reported sick or asked to be taken off flying temporarily, but no fighter pilot will ever willingly do either and certainly at twenty one I did not, and fought on, and turned down an opportunity to transfer to Training Command. Some days were hellish but on the whole I felt I was winning and continued to fly with the Squadron throughout Nov., Dec. , Jan., and Feb.41.”
Brown was extremely lucky to have survived the incident with no physical injury and was flying with the Squadron again that afternoon, prior to being released on two days’ leave.
[Excerpt from “Blood, Sweat and Courage” (Fonthill, 2014); sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission please. Image: © Robin Smith, “Seek and Destroy”, which has always reminded me of this event.]
At 1120 on the 22nd of October, 1942, three Spitfires took off from Llanbedr on an authorized cloud training flight.
The fighters were last seen over the sea off Aberdovey, about 20 miles south of Llanbedr and the last radio contact came shortly after that.
At 1430 the Spitfires were declared overdue and an air search was initiated, but the search was hampered by the extensive cloud layers in the area, ranging from a cloud base at 800 feet above sea level to tops at 18,000 feet.
Nothing was found, and on the following day weather conditions were so bad that aircraft could not take off at all.
On the 24th, however, the weather had improved and the search was resumed. At 1300 the three missing planes were sighted, wrecked and burned out, on Tarren Hendre, a 2,077-foot mountain about 7 miles northeast of the coastal town of Towyn.
It appeared that the planes had flown into the terrain in level flight and in near-zero visibility. The Spitfires were completely destroyed by impact and fire and the pilots must have died instantly.
Flight-Lieutenant Frank Gillitt (in BM573), Flying Officer Ronald Harrison (in R7296), and Flying Officer Thomas Scott (in BL518), all killed in a flying accident.
When baling out of his stricken aircraft on 9 August 1941, Wg Cdr Douglas Bader was compelled to leave behind his right artificial leg as it was stuck in the cockpit.
He unstrapped the prosthesis and jumped with only his left artificial leg, and was injured on landing, damaging the ‘good’ leg, and breaking the waist harness in the process; the leg that had remained... with the aircraft was destroyed when his Spitfire hit the ground. Bader was hospitalised for a short period in St. Omer, from where he managed to escape with the help of a French nurse, but had barely reached the home of a local farmer when he was found and re-captured.
In much the same way that Galland, Mölders, and other German Aces were respected by the Allies, and indeed pilots before them such as von Richthofen and Udet, so too was Bader by the Luftwaffe. Being in a rather uncomfortable position without the full use of his legs, he therefore used his status to ask them if they might arrange for the RAF to drop a replacement right leg.
In a rare case of collaboration between two countries at War, the Luftwaffe assented to Bader’s request and sent a message to the RAF to arrange it. Thus, Operation Leg was born, and formed a part of Circus 81 on the morning of 19 August. Officially, the aim of the mission was to attack Gosnay Power Station, which, ironically perhaps, was the failed target of Circus 68 on 9 August – the very operation Bader was lost on.
However, the secondary, although preliminary, objective was to drop Bader’s leg by parachute. The Luftwaffe offered the RAF a safe thoroughfare to St. Omer but once the job was done the ‘ceasefire’ was over and the war was back on; the bombers and fighters would continue on to their attack on Gosnay.
The Operation Order for Operation Leg foresaw the bombers making rendezvous over Manston at 10,000 feet at 08:30, with Tangmere’s Escort Wing stepped up and back at 11,000, 12,000, and 14,000 feet, the Escort Cover Wing at 15,000, 17,000 and 20,000, the Target Support Wings at 22,000, 24,000, 28,000, and 32,000 feet, and finally the Rear Support Wing at 28,000 and 32,000 feet.
The orders pertaining to the dropping Bader’s leg also included a role for the Tangmere Wing: “The leg is to be dropped by a Blenheim when West of ST. OMER. The Wing Leader of the Tangmere Escort Wing is to report by R/T when the parachute has opened ‘LEG GONE’. Tangmere Controller is to report to Group Controller immediately he receives this message.”
In the event, the Circus was delayed by two hours and the Tangmere Wing was airborne at 10:05, and rendezvoused with the Blenheims over Manston at 10:30. 41 Squadron deployed eleven pilots led by Sqn Ldr Gaunce and provided a Close Escort for the bombers at 11,000 feet.
41 Squadron comprised Gaunce P8759, Beardsley W3565, Rayner W3636, Mitchell W3383, Morgan R7350, Glen R7307, Marples W3713, Palmer W3564, Swanwick W3634, Bodkin R7304, and, Brew R7267.
Kenley’s Escort Cover Wing also rendezvoused over Manston with the bombers and Tangmere Wing, and they proceeded together uneventfully to St. Omer via Dunkirk. At 10:57, 18 Squadron Blenheim IV, R3843, dropped Wg Cdr Bader’s replacement right artificial leg over the southwest corner of St. Omer Airfield from 10,000 feet; the parachute opened and Wg Cdr Woodhouse confirmed this fact to the Tangmere Controller. The specially built wooden crate that was dropped was clearly marked with a large Red Cross symbol, and landed near the village of Quiestède.
The formation then continued on to Gosnay, approximately three-and-a-half miles southwest of Béthune, to complete the main objective of the Circus. Intent on making a bombing run at 10,000 feet, the bomber crews were once again foiled when they found ten-tenths cloud cover over the target area. This was mostly concentrated between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, but large cumulus clouds reached up to 20,000 feet, and storm clouds were scattered over the target area. This left them little choice but to abandon the attack, and Gosnay was spared yet again. No alternative target was located and no bombs were dropped at all.
The Tangmere Wing did not sight the Luftwaffe all the way to the target, and turned with the bombers to escort them back out. The Blenheims’ return was initially covered by the same cloud cover that had thwarted their attack, but the weather deteriorated as they neared the coast and the bombers were forced to drop to just 1,000 feet to get under the cloud base. This resulted in them being fired at by the German coastal defences, which were no doubt surprised to see six RAF bombers roar over their heads at little more than 300 metres. The result was that all the aircraft were hit by Flak and one man was wounded.
The Tangmere Wing sighted a few German aircraft on their way out but they showed no inclination to fight and were not engaged. The three squadrons left the bombers about ten miles off Manston and made for Westhampnett and Merston, where they landed in time for lunch at 12:00.
The Kenley Wing, on the other hand, saw and engaged a number of Luftwaffe aircraft. 452 Squadron was attacked from behind approximately 15 miles inland and one aircraft was hit by cannon and forced to return home early. On the way back out, the Squadron was continuously attacked by Me109s, which split the pilots up, and cost the lives of Fg Off Eccleton and Sgt Plt Gazzard, whilst Plt Off Willis was wounded in action. In return, they claimed one Me109F destroyed and two probably destroyed.
A section from 602 Squadron dived to attack three enemy aircraft below them without result, and another section was dived upon by three Me109s from above, but neither a claim nor a casualty was subsequently reported. On the way back out again, a number of small formations of Me109s also attacked 485 Squadron and several engagements took place, resulting in the loss of Sgt Plt Miller, for claims of one Me109 destroyed, one probably destroyed and one damaged.
Northolt’s Target Support Wing made landfall on the French coast west of Gravelines at 10:45, stepped up and back at 22,000, 25,000 and 27,000 feet. Approximately five minutes after crossing in, they were attacked by 15 Me109s in two formations. 306 Squadron went into a defensive circle and subsequently claimed an Me109F destroyed for no loss, whilst 308 Squadron split up and claimed another destroyed, but lost the rest of the Wing in the process and patrolled the coast for ten minutes before returning home. 315 Squadron had difficulty maintaining contact with 306 and 308 Squadrons on account of cloud and were not engaged at all. However, pilots of the Wing report seeing an Me109 hit and destroyed by German Flak in the Calais area.
Hornchurch’s Target Support Wing crossed the French coast six miles east of Dunkirk between 28,000 and 32,000 feet at 10:45. 611 Squadron sighted ten Me109s 24,000 feet over Poperinghe, Belgium, which they chased all the way to Dunkirk without result. 403 Squadron attacked another 15 Me109s in the Poperinghe area and ultimately claimed four destroyed, one probably destroyed and two damaged for the loss of Plt Off Anthony, who was shot down and captured, and Plt Off Dick who baled out off Dover with combat damage and was rescued by ASR.
Soon after crossing in, 603 Squadron sighted 20 Me109s approaching from the south at 20,000 feet. They were engaged by one of the Squadron’s sections, which claimed two destroyed, two probably destroyed and one damaged for no loss, whilst the rest of the unit covered them at 30,000 feet. Ultimately, none of the Wing’s squadrons reached the Gosnay area, and they withdrew after they had been informed that the bombers had crossed out.
Finally, Biggin Hill’s Rear Support Wing, made landfall on the French coast ten miles southeast of Dunkirk, between 27,000 and 28,000 feet. The Wing then made a wide sweep to starboard and in doing so sighted a number of formations of two to four Me109s at altitudes down to 13,000 feet. Whilst 72 and 92 Squadrons remained above for cover, 609 Squadron dived down to attack the enemy aircraft, and claimed two damaged. The Squadron’s Plt Off Ortmans sustained combat damage and baled out into the Channel but was picked up by ASR and returned safely.
[Excerpts from my “Blood, Sweat and Courage” (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission, please]
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