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]
Supermarine "Spitfire" Mk.I coded serial number N3126 EB-L of 41 Squadron of the Observer Corps, flown by Pilot Officer Ted "Shippy" Shipman, then based at RAF Catterick. On 15 August 1940 he shot down the Messerschmitt Bf-110C Zerstörer coded M8 + CH of Staffel 1 Zerstörergeschwader 76 -1./ZG76- piloted by Oblt. Hans Ulrich Kettling. The combat was filmed by the movie machine guns "Spitfire". The 3rd photo depicts what remains of Oblt. Hans Ulrich Kettling's Messerschmitt Bf-110C after the crash. The last picture shows Ted Shipman (left) and Hans Ulrich Kettling well after WW2, when they met in 1985.
Extract from One Of 'The Few". The Memoirs of Wing Commander TED 'SHIPPY' SHIPMAN AFC by John Shipman.
“There was an almighty bang and everything changed. After the roar and racket of the past quarter of an hour, there was suddenly total silence. There was glass everywhere except in the instrument panel where it belonged. My right arm wouldn’t obey my commands but hung loose at my side. Almost every dial, indicator and gauge in front of me had gone haywire. Not a squeak from the radio; not a murmur from the engine; no wind noise; total silence; and around me total chaos.”
Sgt Plt Peter Graham, 41 Sqn, on being hit by Flak, when a 20mm high explosive shell entered his cockpit, during a Rhubarb* to the Le Havre area, 23 July 1943.
As quoted in "Blood, Sweat and Valour" (Fonthill, 2012), and reproduced with Peter's permission.
* Term used to describe raids over over France – either ‘sweeps’ involving the whole squadron, or ‘rhubarbs’ when a pair of aircraft would go out on a roving patrol.
Instigated as part of a campaign to seize air superiority from the Germans in preparation to a landing in Europe
4 July 1944 – Poor weather continued throughout the morning, with cloud and mist. The first wave of V1s did not come over until 08:30, but thereafter 108 were plotted by 11 Group. Of these, 84 crossed the coast and 52 were shot down by fighters.
Weather conditions prevented 41 Squadron from getting airborne until after lunch, but from 12:40 onwards twelve anti-Diver patrols were flown over the Channel, southeast of the Isle of Wight, and the last pair landed at Friston at 22:30. However, despite their efforts, just one victory could be claimed by the Squadron, which was shared between Fg Off ‘Momo’ Balasse and Flt Sgt Freddie Woollard on the third patrol.
Blue Section (Balasse EN229 & Woollard MB856) was airborne at 14:10 to patrol an area ten miles out to sea between Hastings and Rye. The pair were vectored onto a Diver by Wartling Control at 14:30, and soon spotted it approaching Dungeness at 3,000 feet on a course of 340° and at an IAS of 340-350 mph.
Balasse and Woollard took turns firing on the V1, attacking it from quarter astern to full astern, at ranges of 250-200 yards, and sent it down to explode on impact at a location they described as “approx. 1 Mile W. of Lydd. (actually N. of Rye.)”. They returned to base at 15:30, claiming the Squadron’s fifteenth destroyed V1 (13 + 2 shared).
[Excerpt from "Blood, Sweat and Valour" (Fonthill, 2012)]
The Squadron’s mascot, a black French Poodle by the name of Perkin, had belonged to Fg Off Reg Hoare until he was shot down on 1 April 1943. The Squadron kept the dog following Hoare’s loss, but he ran around their bases more-or-less wild at times, until he was adopted by Plt Off Peter Gibbs after he joined the unit in January 1944.
Finding Perkin in a poor state with rashes all over his body, Gibbs, an animal-lover at heart, caught him, treated the inflammations, and bound his paws so he couldn’t scratch himself. In time, the rashes healed and, in apparent thanks, Perkin became devoted to Gibbs and would follow him wherever he went.
They became such good friends that when taxiing out for flights, Perkin would jump up onto the port wingtip of Gibbs’ aircraft to escort him to the runway. At this point, he would jump down and wait for his return. On landing again, Perkin would reverse the process, jumping back up onto Gibbs’ wing to escort him on the taxi back to dispersals. When Gibbs stopped the engine and dropped the cockpit’s side flap, Perkin would run down the wing and jump into the cockpit to greet his best friend.
When the Squadron moved base, Perkin would also ride with Gibbs in the cockpit, sitting on his lap, with his paws on either side of the gun sight, but with his head down, almost like a child too afraid to look, so that Gibbs could see to fly.
He was clearly quite a bright dog, but he had a penchant for cows milk. This was not unusual in itself, but Perkin would cheekily take a drink directly from any suitably located cow’s udder whenever he wished! This earned Perkin, whose rank by this time was Flying Officer, his own unique decoration, the DOCT, or 'Distinguished Order of the Cow Tits', and he would appear on the pilot rota as “F/O Perkin DOCT”.
When the Squadron moved to the Continent in December 1944, Gibbs was forced to leave Perkin behind, but placed him in the care of his father. At the end of the War, however, Perkin was returned to Reg Hoare following his repatriation, much to the sadness of both Gibbs and his father.
41 Squadron's second dog during the summer of 1943 was a white Bull Terrier by the name of Monty
Monty belonged to Flt Lt Hugh Parry, who had obtained him during his time as a Test Pilot with Vickers, and had brought him with him when he was posted to 41 Squadron in March 1943.
91 Squadron, which formed the other part of the Spitfire XII Wing, had their own dog, too: a large Alsatian, named Boris, who was their mascot. However Boris did not see eye-to-eye with 41 Squadron’s pooches, and Monty and Boris had a bad falling out that summer. Hugh Parry recalled that they…
"…got into a terrible fight because Boris, a jumped-up ‘Wing Commander’, tried to eat Monty’s food. Despite everyone doing everything to separate them – blazing newspaper, soda-water siphons, buckets of water, etc. – it was to no avail. Ultimately one of Boris’ legs was removed at the knee and he was taken to the local vet and put down. Monty had a badly skinned head but otherwise was okay."
When Parry was shot down in September 1943, Monty was sent to live in Southampton. Not understanding the circumstances, however, he was often seen at the railway station trying to board a train back to Tangmere.
[Images: Both images are Monty in Summer 1943; both copyright Hugh Parry]
A single He111, designated Raid 23A, entered into 13 Group from 12 Group just west of Dishforth at 15:29. The aircraft flew north over the town of Leeming and dropped bombs on RAF Leeming, slightly damaging some transports and wounding three people. The airfield’s anti-aircraft batteries engaged the aircraft with their 40mm gun, but the 13 Group Controller quickly vectored 41 Squadron to the area.
Four sections were in the air at the time, and the pilots converged on Leeming. At 15:35, Flt Lt Tony Lovell (X4683) sighted the He111 one mile northwest of RAF Leeming flying east at 1,800 feet at approximately 180 mph, and gave chase. At around the same time, Sqn Ldr Patrick Meagher and Sgt Plt Bill Palmer (X4718) also arrived in the area.
Lovell made an attack on the aircraft, expending a single, four-second burst from dead astern, closing from 200 yards to 50 as he fired. This caused a small, unidentified piece of the aircraft to dislodge itself and fly off. However, he was unable to make a further attack as a result of “another Spitfire being close to [the] E/A”. After this, Lovell did not see the aircraft again.
Palmer sighted the aircraft briefly between cloud patches and informed Meagher, who had not seen it. As such, Meagher told Palmer to follow it and take the lead. Meagher then glimpsed the aircraft, too, but when he turned to follow Palmer, got lost in cloud and took no further part in the pursuit. Palmer also momentarily lost the aircraft but soon spotted it again and quickly closed to within 100 yards to identify it. Palmer’s aircraft therefore appears to have been the Spitfire to which Lovell refers.
Being in an advantageous position, and afraid he would lose the aircraft into cloud, Palmer attacked it immediately. Opening up from below and astern, he fired a three-second burst as he closed from 100 yards to just 20, resulting in heavy return fire from the Heinkel’s ventral gunner. Climbing above the bomber’s tail and out of his range, Palmer made a second attack from above and behind, once again closing from 100 yards to 20 as he fired a four-second burst, although this time with slight deflection. He saw no result of his fire, but also experienced no return fire from the dorsal gunner. It was later assumed this was the result of the gunner having been hit.
He then dropped below and behind the aircraft again to make his third attack, on this occasion firing another four-second burst, from 40 yards closing to 20. The ventral gunner was likely hit during this attack as Palmer experienced no further return fire from him. His fire also caused the port engine to explode; pieces of the engine dislodged themselves and flew back towards him, and oil sprayed across his windscreen.
When Palmer broke away, the Heinkel disappeared into cloud and was not seen again. He tried to locate it, and asked the Controller for a new vector, but his message was not heard. It was assumed this was the result of a number of sections being in the air at the same time and the Controller likely conversing with them when Palmer sought to contact him. Left little choice, he returned to base.
The last pilot was on the ground at 16:25. Palmer submitted a Combat Report for the operation, in which it is recorded that he had expended 1,760 rounds in the attack. Lovell had fired 740 rounds, but despite his contribution to the Intelligence Report that was submitted for the operation, he did not make a formal claim for the aircraft and Palmer was therefore granted the whole victory: one damaged He111. It was his first claim.
The aircraft claimed damaged today is believed to have been He111P-2, 5J+NL, WNr 1623, of 5/KG4, which crash-landed at Soesterberg in the Netherlands on return with 35% damage. The Flight Engineer/Gunner, Fw Wilhelm Rahrig, was wounded, but none of the other crew members were hurt.
[Excerpt from "Blood, Sweat and Courage" (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission, please]
A northwesterly wind, light inland and 10-15 mph on the coast, in fair to cloudy skies with scattered showers and visibility of 2-4 miles. The day started innocuously enough with an uneventful routine patrol 11:05-11:40 (Draper, Briggs & London), which was completed before the day’s first hostile raid was plotted.
During the early afternoon, however, two enemy raids were recorded. In the first of these, at 14:28, a Ju88 was plotted three miles east of Dunbar, which dropped a bomb near a submarine, but caused no damage. A section from another squadron investigated, but the plot faded before they were able to intercept the aircraft. However, as that plot faded, another appeared 120 miles east of the Isle of May, which was designated Raid 65. The plot moved in a southwesterly direction and made landfall north of Acklington, then continued south towards Middlesbrough.
In response, ten pilots of 41 Squadron were ordered into the air at 14:50, to patrol Seaham Harbour; this was the first time the unit was airborne in such numbers for some time. Eight minutes later, as they were near Blyth at 2,500 feet, Blue Section, comprising Flt Lt Tony Lovell (X4683) and Plt Off Archie Winskill (R6623), were ordered to intercept the raid, which was reported as 1+ aircraft at 24,000 feet, and subsequently as a single aircraft at 21,000 feet.
The pair climbed fast through 7,000 feet of cloud on a vector of 010 degrees and broke above it into clear blue sky. As they reached 17,000 feet, they sighted a one-mile-long vapour trail another 7,000 feet above them, moving in the opposite direction. On approaching the aircraft, which they recognised as a Ju88, they noted it was “painted duck-egg green or pale blue underneath” and “very dark green on top”. Lovell felt the camouflage was very effective as it made it invisible from below; the Ju88’s position was only given away by its vapour trail.
The two pilots climbed with full boost, turning towards the Ju88 as they did so, to approach it from astern. The aircraft belonged to Toussus-le-Buc, France, based 1.(F)/123, which had re-positioned to Stavanger, Norway, for a photo-reconnaissance mission to Manchester. “Taking advantage of its vapour trail, Lovell “stalked up behind him until [its] wingtips were seen on either side of [its] tail”, and was “very effectively hidden” by the vapour trail as he did.
At 15:03, Lovell was within 250 yards range, and commenced his attack over Ouston. He opened fire with a three-second burst with no deflection, closing to 200 yards, and immediately struck the fuselage, which caused pieces to dislodge. There was no return fire, but the Ju88 dived steeply to port. Lovell followed it down in its slipstream, making “continuous bursts when [the] opportunity [was] offered”. At one time, he thought he was being fired at, but then realised it was his own de Wilde ammunition striking the dorsal gun tunnel.
Having fired 2,720 rounds at the aircraft, he broke away to port, but by this time the starboard engine had feathered. One of the crew baled out, and Winskill observed that his parachute did not deploy, “though it was extended in a straight line”. The crewman then disappeared into cloud, as did the aircraft, which was now free-falling out of control, its pilot likely having been disabled in the attack.
The Ju88 subsequently crashed at high speed on in the Eston Hills, diving deep into the peat on Barnaby Moor, around four miles south of Middlesbrough, at 15:17. It exploded on impact, creating a large crater, and was “smashed to bits”. The three crew members remaining on board were killed instantly, and the airman that baled out landed dead in trees along Flatts Lane, Normanby.
Lovell and Winskill then regrouped with the rest of the Squadron, completed their patrol, and landed at Catterick again at 15:50. Winskill had flown approximately 500 feet behind Lovell throughout, but had not opened fire. Although Lovell was not using a cine gun during his attack, the victory was never in question: Winskill had witnessed the entire combat and, moreover, as it was one of only two Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed over land in England that day.
The victory constituted the Squadron’s first confirmed destroyed enemy aircraft since 27 November 1940, and would ultimately prove to be Lovell’s last on 41 Squadron. He was the unit’s third highest scoring Ace of World War II, having claimed 9-2-3 in the ten-month period between his first and last victories (31 May 1940-30 March 1941).
[Excerpt from my “Blood, Sweat and Courage” (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without permission, please.]
“We were told that the Luftwaffe would probably use their ME 262s to dive bomb our troops as they crossed the Rhein in their landing craft and that they would come in at high level. Our task would be to stop them. One of the pilots on 41 Sqn politely asked the AOC 83 Gp. how we were going to do this since the 262s were at least 100 mph faster than our Spits. Air Vice-Marshal Broadhurst replied “Attack them head on and if necessary, fly into them”!!!”
Excerpt from correspondence with Gp Capt (ret) Derek S. V. Rake OBE AFC, January 2009, concerning a briefing on 23 March 1945, when the pilots of 41 and 130 Squadrons were advised by the OC, 125 Wing, Gp Capt David Scott-Malden, and the AOC 83 Group, AVM Harry Broadhurst, of the general plan for crossing the Rhine, and the sphere of operations allotted to 125 Wing.
[Excerpt from "Blood, Sweat and Valour" (Fonthill, 2012). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission, please.]
When Raid 92 was plotted ten miles east of Hartlepool at 13:53, flying on a westerly course, 41 Squadron’s Yellow Section was scrambled to intercept it. Plt Off Gilbert Draper (R6604) and Sgt Plt Terence Healy (X4242) were off the deck at 14:05 and subsequently claimed the Squadron’s first victory in two months.
However, as a result of a breakdown in communication between the Controller at RAF Catterick and the Sector Controller, the section was initially ordered to Saltburn, despite the fact the enemy aircraft made landfall at Whitby. Communications were also hampered as R/T contact between Yellow Section and Station Control was inconsistent, and Pip Squeaks were not picking up locational fixes.
However, Draper and Healy soon received a new vector to Whitby and managed to successfully intercept the aircraft near the town at 25,000 feet, on its way out again, shortly before 14:30. They recognised it as a four-engined FW200 Condor long range reconnaissance aircraft.
As Draper and Healy approached the aircraft, they noted that “the whole top of [the] E/A was painted black, [and it bore] one cross on [the] starboard side of [the] fuselage with white background lines near the tail”. They were also sighted, however, and there immediately began a chase out to sea, the three aircraft dodging in and out of cloud all the way.
It was not until approximately 15 miles east of Whitby at 20,000 feet that Draper was in a position to attack, and at 14:35 he delivered a two-second burst from slightly above on its fine stern quarter with slight deflection at 200 yards, closing to 150 yards. Seeing no visible effect, he broke away and Sgt Plt Healy prepared to make an attack of his own, “but was unable to get in a burst”.
By now, the Condor had commenced a steep dive but took no other evasive action. Diving after the aircraft, Draper made a second attack at 8,000 feet, firing a two-second burst from above and astern from a range of 180 down to 140 yards. This resulted in white smoke issuing from the port inner engine. Healy closed for a second attempt, and fired a single burst from astern at 350 yards down to 200 at an altitude of 5,000 feet. However, he was unable to see any result of his fire before the Condor applied boost, emitted black smoke from all four engines, and disappeared into thick cloud still diving.
Despite Draper and Healy’s efforts, they were thwarted by the cloudy conditions, and were unable to press their attack home any further: the Condor’s speed was greater than their own 290 mph IAS at 2,600 rpm, and it was not seen again. Left little choice, they returned to Catterick where they landed at 14:55.
Although Draper had fired 560 rounds, and Healy another 120, the victory was claimed by Draper alone: one damaged FW200C. Healy also attested to the claim, stating he had seen white vapour emitting from one of the port engines. It would prove to be the Squadron’s only claim of the War against a FW200 Condor.
[Excerpt from "Blood, Sweat and Courage" (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no other reproduction without prior permission, please]
Following a six-month deployment at RAF Hornchurch, 41 Squadron was rested at RAF Catterick from 23 February-28 July 1941. Although the pilots flew many operational sorties from Catterick and saw limited action during this period, their time in Yorkshire can perhaps best be described as a period of great turnover. Thirty-two pilots were posted in, 30 were posted out, and two were killed in flying accidents.
The two pilots killed were 20-year-old Plt Off Michael F. Briggs and 24-year-old Sgt Plt Eric E. Croker.
2 April 1941 – An east-northeasterly to east-southeasterly wind in 8/10ths-10/10ths cloud with a base of 1,000-2,000 feet and visibility of 1-3 miles. Despite the conditions, or indeed because of them, six enemy aircraft operated over 13 Group today. However, whilst 41 Squadron’s pilots were airborne on two patrols, they were not detailed to intercept any of the aircraft. Nonetheless, the day ended in tragedy for the Squadron when one of the pilots was killed in a flying accident as a direct result of the weather.
Sgt Plts George Swanwick and Bill Palmer were the first pair airborne today, taking off at 09:30 for an uneventful 45-minute patrol. Half an hour after their return, a second section took off, comprising Plt Offs Archie Winskill (P7320) and Michael Briggs (P8049). On return from the patrol, the pair became separated in conditions of poor visibility and whilst Winskill managed to land safely at 11:30, Briggs was unable to find the airfield in the low cloud.
It is believed that he ultimately ran out of fuel, and undid his straps in preparation for baling out, but was too low to do so. Before he could gain altitude, however, he flew into high ground above the village of Whashton, near Richmond, Yorkshire. Thrown from the cockpit by the impact, he was killed immediately. As his aircraft was brand new, and had only been delivered on 30 March, it is not believed to have played a role.
20-year-old Briggs was an experienced pilot who had been commissioned the previous September and had seen service in the latter stages of the Battle of Britain; he had served with 41 Squadron since 4 November 1940. He is buried with his parents at Cookham Rise Cemetery, and a memorial to him is carved into a stone seat close to the Tarry Stone at Cookham.
1 June 1941 – A northerly wind of 10-12 mph with 10/10ths cloud between 400 and 600 feet, and visibility of 500-2,000 yards. There was no Luftwaffe activity all day, likely as a result of the weather conditions. As such, there was no operational flying by 41 Squadron today either, but some pilots undertook flying training, thereunder Sgt Plt Eric Croker who was airborne in P8163 at 20:40 to practice ZZ landings.
At 21:20, however, he struck high ground in poor visibility near Thimbleby Moor, approximately six miles east of Northallerton, and just south of Osmotherley. As it was not yet dark at the time, it is believed Croker may have been blinded by low cloud.
He sustained serious injuries and was admitted to Catterick Military Hospital that same evening, but succumbed to his injuries at 06:00 the following morning. The 24-year-old New Zealander had joined 41 Squadron on 12 May 1941, and had therefore been with the unit less than three weeks. His body was not returned home to his native New Zealand, and he was buried in Catterick Cemetery.
May we never forget their, or their families', sacrifices.
[Excerpts from my "Blood, Sweat and Courage" (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without prior permission, please]
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