The Luftwaffe launched three attacks on southeastern England today, the first directed towards convoys in the Thames Estuary at 08:45, in which bombs were dropped on Felixstowe and Ipswich. The second arrived over Kent at 15:10 and the third over Beachy Head only forty minutes later, in which bombs were dropped at Newhaven. The Hornchurch Wing intercepted the first of these, and a spectacular dogfight ensued.
The attack came in three raids, which the Controller designated 44, 47 and 48. The first of these was plotted at 08:33, around 15 miles east of Boulogne as 2+ aircraft, which was later updated to 30+ aircraft. The second plot appeared at 08:38, eight miles east of Boulogne as 20+ aircraft at 20,000 feet, which was later updated to 60+ aircraft. The third was plotted at 08:45, 15 miles east of Gris Nez as 18+ aircraft at 17,000 feet.
Having taken off at 08:00, 41 and 603 Squadrons were already airborne together on a patrol of the Maidstone Line, when the attack began. 41 Squadron was led by Sqn Ldr Finlay and comprised three sections of four pilots. A minute after the first plot appeared, Debden’s 257 Squadron was ordered into the air to protect the convoy ‘Adapt’, and was airborne at 08:45. At 08:46, Kenley’s 253 and 501 Squadrons were also scrambled, with an order to patrol the Biggin Hill Line, and were airborne at 08:50. At 08:45, Biggin Hill’s 66 and 74 Squadrons received the order to take over the Maidstone Patrol Line from the Hornchurch Wing, and were airborne at 08:53. At 08:55, 17 Squadron was ordered to join 257 Squadron over ‘Adapt’ and were airborne at 09:00.
As 17 Squadron took off, 41 and 603 Squadrons were ordered to the Thames Estuary to patrol over the convoys. Meanwhile, 66, 74, 253, and 501 Squadrons had also been ordered to sweep along the coastline between Dungeness and Manston, and at 09:02 North Weald’s 26 and 249 Squadrons received the order to take off and patrol between Rochford and Burnham.
Over the Thames Estuary a short while later, between Clacton and Herne Bay, the Hornchurch Wing sighted the vapour trails of at least 40 aircraft. These proved to be Me109Es of JG54, which were approximately 2,000-5,000 feet below them and to port, approaching from the southeast at altitudes of between 15,000 and 25,000 feet.
Almost immediately, they were ordered to engage and “were fortunate enough to be able to dive on them out of the sun in line astern”. A series of aggressive dogfights then ensued, in which both sides claimed victories and counted losses. 41 Squadron would not come out of the fight without their own nose bloodied, but they certainly claimed their share of the victories: five Me109s destroyed and one damaged.
Plt Off Eric Lock was also in action, but details of events are limited as he was seriously wounded and spent a lengthy period of time in hospital. Little information was available immediately following his combats, and a Combat Report written for him in his absence states that he destroyed two Me109s at 25,000 feet, north of the Thames Estuary, in two two-second bursts at a range of 100 yards. It adds, “P/O Lock destroyed 2 Me.109’s (in sea) before being shot down himself. He crashed at Alderton with extensive injuries and is in Ipswich Hospital. His combat report will be sent later.”
However, some time later, whilst still in hospital, he provided a more detailed account of his actions, explaining, “Being at the rear of the Squadron I picked out an E.A. and gave two two-second bursts from below and behind, the E.A. emitted smoke and flame and went into a steep dive and I followed and watched him hit the sea. I climbed back to 20,000 feet [and] did another astern attack on another Me.109 firing two two-second bursts which set the E.A. on fire and he dived into the sea. I was then about 20 miles off the coast and the next thing I remember was diving towards the sea. I tried to open the hood but could not do so and crash landed near Martlesham Heath.”
Lock crashed-landed at Alderton, approximately five miles southeast of Martlesham Heath, seriously wounded from cannon fire in his left arm and both legs. Considering these wounds, he is fortunate to have made it back to land from 20 miles out to sea.
However, his ordeal was still a long way from over, as he then found himself trapped inside his aircraft, unable to free himself as a result of both his injuries and damage to his aircraft. Two soldiers finally found him, however, opened the hood of his cockpit, and pulled him to safety. On recognising the seriousness of his wounds, they built an improvised stretcher and carried him two miles until they obtained further help and arranged for him to receive professional medical attention.
Lock was admitted to Ipswich Hospital and underwent several operations prior to spending time at Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead for skin grafting by pioneering plastic surgeon, Dr Archibald McIndoe. He therefore became a founding member of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’ in July 1941, along with 41 Squadron’s Plt Off ‘Ben’ Bennions, who had been shot down and seriously injured on 1 October 1940.
After significant improvement, Lock was moved to the RAF Hospital at Halton, and finally cleared for flying again in June 1941. By this time, he had undergone approximately 15 operations to repair the damage done on 17 November 1940.
Lock’s bravery and achievements did not go unnoticed, and he was exactly one month into his recuperation when it was announced he had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order, having already been awarded two DFCs. By now, Lock had 22 victories to his credit, all of which had been achieved on 41 Squadron. The citation read, “This officer has shown exceptional keenness and courage in his attacks against the enemy. In November, 1940, whilst engaged with his squadron in attacking a superior number of enemy forces, he destroyed two Messerschmitt 109s, thus bringing his total to at least twenty-two. His magnificent fighting spirit and personal example have been in the highest traditions of the service.”
The Hornchurch ORB also lauded Lock’s achievements on the announcement of his DSO, recording, “P/O Lock was shot down and seriously wounded on 17th November, after having shot down two Me.109’s and brought his total bag to 21 e/a destroyed and 7 probably destroyed. Reports on his condition have doubts as to whether he will fly again. Even if this should prove correct, he has made his full contribution towards the winning of the War.”
On 17 March 1941, Lock was also Mentioned in Despatches. He attended an investiture for his DSO and both DFCs at Buckingham Palace on 1 April, where the medals were conferred by the King.
He was promoted to Flying Officer on 18 June 1941 and, in preparation for a return to operations, was sent on a flying refresher course. However, his first active posting since November 1940 was not back to 41 Squadron, but rather to 611 Squadron at Hornchurch as a Flight Commander, on 27 June 1941. Within days, he was once again adding to his already impressive record by claiming Me109s destroyed on 6, 8, and 14 July 1941.
However, it was not to last. On 3 August 1941, Lock failed to return from a sweep to Calais in Spitfire Vb, W3257, and was last seen diving to attack troops and gun positions in the area. Although the exact circumstances of his loss are unknown, it may be assumed he fell victim to ground fire.
It was a tragic loss of a young man that held much promise. Aged just 22 at the time, he left behind a young wife with whom he had recently celebrated his first wedding anniversary. Lock has not been found to this day and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. He claimed an overall total of 25 confirmed victories and seven probable victories before his death in August 1941.
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