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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