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.]
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