At 12:20, 41 Squadron’s Fg Off John Mackenzie (R6887), Fg Off Harry Baker (P9394), and Sgt Plt ‘Bam’ Bamberger (R6697), flew to Hawkinge to provide an escort to an Avro Anson of Coastal Command on reconnaissance duty over Calais. The Anson belonged to No. 1 Coastal Artillery Co-operation Flight, whose duty it was to observe the fall of shells in cooperation with the Royal Marine Siege Regiment. 41 Squadron’s three pilots were to ensure its safety in doing so.
The four aircraft were airborne from Hawkinge at 13:00 and proceeded as planned, and the Anson’s crew subsequently observed three shells falling in the target area. At around 14:00, the Anson attracted some light Flak, but it was ineffective and fell short. However, shortly afterwards, it was attacked by four Me109s, which dived from the east, out of cloud cover, apparently vectored onto them by German observation posts.
The Anson’s pilot, Flt Lt Roderick McConnell, dived to sea level, chased by a pair of Me109s and headed as fast as he could for the English coast. Seeing this, Fg Off John Mackenzie attacked one of them and opened fire, but the second Messerschmitt then attacked him, forcing him to take evasive action, and he was unable to see the results of his attack.
Mackenzie then climbed to attack them again but encountered two more Messerschmitts mid-Channel at 5,000 feet. He fired two bursts at one of these aircraft from 200 yards, which resulted in white smoke issuing from it. The No. 2 then came around on his tail, and he was forced to break off again.
Meanwhile, below him, the Anson was being attacked by the original pair of Me109s, which made 12 quarter attacks upon it whilst McConnell tried his best to evade their fire. Mackenzie dived to sea level and fired the rest of his ammunition into one of the pair: “Bits flew off, smoke issued, and he appeared to stall at the top of a turn.”
He was fired at by another Me109 and broke to port, but was nonetheless able to see a large splash as the Messerschmitt he attacked hit the water. This was also seen from the English coast. However, whilst Mackenzie was thus occupied, the remaining Me109 of the first pair made a final attack on the Anson, unhindered, from astern.
This was the worst attack by far and the burst entered the fuselage and cockpit, killing the gunner, and injuring the co-pilot and wireless operator. The dinghy housing ignited and the starboard engine also burst into flame. McConnell switched off his remaining engine and managed to force-land his aircraft in a field at East Langdon, Kent.
He jumped out and was able to extinguish the fires with the Anson’s fire extinguisher, but it was damaged beyond repair. The co-pilot and wireless operator were taken to hospital and only the pilot remained unscathed, though doubtless shaken by the experience.
Mackenzie then returned to Hornchurch to claim the first Me109 damaged and the second destroyed.
[Excerpts from “Blood, Sweat and Courage” (Fonthill, 2014). Sharing permitted, but no reproduction without permission, please.]
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