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]
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