The other day I had a good look
Through what's now, my old logbook,
So below some memories, to share
With you, and those who were there!
My first ever flight
and entry in my old log book is in a B-29 Superfortress, WF446-B of 115 Sqn at
RAF Marham. However that is now history and I wish to cover my time with 72 Sqn
on Wessex HC2 from 1967-1972. My first contact with rotary wing machines was in
1962 when I was posted to RAF Northolt as an airframe fitter. There, apart from
various small VIP aircraft of the Metropolitan Communications Sqn, they had two
Bristol Sycamores with wooden blades. Whilst at Northolt I attended a
25th July Wessex XT668
on UN duties in
6-16th October on
exercise at RAF
28th June My flight in a Queens Flight Whirlwind:
8th February Wessex on
UN duties in
8th-11th May East-West
Air Race London Post Office Tower to
May 5th - July 6th
Exercise Bersatu Padu,
72 Sqn pilots I flew with:
Lt Thompson RN Flt Lt Beatie Flt Lt Wines Sgt Smith Flt Lt Joyce Fg Off Carter Flt Lt Watson Sqn Ldr Oliver
Flt Lt Roberts Fg Off Ryott Flt Lt Wood Flt Lt Shepherd
Flt Lt Young Flt Lt Beatson Fg Off Whitney Wg Cdr Moore
Lt Hedges RN Sqn Ldr Thompson Fg Off Finnie Flt Lt Willis
Fg Off Sneddon Fg Off
Flt Lt Carpenter Sqn Ldr Miller Sqn Ldr Robinson Fg Off Chubb
Plt Off Woolley Fg Off Hopper Flt Lt Benson Fg Off Manson
Wg Cdr Wilson Fg Off Whatling Fg Off Rawlings Fg Off Bird
Fg Off McCluskie Fg Off Johnson Fg Off
Fg Off Donaldson Fg Off Binnie Fg Off Waldron Flt Lt Jenner
Lt Westgate RN Flt Lt Wain Flt Lt Horrobin Fg Off Smith
Fg Off Price Fg Off Duggan Fg Off Lakey Lt Evans RN
Fg Off Todd Fg Off Shaw Sqn Ldr Windust
The Belvedere was designed and built initially by
The Bristol 192 Belvedere was based on the earlier Bristol Type 173
10-seat (later 16-seat) civilian tandem rotor helicopter concept which first
flew on 3 January 1952 but was abandoned in 1956. (Pictured left below). Having
further developed the concept into the 190 series and with over 90 191/2/3
variant orders in prospect, Bristol initially focused on the Type RN 191/RCN
193 ASW variants only for the RN and RCN orders to be cancelled after initial
development issues provided an excuse for the RN to buy their preferred ASW
Wessex instead. However, the RAF 192 was ordered into production in 1956 with
an increased initial order from 22 to 26, and to ensure it could field a “heavy
lift” helicopter capability quickly given the concurrent helicopter operational
experiences in Malaya and the
Three already completed Type 191 (RN ASW) airframes were used to aid more rapid development of the Type 192 Belvedere including fitting the more powerful Napier Gazelle engines and for airframe fatigue and powered controls tests although none of those 3 (RN) aircraft were test flown. Unfortunately, the 192 retained some design features with the 191/193 naval variants, in particular making it a cumbersome and hazardous trooping aircraft. The front undercarriage was designed tall to give clearance for twin torpedo carriage under the forward fuselage which meant the main starboard cabin troop and freight door was inconveniently very high off the ground and the cockpit at least 6 feet (1.8 m) above the ground and both requiring awkward ladder entry.
The new Napier Gazelle turbine engines were placed
vertically at either end of the cabin to drive each rotor - unusually and
unlike the slightly later Boeing Vertol CH46 and CH47 Chinook designs mounting
both engines above the rear fuselage. Cabin to cockpit access was a small
alleyway using an asymmetric port side fuselage bulge past the forward engine
placed immediately behind the cockpit space. On the positive side its tandem
rotor configuration assured best vertical lift performance for the power
available, which proved a real bonus in overseas hot and high climates.
Handling too was more assured compared with tail rotor designs operational
alongside the Belvedere. Overall though the Belvedere might best be described
as under-developed from the outset, and needed rapid and regular improvements
to optimise it as a practical and safe operational aircraft. This resulted from
it being needed in overseas combat zones urgently as the
The first Type 192 prototype XG447 flew on 5 July 1958 with wooden rotor blades (reflecting its heritage from the Bristol Sycamore), a manual flying control system and a castored quad fixed undercarriage. From the fifth aircraft, better performance all metal, four-bladed main rotor heads were fitted. Concurrently fitting production standard hydraulic controls resolved much of the handling qualities issues, and complete instrument sets enabled practical night operations. The tail plane was also re-designed significantly, with the initial production horizontal tail plane with end plate vertical stabilisers being changed for a significant double anhedral shape as production continued. The two rotors were synchronised through an interconnecting shaft atop the cabin, allowing the aircraft to operate OEI following single engine failure, with the remaining engine automatically powering up to compensate – a pioneering design attribute at the time. Initially the design had an upwards-hinged main cabin door prone to being slammed shut by the rotor downwash so it was often removed. A safer and useful sliding door replaced this later on all 26 aircraft. The aircraft was also notorious for its engine start fires caused by the AVPIN starter cartridges, leading to at least 2 written off airframes. Furthermore, any forward engine fires or uncontained turbine failures would cause immediate hazard into the cockpit causing at least one fatal crash. It was not surprising therefore that Belvedere pilots had a habit of leaning out of the cockpit windows and sometimes with one leg outside too in readiness to evacuate the cockpit rapidly and despite its hazardous above ground height.
The Belvedere HC1 could carry 18 fully equipped troops and had a maximum 6000lb (2700kg) load which at the time was a step change improvement for RAF helicopter performance and support capability. In 1960 the first 192 prototype/production Belvedere (XG447) went to the Belvedere Trials Unit (BTU) at Odiham, which later in 1961 was expanded to become 66 Sqn. The engine starter problems and fires caused trouble early on but (urgent and necessary) operational deployment plans continued.
As well as 66 Sqn, 72 Sqn was the second unit to equip with the
Belvedere in 1961 and 26 Sqn the third in 1962, all initially based at RAF
Odiham. Notable firsts included in June 1960 when the fifth aircraft, XG452 set
a 130 mph (210 km/h) speed record between Gatwick and Tripoli, and in 1962 a 72
Sqn Belvedere lowered the 80ft long crucifix (see left) onto the new Coventry
Cathedral spire to extensive national and international media attention. Such
precision helicopter heavy lift tasks being novel in those times.
Unfortunately, 72 Sqn suffered 2 significant early accidents with the first in
1962 with a fatal crash in
Overall aircraft availability and reliability was also regularly lower
than required as spares shortages were common as well as unexpected failures of
components. The latter causing several accidents resulting from blade loss and
in flight engine explosions further reflecting the immaturity and
under-developed status of the design and its logistic support plans. Therefore,
26 Sqn (see right) transferred to RAF Khormaksar,
also in hand to replace its Belvederes with 15 Chinooks building on the tandem
rotor advantages that the Belvedere had demonstrated despite its immature
development, and high loss rate (10 of the 26 fleet having crashed), and
resulting difficult fleet management issues given poor spares availability.
Unfortunately, all came to nothing as HMG in 1967 decided to withdraw from all
its Singapore bases by 1971 and other East of Suez bases apart from Hong Kong,
and the Belvedere was withdrawn in 1969 altogether after less than 9 years RAF
service and with no immediate replacement. 66 Sqn marked its disbandment with a
12 ship formation flypast around
Preservation: The following Bristol 192 Belvederes have been preserved:
The British helicopter Museum,
RAF Museum Hendon; XG474 on display.
Versions Operated: HC1 (SH)
BELVEDERE HC1 SQUADRONS:
26 Jun 62 - Nov 65
66 Sep 61 - Mar 69
72 Nov 61 - Aug 64
Belvedere training units were:
BTU Jul 60 - Sep 61 (to 66 Sqn)
BCU Aug 64-Aug 66 (from 72 Sqn)
SRCU Aug 66- 69
As a schoolboy
I visited the
Wind the clock forward 12 years and I have now joined the RAF, qualified as a helicopter pilot and been posted to 72 Sqn at Aldergrove. In a bid to brighten up my bedroom in the Mess a few posters and postcard get stuck up on the walls – one of them being my Spitfire postcard.
Around the same time I was given writing the F540 as my secondary duty. The current F540 was then a Secret document but the old F540, relating to the Squadron’s history in WW2, was by then only Confidential and it made really fascinating reading.
So where is this leading I hear you ask…
A closer look at the reverse of my treasured Science Museum Spitfire postcard revealed that it had been a 72 Sqn aircraft during the Battle of Britain. It was mainly flown by FO Pigg. As I recall it survived the Battle of Britain but was written off later in the war. Operating out of a northern airfield (possibly Acklington) the pilot (possibly FO Pigg again) got hypoxic and became unconscious. When he came to the ground was looming and he had to virtually pull the wings off the aircraft to avoid crashing. The overstressing of the main spar resulted in the aircraft being grounded and somehow it ended up hanging from the ceiling in the Science Museum 35 years later. Sadly FO Pigg did not survive the war.
I have not been to the
Extract from Robert Deacon-Elliott Diary
ref Spitfire in
The 6 Jul incident I must record; although mentioned in the official history it lacks detail. PO Robson was No. 2 and I was No. 3, and thus responsible for operating ‘Pip Squeak’, (a transmitter usually operated by the No 3 of the section to enable Ops to track and vector the leader for an interception), in the C.O.’s red section when we were scrambled - my NEW machine would not start. So I quickly jumped into P9444 belonging to F/O Oswald Pigg. I must digress here to explain that the rubber oxygen tubes - usually on one’s personal clothing card - were in extreme short supply. By pooling them there were enough for one per aircraft but not one per pilot. The C.O. therefore directed that the tube should become part of the aircraft equipment and as a temporary measure a column was added to the Form 700 for this purpose. The cloud base was low and the tops unknown.
On the way up flying through thick and very dark cloud and thus in tight formation to keep contact with the C.O.; he checked with us at about 10,000 feet for ‘oxygen on’ - this is when I discovered there was no tube in Oswald’s aircraft. I felt all right so I went on, hoping we would soon be on top - this eventually was the case but not until we were at 20,000 feet. I was still with the section but well astern - ‘Pip Squeak’ pushing out our position but now my vision was deteriorating. The two aircraft in front became four - then two - then four. That was it; the stick thrashing round in all directions and the effect of excessive “G” crumpled me down in the cockpit - but I was still able to transmit that I was spinning down completely out of control in thick cloud. I resigned myself to death and I so vividly recall that I was quite happy, content, and at peace with the world, with no vestige of fear.
At this stage the Lord must have taken over for after an
undetermined lapse of time I found myself below cloud in pouring rain - very
close to the ground and - fortunately - climbing rapidly. I thought I was over
the Lammermuir Hills so I headed due east, turned south down the coast to
This aircraft I read was, and may still be, in a technical museum. Oswald was furious at losing his beloved Spitfire - the C.O. was furious with Oswald for not complying with the instruction to leave his oxygen tube in the aircraft instead of having it sewn round his helmet. My feelings were a combination of fear, elation, delight and intense surprise to find myself still alive. That night Dutch, who was always so understanding, invited me to see a film, the name of which I forget, but I know it was starring Mickey Rooney. The results of the court of inquiry charged me with ‘rank disobedience for continuing to fly beyond a height of 15,000 feet knowing you had no oxygen.’
Flt Lt (Ret)
72 Sqn 1988-1990
As with most squadrons which were reformed during this expansion period the nucleus would be provided by air and ground crews from established squadrons; No 72 Sqn was no exception. The squadron destined to provide that nucleus was No 1 Squadron, which at that time was equipped with the last of the line of sleek Hawker biplanes, the Fury. The pilots of ?B? Flt, No 1 Sqn were initially not very keen to leave as it was rumoured that the squadron was to be shortly re-equipped with the new Hawker Hurricane. Nevertheless, the flight commander, F/Lt EM Donaldson took his pilots to Gloster?s factory to collect the first Gladiator biplane fighters to join Fighter Command. Donaldson returned to No 1 Sqn after four months with 72 Sqn. Over the following months the pilots became used to their new mounts and the ground crew became familiar with the servicing requirements.
72 Sqn shared Tangmere with three other fighter squadrons; 1, 43 and 87. On Empire Air Day, 29 May 1937 all four squadron took part in a four hour flying display during which the crowds were thrilled by demonstrations of fighter interceptions, aerobatics, Air Drills and ground attacks.
Finally, in June 1937, now commanded by
S/Ldr EJ Hope, 72 Sqn moved to its permanent station at RAF Church Fenton in
72 Sqn adorned its shiny new Gladiators with gaudy bands
of red and blue atop the upper wing and along the fuselage sides and took them
to Farnborough in Hampshire for the 1937 Air Exercises. In addition to the red/blue markings the
Gladiators also were adorned with fin and wheel hubs painted variously red,
yellow or blue to denote each flight commander?s aircraft. Following this the squadron adopted the RAF
peacetime routine and carried out training in individual pilot skills,
formation flying and air gunnery from its base at Church Fenton. The squadron lost one Gladiator on 23rd
July 1937 when it crashed near
On 1 September the Germans began the invasion of
GLOSTER GLADIATOR Mk I
K6130 From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37. To 112 Sqn.
K6131 From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37. Crashed and struck off charge 1 Jul 38.
K6132 From Manufacturer 22 Feb 37. To Ouston.
K6133:F Crashed in bad weather near Barmby, Yorks, 23 Jul 37.
K6134 To 112 Sqn
K6135 To 72 Sqn 1936. To 112 Sqn
K6136 To 72 Sqn 1936. To 112 Sqn
K6137 Force landed but repaired Aug 38. To 607 Sqn.
K6138 To 112 Sqn
K6139 Collided with K6138 and crashed 29 Jun 38.
K6140 To 72 Sqn 1936. To 112 Sqn
K6141 To 112 Sqn
K6142 To 72 Sqn 1936. To 112 Sqn
K6143 From Manufacturer 12 Feb 1937. To 112 Sqn Apr 39.
K6144 Abandoned in a spin and crashed at Monk Fryston, Yorks, 1 Dec 38.
K7893 From 3 Sqn. To 80 Sqn.
K7897 From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn
K7898 From 3 Sqn. To 607 Sqn.
K7922 To 72 Sqn. To 112 Sqn
K7934 Hit high tension cables and crashed at Brough, 7 Feb 38.
K7954 From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K7963 From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K7964 To 72 Sqn.
K7969 From 85 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K7974 From 87 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K7977 From 87 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K7978 From 87 Sqn. To 112 Sqn
K7981:RN-D From 87 Sqn. To instructional airframe1597M, Jul 39.
K7986 From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
K8004 To 72 Sqn. To 615 Sqn
K8018 To 33 Sqn.
K8019 To 33 Sqn.
K8024 From 3 Sqn. To 112 Sqn.
GLOSTER GLADIATOR Mk II
All Mk IIs on brief loan from No 152 Sqn.
N5547 152 Sqn. Built as Sea Gladiator.
N5630 152 Sqn.
N5640 152 Sqn.
N5644 152 Sqn.
N5645 152 Sqn.
N5647 152 Sqn.
N5677 152 Sqn.
Over 100 years ago the First World War broke out. When the First World War commenced in 1914 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was a very small part of the British Army and was equipped with a wide variety of flimsy biplanes used, in the main, for artillery spotting and reconnaissance. By 1917 the RFC was a very different organisation and had grown from the original small number of squadrons to over 100 operating some of the most advanced aircraft of the period. In just a few years time, in 2017, 72 Sqn will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
It was into this expanded and still
expanding RFC that No 72 Squadron was formed on 2 July 1917. Commanded by Capt HW Von Poellnitz, the
squadron was based at Upavon in Wiltshire and was equipped with Avro 504
trainers it had brought with it?s nucleus of men and equipment from ?A? Flight
of the Central Flying School. The
squadron had a training role at this point and soon added the highly regarded
Sopwith Pup to its inventory, training scout pilots for the Western Front. The squadron moved to Netheravon and then to
After a long journey by land and sea the
squadron arrived in
its equipment; the monoplane Bristol M1C, which despite official prejudice, proved itself to be a very successful fighter type, and the Martinsyde G.100 Elephant, a slow but forgiving fighter/reconnaissance type. It was with these two types that the squadron fought a successful campaign in support of the army.
With the formation of the Royal Air Force
(RAF) 72 Sqn continued to serve in
On March 24, 1944 a sharp stick poked up through the turf into the cold darkness of an eastern German night. It was followed shortly afterwards by a man?s head, 70 years ago The Great Escape was underway. This is the story of one of the escapers, Al Hake, the compass maker.
Albert Horace Hake, known as Al, was born
on June 30, 1916 in Haberfield ,
He proved an able student and went solo for
20 minutes on March 27, 1941 after just 9 hrs 45 mins dual flying. He continued on the Tiger Moth until April
27, 1941 when he completed the course and was assessed as Above Average. He was then posted to No. 2 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), which was based at RAAF Station
Forest Hill near Wagga Wagga, NSW, and operated the Commonwealth
Aircraft Company Wirraway aircraft.
He successfully completed the course and was assessed as an Average
pilot and was awarded his wings on June 26, 1941. In July he moved to the Advanced Training
Squadron still on the Wirraway and he graduated from that course on Aug 20,
1941. His total service flying was now
165 hrs 20 mins and he had been promoted to Sergeant with a salary of 16 shillings
a day and four shillings flying pay ? one pound
Al was granted eight days leave but soon
had to report to No 2 Embarkation Depot at
flight in England was on November 21, 1941 in Miles Master B8698 with Pilot
Officer Bolton for 35 mins and after just 20 mins dual the next day he went
solo on his third trip. A local area
recce in a Dragon Rapide followed, then after one more solo and one more dual
sortie in the Master, he flew his first trip in a Spitfire Mk1 H4163 on
November 26, 1941 for 1 hr 25 mins.
Through December 1941 and January 1942 he continued with formation,
cross country and aerobatics followed by air gunnery and forced landing
practice until he completed the course on January 13, 1942 with an Above
Average assessment and a total of six hours on the Miles Master and 38 hrs 30
mins on the Spitfire. Al was posted to
No 72 Squadron at
When he was shot
down Al Hake had a total flying time of 255 hrs 45 mins with 16 hrs 40 mins
operational. The details of his ?posted
missing? sortie were later revealed in a letter from his friend John Hannan to
Noela dated June 4, 1942, after word had been received that he was safe as a Prisoner of War
(POW). In it John praised Al for being a
wonderful fighter pilot and although a quiet sort of chap he would always talk
about his beautiful wife and how much he missed her. He wrote ?Apparently from what I can gather,
his machine was hit by anti-aircraft shells smashing the propeller. As he attempted to get home in his crippled
Spitfire he was attacked by five of the Huns? new fighters ? Focke-Wulfes. Five to one badly damaged Spitfire is just
about the odds the Hun boys like. He
fought back and shot one down before receiving the final blow. He collected a bullet through his scarf and
one through the leg of his trousers and his engine was set on fire. He continued to fight until, injured slightly
by shrapnel and burns he was forced to bail out at 300 feet which is absolutely
the minimum safety height for a parachute to operate.? He went on to say that he was sure that Al
would be alright in the POW camp as he was a resourceful and determined chap
and the war would be over and he would be back with her soon. He offered to do anything he could to help them
both and said that Al was a great loss to the RAF. Finally he said not to take any notice of the
newspaper reports that Al has given an interview to the German radio stations
decrying the war as this was a common ploy to upset relatives and make them doubt
their loved ones in captivity. This
account of him being shot down is borne out by one of Al?s first letters from
Stalag Luft III at Sagan where he was taken after landing close to a German
troop depot and having his wounds tended at a nearby military hospital. The fire had destroyed his rank insignia and
the Germans thought that as a Spitfire pilot he must be a commissioned officer
and not a newly promoted Warrant Officer, as was the case. However, Al was not going to tell them any
different as he hoped for better treatment as an officer than an NCO. He wrote a letter to Noela on April 15, 1942
in which he said ?I feel sad ending up like this darling, being a prisoner of
war is quite jolly and you won?t have to worry about my health as before. That I am alive now is a miracle. When I think of the events which landed me
here I have to punch myself to be sure that I am whole. I was wearing your scarf and pullover so
nothing really drastic could happen dear.
- I was hit by flak and then shot
down by five fighters over
adjutant applied for Al to be admitted as a member of the Caterpillar Club as
he had survived bailing out of his aircraft using an
He was cheered up in March 1943 when he heard that she had won £1000 in a lottery draw and told her to keep it all for herself so that she could feel independent but in the same letter he expressed concerns about her house purchase plans and told her that he had ?had it? with POW life in general. He moved to a new compound in April 1943 with only six to a room and the ability to wash indoors but this appears to not have removed his depression as in May he received eight letters at once and in his reply told her that she must not think his letters ?unfeeling for two reasons, one the censorship and two my fluctuating temperament? in the camp environment. Life for all POWs was not easy to bear mentally and must have been even harder for a young man who had married only months before being shipped across to the other side of the world to fight and then to be shot down and captured before he could make his mark. In a letter he sent in June 1943 he asked her to send him a new pair of trousers, but he emphasises that it must be in ?officer?s material and to make up the rest of the next parcel with razor blades, toothpaste and chocolate.? Noela did not know it but she was helping to provide materials for Al to make his compasses. All the time the tunnels were being dug and the escape equipment was piling up in stores all around the camp. At first three tunnels were started, Tom, Dick and Harry but Tom was soon discovered and Dick was used to get rid of spoil dug out from Harry and to store some of the escape items ready for the big day.
His preparation for the escape is referred to obliquely in his October 31, 1943 letter in which he says ?Been keeping busy lately taxing my inventive genius by designing and making all sorts of Heath Robinson gadgets, my latest being a quick heating coffee percolator.? For the past few months he had been making compasses for the escape and in February 1944 he told Noela ?all my time this month has been taken up making a working model of a patent device for a New Zealand Wing Commander. The idea promises big things for the future.? Was this something truly for their future after the War or a reference to the escape preparations?
The tunnel Harry was finally ready by early March 1943 but the escapers needed a moonless night and the next suitable dates would be March 23, 24, and 25. March 25, 1943 was a Sunday and all the trains would be restricted so the Escape Committee settled for the March 24, 1944. In his letter of March 1944 Al told Noela that ?I had my usual cold shower this morning and pottered around without dressing properly despite six inches of snow that fell in the night. Well damn it all, I?ll be home for our next anniversary darling. Until then remember, I love you always, cheerio pal, Albert.?
On the night of March 24, 1944 the escapers congregated in hut 104 where the entrance to Harry was concealed under a stove and at 2100 hrs the first man broke through the turf above the end of the tunnel only to find that the exit was ten feet short of the woods. A rope was tied from the top of the shaft to a tree and one man lay at the exit; when the guard was furthest away a man in the woods would give on a pull on the rope to signal the next man to exit the tunnel and follow the rope to the cover of the woods. This delayed the start till almost 2200 hrs and the men waiting in the tunnel caused minor collapses that needed clearing. Further delay was caused by an RAF bombing raid passing close by that caused the camp to switch off the security lights, and as the tunnel was lit from the camp electric supply this meant the escapers had to light fat lamps which caused more panic among the waiting POWs underground. It was now clear that the plan to get 200 escapers out of the tunnel was not going to work so the Escape Committee decided to close the tunnel at 0500 hrs but at 0445 hrs the guards spotted someone exiting the tunnel and raised the alarm. A total of 76 prisoners had managed to get away but the rest retreated back to hut 104 and tried to burn or destroy as much material as possible, those caught red-handed spent a long time in solitary confinement.
Al was among those who got out
before the tunnel was discovered and stumbling across the snowy landscape he
managed to evade capture until the 29 March when he was caught and brought back
to Sagan suffering from severe frost-bite.
He had had a very rough time and soon afterwards along with others was
As the prisoners were captured, they were
interrogated for any useful information, and taken out by car, usually in small
parties of two at a time, on the pretext of returning them to their prison
camp. Their Gestapo escorts would stop them in the country and invite the
officers to relieve themselves. The prisoners were then shot at close range
from behind. The bodies were left for retrieval, after which they were cremated
and returned to Stalag Luft III. Albert
Norman Hake was seen being taken from the
His remains were cremated at
It is of no consequence that Al Hake was
shot down and captured after flying only 16 hrs in operations following many
months of training; what matters is that a young man with his whole future
ahead of him volunteered to train and fight as a pilot against the Nazis for
his King and Commonwealth country; that he left his young wife of only a few
short months to cross the world to carry his fight to the enemy; that he
acquitted himself in combat and, but for an unlucky flak shell hitting his
propeller, he may have gone on to be a great fighter pilot; that he endured
years of confinement as a POW and that he took part, using his skills and
inventive flare, to prepare essential items to aid other escapers; and finally,
after escaping, his life was taken in a
cowardly execution by the Gestapo under Hitler?s direct order. Noela never recovered from his loss and never
remarried, she died February 27, 2004.
The remains of Albert Norman Hake are buried in
I am indebted to Jude Preen and the other members of Al Hakes family for access to a wealth of documents and photographs and especially for their permission for me to write this very personal story of one of the Great Escapers.
E J Mannings
72 Sqn Historian
SGT/FLYING OFFICER G BOOTH ? SERVICE NUMBERS 1111815/119496
In late April 2013 I had a strange letter that started, ‘I have found your name on the internet as being the Historian for 72 Sqn RAF. I recently bought a house in
Harold and Elsie Booth bought 24 Shadwell Walk, Moortown,
On the 31 Aug 1941 he completed No 24 Course at 57 OTU Hawarden probably flying the Miles Master trainer before converting onto the Spitfire. (Chester Hawarden Airport is an airport located near Hawarden situated in Flintshire, Wales, close to the border with England and 3.5 NM (6.5 km; 4.0 mi) west southwest of the English city of Chester. Number 57 Operational Training Unit was formed in 1940 to train fighter pilots.)
A short period of leave probably followed and on 21 Sep 1941 he was posted to No 72 Sqn at Biggin Hill from 122 Sqn at RAF Catterick. 122 Sqn were flying Mk IIa Spitfires so he probably got in a few extra hours on type before joining 72 Sqn. He would have spent the next 2 to 3 weeks getting familiarisation flights around the local area and becoming combat ready with practice air combat and firing sorties. The F540 Operations Diary showed me that he flew about 40 Ops sorties on the Sqn including cover for the RN Swordfish in the ‘Channel Dash’ incident.
Fg Off Booth was posted from 72 Sqn on 3 May 1942 to the ‘Merchant Service Fighting Unit’. I have now to try and find his history post this date but below is a description of the job on the MSFU.
The MSFU pilots flew Hurricanes from catapults on merchant ships attached to convoys of anything up to fifty merchant men a time. The ships were mainly bringing supplies from
On 22 Nov 1943 Fg Off Booth died aged 23 whilst flying a Spitfire on 57 OTU (which had moved to RAF Boulmer) probably on a refresher course after his time with the MFSU. The accident record card indicates that he was taking off at night and at about 200ft he lost control and crashed due to not allowing enough time for his instrument gyros to get up to full working speed. He is buried at the Chevington military cemetery near Hadston to the south of Amble in
Whilst on 72 Sqn he was photographed by the Kent Messenger newspaper at Gravesend and a large copy of this is in the current 72 Sqn briefing room.
Before I ever really knew what a helicopter was, I was an Air Signaller on Hastings Mk IIs with 48 squadron, based at Changi in
Then came Harold Wilson and the world started to close in on RAF Transport Command. We were informed that our squadron would close within six months and the scramble for good postings started. For a Signaller, Coastal Command’s Shackletons loomed with the prospect of eighteen-hour flights at fifty feet, hunting submarines in the Atlantic wastes. Failing that, working in a map-store on some RAF station somewhere was a likely alternative. Neither option filled me with lust.
On the 7th December 1966 I was picked to crew our entrant in the Bennett Trophy competition, a supply-dropping and navigation competition for Transport Command squadrons in the
About a fortnight later, I was told I’d been posted “Supernumerary to Course Number Whatever” at RAF Odiham for
When I joined the SRCU at Odiham, it was nicknamed “RAF Long Sutton” as it was closer to that village than it was to the main camp. There, I found out how helicopters actually managed to stay airborne, but along with many of the other crewmen, I didn’t believe it, and we all thought that the whole thing was really done by mirrors. And unless you jumped out of the cabin from time to time and threw a handful of peanuts into the air-scoop on its nose, the beast would get hungry and stop working. Well, the
Eventually the Course finished and I was posted across the airfield to 72 Sqn. On my first day, my Flight Commander welcomed me and told me that this was a happy squadron where we worked hard, played hard and took no notice of the few discontented ex-Transport Command crewmen who were constantly complaining. It should be mentioned that most of the crewmen at that time were Air Engineers, Air Signallers, or AEs, and they had all come from multi-engined fixed wing aircraft to replace the previous crewmen who had been groundcrew, but flew as crewmen until there arose a problem with insurance cover. As several of the previous non-aircrew crewmen were still around and many of the replacement aircrew crewmen were less than totally in love with helicopters, it could be said that an “atmosphere” could occasionally be detected. It was not unknown for crewmen to complain, sometimes loudly and persistently. This led to several situations two of which I will mention.
After one particular crewman had been complaining, cause unknown, a notice was posted on the crewroom board that said “Sgt “X” is herby permitted to shout in the Crewroom. Sgt “X” is also allowed to swear in the Crewroom. In no circumstances will Sgt “X” shout and swear at the same time in the Crewroom.” It was about that time that I found myself standing to attention in front of my Flight Commander in order to inform him of something or other. I said my piece and he wearily reached under his desktop, opened a drawer and withdrew an oblong piece of card which he turned towards me. On it was printed in large script “Thank you for bringing your complaint to me, to which I have listened intently. Now go away and f**k your hat”
I saluted smartly and left.
When the new breed of Air Quartermaster crewmen began to arrive on the squadron, there was a small amount of muttering among the older hands but this came mainly from the guys who had never worked with AQMs before. To many of us, they were very welcome. The job of crewman on helicopters was a positive addition to their career patterns and they were, in consequence, a happier, more upbeat group. The general effect was to lighten the mood in the crewroom, or so I felt, anyway.
Gradually the less-happy guys drifted away to other squadrons or other jobs or left the RAF for good and we who remained got on with the job and enjoyed what there was to enjoy. I became familiar with almost every military training area in
My service ended in May 1970 and I had been in a state of uncertainty about whether to go or stay and then I had an offer that was too good to refuse from an industrial company in the
On 29th April 1970, our Wing Checker found me in the crewroom. “Doing anything? He asked, to which I said that I wasn’t. “OK, we have to do a Cat-check. See you at the aircraft” Again booted and suited, I joined him and the pilot who was being checked and we got everything turning and burning. On the intercom he asked me “Why were you looking at your watch when I said we had a trip to do?” I said “Well, I have to be at the Stores at 14.30 to hand my kit in. I’m leaving to go on terminal leave today”
Without a word he air-taxied XT605 across to the air-raid shelters at the edge of the field and said “Get out” so I jumped down onto the grass-covered roof. They then cleared off and carried out the check flight while I sat and watched. The aircraft came back after forty minutes and hovered so I could remount and then we air-taxied about two feet off the ground back into 72’s dispersal. We landed, shut down and walked back into the crewroom, saying nothing. I handed in my kit and went home to start a new life.
I have ever been airborne in a helicopter since that day. I do, however, carry with me a wealth of memories from my three years with “72, City of
There was a delight to be had in simply sitting in the doorway of a
I remember creeping through the mountains over the heel of
I am sure, too, that there are some of my contemporaries out there who will have seen all of these things through lenses of a different colour, so please accept my apologies if I appear to have been using pink ones.
Frederick Lionel BASS-WORTHINGTON – AN UNLIKELY MASCOT!
Military units have adopted mascots for centuries, and there is still an official allowance from the MOD for the upkeep of mascots to provide for their well-being, food and ‘uniform’ to this day. All three services have taken mascots with the Army being well known for the ‘Regimental Goat’ as of the Royal Welsh, the ‘Irish Wolfhound’ of the Irish Guards, and the ‘Drum Horse’ of the Queen’s Hussars. For the Royal Navy it was a bit more difficult unless the unit was shore-based. In the early days all ships were encouraged to have a cat or two – which became the ships mascot – to control vermin - but this practice was forbidden in 1975. In World War Two many ships had unofficial mascots (technically a unit-pet) such as the Bulldog ‘Venus’ of the destroyer HMS Vansittart. Submarines presented a special problem and most mascots in the underwater service were in-animate as extra lungs were not welcome using up the available air to breathe! The Fleet Air Arm had some notable mascots, in the 1970s a lion called ‘Simon’ was the mascot of 892 Sqn who operated a display team of Sea Vixens known as ‘Simons Circus’, and the RAF often had mascots related directly to the heraldic coat of arms for the unit; for example, 27 Sqn adopted a baby elephant at a local zoo. Everyone knows of the black Labrador which was the unofficial mascot of 617 Sqn (The Dam Busters) and owned by Guy Gibson, but the dogs’ name is now not PC! Current RAF mascots include a goat called ‘Aircraftsman George’ of RAF Halton and once 8 Sqn had an eagle owl called ‘Boo Boo’, unfortunately he was agoraphobic so did not like to fly over the airfield but only around his cage, so he was not much use in deterring other birds off the runway.
No 72 Squadron’s heraldic emblem is a Swift bird, not a very suitable subject for a mascot, but not to be deterred the squadron adopted a very unusual creature on 28th Feb 1957 in the form of an alligator! At the time the unit was based at RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire flying various marks of the Gloster Meteor night fighter with a crew of two. The arrival is noted in the formal F540 Operations Diary for the day and the entry continues; ‘He (or she) has been given the honorary rank of Pilot Officer (unpaid) and christened Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington. He measures 13.5 inches from tip to tail and his rate of growth is being watched closely. He has started his aircrew training in the Anson and it is hoped that he will soon progress to jet-flying. Flt Lt Hole has undertaken the arduous – not to say dangerous – task of caring for Fred and a great affection has sprung up between them. Despite his name, FLBW has a taste for Guinness – scope for civilian occupation when the ostrich retires?’ Notes: His surname was taken from the two breweries visible from 72 Sqn base at RAF Church Fenton in the nearby town of Tadcaster, and the reference to the ostrich is because of the advertising campaign that Guinness were running at the time which featured a cartoon ostrich.
The F540 entry for March 1957 includes the following. ‘Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington’s training has continued and he shows a lively interest in matters appertaining to aircrew – particularly fingers. It is rumoured that offers have been made to No 19 Sqn for unwanted pilots with a view to fattening up for future meals.’
Fg Off Ken Hughes with B-W 1 about to go flying.
All did not progress smoothly and in April the following record appears: ‘the latest addition to the Squadron History Room is a rather regrettable letter from the Station Commander to Plt Off Bass-Worthington, reprimanding him for running a wine bill whilst under the age of 16 and not paying mess subscriptions. We understand the matter has now been cleared up and a rather sulky alligator can be seen most evenings waiting outside the bar in the Officers Mess. Incidentally Bass-Worthingtons operation score is now 6 pilots, 4 navigators and 6 civilians.’
At some time in the summer time, Pathe News visited the station and there is a piece on ’72 Sqn pets’ which includes footage of B-W being handled by his keeper, Fg Off ‘Timber’ Woods. The aircrew are all in Lloyd-loom chairs in front of the hangar with Hunters and Meteors on the flight line behind them. At the scramble call Timber Woods puts B-W into a Fire-bucket full of water and the crews scramble airborne. B-W is seen peering over the lip of the bucket before scrambling himself – but not airborne, just out of the bucket to waddle off into some bushes.
Tragedy came on 14/15th December when, during a very cold weekend Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington was found dead when the Squadron was opened up on the Monday morning. As reported in the F540, ‘The corpse was pickled by the medical section and is now on display in the Sqn History Room.’
Fortunately, Flt Lt Nicholson had made a Christmas Card featuring B-W which is pictured here but he is showing little respect for the squadrons’ aircraft.
The news of his demise was reported on television and as a result a replacement was offered by the Mayor of Southport. The new version was said to be ‘slightly larger and more hardy and was called Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington 3.’ Note: I have no idea why the numbering went from BW1 to BW3 with no mention of BW2!
Additional information comes from a copy of the ‘History of Church Fenton – 50th Anniversary’ booklet and in it is an article by Allen Rowley of the Yorkshire Evening Post who often reported on the activities at Church Fenton. In a piece entitled ‘Fenton Memories’ he reports on F L B-W as follows, ‘Pink elephants, they say, are not the best drinking companions. But men used to travel hundreds of miles to drink under the beady eyes of an alligator at the Bay Horse, Cawood, not far from Church Fenton. Mind you, this was a very special alligator - he once rejoiced in the name of Flying Officer Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington – and like many other weird and wonderful items then in the bar at the Bay Horse, he was once owned by a fighter squadron based at RAF Church Fenton. Three squadrons – Nos 19, 72 and 609 contributed to this unofficial museum. He then describes several items from crashed aircraft before returning to B-W. Flying Officer Frederick Lionel Bass-Worthington was introduced to the locals at Cawood by a pilot who slipped him – very much alive – on to the domino table. ‘There wasn’t half a scatter’, said Mr Redall! Members of the squadron used to take the baby alligator all over the place but the Bay Horse was his favourite pub. Pilots used to start him off on warm milk and stout and he would end the night on whisky. Then he used to swim to the bottom of the kitchen sink and sleep it off! When it finally came time for him to go to the great swamp in the sky, Bass-Worthington was well and truly pickled in a large glass jar and sat in a corner of the bar studying the antics of the pilots for many a long night!’ Unfortunately in 2006 when I tried to find if B-W was still in the bar I discovered that the Bay Horse had been flattened and a small residential estate was now on the site and not a sign of a pickled alligator to be found.
The report of B-W3s’ arrival was recorded in the F540 for Feb 1958 as follows. ‘On Wednesday, 12th February 1958 Wg Cdr R D Doleman DSO, DFC, Flt Lt P D Gooding, Flt Lt J K McLean, Fg Off C H Davis and Fg Off J F McLean visited Southport Zoo to collect Alligator number III. He was presented to the Squadron on behalf of the Zoo by the Mayor of Southport. He is a much larger version than his predecessors and has settled in his new home very well. The Squadron representatives thoroughly enjoyed themselves during their visit.’
As the photograph shows, B-W3 is much larger than his predecessor.
This is the last entry to the official diary that mentions Plt Off F L Bass-Worthington 3 and I cannot find out what happened to him, however, the Squadron was very busy with the change of aircraft from Meteor to Javelin and the accompanying move from Church Fenton to Leconfield in April 1959. If anyone has any further information I should be glad to hear of it.
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Denys Mobberley stand beside a Vampire.
A North Weald RAF pilot was never far from his beloved wife Barbara as he bailed out at 11,000ft, his blazing jet crashing to the ground below. Sgt pilot Denys Mobberley’s Vampire disintegrated after it was hit by another jet, falling to earth in pieces, narrowly missing All Saints parish church in Purleigh, near Maldon. But it was a lock of his wife’s hair, sewn into his uniform, that kept the former squadron leader safe, on this and another death defying occasion during his 25-year career with the RAF, which started in 1943.
Denys Mobberley recalled:
“I had been taking part in a wing formation exercise involving 604, 601 and 72 squadrons, comprising 18 Vampires led by Sqn Ldr Kingaby, a Battle of Britain ace. When we had completed our high level exercises we started our descent towards base, with a reasonable space between each squadron. However, my number two continued to close up on me and the leading edge of his wing collided with my tail booms.
Everything in the cockpit was vibrating and breaking up, and it was not possible to focus on anything – all I could think of was my wife, Barbara. I knew that I had to escape – this was before ejection seats – fortunately the cockpit canopy was still intact so I quickly checked that my parachute and dinghy were correctly secured but disconnected my radio plug and oxygen tube. I then put one hand on the harness release and the other on the canopy eject lever. I bent fully forward, knocking my forehead on the gun sight, and operated the harness and canopy releases.”
The remains of Mobberley’s Vampire
As the formation was travelling at 350mph at about 11,000ft, he felt the full blast of the airflow; his oxygen mask flattened hard against his face before breaking away.
“At this stage I must have temporarily lost consciousness and the next thing I remember was being clear of the aircraft and falling towards the earth. I was not very high so I pulled the parachute ripcord handle. To my great relief, the chute opened immediately and luckily, being over open country, I landed softly in a freshly ploughed field. One of the other pilots had seen my parachute open and flew down to see where I had landed. I was able to indicate to him that I was safe and uninjured.
There was a country road alongside the field and, after a few minutes, during which I gathered together my parachute and dinghy pack, a local couple arrived in their car. Mrs Jarvis offered me her handkerchief and asked me if I would like to wipe my face. I asked if it was muddy to which she replied that it was covered in blood; I had cut my forehead on the gun sight. She then asked me if I would like a cigarette. I said I didn’t smoke, to which she replied, “Aren’t you going to start?”
Sgt Denys Mobberley (2nd left) at Angelholm, Sweden, 25th August 1951.
They took me to their home, from where I called the RAF station, and gratefully accepted a cup of tea and biscuits, before an ambulance arrived and took me to the Chelmsford & Essex Hospital for a check-up.
My two wing men, Syd Hyams and Peter Blake, quickly drove down to Woodford Green to tell my wife Barbara that I would be a bit late getting home that evening. When the full story came out Barbara thought that I had a miraculous escape, but I assured her that she had been there to look after me the whole time. You see, ever since I was awarded my ‘wings’ I had always sewn a lock of her hair under the pilot’s flying badge on my ‘battle dress’; the uniform I wore under my flying overalls.”
Denys Mobberley in 2012.
THE ROAD TO CAP SERRAT
“It was an inauspicious introduction to 72 Sqn. Just prior to departure I was languishing in the RAF Police cell at Ouston. I was going to phone my dad but fizzing as the phone had been smashed. I reported it to the police, who accused me of the damage despite my saying that if I had done it I wouldn’t have reported it. However I was missed (by the Sqn) so I was reluctantly released.
We got our first glimpse of our cruise ship and like the John Masefield poem it was ‘a salt encrusted relic of a glorious past’. SS Staffordshire of the Bibby Line with a single stack. What caused rumours as to our destination was a huge snow plough on her sharp end. It was really packed. ‘Brown Jobs’ and RAF. Cooks package tours had really earned their cash! We were given a long table but I can’t recall if food was a ‘free for all’ or if someone at the table top was detailed. The menu card was missing. Owing to over booking our cabins were missing, instead eight hammocks for 12 men. Failing to get one I was on the deck – away from the route to the toilets. There was more consternation when we slipped our moorings on Friday 13th – for where?
The days so far were uneventful on calm seas and we had acquired quite a big collection of ships; tankers, tramps and some lovely, grey-painted, liners. Nearest to us was a Canadian Pacific three-funneled ‘Empress’ class. Once we hit the
The weather and the sea got warmer and calmer. The torrent’s clients got fewer. Our immediate escorts, a pair of dolphins. Occasionally depth charges were fired accompanied by a great wall of water. Destroyers dashing up and down the convoy. I was detailed to break coal in the depth of the ship, which was not to my liking. Gradually we got our ‘sea legs’ and at night, sleeping on the deck, watching the graceful arc of the tip of the mast against the stars and looking at the phosphorescent wake was indeed the stuff of dreams. Then one night the lights of
On the 22nd we disembarked from SS Staffordshire. Heavy sea running. One of our lads was tied to a rope and he endeavoured to get a huge tire from the sea. Why? We hadn’t even got transport. We assembled and Tiny le Peppit told us to report on the morrow. So in dribs and drabs we went to sample the fleshpots of
We got into the cattle trucks; ’40 Hommes, 8 Chevaux’. A Frenchman armed with a knife who was in the van tried to knife one of our lads but was soon overpowered and presented to the gendarmes. Not relishing being one of the ‘Hommes’ I decided to travel in one of those quaint sentry box-like things at the back of the van, which served as lookout along the train. On the way to Souk el Arba, at the stops we piled out to the engine to get boiling water for a brew. One sobering thought remains in my mind; we waited for an ambulance train from the front to pass by, coaches marked with the Red Cross. We had one coach with the adjutant and other officers on board. The next stop was most embarrassing for me. We were formed up and I was singled out for a public washing, as I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the only coloured person in the Squadron, spending so long exposed to the smoke from the locomotive. From then on I was one of the ‘Hommes’!
At Souk el Arba, during an attack, we watched as a goat grabbed a freshly washed shirt off the line and ate it, despite the strafing! The motorbikes were a bad choice for campaigns; ‘Matchless’ with telescopic forks that after a few weeks became jammed on the lower half and split; result – a rigid frame. Christmas Day was held in the barn-cum-mess. The menu card had the Swift on the front and the menu inside. It was a very good meal.
Jan 25th – we move to Souk el Khemis not too far from Arba, only big problem was mud. Just possible that we influenced the cancellation of an offensive on ‘Longstop Hill’. In his book General Eisenhower stated his mind was made up by seeing several motor cyclists struggling with the mud. The car road was on the Medjez el Bab to Mateur highway and the Top Brass was often seen on their inspections of the front. The mud was really bad. Many a time I had to take the rear wheel off as the mud had built up so thickly that the wheel wouldn’t turn.
February 24th was a Panic Day. Field Marshal Rommel launched his attack through
Darryl Briggs passed through Sedjanane on the way to Cap Serrat shortly after the battle for the town:
“I met a solitary Arab “going my way”, and so against rules and regulations I gave him a lift. After many miles and somewhat near to my destination I told him as best I could he was on his own, and this was true. It was a bleak landscape, no signs of life. He was OK though, but it did puzzle me as to how he had endured the ride; no footrest, only a carrier instead of a seat and a hot exhaust pipe – the blighter was also barefoot!
Coming to Sedjenane I saw signs of a recent battle, dozens of Italian sun helmets with feathers as decorations were strewn around; I believe they were a Bersagliari unit. German tanks, half tracks and trucks were burnt out – courtesy of 72?
I again disregarded the rules and decided to inspect a half track which looked like an old charabanc as regards seating; it was also very badly burnt out. Inside the drivers side was a type of slit pocket from which I got a huge revolver, a knife fork and spoon in a neat metal holder which incorporated a bottle opener (think of everything these Germans) which was much more practical than our loose ‘irons’ and two pay books. One of these was for Paul Wiegers, who was my age, but born the month previous.
Well, I got to Cap Serrat but they were not a very hospitable lot and I was glad to shake the dust off and ride into the sunset. About half way back disaster struck; a flat rear tyre. With no grass to stuff in the tyre I did attempt to carry on but in the end could go no further. The tyre shredded and as I had not been issued with a carrier pigeon I was really ‘up the creek’.
After an hour, smoking and thinking, an American jeep pulled up. “What’s up buddy?” They hoisted the bike on the jeep and took me to their camp, “Go get some chow, buddy. One of our guys seen a French bike down a ravine, we’ll go take a look”.
What a meal, loads of coffee, food as you only dreamed of, not a sign of bully beef and biscuits. If there had been a recruiting officer there I would have been a GI. Well, they got the wheel and as luckily it was the right size. They even fitted it; great guys. I cannot remember if I told Chiefy Arthur or Sgt Calver of my journey, but much sand and mud has passed since then!
When we finally reached
ROBERT WARDLOW OXSPRING DFC**, AFC
May 19 1919 - August 8 1989
Part One of a two part
feature by Gordon Wright
Bobby Oxspring (he preferred Bobby and was also known as 'OXO') did not have a silver spoon in his mouth, far from it, but he did have the benefit of a father, of the same name, who had been a WW1 flying ace, with 44 Squadron St Omer in 1917, who won an MC and bar and is recorded in Air Aces of the 1914-1918 War as having destroyed 16 German aircraft
This family history gave him an absolute determination to get into the RAF as a pilot. His flying career started early in 1938 at No 4 E & R FTS (
TO 66 SQUADRON
Qualifying early in 1939 he was assigned to 66 Squadron, at that time with Group 12 in Duxford, one of the first squadrons to be equipped with Spitfires. In his early experience of night flying with a Spitfire, he managed, on landing, to exit through a hedge, across a road and through another hedge - fortunately neither aircraft nor pilot was too badly upset
by the experience. He was briefly in on the tail end of the
Squadron, although none of the squadron recorded any victories. His first successful action was a joint kill of a Heinkel 111. But pilots in Group 12 were often frustrated at not being involved in some of the action being seen by Group 11.Years afterwards a
few admitted they had felt aggrieved by Keith Park, who did not get on with Leigh Mallory of Group 12 – although later history was inclined to put more blame on Leigh Mallory. However, the structure of Fighter Command was intended to keep each Group self sufficient. Late in August, 66 Squadron at last got a posting to Group 11, where they were stationed at Kenley. September 5 and 6 were black days for 66, losing eight aircraft and six pilots in two days. On September 7, following the frustration of being vectored to find a 'mythical' enemy, 66 Squadron was given a short release from action for the rest of the day. The pilots took leave to go up to
PART OF THE BIGGIN HILL WING
The squadron was soon reassigned to
He realised that his rate of descent was likely to break both his legs, or worse. However, after narrowly missing some high tension cables he came down in woods, where the foliage of an enormous tree saved him from the worst possible consequences. Rescued by the Home Guard hewas carted off to the
AT BIGGIN HILL
November saw 66 Squadron move to Biggin Hill to join 74 and 92 Squadrons. The start of winter closed down most of the action, but by the turn of the year Fighter Command's strategy (with Dowding and Park gone) changed to taking the fight to the enemy on the Continent. This was the start of 'circuses', where a formation of bombers would be escorted by covering fighters intending to entice a response. This simply mirrored German tactics during the Battle of Britain and were to prove no more successful for the RAF than they had been for the Luftwaffe. The first such raid was led by 'Sailor' Malan with the three Biggin Hill squadrons and resulted in little enemy reaction. Meanwhile, the nightly blitz on
TRAINING DUTIES & BACK TO 11 GROUP
No. 66 Squadron found itself giving fighter cover to convoys in the Channel. Returning from one of these Bobby horrified himself by landing with his wheels retracted. After 500 hours of Spitfire flying without serious mistakes, the strain was probably beginning to tell, he was deemed tour-expired and posted to training duties with the OTU in
they were moved north for a rest and Bobby was asked if he wanted to stay in Group 11. Indeed he did, he still wanted more action, so he was offered 41 Squadron at Merston. The squadron was equipped with Spitfire MkVbs, with 20mm cannons. They were often engaged in 'rhubarbs', formations of two or four looking for opportunistic targets, including railway locomotives, river barges and shipping. No. 41 Squadron had lost its commander Elmer Gaunce, shot down and killed over
HIGH COMMAND INEPTITUDE
No. 91 Squadron was part of the Biggin Hill Sector, at which time Captain Dicky Barwell was sector commander. They were a specialist reconnaissance squadron, equipped with the latest MkIIs to give them height and speed advantage, for which they had acquired the tab of 'Jim Crow'. 'Sailor' Malan had brought the Biggin Wing to such a pitch of efficiency, that when Bobby arrived to take command, 91 Squadron's morale was sky high. They usually flew the first and last sorties of the day on routine recces, known as 'Milk runs', to check on overnight movement of enemy shipping, with weather recces at 30,000ft over a large arc of enemy territory. The German capital ships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen had been bottled up in
Early in 1942 the Luftwaffe started to retaliate to the perpetual RAF operations over the occupied Continent, by beginning hit-and-run raids. In the Biggin Hill sector, counter measures fell on 91 Squadron, but interceptions were virtually nil. Bobby took his concerns to Biggin sector commander Dicky Barwell, who suggested, with BilI Igoe controlling, they should go out on a patrol to investigate where things were going wrong. Close to
FROM THE ARCHIVES –
LANDON, Lawrence George, Flight Sergeant (561015, Royal Air Force) - No.72 Squadron - British Empire Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 17 September 1943. Public Record Office Air 2/8959, courtesy of Steve Brew, has citation. Mutilated document; some words uncertain.
"This airman has been in charge of an operational flight throughout the North African campaign. He has been a tower of strength [words missing] of a hazardous or arduous nature. His administrative [words missing] in his flight and in looking after his men at all [words missing] particularly good service as a result of which the lives of his men were saved by his prompt and effective first aid given after a land mine had exploded after an expedition to Thelepte."
NORTON, Raymond Cyril, Warrant Officer (526684, Royal Air Force) - No.72 Squadron - Member, Order of the British Empire - awarded as per London Gazette dated 17 September 1943. Public Record Office Air 2/8959, courtesy of Steve Brew, has citation.
"Warrant Officer Norton has been in charge of the Squadron Armoury Section since the summer offensives of 1941 and 1942 and throughout the campaign in
NO FAIRY LIQUID
At Souk el Khemis in 1943 for washing our eating utensils etc we had a great square tank, hot water and no Fairy liquid to ‘protect our hands’! Well, as soon as the plug was out the ground resembled a swamp with gallons of the ‘juice’ lying on it, which was no joke after a few days.
So, I decided to do a spot of plumbing as I possessed a handy small trench digging tool, ex-U.S. military issue. Next I had the cookhouse save me the large tins and small ones which, with my service jack-knife that included a handy tin opener, cut holes in the large tins to fit. I punched holes in the base of the large tins so the water would leak into the ground. (“What did you do in the war, Daddy?”). Then with the entrenching tool I made a well fitting hole for the tin beneath the plughole. Of course ‘
Future archaeology bods, 1,000 year on, will puzzle over what the primitive tribe was getting at!