Tag Archives: Air Power


Date: 10-MAY-1944
Time: 17:00
Type: Silhouette image of generic MOSQ model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
de Havilland Mosquito FB.Mk VI
Owner/operator: 418 (City of Edmonton) Sqn RCAF
Registration: MM421
C/n / msn:
Fatalities: Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 2
Airplane damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: sea 3 mile S of Ystad –    Sweden
Phase: En route
Nature: Military
Departure airport: RAF Coltishall
Destination airport:

MM421 – Missing from night intruder to Greifiswald 10.5.44
Public Record Office WO 208/3320 had his MI.9 report; he had left Stockholm on 16 June 1944, arrived in Britain 17 June 1944 and was interviewed on 18 June 1944.
“I was captain and first pilot of a Mosquito aircraft which took off from Coltishall on 16 May 1944 at about 1300 hours on a Day Ranger operation across Denmark, and covering German aerodromes on the Baltic. When approximately over Rostock we were hit by flak at about 1530 hours. One engine was rendered completely unserviceable, and the fuselage was badly damaged.

“It was obvious that we would not be able to reach base, so I took the only alternative of attempting to get to Sweden.
“When over Ystad we were fired on by flak, although it was obvious that we were in distress. This compelled me to fly out to sea again. I ditched outside the three-mile limit, exactly south of Ystad at about 1700 hours. The aircraft broke up badly, but we both got out safely. The water was so cold that I just managed to inflate my dinghy and got into it before becoming unconscious. When last seen my navigator was trying to get his dinghy inflated. When I came to about half an hour later there was no sign of him.
“I was picked up by a Swedish fishing boat, which also found my navigator’s body. I was taken ashore and to a hospital in Ystad. I was there till 22 May. On the second day a member of the British Legation at Malmo came to see me. On 22 May I was taken to the internment camp at Falun. After a trip to Stockholm to report the details of our accident to the authorities. I returned to Falun whilst negotiations were being carried out with the Swedes for my repatriation.
“At no time was any interrogation pressed on me, and I was treated with great consideration. On 11 June I was taken down to Stockholm and repatriated on 16 June.”
W/Cdr (J/5756) Howard Douglas CLEVELAND DFC (pilot) RCAF injured
F/Sgt (1503804) Frank DAY DFM (nav.) killed.


mosquito418 RCAF is claimed to be the RCAF’s highest scoring fighter squadrons in the Second World War, in terms of both air-to-air and air-to-ground kills, and of both day and night operations.   Its night operations were carried out without airborne interception radar.  

There is an excellent well written account of the expereince of 418 aircrew, ” Terror in the Starboard Seat: 41 Trips Aboard a Mosquito, a True Story of 418 Squadron”  by Dave McIntosh.

This aircraft took off from RAF Coltishall, which continued to serve as an RAF airfield until its closure  in November 2006.  It is currently awaiting disposal with plans for reused as the site of a prison, immigration centre and housing.


The crew of MM421 were not based at Coltishall.  418 Squadron were based at Holmsley South airfield in the New Forest in Hampshire on the South Coast.  Presumably the day ranger operation in the Baltic needed to operate from East Anglia.  It is possible to visit the site of  Holmsley South where the is a memorial to the units which operated from the airfield.



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Aircraft of 419 Sqn RCAF line up

12/13 May 1944
Louvain: 120 aircraft – 96 Halifaxes, 20 Lancasters, 4 Mosquitos – of 6 and 8   Groups.3 Halifaxes and 2 Lancasters lost. The bombing was more accurate than on the previous night and considerable damage was caused in the railways yards.

One the same night the RAF also bombed Hasselt, ineffectively and carried out mining and intruder operations.  The total  effort for the night: 355 sorties, 14 aircraft (3.9 per cent) lost.  This appears to be the Bomber command war diary entry (whatever happened to the  Day by Day Bomber Command  Dairy entries?) pages? 

This was the second night in succession that Bomber Command had raided Leuven (knonw by Francophone Wallons as Louvain) On the night 11-12th the results had not been satiusfactory wioth the bombing scattered and little evidence of damage to the rail infrastructure. On The raid which started shortly after midnight on 13th May caused the following damage.

Bomb Damage in Leuven.

 474 buildings in Leuven were completely destroyed, including a university building, three churches, two schools, thirty-seven factories, two buildings of city and a monastery. No less than 1300 buildings were severely damaged, including five university buildings, a church, four monasteries, eight factories and six public buildings (including the Palace of Justice and the Little Prison). A thousand buildings were slightly damaged.   In the parish of Wilsele 183 buildings were completely destroyed, 280 severely damaged buildings and 150 mildly affected panden.Te Herent 14 buildings were completely destroyed, 58 severely damaged and 80 slightly damaged. All bombing in 1944 together accounted

Damaged buildings in Leuven
Damaged buildings in Leuven

for the destruction of 634 homes and become uninhabitable for 1,166 homes on a total housing stock of 4,223 homes, about 25%. A large part of Blauwput had disappeared. The 15th century Chapel Blauwput was badly damaged as the Parish Church.

Air Vice Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder

The Allied Commanders responsible for planning D Day were keen to use the strategic bombers of  Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force against targets which would delay rthe rate at which allied reinforcements could reach the Normandy battlefield.  These attacks would need to take place across Belgium and Northern France to conceal the site of the landings.  British Airman Arthur Tedder was Eisenhower’;s Deputy and credited with leading the transportation plan.  There were two obstacles in persuading the allies to adopt this plan.  Firstly he had to overcome the resistance of the commanders of the strategic air forces to switch from the targets they considered important,  Secondly, Churchill needed to be persuaded that the results would justify the casualties among the allied populations.

Churchill anguished about giving an order which would kill Belgians and Frenchmen.   Churchill made many decisions during the war which would result in the loss of lives which were to  some degree or other “innocent”.  He ordered the Royal Navy to sink the French Fleet in 1940, and the aerial bombing of German cities, containing civilians and foreign workers.  The decisions to bomb key points on the railway  system in Belgium and France bothered him more than most.  Alanbrooke’s diary entry for 5th April mentions “At 10.30, had to attend one of those awful  evening meetings with the PM.  We were kept up till 12.45 a,m. discussing use  heavy bombers to support the invasion. he is opposed to Tedder’s plan”.

The rais d was carried out by No 6 Group with aircraft from 419, 420, 425, 426, 427, 429, 431 and 432 Sqns RCAF.  Five heavy bombers were lost on this raid, two in the route in and one of the return.  One was shot down by flak and four by night fighters, at least three of these were by “Experten” Major Martin Dawes.

419 Squadron Lancaster Bomber markings

419 RCAF appear to have the heaviest losses, losing two aircraft and 13 men dead.

Louvain May 12/13th 1944
Takeing off at 2155 and heading out to the target the crew and aircraft were shot down near Sint-Genesius-Rode which was 12 km S of Brussels. None of this very experienced crew survived. 
VR-W KB710
P/O H I Smith Pilot 22nd sortie 
F/O J Moore Navigator
F/O W R Finlayson Bomb Aimer
F/O W W Price Wireless Op.
Sgt. R Bull Field Engineer
Sgt. J C O’Connell Upper Gunner
Sgt. S G Livingstone Rear Gunner
VR-W ‘s crew was a very experienced one with many of them at the 16 operation mark. The Wireless Operator F/O Smith having a total of 22 trips. 
The crew of VR-X had P/O Edwards and F/O Campbell who were a quarter of a way through their tours while the other airmen were on their second or third operation. 
VR-X KB713 
P/O B F Edwards Pilot on his 8th sortie
F/O R R Campbell Navigator
F/S P Dewar Bomb Aimer
F/S R S Smith Wireless Op.
Sgt. J R Carruthers Flight Engineer
P/O J A Webber Upper Gunner
P/O H E Oddan Rear Gunner

419 Sqn RCAF were based at RAF Middleston St George.  This is now Teeside Airport. Photos here 

Leuven was rebuilt and its name appears on every can or bottle of Stella Artois beer, which is brewed there.

No one will know whether the Battle of Normandy would have been D Day invasion would have succeeded without the bombing campaign. The civilian and air force losses  are as much a part of the campaign as that of any infantryman storming ashore.

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12 May 1944 8th Air Force Hit the Oil Targets

Lutzkendorf under air attack May 1944


(Eighth Air Force): Mission 353: 886 bombers and 735
fighters were dispatched to hit synthetic oil production facilities in Germany and Czechoslovakia; there was strong Luftwaffe fighter reaction and 46 bombers and 7 fighters were lost:

1. 326 B-17s were dispatched to Mersenburg (224 bomb) and Lutzkendorf (87 bomb); 1 hit Hedrongen and 1 bombed Bullstadt; 2 B-17s were lost, 3 damaged beyond repair and 189 damaged; 4 airmen were KIA, 6 WIA and 20 MIA.

2. 295 B-17s were dispatched to Brux, Czechoslovakia (140 bomb) and Zwickau(74 bomb); 11 hit Chemnitz, 14 hit Gera marshalling yard, 15 hit Hof and 4 hit targets of opportunity; 41 B-17s are lost, 1 was damaged beyond repair and 162 damaged; 3 airmen were KIA, 8 WIA and 377 MIA.

3. 265 B-24s were dispatched to Zeitz (116 bomb) and Bohlen (99 bomb); 14 hit Mersenburg, 1 hit Ostend Airfield, Belgium and 12 hit targets of opportunity; 3 B-24sweare lost, 5 damaged beyond repair and 61 damaged; 7 airmen were WIA and 33 MIA.

The Escort was provided by 153 P-38s, 201 P-47s and 381 P-51s; P-38s claim 2-0-0  Luftwaffe aircraft, P-47s claim 26-0-8 and P-51s claim 33-0-3 in the air and 5-0-2 on the ground; 4 P-47s and 3 P-51s were lost and 4 P-47s and 9 P-51s were damaged; 7 pilots are MIA.

Flak over Lutzkendorf May 1944

About 800 bombers of the US 8th Air Force, with a substantial fighter escort, attack synthetic oil plants at Leuna-Merseburg, Bohlen, Zeitz, Lutzkendorf and Brux (northwest of Prague). The Americans claimed to shoot down 150 German fighters and reported losses of 46 bombers and 10 fighters.  (From Chronology of the USAAF) 

Lutzkendorf Oil Refinery late 1944 showing bomb damage.

Mission 353 was the first trial raid on oil targets to test the claim that the Luftwaffe would defend oil targets in Germany more than they had defended transportation targets.  RLV fighters put up their largest force ever, but five synthetic oil plants were successfully attacked.   This has been argued as part of the attrition battles which reduced the capability of the Luftwaffe to intervene in the Normandy Landings.

457 BG Mission Board may 1944

457 BG Mission Board may 1944.  Lutzkendorf is the forth mission on the board

One of the units participating in the attack was tyhe 457th Bombardment Group.    Their website has an account of the day  here 

457th BG B17 returning from a mission to France 1944

The long awaited blitz on the German synthetic oil refineries occasioned the largest air raid the Eighth Air Force had yet undertaken. The 45 7th furnished the lead and low boxes for the 94th B Combat Wing for the assault on Lutzkendorf, producer of 30,000 tons of petrol and diesel oil annually. The target was six miles west of Merseburg. Major Fred A. Spencer flew as Air Commander of the B lead box with Lt. Jerry Godfrey flying as pilot. Captain Jacob M. Dickinson led the B low box, with Lt. Clarence E. Schuchmann as pilot.

The weather was CAVU, but ground haze and smoke Obscured visibility. Bombing results were fair. No enemy fighter opposition was encountered, and flak was moderate but accurate. Eleven craft sustained damage.

This B17 was flown by KG200, but there is no evidence from the German side that these ever flown in the same air space as US bombers, due to the risk to the air crew from German fighters or AA guns. The stories of German operated B17s by 8th AF crews may mask cases of friendly fire.

On the return trip to the base, a German operated B-17 joined the formation near Coblenz and continued with the formation to Brussels. Also, the craft piloted by Lt. John Akers encountered engine trouble. His plane began to lag behind the formation and was last seen near Eisenach on the trip back to England. With only one engine providing power and flying at 1,500 feet altitude, the crew bailed out over Belgium and all were taken as POWs. Because of the seriousness of his injuries, Lt. Akers was later involved in a prisoner of war exchange through the International Red Cross and returned to the States. He was hospitalized until May 1946, when he was discharged.

Although the 457th’s crews saw no enemy fighters, wings of the 3rd Division met severe attacks, causing the loss of thirty- two bombers. It was reported the Luftwaffe pilots resorted to ramming the B.-17s. Total losses for the Eighth amounted to forty-two craft.

Control Tower RAF Glatton 1945

The mission was the first of many to be directed against the synthetic oil refineries.

Meanwhile, on the Base, a lack of military courtesy by members of the command was noted. As a consequence, classes were conducted for all personnel reported for having failed to salute. The course consisted of two one-hour lectures on military customs and courtesies. The crew of Lt John Akers was lost on this date

Memorial Plaque Peterborough Airport

The 457th Bombardment Group were based at RAF Glatton about ten miles North of Huntingdon.   This is now Peterborough Airport.  The Water Tower is about the only surviving Ww2 structure.  

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C10/V-2The war in the West was a race between the Allies and the Germans. Could the Allies mount D Day before the Germans had perfected a new generation of weapons which would terrorise Britain into submission. The German revenge weapons included the Fi 176 cruise missile, (the V1 flying bom), the A4 surface to surface ballistic missile (the V2) and a very long range gun, the V3.

Map showing the location of Wizernes and two other V Weapon sites in the Pas de Calais

Ever since the allies became aware of the existence of these weapons the Allied air forces had mounted a bombing campaign against the structures that the Germans were building to house these weapons. This campaign cost the allies 1,900 aircrew, a comparable number of fatalities to those lost on D Day.

1944 conjectre about the use of the Wizernes Site

On 3rd May 1944 the 8th USAAF Target was the the huge bunker at d’Helfaut-Wizernes, northern France. This vast structure was intended as a hardened launch centre for V2 and built with slave labour. This air raid was one of sixteen carried out by the allies air forces between march and the end of July 1944. 47 B24 Bombers of the 392nd Bombardment Group of the USAAF would drop 180 x 2000 lb bombs.

Briefing for crews was held between 0930-1000 hours. The mission was to be GH ship led with (22) aircraft carrying 2000# GP bombs. Despite fairly good visual bombing weather over the target with 3/lOths – 5/lOths cloud cover, bombing was poor with only a few hits in the target area of the (80) weapons released. While no enemy fighters were sighted, flak over the target was intense and accurate causing damage to (14) aircraft and wounding some crewmembers. No aircraft were lost and the mission recovered at base around 1740 hours after a 4 1/2 hour mission.http://www.b24.net/missions/MM050344.htm

B-24 Bomber being loaded with 2,000 lb bombs

The bombing by bombs of up to a ton in weight made no impact on the concrete dome, but wrecked the un-armoured facilites above ground, including the rail connections.

The bunker would be abandoned after a raid by 617 Sqn RAF :Lancasters and a on 17th July using six ton Tallboy bombs. Three of these exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and covering up the two rocket vertical entry ways. The Germans abandoned the site in late July 1944.

Photograph taken by a low flying RAF aircraft on 6th July 1944, before the raid by 617 Sqn RAF.

According the the French Records, the ultimate fate of the 1,100 Russian slave labourers who worked site is not known.

The Bunker complex is now a museum, easily accessible from Calais and a day trip from the SE of England. Although the Germans never used the site for its intended purpose, the sheer scale of the building , the conditions under which it was built and its sinister purpose make it a thought provoking place. It is part of the V weapon story and the defeat of the V weapon bombardment of London. The story of the aerial campaign waged by the RAF and USAAF against the V weapon sites deserves to be better known.

La Cupole Visitor Centre site

USAAF Official History – Chapter on Operation Crossbow

392 BG website

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Control Tower Wendling 1944 (www.b24.net)


On 24 April 1944 RAF Wendling, near East Derham, Norfolk was the home to the 392 Bombardment Group (Heavy) of the 8th US Air Force. It had been opened in 1942.

Wendling Airfield 30 March 1946 (wikipedia commons)

On that day twenty five B 24 Bomber aircraft took off on Mission # 71 Target: Leipheim in Germany. Two aircraft did not return.

#44-40105 (NO NICKNAME) “B-Bar” flying its first mission: Pilot 2Lt Carl F Ellinger.

Eye-witness reports from returning crewmen of other planes (Lts. Ambrose, Kamenitsa, and Weinheimer) stated that the Ellinger ship (received a direct hit from AA guns at position 50-50 N; 03-20E at 1558 hours on route back from the target and this flak had struck the aircraft just behind the wing section with the plane starting down and disintegrating before striking the ground and, no chutes were seen.


The tail gunner, Sgt Hasenfratz later recalled that after flak hit his aircraft, the front section exploded into flames and the tail section spun out of control toward the ground. He and two other crewmembers were in the tail section as it plunged 18,000 feet to the ground. Hasenfratz was the sole survivor.

04362 AIRCRAFT: #41-28688 (NO NICKNAME) “Q-Bar” 18th Mission: Pilot : 2Lt Travis W Griffin

Returning crew members (Lts. Sabourin, Filkel, and Weinheimer) gave the following eye-witness account of this aircrew loss: At approximately 1330 hours, the Griffin plane left the formation before reaching the target with 2 engines out, reported to be due to mechanical failure. The plane was under control but losing altitude gradually and was headed in the general direction of Switzerland escorted by 3 x P-47’s. German Report #KU1603, 25 April 1944, Airbase Command A7NII, Freiburg, reported the crash of this Liberator at 1347 hours, (12) kilometers southwest of Freudenstadt near Schappach, Schwarzwald (Black Forest) with 8 crew members being captured in same vicinity and 2 others found dead.392bg-b24-2


Later after repatriation from POW status, Sgt. Kelly was interrogated by the Intelligence Section at Selfridge Field, Michigan (a l/Lt. Roeder) and the crewmember gave this account of their mission mishap: That due to mechanical failures of three engines, #2, #1 and #3 in that order, their plane was unable to hold bomber formation position or altitude which resulted in all members abandoning ship over Freiburg, Germany. All crewmen successfully bailed out including the two deceased members. Sgt. Bryant’s chute was observed as open, but Sgt Gallup was not seen after he left the aircraft. This report was the only one available from any crewmember made after war’s end. The German on-scene report noted that the captured members were sent on to Dulag-Luft, Oberursel on 26 April 1944 for interrogation processing. (Note: No indication further was given on the possibility of the engine failures being caused possibly by enemy actions, or perhaps, contributing fuel management problems) For more information on the mission check this page on b24.net

392 BG Mural – Buildings at Wendling

Wendling is now a Turkey farm, but the buildings and traces of the 392nd Bombardment Group remain. More information on the http://www.airfieldinformationexchange.org/  and www.controltowers.co.uk

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What the Godwin Sands Dornier 17 can tell us about the Battle of Britain

Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)
Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)

If asked to name some famous aircraft from the Battle of Britain,  most people would think of Sptifires, Hurricanes, Messerschmits, Heinkels and Stukas  The announcement of the plans to raise   Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 from the  bottom of the English Channel has thrown the spotlight on a duel between a pair of aircraft.  This duel touches on the controversy within the RAF about the best way to fight the battle of Britain. It also illustrates the link between the Battle of Britain and the night bombing of Germany.  Hidden in the landscape too are the places that tell this story.

The Dornier 17Z being recovered by the RAF Museum is the only example of its type in the world. This aircraft is also a particularly significant part of our battlefield heritage. It is not simply an example of a mediocre military aircraft from the mid 20th Century. This is a German bomber shot down by the RAF on 26th August during the Battle of Britain; a dramatic episode in our history, ranking alongside 1066, 1588 and 1805. This is on a par with say, a suit of armour worn by a French noble at Agincourt or by one of Richard III’s followers at Bosworth. The project needs support from donors and you can donate here https://support.rafmuseum.org/dornier-17-appeal

According to the information sheet written by Andrew Simpson and provided by the RAF Museum,

Dornier Werke nr. 1160 was 7/KG3 (7 Staffel (Squadron), III Gruppe of KG.3 with fuselage codes 5K+AR, which was based at St Trond in Belgium on 26th August 1940. This source says that this aircraft was part of a combined formation of Dorniers from KG2/3 despatched to bomb Debden and Hornchurch airfields. Seven aircraft of the 7 Staffel started to bomb an aerodrome, probably Debden, causing some damage.

No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)
No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)

Accounts of its loss vary from source to source; The original PoW Interrogation Report states that before reaching the target, when flying above clouds this aircraft seemingly became separated from the rest of the formation and lost its bearings. It was attacked by fighters, probably one of the RAF Hornchurch, Essex based Boulton Paul Defiants of No.264 Squadron RAF led by Flt Lt Banham, from their forward base at RAF Manston, Kent, which hit both engines and the cockpit as one,  of between one and six, as again published accounts vary – Dorniers brought down by the Defiants, who lost three of their number to defending Bf109s. At around 13.40 hours the aircraft force landed on Goodwin Sands off the eastern Kentish coast at low tide. Of the four crew, two (Wounded Pilot Feldwebel Willi Effmert, and Bomb Aimer Uffz Hermann Ritzel) became Prisoners-of-War in Canada and two (27-year old Wireless Operator Unteroffizier Helmut Reinhardt and 21-year old Bomb aimer Gefreiter Heinz Huhn) were killed, their bodies being recovered later and buried in Holland and the UK (Cannock Chase German cemetery) respectively.

Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940.  (New Zealand Official History)
Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940. (New Zealand Official History)

This air battle has some important consequences for the Battle of Britain,and is part of a

Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)
Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)

controversy which has continued ever since. 26th August is roughly half way through the Battle of Britain, at the height of the Luftwaffe attacks on the RAF Fighter Command Airfields. On this day the Germans would lure the RAF forwards to fight in an air battle over Kent and then send in a bomber force to try to knock out Fighter Command Airfields at Debden and North Weald and North of the Thames in Essex. These airfields were beyond the range where the bombers could be escorted by the singe seat Me109 fighters.

No 11 Group RAF, under the command of Keith Park was responsible for defending London and the South East and bore the brunt of the Battle of Britain. Their squadrons were directed towards incoming raids using the sophisticated integrated air defence system developed under Hugh Dowding. Their own airfields would be defended by squadrons from the neighbouring No 12 Group under Trafford Leigh-Mallory. On 26th August this did not work. The cloudy conditions of the day helped the Germans to remain hidden from the RAF, and Debden airfield was bombed at 15.20 hrs killing several servicemen and causing damage. This was one of the incidents which triggered the conflict between Keith Park and Leigh Mallory, the respective commanders of No 11 and No 12 Groups, the debate over the “Big Wings”, and the side-lining of both Dowding, the Commander of Fighter Command  and Park. This is a controversial episode in the story of the RAF which still makes ripples today, and is a fascinating case study of leadership and management which still offers lessons.

The RAF Museum information sheet leaves some questions about the relationship between Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 and the raid on Debden. This aircraft appears to have crash landed two hours before the raid on Debden took place and may have been the result of some other engagement. According to the RAF Official History,(1) there were two major day raids on Monday 26th August 1940, not one raid as is the impression given by the information sheet. The first raids took place between 11.35-13.40 and took the form of a series of air raids on towns and airfields in Kent. The raiders included aircraft from III/KG3, and were intercepted by aircraft from, five squadrons including 264 Squadron. 264 Squadron, equipped with Defiant fighters and No 56 Squadron with Hurricanes sighted a formation of twelve Do17s near Deal before noon. The German bombers were flying at 13,000 ft and protected by thirty to fifty Me109s. The seven Defiants succeeded in getting at the bombers and claimed to have shot down six of them. However, the Me109s harassed them continuously shooting down three Defiants. This is the action which appears to fit the circumstances of the loss of the Dornier of No 7 Staffel of III/KG3 as it took place close to the Godwin Sands, a gliding distance from East Kent. The timings don’t quite fit either, but might make sense if the time of the crash was reported by the Germans using French/German time an hour ahead of the local UK time.

The loss of this Dornier to a Boulton and Paul Defiant has a certain historical irony. The connection between these aircraft is an interesting case study in the development of military technology.

The Boulton and Paul Defiant from "Britain's Wonderful Fighting Forces" (1941)
The Boulton and Paul Defiant from “Britain’s Wonderful Fighting Forces” (1941)

The  1930s was a period of technological change in military aviation. New engine designs and the potential of aluminium stressed skinned air-frames offered the potential to fly much faster than possible with fabric and braced struts and stronger structures than could be destroyed by the twin machine guns of contemporary fighter aircraft. The Dornier 17 was specified in 1932 as a “mail carrying aeroplane” but intended for reconnaissance. The resulting aircraft was faster than most biplane fighters and won an speed award in a 1937 air show in Switzerland, its top speed of 255mph was faster than French or Czech fighters. But by 1940 Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 was already obsolescent. Fighter design had caught up and the Do 17 was slower than the RAF single seat fighters. Its bomb load was much smaller than the Ju88 and He 111 and new versions of the aircraft had already been commissioned. Although KG3 continued to fly this type of aircraft through the Blitz of 1940-41, from May 1941 the Wing converted to the Ju88. III/KG3 was the last to convert, in the following winter returning from the east front to Guetersloh in Germany.

The Bolton and Paul Defiant is often ignored completely in popular accounts of the Battle of Britain, and when mentioned it is usually as an example of a failed aircraft design. Any internet search of “ten worst aircraft of WW2” will find the Defiant high on the list. Yet the idea behind the aircraft had a lot of merit.

The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant  contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)
The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)

No one knew how aerial warfare might be possible with the 1930-40s generation of aircraft. The aircraft of the Great War flew at the same sorts of speeds achievable by a fast sports car, and needed to close to within 50m to achieve a kill. Twenty years later aircraft could fly two to three times faster, raising questions about whether aerial combat would possible at all.   In the 1930s the major threat as perceived by the RAF was of German bombers attacking Britain from Germany. The thinking of the time envisaged aerial bombardment by explosive and chemical weapons which might cause thousands of casualties. This was the era when it was believed that the bomber would always get through. To its credit the British Government and the RAF invested in developing technology to defeat bombers, which paid dividends in 1940. One of the major problems was overcoming the difficulty of deflection shooting with the high speeds of WW2 era aircraft. One solution was to develop a large battery of guns in the wings of a single seat fighter, as adopted with the Hurricane and the Spitfire.

Another solution was for the fighter to fly a parallel course and eliminate the need for deflection shooting. The Boulton and Paul Defiant, like the Hurricane and Spitfire was a monoplane fighter powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. However, the Defiant had a crew of two with a gunner in a Fraser Nash power operated turret to provide a battery of four 303 calibre machine guns which could shoot down a bomber by engaging it from any angle, ideally from some blind spot where the bombers could not engage. The RAF hedged their bets in defensive technology. Alone of all combatants in 1939, it had developed aircraft like the Defiant and the similar Blackburn Roc to use this method of fighting, as well as single seat fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane.

One of the assumptions made at the time the Defiant was specified was that a German attack would be launched from Germany, outside the range of any single seat fighters. No one predicted that France would fall and the air attack would be from France and within range of single seat fighter escorts, which would find the slow and heavy Defiant easy prey. Although the Defiant could spring a nasty surprise on a German fighter which misidentified it as a Hurricane, the limitations and vulnerability of their aircraft had been identified before the Battle of Britain started. 264 Squadron had taken heavy losses in May over Dunkirk and had been withdrawn to the Midlands beyond the range of German single seat fighters. The fact that this squadron was in the air over Deal on 26th August 1940 shows the limits to which Fighter Command had been stretched.

The Bravest of the Few?   A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the  unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)
The Bravest of the Few? A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)

This air battle on 26th August is one of the few occasions where the Defiants were used against a bomber formation.  According to the 264 Squadron records the Squadron shot down seven Do17s for the loss of three Defiants.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission records show that on that day two sergeants from 264 Squadron died. 26th August was a relatively good day for the Defiants as a total of fourteen men died between 24-28th August 1940, just under half the number of aircrew established for the Squadron, and more than lost by single seat fighter unit in the battle. One of the advantages the RAF had over the Germans in the Battle of Britain was that many RAF aircrew could bail out of a stricken aircraft and return to the fight, while any Germans shot down would be a prisoner of war.  The RAF reported 324 single seat fighter lost in August for the loss of 126 of the pilots killed. Just under two thirds of the pilots parachuted to safety.  That isn’t the case with the Defiants of 264 Squadron who appear to have lost two aircrew for each aircraft.  There are enough first hand accounts of the experiences of “The Few”, to know of the fearful experience of being attacked by a German fighter with only the armoured seat for protection and then bailing out from a crippled and burning machine falling from the sky. How much harder was it for a Defiant gunner, unprotected by armour to survive an attack, or to bail out of a Fraser Nash Turret if the power failed or the mechanism was damaged by cannon splinters?  RAF losses for August. I wonder too, whether the presence of a crewman inhibited Defiant pilots from jumping rather than stay with their  stricken machine to try to maintain control for as long as possible?

Two days after the action on 26th August, 264 Squadron were withdrawn from No 11 Group to No 12 Group and were tasked with operating as night fighters. The although the Defiant was heavier and less manoeuvrable aircraft to fly than either the Spitfire and had a landing speed over 100mph, it was a stable aircraft which made it more suitable as a night fighter. In Autumn 1940 the RAF had no means of finding the enemy other than the Mk1 eyeball and 264 Sqn struggled in this role through the Blitz. In 1941 they received Mk II Defiants which included a Mk VI Airborne interception radar operated by the pilot This seems less efficient than an arrangement allowing the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft and keeping visual look out while a second person on board operated the radar, as in the Beaufighter and Mosquito night-fighters. 264 Sqadron soldiered on with the Defiant until 1942 when the Squadron was converted to the Mosquito, a much better night fighter and the air gunners were posted out and replaced by navigator radar operators.

This isn’t quite the end of the story. In the mean time the Germans had found themselves

Prey Turned Hunter.  Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.
Prey Turned Hunter. Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.

considering the defence of the Reich from nocturnal air attacks. An interest sharpened by the raid on Berlin on the night of 25-26th August and whose raiders would be tucking into their breakfast about the same time that 7./KG3 would be waking up to theirs. Night air defence was low on Luftwaffe priorities and the night fighter force used the aircraft they could. Given that the Do 17 was becoming obsolete as a day bomber, the German night fighter force started using the Dornier as the basis for a night fighter. It had a sufficient margin of speed over the RAF’s Hampden,Wellington and Whitley bombers. Replacing the perspex nose with a fairing with a 20mm cannon and three machine guns and, or a gun pack under the nose gave the Do 17 as much fire-power as a day fighter. On 2nd October 1940 a Do17Z of NJG 1 (Night Fighter Wing 1) command by Lt Ludwig Becker made the first successful German radar controlled interception on 2nd October 1940, shooting down a Wellington Bomber.  The Germans too were developing airborne radar, and in August 1941 the same Lt Becker using the prototype Lichtenstein BC (FuG 202) airborne interception radar shot down five British bombers. Over the next two and a half years the Do17 and its redeveloped versions the Do 215 and Do217 were one of the mainstays of the German night fighter force, until replaced by better machines, such as the Ju88 R1, a faster machine.

This Ju88 R1 was flown to England by a defecting crew, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the SN 2 (Fu202) airborne Interception radar.

The RAF Museums JU88R-1 W/Nr 360043, served with IV/NJG.3, coded D5 + EV is anachronistically  displayed in the Battle of Britain Hall, as it is part of the story of the air offensive on Germany told alongside the RAF Bombers it once stalked in the Bomber Hall.  While this aircraft is a version of the Ju88 which flew in the Battle of Britain, it is the sleek fighter version without the bulbous crew crew compartment or the glazed “beetle Eye” nose of the bomber version, and antennae sprout from its nose.   This is also a very special aircraft with a provenance which gives the same significance as, say a machine flown on the dams Raid. This is an aeroplane which made an individual difference to the war, and saved many allied lives. The Ju88 R1 is not the bomber version which flew over Britain in 1940. but a night fighter variant with a sleek shallower fuselage and a crew of three rather than four, equipped with a battery of 20mm cannon, an average of ten shells from which would destroy a heavy bomber like a Lancaster or Halifax. Most important this version has a fairing covered in radar aerials of the production version tested by Lt Becker.  This particular aircraft was obtained by the RAF when a Luftwaffe night-fighter crew defected to England, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the Lichtenstein SN2 airborne interception radar, enabling the British to develop counter-measures. 

The Germans too thought about the problems of deflection shooting at night. British heavy bombers like the Wellington, Sterling Halifax and Lancaster all had a power operated Fraser

Diagram showing the  installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2.  The  Me110 G2  anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik  "Jazz Music" for shooting down RAF night bombers.
Diagram showing the installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2. The Me110 G2 anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik “Jazz Music” for shooting down RAF night bombers.

Nash rear turret mounting four machine guns, and manned by a gunner whose warning could initiate evasive manoeuvres which could throw off an attacker. Some Germans thought about the idea of oblique fire, approaching a bomber from underneath. Ober Leutentant Schoenert, a 23 kill “experten” from from NJG 1 had a Do 217 modified to include two upward pointing 20mm cannons. With this machine he achieved the first German kill using this technique in May 1943. The technique was widely adopted by the German night fighter force. So the technique which the RAF dropped, was adopted by the Luftwaffe and became a great success under different operational circumstances. Thus the Do17 became the hunter rather than the prey. 264 Sqn’s Air gunners left the squadron in mid 1942. I do not know what happened to them, but it would be an unfortunate irony if the RAF had posted these experienced air gunners as rear gunners in the Bomber squadrons,

There is a lot to see relating to the events of the Battle of Britain and the battle on 26th August. Of course the RAF museum has a lot of the aircraft involved, including the only surviving Bolton and Paul Defiant and at some point in the future, Dornier 17z. Here are some other places associated with the stories in the battle:-This could be the focus for people with an interest in wider aviation heritage.

  • Bentley Priory Museum (Currently being redeveloped) where the information from different sources was filtered and passed to Groups as plots of raids.
  • No 11 Group Command Bunker Uxbridge, where the Group Controller made the decision to commit No 264 and 56 Sqns to intercept 7./KG3.
  • RAF Northolt Restored Sector Control Room, the only No 11 Group Control Room in existance.
  • The reconstructed Sector Control room at the Imperial War Museum Duxford IMW, is where the No 12 Group aircraft were scrambled to intercept the raiders at Debden – but arrived too late.
  • The underground control room at Dover Castle, where the AA defences on that day were controlled.
  • RAF Debden, the target for the raids in the afternoon is a very well preserved Battle of Britain airfield, but is now Carver Barracks and home to No 33 Regiment Royal Engineers.
  • RAF Manston, the airfield where 264 Sqn used as a forward base on 26th August 1940 is now Kent International Airport, and there an RAF Manston History museum next to the Spitfire and Hurricane museum at Kent International Airport.
  • RAF Hornchurch, where 264 Squadron were based for their costly week in No 11 Group is now Hornchurch Country park. Most of the administration and technical areas of the airfield are now a housing estate. It was the subject of a Tv archaeology programme in the “Two men in a Trench” series. Some buildings have been preserved, includign the Offciers Mess, now a medical centre. The local pub, the Good Intent, which served airmen from the base has in recent times had a collection of photographs.
  • St Trond Airfield became a Belgian Airforce Base after the Second World War. It is now Limburg Regional Airport.
  • Gefreiter Heinz Huhn is buried in Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery alongside about 5,000 other German and Austrian war dead from the World Wars.
  • The names of the eight of the fourteen men killed flying for No 264 Squadron whose bodies have never been recovered are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial for the missing, overlooking London. A fitting place to remember and reflect.

Contact Air Power tours if you would like to find out more about visiting the sites associated with this air battle.

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Philip Fullard: The“highest scoring” footballer of the Great War.

055 Nieuport 17 Scout Replica G-BWMJ

Nieuport 17/23 Scout Replica in the markings B’3459 Captain Philip Fletcher Fullard No.1 Sqn RFC Bailleul Aerodrome September 1917. Fullard shot down 17 enemy aircraft in this aircraft. Photographed at IWM Duxford. Source http://www.airmuseumsuk.org/

Philip Fletcher Fullard was born in May 1897. As a school boy he played as a centre half for Norwich City’s reserve team, but by 17th November 1917 at the age of , aged 20 he was one of the leading British fighter aces serving in No 1 Squadron RFC. Since joining No1 Squadron RFC in May 1917 he had shot down forty enemy aircraft. At that time only four fighter pilots had shot down more aircraft. Baron von Richthofen had shot down 60, Georges Guynemer 53, Werner Voss 48 and Albert Ball 44.

Philip Fletcher Fullard
Philip Fletcher Fullard (Image courtesy The Aerodrome)

He joined the army in 1915 after leaving King Edward VI’s Grammar School school Norwich and qualified as a pilot in December 1916. He was a natural athlete who captained his school’s Hockey and football teams. He had an aptitude for flying which was reflected inhis first appiontment as a newly qualified pilot – to instruct others during the spring of 1917. He joined No1 Squadron RFC in May 1917. His squadron flew what was by 1917 an an obsolescent aircraft, the Nieuport 17. With this he took on faster and more heavily armed enemy aircraft. Overt the Summer of 1917 he was part of the Allied air effort to secure air superiority over the Ypres Salient. Without air superiority Allied spotter aircraft could not find the enemy or spot artillery fire. Whatever the failings and costs of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, the air battle was a success for the Allied air forces.

His achievements as a fighter pilot did not go unrecognised. (1) He was awarded a the Military Cross, (MC) twice, and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) The citations for these awards refer to his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when engaged in aerial combat.” The number of occasions on which he attacked and destroyed enemy aircraft; his fine leadership, great dash and determination to close with the enemy. His DSO recognised that “as a patrol leader and scout pilot he was without equal” and mentioned that “the moral effect of his presence in a patrol is most marked.” Not merely a fighter ace, but also a good leader.

Flying was difficult and dangerous, Fullard had some narrow escapes.(2) When fighting a German two-seater, his goggles were shot away from his eyes. The signalling lights in his machine caught fire and set the woodwork of the aeroplane alight. Fire must have been one of the nightmares of the era before parachutes were worn, and faced with the choice of jumping to your death or being burned alive. On this occasion Fullard managed to get his burning machine back to the British lines

On the 17 November 1917 he broke his leg playing football for the squadron against an infantry battalion and took a year to recover. This compound fracture ended his career as a footballer and as a fighter pilot. By the end of the war his total of 40 kills had been eclipsed by British pilots such as Mannock, 61 kills, McCudden; 57 kills , McElroy; 47 kills and Hazell, 43 kills. (3)

Another photograph of replica Nieuport 17, B3459

However, even by the time his fighting career had ended Guynemer, Voss, Ball were already dead and by the end of the war, von Richthofen, and November 1917 by the end of the Great War von Ricthofen, Mannock, McCudden , McElroy were all dead as well. Philip Fullard was the second highest scoring British ace to survive the Great War. The footballing injury which ended his career, it also may have saved his life. While Fullard does not attract the same attention as other sportsmen who fought in the Great war, flying as a fighter pilot was statistically more risky than winning a VC.

Fullard stayed in the Royal Air Force after the end of the Great War and rose to be an Air Commodore, serving as a staff officer and commander in the Second World War. He retired form the RAF in 1949 and died in 1984. This may make him unique footballing statistic for a second reason. As well as being the only man who have played football for a for a second reason. As well as being the only fighter ace who played football for an English League club, he might also be the footballer who has achieved the highest rank in the armed forces.

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