New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. II)
CHAPTER 15 — Coastal Command Patrols
Coastal Command Patrols
Throughout this last year of the war when fighter pilots and bomber crews were carrying the offensive towards the heart of Germany their comrades in Coastal Command were equally active against the enemy at sea. Little was said of their work at the time but their contribution to the final victory was a notable one. Thanks largely to their efforts, the movement of supplies to the armies fighting on the Continent proceeded almost unmolested, the U-boats were held in check, naval surface craft were driven from their hunting grounds, and enemy merchant ships harassed and sunk; continuous photographic and weather reconnaissances were also provided for all three services. Indeed, it might well be said that without Coastal Command's vigilant and relentless sorties the triumphs of the Allied armies could not have been achieved, and the bombers could not have been sent to wreck German industry.
The battle against the U-boats continued to demand the major effort. From D Day to the end of the war crews flew over 20,000 sorties over areas as widely separated as the English Channel, Ice- land, Biscay, the North Sea, the Western Approaches, and the west coast of Africa. During these patrols they sank fifty-six U-boats outright and destroyed a further nine in co-operation with surface forces; their constant guard of convoys at sea and in the approaches to Allied ports also saved many ships from being attacked or even sighted. Indeed, the enormous deterrent value of the air patrols can scarcely be over-emphasised.
In June 1944, during the first weeks of the Normandy campaign, Coastal Command had scored a notable victory; no U-boats reached the invasion area and nine were sunk while attempting to do so – five of them within three days. Constant patrol and attack kept the others down and finally forced them back. However, in spite of this setback the German submarines made further attempts during July and August to penetrate the Channel defences and get amongst Allied shipping. But for fear of air attack they now travelled under water, raising their schnorkels for only a few hours at a time to recharge the batteries upon which they had to rely when travelling completely submerged.page 414
Schnorkelling just below the surface was disliked by the U-boat crews because of the fumes and uneven air pressure it caused inside the vessel, and also because in calm seas the tube made a considerable flutter which could be seen by ships or aircraft. Nevertheless, the schnorkel did make it possible for the German submarines to crawl undetected along the coast to their patrol positions where, if the depth of the water permitted, they lay on the sea bed awaiting opportunity for attack. Outlying rocks made their detection by aircraft radar difficult, while the many wrecks, eddies, and tide-rips in the comparatively shallow waters of the English Channel militated against the successful use of asdic. However, in these two months air and surface forces succeeded in destroying thirteen U-boats, while only eight Allied ships were lost in the Channel area.
Towards the end of August 1944 the southward advance of the American armies forced the Germans to abandon their operational bases in the Biscay ports. This was a serious blow to Doenitz's hopes of renewing the U-boat war on a large scale, but by skilful planning and routing he did succeed in transferring a large part of the Biscay flotillas to Norwegian and German bases. This move he covered by a sharp renewal of operations in English coastal waters, principally in the northern and southern approaches to the Irish Sea. Counter-action by Coastal Command brought good results, especially during the second half of September when five U-boats were sunk in places as far apart as the coast of Norway and the Azores. This was highly satisfactory, but it did not diminish the enemy's determination to continue the offensive. On the contrary, Doenitz now planned a new and audacious campaign in the British coastal areas from which he had been driven four years earlier. Such was the tenacity of the German U-boat arm.
The final phase of the submarine war began in October 1944. Although by this time there was little chance of making the new campaign big enough to cut off Allied supplies, the success of the schnorkel and the possibilities of the new electro U-boats encouraged German hopes that at least serious damage would be done. Both Hitler and Doenitz expected great things from the new types of submarines by which, according to Doenitz, ‘all equipment at present employed in naval warfare can be circumvented and eliminated since they could remain submerged and their underwater speed was greater than that of most Allied merchantmen and escort vessels.’ The first of these new U-boats would soon be ready for operations and it was planned to produce more than two hundred by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Doenitz sent his older-type boats from their Norwegian bases to operate against Allied convoys to Russia and in page 415 the coastal waters of the United Kingdom. Employing tactics of evasion with great skill, they achieved increasing success during the next few months, particularly in English coastal waters, where they torpedoed both warships and merchant vessels almost within sight of air and naval bases. Greater experience in the use of the schnorkel, together with the onset of winter, gave them almost complete immunity from air attack. Coastal Command crews now had extremely small chance of sighting a target. During November only four aircraft managed to attack schnorkelling U-boats, and all that was seen after the depth-charges had been dropped was whitish steamy smoke at the head of a long wake of bubbles. At the end of December a Wellington of Coastal Command did sink a U-boat off Cherbourg, but there was no evidence of success in any of the other counter-attacks in the Channel area where seven merchant ships and two frigates were torpedoed during the last fortnight of that month.
At the beginning of 1945, therefore, it seemed to British observers that the long war against the U-boat was far from ended and that the enemy, with his new weapons, possessed the power to achieve a stalemate. During the following months Coastal Command, by constant patrolling, sought to prevent the enemy from regaining the mastery with his new weapons. Every possible scientific means was employed to augment the natural skill of pilots and crews. Intensive efforts were made to improve radar equipment and to make crews highly efficient in its use, and by mid-January 1945 experiments with the new ‘Sono’ buoy were in full swing. This apparatus was a means of detecting the noise made by the propellers of a submerged U-boat. The tactics employed were to drop a pattern of five buoys in the neighbourhood of a suspected U-boat and, by listening to the signals received, determine its course and position, whereupon an attack would be delivered.
These measures brought some successes during patrols in the vicinity of the British Isles. In February one U-boat was sunk by Coastal Command and a second by surface craft as a result of a periscope sighting from the air; in March two more were sunk, one in the Channel and one off Northern Ireland, and in April two in the Channel, one in the Irish Sea, and two more off the western coast of Ireland. Efforts were also made to attack U-boats in their home waters and in the training grounds of the southern Baltic. Since these areas were well defended by both fighters and anti-aircraft batteries, Leigh-Light aircraft were assigned to the task and they made fifteen attacks in these areas by night. Yet the last months of the war brought no slackening of the enemy's effort. In February, eight ships were sunk in British coastal waters and a further nineteen during March and April.page 416
Thus did the battle continue to the end, with the air patrols keeping the enemy under and greatly limiting his power of attack, while he, by his skill, grim determination, and the aid of various new devices, was able to elude the defences and score a certain measure of success. Fortunately the effect of Allied air raids on U-boat production and training was such that the ‘revolution at sea’, which the Grand Admiral had promised, never took place; by February 1945 only two of the new types of submarine had been sent out on operations, and although over one hundred had been commissioned the chances of bringing them into service were further reduced by the advance of the Red Army towards the Baltic ports.
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Throughout this last phase of the war at sea New Zealanders played their part in patrol and attack. Some flew with the Liberators, Halifaxes, and Wellingtons which maintained the day and night vigil in the Channel and protected supply convoys in the Western Approaches; others were with Catalina, Sunderland, and Liberator squadrons at bleak and remote spots in northern Scotland or the Shetlands, from where they flew long patrols over the northern seas as far as the Arctic circle protecting convoys to Russia and seeking U-boats on passage from their bases in Norway. There was also a substantial representation with the squadrons on the West African coast and in the Azores. No. 490 New Zealand Squadron continued to patrol from a base in West Africa until the end of the war.
Wing Commanders D. M. Brass and M. A. Ensor achieved a fine record of service in command of anti-submarine squadrons based in the United Kingdom. Brass, who had been with Coastal Command since the early days, was in charge of Leigh-Light Wellingtons for the last two years of the war, where his service won him admission to the Distinguished Service Order. His squadron record contains this tribute: ‘Brass has served the squadron well. Taking over at the peak of the U-boat war he led the squadron through some of its busiest days – the final stages of the Biscay battle – the vast operation which kept the U-boats out of the Channel during the invasion and finally in patrols off the Dutch Coast. He will be remembered by those who served under him as a great personality ….’ Wing Commander Ensor, who was now completing his third tour of opera- tions, led a squadron of Liberators which in this last year destroyed no fewer than seven U-boats. ‘This remarkable success,’ says an official report, ‘was due in very large measure to his efforts. His enthusiasm for operations and his lead to his crews set a very high standard.’ Ensor was among the few pilots of Coastal Command page 417 who had the distinction of two confirmed U-boat kills. He was awarded a bar to the Distinguished Service Order in February 1945. Other prominent leaders were Wing Commander Frame,1 who commanded Sunderlands in West Africa, Squadron Leaders S. G. Baggott and Gibson,2 who saw long service with flying boats, and Squadron Leader Alington,3 with Leigh-Light Wellingtons.
Pilots, navigators, wireless operators, and gunners saw their share of what little action there was in this last and difficult phase of the submarine war. Flying Officer Riddell4 navigated Sunderland W of No. 201 Squadron which sank U.107 in the Bay of Biscay during August 1944; that same month Warrant Officer F. E. Bailey was radar operator in a Leigh-Light Liberator of No. 53 Squadron which depth-charged U.618 in the Bay and then brought naval vessels to the scene to finish it off. This was the sixth attack in which Bailey had taken part – an unusual record. On patrol off the Norwegian coast in a Liberator of No. 86 Squadron, Flight Sergeant Carter5 made the first sighting of U.317 and manned the front guns during the subsequent attack which sank it. Wireless operator in another Liberator, Flight Sergeant Bennett6 took part in the attack on a U-boat in the far north to the west of the Lofoten Islands. Flight Sergeant Nicholson,7 a young New Zealand gunner flying with No. 206 Squadron, won commendation for gallantry in an action with three Messerschmitt fighters off the Norwegian coast. Early in the fight his turret was hit and he was badly wounded, but he got his guns into action again and continued to fire. There were other similar episodes.
8 Group Captain T. F. Gill, DSO; RNZAF; born Wellington, 31 Jan 1917; joined RAF Jun 1939; commanded No. 490 (NZ) Sqdn, West Africa, 1944–45; SASO RNZAF HQ London, 1945–47; Director, Air Staff Policy and Plans, RNZAF, 1950–53
West African waters were now so well covered by air patrols that few U-boats ventured to operate there, while those on passage to the Indian Ocean usually passed well out of range. Crews there fore had to face not only the boredom that lack of action produces but also the difficulties of operating in a tropical climate with its sudden, violent, and treacherous storms. On patrol in mid-July one Sunderland was forced down when 200 miles out to sea. The pilot, Flying Officer McGreal,1 made a good landing but the aircraft broke up quickly in the heavy swell. Dinghies were launched but two of the crew were unable to get clear; one of them, Warrant Officer Opie,2 the wireless operator, was last seen at his post trying to send out distress signals. In the water Sergeant Jones3 of Swansea supported an injured comrade until McGreal swam across to inflate the second dinghy and retrieve the paddles. The survivors drifted without food and water until the next evening before they were sighted and rescued.
No. 490 Squadron's main task was the escort of convoys and this duty was performed with creditable efficiency. Early in March 1945 when the long immunity enjoyed by Allied shipping in West African waters was suddenly broken by the torpedoing of a ship 500 miles off Walvis Bay, the New Zealanders headed the list of units in the area with the largest total of hours flown in the hunt for the U-boat concerned.
Early in December 1944 a flight of four Sunderland aircraft, manned almost entirely by members of No. 490 who had completed their operational tours, arrived in New Zealand. The aircraft were captained by Wing Commander D. W. Baird and Flight Lieutenants Shephard,4 H. K. Patience, and Pettit,5 Their flight of some 16,000 miles from the United Kingdom had taken them via West Africa, Brazil, Texas, across the United States and the Pacific.
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By this time wing strikes along the Dutch coast had become so effective that the enemy had been driven from that area by day and the port of Rotterdam remained closed to shipping. The ‘Drem’ system was then devised under which a large force would fly out individually to the patrol area in the darkness and form up at first light round a circle of flame floats; it could then sweep along enemy shipping routes before dawn and before convoys moving by night could seek shelter. About the same time the ‘outrider’ system was developed under which one or two aircraft flew ahead of the main striking force and guided it to its target by radio telephone.
But targets remained scarce, and in October the main effort was transferred to the Norwegian coast. Since Sweden and Finland had just closed their ports to enemy ships, this was now the only route by which the Germans could obtain certain ores and other raw materials to sustain their war industries. Another reason for concentrating the attack in northern waters was to prevent the enemy from moving troops south to take part in the European battle. During October there were six wing strikes in the Norwegian area. One of the most notable took place in the first week when twenty-six Beaufighters and Mosquitos from Banff crossed the North Sea before dawn, formed up round ‘Drem’ flares, and then surprised a convoy of five cargo ships and six escorts about to enter Egersund anchorage. The attack was brilliantly executed and crews claimed two cargo vessels sunk, one trawler type auxiliary sunk, and one large ship of 3500 tons seriously damaged.
Also during October, Coastal Command's two Halifax squadrons began operating into the Skagerrak and the Kattegat against German convoys making night passage between Oslo and the Danish ports. It was not always possible for crews to see the results of their bombing attacks, but there was one brilliant exception on 25 October when a Halifax of No. 58 Squadron set a cargo vessel and its escort on fire with a single stick of bombs; the flames were still visible to the jubilant crew when their aircraft was 20 miles away. Using a combination of radar and flares, the Halifax crews showed great page 420 skill in their subsequent night operations, and during the last six months of the war they claimed more than 25,000 tons of enemy shipping sunk and over 100,000 tons damaged.
Beaufighter and Mosquito operations over Norwegian waters were intensified during the winter – in the short daylight hours of December 1944 more ships were sunk in this area than ever before in a single month. When it was found that enemy convoys seldom sailed in daylight, the Strike Squadrons carried their attack into the small land-locked anchorages and into the deep fiords against whose precipitous cliffs vessels would often be moored in an effort to escape detection. To reach such targets crews often had to fly far inland over snow-covered peaks and then make their final approach in a swift dive down the side of a steep mountain. The German fighter squadrons in Norway were still active and of high morale so that interceptions were frequent, and on one occasion over forty Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs attacked a British formation. However, long-range Mustang fighters now gave cover on most missions, and though damage and casualties were sometimes quite heavy the Strike Wings were never prevented from reaching their targets. The havoc and destruction they caused is reflected in the contemporary reports of the Reichskommissar for Shipping which complain increasingly of ‘The catastrophic round journey time of ships on the Norwegian coast and the heavy losses due to enemy action.’
The scale of attack during the last four months of war was particularly heavy and during that time Coastal Command aircraft sank over 180,000 tons of enemy shipping. This brought their total for the war to 690,000 tons, which represented a loss to the Germans of 486 ships. The additional loss to the enemy through the delays and damage which the attacks occasioned cannot be measured so exactly, but it was certainly substantial.
Three New Zealanders, Wing Commanders G. D. Sise, E. H. McHardy, and D. H. Hammond, achieved particular distinction as leaders of Strike formations during the last year of war. McHardy had been with Coastal Command from the early days and was prominent in leading Beaufighters from bases in East Anglia and later from Scotland. Hammond, who had come to Coastal Command after a successful career in the Middle East, also led Beaufighters, notably in the big raid on Den Helder in September 1944; he further distinguished himself as flight leader and later in command of No. 489 New Zealand Squadron.
Wing Commander Sise, who led the Banff Mosquito Wing on many of its most successful missions, was regarded as Coastal Command's leading ‘ship-buster’. He was indeed, as one citation puts it, ‘a fine pilot and brilliant leader who displayed great gallantry page 421 in operations against the enemy.’ Typically, one day in November 1944 whilst leading the attack on ships in Floro harbour, his Mosquito was hit and an engine set on fire, but he continued with the attack and then flew the damaged machine back across the North Sea. Shortly afterwards Sise led thirty-four Mosquitos into Nordgulen Fiord to attack a convoy sheltering there. The ships were hidden at the far eastern end which is enclosed by very high mountains, and the attack had to be made in a steep dive down the sides of precipitous cliffs; nevertheless, almost all the ships were hit by rockets or cannon fire and two of them were left burning furiously. By the end of the war Sise had completed over 150 operational sorties and had been awarded bars to both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.
No. 489 New Zealand Squadron operated with the ‘Anzac’ Beaufighter Wing which also included an Australian and a British squadron. Led by Wing Commander Robertson1 and Wing Com mander Hammond, the New Zealanders flew no fewer than 1250 sorties during the last year of the war, mainly in patrol and attack over the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. On wing strikes the Beaufighters frequently carried torpedoes and acted as the main striking force, but on occasion they also operated in the anti-flak role, flying in ahead to saturate the enemy defence with their cannon fire. Hammond, Flight Lieutenants T. H. Davidson, J. G. Gow, A. R. Osment, and McKegg2 were among the pilots who led formations in these duties with notable success.
1 Wing Commander L. A. Robertson; born Stratford, 7 Jul 1916; joined RNZAF Jun 1937; commanded No. 489 (NZ) Sqdn, 1944–45.
Night rover patrols also produced their share of incident. It was during one such mission that Warrant Officer Mann1 and his crew had a most unenviable experience. Flying in to drop a torpedo, their machine hit the mast of one of the ships. Although part of the starboard wing was torn away, Mann was able to make a landing on the sea, but owing to the weather it was eight days before he and his Lancashire navigator, Flight Sergeant Kennedy,2 were rescued. During that time they made every effort to put as much distance as possible between them and the enemy coast. Shortly afterwards, undeterred by this experience, they returned to their squadron, to continue flying until the end of the war.
In October 1944 the Anzac Wing moved north and for the rest of the war it operated over Norwegian waters from the airfield at Dallachy, some 30 miles east of Inverness. Here, on the north-east coast of Scotland, the airfield was exposed to the full force of the frequent gales which swept in from the North Sea, so that aircraft had to be moored down or else protected by small hangars or earthen mounds. When the winter storms were at their height it was difficult to move about the airfield and the wide dispersal of buildings and Nissen huts where crews slept did not help matters. ‘We shall not easily forget that last winter of the war,’ writes one pilot. ‘Taking off from the ice-bound or snow-covered field we sometimes flew 400 miles across the North Sea to find the Norwegian Coast shrouded in mist or low cloud. Flying among the islands and into the fiords in search of ships hiding there was rather hazardous since some of the passages were so narrow that there was little room in which to manoeuvre one's machine.’
However, despite the difficulties of both climate and terrain, operations were maintained at a high level, with crews of No. 489 Squadron taking part in many large strikes and also flying rover patrols by day and night in search of targets. Here are extracts from contemporary reports of several notable operations in which the New Zealanders were well represented:
Sula Fiord, 27 November: Convoy of two large merchant ships and four escorts attacked by the Dallachy Wing. Results of torpedo attacks not observed but many hits with rocket projectiles seen on 3,500 ton ship and one escort was set on fire and left sinking. Three Beaufighters were damaged but all returned safely. Reports subsequently received show that the other large ship was the ‘Fidelitas’ of 5,740 tons. She did, in fact, receive a torpedo hit and sank as a result.page 423
Vilnes Fiord, 9 December: Twenty-three Beaufighters attacked a 2,000 ton cargo ship. Showers of debris were thrown into the air and the vessel was last seen heading for the shore under a heavy pall of smoke.
Forde Fiord, 9 February: Thirty Beaufighters sighted and attacked a Narvik class destroyer. The fiord is narrow and flanked by steep hills; consequently it was impossible for all the aircraft to attack together. They also had to fly through an intense barrage put up by both ships and land batteries. Nevertheless the destroyer and two auxiliaries were hit. Six of our aircraft were shot down by flak and a further three by enemy fighters.
Egersund Fiord, 28 March: Two cargo ships and an escort vessel were seriously damaged after attack by twenty-eight Beaufighters from Dallachy. Formidable anti-aircraft fire was experienced and four Beaufighters did not return from this strike.
Apart from these wing strikes, there were also some fine individual efforts by No. 489 Squadron crews. On a night rover patrol towards the end of February, Flying Officer Taylor1 torpedoed the 2500-ton Alsterstum. She was carrying a cargo of mines, and when his torpedo struck home Taylor saw ‘a sheet of flame followed by an intense glow which culminated in a shattering explosion.’ A few weeks later Warrant Officer Priest2 torpedoed a 3000-ton cargo vessel in the Skagerrak; flames from the burning ships were still visible when the Beaufighter was 20 miles away on its homeward flight.
During the period from its formation in August 1942 to April 1944, crews of the New Zealand squadron were responsible for the destruction of eleven ships totalling 38,700 tons and the damaging of a further thirteen ships totalling some 40,000 tons. From May 1944 until the end of the war No. 489 Squadron formed part of the Anzac Strike Wing which sank nineteen ships of 67,000 tons and twelve escort vessels. A further eighteen cargo ships, together with forty-nine escorts of various types, were damaged. The cost of these successes was not light for the squadron lost thirty-one aircraft during its operational career; only a fortunate few of the crews survived.
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During the early months of that year a great deal of its work was devoted to preparations for the Allied invasion of Normandy. Photographic cover of the areas selected for the landings yielded valuable information concerning enemy defences, the terrain, roads and bridges, and enabled models to be constructed for planning and briefing. Much attention was also given to German preparations for launching their V-weapons and to the industries engaged in the production of oil and aircraft, especially of jet aircraft. Once the Allied forces were established on the Continent, reconnaissance of enemy communications became a major commitment. This often involved low flying in the face of intense flak over rail centres and troop concentrations; many sorties were also flown in preparation for the airborne landings. In addition, targets attacked by the Allied bombers were regularly photographed and shipping movements, U-boat construction, and the enemy's development of underground factories were carefully watched. Finally, in the last stages of the war air cover was obtained of all prisoner-of-war camps, which helped considerably in planning the speedy return to the United Kingdom of the released prisoners.
Spitfires and Mosquitos were used for most missions although Mustangs were sometimes employed on special low-level work. They were unarmed, carrying extra petrol and cameras in place of guns, and relying on their speed to escape interception. Their greatest danger lay in the appearance of vapour trails, those slender white lines left by an aircraft flying high which betray its passage when passing through certain types of air. The latest type of Spitfire, camouflaged to blend with the sky and covered with a special dope giving a highly polished surface, flying as it could and did at 42,000 feet, was well above the danger belt and therefore almost immune from visual identification. Even were an enemy fighter to climb to these heights, manoeuvre for a successful attack was exceedingly difficult. Anti-aircraft fire, however, remained a danger since the aircraft, of necessity, had to maintain a straight and steady course when taking pictures.
Forty thousand feet is the brink of the stratosphere, and to fly at such heights, even in aircraft fitted with pressure cabins, imposed a severe physical strain. Flying at this height was also a fairly delicate matter since the aeroplane was near its ceiling and a violent or clumsy manoeuvre would lead to a stall. There was also the possibility of the pilot ‘passing out’ with very little warning if any thing went wrong with the oxygen system, and to guard against this many of them kept a fairly elaborate log, knowing that as long as they could write legibly all was well. Even so, there was always page 425 what one pilot calls ‘an extraordinary feeling of muffled remoteness.’
The engine itself, which was practically in one's lap, only made a sort of ticking noise like a clockwork mouse. The cold, the low pressure and the immobilizing effect of the elaborate equipment and bulky clothing in the tiny cockpit had the effect of damping down and subduing all the senses, except the sense of sight. On a clear day one could see an immense distance, whole countries at a time. One day over France I saw three or four miles below me a row of silver Marauders going in over the green and yellow fields. Around them a scrap was going on, the fighters glinting as they circled in the sun. I felt like a man looking down into a pool watching minnows playing near the bottom.
Outside the aircraft the temperature might be 60° or 70° below freezing and if, as occasionally happened, the cabin heating failed, the cold was agonising. Everything in the cockpit became covered with frost and long icicles grew from the pilot's mask like Jack Frost's beard. Most alarming of all, the entire wind screen and blister hood was liable to frost over so that it was impossible to see out. At such times the air seemed full of Messerschmitts.
Flight Lieutenant Buchanan1 who flew Spitfires, and Flight Lieutenants Cotterill,2 Foster,3 Olson,4 and Baird,5 who captained Mosquitos, achieved fine records of service with RAF photographic squadrons. All five men completed a large total of sorties over Norway, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and France against enemy cities, ports, airfields, and railway centres - many of them heavily defended targets – and the record speaks of the ‘high skill and courage’ they displayed on these missions.
1 Wing Commander R. C. Buchanan, DFC, Air Medal (US); born Mataura, 15 May 1921; civil engineering cadet; joined RNZAF Apr 1941; commanded No. 682 (PR) Sqdn 1944–45; Wing Leader No. 336 PR Wing, 1945.
2 Flight Lieutenant G. W. Cotterill, DFC; born Hastings, 22 Apr 1916; joined RAF Sep 1940; killed in flying accident, 8 Nov 1945.
New Zealanders served in both branches of the rescue service, but most of them were with the air squadrons where some fifty men flew as pilots, navigators, and wireless operators during the last two years of war. Flight Lieutenant W. C. K. Hender and Flying Officers Mitchell,1 Hodges,2 and Rhodes3 were among those who did good work with Hudson and Warwick squadrons. Flying Officer Saunders,4 who flew a small Walrus seaplane, picked up thirty-nine aircrew in the course of his many searches and patrols. On one occasion he rescued an American fighter pilot by landing his machine on a rough sea within ten miles of the enemy coast; another time he alighted in the Channel at dusk in very rough weather to pick up a British fighter pilot and, unable to take off again, taxied towards the English coast in the darkness for over an hour before being met by a high-speed launch just as the plane was being swamped in the high seas.
Early in October 1944, Flying Officer Williams5 of No. 280 Squadron shared with his crew in an unusual experience. Off Heligoland, they had just dropped a lifeboat to the crew of an American Fortress bomber when two Messerschmitts attacked. One was driven off but the second set the Warwick on fire, forcing the pilot to land on the sea where the aircraft broke up and sank almost immediately. The crew in their small dinghy were not sighted until the following day when another Warwick, with Flying Officer Rhodes at the controls, dropped a lifeboat in which they sailed for seventeen hours across the North Sea in bitter weather before being finally picked up.
Thus did Coastal Command crews pursue their various tasks to the end. The battle that they had to fight was peculiarly exacting, with monotony, and the indifference it breeds, constant foes that had to be fought unceasingly. Mile after mile and hour after hour the sea over which the aircraft flew might stretch empty to the horizon, yet at any moment the sighting of a tiny black speck and an unusual flicker of foam or a radar contact would mean that routine vigil would be exchanged for swift action. But whatever the task, whether it was protecting a heaving convoy far out in the North Atlantic, or searching the rough seas in the Bay of Biscay for the elusive U-boat, or swooping through the mists of dawn or evening upon enemy ships steaming along the Norwegian coast, pilots and crews of Coastal Command continued to display the same resolution and the same skill. The fiery terror of a raid on Berlin was not theirs nor did they know the fierce flash of combat fought at 400 miles an hour. The steady process of wearing down the enemy, of denying him an element in which Britain has been supreme for half a thousand years, was their task and well did they perform it.