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New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. I)

CHAPTER 16 — Day Fighters During 1942

page 333

Day Fighters During 1942

THE third winter of war found the Luftwaffe involved in operations on three fronts, in Russia, the Mediterranean and in Western Europe, and this was already causing some anxiety in the German High Command. However, the enemy hoped for an early successful conclusion to the military operations on his Eastern Front and in the Middle East, which would then enable him to turn his full might upon the British Isles. Meanwhile he was content to conduct a holding campaign in the West so that the main strength of the Luftwaffe could be deployed in support of the German Army in Russia and in the Mediterranean, where the air assault on the island of Malta had already begun.

In this situation the role of Royal Air Force Fighter Command in Britain was to pin down and destroy in the West as large a part of the German air strength as possible, by a continuation of the offensive sweeps and circus operations with bombers over northern France. The Germans were astute enough to counter this strategy with small but widespread raids on British shipping and coastal targets which kept a considerable force on defensive patrols, but they were unable to prevent the development of a vigorous air offensive by RAF fighter wings from south-east England. At its peak, from March to the end of June, no fewer than 22,000 sorties, an average of 180 a day, were flown across the Channel.

Throughout 1942 there was to be a steady movement of British pilots and machines to the Middle East, with the result that the fighter force available in the United Kingdom for day operations against the Luftwaffe remained static at about eighty squadrons. During the second half of the year, when the loss of experienced leaders and fighter pilots was being keenly felt, Fighter Command was to be strengthened by the introduction of the Spitfire IX and the Hawker Typhoon. The Typhoon, designed primarily as a bomber interceptor at medium altitudes, was to prove as versatile a machine as its forerunner, the Hurricane, and with its superior speed and armament was to be very effective in interceptions of the enemy’s fast ‘tip and run’ raiders over southern England. The advent of the new type of Spitfire was particularly welcome for the contemporary Spitfire VB was badly outclassed by the new German fighter, the Focke-Wulf 190. It was partly because of this disadvantage page 334 that the balance of casualties over the whole year favoured the enemy by almost two to one, more than was actually thought at the time. Nevertheless it is significant that during 1942 the enemy’s output of Focke-Wulf fighters was devoted exclusively to meeting the RAF attacks, and units which might otherwise have been used to reinforce the Eastern Front were kept at full stretch in Western Europe.

New Zealand representation in Fighter Command during 1942 included two commanders of day-fighter bases—Wing Commander J. S. McLean, who had led the North Weald Wing during the previous year and was now in charge of RAF Station, Hunsdon, and Wing Commander H. N. G. Isherwood, who took command of RAF Station, Church Stanton, in January. Wing Commanders P. G. Jameson, M. V. Blake, and E. P. Wells were also to lead fighter wings during the year. Jameson continued to command the No. 12 Group wing based at Wittering and Blake to command the Portreath Wing in No. 10 Group, while Wells who led the New Zealand Spitfire Squadron during the early months, was appointed to command the Kenley Wing of No. 11 Group in May 1942. All three men were to win distinction as wing leaders. Six day-fighter squadrons were commanded by New Zealanders for various periods during the year. Squadron Leaders A. C. Deere and C. F. Gray both led Spitfires from the famous fighter airfield at Hornchurch, Essex, while Squadron Leader N. J. Mowat led Hurri-bombers from Manston in Kent. Spitfire squadrons at other airfields in southern England were commanded by Squadron Leaders D. Carlson, J. R. C. Kilian,1 C. E. Malfroy and R. D. Yule. In addition some thirty New Zealanders held positions as flight commanders in squadrons and a small group served in administrative and maintenance duties. Five New Zealand doctors were medical officers in Fighter Command during 1942.

In this year two of the New Zealand units formed in the Royal Air Force were to play a prominent part in day fighter operations. No. 485 Spitfire Squadron, now well established at a forward airfield in No. 11 Group, was to enjoy a particularly successful period, and under the leadership first of Squadron Leader Wells and then of Squadron Leader R. J. C. Grant, who took command in May, operations were conducted with spirit and dash. The squadron continued to fly offensive patrols over northern France as part of the Kenley Wing until July 1942, when it was transferred to Wittering airfield near Peterborough, the base of Jameson’s wing. Then after a short rest period, during which convoy patrols were

1 Squadron Leader J. R. C. Kilian, Croix de Guerrere (Fr); Queenstown; born 23 Jun 1911; joined RNZAF Sep 1937; commanded No. 122 Sqdn, 1942; No. 504 Sqdn, 1943.

page 335 flown along the East Coast, No. 485 Squadron returned to the offensive; apart from a break of a fortnight in October, when the Spitfires went to Northern Ireland to cover convoys leaving the Clyde to make the historic landings in North Africa, offensive patrols across the Channel were sustained until the end of the year.

No. 486 Squadron, the second New Zealand squadron in Fighter Command, began forming at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire, on 3 March 1942, and was equipped with Hurricane aircraft for night fighting. The first commanding officer was Squadron Leader Roberts,1 an experienced English pilot who had fought in the Battle of France. His two flight commanders were Flight Lieutenants J. G. Clouston and H. N. Sweetman. Clouston had begun his operational flying at the end of 1940 in No. 258 Hurricane Squadron, which was then commanded by his brother, Squadron Leader W. G. Clouston. He afterwards flew Spitfires before joining the New Zealand unit. Sweetman had flown with No. 485 Squadron from its formation and had already won distinction as a fighter pilot. By the end of the month the new squadron had its full complement of 24 pilots, all of whom were New Zealanders, and flying training was begun. This involved practice flights in company with Bostons fitted with searchlights, the idea being that the Boston should locate German raiders, catch them in the searchlight beam and so enable the Hurricanes to come in for the kill. But although in theory this method of night fighting appeared attractive, it did not prove as successful in practice as had been expected.

The monotony of night training was relieved by occasional patrols protecting shipping, and No. 486’s first operational mission on 27 April was of this kind, when Sweetman and Pilot Officer Umbers2 flew a dawn patrol. From the end of May the squadron maintained night readiness, but there was little enemy activity and the following weeks were uneventful. It was not until early in July that the first action occurred, Sweetman intercepting a Dornier while on patrol near Peterborough. It was just after midnight when, in clear moonlight, he sighted the enemy bomber slightly below him and silhouetted against some broken cloud. The German gunners must have seen the Hurricane almost at the same time for they opened fire as it approached. Sweetman closed in, however, and after a few bursts the Dornier turned over and went down to explode on the ground. Unfortunately there was no opportunity to repeat this

1 Wing Commander C. L. C. Roberts; RAF; born Forest Hill, London, 22 Aug 1916; joined RAF 1935; CFI, No. 57 OTU, 1941–42; commanded No. 486 (NZ) Sqdn, 1942–43; No. 257 Sqdn, 1943; Sector Commander, HQ Middle East, 1944; commanded No. 26 AACU, 1944–45.

2 Squadron Leader A. E. Umbers, DFC and bar; born Dunedin, 30 Jun 1919; clerk; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; commanded No. 486 (NZ) Sqdn, 1944-45; killed on air operations, 14 Feb 1945.

page 336 success, for a decision had already been made to change the squadron’s role and equip it with Typhoon aircraft for day fighting. Conversion to the new type began a few weeks later, and at the end of August the squadron moved south to begin patrols along the Channel coast against low-level raids by German fighter-bombers, operations in which the Typhoons were to achieve particular success.

Among the pilots who flew with the fighter squadrons during 1942 were many young men who had newly arrived in Britain on completing their training under the Commonwealth training scheme. For these youngsters their posting to an operational squadron was the culmination of a long period of anticipation and restless yearning. Inspired by the exploits of the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain, they had applied to join the RNZAF’ to fly Spitfires’. Enlistment had been followed by months of training and intensive study at an initial training wing, where lectures were interspersed with physical training and what was familiarly known as ‘square bashing’. Then came a course of several months at a flying training school, successful completion of which brought the coveted pilot’s wings. After completing further training in New Zealand or Canada, the pilot went to one of the operational training centres in Britain to master the handling of fighter aircraft in use by the front-line units. Eventually he reached his first squadron, but even then there was much still to be learnt about current fighter tactics, and it was in this respect that the more experienced pilots were able to supply what youthful enthusiasm and inexperience lacked.

Unusually severe weather and heavy falls of snow restricted flying during the first two months of 1942, but there was considerable activity on 12 February when the German warships made their spectacular dash up-Channel from Brest. No. 485 Squadron took a leading part in the air fighting on that day, and reported the destruction of four enemy machines without loss. Following the sighting of the enemy fleet, the Kenley Wing was detailed to escort torpedo-bombers to launch attacks, but in the cloudy skies of the grey February afternoon the fighters did not find the bombers and were ordered to fly on to the target themselves. The New Zealand Squadron, in which flights were led by Squadron Leader Wells and Flight Lieutenants W. V. Crawford-Compton and G. H. Francis, encountered enemy fighters near the Belgian coast, and in a brief engagement Compton’s flight destroyed two Messerschmitts. One was shot down by Pilot Officers Sweetman and D. T. Clouston1 as it attempted to make a stern attack on their leader; Compton then

1 Flight Lieutenant D. T. Clouston; Dunedin; born Auckland, 26 Jul 1918; school-master; joined RNZAF Nov 1940.

page 337 attacked another and saw it crash on the beach a few miles west of Ostend. Meanwhile the other two flights had reached the vicinity of the enemy warships. They could see the Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and the Gneisenau steaming at full speed, screened on either side by destroyers. Outside the destroyers were screens of E-boats, the distance between the two E-boat screens being about five miles. Wells took his flight down a lane between the battleships and the destroyers and, after failing to meet fighters, made an attack on one of the smaller escort vessels and left it sinking. The remaining flight was led by Francis along the lane on the other side of the battleships. Here they met both Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulf 190s; in the mêlèe which followed, Francis drove a Focke-Wulf down with smoke pouring from its engine, Pilot Officer Grant sent one Messerschmitt crashing into the sea, and Flight Sergeant J. D. Rae blew off the hood and shattered the tail unit of another before he was forced to break away. New Zealanders also flew with the Spitfire squadrons detailed to escort aircraft from Bomber Command, and with the Hurricane units which made cannon and bombing attacks. In the face of fierce opposition Squadron Leader Mowat led eight Hurri-bombers in an attack against the escort vessels. After Mowat had scored two direct hits on one of these ships it was seen to break in half and sink. In another typical attack Flight Lieutenant Raymond1 led six Hurricanes from No. 1 Squadron, each pair of Hurricanes being protected by four Spitfires which flew above and behind them. Flying through broken cloud, the formation eventually sighted enemy ships and Raymond led the Hurricanes in to attack; many strikes were seen as the pilots raked the sides, decks, and superstructures with cannon fire but two Hurricanes were shot down. Altogether during the day’s operations over the Channel, Fighter Command claimed the destruction of 15 enemy machines for the loss of 16 British pilots.

In March 1942 the Royal Air Force offensive over northern France was renewed in strength. Among the many missions flown during the next few months, the most important were the circus operations in which bombers were escorted to attack important objectives with the intention of inducing German fighters to accept combat with Fighter Command’s covering forces. The targets attacked included power stations, chemical works, steel mills, airfields and aircraft factories. Other missions included sweeps over the enemy coast and attacks on ports and shipping in the Channel.

1 Flight Lieutenant W. Raymond; Auckland; born Christchurch, 9 Feb 1919; clerk; joined RNZAF Sep 1939; transferred RAF Apr 1940; retransferred RNZAF Apr 1945.

page 338

For the fighter squadrons these operations followed a fairly similar pattern. The early morning hours at the forward airfields would see the pilots gathered near their aircraft at the dispersal points. Some men might already be on dawn patrol or at readiness. The flights of the squadrons usually had separate dispersal huts a few hundred yards apart, an arrangement which avoided concentration of fighter aircraft and incidentally encouraged a corporate spirit and a healthy rivalry. The pilots were detailed for operations by their respective flight commanders and, until news of an impending operation was received, the men continued training or discussed tactics. Soon a telephone call might bring orders for an immediate patrol or warning of briefing for a large-scale operation a few hours later. The briefing was usually conducted by the wing leader, who explained in detail the forces that would be employed, their various roles, particularly that of his own squadrons, the target, rendezvous point, the heights at which squadrons would fly and any information peculiar to the mission. The period between briefing and take-off was always trying, even for the experienced pilots. Conversation tended to take on an enforced light-heartedness, many cigarettes were smoked and many short visits made as the time for take-off approached. Eventually the pilots went out to their aircraft, had a final look round and climbed into their cockpits. Straps were tightened, helmets buttoned, masks adjusted, and with a whine and then a roar which shattered the stillness the squadron commander’s engine started up. Soon the fighters were taxi-ing slowly out into the wind. Where the surface was good the Spitfires took off in flights, or even as a complete squadron spread right across the airfield. It was an inspiring moment, and even old and hardened hands were impelled to pause and watch the sleek machines as they swept across the field, to lift gently off the ground and then tuck their wheels neatly into place before soaring off into the sky. For the first few minutes after take-off each pilot was busy adjusting engine revolutions and boost, checking oxygen and instruments and trimming the aircraft. Then climbing formation—three in line astern—would be adopted. By this time a wide circuit of the airfield had been made, other squadrons of the wing would be in contact, and the whole formation would set course on the climb for the rendezvous. Soon the bombers would be sighted and the fighter squadrons would take up their positions, some close in, others above and below. The whole force would then set course for the target. Ahead and out of sight of this main stream, other squadrons would be creating a diversion, while behind others would be taking off and joining up preparatory to providing withdrawal cover for the main force on its way home. As the aircraft flew in over the French coast, radio messages would page 339 warn the wing leaders of enemy fighters which had been plotted by British radar stations. Then the whole fighter formation, unless split up by determined enemy opposition, made a wide sweep round the landward side of the target while the bombers dropped their loads and flew out again, fighter squadrons rearranging themselves so as to protect the bombers and each other from attack out of the sun. As the Channel coast was reached, the withdrawal of the bombers would be covered by some of the escorting fighters sweeping back or by the arrival of squadrons specially detailed for this purpose. Frequently the main attack met only slight opposition and, apart from the black puffs of bursting anti-aircraft shells, the fighter pilots would see little sign of enemy activity. Diversionary sweeps had drawn off the German fighters or else, finding themselves at a tactical disadvantage in height and position, they had refused combat.

A circus operation, typical of many in which New Zealanders took part, was flown on the afternoon of 13 March when Boston bombers, covered by 14 squadrons of fighters drawn from five wings, attacked the marshalling yards at Hazebrouck. The Kenley Wing, which included the New Zealand Spitfire Squadron, reached the target just before the bombers and while sweeping the area saw the Bostons attack. There were bursts amongst the railway sidings and on the main line, and a large building was set on fire. The New Zealand Spitfires met no enemy aircraft despite the fact that, on reaching the English coast on the return journey, they swept back over the Channel. No. 452 Australian Squadron had only a slight brush with the enemy in which one Focke-Wulf was shot down without loss, but No. 602 Squadron became involved with Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs soon after leaving the target and claimed four of them for the loss of one pilot.

The Biggin Hill Wing, which also gave forward cover, flew in over the airfield at St. Omer, and as the Spitfires approached the target area they met two small formations of Focke-Wulfs. Diving on the enemy, they were able to destroy two of them and damage another but three of the Spitfires were later shot down. The wing had then become split up and the leader ordered pilots to return to base. Meanwhile the Northolt and Hornchurch Wings had made a rendezvous with the bombers over Gravesend, and the formation crossed the Channel and flew in between Gravelines and Calais. This force reached the target without incident, but on the way back to the French coast 20 Messerschmitts attacked and in the dogfights which followed three enemy machines were claimed for the loss of one Spitfire. The bombers suffered no loss and were safely escorted back across the Channel after being met at Calais by the page 340 Tangmere Wing, which had swept along the French coast from Cap Gris Nez.

But not all missions were on quite such a large scale; for example, on 26 March, when Bostons attacked ships and docks at Le Havre, the fighter escort consisted of six squadrons of Spitfires. No. 485 Squadron, led by Crawford-Compton, flew as part of the Kenley Wing which gave top cover. Some five miles short of the target, the wing met a strong formation of Messerschmitts and a running battle continued until the French coast was left behind. Several New Zealand pilots were able to report successful combats. Compton sent one Messerschmitt crashing into the sea just off Le Havre. He then dived on the tail of another which was making a head-on attack against Pilot Officer Mackie,1 who afterwards told how: ‘It was firing everything at me as it came head on. I went straight for it, head on, firing all machine guns and cannon guns and just missed colliding as we came together, by pulling up above it.’ Compton was able to follow the Messerschmitt as it broke away and sent it spinning down near Fecamp. Meanwhile Sergeant Maskill, 2 after evading stern attacks from two Messerschmitts, had sent a third down in flames. He was again attacked, his Spitfire being hit in the engine and one wing, but he reached England safely. Altogether, British pilots claimed six of the enemy, but two Spitfires and two bombers failed to return. In the bombing attacks the Boston crews reported direct hits on a ship in dock and on a nearby warehouse, other bombs being seen to burst on the dock entrance.

New Zealanders were again in action two days later when eight fighter squadrons swept the Channel from Cap Gris Nez to Dunkirk. The German fighter force in northern France reacted in strength and some of the heaviest air fighting of the month followed, all the British squadrons reporting fierce engagements with Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts. On this occasion the eleven Spitfires from No. 485 Squadron were led by the distinguished British pilot, Group Captain Beamish,3 who commanded RAF Station, Kenley. As they made landfall near Cap Griz Nez they sighted some forty enemy fighters, mostly Focke-Wulf 190s, about to dive on another wing. Beamish immediately led the Kenley

1 Wing Commander E. D. Mackie, DSO, DFC and bar, DFC (US); Otorohanga; born Waihi, 31 Oct 1917; electrician; joined RNZAF Jan 1941; commanded No. 92 Sqdn, Middle East, 1943–44; commanded No. 80 Sqdn and Wing Leader, No. 122 Wing, 1945.

2 Squadron Leader I. P. J. Maskill, DFC; England; born Alexandra, 21 May 1920; linesman; joined RNZAF Jan 1941; commanded No. 91 Sqdn, 1945.

3 Group Captain F. V. Beamish, DSO, DFC, AFC; born Dunmanway, County Cork, 27 Sep 1903; Cranwell Cadet; permanent commission RAF 1923; commanded RAF Stations, North Weald, 1940–41, Debden, 1941 and Kenley, 1942; killed on air operations, 28 Mar 1942.

page 341 squadrons to intercept and, as the Spitfires dived to attack, formations became split up. Beamish, together with Flight Lieutenant Grant and Flight Sergeant Liken,1 flew towards two enemy aircraft but these immediately dived away and were lost. Beamish was then attacked in quick succession by two Focke-Wulf 190s. Grant, who was flying close behind him, was able to drive off the first assailant and pour a stream of bullets into the second, which blew up in mid-air. Unfortunately the leader’s Spitfire had already been badly hit and was last seen flying low over the French coast. Group Captain Beamish—a gallant and popular leader—failed to return. Meanwhile other members of the squadron had been in combat. Crawford-Compton led his section against a group of Focke-Wulf 190s and shot down one of them, while in other engagements Liken and Pilot Officer Palmer2 each damaged enemy machines. Flight Lieutenant North,3 flying with the Australian Spitfire Squadron in the Kenley Wing, attacked and drove down a Focke-Wulf which he saw on the tail of one of his fellow pilots.

The March offensive on the whole drew substantial reaction from the Luftwaffe units in northern France, but it appeared that the German pilots particularly those flying the Focke-Wulf, did not seem settled in their tactics or confident of their relatively new machines. Yet their interceptions had not been without success as, for example, in the circus operation of the afternoon of 24 March when they shot down nine Spitfires for the loss of only two Focke-Wulfs. In April, however, the German pilots showed an increasing willingness to give battle and displayed a growing consciousness of the superiority of the Focke-Wulf 190 in combat with the Spitfire VB, and the balance swung more in favour of the enemy. Fighter Command suffered a serious reverse on 12 April when escorting Bostons to attack the railway marshalling yards near Amiens. Focke-Wulf 190s were up in full strength to intercept the British force; eleven Spitfires and one of the Bostons were shot down and British pilots were able to claim only two of the enemy. Nevertheless, April was a month of intensive and varied activity by Fighter Command, no fewer than 60 large-scale missions being flown. On one day, targets were attacked on a 400-mile front from Brittany to Flushing. After making two sweeps and taking Hurricane bombers to attack ships off the Brittany coast, Spitfires escorted Bostons to bomb the docks at Le Havre and Flushing, an aerodrome at Morlaix, and the marshalling yards at Abbeville.

1 Flight Sergeant J. R. Liken; born Oamaru, 25 Nov 1913; farm manager; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; died of wounds received on operations, 26 Apr 1942.

2 Flight Lieutenant J. J. Palmer; Havelock North; born Napier, 4 Jul 1918; farmer; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; p.w. 27 Apr 1942.

3 Flight Lieutenant H. L. North, DFC; born Dunedin, 31 Oct 1919; joined RAF Jan 1939; killed on air operations, 1 May 1942.

page 342

Spitfires from the New Zealand Squadron were airborne on 26 of the major attacks during the month, and on a typical sweep on the evening of 24 April they had a very successful encounter with Focke-Wulfs over the French coast in which Squadron Leader Wells, who was leading the Kenley Wing, Flight Lieutenants Crawford-Compton and Kilian, and Pilot Officer Palmer each reported successful combats. ‘We were flying at 18,000 feet just inside the French coast,’ Wells afterwards reported, ‘when we saw the Focke-Wulfs coming up towards us from Abbeville. We turned out of the sun and took them by surprise. Opened fire and saw my target turn slowly in a haphazard way and go down in a spiral. It crashed in a ploughed field and disappeared in a mass of flames.’ Compton’s target also went spinning down in flames. Kilian saw cannon shells burst in the fuselage and wing of the machine he had attacked, while flames and smoke burst from the enemy machine at which Palmer fired.

The events of 26 April, when three large-scale operations were flown by Fighter Command, are of particular interest. Shortly before midday 18 squadrons of fighters, including the New Zealand Spitfire Squadron, escorted Bostons to attack the railway station at St. Omer. No. 485 Squadron’s pilots did not see action, but several of the other squadrons became involved with Focke-Wulfs and two of the enemy were shot down. When 17 squadrons of Spitfires swept over northern France in the early afternoon they met little opposition, but a few hours later, when Hurri-bombers were escorted to attack the Calais area, the enemy reacted in strength. About ten miles inside the French coast a large formation of Focke-Wulfs intercepted the Kenley Wing; No. 485 Squadron, flying as top cover, bore the brunt of the attack. The German fighters came through a thin layer of cloud out of the sun in several groups, and the New Zealanders became split up and separated from the other squadrons of their wing. There was some hard fighting in which the enemy pressed home advantages of height and position. In a sudden attack, Flying Officer Pattison’s1 engine was hit and the cockpit became filled with smoke, but he was able to glide across the Channel and bale out near Dungeness, to be picked up uninjured from his dinghy about an hour and a half later. Flight Sergeant Liken was less fortunate. Wounded in combat and with his machine badly damaged, he was forced to bale out near the English coast, and although he was picked up almost immediately by a rescue launch, he died the same night. Flight Sergeant Goodlet 2 was shot down over France and was taken prisoner. Squadron

1 Squadron Leader J. G. Pattison, DSO, DFC; Waipawa; born Waipawa, 27 Jan 1917; farmer; joined RNZAF Oct 1939; commanded No. 485 (NZ) Sqdn, 1944–45.

2 Warrant Officer T. C. Goodlet; Palmerston South; born Dunedin, 7 Feb 1921; clerk; joined RNZAF Sep 1940; p.w. 26 Apr 1942.

page 343 Leader Wells and Pilot Officer Ralph1 became separated from the squadron and were repeatedly attacked. Wells got clear, but Ralph’s Spitfire was hit in five different places by cannon shells before he was able to spin down and escape. The only successful combat was reported by Pilot Officer Mackie:

We were attacked by Focke-Wulf 190s from all angles. I fired at one but it dived away and I did not see the effect of my fire. Then a stream of tracers passed just under my port wing so I pulled up sharply and turned to see another Focke-Wulf approaching. Gave it a long burst and saw it give out a cloud of black smoke as it went down. Closed in again to give several more bursts and could see liquid streaming from the starboard wing but my windscreen fogged up as I pulled out of the dive. Anti-aircraft gunners scored a direct hit in my main plane as I flew out over the coast.

Among the New Zealand pilots flying with other squadrons at this time Pilot Officer Stenborg2 won particular distinction by shooting down four enemy aircraft within five days. His first success came on the morning of 26 April when his No. 111 Squadron was supporting the attack on St. Omer. Stenborg saw a Focke-Wulf about to attack another Spitfire. He opened fire at long range, then closed in to finish off his victim and saw it hit the ground and burst into flames. The next day he avenged the loss of a fellow pilot by shooting down the Focke-Wulf which had attacked him. Two days later he scored a double success when, after one combat, he saw the Focke-Wulf hit the ground and, after the other, the German pilot baled out. This determined pilot went to Malta in the following month, where he scored further successes. Another to win distinction at this time was Flight Lieutenant H. L. North, who was now a flight commander with the Australian Squadron in the Kenley Wing. After serving with No. 43 Squadron from the outbreak of war, North had joined the Australian unit on its formation and ‘had on several occasions led the squadron with great dash, courage and initiative’. Already credited with the destruction of five enemy aircraft, he was shot down on 1 May 1942 while leading the Australians in an attack against St. Omer.

By May the Germans had re-equipped a large part of their fighter force in the West with Focke-Wulf 190s and they had considerably improved their warning and control systems. The enemy pilots also fought more confidently. Whereas previously their formations had suffered from lack of information and accurate direction, they were now often able to intercept the British raids

1 Flight Lieutenant L. M. Ralph, DFC; Hamilton; born Auckland, 16 Jul 1919; clerk; joined RNZAF Jul 1940.

2 Flight Lieutenant G. Stenborg, DFC; born Auckland, 13 Oct 1921; joined RNZAF Jul 1940; killed on air operations, 24 Sep 1943.

page 344 before they reached their objectives; during one period of four weeks, 93 Spitfires were shot down at a cost of less than half this number of German fighters. In an effort to avoid detection by the German coastal radar stations, Fighter Command adopted new tactics of approach. Instead of squadrons assembling over southern England at about 5000 feet and then climbing steadily so as to cross the French coast at bombing height, they now met at the lowest possible level, crossed the Channel just above the sea and then, on reaching the French coast, began to climb quickly. This had the effect of considerably delaying the warning received by the German squadrons, and fighters from the forward airfields were caught at a height disadvantage. However, no large air battles ensued, for the Germans usually refused combat when caught at such a disadvan tage. Moreover, they soon adapted their methods of interception to meet the new British tactics. German fighters were withdrawn from most of the forward airfields in northern France and, instead of climbing out in an attempt to intercept the British formations as they crossed the coast, the enemy squadrons, shielded by their coastal warning system, were content to gain height in their back areas and then move to a superior tactical position up-sun and at heights from which they could make favourable interceptions. Thus a situation developed in which it was possible for the Royal Air Force to attack coastal targets with relative impunity, but any attempt to penetrate far inland met stiff opposition, the British formations being frequently at a disadvantage in these battles. It was, in a way, the reverse of the conditions which had obtained during the Battle of Britain.

In one sweep inland towards the end of May, the British squadrons lost six Spitfires when enemy fighters intercepted in strength. The Kenley Wing had just reached Abbeville and turned south when ‘at least 30 Focke-Wulfs dived to attack and dog fights continued until the Spitfires crossed the coast at Dieppe.’ Two Spitfires from the New Zealand Squadron were shot down and a third damaged in the withdrawal, during which ‘the enemy fighters dived from 1000 to 2000 feet above continuously until the coast was reached’. A few days later, when Spitfires from the Hornchurch and North Weald Wings swept between St. Omer and Le Touquet, they were intercepted on the way out and seven Spitfires were shot down. Deere’s No. 403 Canadian Squadron fought against heavy odds and suffered severely. Deere was leading the squadron as rear cover in the North Weald Wing, and on the way out over Le Touquet they were attacked from above by some fifteen Focke-Wulfs. Just as Deere turned his Spitfires to meet this attack, two more enemy formations came upon them and in the running fight that followed the squadron lost six Spitfires. Deere himself was heavily attacked page 345 from all sides and exhausted all his ammunition, but ‘being continuously engaged there was no time to observe results’. However, he later saw two aircraft hit the sea just off the French coast and a Spitfire break in half in mid-air as the pilot baled out. He was then chased to mid-Channel by a Focke-Wulf which, without ammu- nition, he could not engage. After this enemy machine broke away, Deere saw another pilot bale out so he circled the area until rescue boats approached. Near the English coast he saw another pilot in his dinghy and was able to direct two rescue launches to pick him up. One of Deere’s pilots afterwards reported:

I was attacked at the same time as Squadron Leader Deere; saw a Focke-Wulf come up dead in front of me and gave him a short burst as he climbed past; he stall-turned over on his back and spun away. Thought I had him until later saw another do the same manoeuvre. Got on the tail of another Focke-Wulf and opened fire with machine gun only as cannons had both jammed but was almost at once attacked by other enemy machines. In twisting and turning to evade them, found myself at one stage upside down and hanging on my straps. On righting myself I was below 3000 feet and heading for France instead of home. Passed over many small villages all of which seemed to have A.A. batteries that opened fire on me. Eventually got on the right bearing for home and saw an enemy fighter crash into the sea on the way out.

In the face of the more determined and skilful German opposition, it was not possible for Fighter Command to continue the sweeps and circus operations on an intensive scale without suffering heavy losses, but at the same time the enemy could not be allowed to retain the initiative. Therefore, from July onwards, in an effort to confuse and scatter the enemy defences, small but more widespread attacks were launched, low-level raids on airfields, railways, and industrial objectives being interspersed with sweeps and circuses flown at greater heights. In addition, attacks on coastal targets were continued.

The attacks on ports and shipping had already produced good results. Squadron Leader Malfroy had led his No. 66 Squadron in a typical mission on 15 May against a convoy off the Brittany coast. Malfroy led the attack from sea level and his Spitfires raked the ships with cannon fire. Hurri-bombers from No. 175 Squadron then followed them in and one ship burst into flames, two direct hits being seen amidships on another vessel which blew up and sank almost immediately. Then, one day towards the end of June, Spitfires from North Weald sighted and attacked three minesweepers off the Belgian coast. Strikes from cannon shells were seen on all three ships and one of them made for the shore and beached itself; a second vessel caught fire. Just after they had completed their attack, the Spitfires were intercepted by a formation of some twenty Focke-Wulfs, and in the ensuing air battle four enemy machines page 346 were claimed for the loss of three Spitfires. Flight Lieutenant Kilian, who was leading Spitfires from No. 222 Squadron this day, was able to report a successful engagement:

I got on the tail of a Focke-Wulf 190 and managed to get in two short bursts before having to take evasive action myself. I then lost sight ofmy target for a few seconds but when I next saw it, it was gliding towards the sea. It went on down and crashed about 100 yards from another Focke-Wulf 190 which had gone down a few seconds before.

The Hurri-bombers continued to have success in their attacks on ships as well as in low-level raids on land targets. In one attack on a small convoy off the Brittany coast towards the end of July, a small merchant ship was set on fire and cannon strikes were reported on another and on two of the escorts. A few days later, in the same area, a convoy of five merchant ships and a tanker was attacked. After the bombing Pilot Officer Peters1 and fellow pilots from No. 175 Squadron saw one merchant ship sinking, another damaged, and the tanker on fire.

The low-level raids on land targets, together with the sweeps and circus operations during July and August, drew varying reactions from the enemy. On occasion squadrons and smaller formations were able to sweep over northern France and complete their missions without interference. At other times, however, heavy fighting took place. On the afternoon of 26 July, when Spitfires from the Biggin Hill, Tangmere and Northolt Wings swept over the enemy airfields at St. Omer and Abbeville, they encountered strong resist- ance, but fighting under more favourable conditions of height and position, the British pilots were able to claim nine of the enemy for the loss of three Spitfires. Four days later when Hurri-bombers were escorted to St. Omer by the Northolt, Debden and North Weald Wings, the British force was heavily engaged by large numbers of Focke-Wulfs from the time they crossed the coast. Dogfights continued during the return flight as far as mid-Channel, and altogether eight Spitfires and three Hurricanes were shot down. Five German fighters were reported destroyed. Squadron Leader Carlson, who led No. 154 Squadron Spitfires from Hornchurch as close escort to the bombers, shared in the destruction of one of several Focke-Wulfs which attempted to attack the bombers near the target. The enemy machine caught fire and the pilot baled out. Flight Lieutenant L. P. Griffith led a section of Spitfires from No. 122 Squadron, also from Hornchurch. They were heavily engaged while flying over France. In the early stages Griffith sent one Focke-Wulf down on fire, but his squadron soon became split

1 Flying Officer R. A. Peters, DFM; born Wanganui, 16 May 1920; machinist; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; killed on air operations, 30 Dec 1943.

page 347 up and fared badly, four pilots, one of whom was Sergeant McPherson,1 being shot down. The circumstances in which McPherson was lost were particularly unfortunate. While engaged in the running battle over the coast, he saw a fellow pilot struggling in the sea without his dinghy. McPherson went down and threw out his own dinghy as near the spot as possible. He had scarcely done so when he was attacked and his Spitfire was seen to crash into the sea.

Altogether the summer months saw continual and varied activity by the front-line units in southern England. Many squadrons with which New Zealanders were flying now combined coastal convoy patrols, shipping searches, and attacks with escort duties to bombers and sweeps over northern France. Pilots might fly on several different types of operation in one day. As one squadron diary records:

We have been very busy making sweeps, attacking ships and rushing off into enemy territory shooting up all and sundry, and almost always shooting up coastal targets and ships on the way back. In one month the squadron also took part in sixteen large operations over enemy territory.

While much of the air fighting occurred in the large operations, the smaller missions also produced their share of incident. On one occasion, while leading his Spitfires over the Cherbourg area, Squadron Leader Yule was in combat with two Focke-Wulfs; one exploded in mid-air and crashed in the sea, and the second was last seen flying inland with smoke pouring from its engine. In the middle of June two pilots from the New Zealand Spitfire Squadron, Pilot Officers Mackie and Hume,2 had an eventful flight when, in a typical small operation, they were detailed to attack rail targets at Etaples. Flying in low over the French coast, they followed the railway running northwards towards their objective. Just south of Etaples, Mackie sighted and attacked a railway engine and saw it blow up in a cloud of smoke and steam. Farther north, Hume scored hits on a goods train and Mackie shot up another locomotive. Both Spitfires were hit by flak during their flight but returned safely.

The heaviest air fighting of the year took place on 19 August when Fighter Command supported the raid on Dieppe. This landing was a combined reconnaissance in force aimed at obtaining the information and experience necessary before landing operations in Europe on a much larger scale could be attempted. The actual landing was made by units of the Canadian and British armies, the

1 Sergeant A. M. McPherson; born Roxburgh, 5 Feb 1917; labourer; joined RNZAF Mar 1941; killed on air operations, 30 Jul 1942.

2 Squadron Leader M. R. D. Hume, DFC; Featherston; born Martinborough, 27 Oct 1915; farmer; joined RNZAF Dec 1940; commanded No. 485 (NZ) Sqdn, 1943–44.

page 348 Canadians supplying five-sixths of the assault force, which was carried to and from the French coast by units of the Royal Navy. In the few hours the troops were ashore they met fierce resistance and suffered heavy casualties. Of the 6000 men engaged, a total of 3650 were killed, wounded or missing. This savage clash indicated the conditions which might be met in a large assault on a strongly held Channel port, and served as a timely warning to those who were, at this time, strenuously urging the opening of a ‘Second Front’.

The tasks of the British air squadrons under Air Vice-Marshal Leigh-Mallory1 included the covering of the approach and withdrawal of the ships as well as the assault itself. In addition to bombing shore batteries, shooting up strongpoints on the seafront at Dieppe and laying smoke screens, a constant air umbrella was maintained above the battle area. Squadrons were controlled from No. 11 Group operations room, where Leigh-Mallory could follow every stage of the battle as it was plotted before him on the great wall map. In addition the military and naval commanders could ask by radio-telegraphy for assistance, while fighter controllers in two ships were in direct contact with the fighter squadrons as they came in over the battle area and were able to change ground targets and direct air cover as the situation demanded.

The air co-operation was excellent (says a military report). Throughout the action there were frequent requests for smoke curtains to be laid and batteries to be bombed. These requests were met to the limit. In addition no enemy aircraft were allowed to interfere if they could be driven off and not many got through. Though damage was caused to several ships by near misses, the only major success which the German air force could claim was a destroyer and this itself was an accident. She was hit and badly damaged by a bomb from a Junkers 88 which jettisoned its load on being attacked by one of our Spitfires. By ill-luck the destroyer happened to be underneath where the bombs fell. The return of the force to England was mostly uneventful thanks to the air cover which was maintained over the ships.

The first sorties were flown before dawn and combats over the battle area began soon after daylight. At first, however, the air fighting was not intense as the Germans seemed unaware of the scope of the action and sent not more than 25 to 30 fighters to the scene. But as the morning wore on the formations increased, until finally the enemy was employing most of his available resources on the Western Front. In reply Fighter Command flew over 2000 sorties during the day and there were many vigorous encounters; in fact, not since the Battle of Britain had the air fighting been on such

1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, KCB, DSO, Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), Order of Kutuzov (USSR), Legion of Merit (US); born Mobberley, Cheshire, 11 Jul 1892; joined Lancashire Fusiliers 1914; seconded RFC 1916 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC No. 12 Fighter Group, 1937–40; AOC No. 11 Fighter Group, 1940–42; AOC-in-C, Fighter Command, 1942–43; AOC-in-C, AEAF, 1943–44; missing 14 Nov 1944 and death presumed.

page 349 an intensive scale. However, while the Dieppe raid provided the occasion for the battle with the German Air Force which Fighter Command so ardently desired, British losses included 88 Spitfires and Hurricanes for the destruction, according to German records, of 48 enemy machines. The British losses were much heavier than those suffered on any one day during the Battle of Britain. But at Dieppe the Spitfires and Hurricanes were operating over enemy territory at long range from their bases, and many machines damaged in combat or by anti-aircraft fire came down in the sea during the return flight.
Many New Zealanders took part in the various operations and there were some eventful flights. Before dawn Squadron Leader Sutton1 led Bostons from No. 605 Squadron to attack gun positions covering Dieppe harbour, and although haze and darkness made location of their target difficult the pilots reached and bombed the area. Flight Lieutenant Spurdle was on patrol with No. 91 Squadron from dawn in search of E-boats and any other enemy craft likely to interfere with the landings. The Spitfires continued such reconnaissance throughout the day, Spurdle flying four patrols. New Zealanders also flew with each of the first three Hurricane squadrons that went in at first light to attack gun positions and strongpoints on the seafront. They met fierce opposition. Pilot Officer Barton, 2 who was flying with No. 245 Squadron, was one of five pilots shot down. The Hurricanes from No. 43 Squadron, with which Flight Sergeants Smith3 and Webster4 were flying, were also badly shot up. One pilot baled out over the Channel and was later rescued and another crash-landed at Tangmere, but both Smith and Webster survived to take part in further attacks during the morning. In No. 3 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Berry,5 one pilot was shot down, while another had his starboard petrol tank shot out by flak and crash-landed on Brighton golf course. Berry led his Hurricanes in further sorties during the morning and on their fourth mission, while attacking batteries on the east headland of Dieppe during the withdrawal, they were intercepted by Focke-Wulfs. Berry was seen to be heavily engaged before his machine burst into flames and crashed on the cliffs. With the Hurricanes from No. 175 Squadron, Pilot Officer Peters was also in combat at mid-morning.

1 Squadron Leader K. R. Sutton, DFC; Palmerston North; born Wellington, 18 May 1919; joined RAF Mar 1939; transferred RNZAF Mar 1944.

2 Pilot Officer J. E. Barton; born Christchurch, 29 May 1921; motor mechanic; joined RNZAF Jul 1940; killed on air operations, 19 Aug 1942.

3 Warrant Officer M. D. Smith; Christchurch; born Christchurch, 31 Mar 1920; clerk; joined RNZAF Feb 1941; p.w. 13 Nov 1943.

4 Flying Officer W. J. Webster; England; born Auckland, 11 Oct 1920; school teacher; joined RNZAF Feb 1941.

5 Squadron Leader A. E. Berry, DFC; born Yorkshire, 1 Apr 1917; joined RAF Mar 1940; commanded No. 3 Sqdn, 1942; killed on air operations, 19 Aug 1942.

page 350 After the pilots had made a determined low-level bombing attack on a troublesome gun position, they became involved in the air fighting which was going on over the port. Peters was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190 which dived on him from above. He immediately flicked his Hurricane over in a half roll and, as the enemy machine shot past in its dive, sent a stream of bullets tearing into it. The Focke-Wulf turned over and went down into the sea. In further combat he saw strikes on a second enemy fighter but ‘was too busy to observe results’. One of his fellow pilots caught a Heinkel diving to bomb destroyers off the beaches and set it on fire.
Among the New Zealanders who led Spitfires on covering patrols were Squadron Leaders Carlson, Kilian and Yule, and Flight Lieutenants Crawford-Compton and Griffith. Yule led his No. 66 Spitfire Squadron during the morning as escort to Hurricanes attacking enemy strongpoints. Over Dieppe anchorage, he saw Dorniers bombing shipping and led his pilots against them. They shot down one German bomber, drove the others off, then rejoined the Hurricanes and escorted them back to England. Later Yule took his squadron to escort Bostons laying a smoke screen to cover the withdrawal. Carlson led No. 154 Squadron on each of its four patrols during the day. While covering the withdrawal, the Spitfires intercepted and drove off Dorniers which were attacking the ships. Carlson chased one Dornier through the cloud and smoke, finally overtook it and sent it down; fellow pilots finished it off and saw it crash into the sea. Kilian’s No. 122 Squadron, which he led on three patrols during the morning, also attacked enemy bombers over Dieppe. On their second sortie Kilian and Sergeant Peet1 shared in the destruction of a Dornier which they intercepted over the town and then chased inland over the tree tops. On their third patrol Kilian was slightly wounded in an engagement with Focke-Wulfs, which came in as the Spitfires were intent on preventing bombers from attacking the ships. No. 122 Squadron was therefore led on its fourth and fifth patrols of the day by Griffith, who already had damaged two Dorniers in the morning engagements —in one of them he was in a ‘free for all’ with six Dorniers. Crawford-Compton was twice in combat during patrols in which he led a section of No. 611 Squadron Spitfires. He drove one Focke-Wulf down during a brief engagement over Dieppe in the early stages of the assault. Then a few hours later, while escorting Fortress bombers back from an attack on the airfield at Abbeville, Focke-Wulfs came climbing up so turned and opened fire and kept on until I had to break away to avoid a collision. Saw one enemy machine catch fire, then four of them attacked me. By this time I

1 Flight Lieutenant W. W. Peet, DFC; England; born Dannevirke, 23 Jul 1920; farmhand; joined RNZAF Feb 1941.

page 351 was separated from my section and tried doing steep climbing turns but they had the advantage and kept on attacking. Was gradually able to work my way to the coast but was chased half way across the Channel.’

The New Zealand Spitfires flew four patrols over Dieppe as part of the No. 12 Group wing led by Wing Commander Jameson. On the first patrol of the morning, in which Jameson flew a Spitfire from No. 485 Squadron, the formation met enemy fighters in strength as soon as they approached Dieppe and dogfights began at once. Three Focke-Wulfs were shot down and several others badly damaged, but five Spitfires were lost. The New Zealanders, however, escaped casualty and were able to report the destruction of two enemy machines. Jameson attacked a Focke-Wulf which was diving on one of his Spitfires and sent it down in flames. Other pilots saw it hit the sea. Flying Officer Chrystall1 attacked another Focke-Wulf and saw the pilot bale out as it went down, while a third enemy fighter was seen flying inland, smoking badly, after it had been attacked by Flying Officer Black.2 The squadron’s next two patrols were without inci- dent, but while covering the return of the ships during the afternoon the Spitfires intercepted a formation of Dorniers and drove them off. There were some brief exchanges of fire as pilots chased the bombers among the clouds but no conclusive combats were reported.

During the day’s fighting many British fighters were damaged and some reached England only with difficulty. After one combat Pilot Officer Copland3 found his Spitfire had been badly hit so he headed for home, but about half a mile from the English coast his engine stopped and he was just able to reach the coast and crash-land in a field. Copland had already completed four patrols with his No. 131 Squadron, and in various encounters had shared in the destruction of two enemy aircraft and had damaged a third.

Many pilots who failed to reach the English coast in their damaged machines owed their survival to the sustained efforts of the Air Sea Rescue organisation, particularly the RAF launches, three of which were lost during the day while attempting to rescue airmen from the Channel. Several New Zealanders flew with the ASR flights which searched for survivors and directed surface craft to pick them up. Altogether during the day, 30 pilots were rescued from the sea as the result of the combined efforts. Wing Commander Blake, who led a Spitfire wing, was one of the few British

1 Flight Lieutenant C. Chrystall, DFC; Foxton; born Foxton, 21 Nov 1916; joined RAF Jul 1938; transferred RNZAF Jul 1945.

2 Flight Lieutenant L. S. Black, DFC; born Wellington, 12 Apr 1914; barrister and solicitor; joined RNZAF Apr 1940; killed in flying accident, 5 Mar 1945.

3 Flight Lieutenant H. G. Copland; Gore; born Mataura, 21 Feb 1919; farmer; joined RNZAF Jan 1941.

page 352 pilots unfortunate enough to be picked up by the enemy. On a morning patrol his formation was heavily engaged by German fighters. At one point Blake saw a Focke-Wulf coming up underneath another Spitfire. He dived and shot it down, but before he could recover height another Focke-Wulf came at him from above in a head-on attack.

There was an explosion on the windscreen and I was blinded. Put my hand to my helmet and felt it was partially burnt away, so jettisoned the hood, released my straps, slammed the stick forward then went hurtling out. My parachute opened shortly before I hit the water, and after inflating the dinghy I struggled into it. My eyes were very painful and felt as though they were filled with sand which turned out to be fine specks of glass in the eye balls.

Soon the tide swept the dinghy away from the French coast, and all that day and night Blake drifted at the mercy of wind and tide. The following afternoon the wind changed and began to blow him towards the English coast, but just as darkness was falling a German patrol boat sighted his dinghy and picked him up. After receiving attention from an eye specialist in Paris, Blake was put on a night train for Germany. Pretending to be ill during the journey he evaded his guards and jumped off, but unfortunately the train had increased speed and he hit the ground heavily. He was recaptured when forced to seek help for his injuries.

The closing months of 1942 saw the squadrons and wings continuing with sweeps and the escort of bombers over enemy territory; smaller formations also flew across the Channel to make further low-level attacks on ships and land targets. In August Fortresses of the United States Air Force began operations against targets in northern France, and during the next months Spitfires frequently escorted them on these missions. On 28 August Fortresses attacked the aircraft factory at Meaulte, near Amiens, one of the largest aircraft establishments in France, where the Germans were now repairing bombers and fighters. The American bombers were covered and escorted throughout their flight by a large force of British fighters drawn from eight squadrons, while others flew out later to cover the return journey. There were several skirmishes with Focke-Wulfs; among the Spitfire pilots who reported successful combats were Crawford-Compton, whose No. 611 Squadron formed part of the bombers’ close escort. Near the target, he led his section down to intercept five Focke-Wulfs which were coming up from behind. After giving the leading machine one short burst he saw the pilot bale out. Then, together with several of his fellow pilots, he attacked another enemy aircraft; but although it went spinning down they did not see it crash. Crawford-Compton, who had begun his operational career with the New Zealand Spitfire page 353 Squadron on its formation, was now recognised as ‘a fighter pilot and flight commander of exceptional merit.’ Before leaving to take command of No. 64 Squadron at the end of 1942, he had raised his score to at least eight enemy aircraft destroyed. After one engagement in November he reported briefly:

We had just turned back into France after being warned that enemy aircraft were approaching from St. Omer when I spotted eight Focke-Wulfs about 4000 feet below us. Warned the squadron and we dived on them. They split up in all directions. One Focke-Wulf shot up almost vertically and as it turned off the top of the climb I opened fire; the elevators and part of the rudder came away, the machine turned over on its back, flew like this for a few seconds and then dived towards the ground. Saw the pilot bale out as it went down.

This combat took place when Compton’s squadron was making a sweep over St. Omer with the Biggin Hill Wing as a diversion to a large attack on Le Havre.

The experiences of No. 485 Squadron during the last months were typical of those of many squadrons with which New Zealand pilots were flying. As part of Jameson’s No. 12 Group wing, the New Zealand Spitfires flew many sorties as cover for the Fortresses, Liberators, Bostons and Venturas. On 9 October, when 36 squadrons co-operated with more than 100 American Fortresses and Liberators in their attack on the Fives-Lille locomotive works—the largest daylight bombing raid thus far launched—the New Zealanders flew in the main diversionary sweeps over enemy airfields. Early in December when RAF light bombers, including Venturas from No. 487 New Zealand Squadron, attacked the Philips radio works at Eindhoven in Holland, No. 485 Spitfires covered the with- drawal. They patrolled the Scheldt Estuary but sighted no enemy aircraft. On the way back, however, they found several dinghies and were able to help in the rescue of crews from bombers which had come down in the sea.

On many occasions a few Spitfires flew in low over the enemy coast and attacked targets of opportunity—railway engines, anti-aircraft batteries, ships and barges and military installations. In one such operation towards the end of November, Squadron Leader Grant led five Spitfires to attack ships and barges in the Dutch canals. As the formation approached the Dutch coast Grant became separated from the others and, flying on alone, encountered a Heinkel 115 which he promptly shot down into the sea. Meanwhile the other pilots had attacked a tanker barge on a canal; as their cannon shells went home, there was an explosion followed by clouds of black smoke. On the return flight, Flight Lieutenant Shand 1

1 Flight Lieutenant M. M. Shand, DFC; Greytown; born Wellington, 20 Feb 1915; salesman-clerk; joined RNZAF Nov 1939; p.w. 28 Nov 1942.

page 354 and Sergeant Tucker1 went down to shoot up a train. As Tucker flew in to attack, his machine bounced off a mound of earth and he had scarcely recovered and rejoined Shand when they were attacked by two Focke-Wulfs. Shand was shot down and taken prisoner but Tucker was fortunate to escape after his machine had been hit. One of the other two pilots, Sergeant Norris,2 also failed to return.

* * * * *

While offensive operations were the main concern of the day fighter squadrons throughout 1942, a considerable effort had to be devoted to the defence of the United Kingdom and the interception of the Germans’ small but cleverly conceived raids against British shipping and coastal targets. On certain occasions an intensive effort was made to protect convoys and naval forces, notably at the end of October 1942, when large concentrations of shipping assembled and sailed for the landings in North Africa.

The small convoys sailing along the eastern and southern coasts were a favourite target for the enemy raiders, but many of their attacks were made at dawn or dusk or in thick weather when it was difficult for British fighters to intervene. In fact the ‘bandits’ took every advantage of darkened land, sky, or cloud to cover their approach. Frequently their attacks came from the direction of the land, which not only gave a dark background but also confused ships’ gunners as to the identity of approaching aircraft. Occasionally Heinkel 115 seaplanes, having located a suitable target towards dusk, alighted on the sea to take off again and make an attack in the last few minutes of daylight, often just after the fighter escort had left. It was not easy for Fighter Command to counter these tactics, since the limited endurance of the contemporary fighters and the large numbers of convoys at sea made it impossible to provide continuous protection. However, the patrols maintained in the areas most likely for attack were often able to frustrate the raiders. The Germans were reluctant to attack ships when fighters were in the vicinity, and when intercepted they usually avoided combat and quickly sought refuge in the nearest cloud cover. This meant that the fighter pilots seldom had the opportunity for sustained combat. Few, in fact, were as fortunate as Pilot Officer Peters who, after one sortie early in June, was able to report the destruction of two enemy bombers that were attacking ships. On patrol between the Isle of Wight and Weymouth, he sighted anti-aircraft fire from a convoy and flew towards it. As he

1 Flying Officer H. S. Tucker; Palmerston North; born Greytown, 26 Aug 1921; postman; joined RNZAF Sep 1941.

2 Sergeant F. W. Norris; born Wellington, 23 May 1921; clerk; joined RNZAF May 1941; killed on air operations, 28 Nov 1942.

page 355 approached the ships he sighted five Junkers 88s. He dived on one of them and shot it down into the sea with his first burst. He then turned and chased another Junkers, caught up with it, and sent it down towards the sea with one of its engines on fire. Although almost out of ammunition, he pursued another bomber some distance across the Channel before shortage of fuel forced him to return to base.

In addition to their attacks on British shipping during 1942, the Germans also developed what came to be known as ‘tip and run’ raids against towns and military targets on or near the coast. It must be remembered that at this time the increasing bombing raids over Germany by the Royal Air Force were causing no little anxiety to the German High Command, and there was a growing demand for reprisals against Great Britain. Added to this the enemy was anxious to pin down in the British Isles as much as possible of the growing strength of the RAF. The Luftwaffe was now fully extended on the Russian and Mediterranean fronts and few bombers could be spared for an offensive against the United Kingdom. The Germans, therefore, adopted the expedient of employing the Messerschmitt, and later the Focke-Wulf fighter, each carrying one or two bombs, to make low-level attacks at a number of widely scattered points. The fighter-bombers flew across the Channel just above the sea to escape radar detection and swept over the coastal towns, dropped their bombs, machine-gunned streets, buildings and railways, and then quickly flew out again over the sea. Occasionally in cloudy weather small formations ventured inland—the city of Canterbury was attacked one Saturday afternoon in October during its most crowded shopping period—but the majority of the raids were confined to coastal targets.

Such surprise attacks were difficult to defeat, for although Spitfire patrols were maintained as far as possible, the lack of warning received and the short duration of the attacks gave pilots little opportunity for successful interceptions. Fewer than a dozen of the tip and run raiders were destroyed during the first nine months of 1942. Two New Zealanders who had successes were Flight Lieutenants Pannell1 and Spurdle, both of whom flew with No. 91 Spitfire Squadron. On patrol over the south coast one misty morning in April, Pannell sighted two Messerschmitts flying in towards Hastings. He at once gave chase but lost sight of the enemy machines in cloud. When he saw them again he hung on until they came to a clear patch, whereupon he opened fire on the nearer machine. It went down in a gradual dive, hit the water,

1 Squadron Leader G. C. R. Pannell, DFC; Croix de Guerre with Palm (Fr); Christchurch; born Christchurch, 22 Aug 1913; farmer; joined RNZAF Dec 1939.

page 356 bounced, and then went straight in. Spurdle was on patrol with another pilot in the same area one afternoon in July when they sighted four Focke-Wulfs flying above them. The two pilots climbed to the attack, and in the dogfight which followed Spurdle blew the tail off the leading enemy machine. The pilot baled out and was picked up by a British rescue launch. He was somewhat annoyed at being shot down as he claimed to be an ‘ace’ with 17 Spitfires to his credit.

In September 1942, by which time the German fighter-bomber attacks had become particularly irritating, the first few Typhoon squadrons to become operational were directed to interception patrols. Early in the month an enemy raider, with pieces flying off both engines and its rudder shot away, plunged into the sea off the north-east coast, giving Pilot Officer Perrin1 his first victim. Perrin was on patrol with another pilot from his No. 1 Typhoon Squadron when two German fighter-bombers were sighted. When the Typhoons gave chase the enemy machines separated, so Perrin engaged one while his companion went after the other. A few moments later both machines were caught and, after a few accurate bursts, driven down in flames.

No. 486 New Zealand Squadron, which had now converted to Typhoons, was one of the units employed during the closing months of the year on interception patrols along the south coast, where the enemy attacks were most frequent. Regular patrols were begun early in October, and the first success came on the 17th when Pilot Officer Thomas2 and Flight Sergeant Sames3 intercepted two Focke-Wulfs. After a long chase they eventually overhauled one of them, and their combined fire sent it crashing in flames into the sea. The squadron then experienced an unrewarding period which lasted until the middle of December, and it was little consolation that the efforts of other squadrons engaged on similar patrols were also largely unsuccessful. Flight Sergeant Downer4 of No. 91 Spitfire Squadron was one of the few pilots who saw action in November. On a morning patrol he intercepted two fighter-bombers about to attack a minesweeper and shot one down into the sea. The other made off towards France. During this time the coastal patrols were maintained continually, except when weather made flying impossible. The Typhoons patrolled in pairs and maintained watch along a

1 Flight Lieutenant D. P. Perrin, DFC; born Wellington, 27 Nov 1918; clerk; joined RNZAF Nov 1940; killed on air operations, 10 Sep 1944.

2 Flying Officer G. G. Thomas; born Te Awamutu, 13 Mar 1918; clothing cutter; joined RNZAF Oct 1940; killed in flying accident, 9 Apr 1943.

3 Flight Lieutenant A. N. Sames, DFC; Auckland; born Auckland, 25 Jul 1918; carpenter; joined RNZAF Mar 1941.

4 Pilot Officer I. W. Downer; born Christchurch, 21 Dec 1920; electrical engineer; joined RNZAF Dec 1940; killed on air operations, 29 Dec 1942.

page 357 given stretch of coastline, very much like ‘policemen on their beat’, an average nine or ten patrols of an hour’s duration being flown daily by each squadron. From the end of October the New Zealanders flew from the forward airfield of Tangmere, in Sussex, and their ‘beat’ extended from St. Catherine’s Point, Isle of Wight, to Shoreham near Brighton, a short stretch of coastline that was soon to become painfully familiar to the pilots. Only occasionally was the monotony relieved by a sighting and chase out to sea.
By December low-searching radar stations had been established at certain points on the south coast, so that earlier warning and more accurate information of the enemy’s approach could be given to pilots on patrol. Interceptions became more frequent and Fighter Command was able to record the destruction of eleven low-level raiders during this month. Seven of these fell to pilots from the New Zealand Typhoon Squadron. On the afternoon of 17 December Flight Sergeant Murphy1 and Sergeant Taylor-Cannon 2 intercepted two Messerschmitt fighter-bombers a few miles off the Isle of Wight, and a chase began with the aircraft skimming just above the wave tops. In attempts to escape both Messerschmitts twisted and turned, repeatedly crossing over and under each other, so that both were engaged by the New Zealanders in turn. Suddenly one Messerschmitt shot upwards, turned, and then dived straight into the sea. A few moments later the other, already hit in the fuselage and wings, burst into flames and crashed into the water. The following day Pilot Officer Thomas sighted a Dornier 217 a few miles south of Brighton and gave chase. He scored hits on the enemy machine and saw smoke pouring from one of its engines before losing his quarry in the clouds. Unanswered radio calls from the German bomber’s base, and the discovery of wreckage from a Dornier later in the day, indicated that Thomas had succeeded in destroying the raider. On 19 December, after chasing two Focke-Wulf 190s at over 360 miles an hour almost to the French coast, Flight Lieutenant Sweetman and Flight Sergeant Sames were able to overhaul and attack them. Sweetman saw his target disappear in cloud with smoke pouring from its engine, while Sames so damaged the other that the pilot was forced to bale out. On patrol three days later, Flying Officer Umbers and Flight Sergeant Gall 3 together attacked and destroyed a Dornier bomber. During the chase the enemy bomber ‘flew so low that his slipstream left a

1 Squadron Leader F. Murphy, DFC; England; born Bolton, Lancashire, 19 Jan 1917; clerk; joined RNZAF Mar 1941.

2 Squadron Leader K. G. Taylor-Cannon, DFC and bar; born Oamaru, 20 Dec 1921; student; joined RNZAF Apr 1941; commanded No. 486 (NZ) Sqdn, 1945; killed on air operations, 13 Apr 1945.

3 Flight Lieutenant C. N. Gall, DFC; England; born Ngaruawahia, 10 Aug 1920; school teacher; joined RNZAF Mar 1941.

page 358 broad wake on the water’. Two Messerschmitt pilots who flew across the Channel on Christmas Eve were intercepted over the Isle of Wight and shot down into the sea by Thomas and Murphy after a long pursuit. This run of successes marked the beginning of a more fruitful period in the campaign against the tip and run raiders until, by the middle of the following year, enemy casualties reached a point where he was forced to abandon this form of attack.