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1940

 

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JANUARY 1940

Convoy patrols were frequently carried out and a number of instructions to intercept were given, but no contact was made with any enemy aircraft. The weather was not very good but the Squadron carried out their duties whenever conditions permitted. It was a Squadron quip that it was only unfit to fly when the birds were walking".

 

FEBRUARY 1940

The month opened with no flying being possible on the first nine days because of very poor weather conditions, but on the tenth day the weather improved dramatically and the Squadron was able to resume its routine duties of convoy patrols. Some new pilots arrived on the Squadron and it was necessary to put them through the Squadron flying training programme as quickly as possible to bring them up to operational status, this training being done by the experienced pilots of the Squadron.

Due to engine failures and heavy landings, the Hurricanes were suffering mechanical problems, some of these problems arising from the routine training exercises.

 

February 16

All the Squadron aircraft had been modified to enable them to operate on 100 Octane fuel. This gave the capability of operation at +12 boost to meet operational emergencies without damage to the engines.

 

February 18

This was a grim day for the Squadron in that it suffered its first war-time fatality of "Killed On Active Service", when P/O Lovell struck a tree whilst flying low because of the cloud base.

Weather conditions during the remainder of the month did not show much improvement but convoy patrols were maintained when conditions permitted. To keep up to operational efficiency, all aircraft machine guns were harmonised at 250 yards range. Also, new variable pitch propellers were fitted to all the Squadron aircraft.

 

MARCH 1940

With all of the aircraft modifications being undertaken it was a difficult task to keep six aircraft in a fully serviceable state. However, convoy patrols were maintained when weather permitted, and so were the routine training exercises which were necessary to maintain a highly efficient operational status.

 

March 23

The first of the Hurricanes to be fitted with 2 x 20 mm cannons and four machine guns arrived on the Squadron and was immediately sent to the maintenance unit for update to the Squadron’s operational requirements.

 

APRIL 1940

 

Hurricanes fitted with all metal wings were now beginning to arrive on the Squadron, and with the weather starting to show improvement, flying training exercises and convoy patrols were resumed. The new aircraft were also fitted with Rotol variable pitch airscrews and the revised training programme included high altitude combat as well as Low level. With "X" raids now beginning to show up on Control Room piloting boards, scrambles were now to be expected.

 

April 27

The first operational scramble took place, but no contact with enemy aircraft resulted.

 

MAY 1940

 

May 1

The Squadron was split up into five operational sections with five pilots

 

May 12

F/Lt Ives, leading the Blue Section with F/O Ward and Sgt Atkinson made the following report after a patrol over the Hook of Holland:-

"We left Martlesham at 0500 hrs and proceeded to 4500 ft to the Whistle Light Buoy just outside the Hook of Holland canal. Here we met three long nosed Blenheims and patrolled with them. Our objective turned out to be one Cruiser, one Patrol Vessel, four Destroyers, two Minesweepers and a snail vessel painted orange. Whilst on patrol we noticed that approximately 50 parachutes were lying on the ground about 3 miles north of the Hook. On a small aerodrome at the same place there were about 15 German aircraft burnt out, Bombed and wrecked. Our patrol, having ended at 0625 hrs, landed at Martlesham not having been in action. We were in the air exactly two hours and used an average of 55 gallons of petrol per aircraft".

This report indicated that the Battle for France was about to start,

 

May 16

F/Lt F. Marlowe joined the Squadron as the Intelligence Officer. During World War I, F/Lt Marlowe had served as a pilot in the Royal Naval air Service and he was well qualified to serve 151 Squadron In his capacity as Intelligence Officer.

 

The Squadron strength in terms of operational pilots was as follows:-

Red Section S/Ldr Donaldson P/O Hamar Sgt Badger
Yellow Section F/Lt Ironside   F/O Allen P/O Bushell
Blue Section F/Lt Ives   P/O Wright Sgt Atkinson
Green Section F/O Ward F/C Milne Sgt Trice

 

 

 

Reserves: F/0 Atkinson, P/O Pettigrew, Sgt Saville, Sgt Aslin.

 

May 17

The Squadron was ordered to Manston, but due to a shortage of both pilots and aircraft, only nine, comprising Red, Yellow and Blue Sections could be made available. They took off at 0300 hrs, but at 0730 hrs, after refuelling they were ordered off yet again but this time to proceed to Abbeville where they landed at 0830 hrs. At 1000 hrs, the Squadron was airborne on an offensive patrol in the Lille-Valenciennes area. At 1100 hrs two enemy aircraft were sighted at a considerable distance to the south east. Red Section went to investigate leaving Blue and Yellow sections to give top cover. The enemy aircraft were identified as Ju. 87 dive bombers, and Red Leader ordered an attack, this being the first engagement of World War II for 151 Squadron.

The enemy aircraft formation turned out to be about 20 in strength, all Ju 87s. Having assessed the number of enemy aircraft to be engaged, Blue and Yellow Sections were also ordered to attack. The resulting combat was at low altitude, a tactic that the Squadron had been expecting, and as a result a severe fight took place and 151 Squadron was able to record its first victories in World War II.

Claims were as follows:

S/Ldr Donaldson

2 Ju87s destroyed,1Ju87damaged.

F/Lt Ives

1Ju 87destroyed

F/0 Milne

1Ju 87destroyed

P/O Wright

1Ju 87destroyed

P/O Bushell

1Ju87destroyed

P/O Hamar

1Ju 87damaged

Sgt Aslin

1Ju 87damaged

Sgt Atkinson

1Ju87damaged

 

This was a total of ten casualties inflicted on the Luftwaffe encounter. 151 Squadron did not suffer any casualties, but some of were damaged in the combats.

 

P/O Hamar had ten bullet holes in his aircraft, F/Lt Ironside two bullet holes in his, one of which passed through the sleeve of his flying jacket, and Sgt Atkinson collected one hole in his aircraft.

At 1930 hrs, the Squadron returned to Manston. Damaged aircraft were flown to North Weald for repair and replacement, and the Squadron was then stood down until noon the next day.

 

May 18

The same nine pilots as the previous day flew to Vitry from Manston at 1400 hrs arriving at 1500 hrs. At 1500 hrs a severe air battle took place between 20 Me 109’s and another Hurricane Squadron. At 1600 hrs 151 Squadron was ordered off with instructions to patrol Vitry airfield. Shortly after becoming airborne, Blue Section engaged two He 111’s and then landed to refuel and rearm, but Sgt Atkinson did not return. The Yellow Section sighted and attacked 12 Me 109’s and Red Section joined in the fighting which took place. In this fight, 151 Squadron were again successful.

At 1830 hrs Vitry airfield was attacked by six Do 17s, but none of 151’s aircraft were hit on the ground although twelve dispersed fighters were in the attack. At 1845 hrs 151 Squadron were airborne again to engage several Me 110s which were sighted above the airfield. These were thought to be the fighter cover for the Dorniers which had carried out the bombing. The MEs were engaged and a severe air battle took place.

The Squadron took off from Vitry airfield at 1930 hrs and returned to Manston The only damage to aircraft of 151 Squadron was caused by an armour piercing bullet in the starboard aileron of F/O Milne's machine.

Claims for the day were:

F/Lt Ironside 1 Me destroyed
P/O Bushell 1 Me destroyed, 1 Me 110 damaged.
Sgt Atkinson 1 He probably destroyed
S/Ldr Donaldson 1 Me damaged
F/O Milne 1 Me damaged
P/O Wright 1 Me damaged
P/O Hammond 1 Me damaged
Sgt Aslin 1 Me damaged

The Squadron was stood down until noon the next day.

 

May 19

Sgt Atkinson, who had failed to return from operations on the previous day following the encounter with the He 111s, turned up at 1215 hrs. He had got separated from the rest of his colleagues and saw three HE IIIs which he attacked. A good burst was fired at one of the enemy aircraft as a result of which it was seen going down with its port engine on fire. Sgt Atkinson had landed at Le Touquet but was not able to refuel immediately since such facilities were not readily available at that station.

In other patrols carried out by the Squadron during the day, no enemy aircraft was encountered.

 

May 20

Nine of 151 Squadron aircraft together with No 56 and No 17 Squadrons were on escort duty to two Squadrons or Blenheim Bombers whose target area was the Courtrai-Arras road. No enemy aircraft was seen.

 

May 21

The Squadron was airborne at 0730 hrs and flew to Manston where they refuelled, They took off in support of an Allied counter-attack in the Cambrai-Arras-Vimy areas giving fighter protection but no enemy aircraft was encountered At 1730 hrs 1511 Squadron again Joined up with No 56 Squadron as escort for a squadron of Blenheim bombers sent out to attack a railway junction approximately 10 miles south east of Boulogne. Boulogne being reported as being occupied by German troops. At approximately 1800 bra, Blue three was instructed to investigate a suspicious aircraft sighting below their formation. Sgt Atkinson (Blue three) identified a Henechel 125 which he promptly engaged and shot down.

Claims were :-

 

 

Sgt Atkinson

1 He 125 destroyed

 

 

 

May 22

Red, Yellow and Blue Sections took off from North Weald at 0530 hrs for a sweep over Calais and Boulogne. 10 miles north of Cap Gris Nez a Ju 88 glided out of cloud in front of the 151 Squadron formation. Four more Ju 88’s were also sighted bombing shipping. The Squadron attacked and the raiders were driven off. however one Ju 88 was seen to crash into the sea as a result of the combat, but who actually shot it down was not known. The Squadron returned to Manston to refuel and re-arm, and took off again at 1000 hrs to attack low flying bombers which were reported to be active. Low cloud and rain made the operation abortive and all aircraft returned to Manston

They took off again at 1800 hrs to escort three Ensign transport aircraft which were carrying fuel and ammunition to Merville. They kept cover whilst the Ensigns unloaded their cargoes, and from this cover operation they engaged a formation of Ju 87’s which was bent on pressing home an attack on the airfield. In the combats which took place, 151 Squadron were very successful without suffering any casualties.

All the Squadron returned safely to Manston Back at Mervllle with no air cover, the Ensign crew (civilians) continued to unload their cargoes but they were an easy target for two Me’s which came in strafing the airfield. The Ensign "Elysean" was set on fire as all personnel dived for cover. Another Ensign was damaged but was still sufficiently serviceable to fly. With the transport task completed, the damaged Ensign took off, Capt Hoare, a civilian pilot, having lost his aircraft in the attack, used a DH 86 to get away and return to England.

Claims for the day were:

 

 

  "151" Squadron 1 Ju 88 destroyed
  S/Ldr Donaldson 1 Ju 87 destroyed, 1 Ju 87 damaged
  P/O Hamar 1 Ju 87 destroyed, 1 Ju 87 damaged
  Sgt Atkinson 1 Ju 87 destroyed
  F/O Milne 1 Ju 87 destroyed

 

May 23

Green Section, i.e. F/O Milne, 7/0 Atkinson and F/0 Blair took off at 1430 hrs together with twelve aircraft of No 56 Squadron to carry out a patrol in the Merville district. The weather was low cloud and raining, and although three Me 109’s and a number of Me 110’s were seen and several engagements took place, the Mes used the low cloud for battle shelter and no combat claims were made by 151 Squadron.

 

May 24

Patrols were carried out in the Dunkirk-Calais-Boulogne-St Omer areas and also in the Cambraj-Lille area but things were quiet and no engagements were reported.

 

May 25

The Squadron became airborne at 1330 hrs, together with No 56 Squadron to undertake a high level patrol. Although a single Ju 88 was sighted, it was travelling at high speed, and could not be overtaken. Since instructions were for the patrol to be defensive, defence was maintained and no combat resulted.

At 1615 hrs, the Squadron again took off with No 56 Squadron for a rendezvous with twenty four Blenheim bombers over Hawkinge, the Blenheims being detailed to attack enemy troop concentrations in the vicinity of St Omer. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but on the return journey two of the aircraft were unfortunate to suffer a collision. P/O Bushell and F/Lt Ives were the unfortunates, and P/O Bushell’s aircraft was seen to spin and crash into the sea. F/Lt Ives was last seen turning towards the French coast about twelve miles from the collision location, and he was not seen again, but he survived the crash and his final actions are reported later.

 

May 26-28

Patrols were continuously carried out with many crews carrying out three operations a day. Apart from the occasional sighting of the odd Messerschmitt which always seemed to seek refuge in the clouds, no actions were reported.

 

May 29

Together with No 56 Squadron, 151 Squadron carried out high level escort patrols over Dunkirk. Several engagements took place with Me 109s and Me 110s. In these engagements one Me 110 was claimed to have been shot down by P/O Blomely and this was seen to crash on the French coast. Later in the day, another similar patrol was undertaken but this time as escort to Defiant fighters who were patrolling Dunkirk. Me 109s and He 111s were engaged at 15000 ft and fierce combats were reported in which a decoy Ju 88 was shot down by S/Ldr Donaldson and P/O Hamar. F/O Newton was reported missing from this operation and P/O Courtney was forced to bail out. He landed in the sea from where he was picked up by a Destroyer and then transferred to Ramsgate Hospital. F/O Newton survived his bailing out. He reported that he and P/O Courtney were attacked by five Me 109s but P/O Courtney did not see the attackers who shot him down. F/O Newton says he "saw red" and marked and shot down the Me 109 that had got P/O Courtney. F/O Newton was then shot down by the others but got away by rolling over and over as though finished. He was fortunate in not being followed down and on sighting a Hospital Ship nearby he glided down to 3000 ft and bailed out. After about 10 minutes in the water, he was picked up by the Hospital Ship, which was on its way to Dunkirk. F/O Newton stated that they were continually bombed and machine gunned whilst picking up wounded service personnel

Claims for the day were:-

 

  P/O Blomely 1 Me 110 destroyed
  F/O Newton 1 Me 109 destroyed
S/Ldr Donaldson 1 Ju 88 destroyed
  P/O Hamar  

 

May 31

S/Ldr Donaldson was awarded the D.S.0.

F/Lt Blair was awarded the D.F.C.

 

JUNE 1940

 

June 1

Operations to cover the evacuation of Dunkirk were the order of the day. S/Ldr Donaldson opened the month in a combat with a Ju 88.

 

Claims were:

 

S/Ldr Donaldson 1 Ju 88 damaged.

June 2

The Squadron was stood down for most of the day, but at 1830 hrs they were ordered to patrol over Dunkirk with No 111 Squadron. The weather was clear and the patrol altitude was 20000 ft. By the end of the patrol time, which was 2000 hrs no enemy aircraft had been sighted, but five minutes later the sky was suddenly full of them. Fierce air battles took place but the only claims made by 151 Squadron came from S/Ldr Donaldson. Other Squadron members had been in action without claims, but merely stated that several aircraft had been ‘badly shot up". In the engagement No ill Squadron, who had stayed at a higher altitude, had better luck with several victory claims.

Claims for the day were :-

S/Ldr Donaldson 1 Me 110 destroyed

 

June 5

P/O Muirhead, a former Squadron member wrote to S/Ldr Donaldson as follows:-

Dear Sir,

I am writing to give you news of F/Lt Ives who, unless he was picked up by the motor boat which torpedoed us, is, I am sorry to say, missing. He originally landed on the beach twelve miles south west of Ostend and I met him in Ostend after being shot down and jumping at the same place. We spent the next two days together dodging bombs and bullets and "Ivy" spent a lot of the time helping the wounded. In fact he was everything anyone who knew him would have expected and then some.

We sailed On the ABOUKIR at about 10 pm on Tuesday night. "Ivy", myself and an Army Officer were on top manning the guns, as we expected to be bombed at any time. Eventually however, we were torpedoed at point blank range and blown into the water. Only 2k people out of 500 on board were saved and I was the only Officer. Please express my heartfelt sympathy and admiration for "Ivy" to his people. He was a brick.

Yours sincerely,

(signed) J.Muirhead. P/O.

 

June 7

A patrol with No 56 Squadron took off from Manston for the Abbeville-Amiens area. At 1400 hrs a number of Me 110s were engaged but could not be brought into battle and no claims were made. A similar situation arose on a second patrol later in the day.

 

June 8

Together with No 56 Squadron, 131 Squadron were detailed to give support to a bombing attack on Amiens by two squadrons of Blenheim bombers. No enemy aircraft was encountered In this support operation but anti-aircraft fire was intense. P/O Blomely’s aircraft was hit and he did not return to base. In the afternoon the Squadron was again airborne for a repeat operation, and Me 109s were encountered. In the combats which took place S/Ldr Donaldson was successful.

Claims for the day were :-

 

S/Ldr Donaldson 2 Me 109’s probably destroyed

June 11

P/0 Blomely, who had been shot down three days previously reported back to the Squadron having made his-way back from France. His aircraft had been bit by anti-aircraft fire south of Amiens and again near Porges where French gunners opened up at him. His Hurricane, now being on fire meant that he had to ball out and during his descent the French again fired at him and his parachute caught fire. Luckily, he was near the ground before his parachute became ineffective and his only injury was a slight sprain to his ankle. He was taken to Nantes, a French Air Force base, but the French evacuated and left him there to his own devices. The base was bombed on June 9 at 0630 hrs by the Luftwaffe. That day he spent trying to reach Rouen and having successfully evaded a German mechanised column by cutting across fields, he was given a lift in a French car and reached Paris that evening. From Paris he took a train to Cherbourg, but was bombed at Dreux, but he was fortunate to get on board the L.M.S. Steamer the "DUKE OF ARGYLL" at 0300 hrs and arrived at Southampton at 1030 hrs on June 10.

 

June 12

The Squadron was informed that no further operations would be required Of them in the Dieppe- Rouen area, but this instruction was over-ruled the next day by the Cabinet.

The strain was beginning to tell on the pilots, several of whom were reporting defective vision.

 

June18

German bombers were intercepted as they attacked shipping. There were three Heinkel 111s operating and in the fight which followed, one of the Heinkels was seen to have its engines on fire, and another disappeared with its undercarriage down and presumably severely damaged. P/O Wright bailed out and a Destroyer steamed to the spot where he was seen to go down. Sgt Aslin was reported missing from the patrol.

The return fire from the enemy aircraft was very severe, it having resulted in two of 151’s Hurricanes being shot down.

Claims for the day were:-

 

P/O Wright 1 He 111 probably destroyed, 1 He 111 damaged 1 Ju 88 destroyed
  Sgt Aslin  

 

June 27

King George VI visited the Squadron and presented F/O Blair with the D.F.C. which had been awarded to him on May 31.

 

 

June 28

A patrol in the Calais-Boulogne area resulted in an engagement with three Me 109’s, but no combat results were reported. F/O Weston was seen to bail out and fall into the sea.

 

June 30

Escort duties for six Blenheim bombers attacking Vignacourt were undertaken. On the return journey six Me 109’s attacked the Blenheims and they were immediately engaged by 151 Squadron. The severe fighting resulted in the shooting down of at least three of the Me 109’s. S/Ldr Donaldson was forced to bail out near the French coast from where be was picked up by a surface vessel and taken to Ramsgate, later proceeding back to North Weald.

 

Claims for the day were:-

 

W/Cdr Beamish 2 Me109s destroyed
F/O Allen 1 Me 109 destroyed
F/Lt Smith 1 Me 109 probably destroyed

 

W/Cdr Beamish was the Station Commander at North Weald but flew with 151 Squadron on operations.

 

With defensive operations over France nearing an end, a build up in the Squadron’s strength was now important and a prime requirement. Casualty replacements including Fleet Air Arm Officers were posted in. The ground crews did of their beat in providing a build up in the serviceability of aircraft. This was a very important role which the ground crews took on hand throughout the whole war. After recovering from their supporting role In the Battle for France, the Squadron became fully operational again and back in action giving support to convoys of ships, and also giving fighter cover to our own Bomber Forces.

Reflecting back On this phase of World War II, S/Ldr Donaldson (now Air Commodore), writing in the Daily Telegraph in 1980 recalls that:-

"No 151 Squadron returned from France where we had taken a terrible bashing, bombed whenever we landed, and shot at the whole time we were in the air. 151’s last base in France was at Rouen B near the River Seine, in midJune 1940 I must recall that my pilots had very little regard for the French as fighting men by this time. The French C.O. of Rouen aerodrome ordered all side arms of the R.A.F. pilots to be collected, and we thought this a nice gesture as we had been using them for target practise shooting at cans, and they were in a filthy state. But then I discovered he had an arrangement with the local German Commander to come in at a certain time and promise that there would be no more trouble with the “bloody Brits’. They would not refuel our Hurricanes so we had to siphon petrol out of damaged planes to put into our serviceable ones, and finally I thought that every aircraft had enough to get back to England if we kept low, out of trouble and used the minimum of power and revolutions to keep the aircraft flying. I would have liked to have shot the French Colonel but did not have time to do so. He was horrified when we took off.

 

Of being shot down on June 30, S/Ldr Donaldson wrote in the Daily Telegraph as follows:-.

“Air Vice Marshall Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding No 11 Group, which directly faced the Luftwaffe across the Channel was utterly dedicated to the winning of the Battle and was not an entirely Defensive man. On certain days he sent Squadrons over France to fight Germans over their own bases. I think this gave the Germans the impression that the R.A.F. was much stronger than it was.

 

On one of Park’s trips over France on June 30, my Squadron was ordered to escort Basil Embrey to destroy a large enemy fuel dump in France. We did not particularly like this assignment because Basil, absolutely fearless himself, took so long with positive identification of the target dump, for the Germans had so many dummies.

 

Basil was not about to waste bombs On dummies so round and round he went with his Blenheim bombers being shot at from the ground while we were continuously attacked by Messerschmitts from above. But we did not leave him and this kept the Messerschmitts from attacking the bombers.

Eventually, flying home from this, Basil’s Squadron was jumped by Messerschmitts low over the sea and a terrific battle started. It was then that a particularly threatening Messerschmitt arrived and went straight for me. We fought for fifteen minutes ending up with head-on attacks on each other. Usually, Messerschmitts did not like this, for a Hurricane could turn more sharply, so it usually made off, which it could do so at 60 mph faster than the Hurricane.

 

In this case, On about the fourth head—on attack, shells and bullets started to strike my poor aircraft. The first shell knocked my poor oil tank clean out of the leading edge of the wing, so I knew the engine could not run much longer.

 

Then the petrol tank blew up and my clothes caught fire and I became hot but still the bastard continued to shoot. My gloves were burning and my goggles “frizzled” up but I took neither off — luckily!.

 

I undid my straps and climbed on the wing, for the Hurricane was flying very slowly and I could actually see the burning wing bending upwards. Then I realised with alarm that I was only 800 ft off the sea. I thought this too low for a safe bail out but at this time I fell off and it took me seconds to locate the pull ring, which I must have pulled, for, as I was about to hit the water, my parachute opened. I disappeared to the full extent of the cords and the wind got under the parachute and lifted me like a missile to the surface and started pulling me at about 5 Km/hr towards the French Coast. Boulogne was two miles away, so I got rid of it at once, but then again shells started coming over, even when my head was under water. It certainly hurt my ears.

The Germans had been shooting at pilots In the sea at that time but my Squadron flew over me as long as their fuel lasted. They were not going to let the Germans near me.

 

Later the “Y” Service which listened to all R/T prattle told me it was General Galland who had shot me down.

 

I met him in London recently and I still don’t think much of his conduct that day, for he must have known that my Hurricane was dead as far as fighting again, but he never stopped shooting.

 

After this encounter neither did I.”

 

Basil Embry was later shot down, taken prisoner, but escaped from Imprisonment with a price on his head. He was later to become Station Commander at Wittering as Group Captain when 151 Squadron was stationed there in 1942—1943,thus furthering his association with 151 Squadron. After the War Basil Embrey was a Senior Commander in the R.A.F. before retiring back to his native New Zealand.

 

After leaving Wittering, Basil Embrey flew on operations over enemy territory with “Batchy” Atcherly, and A.J. Stevens recollects them flying under the assumed names of “Smith and Jones”.

Withdrawn to North Weald, the Squadron provided fighter cover for the light bombers which were operating against coastal targets of the territories now occupied by German forces, before being stood down to re—equip and re-establish serviceability in readiness for the difficult days which were anticipated.


JULY 1940


July 9
151 Squadron formed part of a force which was scrambled to deal with concentrations of enemy aircraft operating of f the Thames Estuary. They encountered a very strong force of He 111 and Ju 88 bombers with a fighter escort of Me 109 and MellO aircraft. Estimates put the total force of enemy aircraft as being approximately one hundred and flying in an effective battle formation.

In the battle which took place, which was very vicious, 151 Squadron were successful. They did lose one aircraft but the pilot was later picked up from the sea. F/Lt Ironside was wounded in the face when his aircraft cockpit cover was hit by enemy fire. Midshipman Wightman was the pilot shot down, and a trawler picked him up and took him to Sheerness.


Claims for the day were :-

 

F/O Milne 1 Me 109  destroyed
Midshipman Wightman 1 Me 109 destroyed
W/Cdr Beamish 1 Me 110 destroyed
F/OForster
P/OHamar

 

July 10

151 Squadron transferred its operations from North Weald to Manston yet again to operate over the English Channel and give fighter protection over shipping lanes.
More new pilots arrived on the Squadron from No 7 Operational Training


July 12
Whilst on patrol over a convoy east of Orfordness, three Do 17’s were encountered flying in close formation. W/Cdr Beamish, although Station Commander at North Weald, was today flying with 151. Squadron and he successfully engaged one of the Dorniers setting its engines on fire. The engine blew up, and other members of the Squadron completed the combat, and the Dornier was last seen sinking in the sea. S/Ldr Donaldson came under heavy cross fire from the air gunners of the enemy aircraft he was attacking, and his aircraft suffered considerable damage. However, he guided his aircraft back to base at Martlesham where he landed successfully with a “dead stick” approach.

W/Cdr Beamish’s aircraft was also badly shot up, the three Dorniers having been very well handled by their crew members with good co-ordination between them.

F/O Allen was missing from the operation and he was last seen gliding into the sea with a dead engine, and no trace of him or his aircraft was seen again, although Sgt Saville circled the point of ditching for several minutes.


Claims for the day were:
 

 W/Cdr Beamish 1 Do 17 destroyed

 

July 14

A number of new pilots arrived on the Squadron, these being-

P/O I.S. Smith

P/O J.T. Johnston

P/O R.W.C. Beeley

P/O J.L.W. Ellacombe

They all arrived from No.2. Flying Training School, and were “welcomed” with combat victories by the Squadron.

151 Squadron was scrambled at 1500 hrs to Intercept a formation of enemy aircraft which had appeared west of Dover. Me 109’s and Me 110’s were encountered and air to air victories resulted from combats which took place.

Claims for the day were :-
 

 S/Ldr Donaldson  1 Me 109 destroyed
P/O Hamar 1 Me 109 destroyed
F/Lt Smith 1 Me 109 destroyed

 

July 15
More new pilots arrived on the Squadron from No 7 Operational Training Unit, the new pilots being:-

P/O K.B.L.Debenham.

Sgt L. Davies.

Sgt G.T.Clarke

With seven new pilots On the Squadron, there was a need to proceed with an intensive training programme without delay. The poor weather which was to exist for a few days reduced flying activity to routine patrols. This break in operational activity enabled the ground crews to bring aircraft back to a high level of serviceability and for the pilots to have at least a mental rest.

In the routine patrols, a skirmish with a Do 17 took place.

Claims for the day were:-

 

F/Lt Smith   1 Do 17 damaged

 

July 18
P/O Courtney, who had been shot up on May 29, returned to the Squadron after a period in hospital followed by convalescence. He was now ready to go back into action.

All the new arrivals were undergoing the intensive training programme which had been laid down for them.


July 23
It was announced that P/O Forster and P/O Hamar had been awarded the D.F.C.


July 24
P/O Hamar was killed when his aircraft crashed on take-off. He had been credited with the destruction of three enemy aircraft, and the probable destruction of others

July 29
While on convoy patrol, an engagement with enemy aircraft took place. F/O Wittingham’s and F/O Milne’s aircraft were hit by enemy fire and both pilots made forced landings at Martlesham and Rochford respectively.


Claims for the day were :-
 

P/O Blomely 1 Me 110 probably  destroyed
Sgt Atkinson 1 Me 110 damaged

 

A German pilot killed on August 15 1940, had with him a diary recording his combat of this day, in which his aircraft was severely damaged, as follows:-

 

“My second war flight. A Do 17 reports a convoy of sixty ships proceeding towards the Thames Estuary.

Zerstonegruppe 210 started from St Omer at 1735. Eight Me 110 bombers of the 2nd Staffel and three Me 110 C.6’s of the first Staffel fly over Dunkirk and meet 30 C.2’s of ZCT 26 which are acting as fighter escort on account of probable clear skies. Thirty minutes later flying northwards at sea level, then ten minutes northwards climbing to clouds at 4500 ft. At l8l5 the bombers attack just north of Orfordness in position 1219. At the time two Hurricane Squadrons turn up from the left, one below and one above. The Chief makes a tight climbing turn and I fall back a bit, then it is a flat out climb. I have to abandon the idea of getting on to the tail of the lower lot of Englishmen because the covering formation comes onto me from above and to the right. Coming out of a curve I fire a short burst into a singleton who goes past. He does not fall. In the next second my R/T shouts out something unintelligible and a hail of fire sears through my aircraft from the right. The intercom packs up immediately. Another two seconds and I would have been in the clouds. I circle in the clouds and take stock and decide to beat it. Outside the clouds I come across three Me 110’s, the Chief and two supports from ZCT 26 who want to go in again and attack. When I talk to them, my R/T calls out “I am wounded, lets get home”. So I head for the Dutch coast flying low. The trimming tabs are shot away and I got to hang on like grim death to maintain height. Oil spurts from the starboard motor and it looks as if I am in for a bath. The R/T bravely remains silent in spite of his pain. At last, at 1900 hrs I land at St. Omer with tyres shot through. My bus is in a shocking state. It has about thirty hits from above and to the right. One shot went through the cabin and missed my head by a Hair’s breadth only because I was crouching forward. Another went through my cushion. The R/T operator only just escaped a bullet going through his head. All the R/T apparatus was completely smashed. One shot landed in a machine gun drum and exploded all the cartridges. Starboard engine ithree hits, oil sump, engine cowling and the lighting circuit destroyed, bullet through the sump centre, other bullet holes in both wings and landing flaps. Result of the attack- One hit on a 1000 ton ship. ZCT 26 bagged four Hurricanes without loss to themselves.”

 

Comment :-

Although the Germans thought that two Hurricane Squadrons were in the attack in fact only 151 Squadron was involved. The claim of four of the Hurricanes being destroyed was optimistic, but they could claim that two were damaged.

 

AUGUST 1940

 

August 1940 was to be a month of extremely arduous flying, and was to be the turning point of World War II. 151 Squadron was to take a vital part in the intense fighting which was to take place when heavy formations of German bombers and fighters were despatched against the Southern Counties of Great Britain.

 

August 5

S/Ldr Donaldson was posted out from the Squadron to take up Staff Duties at Sealand. S/Ldr Donaldson had been the Commanding Officer of 151 Squadron since December 1938, and during the period of his command, the Squadron had been transformed from a peacetime activity to a highly efficient fighting unit which had given a good account of itself in combat with enemy aircraft over France and over Britain. His own tally, which Squadron records indicate, appeared to be at least seven aircraft destroyed, and a number probably destroyed or damaged.

S/Ldr Gordon was appointed Commanding Officer of the Squadron which was now using Rochford Airfield (Southend), alternatively with No 56 Squadron each day.

The Squadron was scrambled to engage a formation of Me 109’s and Ju 88’s and what appeared to be He 111’s. A severe fight took place without casualties to 151 Squadron aircraft or personnel, and a number of victories were obtained.

 

Claims for the day were :-

 

 F/O Blair 1 Me 109  destroyed
Sub Lt Beggs 1 Ju 88 probably destroyed

 

August 11

Red Section were on routine patrol over Clacton when they sighted a formation of enemy aircraft. The formation was estimated at approximately 15 Ju 87’s and 28 Me 109’s, the bombers attacking a single ship some distance from the convoy to which it was attached. S/Ldr Gordon, P/O Johnston and Sgt Clarke immediately went into action and put the whole formation to flight.
 

Claims for the day were :-

 S/Ldr Gordon  1 Ju 87 damaged
P/O Johnston 1 Me 109 damaged

 

August 12

F/O Tucker, P/ODebenham and P/O Beley were on convoy patrol when they sighted and intercepted a large formation of Me 109’s. in the engagement which followed, F/O Tucker and P/O Beley were shot down, but were picked up by a launch Off Ramsgate. P/O Beley died of wounds, and F/O Tucker was badly wounded.

P/O Debenham’s aircraft was badly shot up but he landed it safely at Rochford.

No combat claims were made by the Squadron.

 

August 13

Whilst the Squadron was on routine patrol, they were successful in the sighting of, and interception of, a very large formation of German bombers which they identified as Do 215’s. In the fighting which took place, the bombers generally held their formation to enable their gunners to take full tactical advantage of the situation. This formation of bombers did not appear to have fighter cover, so it was a question of the Hurricanes diving into the formation, with their sights set on specific target aircraft and pressing hone the individual attacks. This direct action resulted in four of the bombers being shot down. 151 Squadron did not suffer any casualties to personnel.

 

F/O Milne shot down two of the bombers, one of which exploded and totally disintegrated in the air, and the other going down and crashing in the vicinity of Christchurch. F/Lt Smith and Sgt Saville ware also successful in the action.

 

Claims for the day were :-

 

F/O Milne 2 Do 215’s destroyed
F/Lt Smith 1 Do 215 destroyed
Sgt Saville 1 Do 215 destroyed

 

August 14

A large formation of German fighters appeared in the Sector and 151 Squadron was scrambled to intercept. These fighters were Me 109’s and a severe engagement followed.

The interception was led by S/Ldr Gordon, his Section comprising Sub Lt Beggs, P/O Johnston and Sgt Atkinson.

Again the Squadron was successful in combat with claims of two of the enemy fighters being destroyed and another being probably destroyed. Sgt Atkinson was shot down in the action, but he was successful in bailing out and coming down in the sea from where he was picked up by an Air Sea Rescue Launch.

 

Claims for the day were :-

 

 S/Ldr Gordon  1 Me 109 destroyed
Sub Lt Beggs 1 Me 109 destroyed
P/O Johnston 1 Me 109 probably destroyed

 

(Post War analysis of actions On this day indicated that the Me 109’s came from the 4th and 5th Staffels operating from Peuplinjues, and that three of their aircraft failed to return. This therefore implies that the “probable” claimed by P/O Johnston could have been destroyed, to increase the Squadron war tally by at least one).

 

August 15

With the previous day’s actions going on into the late afternoon, the Squadron was stood down in the morning. Their day started at 1445 bra when they took of f from Rochford to intercept a large formation of Me 109’s which were coming in east of Dover. A severe battle took place and victories were claimed.

 

At 1845 hrs the Squadron was again scrambled and sent into action to intercept enemy aircraft west of Dover. Again the aircraft were Me 109’s but in this engagement 151 Squadron suffered badly, with four of their aircraft being shot down or damaged to the point where the pilots were forced to abandon their aircraft.

 

S/Ldr Gordon was wounded in the back of his head and in his leg, P/O Roywadowski was unaccounted for, P/O Johnston’s body was picked up front the sea, Sub Lt Beggs and P/O Ellacombe were in hospital.

 

All in all, the day had been both successful and unfortunate in the two engagements which had taken place.
Claims for the day were :-

 

P/O Debenham 1 Me 109 destroyed
P/O Ellacombe 1 Me 109 destroyed
P/O Roywadowski 1 Me 109 destroyed
F/O Milne 1 Me 109 destroyed
P/O Smith 1 Me 109 probably destroyed

 

August 16

P/O Ellacombe returned to the Squadron. Although the Squadron had been scrambled during the day, bad visibility restricted contact with any enemy aircraft. One Ju 88 was frightened back into the clouds by F/Lt Smith.

 

August 18

The Squadron was brought to readiness at 1700 hrs, and then scrambled to meet a large formation of enemy aircraft heading for North Weald. The interception was successful in that contact was made with the raiding force as it came through cloud a mile east of Chelmsford.

The enemy aircraft formation consisted of Ju 88’s and He 111’s together with a fighter escort of Me 109’s and Me 110’s. After the engagement, P/O Ramsey and Sgt Davies were unaccounted for. S/Ldr Gordon was forced to bail out of his aircraft which had been set on fire. He was picked up from the sea with burns and was to spend several weeks in hospital. S/Ldr King arrived to take over Command from S/Ldr Gordon.

 

Claims for the day were:-

 

F/O Blair 1 Me 110 destroyed
F/O Milne 1 He 111 destroyed
P/O Debenham 1 Me 110 destroyed
P/O Czajkowski 1 Me 110 destroyed
W/Cdr Beamish 1 Ju 88 probably destroyed

 

P/0 Ramsey’s body was found in 1983 and buried with full military honours on October 25 1983. He was flying on his third sortie on August 18 1940 but nothing else is known except that his ammunition had been used, and his cockpit canopy was still in the closed position. There were bullet holes in the fuselage and the aircraft had nose-dived into the ground under full power. The wreckage was found at a depth of 20 ft, and approximately 200 metres from the wall which separates the plains of Essex from the North Sea. The wreckage was found by members of the Tangmere Aviation Museum based at Tangmere airfield.

 

August 24

In the morning, 151 Squadron was again in action when they intercepted a formation of enemy fighters. Although F/O Blair and F/Lt Smith were in combat no claims were made, but P/O Smith’s aircraft was shot up and he was forced to return to base and make a “dead stick” landing. P/O Debenham and Sgt Clarke were missing from the engagement.

 

In the afternoon, seven of 151 Squadron’s aircraft intercepted a formation of enemy aircraft consisting of bombers and fighters. A vicious fight took place with more rewarding results than in the morning engagement.

From the morning engagement it was later reported that Sgt Clarke and P/O Debenham were both in Ramsgate Hospital , both in a serious condition.

 

The German bomber force got through to North Weald, but in spite of causing damage and casualties to the Station buildings and personnel it did not cause sufficient damage to render it non-operational.
 

Claims for the day were:-

 

W/Cdr Bearnish

1 Me110 destroyed

   

1 Do 215 damaged

   

1 Me 110 damaged

 

F/O Blair

1 He 111 destroyed

 

P/O Smith

1 He 111 destroyed

 

F/Lt Smith

1 Me 109 destroyed

 

P/O Ellacombe

1 He 111.destroyed

 

P/O Czajkowski

1 Me 109 damaged

Of this attack on North Weald, R.S. Heath, a member of the ground crew of 151 Squadron recalls that:-

"At the time, it seemed that the aerodrome was having a charmed life because other airfields were getting heavily bombed. However, one morning a B.F 110 made several runs over the airfield at low level until it was chased away by 56 Squadron aircraft. Within two days of this sortie, the German bombers came and caused damage to accommodation blocks, cookhouse, Officers Mess, and other buildings, also civilian buildings nearby including the "Woolpack" public house.

Nine soldiers were killed these being all young men who had dashed into a shelter near one of the blocks, only for it to receive a direct hit from one of the bombs. Approximately 200 bombs were dropped, some of them being of the delayed-action type.

S/Ldr King had landed minus the aircraft propeller and its associated reduction gear which had been shot away in an action with an Me 110.

I was in the hangar when the attack commenced and ran, complete with steel helmet and gas mask, also a rifle with 50 rounds of ammunition towards a shelter near the boundary fence. I can see now, some chaps pushing a Merlin engine towards our dispersal. They ran but the engine, which was on a wheeled mounting, began to run down-hill . They stopped, ran back and chocked it just as the bombs hit the camp. We all ended up in the entrance of the shelter, crouching down just as one bomb. burst about 5 yds away and collapsed the shelter. Several chaps were dragged out covered in dust and in a shocked state".

August 28

The Squadron received a number of replacement pilots to make up the operational strength which had become sadly depleted, and they were immediately put through intense training, carrying out practice attacks and defensive tactics with those pilots who had battle experience. Although there were "flaps" during practice, there were no engagements reported but unfortunately, P/O Alexander was shot down

August 29

151 Squadron moved to Stapleford Aerodrome.

 

August 30

A large number of patrols were carried out during the day. On the first patrol the Squadron engaged a formation of more than fifty Me 109’s, but no claims of victory were made. S/Ldr King did not return and his body was found in his burnt out Hurricane. This loss was on the second sortie of the day, again no victories being claimed. On the third patrol of the day, the Squadron intercepted a large formation of about seventy bombers and more than a hundred fighters. A severe battle followed in which Sgt Gmar was reported missing and P/O Ellacombe was forced to "pancake" his aircraft and then return safely to base. Two more patrols were carried out during the day but no combat victories were reported from the last two patrols.

 

During the third patrol of the day the Squadron was successful in combat.

 

Claims for the day were:-

 

 

P/O Patello

1 Do 215 destroyed

 

P/O Ellacombe

1 He 111 destroyed

 

F/O Blair

1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

P/O Surna

1 He 111 destroyed

 

 

August 31

The Squadron carried out four patrols from Stapleford during the day, during which there was continuous action. P/O Czajkowski was shot down on the second sortie and was in Shoebury Hospital with bullet wounds. On the second sortie P/O Ellacombe was shot down and was in hospital with burns. This was the third time in a month that P/a Ellacombe had been shot down.

Claims for the day were:

 

 

P/O Ellacombe

1 Me 109 probably destroyed

 

1 Ju 88 damaged

 

?

1 Me 109 destroyed

 

F/Lt Smith

1 Me 109 probably destroyed

 

F/O Blair

1 Ju 88 damaged

 

P/O Smith

1 Do 215 destroyed

 

 

1 Do 215 damaged

 

P/O Czajkowski

1 Me 109 destroyed

 

P/O Patello

1 Do 215 destroyed

 

F/O Blair

1 Do 215 destroyed

   

1 Me 109 probably destroyed

   

1 Do 215 damaged

 

Sgt McIntosh

1 Me 109 damaged

 

SEPTEMBER 1940

 

September 1

The Squadron was posted to Digby, but during the day several patrols were carried out from Stapleford. At this time the Squadron was down to four operational pilots these being F/Lt Smith, F/O Blair, P/O Smith and Sgt Atkinson.

 

September 2

S/Ldr West was appointed to command 151 Squadron.

 

September 4

A number of replacement pilots arrived, and several of the former members returned. Amongst these was P/O Courtney who had been shot down on May 28.

The day was marred by the death of P/O Ambrose in a flying accident at Staple ford.

 

September 5

The move to Digby was completed.

 

September 12

The Squadron had its first combat from Digby engaging a Ju 88, R/T chatter overheard from the enemy aircraft said "it was being attacked by fighters and was returning to base". This could be claimed unofficially as a "frightened".

 

The Squadron maintained a "readiness" state, carrying out defensive and investigative patrols. The new pilots were under intensive training, some of theses pilots having come from disbanded Fairey Battle (bomber) squadrons.

With the Battle of Britain now nearing its end, the Squadron was now put into a Reserve/Rest status.

 

September 30

Red Section comprising F/Lt Blair, P/O Ingle Finch and Sgt Nicholls, intercepted a Ju 88 out to sea approximately 90 miles from the coast. They succeeded in shooting down the enemy aircraft and three crew members were seen to abandon the aircraft and take to their rubber dinghy. F/Lt Blair’s aircraft was hit by return fire in a number of places, and Sgt Nicholls’ aircraft was holed in the oil tank.

 

Claims for the day were:-

 

 

F/Lt Blair

 

P/O Ingle Finch

1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

Sgt Nicholls

 

OCTOBER 1940

 

October 2

This was to be the busiest day since leaving Stapleford. There were six "flaps" during the day but nothing was seen until later in the afternoon when P/O Smith intercepted a He 111 and shot it down into the sea about 100 yards off the coast line and about 10 miles north of Skegness. A crew of five were taken prisoners of war.

 

On this particular day a thick blanket of cloud covered the entire east of England and much of the North Sea, a fact which had been reported daily by the Luftwaffe weather reconnaissance aircraft. This weather provided ideal conditions for a lone Intruder raid using the "Knickerbein" (Crooked Leg) system of navigation beams, based on the Lorenz blind flying device fitted to all German medium bombers of the period as standard equipment.

 

A lone He 111 of No 1 Staffel/Kampfgeschwader 53 (Legion Condor) took off from its base at Vitry in Northern France. (It was at Vitry on May 18 that 151 Squadron landed and had to take off immediately after refueling to meet a force of He 111 bombers and Me fighters which they engaged in combat, to shoot down two of them.) The Heinkel picked up the appropriate Knickerbein beam and climbed to 7000 ft becoming totally absorbed in the strato-cumulus cloud. With good cloud cover, the Heinkel reached the English coast at 7000 ft and flew on the beam until it met the intercepting beam. On receiving the second beam signal, the Heinkel began to descend and broke cloud base at 1500 ft, its crew getting their first view of what they thought was their target— the Rolls Royce Works at Derby. (Interrogation Report).

 

The German pilot opened his throttles wide and climbed away from the target having released a two tonne blast bomb, to get clear of the shock from the bomb.

 

The shock was felt but without any effect on the aircraft. Upon entering the clouds, the pilot located the original radio beam and began to climb back to his original height on his homeward journey.

 

Despite the cloud cover over Lincolnshire there was no relaxation in the flying training programme which was being undertaken by 151 Squadron at that time, and whilst the German bomber had been approaching its alleged target, two Hurricanes had taken off from Digby for routine training. The pilot of one of the aircraft was a newcomer to the Squadron and the other aircraft was flown by P/O Smith, an experienced pilot who had survived the rigours of tile Battle Of Britain. P/O Smith had joined .1.51 Squadron in June 19140 and on this particular day he was instructing the newcomer in battle tactics etc.

 

Digby Operations called up P/O Smith to advise him that an hostile aircraft was in his vicinity, so he sent back his Number 2 to leave himself free to engage the German bomber using Royal Observer Corps fixings. When the R.0.C. fix and the Hurricane were together, the Heinkel could not be seen below cloud so P/O Smith climbed to 14000 ft above the cloud tops and spotted the "mole rin" of the aircraft just below the cloud tops. P/O Smith synchronised his speed With the "run" and lowered his Hurricane into the cloud until he could feel the slipstream. He then spotted the Heinkel in the cloud visibility and gave It a quick burst of machine gun fire before it disappeared from view. This short burst caused severe damage to the Heinkel, putting the Lorenz unit out of action. The starboard engine of the Heinkel was also out of action and it could not maintain height, as a result of which it broke through the cloud base and again came into P/O Smith’s view. He gave the Heinkel another burst of fire from below which put the second engine out of action. The Heinkel then went into a "dead stick" glide and landed at Chapel. St Leonards about 300 yards from the end of Trunch Lane.

 

In actual fact the Rolls Royce Works was not hit, the bomb landing some 5 miles away, hitting the canal bank adjacent to the Stanton Iron Works new casting plant and only created an extra pond.

 

(It is interesting to note that the diaries of the Chief of Air Staff of The Luftwaffe, Ernst Much for July 21 1940, show that Goering thought that air supremacy "could be achieved by destroying the R.A.F. and its supporting aero engine industry - an industry the enemy would be forced to def end-As to their tactics, Goering suggested they should make these factories their targets for nuisance raids at once.")

Scientists were able to "frig" the Knickerbein beam on the night of May 8/9 1941, when bombs intended for Derby fell on Nottingham, and those intended for Nottingham fell on open country.

 

October 20

151 Squadron was reverted to its original formation role as a light Fighter Squadron. This changeover was to be gradual with a partial day Fighter capability still being maintained.

P/O I.S. Smith (now Group Captain Ret’d, and a former Commanding Officer of 151 Squadron), recalls that the Battle of Britain was an era in its own right and he relates his recollections of that time as follows:-

"North Weald was commanded by W/Cdr Beamish and the airfield was shared with No 25 Squadron equipped with Blenheim Night Fighters, and No 56 Squadron equipped with Hurricanes. It was also a Sector Station and th~ Operations Room and all the associated staffs were located there.

 

151 Squadron Hurricanes all had metal propellers of the three bladed type, and the aircraft mainframes were a mixture, some being fabric covered and others of riveted metal. As regards armament, all were fitted with eight 0.303 Browning machine guns but an experimental Hurricane fitted with two 20 mm cannons (in pods under the wings) was also on the Squadron strength.

 

The ammunition loading was a mixture of tracer, ball, armour piercing incendiary and De Wilde. The latter had a fulminate of mercury cap which exploded on impact, but it was in short supply. De Wilde was favoured by the pilots since it enabled them to see the point of impact of strikes thus enabling them to readily correct their aim. We were also short of incendiary ammunition.

 

All the aircraft had self-sealing wing tanks, but those aircraft with saddle tanks, i.e. located between the engine and the cockpit just over the pilot’s legs did not have self—sealing tanks, hence a lot of roasted pilots- John Ellacombe was one!.

 

The operational routine at North Weald was for either 151 or 56 Squadron to be at "readiness", the change—over of the readiness state taking place at mid-day, but frequently it did not occur until later in the day.

 

The forward airfields were Manston (soon to become untenable), Martlesham, and Rochford (Southend). Rochford was all grass and accommodation was in bell tents. Three Squadrons used Rochford, the other two Squadrons being equipped with Spitfires. The only system of communication was a field telephone, with all three squadrons on the same line. One ring was for one of the squadrons, two rings were for 151 Squadron, and three rings were for the third squadron. You can imagine the "Twitch" that this system generated as you waited for the rings to stop.

 

Throughout August 1940 for example, the Squadron would be released at Nautical Twilight (10 to 10.30 p.m.), go to bed, and be up again at 2.30 to 3.00 a.m., having a cup of tea and probably an egg for breakfast to be airborne from North Weald at Nautical Twilight at around 4.00 a.m., in a formation of twelve aircraft, no lights, dimly in sight of each other and flying at low level about 50 ft above the ground, to land at first light at Rockford to be on readiness at dawn. If nothing was happening, 151 would be relieved by 56 Squadron at mid—day, but if things were happening, there was no relief. If 151 was on afternoon readiness at Rochford, they would fly back to North Weald at dusk, the aircraft being serviced overnight. This was an efficient but tiring routine, and getting enough sleep was a problem.

 

Food was also a problem. All food at Rochford had to be sent in boxes to the tents. One often missed it and on occasions we did not get anything to eat until we were back at North Weald, but North Weald was not organised to serve the needs of pilots, and I remember often pleading with the Mess staff to boil an egg or two out of hours. This is not a criticism as the R.A.F. was just starting to learn what it was all about, and it takes quite a long time to change entrenched attitudes and procedures even during wartime, especially administrative ones.

 

The ground crews of all ranks were absolutely marvellous. They worked all hours, ever cheerful, willing and very competent indeed. I do not remember having any sort of technical problems with the aircraft apart from perhaps fouled exhaust plugs if I had been on low revs for a long time, e.g. convoy escort. (The Merlin engine had two plugs per cylinder, one over the exhaust and one over the inlet valves, and the exhaust valves fouled up first).

 

I recall that during August I "used up " six aircraft, all through enemy action. I was once caught by an Me 109, otherwise all damage was caused by return fire from gunners in the bomber formations. All damaged aircraft were repairable, but I wasn’t.

Towards the end of August, North Weald was heavily bombed and after taking off from Rochford, we landed back at Stapleford Towney just south of North Weald.

 

My room In the Officers Mess was destroyed and few of my clothes survived. At Stapleford we lacked clothes and accommodation. We all slept on mattresses on a shed floor in long rows. I remember going to a Pub in Epping called the "Thatched House" and having a bath.

 

We operated from Stapleford fairly intensively, four or five times a day until September 1st when we were relieved by No 446 Squadron from Digby, but by this time we were down to four pilots- Dick Smith, John Blair, George Atkinson and myself.

We were stood down for 48 hours on September 4th . Three new pilots joined us and we moved to Digby. Six of us arrived there. As we were taking of f my No 3 on my left veered away from me and flew straight into a crane lifting a 46 Squadron aircraft. I knew him for only five minutes.

 

I arrived back at Digby in the clothes I stood up in. I had no shoes, no hat, no collar and tie. My uniform was very dirty and it was frayed -it was a greenish colour. I was in trouble from the word go as NONE of the senior officers at Digby had seen action and had absolutely no idea of events a few miles further south. However, things were soon put right, but it was more difficult for our troops and particularly the senior N.C.O’s who had become used to doing everything their way and found it difficult to adjust back to what was a peacetime station, peacetime routine and attitudes which were very strong as far as senior N.C.O.’s were concerned. However, it 500fl settled down and we all learned how to evade, circumvent, deceive and otherwise defeat what has been generally referred to as AUTHORITY."

 

As a Day Fighter unit since its re-formation in 1936, the Squadron had become a very efficient fighting unit. Since the outbreak of was, 151 Squadron had marked up the following victories:-

59 enemy aircraft destroyed,

12 enemy aircraft probably destroyed,

28 enemy aircraft damaged.

These victories had been achieved with the loss of a number of both pilots and aircraft.

 

 

NIGHT FIGHTER AND OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS

 

ith only minimal night flying experience the Squadron were faced with the task of becoming operational as soon as possible. Much of the experience that had been gained arose from early dawn and late dusk flying which could only be classed as marginal night flying.

Group Captain Smith, then a Pilot Officer with three months experience on the Squadron recalls the change in Squadron. role as follows:-

 

"Early in October we were told that the Squadron was, in future, to specialise in Night Fighting. We all lacked night flying experience. For example, I had 8.30 hrs in my log book, J.W. Blair had about 15 and R.L Smith just over 20.

 

At about this time the Air Ministry published the L.M.F. (lack of moral fibre) Orders and Instructions. I remember, we all roared with laughter and we all said that these instructions described our attitude to night flying to a "T". Vie all declared ourselves to be L.M.F and asked to be posted to No 11 Group Hurricane Squadrons. We were told not to be bloody silly and get on with it, and of course, that is what we did.

 

All night flying at Digby was carried out at the two satellite airfields Li and L2. No 29 Squadron was permanently based at Li and was equipped with Blenheim night fighters. We flew into L2 each day and night to train and keep a readiness state. The Station Commander at Digby was reluctant to risk bombing by having a flare path, but I do remember taking off from there but never landing there at night, always at Li, if L2 had not been active or I could not find it. I became adept at taking off and landing without flare paths.

 

We had a fairly high night flying accident rate due to inexperience, but we gradually improved. Throughout October/November we kept a day readiness state and I recall being scrambled On several occasions but only once achieving an interception.

 

In November, apart from operations from L2,I spent most of my time operating independently with a section of three aircraft from other stations’ satellite airfields, for example, Cottesmore, Wittering and Kirton Lindsey. It was a shambles and totally Ineffective. I managed to get it stopped by mid December, However, It did provide valuable experience in "living off the land" as it were.".

 

Since towns in the Midlands, the East Coast, and the North West Coast were to be the prime targets for night raids, being operational from Digby put 151 Squadron in a good geographical position from which they could operate

 

Daytime readiness was also undertaken and there were continuous "flaps". During night operations, the aircraft operating under G.C.I. control (Ground Controlled Interception) were working on a "by chance" visual system, the range of these visuals being about 100 yds on dark nights when the glow of exhausts was just visible, and up to 1000 yds on moonlight nights. Moonlight nights were to be called "Fighter Nights" when single engined fighter aircraft could operate with some success.

 

 

NOVEMBER 1940

 

November 9

With aircraft at readiness during daylight hours, Ff0 Blair and Sgt Copeland, who had been scrambled, were successful in the interception of a Do 217. The combat report read as follows:

"Red Section took off from Digby to patrol Skegness just below cloud. About 0750 hrs, Red 1 was informed that a bandit was approaching from the North at about 7000 ft. Accordingly, Red 1 and 2 climbed up, and above a thin layer of cloud a Do 217 was observed flying South. Red 1 gave chase to the enemy aircraft and at about 200-300 yrds range opened fire with deflection. Six short bursts with a total of 330 rounds from each gun were fired. Explosive ammunition was seen exploding in the enemy aircraft. Just before Red 1 broke away, Red 2 fired a short burst at the rear gunner at a range of bout 300 yards. The rear gunner returned the fire with a short burst and then stopped. The enemy aircraft then turned to starboard, half rolled and then dived. Red 1 then broke of f the attack and Red 2 lost the aircraft at ground level. At about08lO hrs, searchlight troops reported that a Do 217 had been seen about 8 miles south of Skegness flying out to sea at a height of about 100 ft with smoke coming from it."

 

Claims for the day were :—

 

F/Lt Blair

1 Do 217 destroyed

 

Sgt Copeland

 

 

Generally, November was a month of poor flying weather, and enemy aircraft activity in the area was minimal. However, this did not affect the training programme which brought night flying training to a peak, with standing patrols also being used for training and practise. Most of the exercises took place at Wittering.

 

 

 

DECEMBER 1940

 

Mid December was a turning point in the Squadron’s role as a true Night Fighter Squadron, when on December 1~, seven Boulton Paul Defiant aircraft were delivered. Concurrent with the delivery of the Defiants was a change in the aircrew personnel establishment with the introduction of Air Gunners. Over the following two months many new faces appeared and the training of pilots and crews for the Defiants took place.

 

Considerable training of crews in night interception techniques was undertaken and this was a very concentrated task, the air gunners now becoming the "eyes" of the aircraft. Hurricanes were still kept on the establishment for daylight operations and it was also a Squadron requirement to provide twelve aircraft and pilots for night readiness to fly them each night. This dual requirement kept the Squadron very busy.

 

The idea of flying a "curtain" to intercept enemy aircraft flying in at night had been put forward, and putting this idea into an operational reality was developed. This involved having aircraft in stepped formation at 1000 ft intervals. The objective was to fly round in a block to improve the chance of getting a visual. This work was undertaken by the Hurricanes.

 

December 22

The Squadron was posted to Wittering.

 

During the month, training on Defiants became more intense, and the matching of crews to achieve compatibility of temperament and communication was undertaken. A Night lighter crew had to be totally compatible to ensure that success was achieved.

 

 

 

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