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1941

 

January February March April May June
July August September October November December

 

 

JANUARY 1941

 

In January the Luftwaffe resumed its operations at night. This brought the Squadron into action and during the month their first success as a Night Fighter Squadron in World War II was achieved. One outstanding pilot, still flying on Hurricanes, was P/O R.P. Stevens.

 

P/O Stevens was a pre-war airline pilot flying between Croydon and Paris, and he lived at Ditchling. He lost his wife and family in an air raid and this spurred him on to get even with those that had caused his loss.

 

January 15

P/O Stevens successfully Intercepted a Do 215 at about 0115 hrs at an altitude of 20,000 ft. After a chase of about 15 minutes' duration in the vicinity of Southend, he engaged the bandit and shot it down in flames. The plane fell into a wood and exploded but none of the crew was saved. At about 0400 hrs, P/O Stevens was again airborne and intercepted a He 111 over the west of London at an altitude of about 17,000 ft. He attacked and saw two of the crew bail out, but  lost sight of the aircraft at 1,500 ft when both engines of the enemy aircraft were giving out streams of white smoke.

 

F/Lt McMullen was also airborne. Whilst patrolling the Wash at 2100 hrs he found a Ju 88 flying alongside him. He immediately attacked the enemy aircraft which went into a dive towards the sea. F/Lt McMullen saw his fire strike the target aircraft but he finally lost sight of it heading out to sea at low level.

 

F/Lt Blair, flying in the vicinity, saw a smoke trail and followed. He caught up with a Ju 88 at 30,000 ft and fired all his ammunition into it. The port engine started to burn and then went out. F/Lt Blair was suffering from the cold and had to return to base without observing what had finally happened to the enemy aircraft.

 

S/Ldr Adams, on patrol at around 0600 hrs, ran out of fuel and had to abandon his aircraft. He was injured as he bailed out and was taken to hospital.

The night’s activity brought a telegram from the A.O.C. which simply said: “WELL DONE”.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

 P/O Stevens

 1 Do 215 destroyed

     1 He 111 destroyed
  F/Lt McMullen  1 Ju 88 probably destroyed
  F/Lt Blair  1 Ju 88 damaged

 

 

 

 

 

January 17

P/O Stevens was awarded the D.F.C.

 

The weather was very poor for a period of about 10 days, but this gave the Squadron time to consider how operations were to be handled. Being equipped with both Hurricanes and Defiants the Squadron split up into three flights, two of Defiants and one of Hurricanes, the idea being to prove that “the Hurricane was a better night fighter aircraft than the Defiant”. It was not clear to whom the proof was to be presented.

 

FEBRUARY 1941

 

February 4

Hurricanes and Defiants were both operating in night activities. Sgt Bodein, flying a Defiant with Sgt James as his air gunner, intercepted a Do 215 at an altitude of 10,000 ft. Just two short bursts of five seconds' duration were sufficient to send the enemy aircraft down in flames, the range being 25-50 yards.

 

A telegram was received from Air Vice Marshall Saul, the A.O.C. of No 11 Group, which read:-

"CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR SUCCESS LAST NIGHT. GLAD TO OBSERVE THAT THE SQUADRON ARE EFFICIENT ON ANY TYPE OF AIRCRAFT".

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

Sgt Bodein

Sgt James

  1 Do 215 destroyed

 

 

 

Apart from this engagement, the month was very quiet, but practice flying and other aspects of training were carried out.

 

MARCH 1941

 

During the month the following awards were made:

F/Lt McMullen  Bar to the D.F.C.
P/O Smith  D.F.C.
Sgt Atkinson  D.F.M.

 

 

March 4

F/O Gordon-Dean and Sgt Wonledge were killed in a flying accident when the wing of the Defiant they were flying came off.

 

March 12

A large number of patrols were carried out at night with both Hurricanes and Defiants operating. P/O Stevens intercepted a Ju 88 and used up all his ammunition in trying to shoot it down. Although the enemy aircraft was continually hit just one of its engines appeared to be in trouble with smoke coming from it.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

 P/O Stevens

  1 Ju 88 damaged

 

 

March 30

Sgt Staples, flying a Defiant with Sgt Parkin as air gunner, intercepted an unidentified enemy aircraft, and although Sgt Parkin managed to get in a three second burst, no combat claim was made.

The whole month of March was relatively quiet as far as enemy aircraft activity was concerned. There was an abundance of “duff” weather, but patrols were maintained with the Hurricanes flying on fighter nights during the second week of the month.

 

 

APRIL 1941

 

Raids on towns in the Midlands started to take place in April, and on those nights when conditions permitted with good night visibility, Hurricanes were operating on a “free-lance” basis, using ground defence searchlights etc as the locating indication.

 

April 8

A heavy and concentrated raid on Coventry took place, and Hurricanes and Defiants from the Squadron were in action.

P/O Stevens, flying a Hurricane, intercepted and successfully shot down two He 111s.

F/Lt McMullen, flying a Defiant with Sgt Fairweather as air gunner, had a successful interception of and destruction of a He 111.

Sgt Wagner also destroyed a He 111 and probably destroyed another. He was flying a Defiant with Sgt Sidenberg as his air gunner. This was a very successful engagement with the Squadron putting up a good performance all round, considering the strength of the German raid on Coventry that night.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 2 He 111s destroyed

 

F/Lt McMullen

Sgt Fairweather

 1 He 111 destroyed
 

Sgt Wagner

Sgt Sidenberg

 1 He 111 destroyed

 1 He 111 probably destroyed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 9

The Luftwaffe made a concentrated raid on Birmingham. It was a moonlight night with excellent visibility and indeed a good fighter night. The Squadron’s Defiant crews were in a very aggressive mood and a number of successful interceptions and combats took place.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

F/Lt McMullen

Sgt Fairweather

 1 He 111 destroyed

 

Sgt Staples

Sgt Parkin

 1 Ju 88 destroyed
 

Sgt Bodein

Sgt James

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

F/Lt Darling

P/O Davidson

 1 Ju 88 probably destroyed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 10

Another raid on Birmingham took place. This was the third night in succession that the Midland towns had been subject to intense bombing attacks. Whilst these towns were major industrial towns, the attacks caused much damage to civilian property in general.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 1 He 111 destroyed

 

 

 

April 19

In German raids over London, P/O Stevens, flying a Hurricane on patrol in the attack area, intercepted another enemy aircraft and shot it down. No other combats were recorded by the Squadron who were engaged on other patrol areas.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 1 He 111 destroyed

 

 

For the rest of the month there was very limited action. In their Night Fighter role, and just working on a freelance basis, visuals were obtained without any airborne aids, The Squadron had given a good account of itself in both Hurricanes and Defiants.

Periods of “duff” weather and minimal air activity did not mean that the Squadron were just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Specialised lectures continued. Aircraft recognition under near dark conditions, link trainer exercises, bailing out practice and dinghy drill were all carried out as a matter of routine. Standing patrols, whenever weather conditions permitted, were readily undertaken but every patrol was linked to practice interception and subsequent combat tactics. It was essential to keep up to the mark in all aspects since it was not known when the odd German aircraft would try to penetrate the U.K. defences.

 

Boredom had to be kept at bay.

 

 

MAY 1941

 

From May 1941 activity by the Luftwaffe took the form of unitised penetration raids and intruder sorties against U.K. bomber bases. To meet this threat, 151 Squadron gave cover from Coltishall in Norfolk as a forward base.

 

May 2

P/O Edmison, with Sgt Beale as air gunner, carried out a patrol from Coltishall in a Defiant and were successful in a combat with an enemy aircraft off the East Anglian coast.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Edmison

Sgt Beale

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

 

 

May 3

In another patrol off East Anglia, Sgt Bodein with Sgt Wrampling had a long running fight with a He 111. The fight lasted for 45 minutes after which time the Heinkel was finally shot down.

 

Claims for the operation were:-

 

 

Sgt Bodein

Sgt Wrampling

 1 He 111 destroyed

 

 

 

May 7

Patrols were extended northwards so that the Squadron could give fighter cover to Hull. Visibility was good and P/O Stevens, flying a Hurricane, successfully intercepted three German aircraft and in the combats which took place, two of them were shot down.

S/Ldr Adams, who was flying a Defiant ( air gunner’s name not recorded), also intercepted three German aircraft but could not get his aircraft into suitable positions for his air gunner to get into action, and no combats were claimed.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 2 He 111s destroyed

 

 

May 8

The Luftwaffe got its own back on the Squadron when a Ju 88 penetrated the Wittering defences and dropped a stick of eight bombs (anti-personnel type) across “A” Flight dispersal area, destroying two of the Squadron’s aircraft and damaging four others. F/O Conlin was killed in the attack.

 

May 9

The Squadron was again bombed but this time there was no material damage to the Squadron establishment.

 

May 10

The London area was subjected to heavy night raids and Hurricanes and Defiants were in action. 151 Squadron carried out a large number of patrols in the London area. Of the four combat victories recorded, two were by Hurricanes and two were by Defiants.

 

P/O Stevens and P/O Smith were both flying Hurricanes, and P/O Stevens’ aircraft was hit by return fire from one of the bombers he attacked.

 

P/O Wagner and Sgt Sidenberg in a Defiant, intercepted and attacked three Ju 88’s, but the Defiant was too slow to follow through, and their aircraft was hit by return fire from the bombers.

 

P/O Gayzler and P/O Pfleger, also in a Defiant, intercepted a Me 110 over Peterborough but again, the Defiant was too slow to follow through with a worthy attack, and the Me escaped.

 

Other Defiants flown by F/Lt McMullen with Sgt Fairweather, and Sgt Copeland with Sgt Sampson, were more successful and achieved combat victories.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

F/Lt McMullen

Sgt Fairweather

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

Sgt Copeland

Sgt Sampson

 1 He 111 destroyed
  P/O Stevens

 1 He 111 destroyed

 1 He 111 probably destroyed

  P/O Smith  1 He 111 probably destroyed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 16

Several patrols were carried out during the night and success came to P/O Edmison, flying with Sgt Beale. They intercepted three He 111s, two of which were engaged in combat.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Edmison

Sgt Beale

 2 He 111s damaged

 

 

 

 

JUNE 1941

 

The first two weeks of June were relatively quiet as far as enemy air activity was concerned. Practice and training exercises, generally integrated with standing patrols, were maintained.

 

June 13

With a Squadron detachment at Coltishall, P/O Stevens was despatched to carry out a patrol over London. His aircraft was fitted with 4 x 20 mm cannons, a considerable improvement in armament. During the patrol, P/O Stevens successfully intercepted a He 111 which he duly attacked. When he opened fire at 300 yds range the Heinkel blew up with such force that it nearly wrecked P/O Stevens’ Hurricane. However, he managed to keep his aircraft flying, and landed it safely at Duxford.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 1 He 111 destroyed

 

 

June 22

Hurricanes were again airborne on routine patrols. Interceptions were made by P/0 Stevens and P/O Edmison, as a result of which successful combats took place.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O Stevens

 1 He 111 destroyed
  P/O Edmison  1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

 

 

 

JULY - OCTOBER 1941

 

This was a very quiet period. Spring and early summer had seen a number of combats with Hurricanes and Defiants being pitched against enemy aircraft as night vision conditions generally allowed. These enemy aircraft had been trying to penetrate the U.K. defences and had also been involved in attacks against shipping off the East Anglian coast.

Combat details are not available, and it is difficult to establish the “cockpit atmosphere” that prevailed, particularly as the combats took place as a result of a free-lance visual, without a long distance chase as a prelude. This was to change later, when night interceptions were to become more scientific. These were to involve a total exercise with the Operations Room, G.C.I staffs, and the Night Fighter crew all being involved.

 

There was to be a phasing out of Hurricanes and also of Defiants, but the lull in enemy incursions into the U.K. air space gave time for further investigations into Night Fighter tactics development.

 

Of this period of development Group Captain Smith recalls as follows:

“The move to Wittering saw the beginning of stability for 151 Squadron. The large turnover in pilots, the frequent change in Commanding Officer, the change in role, the re-equipping had all had their effect, and it was a great relief to move to Wittering where the Squadron was welcomed, supported, and directed as an operational unit should be.

 

During 1941, F/Lt Blair was promoted Squadron Leader to command. S/Ldr Adams returned to combat duty in about April, until relieved by S/Ldr McDougal in Oct/Nov, and he in turn to be relieved by S/Ldr Dennison in December.

 

The Germans intruded against us quite a bit. I had an Me 110 up my tail just as I put my wheels down one night. I saw him, evaded and lost him. Later, whilst strapped in my cockpit, I had a stick of bombs across my dispersal. My aircraft burst into flames and burned out with the others. The enemy aircraft came in under Radar cover, and it was this type of incursion which was to be our targets of the future.

 

The tactic was to carry out our patrols as low as possible. He who could fly lowest saw furthest at night when flying over the sea. To achieve this at dusk, the technique I used was to fly down low until my No 2 signalled that I was leaving a propeller wash in the water. I then came up until it just stopped and my No 2 then came down to join me. I could hold this level when it was pitch dark as there is always a luminous ring on the horizon which gives the essential reference. Once lost I could not regain the low level again. Essential conditions were no rain, no cockpit lighting, constant power settings, slight tail heavy trim, no reference to instruments at any time. With practice, gentle turns could be made.

 

The Defiant was an unsatisfactory aircraft. It had the same power as the Hurricane, but weighed a ton more and had a lot more drag. It also had a much higher stalling speed than the Hurricane and not a benign one either. It had poor armament which imposed severe tactical limitations, poor manoeuvrability, poor speed and climb capability, all adding up to a poor operational tool. Two techniques we practised and used with success were to barrel roll around the target if it was flying reasonably level, and to aileron turn around the target if it was diving.”

 

From July through to October, there was to be a change in Night Fighter tactics to try and give a more positive result to night interceptions as a whole. The idea was still to use the Hurricane as the fighter since it had a proven record in night combat, albeit on fighter nights, but the idea was to create good combat conditions for dark nights so that the Hurricanes could have fighter night success. The concept was to use airborne searchlights.

 

The searchlight was carried in the nose of the American Douglas Boston aircraft. The nose where the navigator usually took up position was removed and in its place was installed a searchlight of the conventional type, i.e. the carbon arc etc. The searchlight had a shutter plate operated by the pilot, this shutter being an appropriate shield. The power for the arc came from conventional lead/zinc batteries, half a ton of which was permanently installed in the bomb bay of the aircraft. The aircraft was therefore subjected to permanent take-off and landing conditions equivalent to a fully bombed up machine.

 

The heat generated by the arc when it was struck was so high that if it was allowed to become in the exposure mode on the ground, the nose of the aircraft would just melt.

 

In this form the Boston was known to the R.A.F. as the Havoc, the searchlight system being the TURBINLIGHT.

 

Each Havoc was fitted with Mark lV A.I. (Airborne Interception) Radar. This type of Radar was used on Beaufighter aircraft of other Squadrons, and was operated by a Radio Observer who was seated aft of the bomb bay.

 

In practice, the Havoc flew at night with a Hurricane flying in formation, conditions being made easy for formation flying by the use of small strip lights which illuminated the trailing edge of the Havoc wing. This lighting was only visible from the formation position of the Hurricane and from no other point.

 

The interception would be carried out, and then under the critical conditions when attack was considered possible, the Havoc pilot would request the Hurricane to go forward. The Hurricane would then break formation in a shallow dive, and then pull up in front of the Havoc just as the searchlight was exposed. The Hurricane would then have the target in a broad expanse of illuminated field, the expanse being sufficient to contain the target should evasive action be taken.

 

The theory was that the target would be shot down!!

 

151 Squadron was very involved in the putting together of the techniques, but did not achieve any success whatsoever. Neither did any other Squadron.

 

During the period when these Turbinlight developments were in progress, 151 Squadron still undertook its operational role with fighter night operations continuing to be a major activity.

 

October 8

W/Cdr McDougall became the new Commanding Officer.

 

October 16

P/O Stevens was recorded as “knocking down” another enemy aircraft, but the actual details are not recorded in the Squadron Diary.

 

October 22

P/O Stevens was successful in shooting down another enemy aircraft. Apparently he was flying on a Turbinlight exercise when he “saw something” and broke away on his own accord and engaged an enemy aircraft. Unfortunately the Squadron Diary does indicate the type of aircraft or any other details of the combat.

 

Claims for the nights of October 16 & 22 were:-

 

P/O Stevens: 2 enemy aircraft destroyed.

P/O Stevens was awarded a second Bar to his D.F.C.

 

These enemy aircraft were to be the last ones shot down by P/O Stevens whilst be was with 151 Squadron. His tally of victories had all been achieved at night and it is understood that no other pilot in Fighter Command was as successful working on “freelance” visuals, with no airborne aids whatsoever. He was credited with the destruction of 15 enemy aircraft, and was later to receive the D.S.O. He left 151 Squadron towards the end of the year but was to be killed in action during the early months of 1942.

 

October 31

This was a fighter night with patrols starting at dusk. P/O McRitchie and P/O Sampson left the forward base at Coltishall in a Defiant at 1730 hrs with orders to patrol the outer swept Channe. They flew on a course of 1000 at an altitude of 50 ft, and 15 minutes after taking off they saw four Ju 88s flying at about the same height. Three of these were in open V formation, with the other about 1,500 yards behind. On seeing the Defiant, they all made a climbing turn to starboard and turned back. Two of them broke away and disappeared, but as P/O McRitchie closed in on the port beam of one of the enemy aircraft, the rearmost one stationed itself behind the Defiant. P/c Sampson, from a range of 150 yds, fired a three second burst, but his guns jammed and P/O McRitchie broke away to port. The single burst had done its work and the Ju dived into the sea. No survivors or wreckage were seen.

 

Meanwhile, the other Ju 88 was circling above, and the gun stoppage, having been cleared by P/O Sampson, enabled him to fire a two second burst at the enemy aircraft from the beam at a range of about 100 yds, but the guns had another stoppage. Return fire from the upper rear gunner in the Ju 88 passed behind the Defiant’s tail. Whilst P/O Sampson again cleared his gun stoppage, P/O McRitchie maintained a visual contact and then closed in for another attack. The enemy aircraft attempted to avoid this attack by turning steeply to port, passing above and behind, and at the same time firing at the Defiant from its forward machine guns. P/O Sampson got in a four second burst before his guns jammed yet again.

 

Having found it impossible for the Ju 88 to get away by superior speed, it turned to port, dropped its bombs, and came in for a diving head-on attack firing machine guns and cannon.

 

P/O McRitchie considered that this Ju 88 was the one in command of the original formation, and the Defiant, flying at an altitude of only 50 ft, was fortunate to escape damage in the attack, having to pass right through the stream of fire before the enemy aircraft broke away to starboard. On breaking away, the Defiant was able to give it yet another burst of fire with strikes being seen on the Ju 88 fuselage. Only one of the Defiant’s guns was in action, but P/O Sampson got in another short burst as the enemy aircraft passed under the Defiant’s tail.

 

The enemy took no further action and continued on a course for the Dutch coast, but P/O McRitchie closed in yet again on the starboard side and P/O Sampson, having cleared his gun blockage, fired a four second burst from the starboard beam before the guns jammed yet again. Strikes were seen on the wings and the fuselage. There was no return fire.

 

The running fight had now lasted 15 minutes and as they were nearing the Dutch coast, with the guns so problematical, it was decided to return to base.

 

They landed at Wittering at 1830 hrs.

 

Combat conditions were-

Visibility 20 - 30 miles.

Cloud 1/10 at 2 - 3000 ft.

 

Claims for the day were:-

 

 

P/O McRitchie

P/O Sampson

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 1 Ju 88 damaged

 

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 1941

 

The month was generally quiet with only the occasional incursion into U.K. air space, and these incursions were appropriately dealt with.

 

November 12

Sgt Godsmark (pilot) was killed in a flying accident.

 

November 15

Carrying out a dusk patrol, P/O successfully intercepted and engaged a Ju 88.

 

Claims for the night were:-

 

 

P/O McRitchie

Sgt Beale

 1 Ju 88 destroyed

 

 

 

Sgt Gee and Sgt Bainbridge were missing from their patrol, and no details of their loss is known.

 

November 17

Sgt Lammin was reported missing with no details available. His loss meant that the Squadron had lost four of their aircrew in a month of relatively minimal air activity.

 

The weather was showing its usual deterioration as winter began to make its appearance, and this factor must have been partly responsible for a let up in enemy air activity. Even so, Turbinlight co-operation exercises and the usual training programme integrated into standing patrols were maintained.

 

DECEMBER 1941

 

The whole of December was quiet with routine dusk and convoy patrols being undertaken.

 

Another new idea for night interception was carried out during the month, this being the use of flares which were dropped from Havocs flying at an altitude of about 5,000 ft. Hurricanes flying in formation, with Havocs, would dive in to attack any targets that were illuminated. This was known as “Flare Burning”.

 

December 14

Sgt Mills (pilot) and Sgt Gazard (air gunner) failed to return from convoy patrol. It was not known what happened but their aircraft was seen to ditch near the convoy. The body of Sgt Gazard was recovered from the sea, but there was no trace of Sgt Mills.

 

With the loss of six personnel in as many weeks, there was a requirement for new crews to join the Squadron, but fortunately, enemy air activity was minimal.

 

 

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