The score reaches 1000 at Biggin Hill

Squadron Leader Edward 'Jack' Charles, commanding No 611 Squadron, chalks up the Biggin Hill Sector's 1,000th enemy aircraft, following a successful sweep over Normandy on 15 May 1943. That afternoon, Charles shot down two FW190s, while the CO of No 341 Squadron, Commandant Rene Mouchotte, destroyed another. As it was not clear which of the two pilots had secured the 1,000th kill, the honours - and sweepstake of £300 - were shared between them.

Squadron Leader Edward ‘Jack’ Charles, commanding No 611 Squadron, chalks up the Biggin Hill Sector’s 1,000th enemy aircraft, following a successful sweep over Normandy on 15 May 1943. That afternoon, Charles shot down two FW190s, while the CO of No 341 Squadron, Commandant Rene Mouchotte, destroyed another. As it was not clear which of the two pilots had secured the 1,000th kill, the honours – and sweepstake of £300 – were shared between them.

As ground staff work on another Spitfire, Squadron Leader Stanislaw Lapka, CO of No 302 (City of Poznan) Squadron, roars low over the airfield for the benefit of the photographer at Kirton-in-Lindsey, March 1943.

As ground staff work on another Spitfire, Squadron Leader Stanislaw Lapka, CO of No 302 (City of Poznan) Squadron, roars low over the airfield for the benefit of the photographer at Kirton-in-Lindsey, March 1943.

In May 1943 the Free French No 341 Squadron RAF was still making itself at home at the south of England airfield, Biggin Hill, famous for its role in the Battle of Britain. The station had remained at the front line of RAF Fighter Command ever since those desperate early days. Now the fighters’ role was as much about taking the fight to the Germans across the Channel as about defending British airspace. On May 15th the score of enemy aircraft shot down by planes from Biggin Hill had reached 997.

It was an auspicious day for Squadron Leader Rene Mouchotte who planned to celebrate the formation of 341 Squadron that evening:

Our party was this evening, May 15th. No sweep in the morning. At two o’clock we were hoping that nothing would disturb us and prevent us from bathing, scenting ourselves and getting ready.

No luck! Take—off at four o’clock for a small and apparently inoffensive operation…. We all got ready with a bad grace. We took off. First, we had to fly at sea level until the French coast was in sight, then do a breathtaking climb, so uncomfortable that your feet were almost in the air. You had the feeling that if the engine stopped you would fall, tail first.

The radio announced the Boche, lots of Boche. We checked the sight contacts and made sure instinctively that the button was in the firing position…. Le Havre slid past to port, here was Trouville, 22,000 feet below.

And, all at once, battle. Shouts over the radio, the other squadron was attacking. I noticed one parachute already. I gave the order to turn, intending to help them by getting the sun behind me and thus drop more easily on the offered prey.

Hardly had I begun to turn to starboard when a nice little job slid under my starboard wing. I turned on my back without even trying to identify it. I went at terric speed, giving the plane all it had. As I dived after my National Socialist, for I could see his black crosses shining now, I gave rapid orders over the radio so that my faithful troops would cover my attack.

The other plane went on diving vertically. ‘Too bad, I’m having a go.’ Yesterday’s experience had been too mortifying… I got the nose gently into position and opened up. The great distance between us gave me little hope.

But I was somewhat startled by what I saw: there was a violent explosion in the fuselage of the Focke—Wulf, followed by a huge flame. The plane rose in the air, then burst into bits, seeming to disintegrate in the air. It is a miracle I got through without damage.

The return to the aerodrome would have made all the gossiping concierges of Paris pale with envy. Never was the radio so loud with useless chatter. We were all exultant, for Squadron Leader Charles, of 611 Squadron had shot two of them down, thus bringing to 1,000 the total of planes shot down by Biggin Hill.

After we landed there was a great problem as to which of us, Charles and I, had got the third Boche… I immediately said I had seen the parachute of Charles’s first victim, about two or three minutes before I shot mine down. Charles had shot his down consecutively, one after the other.

I remembered having said immediately after firing, ‘Hello, boys, I’ve got one too!’ The Operations Room then confirmed that mine was the third.

But the wonderful coincidence in all this was that our party was this very night. What a gift for the baptism of our squadron! It was a magnicent ball, the kind of thing we hardly ever see nowadays. Lots of top brass, generals, etc., and vast numbers of pretty women.

See The Mouchotte Diaries

Squadron Leader E F J Charles, Officer Commanding No. 611 Squadron RAF, recounts his experiences to other pilots of the Squadron at Biggin Hill, Kent, on the day after sharing the honour, with Commandant Rene Mouchotte, of shooting down Biggin Hill's 1,000th enemy aircraft.

Squadron Leader E F J Charles, Officer Commanding No. 611 Squadron RAF, recounts his experiences to other pilots of the Squadron at Biggin Hill, Kent, on the day after sharing the honour, with Commandant Rene Mouchotte, of shooting down Biggin Hill’s 1,000th enemy aircraft.

Belgian ground crew refuelling Supermarine Spitfire Mark XIVE, RM764 'MN-M', of No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron RAF at Lympne, Kent.

Belgian ground crew refuelling Supermarine Spitfire Mark XIVE, RM764 ‘MN-M’, of No. 350 (Belgian) Squadron RAF at Lympne, Kent.

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