Blenheim bomber shot down off Dunkirk

Blenheim bomber over the sea with burning oil tanker below, photographed May 1940

Pilot Officer G.W. Spiers was was the observer on a Blenheim from 254 Squadon, based at Detling in Kent at the end of May. They were sent to support the Dunkirk evacuation. Flying Officer J. W. Baird commanded Blenheim L9481. At 0755, towards the end of their three hour patrol, they were flying at 8,000 feet about two miles out to sea, off Dunkirk:

I was sitting in the seat on the right-hand side of the pilot. Looking out to my right I could see the sand beaches with numerous clusters of troops queueing to embark on small craft. As I looked up I saw recognisable ME 109 German aircraft diving in line astern towards our rear starboard quarter. I managed to count eleven 109s and as I looked downwards I saw our other Blenheim who had, been flying in line astern of us, pass beneath to starboard with both
engines on fire.

As soon as I had seen the enemy, I had yelled to Baird “fighters” and in the meantime he turned to port and headed for North Foreland giving the engines full power. We were slowly picking up speed in a shallow dive but a cold feeling in the small of my back, made me realise we were “sitting ducks” for fighters.

In temper and fear I shouted to Baird to manoeuvre the aircraft about, at the same time I made demonstrations by waving my hand in front of him. Whether or not he understood I never found out, as the cockpit suddenly filled with acrid smoke and flying fragments as the dashboard and instruments disintegrated in front of me, under a series of violent crashes and flashes. Suddenly it stopped. The smoke started to clear and I looked back through the armour plate to see what had happened to Roskrow the Gunner. The fuselage down to the turret was a mass of bullet holes which which were accentuated by the sun beams that shone through the smoke. All I could see of Roskrow was a bloody green flying suit slumped over the gun controls.

Turning to Baird I immediately realised he had been hit although he still held the controls. His head was slumped forward on his chest and blood ran down his right cheek from a wound in the temple that showed through the side of his helmet. Another wound in his neck had covered him with blood and it had gushed all over my left shoulder. He looked very peaceful with his eyes shut; I was sure he was dead. It was miraculous that I had survived that burst of gunfire into the cockpit. The two foot square Perspex panel had many holes in it. The bullets had passed me and gone into Baird and the cockpit panel.

I was now in the unenviable position of any member of aircrew who is not a Pilot as I was flying on my own and it was now up to me to save myself. My immediate reaction was to bale out, so I went forward into the navigation compartment and attempted to lift the Navigator’s seat which was on top of the bale-out hatch. The seat would not fold back and was locked solid in the down position, and after struggling to raise it, for what seemed minutes, I realised the aircraft was beginning to roll to port. I then clambered back to the Pilot’s cabin and viciously hit Baird’s arms off the controls.

Leaning over I pulled back the throttles as the engines were still at full power and were vibrating excessively. Yellow flames from the port engine were beating against the front and side windows and standing at the side of Baird I was about to level the aircraft to prevent the vicious sideslip, that was causing the flames to play on the cockpit, when suddenly the windscreen shattered. I felt a hot searing wind on my face, I felt my cheeks, nose, throat and mouth shrivelling under the heat but have no recollection of any pain. As soon as the aircraft righted, the cockpit cleared of fire and smoke and a noticeable peace descended as the cut back engines purred and the wind gently whined through the shattered glass.

Read the whole account at BBC People’s War

Earlier in the war:

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