Sneak attacks hit RAF Middle Wallop and RAF Hawarden

My head was spinning, it felt as though I had a permanent ringing in my ears, I felt the blast go over me as I lay there flattened on the ground. I got up and my instinct was to run towards the hangar. It was carnage.

 

The Luftwaffe’s probing attacks continued to penetrate deep into British airspace, with attacks on aircraft manufacturing installations high on the target list. In the course of the last three months, since Churchill had appointed Lord Beaverbrook as supremo to oversee aircraft production, the output of Spitfires and Hurricanes had dramatically improved. The Germans were never in a position to know this.

A hangar at RAF Middle Wallop following one of the German raids

The other high priority for the Luftwaffe were RAF airfields. On the 14th August 609 Squadron was the target of a “sneak attack”, where small groups of German bombers were sent to a variety of targets around the country. At Middle Wallop one Ju 88 did a lot of damage. One of the pilots who narrowly escaped the bombing was Eugene ‘Red’ Tobin, a United States citizen, one of the ten American volunteers who flew with the RAF in the Battle of Britain:

My head was spinning, it felt as though I had a permanent ringing in my ears, I felt the blast go over me as I lay there flattened on the ground. I got up and my instinct was to run towards the hangar. It was carnage, I saw one overalled person with his foot and half a leg blown off, another had a great red patch on his chest with a load of mess hanging from it, another was rolling in agony with one of his arms missing.

See The Few: The American Knights of the Air Who Risked Everything to Save Britain in the Summer of 1940.

Damage inside the hangar

609 Squadron were divided between Middle Wallop airfield in Hampshire and the uncompleted Warmwell airfield some 50 miles away in Dorset. Both were targets for the Luftwaffe in the their newly intensified action against RAF bases and aircraft factories.

 

 

More damage at Middle Wallop airfield
One notable aircraft that escaped damage at Middle Wallop on this day – Spitfire Mk Ia R6915.
Ordered as part of contract B19713/39, Aug. 9, 1939. Built by Supermarine Aviation at the Wooston works, Southampton, 1940. – Merlin III fitted. – First flight at Eastleigh. Pilot George Pickering, July 11, 1940. Delivered to RAF as R6915. – BOC: July 7, 1940. – Delivered to 6 MU at RAF Brize Norton in preparation for service, July 11, 1940. Between 20 July and 7 Oct 1940 it made 57 operational sorties, at heights varying from 4000 to 25000 ft. The aircraft was flown during this period by 13 different pilots. (records of these on file).. – Transferred to 609 (West Riding) Sqn, ‘B’ Flight Blue Section at RAF Middle Wallop. Coded PR-U, July 21, 1940. –12 August 1940. One Me 110 damaged while being flown by P/O Miller 1200-1300 hrs over Swanage at 15,000 feet. –13 August 1940. Two Ju-87 damaged – P/O Ostaszewski: 1530 – 1645 hrs over Portland 20,000 feet…. Later suspended from the ceiling of the Imperial War Museum 1946 -2002.

For more pictures of 609 Squadron see http://daveg4otu.tripod.com/dorset/warmpics.html.

It may be possible to access this from the internet archive.

 

While RAF Fighter Command continued to nurse its resources very carefully, never throwing all the available fighters into battle, it remained very difficult for the Luftwaffe to judge the true strength of the British defences.

Alongside airframes fighter pilots were in short supply. In response the RAF was rapidly transforming itself into a truly international force, absorbing experienced pilots from Czechoslovakia, France, Poland and volunteers from the USA, as well as contingents from around the Empire, including Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and New Zealand.

Edwards Wells [later Group Captain] arrived in Britain with ‘about ten other New Zealanders’ at the end of June 1940. They were all experienced pilots – but their only experience was on bi-planes. They were inducted into the RAF at Uxbridge and had a short time to accustom themselves to London:

After a couple of weeks some of us were posted to No. 7 OTU at RAF Hawarden, where I gazed in awe and excitement at the rather battered collection of Mark I Spitfires which we were to fly.

Various lectures on the technical features of these aircraft, plus some rather airy-fairy talks on what were alleged to be the enemy’s tactics in the air and what was supposed to be the best way of dealing with them, filled the next few days.

To us at that time, these talks were pure gospel and we drank in every word, as our lecturers were young pilots with operational experience. Some had just returned from France, where most had been flying Hurricanes and had seen quite a bit of action as the occasional DFC testified.

The next step was a few hours’ dual instruction on a Miles Master aircraft to familiarize us with such things as retractable undercarriages and other sophisticated equipment, and also to give us the feel of a comparatively high-speed monoplane.

I had 3 1/2 hours of this dual before the great day came and I was at last sent off solo in a Spitfire. I will always remember, not only how slim and slight it seemed in the air, but also how it surged with a power such as I had never felt. When I actually landed this beautiful, but fragile, creature without damage, I was prouder than any two-tailed dog!

That evening proof came that this beautiful machine was also effective and deadly. It was the custom, after flying for the day had finished, to assemble at the tent which was our bar, for a glass of beer and a chat with the instructors.

It was ordered that two Spitfires should be kept nearby fully armed and at readiness during all daylight hours. It was not yet dark and there was a low cloud base of some 2000 feet. Suddenly, while we were looking out of the tent, there was a loud burst of heavy machine-gun fire and we saw that a Dornier 17 had slipped out of the cloud, apparently without noticing us, and was machine—gunning certain factories, which stood at the far side of our airfield.

In a flash, the Duty Instructor, Squadron Leader J.R. Hallings-Pott [later Group Captain] jumped into the nearer Spitfire and, within seconds, was roaring across our grass airfield, without regard for wind direction, straight towards the Dornier, which was just starting a second attack.

The latter obviously never knew what hit him, because the Spitfire was still climbing towards him, firing as it came. We could all see the flashing of the de Wilde incendiary ammunition striking the Dornier and its nearer engine, which almost at once burst into flames. Within two or three minutes the enemy aircraft had crashed just off the airfield and the Spitfire was taxiing back to its readiness position.

I need hardly say that there were very hearty cheers for both the pilot and the Spitfire, and that night we drank rather more beer than we usually did. It seemed a very good end to a splendid day and one which I have never forgotten. I felt I had indeed come a long way in a short time from the peaceful green hills of New Zealand.

This account appears in Laddie Lucas (ed): Wings of War: Airmen of All Nations Tell Their Stories.

Aviation Safety net records the following details for a Heinkel He 111 that crashed at Border House Farm near Chester, Cheshire, shot down by Squadron Leader Hallings-Pott:

1G+FS) The aircraft was on a mission to attack RAF Hawarden when it was intercepted and shot down by Spitfires of 7 OTU flown by 400220 W/Cmdr John Robert Hallings-Pott DSO, S/Ldr J McLean & P/O Peter Ayerst, crash landing and catching fire.
Oblt Artur Wiesemann pow
Fw Heinrich Rődder pow
Uffz Walter Schaum pow
Uffz Ullmann pow
Uffz Heinz Kőchy pow

On the same day: Heinkel He IIIP, 1G+NT, of III/KG27, shot down by Blue Section of No. 92 Squadron at 6 pm on 14 August 1940, lying by the side of the road at Charterhouse, Somerset.
Also on this day: An armoured train, armed with Bren guns and two 3-inch guns and manned by a crew of 26 men, at Saxmundham, 14 August 1940.

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