Escape from occupied Europe

One of the High Speed Launches employed by the RAF for the rescue of pilots who had to ditch or parachute into the sea, this boat was based in Egypt.

Rene Mouchotte had escaped from France to join the Free French and was to become the most senior French officer in the RAF before his untimely death. Exceptionally he had managed to get his first kill whilst based at Prestwick, in the relatively quiet far north west. His Squadron had transferred to Manston in Kent at the beginning of September and was now very much in the frontline of Fighter Command:

September 20th

I was over Ostend this morning. Nothing special, no ship sighted. On my way back, perhaps 35 or 40 miles from the English coast, despite the mist which was cutting down visibility, I noticed a tiny rowing boat.

I turned, leading my three comrades. I was surprised to see men on board it. There were five of them, all on their feet, at the risk of upsetting the frail skiff waving everything they had, handkerchieves, coats, etc. One whom I saw distinctly was wearing a mackintosh and waving a soft hat as high as he could.

There was no doubt whatever that they had escaped a few days earlier from the Belgian or Dutch coast. After making a few turns, while the other three planes continued to circle widely, I went up to get better radio contact.

When I had given the information and the position I went down and we left our new friends. Not far from the coast we met two fast motor launches. Our wild gestures persuaded them to follow us. An hour later our fugitives and the launches were safe….

Telephoned Dover. We are going to have tea with them this evening.

See The Mouchotte Diaries 1940-1943

The patrols over the Belgian coast were not always so straightforward as his diary entry might suggest:

Offensive operations by Fighter Command were impossible on four days of the week owing to bad weather, but on the other three a total of 84 squadron sorties were flown. One of these squadrons destroyed six and probably destroyed two of a number of enemy aircraft which were flying round an aerodrome near Ostend. Total enemy losses during these operations were 58 aircraft destroyed, 18 probably destroyed and 28 damaged. We lost 31 fighters, but five pilots were rescued.

From the Air Situation Report for the week as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB 66/18/49

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: