Mosquito night fighter over London AA fire

Mosquito PR Mark IX, LR432 ‘L1’,

Mosquito PR Mark IX, LR432 ‘L1’, of No. 544 Squadron RAF based at Benson, Oxfordshire, in flight. LR432 was delivered to No. 540 Squadron RAF on 4 September 1943 and was passed to 544 Squadron the following month, opening that unit’s day operations with the Mark IX on 15 October. By the time it was passed to No. 8 Operational Training Unit on 22 January 1945, LR432 had flown 43 photographic-reconnaissance sorties.

Airborne Interception Radar: AI Mark VIIIB

Airborne Interception Radar: AI Mark VIIIB indicator and receiver in the operating position, as seen from the observer’s seat of a De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XIII night fighter. The vizor has been removed from the screen on the indicator unit (top). The receiver unit (bottom) was hinged so as to fold back into the space beneath the indicator unit in order to render access and egress from the cockpit via the door at lower right. Photograph taken at No. 10 Maintenance Unit, Hullavington, Wiltshire

London had been spared the attention of Luftwaffe bombers for some time. With the nights growing darker they had begun to make an infrequent re-appearance, at first regarded as something of a novelty by Londoners. The raids may have allowed the Nazis to claim that they were ‘hitting back’ – but they could not possibly match the scale of devastation that Bomber Command and the USAAF were regularly inflicting on Germany.

The RAF night fighter interception units were ordered to adopt new tactics to take on the intruders. Theirs was a constantly evolving game of ever improving aircraft performance and technological innovation. The ace night fighter John Cunningham and his regular Navigator, C.F. Rawnsley, were ready for the new challenge:

It was probably for some purely political reason – intended, perhaps, as a timely counter to the growing suspicion that London’s defences had more sound than fury – that the decision was made to operate a couple of night fighters over what was known as the Inner Artillery Zone. The guns were to limit their fire to a height of eighteen thousand feet, and the fighters were to patrol at twenty thousand feet or above. I felt that the idea was merely for propaganda purposes with the hope that there might be a spectacular battle with plenty of cannon fire overhead, possibly finishing up with an impressive flamer.

Having watched the London barrage from afar, I hoped that there would be no errors in the height at which they set their fuses ; and remembering our battle over Southampton over two years before, I viewed with mixed feelings the prospect of sending down a flamer into the centre of London.

[On 25th October 1943]

[W]e were scrambled rather too late, because we scarcely had time to reach the height at which we were supposed to operate before we were turned to the south to meet the first raider. I got a contact almost immediately, but it was well above us and we had to turn after it, still climbing as hard as we could. In doing that we inevitably lost range, and a few minutes later we found ourselves at the edge of the gun zone still in contact but some three miles behind.

And then the guns opened up and the fun started. I glanced outside to see what it looked like. The anti-aircraft display was fantastic as it tore the night apart just below the place where our target should have been. Our customer must have been equally impressed because I found when I turned back to the A.I. set that he was throwing himself about all over the place.

There followed a few moments of hectic manoeuvring, and it took all my breath and all John’s skill to keep up with it. Then the raider dropped his bomb, turned and dived for home, going like the wind.

We went down after him, our ears cracking, out across Kent. We were slowly closing the range, and we crossed the coast less than a mile behind our target. If the quivering airframe and the screaming engines of our aircraft held together, I thought, we had a good chance of getting him.

But we had dived in a very short time from the Arctic cold of twenty-five thousand feet, and the moisture from the warmer air below began to cake in solid ice on our windscreen. In a few moments it was opaque, and although by the time we had pulled out of our dive the range had closed to two thousand feet we could see nothing through that sheet of ice.

But the blip was still there, and from the way it was behaving the raider showed no signs of slowing up. We continued after it until we were thirty miles out across the Channel, with the windscreen still iced up and our target still just out of reach.

We had done our best, but that best was just not good enough, and reluctantly we turned back. When we landed we learnt that Rory and George had had no better luck.

See C. F. Rawnsley: Night Fighter.

Flight Lieutenant M Cybulski (left) and Flying Officer H Ladbrook of No 410

Flight Lieutenant M Cybulski (left) and Flying Officer H Ladbrook of No 410 Squadron, RCAF, with their severely charred Mosquito II at Coleby Grange, 27 September 1943. On an intruder sortie over the Netherlands the previous night the pair had attacked a Do217, closing to within 100ft before opening fire. The enemy aircraft exploded with such force that the Mosquito was enveloped by burning fuel and badly scored. Debris also damaged the port engine, which had to be shut down (note the feathered propeller).

Wing Commander F W Hillock, Officer Commanding No. 410 Squadron RCAF

Wing Commander F W Hillock, Officer Commanding No. 410 Squadron RCAF (left), and Flight Lieutenant P O’Neill-Dunne (right), standing in front of their De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark II at Coleby Gange, Lincolnshire, with 300 feet of copper wireless cable which they brought back wrapped around the aircraft from an intruder operation over Holland. On the night of 15 April 1943, Hillock (pilot) and O’Neill-Dunne (observer) mounted a Night Ranger operation to the Ruhr valley. While flying at low level in poor weather they were suddenly confronted with the radio masts of Apeldoorn station. Hillock threw the Mosquito into a vertical bank and flew straight through the antenna, tearing several away in the process. He then continued with the mission before returning to Coleby Grange, whereupon it was discovered that, not only were they encumbered with the cable, but one wing tip had been sliced off by the breaking antenna and the other wing cut through to the main spar (damage visible on the left).

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