46 Squadron successful in skies over Narvik

RAF Hawker Hurricane aircraft from 1940, as flown by No. 46 Squadron in Norway

In Norway operations continued around Narvik, which the Allies had finally occupied on 28th May 1940. In an attempt to address the German air superiority which had bedevilled the earlier Norwegian campaign (see 24th April) Hawker Hurricanes of No. 46 Squadron had flown off the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious on the 27th May and were now operating from a temporary airfield. In the early hours of 7th June Squadron Leader K.B.B. ‘Bing’ Cross was preparing for an air patrol:

I was taxying [my] aircraft down to the end of the run way when I saw 4 He.III K.’s approaching the aerodrome from the N.E. I had not my straps done up or my helmet on, but as the He.’s were heading direct for the aerodrome, I pulled the emergency boost control and took off. As the enemy aircraft approached the aerodrome they appeared to see my aircraft and Red 2 and turned away to port onto a more southerly course. Red 2 joined me and we climbed up after the enemy. My speed was 240 mph and I was climbing slightly. I set the sight at 80ft. span and 250 yards range and opened fire at that distance from the dead astern position at the aircraft flying in the ‘box’, Red 2 attacking the extreme starboard machine.

I fired a 4 second burst and there was a burst of black smoke and the undercarriage dropped. Heavy return fire was coming from all four rear upper gun positions and it appeared that the top gunners had twin guns. I had now closed to about 80 yards and broke away downwards to port. As I did so I noticed that my oil pressure had dropped to zero. I turned towards the aerodrome, gradually losing height and landed.

There were a total of twelve bullet holes in my aircraft; one in the screen, two in the oil tank, one in the petrol tank, one in the engine, two in the wing and five in the hood behind my head.

The He. III K. was dropping behind the formation as I landed, his undercarriage was down and smoke pouring from the starboard engine.

Squadron Leader Cross claimed a ‘probable’ for this action, see TNA Air 50/20. It now seems that he had a ‘confirmed': details and photographs of the Heinkel III that crash landed in the early hours of 7th June 1940 are at the Norwegian aircraft wreck site ktsorens.thilde.org. 46 Squadron had 14 kills to their credit during the 10 days they were in Norway.

In London the decision had now been taken to evacuate Norway, even as the Allies were gaining the upper hand in the area around Narvik. All troops and aircraft were needed for the defence of Britain.

The Hurricane aircraft of No 46 Squadron had never been flown onto an aircraft carrier and did not have the arrester hooks that were considered necessary to land such a fast aircraft on a carrier (they had been loaded onto the carrier, not flown, for the trip out to Norway). Therefore the orders were for these aircraft to be destroyed before the Squadron’s personnel returned.

Squadron Leader Cross was having none of it. His entire Squadron volunteered to land their Hurricanes on HMS Glorious in order to get them away, in a manoeuvre that had never been attempted before with this aircraft. None of the pilots had any experience of carrier landings. Using sandbags in their tail planes to give them extra weight, landings were successfully achieved by the entire Squadron later on 7th June.

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