fighters

May

17

1941

Low level air attack in Iraq

Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 14 Squadron RAF in flight over desert, possibly in Iraq where the Squadron was based from August to October 1941. The nearest aircraft is Z5860, which was shot down during a raid on an enemy vehicle convoy on the Derna-Bardia road on 14 December 1941, all its crew being killed.

In any case, a really low cross-country flight is a wonderful experience. It is the only time one can get the feeling of an aeroplane’s terrific speed. The ground streaks past under the wings unbelievably fast. Different coloured patches of sand flow by; it’s like running your hand across a patchwork quilt. You lift your machine gently upwards to clear hummocks, and then ease her down again the other side to stay low, low, low. As one approaches the target, the adrenalin starts to pump, giving a tingling sensation between the shoulder-blades, and maybe some sweat trickles down.

May

14

1941

Second ‘Eagle Squadron’ formed

The Spitfire VBs of No 92 Squadron in MaY 1941, based at Biggin Hill, one of the front line stations in the south. The Mk V Spitfire now usually had the B armament - two 20mm cannons and four machine guns after reliability problems with the cannons had been resolved. Had cannons been available during the previous summer Fighter Commands success rate would have been even better.

By day, the usual enemy reconnaissances were flown, and defensive fighter patrols were maintained over the Dover Straits and over coastal areas. A number of small-scale offensive daylight sweeps covered Kent and South and South-West Coastal regions; our fighters destroyed eighteen Me. 109’s, and probably destroyed six others. We lost six aircraft, but four of the pilots were saved. Ten Me. 109’s dived from 29,000 feet to 100 feet to attack Rochford aerodrome, and destroyed the control office.

Feb

28

1941

RAF fighters go on offensive

A posed shot of a Hurricane being re-armed with the 3,990 rounds of .303 ammunition that each plane carried, 28th March 1941

Our fighter patrols operated over Northern France on five days. Few enemy aircraft were encountered, but A.A. fire was generally heavy and accurate. On the 25th and 26th, an escort and screen was provided for a small bomber force which attacked shipping targets at Dunkirk and Calais. About 100 fighters were employed on each occasion.

Dec

28

1940

RAF and RAAF control the skies over Libya

RAAF Gladiators return to their base in the Desert.

Our fighters have continued to maintain their ascendancy over the Italian Air Force. On the 26th Gladiators of the Royal Australian Air Force shot down without loss two, and probably six, of a number of C.R. 42 fighters “which were escorting a bomber formation, and on the 28th Hurricanes shot down three bombers and a fighter, again without loss.

Nov

24

1940

Hugh Dowding is retired from the RAF

Hugh Dowding, official portrait

Yet the reserved uncharismatic, Dowding, nicknamed “Stuffy”, was not popular amongst the higher echelons of the RAF. Some argued that he was not a sufficiently personable leader and should be spending more time visiting the front line Squadrons. There was no evidence that any fighter Squadron needed any form of inspiration – but this was just an alternative view of military leadership.

Oct

30

1940

Spitfire versus six Messerschmitt 109s

Solo Spitfire in flight

One Messerschmitt did a barrel roll to the left. I fired at him as he did so, and he dropped back. I was then engaged from astern, and lost a bit of ground. By the time we got to Hastings I had caught up the rest of them again, and knocked bits off one. Another was half a mile or more below and behind the others as they crossed the coast. He was dropping back rapidly, and I was hoping to finish him off when six more Messerschmitt 109’s came down at me from over the Channel in line abreast.

Oct

8

1940

A multi-national Royal Air Force

Indian air force pilots arrive in Britain 8th October 1940

During the German invasion of Poland he flew reconnaissance missions in an unarmed trainer aircraft but managed to take the fight to the enemy by throwing hand grenades out of his aircraft at columns of troops. He survived being shot down and was ordered to Rumania when Poland collapsed. Here he was interned but managed to escape and made his way, via North Africa, to France where he again served with a Polish unit. It is believed that he shot down as many as 11 aircraft during the German invasion of France.

Sep

22

1940

Top fighter pilot reflects on ‘Big Wing’ tactic

Journalists from Dominions newspapers watch a flight of Hawker Hurricane Mark Is of No. 56 Squadron RAF taking off for a sortie over France from North Weald, Essex. In the foreground another Hurricane Mark I of the Squadron, P2764 'US-P', stands at its dispersal point near the perimeter track on the south-western edge of the airfield.

All too frequently, when returning to North Weald in a semi-exhausted condition, all we saw of 12 Group’s contribution to the engagement, was a vast formation of Hurricanes in neat vics of three, steaming comfortably over our heads in pursuit of an enemy who had long since disappeared in the direction of France. Our reactions on such occasions, though mostly of resigned amusement at first, grew to be more harshly critical later on.

Sep

15

1940

Douglas Bader leads the ‘Big Wing’ into attack

The RAF met successive waves of German aircraft on the 15th September and came off best, although not as decisively as the contemporary propaganda suggested.

They were directed to enemy aircraft by A.A. fire and made a perfect approach with the Spitfires between the Hurricanes and the sun and the E/A below and down sun. The Hurricanes had to wait until Spitfires and Hurricanes already engaging the enemy broke away. The Spitfire Squadrons above held the enemy fighters off and 242 Squadron went in with the other Hurricane Squadrons to destroy the bombers.

Sep

11

1940

Spitfire versus Dornier

A rare close up aerial perspective of Battle of Britain combat.

Things are starting to get rough. Automatically I have followed my self-imposed drill that I always do at times like this. Reflector sight on; gun button to fire; airscrew pitch to 2,650 revs; better response. Press the emergency boost over- ride, lower my seat a notch and straps tight. OK, men, I’m all set. Let battle commence. Please, dear God, like me more than you do the Germans.