Read A Very Unusual Air War Online

Authors: Gill Griffin

A Very Unusual Air War

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Dedicated to
the memory of F/Lt H.L. ‘Len’ Thorne, A.E. and all of the brave men of Fighter Command who took part in the Second World War and subsequent conflicts.

Photographs from Len Thorne’s personal collection.

Edited and made ready for publication by the author’s daughter and son-in-law, Gill and Barry Griffin.

Any errors are purely ours or Len’s.

CONTENTS

    
Title Page

    
Dedication

    
List of Photographs

    
The Logbook

    
Foreword

    
Introduction

1  Training

2  41 Squadron, Home Base Catterick

3  602 Squadron

4  RAF Duxford AFDU (Air Fighting Development Unit)

5  Development Flight AFDU – RAF Duxford

6  Development Flight AFDU – RAF Wittering

7  Enter the Focke Wulf 190

8  Mustangs and Others

9  The Wind-down

    
Appendices

1  List of Aircraft Flown

2  Aerodromes at Which I Landed or From Which I Operated

3  Civilian Flying

4  Some Recollections of Those I Have Known

5  Letters of Condolence

    
Copyright

Cadet Len Thorne, 1940.

Len and Estelle Thorne on their wedding day, 16th September 1941.

Len with Mustang 3 (P51b), 1944.

Len in September 1990, dressed for a church parade in Stratford-upon-Avon.

LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS

Cadet Len Thorne, 1940

Len and Estelle Thorne on their wedding day, 16th September 1941

Len with Mustang 3 (P51b), 1944

Len in September 1990, dressed for a church parade in Stratford-upon-Avon

Logbook page beginning 15 October 1941

Group photograph of RAF cadets of 3 ITW on Babbacombe beach. Late May 1940

Pilots under training outside Norfolk Hotel, Torquay, 1941

3 ITW, September 1940

Logbook page, July 1941

602 Squadron, 1941

Johnny Niven

Cartoon by Aitkin of Al Deere

F/Sgt Les Scorer

Sgt Sanderson inspecting the cannon shell damage to his wing

Johnny Niven, Jimmy Garden, Sgt Smith and Len Thorne

Logbook extract, 1–3 October 1941

602 Squadron at rest

Len Thorne giving instruction in aero engines to Southwark ATC, February 1942

Len Thorne lecturing on combat manoeuvres to Southwark ATC, February 1942

F/Lt Roy ‘Lulu’ Lane, F/Lt Turley-George and F/Lt Desmond O’Connor

Sgt Paul Green, Sgt Sanderson and S/Ldr Brendan ‘Paddy’ Finucane

Logbook extract, early May 1942

Officer Commissioning certificate

AFDU ground crew with Spitfire Mk II P7292

Len Thorne in Spitfire P7290

AFDU group at Wittering

Tadeusz ‘Teddy’ Kulczyk and Len Thorne with Mustang Mk I

Inter-unit Christmas card to Len from his brother Leslie

LAC Leslie G. Thorne

Air-to-air filming. Spitfire VI

Logbook extract, Summary of Flying and assessment June 1942–December 1942

Len Thorne with Mustang P51b in 1943, Duxford

Certificate for a ‘Mention in a Despatch’, June 1944

AFDU Officers’ Mess Dinner

AFDU Group in front of Tempest Mk 1

Bill Burge and Bud

Len Thorne, ‘Wimpy’ Wade, ‘Susie’ Sewell and Cpl Green on a cold winter’s day, 1944

Len Thorne with crunched ME109G at Wittering, 22nd November 1944

F/Lt Len Thorne, 1945

Certificate for a Mention in a Despatch, January 1946

Visit to Hullavington in 1991 with John Timmis and Ron Rayner

Len sitting in ME109G at Duxford air show, 1996

Visit to Old Warden

Swapping memories with Stuart Waring and Andy Sephton at Old Warden

Len with Connie Edwards and Spitfire MH415 in Texas, 2000

THE LOGBOOK

Below is a photograph of a page in Len Thorne’s logbook dated October 1941. The left-hand side has been copied almost exactly in the following pages of this book but the right-hand leaf has had to be condensed so that both can be displayed on one sheet. There are columns for Single-Engine and Multi-Engine aircraft, sub-divided into Day and Night Flying. This is further divided into Dual or Pilot in single-engine aircraft and Dual, 1st or 2nd Pilot in multi-engine aeroplanes. There are also columns for Passenger, Instrument or Cloud flying. These have all been condensed to three columns, Dual, Pilot or Passenger. The detailed notes on the right-hand leaf have been incorporated into the story told in the text.

The summary boxes occur at the end of each month. They give details of the hours flown on each type of aeroplane and are signed by the pilot, the officer in command of a ‘Flight’ and the squadron leader. In this case the O/C ‘A’ Flight was F/Lt Norman C. Macqueen, DFC. Six months after this, on 4th May 1942, he was killed when his aircraft was hit by tracer fire from an ME109, while he was flying with 249 Squadron over Malta. The 602 squadron leader who signed above was Al Deere. Some of the figures in the flying columns were written in red. This denoted night flying.

FOREWORD

This book was first conceived almost accidentally. Len Thorne was a Second World War fighter pilot. He still had his wartime logbook and it was one of his proudest possessions. It was originally to have gone to his younger daughter, who lives in Texas. When he was in his 85th year he decided that he did not wish it to leave England and so it was willed to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. Because he could not keep his promise to give the logbook to his daughter, he felt guilty. This led him to make a handwritten copy of the book to give to her. When it was completed and handed over, he thought he should also give a copy to his elder daughter. She persuaded him that his reminiscences should be formalised so that we did not lose this first-hand history. Len found that the exercise of writing out his logbook had brought back many memories, so he created another manuscript copy, this time annotated with all his memories of the events which took place during his wartime RAF career and many of the people he had known. This book is the result.

It shows him to be one of the unsung heroes of the Second World War. He completed two tours of front line duty as a fighter pilot, when their life-expectancy was between two and four weeks. He then went to AFDU, the Air Fighting Development Unit, where he spent the rest of the war combat-testing new British, American and captured enemy aeroplanes.

Yet he was never decorated. He had been recommended for a medal and the citation had been written up but a change of commanding officer sent his medal elsewhere. I would not say he was bitter about it but the fact that he had no decoration did leave a scar. He was twice ‘mentioned in dispatches’, once for flight testing various Allied planes but mostly for flying comparative combat trials and demonstrations in the Focke Wulf 190A-3. His second mention was for flight testing, under operational conditions, the Spitfire Mk XXI in comparative trials against RAF, FAA and USAAF fighters to evaluate its suitability for service use and to prepare and submit a detailed report.

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