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Authors: Gill Griffin

A Very Unusual Air War (9 page)

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7 June
:
 
 
 
Unit 57 OTU. Hawarden
 
 
 
Summary for May/June 1941
Master
1–25
5–05
 
Spitfire
 
44–30

Signed:-
H.L. Thorne
Sgt

O/C
‘C’ Flt Summary for 20 Course
Master
1–25
5–05
 
Spitfire
 
44–30

Signed:-
H.L.Thorne
Sgt

Signed:-
J.W.Baldie
F/Lt O/C ‘C’ Flight

    
J.R.Dunsworth
S/Ldr. O/C Training 57 OTU

This concluded my training as a fighter pilot. It seems incredible now that only on the final flight, that on June 7th, did I experience firing the eight machine guns and then only air to ground. On the same day I had my one and only lesson in dog fighting. Perhaps even more unbelievable is that I had only 1 hour 40 minutes flying solo at night and that in a Miles Master trainer within sight of the flarepath. On joining 41 Squadron, on June 12th, I was ordered off for a night reconnaissance of the Catterick sector. My Spitfire was fully armed and operational in case I ran across the odd German bomber. We had only the old TR9 radio with poor reception and limited range and, apart from the magnetic compass, no navigation aids. It still seems absolutely amazing that we supremely confident youngsters got safely back to our bases. Of course there were some who were not so lucky.

At OTU most instructors were veterans of the Battle of Britain just a few months earlier, on rest from their battle experiences or recovering after being wounded or injured in crashes. Some of them still showed the stress and trauma of their operations. They taught me as much as time permitted, to improve my flying and how to hold my own in combat; they also taught me to play bridge.

Having a car made me popular with the other cadets and I made particular friends with four of them. Ron Rayner came from Manchester and being quite near, we spent a weekend with Ron’s parents. Desmond O’Connor (Dessie) came from the north of England and was a quiet, likeable youngster. Later we both became members of 602 Squadron and I was most upset when in the hard fought battles of the next year, on March 8th, he was shot down; later it was confirmed that he had died. Ronnie Rayner and I first joined 41 Squadron at their home base of Catterick, although my stay there was only two months. Ron remained with the squadron and after a full tour was posted to Malta and North Africa. He converted back to Hurricanes and later still went to Yugoslavia, instructing Tito’s airmen. He was awarded the DFC and survived the war. Ron passed away in 2001.

John Niven joined 602 squadron straight from OTU, like me as a sergeant. He and Jimmie Garden were both Scotsmen. Johnnie was commissioned early in 1942 and became my flight commander in ‘A’ Flight. He survived being shot down later in the war and was, I believe, badly wounded. Awarded a DFC, he attained the rank of squadron leader, but some years after the war he, like Ron, developed heart trouble. We met at the Hendon RAF Air Museum in 1976 and he invited Estelle and me to visit him at his home in Inverness but he died before we could take up the invitation.

2
41 SQUADRON, HOME BASE CATTERICK
YEAR
1940
AIRCRAFT
Pilot or 1st Pilot
2nd Pilot, Pupil or Pass.
DUTY (Including Results and Remarks)
Flying Time
Passenger
MONTH
DATE
Type
No.
Dual
Solo
June
11th
Spitfire
B
Self
 
Local reconnaissance
 
1–30
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Air firing; Air to ground
 
−55
 
 
12th
Spitfire
E
Self
 
Night flying. Local
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Squadron formation
 
−55
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Formation and DF homing
 
−35
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Night flying. Circuits and landings
 
−35
 
 
13th
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Night flying test
 
−10
 
 
14th
Spitfire
H
Self
 
Formation and cloud flying
 
1–10
 
 
 
Spitfire
H
Self
 
Local flying
 
−25
 
 
15th
Spitfire
H
Self
 
Cloud formation and dog fighting
 
−50
 
 
 
Spitfire
H
Self
 
Squadron formation and climbs
 
1–3
 
 
 
Spitfire
H
Self
 
NIGHT FLYING. Circuits and landings
 
1–00
 
 
16th
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Aerobatics
 
1–05
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Squadron formation to Acklington
 
−30
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Air firing
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Acklington to base
 
−30
 
 
17th
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Night flying, Army co-operation
 
1–20
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Formation to Leeming. Crashed on landing
 
−10
 
 
18th
Spitfire
G
Self
 
Night flying test
 
−10
 
19th
Spitfire
G
Self
 
Night flying. Army co-operation
 
1–45
 
 
 
Spitfire
G
Self
 
Night flying test
 
−20
 
 
20th
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Air test
 
−45
 
 
21st
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Squadron formation and climb
 
1–05
 
 
22nd
Spitfire
F
Self
 
Night flying. Army co-operation
 
−55
 
 
 
Spitfire
F
Self
 
Night flying. Army co-operation
 
−40
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Camera gun attacks on Spinning
 
−55
 
 
23rd
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Army co-operation
 
1–10
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Cloud flying and Spinning
 
1–05
 
 
24th
Spitfire
C
Self
 
To forward base (Thornaby)
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Return to Catterick
 
−15
 
 
25th
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Army co-operation
 
1–15
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Authorised ‘beat-up’ of Gun posts at Leeming
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Formation and cloud flying
 
−50
 
 
26th
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Squadron formation
 
1–00
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
To forward base
 
−10
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Return to Catterick
 
−10
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Catterick to Redhill
 
1–15
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Operational sweep
 
2–00
 
 
28th
Spitfire
C
Self
 
‘Flap’, an operational Scramble
 
−30
 
 
 
Spitfire
C
Self
 
Redhill to Catterick
 
1–15
 
 
29th
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Aerobatic
 
1–05
 
 
30th
Spitfire
D
Self
 
To forward base
 
−10
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Return to Catterick
 
−10
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Flap Scramble
 
1–00
 
 
 
Spitfire
D
Self
 
Flap Scramble
 
−55
 

11 June
: I do not remember firing at a towed drogue target; we just pointed the aircraft’s nose and fired out to sea.

12 June
: The letters DF stood for direction finding, in this instance by a short radio transmission (we usually counted up to 10 but some chaps used their own variations, ‘Mary had a little lamb’ being popular). This was my first experience of calling control for a homing to base.

15 June
: At Catterick our Squadron Leader was Donald Finlay, a time serving regular airman who had trained as an engineer at Halton near Aylesbury. Donald was a natural, enthusiastic athlete and a member of the pre-war British Olympic team as one of the hurdlers. As can be seen from the logbook entries he worked us hard at Catterick and when not flying there was plenty of PT with cross-country runs in the fields adjoining the airfield.

16 June
: This really was my only experience of firing at a towed drogue target. I presume that I must have hit it, as the exercise was not repeated (or perhaps I hit the towing aircraft).

17 June
: My night flight was as a target for searchlight units carrying out radar calibration. In anticipation of our brief visit to Redhill we flew to Leeming Bar to exchange our Spitfire Mk 2s, with the original armament of only 8 x .303 machine guns, for Spitfire Mk Vs, which had two x 20mm cannons in addition to the four machine guns.

The squadron commander decided that we would show off by arriving at Leeming in squadron formation and land in pairs. My section leader made his final approach too low over an earth bank (due to the runway being under construction) and when concentrating on maintaining station, I hit the earth bank, leaving my wheels stuck in the top. I made a wheels-up (belly) landing on the grass with surprisingly little damage.

18 June
: In addition to the improved armament, the Spit. Mk Vb had other improvements. The much more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 engine gave a higher speed and a service ceiling close to 40,000 feet. Another great improvement was the introduction of TR9 radio, which was very clear and covered our flights well into France and Belgium.

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