The Royal Navy acquired large numbers of F4Fs as Grumman Martlets and made extensive use of the type. The F4F’s successor was the Grumman F6F Hellcat, designed as a private initiative in response to feedback from fleet aviators, which entered front-line service in mid-1943. It was powered by a 2,000 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 18-cylinder radial engine, giving it a maximum speed of 376 miles per hour, a cruising speed of 168 miles per hour, and a range of 1,090 miles on internal fuel or 1,590 miles with a 150-gallon drop tank. The F6F was armed with six 0.5-inch machine guns and also could carry rockets or bombs. The Royal Navy also operated substantial numbers of F6Fs as the Grumman Hellcat.
From April 1943, the British started receiving F6Fs as part of the
Lend-Lease program, which America used to arm its ally. At first, they
renamed these planes with the far more British title of “Gannet” instead
The British received 252 Hellcats, but these planes never became as important for the Royal Navy as they were for its US counterpart.
On 16 July 1945 four carriers of the British Pacific Fleet
joined the American fast-carriers as Task Force 37. They contained 112 Seafire
or Firefly fighters, 73 Corsairs, and 62 Avengers. But the HMS Formidable also
embarked a detachment of Hellcats from the HMS Indomitable’s outstanding 1844
Squadron, Fleet Air Arm.
British use of Hellcats in the Pacific extended back to the
fall of 1944. In a series of strikes on Sumatran oil fields in December and
January, 1844 and 1839 Squadrons off the Indomitable had accounted for some 15
aerial victories with few losses. Then came the Okinawa Campaign where 1844 ran
up the largest one-day score for British F6Fs by downing four Oscars, a Tony,
and a Zeke over Formosa on 12 April. It was a mighty small bag by U.S. Navy standards,
but proof the British could put the Hellcat to good use.
The Royal Navy put its F6Fs to a different use the night of
25 July. When a small Japanese formation was detected heading for the British
task group, two of 1844’s Hellcats were scrambled from the Formidable under a
full moon. These were conventional Hellcat II’s (F6F-5s) without radar, but
their pilots had been trained in night flying and were vectored by the ship’s
FDO to an intercept position.
Lieutenant W. H. Atkinson, a Canadian, led the element and
made contact. He identified the bandits as big, single-engine Grace torpedo
planes and took his New Zealand wingman, Sub-Lieutenant R. F. Mackie, into the
attack. Atkinson latched on to a pair of Graces and shot them both into the
water while Mackie dumped a third. Then, in routing the other bandits, a fourth
Grace was damaged and the attack was completely broken up.
It was ironic that the British, who led the Allies in night
flying experience, should find themselves without their own carrier-based
single-seat night fighters. Two Hellcat NF-II squadrons, 891 and 892, were
forming with F6F-5Ns but would not become operational in time to fly combat.
These three victories raised the Hellcat’s tally to 47½ under British colors in the Pacific. Not surprisingly, 1844 Squadron remained the most successful F6F unit in the Fleet Air Arm with 31½ of the Royal Navy total. It also produced the individual top scorer, Sub-Lieutenant E. T. Wilson, who claimed 4.83 victories flying from the Indomitable in the Sumatran and Okinawan operations.
The Grumman F6F Hellcat was an American designed carrier
borne fighter. Its design began as a development of the F4F Wildcat powered by the R-2600 engine, but soon
evolved into a much larger and more capable aircraft, with the R-2800 engine.
The Hellcat was designed and put into service in a very short period in order
to counteract the A6M ‘Zero’ from the second half of 1943 onwards, and soon
became the main shipboard fighter of the US Navy for the last two years of the
Pacific War. The Hellcat was the most sucessful allied fighter in WWII with
over 5,000 aerial victories, and credited with 76% of all aircraft destroyed by
USN carrier fighters.
On 30 June, 1941 the US Navy ordered the prototypes XF6F-1
and XF6F-2, rugged aircraft that lacked
aesthetic appeal. In order to keep the
take-off and landing speeds at a reasonable level, Grumman made the wings
proportionally larger than most aircraft (including the Thunderbolt) to reduce
wing loading. In fact, the Hellcat had the largest wing area of any single
engine fighter of WWII at 334 square feet (102 square meters). They were to
have the Pratt-Whitney Double Wasp 2600-10 with a two-stage supercharger
installed delivering 1,700 hp (1,269 kW) for take-off. Immediately after the
first flight of the XF6F1 on 26, June, 1942, the craft was redesignated the
In 1942, the design of the prototype was adapted to take into account the analysis
of the first ever captured and undamaged Japanese Zero, found by a US Navy PBY Catalina making a routine patrol
over Akutan Island in the Pacific. The Zero was dismantled and shipped directly
to the Grumman Aircraft factory in California where it was reassembled and
flown. The information from the test flight of the Zero aided in the final
design development of the Hellcat. It
was found the XF6F-1 was marginally slower than the Zero, thus the change from
the Pratt-Whitney Double Wasp R-2600 to the R-2800. This engine boosted the
Hellcat’s top speed to 375 mph, 29 mph faster than the Zero. No other
unfavourable differences between the two planes could be found and the Hellcat
was deemed ready for production. The finalized version of the XF6F-3 was almost
identical to the production F6F-3 and Grumman shifted the assembly line into
Hellcat production started in 1943 and a quick and effective
distribution was subsequently organised. Well over 2,500 Hellcat were delivered
during the first year, making it possible to re-equip Hellcat squadrons rapidly
with this more potent fighter, and it remained in frontline service with the
FAA and US Navy for the remainder of World War II.
The Hellcat was used extensively as a search aircraft and
fighter-bomber, playing a major and
increasing part in strikes on Japanese warships and mercantile shipping in 1944
and 1945. In this role, and for ground
attack, it could carry up to 2,000 lb of
bombs, or be armed with six 5-inch rockets on underwing pylons.
By the time Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat production ended in
mid-1944, a total of 4,423 Hellcats had been built. Their numbers included 18
F6F-3E night fighters with APS-4 radar mounted in a pod beneath the starboard
wing, and 205 generally similar F6F-3N night fighters with APS-6 radar. Postwar
some were converted into unmanned flying bombs, used in Korea.
Hellcat I FAA equivalent F6F-3, 252 lendlease,
initial production model
Hellcat II NF.II, FAA equivalent of F6F-5, 5n. 930 lendlease, redesigned cowling, provision for rockets or bombs, also nightfighter version (N)
The Royal Navy received 252 F6F-3s as Hellcat I under
Lend-Lease. Production continued until November 1945 by which time 7870 F6F-5s
had been built, of which some 930 had been supplied to the Royal Navy as
Hellcat II and 1434 of the total had been completed as F6F-5N night-fighters.
Ultimately, the Hellcat equiped 14 FAA front-line squadrons.
The first Hellcat Mark Is started to be delivered to the
Fleet Air Arm on 13 March 1943, FN321
and FN323 arriving three months later, in June 1943 to the A and C Flights of
A&AEE, Boscombe Down for service trials by RN pilots, and in July 1943
FN330 was tested by 778 squadron at Crail.
Very soon afterwards the Hellcat was distributed to operational
squadrons, 800 squadron receiving its first Hellcat in batches in July, August
and October 1943 (eg FN337, FN334, FN332, FN334, FN332), and 1839 squadron from
December 1943 (FN328). Not long after this, on 31 August, 1943 the first combat
sorties were being flown by the USN VF9 and VF-5 squadrons aboard USS Yorktown
against Japanese targets on Marcus Island (Minami-tori Island) some 700 miles
southeast of Japan.
The first batch and second batches of 188 F6F-5 Hellcat Mark
IIs started to be delivered to the Royal Navy from May 1944, primarily to 1840
squadron. By this time many Hellcats were being shipped to overseas FAA
squadrons directly from Norfolk, Virginia, USA to HMS Thane 14 August 1944 and
on to RNARY Wingfield, thence to 804 squadron in September 1944.
The subsequent batch of 295 Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat Mk F.II
was also shipped directly to RNARY Wingfield (eg JX670 to JX720) in HMS Ranee
in September 1944, and on to RNARY
Coimbatore. Many of these Hellcat were still in service in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
after the end of the war and into1946. However, quite a number were surplus to
requirement after VJ-Day and dumped in the sea off Australia by HMS Colossus in
1945 (eg JX821).
The final 293 Hellcat II to be delivered to the Fleet Air
Arm arrived between January and May 1945, the very last aircraft, KE265 being
delivered on 11 May 1945.
The Hellcat served post war and some of the earlier batches
managed to remain in RN service, for example JV247 in 709 squadron. After this
aircraft was paid off it went to Fairey Aviation at Hayes in 1946. Whilst
Grumman F.II KE209 remained as the personal aircraft of the Lossiemouth Station
Flight Commanding Officer Caspar John until 1952, and the Aircraft Holding Unit
in 1954 (this aircraft is extant in the Fleet Air arm Museum).
Demons had a very active career, seeing combat duty
around Quemoy and off the Lebanon in 1958. Last deliveries took place in 1959
and replacement by the McDonnell F-4 was complete by August 1964 (first line)
and February 1965 (reserve),
In service, the Demon performed dependably and gained
praise from pilots for its stable flying characteristics, at high altitude as
well as during carrier operations. Between 1956 and 1964, a total of 23 US Navy
‑ fighter squadrons flew versions of the F3H Demon. The type was withdrawn
before it could serve in Vietnam, where the F-4 Phantom II, itself conceived as
an advanced development of the Demon, was a mainstay.
The F3H Demon was the first swept-wing jet fighter aircraft
built by McDonnell Aircraft and also the first aircraft designed to be armed
only with missiles rather than guns. The carrier-based, transonic, all-weather
Demon fighter was designed with the philosophy that carrier-based fighters need
not be inferior to land-based fighters. However, the planned powerplant, the
new J40 turbojet, failed to meet its expectations and left early Demons
(F3H-1N) underpowered. Production delays were also caused by the Navy’s desire
for the Demon to be an all-weather nightfighter. And so, although the prototype
had flown in August 1951, the radar-equipped Demon did not enter service until
March 1956 as the F3H-2N and then with the Allison J71 turbojet as the
By the time production ceased in 1959, 519 Demons had been
built including the definitive Demon fighter-bomber (F3H-2). At its peak US
Navy use, the Demon equipped 11 squadrons.
Beyond doubt McDonnell’s most trying programme-due to
circumstances outside their control-was the F3H Demon. Like all the company’s
jets so far it was designed around an axial engine from Westinghouse. In this
case it was the huge J40, on which virtually all the Navy’s plans for fighters
and bombers rested in the late 1940s. The XE3H-1 Demon was ordered in 1948 as a
carrier-based fighter equal in performance to land-based machines. The result,
flown on 7 August 1951, was even more advanced than the Voodoo, though the
family likeness was obvious. The wing had a different form, though just as much
sweep. To facilitate carrier operation, the wing was broader and liberally
endowed with slats and flaps. The tail was fully swept and the horizontal
surfaces were single-piece slabs. The main undercarriage had an extremely wide
track, while the J40 engine was fed by lateral inlets and discharged under the
tail, occupying the space which in the XF-88 had mainly been fuel.
After four disastrous years, the Navy had to abandon the J40
in early 1954 and reshape or abandon its aircraft programmes. Though 60 F3H-1
Demons were delivered as instructional airframes, the company managed to rescue
the programme with the Allison J71-A-2, rated at 6,470 kg (14,2501b) with full
afterburner. With the inevitable delay, McDonnell redesigned the Demon as an
all-weather missile-armed interceptor.
The F3H Demon was what might be called a mature design for a
shipboard fighter. It had swept wings from the start (unlike Grumman’s F9F),
a single pilot and just one engine (when many recent designs had featured two
or even four, such was the low thrust rating of many early turbojets). First
prototype XF3H-1 125444 ‑ flew from Lambert Field on 7 August 1951, under the
power of a non-afterburning J40-WE-6. Early ‑ flight testing with the two
prototypes, which saw the loss of 125444, only confirmed that the J40 had
serious reliability problems and left the aircraft under-powered. Even before
this time, the US Navy had ordered the Demon into production, although as the
night fighter F3H-1N rather than the planned day fighter. Engine failures
and crashes plagued early production F3H-1Ns, leading to a grounding of all
F3Hs in the spring of 1954. With no confidence that Westinghouse would ever
manage to resolve the J40’s problems, the Navy took the decision to re-engine
the F3H, its choice falling on the Allison J71.
No F3H-1 ever reached squadron service, although several
were issued for ground training purposes. There was then a delay in the
programme until the re-engined F3H-2N became available; two F3H1Ns modified to
fit the J71 ‑ flew in January 1955 and production F3H-2Ns started to come off
the line three months later. Acceptance testing progressed to carrier trials
aboard USS Ticonderoga in September 1965, and deliveries were made to the first
front-line squadron, VF-14 `Top Hatters’ at Cecil Field, FL, in April 1956.
VF-14 undertook a shake-down cruise aboard USS Forrestal early the following
year, by which time further units were taking delivery. In service, the
aircraft proved rugged, nimble (`we outturn anything’) and well adapted to
carrier operations. Better it was marginally supersonic in level flight. The
Demon had a flight refuelling probe, semi-retractable, on the starboard
forward fuselage. In Operation `Pipeline’ in May 1958, VF-64 flew four
aircraft non-stop across the Atlantic, thus underlining the US Navy’s ability
quickly to reinforce its carrier-embarked Air Wings by ferrying aircraft from
east coast air stations to its Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers in the
The F3H-2 entered service aboard US Navy carriers in 1957 as
the most advanced combat aircraft then to have put to sea. Altogether 519 were
delivered, most being F3H-2 strike fighters but final batches comprising 79
F3H-2M missile platforms with the A1M-7C Sparrow and 146 being F3H-2N night and
all-weather fighters with different radar and AIM-9C Sidewinders. All versions
saw extensive active service, including combat air patrols over Quemoy, Formosa
and the Lebanon in 1958. These aircraft were redesignated F-3B, MF-3B and F-3C
Bleriot XI (French, early WWI). Single-seat/two-seat
reconnaissance. Developed from Louis Bleriot’s 1909 cross-Channel monoplane;
existed in several sizes/ forms. Used in Italo-Turkish War 1911-12, Balkan
Wars, early months World War I; thereafter as trainer. 50hp or 80hp Gnome
engine; max. speed 75mph (120kph); makeshift armament of pistols and/or rifle
In the earliest air actions, carried out by Italian airmen in
Libya (Tripolitania), the bomb dropped by Lieut. Gavotti was a 2-kg
weapon like the one shown here: it was known as a Cipelli bomb, so named
after its inventor.
“Today I have decided to try to throw bombs from the aeroplane. It is the first time that we will try this and if I succeed, I will be really pleased to be the first person to do it,” wrote Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti to his father. With other military aviators of the new Italian Royal Army Air Services Specialist Battalion, Lt. Gavotti had been sent to the Ottoman Turk provinces of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica to fight in the Italo-Turkish War. His aeroplane was a Blériot monoplane, one of only a handful in Italy’s possession.
“Today two boxes full of bombs arrived. We are expected to throw them from our planes. It is very strange that none of us have been told about this, and that we haven’t received any instruction from our superiors. So we are taking the bombs on board with the greatest precaution. It will be very interesting to try them on the Turks.”
The influence of World War I on the use of aeroplanes for military purposes has left a general impression that aerial warfare was originated during those fateful years. In fact, the true pioneers of air warfare in aeroplanes were a handful of courageous Italian airmen who served during the little-known Italo-Turkish War in Libya in 1911-12, almost three years before the commencement of the European conflict.
In August 1911 the Italian Army manoeuvres had shown a
potential for aircraft in general reconnaissance roles, and on 25 September
came an order to mobilise the Italian Special Army Corps and, more
significantly. an Air Flotilla. On that date the Flotilla comprised a total of
nine aeroplanes-two Bleriot XI monoplanes, two Henry Farman biplanes, three
Nieuport monoplanes, and two Etrich Taubes-manned by five first-line pilots,
six reserve pilots and 30 airmen for all forms of technical maintenance. All
nine machines were immediately dismantled, crated and sent by sea to Libya,
arriving in the Bay of Tripoli on 15 October. With minimum facilities available,
the crated aircraft were put ashore and transported to a suitable flying ground
nearby, where assembly commenced almost immediately. The first aeroplane was
completed by 21 October.
On the morning of 23 October 1911, Captain Carlos Piazza,
commander of the Air Flotilla, took off at 0619 hours in his Bleriot for an
urgently-requested reconnaissance of an advancing body of Turkish and Arab
troops and eventually landed back at base at 0720 hours. This was the first-ever
war flight in an aeroplane. Shortly after Piazza left, his second-in-command.
Captain Riccardo Moizo, piloting a Nieuport, also took off but returned after
40 minutes with little to report. Both men were airborne again on the following
day, seeking the location of enemy troops and, in Moizo’s case, being
Next day, 25 October, Moizo was again in the air and sighted
a large Arab encampment in the Ain Zara region. As he circled his objective,
Moizo was greeted with a barrage of rifle fire and three bullets pierced his
Nieuport’s wings. Though these caused no serious damage, it was the first
occasion on which an aeroplane had experienced hostile ground fire. Within the
following three days two more aircraft had become available. These-an Etrich
Taube, piloted by Second Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti, and a Henry Farman, by
Lieutenant Ugo de Rossi-soon joined their seniors on scouting patrols over
enemy camps and emplacements.
The Flotilla commander, Captain Piazza, quickly perceived
further roles for his aircraft and, after several unsuccessful attempts,
finally achieved a measure of air-to-ground co-operation with the local Italian
artillery commander; Piazza dropped messages of correction or confirmation (in
small tins) after observing the actual results of artillery fire. This presaged
a major role for aeroplanes in the imminent European war. Piazza also envisaged
the possibilities of aerial camera work and, on 11 November, sent an urgent
request to his headquarters for provision of a Zeiss Bebe plate camera. After
several weeks of waiting. Piazza took it upon himself to borrow a camera from
the Engineer Corps in Tripoli and had this fixed to his Bleriot, positioned
just in front of his seat and pointing downwards. Manipulation of the controls
and the plate camera at once meant that only one exposure could be made on each
flight, but it was the birth of airborne photo-reconnaissance.
The Turks, without any air arm, were forced on to the
defensive and retaliated by rifle and machine gun fire. Since the Italian
aviators could not fly very high, these weapons had some effect; one Italian
aircraft outside Tripoli was hit seven times by rifle fire while flying at 2500
feet, though neither the aircraft nor the pilot was disabled. One luckless
flyer had an engine failure behind enemy lines and was captured, though there
appears to be no record of his subsequent fate; with the reputation the Turks
had in those days it was probably grim.
Although there appears to be no evidence that any of the
Flotilla’s pilots ever attempted to take aloft and use any form of firearm, the
concept of an offensive role for their aircraft was exemplified by the use of
aerial bombs. The first-ever bombing sortie was that undertaken on 1 November
1911 by Second Lieutenant Gavotti, when he dropped three 2kg Cipelli bombs on
the Taguira Oasis and a fourth bomb on Ain Zara. The relative success of
Gavotti’s sortie led to the use of modified Swedish Haasen hand grenades and
these were replaced by a small cylindrical bomb, containing explosive and lead
balls, designed by Lieutenant Bontempelli.
By February 1912, the Flotilla’s machines had been modified
to carry a large box (dubbed Campodonicos), each of which could hold ten
Bontempelli bombs, which could then be released, simply by the pilot pulling a
lever, in salvo or singly. The age of aerial bombardment had dawned. Nor was
this form of aerial warfare confined to daylight sorties. Later in the
campaign, on 2 May 1912, Captain Marengo, commander of a second air formation
which arrived at Benghazi in late November 1911, made a 30-minute night
reconnaissance as the first of several similar patrols. Then, on 11 June before
dawn, Marengo dropped several bombs on a Turkish encampment, inaugurating the
night bomber role.
During December 1911 and January 1912 the work of the
Flotilla was severely hampered by atrocious weather conditions, including high
winds and sudden storms. However, its aircraft continued to give direct
tactical support to the ground troops by scouting ahead of advancing columns
and locating enemy troops in the vicinity. Fresh aircraft for the Libyan airmen
began arriving in January, along with new pilots, including Lieutenant Oreste
Salomone, later to gain honours and national fame as a bomber pilot during
World War 1. By the end of January, due to the eastward movements of the
advancing Italian ground forces, it became necessary for the Libyan Flotilla to
change its base airfield, and a move was made to Homs on 12 February. From here
the aircraft flew in yet another new role: aerial propaganda. The pilots
scattered thousands of specially prepared leaflets far and wide amongst Arab
camps, with the result that large numbers of tribesmen were persuaded to become
allied to the Italian cause.
By this time the value of the aircraft was being fully
recognised by Italian Army commanders and the feats of the pilots were
acclaimed in official dispatches. The overall commander of Italy’s Air Battalion.
Lt Col di Montezemolo, arrived in Libya in February 1912 to inspect the Air
Flotilla and report on its activities and results. One item in his subsequent
report was the recommendation that Captain Piazza be repatriated to Italy, due
to the commander’s bouts of fever, and that he be succeeded by Captain
Scapparo. Piazza, once fit again, should be employed in organising flying
The obvious success of the Libyan Air Flotilla soon led to a
second, though smaller flotilla being dispatched to Cyrenaica and based at
Benghazi. Once established, this formation’s first war sortie-a reconnaissance
patrol- was flown on 28 November by Second Lieutenant Lampugani. Though mainly
restricted to the areas close to Benghazi, this formation had its full share of
operational experiences. Most flights were met with fierce opposition from
Turkish ground fire, including anti-aircraft artillery. This latter novelty was
first experienced by Lieutenant Roberti on 15 December 1911 when flying over
some Turkish trenches; his aircraft and propeller received several shrapnel
strikes. As if to compliment the gunners on their accuracy, Roberti coolly
dived across the enemy battery positions and dropped some of his personal
A terrible precedent
As recorded earlier, the commander of the Benghazi formation,
Captain Marengo, instituted a series of night bombing and reconnaissance
sorties between May and July. His only night-flying aid was an electric torch,
fixed to his flying helmet and operated by a normal hand- switch, in order to
read his few instrument dials. Tragically, it was a pilot of Marengo’s
formation who became the Italian Air Service’s first-ever wartime casualty. On
25 August 1912 at 0610 hours Second Lieutenant Pietro Manzini took off for a reconnaissance
patrol but almost immediately side-slipped into the sea and was killed.
With the end of the campaign, the Italian airmen won acclaim
from the international Press. One particularly prophetic war correspondent,
with the Turkish Army throughout the war, wrote, `this war has clearly shown
that air navigation provides a terrible means of destruction. These new weapons
are destined to revolutionise modem strategy and tactics. What I have witnessed
in Tripoli has convinced me that a great British air fleet must be created.’
Certainly, by their skill, imagination and courage, the Italian Air Flotillas
had inaugurated man’s latest form of destruction, pioneering most of the
military roles for the aeroplane.
The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine tractor two-seat biplane designed and developed at the Royal Aircraft Factory. Most production aircraft were constructed under contract by various private companies, both established aircraft manufacturers and firms that had not previously built aircraft. Around 3,500 were manufactured in all.
The B.E.2 has always been a subject of controversy, both at the time and in later historical assessment. From the B.E.2c variant on it had been carefully adapted to be “inherently stable”, this feature was considered helpful in its artillery observation and aerial photography duties: most of which were assigned to the pilot, who was able to fly without constant attention to his flight controls. In spite of a tendency to swing on take off and a reputation for spinning, the type had a relatively low accident rate. The stability of the type was however achieved at the expense of heavy controls, making rapid manoeuvring difficult. The observer, often not carried because of the B.E.’s poor payload, occupied the front seat, where he had a limited field of fire for his gun.
The Sikorsky Ilya Muromets (Sikorsky S-22, S-23, S-24, S-25, S-26 and S-27) were a class of Russian pre-World War I large four-engine commercial airliners and military heavy bombers used during World War I by the Russian Empire. The aircraft series was named after Ilya Muromets, a hero from Slavic mythology. The series was based on the Russky Vityaz or Le Grand, the world’s first four-engined aircraft, designed by Igor Sikorsky. The Ilya Muromets aircraft as it appeared in 1913 was a revolutionary design, intended for commercial service with its spacious fuselage incorporating a passenger saloon and washroom on board. During World War I, it became the first four-engine bomber to equip a dedicated strategic bombing unit. This heavy bomber was unrivaled in the early stages of the war, as the Central Powers had no aircraft capable enough to rival it until much later.
The Caproni Ca.3 was an Italian heavy bomber of World War I and the postwar era. It was the definitive version of the series of aircraft that began with the Caproni Ca.1 in 1914.
Apart from the Italian Army, original and licence-built examples were used by France (original Capronis were used in French CAP escadres, licence-built examples in CEP escadres). They were also used by the American Expeditionary Force. There has been some confusion regarding the use of the Ca3 by the British Royal Naval Air Service. The RNAS received six of the larger triplane Ca4s and did not operate the Ca3. The British Ca4s were not used operationally and were returned to Italy after the war. Some of the Ca.36Ms supplied after the war were still in service long enough to see action in Benito Mussolini’s first assaults on North Africa.
The Breguet 14 was a French biplane bomber and reconnaissance aircraft of the First World War. It was built in very large numbers and production continued for many years after the end of the war.
Apart from its widespread usage, the Breguet 14 is known for being the first mass-produced aircraft to use large amounts of metal, rather than wood, in its structure. This allowed the airframe to be lighter than a wooden airframe of the same strength, in turn making the aircraft relatively fast and agile for its size; in combat situations, it was able to outrun many of the contemporary fighters of the day. The Breguet 14’s strong construction allowed it to sustain considerable damage, in addition to being easy to handle and possessing favourable performance. The type has often been considered to have been one of the best aircraft of the war.
The first powered aircraft had been flown by the Wright
brothers only a decade before World War I began, but the airplane was soon to
play a major role. At first planes were only used for observation and
reconnaissance, and indeed they were able to provide an important new view of
the battlefield. At the Battle of Mons in southern Belgium on August 23, 1914,
British forces rushed to the rescue of the French as the Germans attacked them.
Just before the clash, the British sent out an observation plane to see what
was going on and discovered, to their surprise, that the Germans were trying to
surround them. The British high command immediately ordered a retreat, which
saved them from a disaster. A little later a French observation plane noticed
that the Germans had exposed their flanks, and the French attacked, stopping an
attempted drive to Paris. The value of the observation plane was soon evident.
It wasn’t long, however, before observation planes on
opposite sides began to come in contact. At first they merely fired at one
another with pistols and rifles, although at times they also tried to throw
rocks at one another’s propellers. One of the first pilots to escalate air
warfare was Roland Garros of France. Although most of the early airplanes used
in the war were “pushers,” like the Wright brothers’ craft, with the propeller
behind the pilot, it was soon discovered that the “tractor” design, with the
propeller in the front, was much more effective. The problem with this,
however, was that if machines gun were to be mounted so pilots could easily aim
and fire them, they would have to fire through the whirling blades of the
propeller, and this would quickly destroy the propeller blades. Garros decided
to protect the blades by adding steel deflectors to them.
In early April 1915 he tried out his new invention for the
first time. The recipients of his attacks were no doubt surprised when they saw
Garros’s airplane flying straight at them, shooting a stream of bullets. Garros
shot down four German airplanes using his new device, but on April 18 he was
forced down behind German lines. His airplane was seized, and the German high
command called in Anthony Fokker of the Fokker aircraft company and ordered him
to copy the device. Fokker saw, however, that it was seriously flawed: many of
the bullets hitting the blades were deflected, and some of them were being
deflected backward. Fokker and his team therefore began working on a system in
which the machine gun was synchronized with the propeller blade. A cam was
placed on the crankshaft of the airplane; when the propeller was in a position
where it might be hit by a bullet, the cam actuated a pushrod that stopped the
gun from firing. The new device was placed on German airplanes, and for many
months the Germans had a tremendous advantage in the air.6
In the meantime the British were also experimenting with the
mounting of a machine gun on an airplane. Aviator Louis Strange attached a
machine gun to the top of the upper wing of his plane so that the bullets would
clear the propeller. However, on May 10, 1915, his gun jammed. He stood up on
his seat in an attempt to pry it loose, but as he worked on it the plane
suddenly stalled and flipped over, then it began to spin downward. Strange was
flung out of the plane, but he managed to hang on to the gun on the upper wing.
For several moments he swung his legs around wildly, trying to get back in the
cockpit. Fortunately, he succeeded and was able to pull the plane out of its
dive just before it would have crashed.
Nevertheless, with the new Fokker design, the Germans
quickly achieved air superiority. Strangely, most of their new guns were
mounted on the Eindecker E1, a plane that was generally inferior to most
British aircraft. The casualties, however, were not as great as they were later
in the war because the British pilots stayed clear of the Eindecker. The morale
of the British, however, had been shaken, and they rushed to produce fighters
that could match the Eindeckers.
The era of the dogfight had begun. A dogfight was an aerial
battle between two or more aircraft. The Germans had an advantage when the
dogfights first began. As a result, they began knocking down British planes at
the rate of the about five to each of their losses. German aces such as Max
Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke became heroes at home as a result of the large
number of British planes they downed. Between them they shot down almost sixty
enemy aircraft before they were stopped. Finally, though, in the fall of 1915,
the British introduced two fighters, the F.E.2 and the DH2, which were a good
match for the German planes, and they also developed tracer ammunition that
helped. With it a pilot could see his stream of fire and adjust it if needed.
Pilots with eight kills became known as aces. At first, most
pilots went out alone, searching for enemy planes, but after 1917 squadrons
were introduced on both sides. The British developed squadrons of six planes
that usually flew in a V-shaped formation with a commander in the front. In
combat, however, they would break up into pairs, with one of the two planes
primarily on attack while the other was a defender. The German squadrons were
usually larger, and their groups eventually became known as circuses.
One of the leading British aces was Mick Mannock. He was a
leading developer of British air tactics, and between May 1917 and July 1918,
he shot down seventy-three German planes. Almost all pilots were under the age
of twenty-five, with many as young as eighteen. Many, in fact, were sent into
battle with as little as thirty hours of air training. So, as expected, their
life expectancy once they joined up was not long.
Dogfight tactics were well known, and everyone used them as
much as possible. The major tactic was diving toward another plane from above
when the sun was shining in the eyes of the opposing pilot. Both sides also
used clouds for cover as much as possible; they would attack, then head for the
The best-known ace of the war was, no doubt, the German
Manfred von Richthofen, who was also known as the Red Baron. He was credited
with eighty combat victories during his career. As in the case of most aces,
however, many of them were against greenhorn pilots with only a few hours of
experience. He did, however, down one of the leading British aces, Major Lance
Hayden. During 1917 he was the leader of the German squadron called the Flying
Circus. The plane he piloted was painted red, both inside and out. His career
came to an end on April 21, 1913, when he was shot down by ground fire near the
On the Allied side, Billy Bishop was one of the most
celebrated aces; a Canadian, he was credited with seventy-two victories, and he
was instrumental in setting up the British air-training program. At one point
he fought against the Red Baron, but neither man gained a victory. He was
awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917. The best-known American ace was Eddie
Rickenbacker. Before he became a pilot he was a racecar driver, so flying a
fighter plane was a natural next step for him. When the United States entered
the war in 1917 Rickenbacker enlisted immediately and was soon flying over
Germany. On September 24, 1918, he was named commander of a squadron. In total,
he shot down twenty-six German aircraft. Another major American figure was
Billy Mitchell; by the end of World War I he commanded all American air combat
Although the fighter planes got the most attention during
World War I, a much larger plane also played an important role. It was developed
to carry and release bombs over enemy territory. Strategic bombing was used
quite extensively during the war. Its object was to destroy factories, power
stations, dockyards, large installations of guns, and troop-supply lines. The
first bombing missions were by the Germans, who launched terror raids using
large Zeppelins (huge balloons) to bomb small villages and civilians as a way
to destroy the enemy’s morale. There were a total of twenty-three of these
raids over England, and at first there was little defense against them. But
quite quickly it became evident that they were easy targets, as most were
filled with flammable hydrogen and therefore easy to shoot down. So the airship
raids finally stopped, but Germany soon developed bomber airplanes. The British
also developed the Handley Page bomber in 1916, and in November of that year
they bombed several German installations and submarine bases. By 1918 they were
using four-engine bombers to attack industrial zones, with some of the bombs
weighing as much as 1,650 pounds. They developed a squadron that was able to
penetrate deep into Germany and hit important industrial targets. The Germans
retaliated, bombing both British and French cities, but in the end the British
dropped 660 tons of bombs on Germany—more than twice the amount the Germans
dropped on England.
The SM.79 Sparviero (“Sparrow Hawk”) bombers were
constructed of a welded tubular steel frame, covered with duralumin forward,
duralumin and plywood over the top, and fabric elsewhere. The wings were made
of wood. They first saw service with the Aviazione Legionaria units serving in the
Spanish Civil War, where over 100 of these bombers assisted Francisco Franco’s
Nationalist forces mainly in Catalonia. By the time Italy entered WW2, Sm.79
bombers were the backbone of the Italian bomber force. They were used in
France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Crete, Malta, Gibraltar, Palestine, and North
Africa. They were responsible for sinking 86 Allied ships totaling 708,000
tons. After the Italian surrender, 34 SM.79 bombers served with the pro-Allies
government and 36 served with the pro-Axis government in the north.
In 1939, 45 SM.79 bombers were sold to Yugoslavia. Most of
them were destroyed during the German invasion in 1941, but a few survived to
serve in the pro-Axis government after the invasion. Four of them were
evacuated to Britain and were used by the Royal Air Force under the
designations AX702, AX703, AX704, and AX705.
Between 1936 and 1945, 1,350 SM.79 bombers were built. After
the war, a few of them continued to serve with the new Italian air force
Aeronautica Militare as passenger transports; they were retired in 1952. A few
of them made their way to the Lebanese air force and served until 1959.
This Gruppo formed on 15 February 1940 with 15 SM 79
bombers. In June they made bombing raids on Corsica, escorted by G 50s of 51
Stormo, and on 21 June nine SM 79s bombed Marseilles naval port.
The unit adopted several camouflage finishes, from banded to
mottled in the same squadriglia, as new colour orders filtered through from H.
Q. In November they transferred to the Balkans for operations over Greece and
Yugoslavia. To save weight the bombers reduced their defensive weapons from
four to two, despite several combats with RAF Gladiators. The winter produced
heavy snows which reduced the number of operations, but some bombing was still
undertaken. Escorting G 50s joined in with ground strafing.
On 1 May 1942 the unit became Aerosilurante and the more
experienced crews were sent to Sardinia in June for operations against the
HARPOON convoy. On 14 June four aircraft out of twelve were lost, with Medaglia
d’Oro being posthumously awarded to Tenente Ingrellini and Sergente Maggiore
Compiani. On 3 July the whole Gruppo went to the Aegean to operate against
shipping in the eastern Mediterranean. They made armed reconnaissance sorties
as far as Haifa, Port Said, and Port Alexander. On 1 September they became
Autonomo, often co-operating with Fliegerkorps X on convoy attacks and
By 1 January 1943 they had 8 operational aircraft at
Gadurra, on day and night reconnaissance missions along the eastern and central
African coastlines. On 15 February two SM 79s were intercepted by P-39s between
Tobruk and Mersa Matruh, claiming one fighter shot down. By 20 March six
aircraft were still operational out of thirteen.
From January to March crews were transferred between Kalamaki
and Gadurra for night training by instructors from 1 and 3 NAS. Despite the
setting up at the start of the war of a Blind Flying School (La Scuola di Volo
Senza Visibilta) most new pilots had very little experience of instrument or
night flying as they were rushed to the front with minimal training.
Pilots briefly trained on the Junkers Ju 88 for dive and
torpedo bomber operations, using Luftwaffe aircraft based at Athene. The
practical difficulties of acquiring and supporting such a unit precluded
further pursuit of this role, despite the initial success with training.
In April 1943 one squadriglia sometimes used Coo and
Scarpanto as forward bases. Two aircraft used Timpaklion, Crete, for armed
reconnaissance flights between Appollonia and Benghasi. There were very few
aircraft operational by mid-May, but morale was high with the recent successful
missions which had followed a long wait. On 23 May three SM 79s escorted two
unarmed SM 75s from Gadurra to bomb Gura base in Africa at night. 253 Sq was
detached to Iraklion on Crete, from 25 June to 16 July. By 9 July the unit had
only five out of eleven aircraft serviceable at Gadurra.
In July the Gruppo moved to Italy for re-equipment. They
then carried out night attacks against the invasion fleet off Sicily. 253 Sq
claimed an enemy night fighter off the Ioinian coast on the night of 18 July.
On 7 September eight aircraft were still operational. The two squadriglie
commanders took off at 19.30 hours on 8 September to attack ships in the Gulf
of Salerno. It was not until they were nearing the target area that the
radiomen heard the order for all bomber and fighter units to cancel operations
and return to base. They only turned back when a direct order to all torpedo
bomber units was received from the H. Q. of Squadra 3, landing at Guidonia and
returning to Siena the next day.
G-11s, along with the Antonov A-7 constituted a majority of Soviet transport gliders. They were mainly used from mid-1942 for supplying Soviet partisans with provisions, weapons, equipment and trained men, towed mainly by SB or DB-3 bombers. Most intensive use was from March to November 1943 in Belarus, in the Polotsk-Begoml-Lepel area, on the Kalinin Front. Several hundred Soviet gliders (of all types) were used in night supply flights there. After landing, the gliders were destroyed and pilots were sometimes returned by aircraft. The only known instance of a glider returning from the field occurred in April 1943, when a famous glider and test pilot Sergei Anokhin evacuated two wounded partisan commanders in a G-11, towed by a Tupolev SB bomber, piloted by Yuriy Zhelutov, on a 10 m (33 ft) short towrope.
Gliders were also used to supply partisans in some areas in 1944 and to transport sabotage groups behind enemy lines. G-11 gliders were also used in at least one small-scale airborne operation, the Dnepr crossing, carrying anti-tank guns and mortars.
A less typical action was an airbridge from Moscow to the Stalingrad area in November 1942, to rapidly deliver anti-freeze coolant for tanks, during the battle of Stalingrad.
The G-11 enjoyed relative success as a light transport glider design, having more capacity than the Antonov A-7, and its transport compartment was a better fit for cargo, although light guns could only be carried in parts due to small hatches.
While this glider transport experiment [Russian transport of
infantry in gliders attached to bombers] first attracted attention and caused
much comment among aviation writers and experts, the military leaders among
other great powers took little heed of the glider potential, except for the
Just after dark one day in the spring of 1943, gliders took
off from an airfield whose name, if it had one, is now lost. Their destination
was secret. The Soviet Union was fighting for its life. No one was yet
convinced that her armies had conclusively stemmed the German onslaught. The
gliders carried Matjus Sumauskas, president of the Supreme Soviet of the
Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, Henrikas Zimanas, editor-in-chief of
Komunistas, and seventy others. They were all Lithuanians and members of
Operative Group II, organized to launch partisan movements in German-held
Some 600 miles behind German lines, the gliders cut away
from their tow planes. It was black below. Some came in to fairly good
landings. One crashed, killing all. Zimanas’s glider hit an obstacle and was
virtually demolished, with the pilot killed and the passengers badly bruised or
severely injured. The accident hurt Zimanas’s spine and leg. Despite his
injuries and the arrival of an evacuation aircraft, he remained with the
mission, assisting as best he could as a radio operator while the other
partisans made their way to the Kazyan Forest. Regaining strength, although
limping and in severe pain, Zimanas caught up with the main force in the Kazyan
Forest. He then went with it to Lithuania.
Nothing was ever known in the West during the war of these
isolated but daring partisan operations behind German lines that were
frequently launched with gliders. It was through those missions that the use of
transport gliders was finally coming into its own in Soviet military
operations, the culmination of years of preparation.
Like the Germans, the Soviets had long been avid gliding and
soaring enthusiasts. The Soviet Union was one of the few countries to compete
with the Germans with any degree of success in the development of gliding. The
meager amount of information allowed to seep out of the Soviet Union gave no
idea of the great activity centered around glider development there. Soviet
progress appears to have anticipated that of Germany by perhaps as much as five
years, a fact of immense historical significance.
In the Soviet Union, the state took a direct interest in
soaring. Under its support, Soviet glider pilots began to gain international
recognition shortly before World War II. In 1925, the Soviets held their first
national glider competition in the Crimea.
While Germany originally used the glider as a subterfuge to
improve its aeronautical technology and skill resources, the Soviets embarked
upon a substantial glider development program for entirely different reasons.
Germany’s interest in the glider was rooted in those of its qualities that
could serve military ends and took absolutely no notice of its commercial
value. In the Soviet Union, it was the other way around. Military use became a
coincidental offshoot. Soviet commercial aircraft could fly passengers and
cargo into areas that had no trains and where roads were impassable in bad
weather. The aircraft was solving historical communication problems that had
reined in domestic development over the centuries. The aircraft was meeting a
vital economic and political need at a critical point in the history of the
Soviet Union. The Soviet expansion of commercial air transportation strove to
keep up with the increasing demand to fly more and more passengers and cargo.
Short in technological skills and lacking the industrial
capacity and production know-how to turn out the increasing number of aircraft demanded
of a strained economy, the Soviets turned to the transport glider as offering a
way to double air-cargo capacity, using substantially less resources in
airframe materials, aircraft, engines and fuel than would be necessary to
achieve the same cargo lift with powered transport aircraft.
By then, Soviet-built gliders had been towed long distances
in single tow. Experiments were started in double and triple tows, with the
thought that ultimately a single aircraft could tow many transport gliders
carrying passengers in “glider train” formation. So rapidly did they progress,
that by 1939 they had managed the art of towing as many as five single-place
gliders with a single aircraft, a feat never matched elsewhere and an
accomplishment not surpassed outside of the Soviet Union since.
Although Soviet interest focused chiefly on sport gliding in
the 1920’s, the government decided to expand Soviet gliding activities in the
1930’s. In 1931, a dramatic upsurge occurred when the Komsomol passed a
resolution calling for an unheralded expansion of the gliding movement during
the Ninth Party Congress, held in January. The Komsomol announced a threefold
purpose in its resolution: first, it sought to build an enormous pool of glider
pilots through training programs; second, it hoped to gain useful information
for its aeronautical research program through research and development and the
testing of new glider models; and third, it was setting out to capture as many
world records as it could.
To back up the program, the government built a glider
factory in Moscow in 1932. It set production goals at 900 primary trainers and
300 training gliders per year. It named Oleg K. Antonov, an aircraft engineer
and designer who was to become famous for his glider designs, to head design
and engineering at the plant.
Shortly after the Komsomol resolution was passed, eighty
leading glider and light-plane designers assembled at Koktabel. They studied
twenty-two glider designs and selected seven for construction and tests to be
made in 1932. In retrospect, the pace at which the whole movement progressed
gives some indication of the importance the government placed on the program.
In thirty-six days of tests, Soviet glider pilots flew 662
flights, averaging more than an hour each in the seven gliders to be tested.
Together with testing conducted on other gliders from distant parts of the
Soviet Union, they established six new Soviet records. During that year, V. A.
Stepanchenok in a G-9 glider looped 115 times and flew upside down for more than
one minute in a single flight. Soviet glider pilots went on to perform new and
unexpected aerobatics and carried out long-distance tows and a multitude of
other feats. By 1939, Olga Klepikova flew a glider 465 miles to capture the
world distance record, a feat that was unbeaten for twenty-two years. On the
same occasion, B. Borodin flew two passengers for more than four hours in a
single flight and, with that feat, the transport glider was born. It was then
up to some perceptive person to recognize the significance of the flight, and
it appears that this was not long in happening.
Although Soviet authorities saw the transport glider as a
solution to commercial needs for more air lift, they apparently concurrently
saw that the transport glider had some military potential. Military and
commercial development began simultaneously in the very early 1930’s, perhaps
in 1931 or 1932, and ran on closely parallel paths. The Moscow glider factory
was their design and production focal point. In 1934, the Moscow glider factory
produced the GN-4, a five-place glider that could transport four passengers and
was designed for towed flight.
The idea for a multi-passenger towed glider, as opposed to
the two-passenger soaring glider already flown, must have blossomed in 1932 or
1933, inasmuch as Groshev (designer of the transport glider GN-4), had one on
the drawing board then. The GN-4 appears to have been a modest development
compared with others then on the drawing board, for General I. I. Lisov, in his
Parachutists—Airborne Landing, published in Moscow in 1968, reveals that as far
back as 1932 the work plan for the Voenno Vozdushniy Sily (VVS) design bureau
included the G-63 glider, a craft that could carry seventeen soldiers or a like
amount of cargo. What is even more remarkable is that the bureau was daring
enough to include a requirement for a fifty-man glider, the G-64, which was to
be towed by a TB-1 bomber.
While there are those who would criticize such bold
statements as an attempt to bolster the Soviet ego with another first or
discount them as pure propaganda, there is evidence based on what was to come
that the statements did not come from unrealistic fantasy. In 1935, the Soviet
magazine Samolet (Flight) discussed the use of gliders for carrying passengers,
citing an eighteen-passenger glider, and having a photograph in support. The
article goes so far as to give an illustration of a transport glider train
drawn by a four-engined aircraft. This would mean that the 1932 VVS design
requirement was realized, in part, by 1935 or earlier, since gliders cannot be
designed, built and tested overnight. On 9 October 1935, the New York Times
reported that a 118-passenger glider with a ninety-two-foot wingspan, the G-3,
had been built by the experimental institute in Leningrad and test-flown
several times. It was to have been flown from Leningrad to Moscow the same
month. This was undoubtedly the glider reported in Samolet.
In his book Without Visible Means of Support, Richard Miller
mentions that the Soviets experimented in 1934 with a thirteen-passenger troop
glider, grossing 8,000 pounds. In that same year, the Soviets could boast ten
gliding schools, 230 gliding stations and 57,000 trained glider pilots.
Around 1934, a new concept took hold, fostered by Lev
Pavlovich Malinovskii, head of the Scientific Technical administration of the
Grazhdanskiy Vazdushniy Flot (Civilian Air Fleet). Malinovskii conceived the
idea of using a low-powered freight glider plane, easy to produce and cheap to
operate, that could solve some of Russia’s long-distance fast freight needs.
The fully laden glider would carry around a ton of goods and be powered by a
single 100-horsepower engine. The engine would assist the tow plane during
take-off. Once safely airborne, the glider would cast off and deliver its cargo
to a distant terminal under its own power.
Because most of the models were underpowered, only one or
two went beyond the experimental stage. Several apparently grew into sizeable
ten-passenger models, and there is a strong likelihood that these models, with
engines removed, became the first of the larger twenty-passenger transport
gliders developed in the Soviet Union and observed during the mid- 1930’s.
While Soviet designers and engineers were busy at the task
of creating and producing the new aircraft, military leaders went about the
task of building airlanding and parachute forces to use them. By 1933, the
first of these formations appeared. The Soviet Union startled the world when
1,200 soldiers landed by parachute with all weapons and equipment during
maneuvers around Kiev. Later in the year, aircraft transported a complete
division, together with armored vehicles, from Moscow to Vladivostok, a
distance of 4,200 miles. Minister of War Kliment Voroshilov was fully justified
in stating at a congress in 1935:
“Parachuting is the field of aviation in which the Soviet
Union has a monopoly. No nation on earth can even approximately compare with
the Soviet Union in this field, far less could any nation dream of closing the
existing gap by which we are leading. There can be no question at all of our
That gliders were used in these maneuvers is not confirmed,
although they may have been. Because of the secrecy surrounding them and the
fact that they were so similar to powered aircraft in appearance, their
presence among the powered aircraft could have passed unnoticed. Terence Otway
states, however, that “by 1935, [the Soviet Union] had gone a long way towards
creating an effective airborne force, including parachute troops carried in
In the Caucasus maneuvers of 1936, the paratroopers
participated publicly. From that point forward, however, all exercises and
maneuvers of the arm were carried out in strict secrecy. Keith Ayling reports
in They Fly to Fight on a large number of personnel carried in gliders, in one
instance, in 1936. They were undoubtedly from the same Caucasus maneuver.
After dropping the veil of secrecy over airborne
developments, the Soviets did not entirely neglect the fledgling airborne arm,
contrary to foreign observer indications. By 1940, they approved an airborne
brigade of 3,000 men, of which more than a third were glider troops. By mid
1941, in a doctrinal turnabout, glider troop elements disappeared from Soviet
troop lists, although glider manufacture continued. Only recently has
information become available that in 1941, just before the war started, the
Soviet Union had already built a glider tank transport, the world’s first,
which was capable of transporting a light armored vehicle. Shortly after this
flight, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and no more experiments with that
glider were conducted. However, the daring experiment, far ahead of those of
any other nation manufacturing gliders, gives some indication of the extent of
the Soviet Union’s interest in, and progress with, the glider as a military
To what extent German military leaders learned from Soviet
transport glider developments is not certain, but those developments certainly
could not have gone unnoticed, in view of a curious succession of events
involving both the Soviet Union and Germany. In a much overlooked clause, the
Treaty of Rapallo of 1922 enabled the German military to produce and perfect in
Russia weapons forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. To that end, the Soviets
turned over the remote, disused Lipetsk airfield, about 310 miles southeast of
Moscow, in 1924, where they established a flying school and also tested
aircraft. Through these activities, the Red Air Force gained information about
German technical developments.
In 1923, the Germans opened a “Moscow Center” liaison office
in Moscow, manned by German officers who reported to the Defense Ministry in
Berlin. Junkers and other German aircraft manufacturers built factories in the
Soviet Union, staffed by German officers and aircraft engine experts. Many
officers, such as August Plock, Hermann Plocher and Kurt Student, who were
later to become generals and who occupied important posts in the Luftwaffe,
served in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. General Student, who masterminded
Hitler’s glider attack on Eben Emael while an infantry officer, visited the
Lipetsk airfield every year from 1924 to 1928.
Three factors strongly suggest that early German development
and use of the transport glider followed Soviet developments by three to five
years. The Soviets must have had their transport glider on the drawing board
perhaps as early as 1932 to enable them to produce their five-passenger GN-4 in
1934 or earlier. The Germans produced their Obs (flying observatory) in 1933 or
1934, a glider that was not a true transport vehicle but closer to a scientific
laboratory. Second, foreign observers saw Soviet transport gliders in flight in
1935 or 1936, carrying perhaps as many as fifteen to eighteen passengers. The
nine-passenger German DFS 230 glider did not appear before 1938, and it proved
to be a substantially smaller model than those seen in the Soviet Union up to
that time. Third, the Russians had large airborne organizations in planning in
the early 1930’s and actually flew them in the large airborne drop at Kiev in
1935, while it was not until 1938 that the Germans finally organized their 7.
Although Soviet military leaders conducted few and only
marginally useful air assaults during the war and the glider saw only limited
use as a military transport to support these operations, it did play some role.
For the Dnjepr River crossing operations of 24 September
1943, the Soviets planned to use thirty-five gliders to transport heavy guns
and equipment. In planning, the glider landings had been sandwiched in between
the first and second massed parachute drops. Apparently, the glider phase was
not implemented. Apart from this, it was used extensively in partisan support
operations and in many raids.
German forces found guerrillas annoying and persistent.
Although guerrillas lived off the land to a great extent, the regular military
force kept them supplied with weapons and ammunition by glider and, where
possible, by powered aircraft. The magnitude of these operations and the
importance played by the glider can be judged by the fact that in
counterguerrilla operations conducted just in and around Lipel alone, the
German forces overran one field that held more than 100 gliders.
Gliders transported rations, weapons, medical supplies and,
at the same time, provided partisans with key personnel and important orders
and information. Gliders landed by night on emergency airfields and during the
winter on the ice of frozen lakes. This support enabled the partisans to carry
out successful attacks on railroads, roads, airfields, bridges, convoys,
columns of troops, rear area command agencies and even troop units. The Germans
suffered heavy losses of personnel and materiel. The Germans flew
reconnaissance missions to discover air-drop and landing fields in
partisan-held areas, attacked airlift operations wherever they were identified,
used deception by setting up dummy airfields and giving fake signals and
eventually activated a special antipartisan wing, comprised of 100 Ar 66’s. The
results achieved against the guerrillas, especially in the central sector of
the front, remained unsatisfactory. In the final analysis, this use of airlift
by the Russian Air Force must be considered a success, since the relentless
night airlift operations enabled the partisans to carry out their tasks.
After the war, Soviet interest in gliders did not immediately
wane, and new models were reported, though sources of these reports are few and
hard to find. As late as 1965, the Soviets had three glider regiments, which
they have since deactivated.
Gradually the boffins and engineers had improved the lot of
the air crews by developing ASV radar, more reliable depth charges, anti-sub
bombs and acoustic torpedoes, while they now had better aircraft. The fact that
Dönitz had now effectively withdrawn from engaging in the mighty convoy battles
of the North Atlantic, was as much due to the losses inflicted on his boats, as
the losses, also in 1943, of boats traversing the Bay of Biscay.
As 1943 got underway for 19 Group, so the actions increased
week after week. Space does not provide as much detail of these actions as
described in previous chapters, but in my book Conflict over the Bay (Grub
Street, 1999) full coverage is given in a blow-by-blow account.
In the early months of 1943, German tactics had not yet
changed. The Leigh Light had prevented U-boat commanders crossing the Bay at
night, and they were forced to travel for the most part on the surface,
especially if their batteries need to be recharged and the boat’s fresh air
supply replenished. This made them vulnerable as ASV could pick them up more
By May U-boat captains had been ordered to remain on the
surface and fight back, their chances, Dönitz believed, would be better if they
deflected an aircraft’s approach in the face of gunfire at low level – and the
big Sunderlands and Liberators particularly, offered a huge target for gunners
who held their nerve. As mentioned earlier, Coastal Command’s counter to this
was to circle some way off, and either call up other aircraft in the vicinity
in order to make a co-ordinated attack from different angles, thereby dividing
the defensive fire, or, if in luck, one of the Navy’s anti-sub escort groups
might not be too far away and could be homed in.
The 2nd Escort (or Support) Group in particular seemed to be
able to roam the outer Bay areas with impunity, and was constantly on the alert
for U-boats, coming or going. Captain F. J. Walker CB DSO*** RN, with five
sloops, would be responsible for a number of U-boats attacked, sunk and
damaged. Sadly he died in July 1944, aged forty-eight, from cerebral
thrombosis, brought on by overwork and exhaustion. He lost a son serving aboard
a submarine in the Mediterranean in August 1943.
By this time too, the USAAF had joined the fray, sending
Liberator squadrons to England where they, like the Iceland-based USN units,
came under Coastal Command control, joining the Battle of the Bay. Their first
success came on 20 February, First Lieutenant Wayne Johnson of 1 Squadron USAAF
Six days later one of Coastal’s best pilots, Squadron Leader
P. J. Cundy, flying with 224 Squadron (Liberators), damaged U-508. He had
already flown many sorties with 53 and 120 Squadrons and his experience was
about to pay dividends. Wellingtons were still being used by 19 Group, and so
too were Whitleys of No.10 OTU, released by Bomber Command in order to help
support the group. On 22 March one 10 OTU crew damaged U-665. Quite a few boats
were damaged in these early months, but some were also sunk. Pilot Officer J.
B. Stark of 58 Squadron put his Halifax over U-528 on 11 May and his depth
charges sent it to the bottom. Four days later, Wing Commander W. E. Oulton
DFC, CO of the same squadron, sank U- 266. The next day, the 16th, Flying
Officer A. J. W. Birch made it three for 58 by sinking U-463 – a tanker supply
Another new innovation by the Germans, now that they were
beginning to stay up and fight, was the introduction of flak boats, carrying
extra defensive armament. They were intended to be ‘flak traps’ to surprise and
destroy attacking aircraft. One was U-441. Most U-boats encountered were the
Type VIIC and it was a few of this type that were converted (others being
U-211, 256, 263, 271, 621 and 953). Sailing for her first mission in her new
role on 22 May, U-441 was found by a Sunderland of 228 Squadron, piloted by
Flying Officer H. J. H. Debnam. He attacked in the face of extreme
anti-aircraft fire and, although he placed his depth charges around the sub,
the boat’s gunners were on target and the flying boat dived into the sea with
the loss of all on board. However, U-441 had been damaged sufficiently, and
sustained crew casualties, for it to be forced to return to base for repair.
On the last day of May, Wilfred Oulton again encountered a
U-boat, and began stalking it during an approach through cloud. Finally diving,
he made a good straddle, leaving the boat in obvious difficulty and a second
attack was made, after which the boat was seen to be trailing oil. Oulton kept
the sub under observation while calling up another 58 Squadron aircraft, flown
by Pilot Officer E. L. Hartley, but his charges fell short. A Sunderland of 10
RAAF Squadron was next on the scene and after two attacks the boat stopped and
began to sink, with men appearing on deck in life-jackets. Another Sunderland
arrived, from 228 Squadron, and made an immediate attack, bodies being seen
thrown into the air as its charges exploded about the vessel. Oulton later
received the DSO, and the two Sunderland captains received DFCs. There were no
survivors from U-563.
“Biscay Excursion” In March 1942, 236 Squadron RAF received the Bristol Beaufighter MkI.At first the squadron was used for shipping reconnaissance and escort duties, before in July it began operations against enemy shipping off the Dutch coast. At the same time detachments operated over the Bay of Biscay to protect anti-submarine aircraft against German attack. David Pentland Art
These large four-engined aircraft were not the only aircraft
operating over the Bay in 1943. The Germans had Junkers 88C fighters on the
French coast and often made forays into the Bay to attack the RAF aircraft. It
is amazing that the Germans did not make more of this, but fortunately they did
not, although a number of running air battles between them did take place, and
Coastal aircraft were lost. As a counter, the RAF sent Beaufighters out,
hopefully to engage these Ju88s, but they also searched for U-boats. No. 236
Squadron also carried rockets and, on 1 June, Flying Officer M. C. Bateman
found U-418 which he attacked and sank with his RPs. As these were still on
Coastal’s secret list, Mark Bateman had to report sinking the sub with depth
charges. He was awarded the DFC, although no mention of this attack was
mentioned in his citation.
Another fight-it-out duel on the night of 13/14 June had
U-564 shooting down a 228 Squadron Sunderland, from which nobody survived. The
boat was damaged, however, and limped away, only to be located the next day by
a Whitley of 10 OTU, piloted by Sergeant A. J. Benson RAAF. Buzz Benson
shadowed the sub, and another boat (U-185) that had suddenly appeared to help,
while carrying out homing procedure but was then given permission to make an
attack. Benson selected U- 564 and also met gunfire, but his depth charges went
down and finished her off. Benson’s Whitley was badly hit, with his hydraulics
knocked out and one engine giving problems. He radioed base saying he was
heading home but did not make it. He and his crew survived a ditching and were
fortunate enough to be rescued by a French fishing boat, but when they
suggested to the skipper that he take them to England, he had to refuse, as his
family would suffer if the Germans discovered what he had done. Thus Benson and
his crew were taken to a French port and ended up as prisoners, although he
later heard he had been awarded the DFM and promoted to warrant officer.
Survivors from U-564 were taken aboard U-185 although twenty-nine of them had
been lost. U-564 had been a successful boat, having been credited with sinking
at least nineteen ships and damaging others.
A Wellington of 172 Squadron sank U-126 on 3 July (Flight
Sergeant A. Coumbis, who had damaged U-566 in April), while Peter Cundy of 224
sank U-628 on the same day. On board his Liberator was Lieutenant Colonel
Farrant, an army officer helping to promote the use of a new anti-submarine
bomb. These were called Hedgehog bombs, a 35lb device with a hollow charge.
With enormous luck they found a surfaced U-boat and Cundy went in dropping
depth charges and eighteen of these small bombs, that needed a direct hit to be
effective. The boat engaged the approaching Liberator and did score some hits
while the Lib’s gunners also hit the boat, knocking one man into the sea. In
the first attack one depth charge actually bounced off the conning tower and in
the second run more charges straddled the vessel. As the water cleared, several
men could be seen in the water, and the Colonel was seen taking off his Mae West
prior to throwing it down to the ‘poor devils’. He was, however, persuaded not
to, as there might be a chance it might be needed for ‘the poor devils up
here’. Cundy, who got home on three engines, received the DSO.
Despite the Germans staying up to fight, July was proving a
successful month as far as kills were concerned. On the 7th one pilot, Flying
Officer J. A. Cruickshank of 210 Squadron, damaged U-267. It would not be his
last contact with a U-boat.
Terry Bulloch was now in 19 Group, flying with 224 Squadron.
He had lost none of his skill and on 8 July sank U-514. He had been given
something of a roving commission to fly where and when he wanted, so now flew a
Liberator equipped with rocket projectiles which he was testing. On board he
had Flight Lieutenant C. V. T. Campbell, an armament specialist, who just
happened to spot the U-boat in amongst a group of Spanish fishing boats.
Turning towards it, Bulloch could see half a dozen men on the conning tower and
fired a pair of RPs at 800 feet distance, two more at 600 and then four from
500 feet, from a height of 500 feet. The boat disappeared, but came up again
stern first at about a 20-degree angle. Not in the official report was that
Bulloch also carried an acoustic torpedo, which he dropped as well, plus a
couple of depth charges for good measure. Whatever got the sub, it was fatal
and U-504, set for South African waters, was destroyed.
U-441, the converted flak boat, was back out after being
damaged on 24 May, but it did not fare any better this time. She was found by
Beaufighters of 248 Squadron on the 12th, and not some large Coastal aircraft
that she could trap. The Beaus worked her over with their 20mm cannon, felling
some of the crew who were on deck. After several strafing runs the boat went
down, badly damaged, to return to home port once more. Ten of her crew had been
killed and thirteen more wounded, including her captain. The flak-trap did not
seem to be working.
Junkers Ju-88C-6 F8+BX, 13.KG40 Battle over the Biscay
No. 19 Group were still using their patrol areas; Musketry
was mentioned previously. The areas did alter slightly from time to time, and
other areas, named Derange, Seaslug and Percussion were also being used.
Between 14 and 27 June patrols in Musketry had sunk one sub and damaged
another, while outside them one had been sunk and five damaged. In July
Musketry was extended, and within it Coastal sank seven and damaged two;
outside it, four more were sunk and another damaged.
Another case where U-boat and aircraft were lost together
came on 24 July. Flying Officer W. H. T. Jennings, 172 Squadron, was guided to
a surfaced U-boat by his radar man and went in for an attack. The boat’s
gunners opened up, hitting the Wellington and presumably killed or wounded the
two pilots, for although the depth charges were released, the Wimpy ploughed right
into the sub and blew up. Only the rear gunner, Sergeant A. A. Turner,
survived. One charge had landed on the boat’s deck and exploded when the crew
pushed it overboard. A Wellington of 547 Squadron arrived and attacked the
crippled boat, its crew abandoning it. A RN destroyer later picked up
thirty-seven Germans, but not, however, its captain, and, hearing shouts from
the rear gunner some way off, found him too. Turner had been involved in two
other damaging attacks earlier in the year, with other pilots.
Coastal Command HQ still had a fair idea where the U-boats
were from the code breakers, but they needed to be on the surface if they were
to be located by aircraft. One of the most dramatic events during this period
occurred on 30 July. By this time the month had seen five sinkings, one by
Flying Officer R. V. Sweeny, an American with 224 Squadron, flying with Pete
Cundy’s crew. In company with another Liberator, from 4 Squadron USAAF, U-404
had been sunk on the 28th. The American B-24 had been damaged by the boat’s
fire. Bobby Sweeney had been adjutant of the first American Eagle Squadron, his
brother Charles having been the inspiration behind the Eagle Squadrons.
On the 30th, U-461, a type IV supply boat, was seen by
Flight Lieutenant D. Marrows and his 461 Sunderland crew. By a strange
coincidence, the aircraft letter was ‘U’, so it was U-461 meeting 461/U.
U-boats were still making crossings of the Bay in groups for mutual protection,
and the Marrows’ crew spotted three of them shortly before noon. Other aircraft
had found them already, a Halifax from 502 Squadron coming over, and an
American B-24, both of which were circling. As the B-24 made a move towards the
boats – U-461, U-462 (another supply boat, a Type XI, and U-504, a Type IXC) –
the B-24 met the full force of the boats’ gunners. This gave Marrows an
opportunity to nip in, managing to straddle U-461 to good effect. Meantime, his
gunners blazed away at the other two boats. As the water cleared, survivors
could be seen in the water, and a dinghy was dropped, some sailors being seen
to get into it. With one remaining charge on board Marrows went for another sub
but gunfire made him break away after hits caught the Sunderland.
In the Halifax, Flying Officer August van Rossum, a Dutch
pilot in the RAF, had seen the sloops of the 2nd Escort Group heading for the
U-boats, and when he arrived, all three aircraft began making attacks, and even
another Liberator, from 53 Squadron, joined in, but was hit by flak and headed
off. By now the gunfire from the U-boats was making it necessary to bomb them
from height, Van Rossum putting a bomb close to the stern of U-462, but he
could also see that the U-boat attacked by the Sunderland was being abandoned.
Just then shells from the approaching sloops began to explode near the subs.
U-504, attacked by Rossum, limped away and began to dive, but the sloops
harried her and depth charges finished her off.
On the first day of August, two Sunderlands, one from 10
RAAF, the other from 228 Squadron, sank two U-boats, U-454 and U-383, while on
Musketry patrol but the Australian crew were shot down, just six of them being
rescued by a sloop, and 228’s machine had also to limp back home, damaged
ailerons making it impossible to turn. Everything was being thrown into the Bay
battles, even a twin-engined Hampden of 405 RCAF Squadron, that, on the 2nd,
assisted a US Liberator of 1 Squadron to sink U-706 in Musketry. This same day
U-106 was destroyed by a 228 Sunderland flown by Flying Officer R. D. Hanbury,
shared with a 461 Sunderland. Gunners on the boat continued to fight back even
as their comrades were taking to dinghies, but then the sub blew up.
Thirty-seven of its crew were picked up by a sloop.
A further U-boat group of three was spotted by the crew of a
Wellington of 547 Squadron, flown by Pilot Officer J. W. Hermiston RCAF, on the
2nd. They were on their return to base when the airman manning the front gun
saw the wake of the first boat. Informing his skipper, he was instructed to
take photographs and then open fire when in range. Knowing they would meet the
combined fire of the boats, Hermiston decided to drop an anti-sub bomb from
2,000 feet. Sergeant W. Owens, manning the gun, opened accurate fire at the
boat, as the others began to close up. Hermiston then decided to drop depth
charges, lowering to fifty feet to do so, but they overshot. Bill Owens opened
up on other runs, but then all three boats went under. U-218 had been their
main target and, while undamaged, Owen had caused so many casualties that she
had to abort her mission to Trinidad and return to Brest.
The Germans now countermanded the order to remain on the
surface and fight, for this had obviously caused considerable losses. A few
still did stay up, but these were generally cases where the boat was surprised
and it was too late to dive safely. Those encounters on 2 August were the last
for the month, and there were only two in September, a Wellington of 407
Squadron RCAF sinking U-669 on the 7th and a Halifax of 58 Squadron destroying
U-221 on the 27th. However, in this attack Flying Officer E. L. Hartley and
crew, which included their Station Commander, Group Captain R. C. Mead, was hit
by flak as he went in, forcing Hartley to ditch. Two men did not survive the
crash, and the others were not rescued for eleven days by the Royal Navy. They
had not been searching for them and it was pure luck that they saw their signal
November saw just three successful attacks with two boats
sunk and one damaged and just one sunk in December. It had been a momentous
year and desperate summer but, with the losses in the North Atlantic, the
U-boat arm was all but smashed. However, with the coming invasion, the U-boats
and 19 Group, would have one last encounter.
264 Sqn. L7013, PS-U, Martlesham Heath,Suffolk July 1940
War induces combatants to seek advantages by any means
possible. In regard to World War II aircraft, the quest for an edge encompassed
numerous aspects, such as size, bomb capacity, speed, rate of climb, altitude,
maneuverability, and potency of armament. Even though the fundamental
configurations of aircraft had been established by the end of World War I, the
quest for an advantage in the air brought a spate of new variations into the
sky. For every successful innovation, such as the radar-equipped all-weather
fighter, there were interesting failures, such as the turret fighter and the
lightweight interceptor. And for every evolved or carefully conceived design,
there was a wartime improvisation that occasionally worked—though not always as
The British should have known better than to develop the
turret fighter. The two-seat fighter from which it evolved, the Bristol F.2B of
1917, had achieved its phenomenal success by being flown as a single-seater
with a sting in the tail, rather than relying primarily on the rear gunner’s
weapon. The F.2B’s successor in 1931, the Hawker Demon, differed little from it
in armament, but the problems encountered by the gunner in handling a .303-inch
gun in the open cockpit of an airplane flying at nearly twice the Bristol’s
speed led the Air Ministry to seek a more advanced weapons system.
One solution to the problem was offered by Boulton Paul
Aircraft Ltd., which had been subcontracted to build Demons for the RAF, and
which had also obtained the rights to produce an electro-hydraulically operated
turret—invented by French engineer Joseph Bernard Antoine de Boysson—capable of
traversing 360 degrees and incorporating either a 20mm cannon or four .303-inch
machine guns. After seeing the turret demonstrated in the nose of a Boulton
Paul Overstrand bomber, the Air Ministry issued a specification for a fighter
armed with four machine guns in the de Boysson turret and capable of flying as
fast as the Hawker Hurricane fighter. Since Hurricanes were expected to protect
the turret fighter from enemy fighters while it attacked enemy bombers from the
side or below, the specification limited armament to the turret. Such a measure
saved weight, but in essence it made the pilot nothing more than a chauffeur
for his gunner—hardly a role that went over well with aggressive fighter
Designed by John Dudley North, the Boulton Paul Defiant was
a commendably clean and compact airplane, powered by the same 1,030-horsepower
Rolls-Royce Merlin III engine used in the Hurricane and the Supermarine
Spitfire. A retractable fairing helped to smooth the airflow behind the rear
turret when it was not in use, and in spite of the drag that the turret still
imposed on it—as well as a gross weight of 8,600 pounds compared to the
Hurricane’s 6,218—the Defiant managed a maximum speed of 302 miles per hour at
16,500 feet compared to the Hurricane’s 316. It took the Defiant 11.4 minutes
to climb to that altitude, however, whereas the Hurricane could reach it in
only 6 1/2 minutes. First flown on August 11, 1937, the Defiant was approved
for production, but because Boulton Paul was then relocating from Norwich to a
new plant at Wolverhampton, the first operational Defiants were not deployed
with No. 264 Squadron until December 1939. When the Germans invaded the Low
Countries on May 10, 1940, the unit moved from its training base at Martlesham
Heath to Duxford; from there, A Flight flew to Horsham Saint Faith and B Flight
returned to Martlesham, where it would operate alongside the Spitfires of No.
The Defiants did their intended job fairly well in their
first combat. On May 11, No. 264’s commander, Squadron Leader Philip A. Hunter,
and Pilot Officer Michael H. Young flew an evening convoy patrol as far as the
Happisburgh lighthouse. The next day Flt. Lt. Nicholas G. Cooke led A Flight on
a patrol off the Dutch coast, accompanied by six Spitfires of No. 66 Squadron.
They soon encountered enemy aircraft, and the Defiants drew first blood five
miles south of The Hague as a Junkers Ju 88A fell victim to Hunter and his
gunner, Sgt. Frederick H. King, while a second was claimed by Young and Leading
Aircraftman Stanley B. Johnson. Cooke added a third victory to the squadron’s
opening tally when he caught an He 111 six miles south of The Hague and his
gunner, Cpl. Albert Lippett, shot it down.
On the following morning, six Defiants of B Flight,
accompanied by six Spitfires of 66 Squadron’s A Flight, were flying another
sweep over the Dutch coast when they spotted Junkers Ju 87Bs dive-bombing a
railway line and attacked. Between them, the British claimed ten of the
Stukas—four of which were credited to the Defiants—before themselves coming
under attack by Messerschmitt Me 109Es of the 5th Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 26.
Flight Lieutenant Kenneth McLeod Gillies, a Spitfire pilot who had shot down a
Stuka east of Rotterdam, damaged an Me 109 before 66 Squadron disengaged. One
Spitfire fell victim to Ltn. Hans Krug, but its pilot managed to force land his
damaged plane in Belgium.
The fight had a much grimmer outcome for 264 Squadron. In
their first encounter with enemy fighters, the six Defiant crews found
themselves unable to evade the Me 109s, and five were shot down in short order,
although only one German, Fw. Erwin Stolz, identified his adversary as a
Defiant at the outset; the other victors—Ltn. Eckardt Roch (who claimed three),
Leutnant Krug, Uffz. Hans Wemhöhner, and Fw. Wilhelm Meyer—all claimed
Spitfires, before subsequently learning the true identity of their adversaries.
The sole Defiant pilot to return, Pilot Officer Desmond Kay, claimed that five
German fighters went down in the course of the massacre, and they were duly
credited to the squadron.
In actuality, the Defiants had managed to shoot down only
one of their assailants, who—contrary to popular misconception—already knew
what he was up against and fell victim to overconfidence, rather than from
mistaking the turret fighter for a single-seater. As Ltn. Karl Borris himself
recorded it in his diary:
Enemy contact with a
mixed British formation . . . I bank toward a Defiant, I can clearly see the
four machine guns in its turret firing; however, I do not think they can track
me in a dogfight. I approach closer, and open fire at about seventy meters range.
At this moment, something hits my aircraft, hard. I immediately pull up into
the clouds and examine the damage. The left side of my instrument panel is shot
through; a round had penetrated the Revi [reflex gunsight]; and a fuel line has
obviously been hit—the cockpit is swimming in gasoline. The engine coughs and
quits, starved of fuel. I push a wing over and drop from the clouds. Unbuckle,
canopy off, out!
Borris parachuted onto a dike wall near the mouth of the
Rhine River and made his way back to 5./JG 26 four days later. Having lived to
profit from this reminder of the price one pays for cockily dismissing any
armed opponent, he would survive the war with forty-three victories.
For the next ten days, No. 264 Squadron refrained from
operations, but on May 23, its Defiants joined in the RAF’s desperate effort to
cover the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk. By the end of the month,
the squadron had claimed forty-eight victories—thirty-seven on May 29 alone—but
lost nine planes, including that of Cooke and Lippett, killed on the
thirty-first. Occasionally, the Defiant’s superficial resemblance to the
Hurricane did mislead German fighters into attacking it from the rear, with
sometimes fatal results for the attackers. Soon the Germans learned to distinguish
between the Defiant and its single-seat stablemates, however, with results that
spoke for themselves. A second Defiant unit, No. 141 Squadron, had a disastrous
combat debut on June 28, when nine of its planes tangled with Me 109Es and lost
seven while claiming only four victories. On July 19, nine more Defiants of 141
Squadron encountered Me 109Es of JG 51 and again lost seven planes, while one
of the two surviving crews, Flt. Lt. Hugh N. Tamblyn and Sgt. S. W. N. “Sandy”
Powell, claimed one of the enemy in return. In August the Defiant units’ air
bases were moved farther north, but the RAF’s need for anything which could fly
and fight at that time kept them engaged—and suffering mounting losses. By late
1940, the Defiant Mark Is were being relegated to the night-fighting role, and
a radar-equipped version, the Defiant Mark II, was introduced. As such, they
did well, being in fact the most successful night fighters of 1941 until
sufficient numbers of Bristol Beaufighters and de Havilland Mosquitos became
available to phase them out of first-line service.