Skirmish over Skegness

Skirmish over Skegness
Skirmish over Skegness
Skirmish over Skegness
Skirmish over Skegness
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Lincolnshires part in the Battle of Britain. This article was first published in the RAF Waddington International Airshow 2010 programme and was supplied courtesy of KEY Publishing Ltd, Europe’s largest aviation publisher www.keypublishing.com

Transcript of Skirmish over Skegness

  • Mention the Battle of Britain and most people think of the south east of England,

    but Lincolnshires squadrons also played their part. Tom Allett reports on an eventful day over the East Coast in August 1940.

    Skirmishover SkegneSS

    The Squadron Badge Crown copyright with permission of

    the Controller, HMSo

    Spitfires of 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron at RAF Digby in the early summer of 1940. Crown copyright/rAF

    WHile FigHter Command was fending off the luftwaffes assault on airfields and aircraft in southern england 70 years ago, elements of its force across the country stood ready to play their part in the Battle of Britain. lincolnshires airfields were part of rAF Fighter Commands 12 group, which was tasked with defending east Anglia and the industrial Mid-lands, the hub of its activities being rAF Digby, ten miles south-east of rAF Waddington. in 1940 Digby was a Sector airfield, which meant that it acted as an information centre and had several others stations assigned under its com-mand. today, its underground operations room is open as a museum and still contains the original plotting board used by

    the WAAFs to guide Digbys fighters towards their prey. one of the most memorable events plotted in the underground bunker took place on August 21,

    1940 when the Spitfires of 611 (West lanca-shire) Squadron scrambled into action for the first time.on that August Wednesday, after a

    period of hot weather, a good deal of cloud was being blown in from the north-west, bringing cooler but blustery conditions. the forecast showed further deterioration effectively ruling out any large-scale raids, but the danger of strikes against individual air-fields or factories still remained.At around 12.15pm, rAF

    personnel at radar stations on englands east coast detected a formation of aircraft approach-

    ing norfolk from across the north Sea. As they were unable to identify them, the radar operators determined them to be hostile and alerted the Sector Control rooms at Digby and rAF Coltishall in norfolk.

    As one of the personnel in the Control room at Digby that day, you are part of the unfolding action

    Into BattleThere is uncertainty in the control room as a mystery formation approaches the Norfolk coast. Before unleashing the airfields fighter aircraft, you designate the unidentified as raid X27 on the ops table and try to deduce the approaching formations intentions. Are they attacking a target in East Anglia or further inland? Is it a bombing raid against a factory or airfield, or is it merely a reconnaissance mission? While you assess the possibilities, the approaching aircraft, which are

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  • A Dornier Do 17 as encountered by the Spitfires of 611 Squadron. Key collection

    Flight Lieutenant Barrie Heath of 611 Squadron photographed at Digby in 1940 on the wing of Spitfire IIa P7883 Grahame Heath. The aircraft been donated by his parents in memory of his older brother, a Royal Flying Corps pilot who was killed in World War One. Between June 1940 and February 1941 Heath shot down four enemy aircraft. RAF Official photograph

    still just blocks on the plotting table, spilt into two sections. One heads north of the Wash and along the east coast towards Hull, while the other turns south west, crossing the coast near Great Yarmouth, heading towards Norwich. You hear that the first RAF squadrons to be scrambled to intercept the incoming raiders are the Hurricanes of 302 Squadron from Leconfield and 242 Squad-ron from Coltishall.Within 15 minutes of first appearing on RAF radar screens, the formation heading towards Norwich is identified as a group of Dornier 17 bombers. No.242 Squadron is sent to intercept leading it is the legendary Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, famous for having lost both of his legs in a pre-war flying accident. Very quickly one of his men has shot down the first raider.Now its Digbys turn to enter the fray as you order Spitfires from A Flight Red Section of 611 Squadron into battle for the first time. The Ger-man bombers that turned north are also Do 17s, capable of around 235mph. The Spitfire pilots head north-west towards Hull. They catch a fleeting glimpse of the raiders at about 4,000ft, just off the coast near Mab-lethorpe, but then they disappear into cloud. There follows a game of cat and mouse as the Dorniers stay hidden for the next few minutes, but eventually they reappear and the Spitfire leader orders his men to apply emergency engine boost to close the range before the raiders can hide again. Maximum boost will push the Spitfires Merlin engines to their absolute limit if this set-ting is maintained for more than a few minutes the overworked engines can destroy themselves.You hear all the action over the Tannoy as the pilots call to one another, their excited chatter belying the fact their adrenaline is pumping and hearts are racing. The enemy aircraft are flying in a tight Vic [V-shaped] formation. They turn east when the Spitfires approach. Red Leader, Pilot Officer J W Lund, attacks the number two in the German formation with a four-second burst from a range of 400 yards. He reports no return fire for seven or eight seconds and closes to about 100 yards from the enemy, firing two bursts which uses

    The Luftwaffes Dorniers suffered at the hand of 611 Squadron, at least two aircraft crashing in East Lincolnshire. Key collection

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  • RAF Digby was home to the Digby Sector Operations Room and Staff, and the following Squadrons during the Battle of Britain:No 46 Squadron Hurricanes - from June 13, 1940 No 29 Squadron Blenheims - from 27 June 27, 1940 No 46 Squadron returned from August 19, 1940 No 151 Squadron Hurricanes - from September 1, 1940 No 611 Squadron Spitfires - from October 10, 1939

    Left: A Spitfire guards the gate at RAF Digby in memory of the fighter squadrons that flew from the station during World War Two. Key Gary Parsons

    RAF Digby Squadrons

    up all his ammunition before he breaks away. After a few seconds the Dornier peels away from the formation and heads south, flames and smoke emerging from its fuselage. It crashes into the sea just off the Norfolk coast.However, it isnt a one-sided fight as Plt Off M P Brown attacks one of the Dorniers, several bullet strike his tailplane and starboard aileron, forcing him to turn away. He starts coaxing his machine back to base.Next to attack is Flying Officer Watkins, who fires a five-second burst into a Dornier, leaving it belching smoke before it crashes into the sea off Scolt Head. Watkins reports his own aircraft is damaged by machine-gun fire, forcing him to withdraw from the fight. With elements of 611s Red Section damaged and returning to base, the battle is moving towards Skegness. A further incoming raid is reported and you order 611 Squadrons B Flight Yellow Section into the air.Moments before they join the combat, the Spitfire flown by Red Sections Plt Off Lund becomes the third to be hit by the German gunners and he

    also sets course for home. But gradually Red Sec-tions pilots gain the upper hand and before long it appears that the Germans have abandoned their attack now its a case of survival as they try to find safety among the clouds.Yellow Section presses home its attack, led by 611s commanding officer, Squadron Leader McComb. He manages to fire a brief head-on burst at one of the Dorniers before it escapes into a layer of cloud. He reports contact with the enemy is lost for a few minutes, but then they reappear, slightly ahead and above the chasing Spitfires. McComb at-tacks again, closing to about 150 yards, reporting that his bullets have struck his targets port wing. He breaks away in order to avoid ramming the Dornier, which is then seen to escape.The patrol continues for about another three minutes before a trio of Dorniers is spotted flying

    in tight formation about 15 miles west of Mab-lethorpe. McComb leads the attack again, focus-ing his attention on the aircraft on the right of the enemy formation. Despite receiving return fire, he closes in and delivers a long burst of fire, silencing the bombers rear gunner and leaving the enemy aircraft trailing smoke. During this attack the Spitfire pilots report they are being shot at by the rear gunner in the Dornier at the centre of the formation, so he becomes McCombs next target. This time a short burst from the Spitfires eight Browning machine-guns is enough to end any resistance. A longer hail of bullets results in a cloud of smoke from its starboard engine. McCombs two wingmen then join in with Yellow 2 Sergeant A D Burt firing two short bursts at the same aircraft while Yellow 3 Sergeant A S Darling attacks the third bomber

    The German invaders of August 21, 1940, were first challenged by the Spitfires from 242 Squadron led by the legendary Sqn Ldr Douglas Bader. Crown copyright/RAF

    Squadron Leader (Retd) Basil Gerald Stapme Staple-ton DFC, DFC (Dutch), a veteran of Britains Finest Hour passed away on April 13, aged 89. He flew Spitfires with 603 Squadron during the Battle of Britain and later Typhoons with 247 Squadron before spending the last few months of the conflict as a prisoner of war. Stapme was a regular and much-respected visitor to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flights home at RAF Coningsby. And in 2007, the BBMF painted its Spitfire lla in the markings of the aircraft he flew during the Battle. In later life he was often seen at aviation events wear-ing his trademark floppy hat and flamboyant handle-bar moustache his ready smile endearing him to all. Survived by his wife, Audrey, a son and his elder brother (Air Vice-Marshal Deryck Stapleton), he is