BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

In Search Of The Enemy: Typhoon pilot

by James Kyle

Contributed by 
James Kyle
People in story: 
James Kyle
Location of story: 
Over The English Channel
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 December 2003

In Search Of The Enemy

Typhoon vs MEl09

It was pleasant to walk across the airfield, glistening with early morning dew in the spring, but this morning was dull, dark and dreary, with mist and low cloud. I lifted my face to the coldness. It had started to rain, a soft fine rain. All was still and quiet in the grey gloom as I made my way to dispersal.

I was on the dawn cockpit readiness stint, two hours in flying kit, helmet on, harnessed to my Typhoon. Grabbing my flying gear, I went to the aircraft, strapped in and started the engine to warm it up, stopping it after a few minutes running. The time passed, and I was just becoming uncomfortable sitting on the hard dinghy, when the red Verey light was fired from the Control Tower. The two of us were scrambled a few minutes before our relief aircraft was due.

The Sabre engine roared with a bang as I pressed the cartridge start button. Quickly checking all instruments functioning, we took off in the direction the aircraft were facing, straight across the airfield towards the Control Tower.

Urgently bending the throttle fully open, quickly gathering speed, I careered ahead. Dropping optimum flap to shorten the take off run, turning steeply left off the ground in my usual fashion, short of flying speed and sinking a little as I turned slightly, (just missing the tower) on to a southerly heading, still urging my aircraft to go faster.

It was chancy to fly in this manner, but speed was essential and I knew my aircraft. I flew with experience, dash and abandon or by the seat of my pants, as was my wont at the time.

No thoughts of potential danger ever entered my mind, assuming the aircraft was OK I knew all would be well.

Retracting the wheels and flaps, switching to approach control, for an initial steer the second I was airborne, I remained at roof top level, picking up speed very quickly, and had crossed the coast within thirty seconds.

Travelling low and fast over the sea, speed near four hundred m.p.h., I searched intently across the dull restricted horizon.

Even with the poor visibility, and the low cloud that shrouded the English Channel, the enemy aircraft, an ME109 was sighted quickly, directly ahead of us, a sitting duck, heading back towards France, his dirty deed completed. I called my number two and said sharply over the radio, “Enemy aircraft ahead, twelve o’clock, closing fast.”

Checking guns and gun sight, turning gun button to fire, I closed on the enemy much too fast and was forced to throttle back, drop some flap and turn right to avoid overshooting, so as not to become his target instead of he mine.

My number two found himself in the same predicament, and as I banked right, he went left. Even this action was barely sufficient to keep us behind the enemy aircraft. We came up on either side of this light green, yellow nosed ME1O9, flying line abreast, our wing tips almost touching. I found myself staring at the portentous black cross, outlined in white on the fuselage. I saw the pilot’s face staring at me, eyes wide with horror, then looking at my number two, then switching back to me, like an animal at bay. He hadn’t seen us until that moment. I could see the white of his eyes, almost on an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. Our adversary was nervous, his face looked small, white and frightened, he didn’t attempt to escape. He could easily have popped up into cloud cover, He must have been perplexed and felt helpless with two great Typhoons, one either side of him.

This was the first German aircraft I had seen at such very close range, it was fascinating, and it was also its downfall. Reacting quicker than our foe, both of us slipped smartly behind him, as we rapidly slowed down.

The ME109 large in my gunsight filled my windscreen and without more ado we instantly fired a long burst from our four 20 mm. Cannons. My number two firing first to great effect. His cannon fire raked and pulverised the wings and engine of the Messerschmitt. As the shells hit the engine, a streak of red flame spurted back towards me and black oil sprayed over the ME109’s wings, His perspex hood flew off backwards and shattered into fragments glinting and scattering in all directions.

But we lost the 109 as he suddenly popped into the base of the low cloud never to be seen again. Hurt maybe, but he was one that got away much to our disgust. It was with mixed feelings that I cruised back to base.

To me then, another day of the War had just begun. I landed thirty minutes after take off, was released from readiness, and after interro-gation and debriefing proceeded to breakfast and a hot bath.

It became apparent from intelligence reports later in the day that low flying enemy intruder aircraft had attacked military targets on the Isle of Wight where two airwomen had been killed. Our Messerschmitt 109 had been one of them. Other aircraft were caught under similar circumstances later that day and at least two enemy raiders were destroyed before reaching the haven of the French coast.

The target on the Isle of Wight had been a Ground Control Interception (GCI) Station. That equipment when working in synchronisation with a Plan Position Indicator (PPI) and other GCI stations along the south coast, gave range and bearings information of enemy intruder aircraft and enabled the Air Traffic Controller to indicate a convenient interception heading for defending aircraft to steer.

The mission completed that morning was a good example of how advantageously the system worked.


A similar incident happened when two of us, sitting in our Typhoons were positioned at immediate readiness on the cliff tops near Beachy Head. Many intruders on sneak sporadic hit and run raids, usually ME109’s and or FW190’s, had been attacking the towns of Brighton, Eastbourne, Hastings and others in the area.

Our base was too far away to be functional against these attacks, so temporary landing strips of “Sommerfeld” matting was laid on the cliff tops. It was short, but adequate for precautionary landings and emergency take offs.

The idea was to sit there all day if necessary and await developments. The sweltering heat in the hot cockpit from the high summer sun was a considerable discomfort, but when scrambled to chase and destroy the intruders, it was made worth while.

I had been sat in the open cockpit most of the morning, looking at the shimmering sea and thinking a variety of thoughts when the ground field radio telephone went. We were informed that two lots of hit and run raiders were attacking targets locally. We scrambled immediately, holding on the brakes until almost full power for a short emergency take off run, avoiding the birds which rose directly ahead, with only the odd one exploding on the leading edge of the wings.

Dipping low over the sea, we set heading as directed by Air Traffic Approach Control and gave chase to intercept the raiders. The enemy aircraft were sighted nearly halfway across the Channel. We came up fast from behind and I engaged one of them in combat. Having seen me he decided to turn steeply to the left, right on the deck, his wing tips almost touching the waves. Instinctively I kicked into a maximum power steep turn and settled in behind him. Putting down a little flap to tighten the turn and lower my stalling speed, I tried to get sufficient deflection to open fire but it was difficult and highly dangerous at this low level. I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the nearness of the white breakers on the turbu-lent sea skimming my port wing tips. The menace was distracting.

The perfect killing deflection shot never materialised. Being unable to fire I waited behind, following tightly, in ever decreasing circles know-ing what was likely to happen.

We had gone through three hundred and sixty degrees twice, tightening up the turns continuously, at speeds about two hundred and fifty to three hundred mph. Glancing at the enemy, the airspeed and the cruel sea in turn, with the engines roaring at full power, it was imperative I didn’t cross controls and slip into the sea. In some cases pilots entirely forgot the altitude of the aircraft when concentrating only on keeping sights on the enemy.

We were now almost vertical, standing on wing tips, and it was difficult to hold. I blinked the sweat out of my eyes. God it looks a bit dangerous I thought, when the FW190, the arch rival of Typhoons, suddenly flicked twice in the opposite direction crashed and sink like a stone into the insatiable sea, rapidly disappearing. The pilot of the FW190 had tightened up his turn so much that he had manipulated his aircraft into a high speed stall with a resultant flick in the opposite direction and complete loss of control.

This was what I had anticipated might happen. The Typhoon could just out-speed, and speed was often the difference between life and death, out-turn and out-manoeuvre the FW190. With my superior speed and fighting power I kept the pressure on him so that what eventually happened was almost inevitable. That little amount of flap I used made my stalling speed that much lower, so I was content and felt relatively safe waiting behind for the inevitable. Should action have taken place at a higher level the result and tactics could have been different, but in that situation the enemy aircraft had nowhere to go except up and I would surely have had him anyway.

In the meantime my number two, Tanner Coles, had chased the other FW190, who had refused to do battle, all the way back to the French Coast and returned to join me as I waited for him. We returned low over the sea to our permanent base at Tangmere. Two other aircraft had been dispatched to take over at Beachy Head for the remainder of daylight.

It is sad to report that Tanner Coles, a smiling quietly optimistic Englishman who concealed a taste for adventure, was destined to be killed in a minesweeper roadstead operation some months later. He was hit by flak from the ships, but it wasn’t until the attack was over and we had climbed to height on our way home that Tanner’s aircraft was seen to be in trouble. I left the formation and flew alongside him, signalling and calling on the R/T to try and attract his attention but he didn’t stir. He was slumped in his seat, head lolling to one side and unable to answer or use his radio. I gave a parting salute he did not see.

It was unusual to witness such a shallow glide. The aircraft was almost perfectly trimmed and travelled wings level for miles over the sea, streaming glycol and white smoke until he finally hit the water. We watched him die unable to help. Earlier two aircraft were lost in the sea on a similar mission from the New Zealand Squadron that accompanied us. I had witnessed all three of them descending into the deep to join so many others down there, hundreds, perhaps thousands, who had perished before them.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - A2117594 - In Search Of The Enemy

Posted on: 20 December 2003 by Ross O Vallely

Dear James, I have read your messages with great interest- I am researching an ancestor who flew with 198 Sqn. Please feel free to visit my personal page, I welcome any knowledge that may find out more of him . Many thanks...

Message 1 - Hawker Typhoon air to air

Posted on: 08 February 2005 by regularIMPRESS

Dear Mr Kyle,

Your story was one of the most interesting I've read on this website so far. It's unusual in that most Typhoon related stories concentrate on it's fantastic post D-day ground attack record.

Your piece did remind me, however, of a book I read some years ago written by a Typhoon squadron leader, I believe he was a new Zealander. His book, like your anecdote, shows how much RAF fighter pilots had learned, at huge cost, from the Battle of Britain days when highly experienced Luftwaffe pilots were able to bounce RAF fighters. You were clearly the better pilots in the two encounters you related.

I would be interested to know whether you knew Roland Beaumont, as I know he was a great exponent of the Typhoon. I also wondered whether you took part in the Mortain or Falaise operations. I am a member of the post-war generation who just has a great interest in this part of history.

Regards, Paul Fagan.

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Air Force Category
Kent Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy