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Obsession with aeroplanes, Part 1

by epsomandewelllhc

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mr Shaw
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Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
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Contributed on: 
08 July 2005

The author of this story has understood the rules and regulations of this site and has agreed that this story can be entered on the People’s War web site.

Mr. Shaw : WW2 story

Mr. Shaw understands that his story will be added to the BBC People’s War website and has given his permission.

My mother used to buy flying books for me; I remember two of them called ‘The Aeroplane and Flight’. I was interested in the First World War flying aces, especially Baron von Richthoven, the Red Baron. That is when I first wanted to be a pilot. Fortunately in my late 20s my mother arranged for me to learn to fly at Skegness Flying Club and I qualified there for A and B Pilot’s Licenses I always wore a red silk scarf on all my Operational Flights. .

Following an advertisement in the paper where they were asking for people to enrol with RAF reserve, I applied and was accepted. Then I went to Brough airfield near Hull and did two weeks flying on B2 trainers, the first light training aircraft with side by side seating. I had the rank of Sergeant but I never wore the uniform because it was just the reserve.

After that I went out to Malaya to be part of a group that was going to start an airline in Malaya. We had a light aircraft we used to for joyriding passengers and cross country Unfortunately the idea dropped and I came home.

Then I applied for a short service commission in the RAF and was accepted. First as I could already fly, we went to a civilian training school at Desford . After a month I was posted back to the RAF for two weeks training at Uxbridge.

There we did wear uniform as acting pilot officers and were involved with the discipline of the Airforce. Drill, marching etc. and studying King’s Regulations. We were also measured for mess kit and went through gas training with and without gas masks, and then I was posted.

I went to no. 6 training school at Netheravon and we did tactics, bombing, firing etc.
At the end of the course my instructor thought I would make a fighter pilot but there was a long waiting list as the Squadrons were not fully established, so I elected to go on to Fairey Battle bombers. At the end of the course we got our wings and I was posted to 218 Squadron at Boscombe Down. There I met the CO, Wing Cdr. Duggan who briefed me on the ethics of being an officer. Also a new post had started and he made me the Squadron intelligence officer. Then I met the Flight Cdr. Harry Daish. He was a good type, an Australian, and got me used to flying Fairey Battle bombers and I gradually got used to my duties as Intelligence Officer.

218 Sq. was also part of the Advanced Air Striking Force which would be used if the Germans invaded France and Britain declared war; 218 would fly to our Continental base and operate from France. Then eventually, on 2 Sept. 1939 we were called out on parade in the very early hours and told that we were now on active service and would be flying to our Continental base that afternoon.

The Squadron took off in strength at about 2 pm to an airfield we now knew to be Auberive, near Rheims. We landed and at each dispersal point were already 4 x 250 lb. bombs but we were told that as yet war had not been declared, as that actually happened on 3 Sept.

The accommodation was very limited and austere. I was lucky and was based in a bare room in the Town Hall and used our camp kit which we used to laugh at as Scouts kit. The NCOs were billeted in haylofts and one was near a pigsty! It was a very rude awakening to active service.

The following morning we went to the airfield and there was a French Army unit who prepared breakfast for us all. We had a ladle of stewed apple and a chunk of very dark French chocolate, which was not very substantial or nice..

Eventually the officers were billeted in very good quarters in Auberive and the NCOs settled in their haylofts and got established and the dining hall had a very good kitchen for other ranks. So began the ‘phoney war’. We liaised with a local French flying squadron flying Curtis single engine fighters and we got to know them very well. They invited us out to a dinner at Vesuizy? Although we could not speak French, we all got on very well and sang the Marseillaise.

As intelligence officer I had a map of the Maginot line and Siegfried line and marked where all the German Flak batteries were. Eventually I drew a line around everything as there were batteries everywhere!

The Squadron by then had a regular intelligence officer and I was the deputy, but on 10 May he went on leave. The morning of 10 May we got the code word, ‘meddling’, which meant Germans were going to invade. I got up very early and walked to the airfield. It was lovely countryside, fields and trees and seemed very peaceful as I reached the airfield.

Four Heinkels flew over it at about 100 ft. They did not bomb, but I remember thinking to myself ‘cheeky buggers’. In the afternoon we heard that the Germans had started their attack and Panzer Divisions were advancing and we went out to attack them. The bombing tactics were low level bombing and strafing. The bombers experienced severe low flak and machine gun fire and if they went high, there were the ME 109s. We were lucky that day, we only had one casualty. It was a rear gunner who was hit by a ricochet bullet and unfortunately died. At that time, the Fairey Battle was underpowered, poorly armed and not very good and casualties in the whole Advanced Striking Force were severe.

The Intelligence Officer reported back for duty and I was then free to fly. The first trip I did in the Blitz was a dive bombing attack on units of a Panzer division sheltering under some trees. My second trip was at night and we bombed one of the local townships where we knew the Germans had camped for the night.

Our airfield was very severely bombed every day by about 20 bombers escorted by Luftwaffe fighters. By then we were losing crews and replacements came to fill the gaps. We lost some aircraft on the ground as well but we were able to get replacements. Eventually we had to move from Auberive to our satellite spare airfield.

As a Squadron, we and the new replacements went from our satellite airfield to Nantes. We stayed in a tented camp — fortunately it was summertime - with a view to eventually going back to Britain and exchanging our Fairey Battles for, we believed, American bombers.

In the camp, about twice a week we had transport into Nantes. There was hardly any blackout, all the cafes were open, we found a lovely restaurant where we had hors d’oevres, langouste, salads, strawberries & cream and wonderful French wine. And this was while all hell was breaking loose and the Germans were heading for Paris.

About June 12, we went by train to St. Nazaire to go back to England by troopship. On the morning we arrived, we marched on to the quayside opposite a troopship full of army troops waiting to move off and then they started very strong abusive language complaining about the Airforce not backing them and our lads replied just as robustly that they should be staying to fight. One or two actually pointed rifles at us, but fortunately their ship left.

A ship came in and we embarked and when it was full of troops and RAF we had a safe trip escorted by the Navy, to Britain. My Leading Aircraftman Fisher who had been in a different holding camp, was unfortunately on board the Lancastria which was loaded with troops when the Luftewaffe came over and bombed it. It was sunk with a loss of 5000 lives, but there was a news blackout on it because so soon after Dunkirk, it was felt it would upset the people. A couple of years ago, some of the survivors had a reunion and that was really the first time it became common knowledge

About 140,000 left France after Dunkirk, about three weeks later from the St. Nazaire. You know, although it was such a marvellous effort, Dunkirk was in reality a serious defeat, but when I and my comrades returned to England, if anyone had asked us if we felt defeated, the answer would have been a resounding NO.

We went to RAF Mildenhall and were called together one morning to be interviewed by Air Marshall Hugh Trenchard, who in fact had formed the RAF in 1918. He gathered us all and said that now we would start to be reunited and continue the war with zest against the Germans, which we did.

We went for training on Blenheims, twin engine medium bombers, and then went to RAF Oakington where we were equipped with Blenheims. We were doing daylight trips under cloud cover. If you ran out of cloud cover you were ordered to turn back. If there was trouble you went up into the cloud. I did 13 trips on Blenheims with 218 Sq.

On one reconnaissance flight, to Dunkirk and Flushing avoiding the flak and got away over the sea at about 50 ft. Sgt. Wynne the Navigator and I were talking a bit. He was pleased with the reconnaissance and Ronnie Gill the gunner suddenly said “Skipper I think you ought to know there’s a single engine aircraft approaching. By weaving a bit I could see it and it was coming very fast and was a ME 109E He flew about 100 ft. higher than us, just out of machine gun range, for about a minute then started the attack. This is where the gunner was so important because he gave me the exact minute to turn into the attack. I was behind my armour plate and Sgt Wynne was on the floor to reduce the chance of being hi, but the Luftwaffe missed us by a very narrow margin.
Then Ronnie Gill got a good burst of machine gun fire into the nose of the Messerschmitt and he turned off and ceased the attack. He was last seen flying for the French coast with black smoke pouring from the engine. We don’t think he went down but he escaped. The gunner was so important to give you the word at the right time. It was a World War I tactic to turn into the attack, but it was a good one. We went off home to tea!

On Blenheims I had a roving commission: i.e. you were not given a bombing mission, you chose your own mission, day and area. It was partly for nuisance value against the enemy.
When the invasion of Britain by German Forces was a possibility, including occupation of RAF Airfields by Luftwaffe Transport Aircraft carrying heavily armed Storm Troopers, 218 Squadron liaised with personnel from the 6th Royal Sussex Regiment, equipped with new Bren Gun Carriers, in an exercise simulating such a German attack and Bren Gun Carrier Defence.
So on 19th September 1940, I was detailed to lead two Sections of three Blenheims and land on the airfield, and then spread out; then the Bren Gun Carriers were to intercept us. In each Blenheim, there was one Army soldier and he and the Navigator left the aircraft, simulating enemy troops, and attack various strategic parts of Oakington. The Army Officer in charge was with me and he and Sgt Wynne aimed for the Station Operations Room and claimed to have taken it. Then all the Pilots had to do was to take their aircraft back to Disposal and the Bren Gun Carriers to get back together. On the whole it was a successful exercise.
As I was walking back to see the Squadron Navigation Officer, much to everyone’s complete surprise, a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 forced landed and the crew of four taken prisoner.
The Captain of the Junkers was the Navigator and apparently during interrogation said the in a very short time they would be back in Germany, but as it turned out, they were POWs for a very long time.

End of Part 1 - the rest of my story can be can be found in A7718529 and A7719078

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