Archive for August, 2015


With the overall situation delicately poised, as the RAF just managed to keep the Lufwaffe at bay, after the Sqns success on the 25th Aug, it was inevitable that sooner or later their luck would change.

On 27th the war was brought once more painfully back to the carefee minds of the pilots, mercifully it was not as bad as it could have been. The Sqn was vectored towards RAF Kenley and ordered to link up with 43 Hurricane Sqn and the newly formed 616 Spitfire Sqn. The enemy strength was estimated to be 175+ but the composition was not known thanks to the persistent cloud. Just as the Sqn approached Kenley Fg Off John Pattison called over the RT in a braad Antipodean accent “This is Yellow Leader, BANDITS! swarms of the sods!” A mixed force of Heinkel He111 and Junkers Ju87b Stuka dive bombers were approaching from the South. Undetected were the 100 or so Messerschmitt bf109 fighter escorts a few thousand feet above hidden in the cloud. As Yellow Section led the Sqn toward the bomber formation the 109’s broke cover and set on the unsuspecting Spitfires.

Harry Prowse - 266 Sqn's 2nd combat death (BoB Monument)

Harry Prowse – The second pilot from 266 Sqn killed in action (BoB Monument)

A bitter dogfight ensued as the pilots of 266 Sqn attempted to react. Pattison’s Spitfire was soon shot up and losing power after the glycol tank ruptured. Now a sitting duck he chose to bale for the second time in his life landing safely in a field amongst the freshly harvested hay bales. Wilkinson led Red Section to assist but not before the Sqns second most experienced pilot, Yellow 2 Plt Off Colin Logan was also shot down (also for the second time). His aircraft on fire he managed to crash land and jump out before the Spit burned out. South African Plt Off Michael Rowland Hill addressed the balance slightly shooting down one of the enemy but 2 more Spitfires were shot down before the Sqn broke off leaving the bombers to attack Kenley with impunity. Sgt Ronald Barraclough parachuted safely but Red 3 Plt Off Harry Arthur Robin Prowse was not so lucky. Possibly wounded by enemy fire he went down with his Spitfire crashing a short distance from the airfield. He was the Sqns 2nd casualty.

30th Aug – 2 Days later the Sqn had the opportunity to even the score when they intercepted a group of 25 Bf110’s about to strafe the Spitfire factory at Southampton. The Sqn was made up as follows:-

Sqn Ldr Wilkinson (2 kills) Red 1, Plt Off E Wells (1 kill) Red 2, Plt Off R Roach (rookie) Red 3

Flt Lt S Bazley (2 kills) Blue 1, Plt Off M Hill (4 kills) Blue 2, Sgt D Kingaby (4 kills) Blue 3

Sub Lt H Greenshields Yellow 1, Plt Off C Logan (2 kills) Yellow 2, Sgt A Eade (1 kill) Yellow 3

Fg Off N Burnett (4 kills) Green 1, Plt Off J Soden (4 kills) Green 2, Sgt R Barraclough (1 kill) Green 3

B4HP5M RAF Pilots scramble during th Battle of Britain Conflict World War Two Pilots Running Aircraft Fighter Supermarine Spitfire Airf

Plt Off Hill (obscured) and other pilots scramble

With no fighter escort, the Bf110’s had to break off their attack and form a defensive circle for mutual support. Wilkinson led Red section into the attack. Catching one of the bf110’s in his sights as it circled away he scored multiple hits. Instructing his rookie wingman to follow, Wilkinson displayed a masterclass of how to keep on your quarry’s tail eventually finishing off the 110 over the sea. All the other sections also registered successes as another Sqn #19 Spitfire also joined in. The toasts for the day back at the Jackdaw Inn however went to Plt Off Michael Roland Hill, a native of South Africa who on his 2nd successive combat sortie shot down another enemy aircraft. With his score now confirmed on 5 he was the first official ace of 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn.

 

 

 

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With 2 more Sqns destroyed the day before, the strain on the remaining pilots and Sqn’s was beginning to tell. 266 Sqn were required to step into the breach with increasing regularity.

On 25th Aug, 266 Sqn and 3 other Sqns were vectored toward a 150+ enemy force approaching their home airfield of RAF Tangmere. Joining them were 43 Hurricane and 601 Hurricane from the same sector and 152 Spitfire Sqn from Middle Wallop.

Sqn Ldr Wilkinson elected to bring along a number of novice pilots and the 3 surviving pilots who had been shot down during the Sqns first encounter hoping that the large number of RAF fighters intercepting the raid would allow his pilots to gain some experience in a safer environment. However as they approached the enemy formation it became evident that the enemy fighter cover was strong.

266 Sqn pilots participating:-

Sqn Ldr R L Wilkinson – Red 1 (2 kills), Plt Off R H Thomas – Red 2, Plt Off W A Middleton – Red 3

Flt Lt S Bazley – Blue 1 (1 kill), Plt Off B E Tucker – Blue 2, Sgt A M MacGregor – Blue 3

Sub Lt H L Greenshields, – Yellow 1, Plt Off C Logan – Yellow 2 (1 kill), Sgt F B Hawley – Yellow 3

Fg Off J G Pattison – Green 1, Plt Off E W Cale – Green 2, Sgt R G V Barraclough – Green 3

266 and 152 Sqns attacked one fighter gruppe together providing mutual protection. They also had the advantage of height and surprise spotting the enemy aircraft before they were seen. The RT crackled into life then over the intercom came the familiar words from Wilkinson “Red Leader to Red Section, Bandits at Angels One Five, Tally Ho, Tally Ho”

William

Wiggy Middleton “chuffed to bits” after his 2 confirmed kills (BoB Monument)

Red 3, Plt Off William “Wiggy” Middleton, a New Zealander from Auckland struck first. Giving the Bf109 a burst from above and behind he saw it spin down and crash in the fields below. Blue 3 Sgt MacGregor and Yellow 3 Sgt Hawley also notched up a 109 each. Breaking through the fighter screen it was onto the bombers. 266 Sqn went after a Gruppe of 25 Ju88’s. Middleton was again on the mark firing a number of bursts into one of the bombers and following it through the cloud before finishing it off with the last of his ammunition.

Frederick Bernard Hawley, from grocers assistant to Sqn marksman (BoB monument)

Frederick Bernard Hawley, from grocers assistant to Sqn marksman (BoB monument)

Yellow 3 Sgt Frederick Bernard Hawley a Coventry Grocers assistant by trade also got his second kill when he fired a deflection burst into a Ju88. It half rolled and dived steeply thorough 10000ft with Hawley in hot pursuit. As it began to pull up, Hawley fired again forcing it to dive for safety once more. Following it down to 500ft he fired intermittently until the bomber impacted on the surface. None of the crew managed to bale out.

All told the Sqn claimed 10 of the enemy, 3 Bf109’s and 7 Ju88’s. A total of 23 were shot down by all sqns without loss. A shot in the arm for the entire Nation after the disaster of the 22nd Aug when late in the day 2 Sqns were destroyed as the Luftwaffe began to tighten the noose. The overall situation may have looked serious but for now the pilots of 266 Sqn were having a ball.


As the battle continued the RAF were managing to hold their own but news that 2 Sqns had been destroyed defending Southend threatened to allow the Luftwaffe to regain the initiative.

266 Sqn were scrambled late in the day just one day after their previous heroics and over the English Channel they spotted a small force of 15 unescorted Heinkel He111 bombers heading towards Beachy Head. The pilots who participated in this attack were:-

Sqn Ldr R Wilkinson – Red 1, Plt Off R Trousdale – Red 2, Plt Off E Cale – Red 3

Flt Lt S Bazley – Blue 1, Plt Off M Hill – Blue 2, Sgt A MacGregor – Blue 3

Fg Off D Ashton – Yellow 1, Plt Off C Logan – Yellow 2, Sgt R Boswell – Yellow 3

Fg Off N Burnett – Green 1, Plt Off J. Soden – Green 2, Sgt A Eade – Green 3

Wilkinson detailed Yellow section to provide top cover in case enemy bandits appeared on the scene while he led the attack with Red section. Selecting a target he approached a Heinkel below from astern and when less than 150 yards gave the bomber a quick burst raking the fuselage and port wing. Large pieces broke off the engine which spluttered and then stopped, the bomber losing height banked for home but Wilkinson was directly behind and let rip with another burst of witheringly accurate, this time enough to send the bomber diving headlong into the sea and taking his “score” to 2. Blue Section had the greatest success of the day claiming 4 shot down 3 of which were at the expert hands of South African Plt Off Michael Rowland Hill.

Flt Lt Sidney Bazley. Opened his account with a He111 on 20th Aug

Flt Lt Sidney Bazley. Opened his account with a He111 on 20th Aug (BoB monument)

Blue Leader, Lancastrian sports car enthusiast Flt Lt Sidney Howarth Bazley claimed the other from a head on attack. At the end of the action 10 Heinkels had been shot down without loss. That night Wilkinson took the entire Sqn down to the local Jackdaw Inn for a celebratory evening of high jinks and carousing with the local ladies.

Bazley

Bazley “rocking up” at the Jackdaw ready to party hard.

2 days later, on the 22nd the Sqn was once more in action intercepting a Gruppe of Messerschmitt bf110’s who were reconnoitring the Isle Of Wight RDF station at Ventnor. Luckily for the Germans, the cloudy weather allowed them to break off and hide in the cloud after being set upon by Wilkinson and the boys. 3 of their number were not so fortunate and were added to the Sqns list of kills which now stood at 25.

John Flewelling Soden notched his 3rd(He111) and 4th (B110) kills on these 2 days

John Flewelling Soden notched his 3rd (He111) and 4th (Bf110) kills on these 2 days. (BoB monument)

Plt Off John Flewelling Soden was among the RAF pilots with another kill to his name. He had shot down enemy aircraft in every one of his previous actions and now had 4 kills to his name, just 1 shy of ace status.


266 sqnAfter what seemed an interminable wait, 266 Sqn finally got off the mark on the 18th Aug but not before receiving a sharp lesson 3 days before.

On the 15th Aug, the Sqn was on patrol over the Sussex coast when they were vectored towards Beachy Head. At about 1000 hrs the crack Luftwaffe bf110 unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 led by Hptm Walter Rubensdörffer dived out of the sun onto the tails of the unsuspecting pilots of 266 Sqn. In a few seconds, 2 Spitfires were plummeting towards the sea. Fg Off John Pattison leading Green section in the rear (the most senior of the 5 New Zealanders in the unit) managed to bail out but landed before his parachute had had time to fully deploy. He was taken to nearby Eastbourne hospital for treatment. Plt Off Colin Logan also bailed out too low for his parachute to open but fortunately he landed in the sea and had a short swim back to the coast. Meanwhile Blue Section led by Flt Lt Nigel Bowen became separated from the rest of the Sqn and were overwhelmed. Bowen appeared to lose control of his Spitfire which smashed into the shingle at the bottom of the cliffs. He was killed instantly. His wingman Blue 3 Sgt MacGregor was also shot down but ditched in the sea and swam safely to shore. Then just as suddenly the enemy were gone leaving the remaining pilots to gaze in disbelief at the wreckage below them of their comrades aircraft. It was a salutary lesson for Sqn Ldr Wilkinson leading his Sqn into action for the first time and one that would drive him and the rest of the Sqn to seek swift revenge.

3 days later it was to come when on the 18th they joined 43 (Hurricane) Sqn, 64 (Spitfire) Sqn and 264 (Defiant) Sqn heading towards an enemy nearing RAF Kenley. The 60 German bombers (Do17’s and Ju88’s) had a small fighter escort of just 25 bf109’s thanks to the huge 1350+ number of enemy raiders that had attacked the previous day. The RAF fighters (less the Defiants) engaged the 109’s with a rare numerical superiority and attempted to draw them away from the bomber force.

Sqn Ldr Wilkinson - claimed his first kill today, abf109

Sqn Ldr Wilkinson – claimed his and his Sqn’s first kill today, a bf109

Sqn Ldr Rodney Wilkinson led Red section into engaging the 109’s while the rest of the Sqn made for the bombers. Wilkinson was clearly a man with a score to settle and before long he had gotten onto the tail of a 109. At 200 yards he let his quarry have it with a 10 second burst almost expending all his ammunition. The 109 suddenly lost power as the engine caught fire. Then in an instant the airplane exploded and was no more. 266 Sqn had its first kill. The 109’s were now being overwhelmed and after 4 more were shot down they broke off and made for home. The bombers meanwhile were being massacred. 23 of the original force were destroyed with 266 Sqn claiming 10.

Fg Off Norman Burnett - claimed a brace of Do17's today

Fg Off Norman Burnett – claimed a brace of Do17’s today

Notably Fg Off Norman Burnett and Plt Off John Soden both got a brace while Sgt Don Kingaby also shot one down bringing his tally for the war to 4. 266 Sqn was up and running.

Tonight, Wilkinson and his boys were the toast of the Rotherfield pubs. The Kings Arms, The Catts Inn, The George, The Harvest Moon and the Bicycle Arms all ran dry as copious pints of Harvey’s Best were guzzled down by the locals.


Sqn Ldr Rodney Levett Wilkinson - CO 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn

Sqn Ldr Rodney Levett Wilkinson – CO 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn

By a strange quirk of fate, while conducting research on another airman, I unexpectedly discovered that the Parish had its very own Battle of Britain airman (ack. Battle of Britain Monument). His story is not documented, so on the anniversary of his death it felt the done thing to redress the balance and remember one of our Few.

Rodney Levett Wilkinson was born on 23rd May 1910 was born in Atcham on the outskirts of Shrewsbury on 23rd May 1910 the only child to Maj Clement Arthur Wilkinson (Kings Shropshire LI) and Ruth Violet Esther Wilkinson (née Mirehouse). 11 days before his fifth birthday he lost his father, killed at Ypres. At some point after this tragic event his mother moved to Rotherfield with her young son taking up residence at The Gables in Argos Hill. The young “Wilkie” began his education at Wellington College and then followed in his fathers military footsteps by entering the RAF at Cranwell College in 1929. After a stint in the Middle East with HQ Transjordan and Palestine in Jerusalem he returned to the UK as an instructor eventually taking an Air Ministry post in January 1939. One wonders whether Wilkinson thought his flying days were over but with the outbreak of war he turned down an offer of appointment of ADC to the Duke of Kent and took a refresher course at 5OTU Aston Down. On the 6th July, and was given command of 266 (Rhodesia) Sqn as Squadron Leader.

266 Sqn was the very same that fictional boys own hero “Biggles” had flown with during the First World War. Reformed in 1939 as a “gift” squadron from the people of Rhodesia, it bore the name in their honour, a Bataleur as its symbol (a Rhodesian Eagle) and the motto “Hlabezulu” (The Stabber of the Sky”  The Sqn was based at RAF Tangmere, Eastchurch and Hornchurch during the height of the Battle of Britain in August 1940 and equipped with the outstanding Supermarine Spitfire.

The Sqn had seen relatively little action until the 12th August when it was scrambled to intercept an enemy raid. German Junkers Ju88 bombers with a strong fighter escort attacked the Isle of Wight RDF station at Ventnor as well as Portsmouth docks. Wilkinson led his Sqn into battle engaging the bombers over both targets and in a fierce battle, 10 were shot down by a number of RAF Sqn’s defending the area. Wilkinson opened his account claiming a Dornier Do17 bomber. Checking the records of the day I suspect he mistakenly accounted for a Ju88 as no Dornier’s participated in the attack. His combat report states that he expended all his ammunition of 2800 rounds at which point “Enemy aircraft was then losing height in  a spiral and the port engine was on fire…..the aircraft hit the sea vertically and a large pool of flames spread across the water” The result of this action wasn’t to be without cost to 266 Sqn who lost 2 aircraft with 1 pilot missing.

After the following day when the Sqn’s airfield at Eastchurch was bombed, they were back in action on the 15th August fighting a series of keenly contested engagements over Kent. Two aircraft were lost and one damaged with 2 pilots missing although a very heavy toll was inflicted on the enemy who lost 17 Ju88’s and a similar number of Messerschmitt Bf110 fighter escorts. Wilkinson again “bagged” one, another Ju88 bomber reporting this time “I attacked from above, behind giving him bursts with no deflection and experiencing no fire from him. His left engine went on fire and e/a finally landed in the sea“.

Friday 16th August dawned a beautiful sunny day, and for the pilots of 266 Sqn none of them could have predicted that in the space of one hour six of their number would either have been shot down or badly shot up and in some cases killed in action. At 11.53am 10 Spitfires from 266 Sqn were scrambled towards Manston. Joining 32 and 111 Sqn they approached a bomber formation near Folkestone and at 12.15pm attacked en masse at the centre of the bomber group. Hundreds of aircraft became embroiled in the bitter violent maelstrom of battle. At 12.35pm over Deal, Wilkinson was set upon by 2 Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters. What happened next is unclear but the result was disastrous. His Spitfire (serial R6768) was observed going down in flames crashing and burning out at Eastry Court, Aylesham. Reportedly the result of a collision with the Bf109 of Uffz Buder of 4/JG51 who baled out and was captured, Wilkinson was not so fortunate, dying in the crash. He was 30 years old. 2 days later his mother received the dreaded telegram “Deeply regret to inform you that your son Sqn Ldr Rodney Levett Wilkinson previously reported as missing as the result of our operations on August 16th 1940 is now reported to have lost his life. Letter follows. The Air Council express their profound sympathy.” He was buried on 22nd Aug. 2 other pilots from the same Sqn died that day with 2 more wounded. It was a devastating blow for the Sqn and just 5 days later they transferred to a quieter sector at RAF Wittering to recover.

Rodney Wilkinson is buried in St John’s cemetery, Margate, plot 15939. He is remembered on the WWII memorial plaque in St Denys and the Memorial board in the Village Hall as well as the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne and monument in London. His mother who had lost both husband and only child fighting in both World Wars eventually left the parish and reached the age of 101 before passing away in 1984.

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings” – from High Flight - Magee - St Deny's memorial plaque

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings” – High Flight – Magee. St Denys’ memorial plaque

Left – St Denys’ WWII memorial plaque

Below – Foxley-Norris wall – Battle of Britain Memorial to the Few Capel-le-Ferne nr Folkestone Kent.

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