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RAF Southend 1940â"1944
By Peter C. Brown
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Peter C. Brown
All rights reserved.
RAF Rochford, a satellite aerodrome of RAF Hornchurch in 11 Group, Fighter Command, was renamed as RAF Southend today, although Fighter Control remained with Hornchurch. (War Establishment No. WAR/FC/218 dated 28 October 1940.)
On formation of the Station Headquarters, Wing Commander B.E. Embry, DSO, AFC was posted to command (he had recently escaped capture after he was shot down in a Bristol Blenheim bomber over France). Flying Officer E. Dodd and Flying Officer A. Cairnie (attached from RAF Hornchurch) carried out administrative duties. Flight Lieutenant W.H.A. Monkton, MM and Pilot Officer E. Thursfield (attached from RAF Hornchurch) carried out duties of intelligence officer and ground defence officer respectively. Flying Officer R.L.G. Nobbs carried out medical duties on the station.
264 Squadron arrived for night-flying duties; 'A' Flight flew in from RAF Martlesham Heath, and 'B' Flight from RAF Luton. They had suffered huge losses over the past months and their Boulton-Paul Defiants, which were no match for the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Me 109s, were withdrawn from front-line operations.
Sergeant Alexander MacGregor (109895) of 19 Squadron, from RAF Duxford, made a forced landing in Spitfire P7379.
Personnel from various units began to arrive to complete the establishment. These airmen were accommodated in requisitioned houses in the locality. The Station Headquarters offices and station stores were situated on the aerodrome.
The Battle of Britain is officially regarded as having come to an end on this date but it actually proved to be one of the quietest days in four months. It was ironic that the aeroplane, an offensive weapon, should win its first and greatest battle as a defender.
Throughout the day from 07.30hrs until dusk, reconnaissance and scattered bombing raids were made over East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, South Wales, Hampshire and Lancashire. Bombs were dropped on the airfields of Bassingbourne, Martlesham and Poling with further targets in the Monmouth and Newport areas also being attacked.
Without victory, the Second World War would have taken a different course; with air supremacy the German Army could have landed and the odds are that it would have succeeded as the British Army had not yet recovered after the Dunkirk evacuation. Britain could not have been the base for either the Allied air offensive against Germany or the Normandy landings that led to the liberation of Europe in 1944–45. The Battle of Britain was, therefore, not just a local, territorial success over the south of England in the summer of 1940, but one of the most significant conflicts of the Second World War and the only major, self-contained and absolutely decisive air battle in history.
The battle was over. The war was just beginning.
Group Captain Murlis Green, DSO, MC arrived for several days on duty in connection with Night Operations.
This station was in the process of formation. Flight Lieutenant Monkton was posted in for intelligence duties, and Pilot Officer A.D. Rutherford-Jones reported on posting for equipment duties.
Pilot Officer William Moore (77947) returned to 264 Squadron after a visit to Messrs Boulton & Paul and Lucas in connection with the manufacture of power-operated gun turrets.
Pilot Officer Gillespie joined the 264 Squadron on posting from 614 Squadron.
At 16.15hrs, Pilot Officer Frantiek Hradil (81889), a Czechoslovakian pilot of 19 Squadron, was shot down in flames during combat over Canterbury by a Bf 109E of I/JG26. His Spitfire (P7545) crashed into the sea close to Southend Pier. His body was found on 7 November and he was buried on 12 November in Sutton Road Cemetery (Plot R, Grave 12160), Southend-on-Sea. He was 28 years old.
Pilot Officers Kenwyn Sutton (36282), Eric Barwell (77454), Richard Gaskell (42832) and Peter Bowen (42481) of 264 Squadron carried out night patrols and Pilot Officer Hughes carried out a dawn patrol the next morning.
In the late afternoon, while on convoy protection, a Me 110 was sighted and destroyed 10 miles north-east of Rochford by a flight from 603 Squadron (operating from RAF Turnhouse).
One section – Pilot Officers Hugh Percy (74688) and Desmond Kay (42006), and Sergeant Arnold Lauder (48822) – of 264 Squadron carried out patrols in the morning, and Sergeant Cyril Ellery (78747) arrived to join the squadron on posting from 150 Squadron.
Night patrols were carried out by Squadron Leader George Garvin (34237), Flying Officer Ian Stephenson (72010), Pilot Officers Gerald Hackwood (42217), Richard Stokes (42027), Terence Welsh (42033), Flight Sergeant Edward Thorn (46957) and Sergeant Endersby of 264 Squadron.
Flying Officer D. Edwards arrived for engineering duties, and Flying Officer (Acting Squadron Leader) Harold 'Flash' Pleasance (37914), DFC was posted here for operations duties.
Night patrols were carried out by Squadron Leader Garvin, Flight Lieutenant Smith, Flying Officer Stephenson, Pilot Officers Robert Young (NZ40197) and Welsh, Flight Sergeant Thorn and Sergeant Endersby of 264 Squadron. Pilot Officer James Melvill (74681) carried out two night patrols.
Flying Officer Edwards (Engineering) was granted the acting rank of flight lieutenant. Flight Lieutenant Ernest Campbell-Colquhoun (39301) left 264 Squadron on posting. Squadron Leader Garvin carried out a test of experimental exhausts. Night patrols were carried out by Pilot Officers Melvill and Young; one patrol was carried out by Flight Lieutenant Edward Smith (90093) and Sergeant Godfrey Smith (1223091), Flying Officer Stephenson, Pilot Officers Welsh, Hackwood and Kay, and Flight Sergeant Thorn with Sergeants Endersby and Lauder.
Squadron Leader A.T.D. Sanders was posted in for operations duties. Flying Officers K.L.S. Nobbs and R. Cargill were posted here for medical duties, and Acting Flight Lieutenant E. Dodd was posted here from RAF Hornchurch for duty as adjutant. Pilot Officer Stokes left 264 Squadron on posting.
At 18.30hrs, Flight Lieutenant Samuel Thomas (42029), and Pilot Officers William Knocker (74333) and Bowen of 264 Squadron took off for night patrols. Knocker's aircraft, Defiant N1547, caught fire in mid-air and, after an unsuccessful attempt to land down wind before another attempt could be made, hit a tree and crashed on Rochford golf course, adjacent to the aerodrome. The wrecked aircraft burst into flames, but Knocker managed to crawl away quickly from his blazing cockpit whereupon he then passed out. His gunner, Pilot Officer Frank Albert Toombs, was trapped inside the gun turret. Two soldiers in the vicinity ran up to the crashed aircraft and reportedly could see Toombs struggling inside the gun turret as flames from the fire licked around him, but did not attempt to rescue him.
Many more minutes were to pass before the station medical officer (SMO) arrived on the scene to find the air-gunner still trapped within the gun turret, and that he was now hideously burned.
Showing commendable bravery the SMO pulled Toombs from the inferno and dispatched him with haste to hospital where medical staff worked frantically to treat his terrible burns. Sadly, Frank succumbed to his wounds and died two days later.
'The Lawn' in Hall Road, Rochford, was requisitioned by the RAF as the Officers' Mess.
Pilot Officer Rutherford-Jones was promoted to flying officer. Pilot Officer Hughes and Sergeant Lauder of 264 Squadron carried out a night patrol.
Flight Lieutenant Smith of 264 Squadron carried out two night patrols. Flying Officers Stephenson, Young, Welsh, Melvill and Haigh carried out one patrol, as did Flight Sergeant Thorn and Sergeant Endersby. Pilot Officer Hackwood and his gunner, Pilot Officer Alexander Storrie (43641), were killed shortly after taking off on patrol when their Defiant (N1626) crashed east of Blatches Farm, Rochford.
Flight Lieutenant Smith, Flying Officer Stephenson, Pilot Officers Young, Welsh, Haigh, Melvill, Flight Sergeant Thorn and Sergeant Endersby of 264 Squadron carried out night patrols.
Pilot Officer C.H.B. Bassett was posted here for accounting duties.
Acting Pilot Officer H.M. Friend was posted here for equipment duties. The Station Headquarters moved to the offices in 'Greenways' in Hall Road, Rochford.
Squadron Leader Phillip Sanders (36057) arrived to assume command of 264 Squadron.
Flying Officer Sutton and Pilot Officers Gaskell, Frederick Hughes (74706), Percy, Barwell and Curtis of 264 Squadron carried out night patrols. Pilot Officer Hughes observed a searchlight intersection in the vicinity of Braintree and climbed to 7,000ft to investigate. When approaching he noticed at the exact height but 50 yards ahead of the intersection the exhaust flames of a Heinkel III. He engaged it at once as the enemy aircraft was travelling at a much greater speed than his Defiant, and a two-second burst by his gunner Sergeant Fred Gash (146840) destroyed one engine, but unfortunately the turret jammed and at that moment the Defiant was illuminated by three searchlights. At a range of 50 yards from the enemy aircraft Hughes instructed Sergeant Gash to press the trigger while he attempted to manoeuvre the machine so that incendiary bullets struck the Heinkel. In this manoeuvre the aircraft almost collided. The enemy aircraft was again engaged as it crossed the coast and was seen to be losing height rapidly.
Pilot Officer Gillespie left 264 Squadron on posting and was replaced by Pilot Officer Hallet.
Pilot Officer J.S. Wood was posted in for code and cypher duties.
Flight Lieutenant Smith of 264 Squadron carried out two night patrols; Flying Officer Stephenson, Pilot Officers Young, Haigh, Melvill, Curtis, Flight Sergeant Thorn and Sergeant Endersby carried out one patrol.
264 Squadron left for RAF Debden, continuing their night patrols.
Pilot Officer T.F. Frost reported for account duties on posting with effect from (w.e.f.) 18 November 1940. He was granted the acting rank of flight lieutenant.
Acting Pilot Officer C.F. Colyer was posted here for administrative duties with R & R Section. Pilot Officers B. Hale and T.J. Moffatt arrived for defence duties.
Pilot Officer (Acting Flight Lieutenant) E. Thursfield was posted in from RAF Hornchurch. Wing Commander Embry visited RAF Castle Camps to inspect the aerodrome and accommodation.
Acting Squadron Leader Pleasance, DFC attended a conference at Headquarters, 11 Group.
603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron arrived from RAF Hornchurch, with operational and flying practice starting the following day. This continued until the 13th, when the squadron was moved to RAF Drem. However, they left without Sergeant Pilots Stone and Strawson, who were admitted to Southend Hospital as a result of a motorcycle accident.
603 Squadron carried out operational and practice flying every day until the 13th.
Wing Commander Embry was posted to Headquarters, 12 Group, for Air Staff Night Operations. Pilot Officer A.L. Clow was posted here for duty as adjutant.
At 20.00hrs, officers and around twenty airmen from 611 Squadron arrived by road in private vehicles from RAF Digby. Pilot Officer Clow was posted to 66 Squadron.
The main party of 603 Squadron moved out by train late in the evening to RAF Drem.
At 01.00hrs, a special train carrying the ground party for 611 Squadron arrived at Rochford. Billeting had been organised in empty houses in varying distances up to 3 miles away from this station.
At 13.00hrs, seventeen Spitfires of 611 Squadron landed here, and transport aircraft and five 10-ton trucks arrived during the afternoon carrying more airmen and stores.
Pilot Officers William Assheton (41979), Donald Stanley (83271), and Sergeants Reginald Breeze (516456) and Dudley Gibbins (754428) reported to 611 Squadron on posting from 222 Squadron.
A heavy mist grounded all aircraft today.
Another misty day with no operational flying. 603 Squadron aircraft were also still weather-bound. Pilot Officer Smith re-joined 611 Squadron from sick leave and Flight Sergeant Venn and sixteen others of the rear party arrived by train from RAF Digby, completing the move of the squadron, apart from a few men still on sick leave. Squadron Leader Frederick Hopcroft reported on posting (supernumerary) from 57 OTU, Hawarden.
A fine day today; 603 Squadron finally left for RAF Drem. Two patrols were carried out by 611 Squadron; all aircraft returned without incident.
A misty day; no flying.
A fair day but with a good deal of cloud. One long patrol was carried out in the afternoon by 611 Squadron, above the clouds, on which Blue Section landed at RAF Manston for fuel before returning. Spitfire X4589, recently damaged at RAF Sutton Bridge and repaired there, was collected by one of the pilots, bringing the complement to eighteen aircraft.
An air-raid alarm sounded in the morning; gun posts were manned and opened fire on a lone Dornier which appeared below cloud at about 1,000ft for a few seconds. One aircraft from 611 Squadron went up on a short local patrol afterwards, returning with nothing to report.
Flight Lieutenant A. Cairnie left on attachment to the Officers School at RAF Loughborough.
At 10.40hrs, 611 Squadron took off to rendezvous with 64 Squadron from RAF Hornchurch, and patrolled over the Maidstone patrol line. One section was detached to chase a Dornier over the Thames Estuary, and in fact the whole of the two squadrons intercepted and gave chase. Several pilots landed elsewhere for fuel before returning home, but not all without incident: Pilot Assheton, in Spitfire P9335, taxiing after refuelling at RAF Lympne, sank in a soft patch in a filled bomb crater, damaging the propeller. Flight Lieutenant Barrie Heath (90818) in Spitfire X4644 was about to make an emergency landing in a field near Rye with only 3 gallons showing on his fuel gauge when his engine packed up. He had to land, wheels down, in a ploughed field, but overturned after hitting a bump. The aircraft was severely damaged. Both pilots returned to Southend by train. As if by providence, Spitfire X4662 had been delivered to the squadron the same day by a ferry pilot.
Pilot Officer J. McCubbin was posted here for defence duties.
At 10.40hrs 611 Squadron was ordered to take off and patrol over the base at 10,000ft. On emerging from cloud at 5,000ft the port wing of P9429 (flown by Sergeant Peter Townsend) touched the rudder and tail fin of R6914 (flown by Flying Officer Pollard), cutting pieces off it. Both aircraft landed safely without further damage.
A cold day with cloud. This change for the worse in the weather continued until the 27th. No flying was done.
Pilot Officer Moffatt was attached to the Anti-Gas School at Rollestone Camp for a course.
Earl's Hall Garage, Southend, was taken over for use as the station workshops.
After a quiet Christmas Day, two aircraft of 611 Squadron, while on practice flights, were vectored towards a raider, and Sergeant Leigh got in a shot at it, but without apparent results. At midday, the whole squadron was sent up for an hour on patrol over the area.
Pilot Officer B.C. Sparrowe was posted here for duty as assistant adjutant, and Wing Commander J.M. Thompson, DFC was posted in to command RAF Southend.
A hazy day meant no operational flying was done.
A clear day; 611 Squadron carried out convoy patrols during which two of the pilots shot at and damaged a Dornier. Pilot Officer Assheton left the squadron for Central Flying School (CFS), Upavon, on posting on an instructor's course. Flight Sergeant E. Lewis (560863), who had been with the squadron since 1936, received promotion to temporary warrant officer w.e.f. 1 December 1940.
Poor visibility; no operational flying was done.
A few short patrols were carried out in the morning. A new War Establishment (WAR/FC/228 dated 16 December 1940) reduced the pilot establishment from twenty-six to twenty-three, and raised the ground staff from 160 to 166. The principle changes were in the Signal Section, with the introduction of electricians, radio telephony operators, and wireless mechanics, and the deletion of wireless & electrical mechanics and wireless operators. A flight sergeant equipment assistant came in and there were other minor changes.
Excerpted from RAF Southend 1940â"1944 by Peter C. Brown. Copyright © 2012 Peter C. Brown. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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