Tag Archives: Battle of Britain

A US Navy Pilot’s Comments on the Spitfire and the Seafire

supermarine_seafire

A SUPERMARINE SEAFIRE

Flown from the decks of aircraft carriers during the Second World War and the Korean War, the Seafire was the Royal Navy’s version of the Spitfire.

Over 2,300 Seafires were produced for the Fleet Air Arm, and in 1943 United States Navy pilot Corky Meyer had the chance to fly one of them.

Describing the aircraft’s performance Corky wrote: “Without argument, the Spitfire/Seafire configuration is probably the most beautiful fighter ever to emerge from a drawing board. Its elliptical wing and long slim fuselage are visually most delightful, and its flight characteristics equal its aerodynamic beauty.

“The Seafire had such delightful upright flying qualities that knowing it had an inverted fuel and oil system, I decided to try inverted figure 8s. They were as easy as pie… I have never enjoyed a flight more. It was clear to see how a few exhausted, hastily trained Battle of Britain pilots flying Spitfires were able to fight off Hitler’s hordes for so long and so successfully.”

He concluded by saying that while the carrier based Wildcat, Hellcat and Corsair fighters were workhorses “the Seafire was a dashing stallion”. 

Photograph: Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Spitfire Squadron

A Mark IX Spitfire

A Mark IX Spitfire like the one that attacked Rommel’s car

No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron was the first Auxiliary Air Force squadron to fly Spitfires. Formed as a day bomber unit during 1925, it became a fighter squadron in January 1939 and flew Gloucester Gauntlets until May when they were replaced by Spitfires.

On September 1st, Germany invaded Poland. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun. No. 602 Squadron and No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron were given the task of protecting the naval base at Rosyth. On the 16th October, German bombers attacked the base. Both squadrons were scrambled to intercept them, and two enemy aircraft were destroyed.

No. 602 Squadron remained in Scotland until August 1940 when it moved south to join No. 11 Group which was defending London and the South East during the Battle of Britain.

In 1941, the squadron and its “cute little Spitfires” starred with Tyrone Power and Betty Grable in “A Yank in the RAF”, a Hollywood movie made as a tribute to the large number of American airmen who had volunteered to fight for Britain.

During 1943, No. 602 Squadron joined the newly formed 2nd Tactical Air Force which had been set up to provide air support for the allied invasion of Europe. Now equipped with Mark IX Spitfire fighter-bombers, 602 Squadron was sent to a front-line airstrip in France shortly after D-Day.

The bomb loads carried by Spitfire fighter-bombers depended on the target they were attacking and how far away it was from their base. Usually, the aircraft carried two 250 pound bombs under its wings or one 500 pound bomb. If the target was only a short distance from its base, the plane could carry one 500 and two 250 pound bombs.

Describing the Spitfire’s role as a fighter-bomber, Flying Officer David Green who flew one during the campaign to liberate Italy said: “Carrying two 250 pound bombs, the Spitfire made a very fine dive bomber. It could attack accurately and did not need a fighter escort because as soon as the bombs had been released, it became a fighter.”

July 17th, 1944 was a beautiful summer’s day in Normandy. During the afternoon, a Mustang reconnaissance aircraft spotted a German staff car and its motorcycle escort speeding along a country lane near Lisieux.

A flight of five Spitfire fighter-bombers from No 602 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Chris Le Roux, was sent to investigate. Le Roux strafed the vehicle with cannon and machine-gun fire killing the driver. The car ran off the road and crashed into a tree. Its passenger Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the commander of German ground forces in Normandy, was severely injured suffering a fractured skull and severe concussion.

He was taken to a military hospital where doctors successfully fought to save his life. On leaving the hospital, Rommel was sent to Germany to recuperate where he died a few months later in mysterious circumstances.

Copyright Phoenix Trust 2013

Photograph Creative Commons Licence.

Focus on Kidsgove: Harry Wilson – A Local Hero

The Edward Medal

THE COAL MINES ACT 1911

The Coal Mines Act 1911 forced colliery owners to employ qualified safety officers who were called firemen to inspect roadways leading to the coalface and to make sure that the pit was well ventilated and free from gas.

It was a responsible job. A miner could not become a fireman unless he had obtained a Fireman’s Certificate, was at least 25 years old and had worked underground for three years before working at the coalface for two years.

In the early 1920s, Harry Wilson, a roadman at Harriseahead Colliery, was a part-time student at the North Staffordshire Technical College (now Staffordshire University) where he was studying for his fireman’s certificate.

HARRISEAHEAD COLLIERY FLOODED

On March 10th, 1924, Harry was at work when the lower levels of the colliery were flooded by a sudden inrush of water. Except for Edwin Booth, who was trapped by flood water about 300 yards (274 metres) from the bottom of the shaft, all the men working underground escaped. Many had made their way along roadways where the water was four feet deep to the bottom of the shaft.  They were brought up in the cage. Other miners scrambled up a footrail to reach the surface.

When he realised that Edwin was missing Pailing Baker, the manager, called for volunteers to go back into the mine to rescue him. Five men, including Harry, volunteered. Led by Pailing, they entered the mine through the footrail. Making their way along a roadway, the volunteers reached a ventilation door which was holding back the flood water. Fearing for their lives, four of the men refused to open it. They returned to the surface while Pailing and Harry stayed by the door.

When the two men slowly opened the door, the water behind it fell slightly.

Although they realised that they could be drowned by the water which was still pouring into the mine, Pailing and Harry risked their lives by wading in semi-darkness through swirling black flood water. They found Edwin trapped in a low roofed, narrow roadway. Struggling against chest high, fast flowing water, Pailing and Harry again risked death to guide him to the bottom of the shaft where a cage took all three of them to the surface.

PAILING AND HARRY AWARDED THE EDWARD MEDAL

Six months later, on August 23rd, 1924, Buckingham Palace announced that King George V had awarded Pailing and Harry the Edward Medal for “exceptional courage and resolution”. Before going to London to receive their medals from the King, they were honoured locally.

At a ceremony in the Victoria Hall, Kidsgrove, they were presented with certificates acknowledging their bravery by the Daily Herald, a popular national newspaper. During the ceremony, the Carnegie Trust announced that it had agreed to pay Harry’s tuition fees at the North Staffordshire Technical College giving him the opportunity to continue his studies and become a mining engineer.

Instituted by King Edward VII in 1907, the Edward Medal was the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Designed by W. Reynolds-Stephens, the medal had the sovereign’s profile on the obverse, while the reverse depicting a miner rescuing a stricken colleague, was inscribed with the words “For Courage”.

HARRY EXCHANGES HIS MEDAL FOR THE GEORGE CROSS

During the Battle of Britain in 1940, the prime minister, Winston Churchill, persuaded King George VI to institute the George Cross “for acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger”.

The George Cross gradually replaced the Edward Medal which was only awarded posthumously after 1949. During 1971, the Queen invited the 68 surviving holders of the Edward Medal to exchange it for the George Cross. Harry accepted the invitation, and until his death in 1986, he regularly attended the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association’s reunions at Buckingham Palace.

Please contact Spotlight on North Staffordshire at spotlightstoke@talktalk.net to tell us about other miners working in local collieries who were given awards for risking their lives to rescue a comrade trapped underground.