15 May 1940

Unlike previous days, No.615 Squadron activity is quite intense and relatively well detailed. It is also the occasion of several claims, but also losses.

The day begins with several patrols from the field of Abbeville, without further clarification, according to the ORB.

Later in the morning, six Hawker Hurricane Mk I took off, under the orders of Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll, from Vitry-en-Artois for an escort mission on Dinant along with six other B Flight aircraft from No. 607 (County of Durham) Squadron. The twelve Bristol Blenheim Mk I (three of No.15 Squadron and nine of No.40 Squadron) are responsible for destroying several bridges over the Meuser river. The entire formation is, however, intercepted by several Bf 109 and Bf 110 around 11h00. Pilots seem to have been surprised, and Flying Officer Hedley N. Fowler (Hawker Hurricane Mk I P2622), at the rear of the formation, can only scream a warning before being shot by a Bf. 109. As his aircraft begins to catch fire, he is forced to jump in parachute. He managed to join several French soldiers, but they were all captured the next day [1]. The victory could have been claimed by Oberleutnant Franz Eckerle (3./JG76) [2]. One of the few relatively experienced pilots in the Squadron, as proof of his relatively high number of flights last winter, he will make the headlines after his escape from Colditz Castle on 9 September 1942. Dressed up as German officers he managed to join Switzerland (with Dutch Lieutenant Damiaen Joan van Doorninck). Returning to England in April 1944, he received the Military Cross before being posted to the Armament Test Squadron of Boscombe Down. He was killed while testing a Hawker Typhoon on 26 March 1944. He is buried in the Durrington Cemetery. According to Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll: “The formation of Hurricane was attacked by Messerschmitt 110s and 109s simultaneously. I did a head-on attack on the first 110, qhich afterwards force-landed, and a deflection shot on the second 110, which went into a dive and exploded in a wood”[3]. Both claims do not seem conclusive. According to Peter Cornwell, this clash could be linked to that between Bloch MB.152 of GC I / 8 and Bf 110 C 2./ZG 26. Three aircrafts are claimed by the French [4]. If we observe the description of the fight in question, we can not deny concordant elements: the time (10h30 – 12h15), as well as places (above the Meuse, in the vicinity of Mezieres). In addition, Adjudant Michaud indicates the presence of a Hawker Hurricane during the confrontation: “he drops a long shoot, but at this moment an unexpected Hurricane passes between him and his target. He is forced to stop shooting and is falling behind his prey that stings in front of him. The Messerschmitt has his account, a crew member jumps, but the parachute of the unfortunate goes into a torch. The disabled biplane hits and explodes in a clearing northeast of Renwez “[5]. There are several elements consistent with the second part of the report written by Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll. This is a Bf 110 C of 2./ZG 26 (Feldwebel Kurt Friedrich and Gefreiter Willli Neuburger, killed) which crashes, around 11h10, to Sécheval. Obviously, in the absence of more convincing details, this remains of the simple hypothesis. The Germans record the loss of two Bf 109 E-3 from Stab I./JG 52, Hauptman Siegfried von Eschwege and Leutnant Kurt Kirchner (captured), while three British fighters are claimed by Hauptmann Werner Molders, Oberleutnant Heinz Wittenberg and Leutnant Georg Claus of the III./JG 53. No.607 Squadron, Squadron Leader Lance Smith (P2870) is killed during the fight, and two Bf 109 are claimed by Flying Officer Bill Whitty and Pilot Officer Bob Grassick [ 6].

The afternoon is still quite hectic since the A Flight is in charge of a series of three patrols in the vicinity of Wavre. Several Henschel Hs 126 are encountered and a series of confrontations bursts. For example, a section under Flight Lieutnant Leslie Thornley patrolled northwest of Gembloux at 15h00. According to Pilot Officer Thomas C. Jackson: “Flying around, we souddenly saw a Hs.126 but only when it fired at me. Had a go and hit it and believed killed the gunner. I shot past it and the Flight Commander had a go. Turned round and it had gone into the ground. “[7]. According to Flight Lieutnant Leslie T.W. Thornley: “Aicraft first seen by Pilot Officer Jackson at fairly long rang. E/a half-rolled and dived and I followed him down in the dive to 500 feet, firing all the way. E/a landed in ploughed field but did not crash. Assume engine was damaged”[8]. The aircraft could belong to the 4. (H) / 22 (injured Leutnant H. Ricke) [9]. The events seem to be less successful for Pilot Officer David J. Looker (P2554), who is hit by ground fire. As he jumps, he hits the rudder with his left arm. Touching the ground near Waterloo, he was picked up by British soldiers and quickly sent back to England for a hospital stay (Shenley Military Hospital). Another Hs.123 was met at the same time by a second platoon under the command of Flying Officer Peter Collard around 15h00: “Saw Henschel flying low near wood at 100 feet. Diving quarter-attack. One burst from rear gunner at 200 yards. Enemy pulled up and on its back at 500 feet as I went underneath. No sign of aircraft after. (…) Enemy observed coming out of the sun, diving on two Hurricanes below. I came behind it but my reflector sight failed as I opened fire. E/a made a climbing turn to right, banking violently. Attack was broken off owing to running out of ammuniation “[10]. Note that the latter aircraft is mistakenly identified as a Heinkel He.112 (probably a Bf.109). Finally, at 15.30, another Hs.126, probably from the 1. (H) / 23 (Leutnant Hermann Küster and Felix Hack, killed) [11] is intercepted by a third section east of Gembloux. According to Flying Officer Horace E. Horne: “The Henschel staggered after first attack and pancaked in a field. Unable to press home attack due to heavy AA fire. Attempted also to attack a balloon moored on ground but the latter was ringed with defences. Own aicraft hit four times”[12].

Due to the evolution of the events, the No.615 Squadron is ordered to leave Vitry-en-Artois to join the north-west of Belgium. According to Flight Lieutnant James G. Sanders: “Joe Kayll and I had to fly up to locate an airfield in Belgium to operate from. I got into a Gladiator and he vent off in a Hurricane. He flew to Moorsele while I went to Evère, on the east side of Brussels. I got into Evère and had just landed when I noticed it was full of Germans, so I rapidly shot off and, keeping on the deck, headed for home”[13]. Unsurprisingly, the final choice is fixed on the Moorsele aerodrome.

 

List of Claims

11h00

Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll

Bf 110 (the aircraft is seen “making a forced landing”)

Dinant

Inconclusive claim.

AIR 50/175/14

11h00

Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll

Bf 110 (the aircraft is seen “take a dive and explode in the woods”)

Dinant

Inconclusive claim [14].

AIR 50/175/14

15h00

Flying Officer Peter Collard

Hs.126 (attacked, then lost to sight)

8 km, N. Gembloux

Inconclusive claim

AIR 50/175/3

15h05

Flight Lieutnant Leslie T.W. Thornley

Hs.126 (the aircraft is seen “landing in a field without crashing, possibly due to a loss of the engine”)

1,5 km, N.W. Gembloux

Conclusive Claim [15]

AIR 50/175/31

15h15

Flying Officer Peter Collard

He.112 (attack interrupted due to lack of ammunition)

Wavre

Inconclusive Claim

AIR 50/175/3

15h30

Flying Officer Horace E. Horne

Hs 126 (the aircraft is seen “perform a belly landing in a field)

3 à 5 km, E. Gembloux.

Inconclusive Claim [16]

AIR 50/175/12

 

List of Losses

11h00

Flying Officer Hedley N. Fowler

Hurricane P2622

POW

Air combat with Bf 109 / Bf 110. Parachute jump. Dinant.

14h00

Pilot Officer David J. Looker

Hurricane P2554

Injured

Hit by ground fire, parachute jump ; Wavre – Waterloo.


[1] CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.148.

[2] CORNWELL, Peter D. The Battle of France, Then and Now : Six Nations Locked in Aerial Combat, September 1939 to June 1940. Old Harlow : After the Battle, 2007. p.283.

[3] Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll, Combat Report. The National Archives, Kew. AIR 50/175/14 ; CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.148.

[4] CORNWELL, Peter D. The Battle of France, Then and Now : Six Nations Locked in Aerial Combat, September 1939 to June 1940. Old Harlow : After the Battle, 2007. p.290.

[5] JOANNE, Serge. Le Bloch MB-152. Les éditions Lela Presse, 2003. p.225 à 226.

[6] DIXON, Robert. 607 Squadron : A Shade of Blue. 2012.

[7] CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.150.

[8] Flight Lieutnant Leslie T.W. Thornley, Combat Report, The National Archives, Kew. AIR 50/175/31 ; CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.150 ; GILLET, Arnaud. La Luftwaffe à l’ouest — Les victoires de l’aviation de chasse britannique (10 mai 1940 – 23 mai 1940). Béthenville : Arnaud Gillet, 2008. p.206.

[9] CORNWELL, Peter D. The Battle of France, Then and Now : Six Nations Locked in Aerial Combat, September 1939 to June 1940. Old Harlow : After the Battle, 2007. p.288.

[10] Peter Collard, Combat Report. The National Archives, Kew. AIR 50/175/3 (Curiously, the Flying Officer Peter Collard is identified as P. Collins) ; CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.150 ; GILLET, Arnaud. La Luftwaffe à l’ouest — Les victoires de l’aviation de chasse britannique (10 mai 1940 – 23 mai 1940). Béthenville : Arnaud Gillet, 2008. p.206 et 207.

[11] CORNWELL, Peter D. The Battle of France, Then and Now : Six Nations Locked in Aerial Combat, September 1939 to June 1940. Old Harlow : After the Battle, 2007. p.288.

[12] Flying Officer Horace E. Horne, Combat Report, The National Archives, Kew. AIR 50/175/12 ; CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.150 ; GILLET, Arnaud. La Luftwaffe à l’ouest — Les victoires de l’aviation de chasse britannique (10 mai 1940 – 23 mai 1940). Béthenville : Arnaud Gillet, 2008. p.206.

[13] CULL, Brian ; LANDER, Bruce ; WEISS, Heinrich. Twelve Days in May. The Air Battle for Northern France and the Low Countires, 10 – 21 May 1940, as seen through the eyes of the fighter pilots involved. London : Grub Street, 1999. p.151.

[14] It could be a Bf.110 C of the 2./ZG 26 (Feldwebel Kurt Friedrich and Gefreiter Willli Neuburger, killed) which crashes, around 11h10, in Sécheval. The aircraft is claimed destroyed by Adjudant Michaud GC I / 8.

[15] The aircraft could be belonging to the 4. (H) / 22 (Leutnant H. Ricke injured).

[16] Hs.126, probably from 1. (H) / 23 (Leutnant Hermann Küster and Felix Hack, killed).

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