19 May 1940

At 04:00, six Hawker Hurricane Mk I took off from Moorsele for a patrol of the Cambrai-Le Cateau-Cambresis area.

At 17:30, six aircraft patrol over Arras, while five others guard the Arras-Cambrai route. A confrontation took place, around 19:40, with about fifteen Bf 109 of 9./JG 26, northeast of Cambrai [1]. According to Flying Officer Anthony Eyre  (L1289 KW-V) :

“I was No 2 in formation of four when Blue 4 warned us over R/T of the approach of e/a. I turned 90° to starboard, then 180° when I attacked from the starboard quarter a 109 which was attacking one of our formation at about 400 feet below. I turned away and, searching for the rest, saw an aircraft, which I believe was the one I attacked, diving spirallingly with black smoke pouring from it. I then sighted another 109 below me which I dived on and attacked slightly below with a long burst. I immediately broke away since my ammunition was nearly exhausted”. [2]

Selon le Pilot Officer William L. McKnight :

“During a patrol over Cambrai, the enemy numbered seven attacks from behind followed by eight other aircrafts. After alerting the rest of the section by radio, I quickly take altitude by a left turn, and and shoot one. Smoke comes out of the enemy plane”[3].

At the same time, the Hawker Hurricane Mk I N2331 is hit in the fight. Injured in the legs, Flying Officer Richard D. Pexton is forced to jump into adversary territory. He can embark, in Dunkirk, on 23 May aboard the hospital ship Worthing. Returning to England, he is admitted to Barnet Hospital (Hertfordshire) and will not return to the squadron until 10 July.

According to Donald Caldwell [4], the British pilots reportedly faced 4./JG 26 under the command of Kommandeur, Hautpman Herwig Knüppel (Bf.109 E-3 – W.Nr.1542). The latter is shot and killed during the fight, while the injured Oberleutnant Karl Ebbighausen (Bf 109 E-3) makes a forced landing in the vicinity of Lille. Another Bf.109 E-3 is reported to have made a forced landing in Brussels. Perhaps this is the aircraft that would have struck, according to the author, the Hurricane of Flying Officer Richard D. Pexton [5]. According to a summary of events on the German side:

“Free hunt on the region of Grammont – Lille – Cambrai. The group took off at 19.07 under the command of Hauptman Knüppel. Above Lille, an aerial battle takes place with four Hurricanes in which three enemy machines were shot down. Captain Knüppel in single combat is strafed in front and chased downhill. We did not follow the rest of the fight. The Hurricane was shot down by the Leutnant Krug. The Hauptman Knüppel did not return from this mission. “[6]

A last patrol is reported, in the evening, above Oudenaarde – Tournai, without special events. But this is the end for the No.615 Squadron as explained by Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll :

“On the evening of the 19th we were surprised to see a German motorcycle and sidecar driving round the aerodrome and we could hear gunfire to the east. Then we were ordered to move to Merville at first light, only keeping enough ground staff to see the aircraft off. During the night (about 22:00) a Belgian officer arrived and said that he had been ordered to blow up the aerodrome immediately. It took until about 01:00 to persuade him not to do this owing largely to the effort of our adjutant and a few drinks. A compromise was reched in that he would dig holes and place the mines, leaving a straight take-off lane of us to use at dawn. One of the results of our frequent moves was that we had not had sufficient time to keep the starter betteries charged. Only one battery was serviceable and had to be used by all aicraft, mechanics being used to start the engines of the less exprerienced pilots”.[7]

Pilot Officers Robert D. Grassick [8], William L. McKnight [9] and Percival S. Turner [10] are ordered to join Kenley Airfield in the evening to return to No.242 (RAF) Squadron.


[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.261.

[2] Combat Reports. Flying Officer Anthony Eyre (19/05/40). Kew : The National Archives, AIR 50/175/2. 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.296.

[3] Combat Reports. Pilot Officer William L. McKnight (19/05/40). Kew : The National Archives, AIR 50/175/22. 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.296.

[4] CALDWELL Donald. The JG 26 War Diarry, Vol 1 (1939 – 1942). Grub Street, 1996, p.28 à 29.

[5] Note that Peter D. Cornwell attributes the loss of Flying Officer Richard D. Pexton to a claim by the Hauptman Günther Lützow (Stab I./JG 3), around 19:15, in the vicinity of Arras – Cambrai.

[6] 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.296.

[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.261 à 262.

[8] Returning to No.242 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the various battles over Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, as well as various British operations of 1941. He joined, on 28 September 1941, the OTU of Aden. The rest of his career will be spent mainly in Eastern and Southern Africa as an instructor and transport liaison pilot. He joined the RCAF on 1 May 1945, and returned to Canada. He died on 28 October 1978.

[9] Returning to No.242 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the various battles over Dunkirk and in support of the last British troops until mid-June 1940, then the Battle of Britain. On 12 January 12, he disappeared in aerial combat, at the controls of Hawker Hurricane Mk I P2961, during a Rhubarb near Gravelines. His name is commemorated at Runnymede Memorial.

[10] Returning to No.242 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the various battles over Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. He joined No.145 (RAF) Squadron in June 1941 and was awarded the DFC in October of the same year. After a brief rest, he took command of No.411 (RCAF) Squadron, in December 1941, then No.249 (RAF) Squadron in Malta, in February 1942. He remained on the besieged island until November 1943 by exercising various functions. In May 1944, he received the DSO, while integrating the headquarters of the Desert Air Force. He returned to Europe in January 1945 with the rank of Group Captain to take command of No.127 (RAF) Wing. He joined the RCAF after the war until his retirement in 1965. He died on 23 Jul 1985.

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