20 May 1940

The No.615 Squadron leaves, finally, at 04:30, for the Norrent-Fontes aifield with thirteen Hawker Hurricane Mk I (as well as a Miles Magister). The day starts fairly early since at 08:00, a double patrol is organized: the first above Lille (six aircraft), and the second in defense of the airfield (three aircraft).

A more ambitious operation begins at 11:00. In this case, a formation consisting of No. 504, No.607 and No.615 (RAF) Squadron take-off for attacking a German convoy on the road between Cambrai and Arras. According to Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll:

“There was a request from the Army that we should try to delay the German advance towards Arras on the road from Cambrai. We managed to get 12 serviceable aircraft together (three from 615, three from 504 and six from 607), 615 leading. We found a large quantity of German transport on this perfectly straight road and were able to do some damaged. Unfortunately we lost three aircraft, including Flying Officer Bob Pumphrey (P3448 AF-H) of 607, who managed to jump out at low level and survived as a PoW. Our mistake was to attack in sections of three in line astern and the Germans had a concentration of cannon and machine-guns at either side of the road”.

Indeed, the losses are non-negligible since, besides the Flying Officer Robert EW Pumphrey, No.504 (RAF) Squadron loses Pilot Officer Michael Jebb (P3586) and Blair E.G. White, although the two pilots are only injured and can be evacuated from Dieppe, while No.607 (RAF) Squadron loses Pilot Officer Richard S. Demetriadi (P2671 – AF-H), again without consequences for the pilot. At the same time, the aircraft of the Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll is also damaged in the wing, but it can return to Norrent-Fontes [1]. Despite these losses, mainly material, British pilots are able to destroy seven vehicles according to a recce made by the Flying Officer Lionel M. Gaunce around 13:00.

In the afternoon, six Hawker Hurricane Mk I take off for a patrol Arras – Douai – Lens sector. A formation of twelve Heinkel He.111s of I./LG 1 was sighted, at an attitude of about 4,800 meters, and a fight began, around 16:00, during which Squadron Leader Joseph R. Kayll and Pilot Officer Petrus H. Hugo claim a bomber [2]. According to Joseph R. Kayll :

“Attacked tail of formation with beam attack which put rear gunner out of action. Then attacked from astern, closing to 200 yards. Port engine stopped and was smoking badly. E/a went into a spin and disappered through low cloud”. [3]

Indeed, Heinkel He.111 (L1 + GK), from 2./LG 1 [4], hit the ground near Lille killing Feldwebel Erich Hackbarth, Unteroffizier Max Bröge and Gefreiter Heinz Schönberg. According to an interrogator report of the sole survivor, Feldwebel Erich Weber, by the British:

“We took off from Düsseldorf at 14:00 to watch the troop movements west of Lille. The Heinkel 111 aircraft was armed with four machine guns and carried twelve 50-kilo bombs. We had several anti-aircraft fire, but we were shot by a Morane at 4 800 meters. “[5]

This patrol is the last documented for the Battle of France. Evacuation orders to England begin to rain on the various British squadrons. The evacuation of Norrent-Fontes begins around 06:30 when nine Hawker Hurricane Mk I of No.615 Squadron, including L1289 (Flying Officer Anthony Eyre) take off with four others from No. 607 (RAF) Squadron to escort a Savoia-Marchetti S.73P of Sabena carrying the No.60 (RAF) Wing staff, and some of the ground personnel, to Kenley Airfield [6]. Three other Hawker Hurricane Mk I and the last four Gloster Gladiator Mk I (including the N2304 and N2306) take the same path in the evening. For his part, Flight Lieutnant James G. Sanders makes the crossing with a Bristol Blenheim, while Pilot Officer Petrus H. Hugo returns with Miles Magister from Merville.

“At 13:00, we received instructions that everyone should be ready to evacuate to England. At 14:30, the ground staff packed luggage for Boulogne leaving behind eighteen airmen. At 18:25, a SM75 transport aircraft took on board the No. 60 Squadron Commander and his staff as well as the 18 airmen of the Wing, twenty-one airmen of  No.615 Squadron and ten airmen of No. 607 Squadron. The plane takes the direction of England “[7].

Pilot Officers John EM Collins [8], Malcolm Ravenhill [9] (aboard the Gloster Gladiator Mk II N2308 KW-T) and Victor BS Verity [10] return, in the evening, to No.229 (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.292 à 293 ; 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.332 ; DIXON, Robert. 607 Squadron : A Shade of Blue. 2012. 200 p.

[2] 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.294 ; TAGHON, Peter. La Lehrgeschwader 1 : L’Escadre au Gruffon. Tome 1. Lela Press, 2017, p.59.

[3] Combat Reports. Pilot Officer Joseph R. Kayll (20/05/40). Kew : The National Archives, AIR 50/175/14. (n°27) ; 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.332.

[4] Peter D. Cornwell (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.337) attribue la victoire au Flying Officer Duus du No.79 (RAF) Squadron à 13h45.

[5] 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.332.

[6] 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.294

[7] 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.345.

[8] Returning to No.229 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the fighting over Dunkirk, where he disappeared on a mission, flying the Hawker Hurricane Mk I L1982, pn 31 May 1940. 

[9] Returning to No.229 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the last battles over Dunkirk, then the Battle of Britain. On 1st September 1940, he was hospitalized after being forced to parachute during an air fight over Biggin Hill (Hawker Hurricane Mk I P3038). Back in operation, he disappears on 30 September 1940, when following a fight with Bf.109, his Hawker Hurricane Mk I P2815 hit the ground near Ightham (Church Road). He is buried in City Road Cemetery, Sheffield.

[10] After a complicated evacuation, through Cherbourg, he can board a ship and join England on 23 May. Returning to No.229 (RAF) Squadron, he participated in the fighting over Dunkirk, then the Battle of Britain. At the end of 1940, he volunteered to join the night fighters. In April 1942, he was transferred to North Africa until June 1943. Back in Europe, during the first half of 1944, he take command of No.650 (RAF) Squadron to ensure the training of the British anti-aircraft defense. After passing through various commands and OTU, he returned home to New Zealand in November 1945. He died on 2 February 1979 in Wellington.

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