17 May 1940

17 May 1940

In the morning, several sections of No.615 Squadron take off from Moorsele for various patrols, details of which are known for at least two of them.

For example, the three pilots of No.229 (RAF) Squadron (Pilot Officer John E.M. Collins, Malcolm Ravenhill and Victor B.S. Verity) take off at 05h30. According to the combat report of Pilot Officer Malcolm Ravenhill (P2907):

« At 0530 hrs 3 sections of 3 aircraft (Hurricanes) of 615 Squadron left Moorsele aerodrome (Nr Courtrai) on a patrol. Three miles (approx) West of Brussels my section leader attacked a Henschel Nos 2 (myself) and 3 in line astern position on him. Heavy anti-aircraft fire forced me to break to the right, no 3 following me, and we lost contact with the leader as we all had a different R/T frequency. A few minutes after I sighted an aircraft below me to the right and proceeded to go down to investigate. I lost sight of this aircraft and, on regaining original ht (4000 ft), I discovered I was alone. I proceeded to patrol the West of Brussels in long zig zag North and South course gradually creeping West.

I was flying a zig-zag Westerley course from Brussels when I sighted at 0625 hrs a single enemy aircraft which was at about 150 m.p.h patrolling a line North and South from Mons. The aircraft was camouflaged brown and green above and pale green underneath. I attacked from astern and took the enemy by surprise. The enemy aircraft dived to the ground with black smoke pouring from the engine. Near the ground he flattened his dive and his shadow on the ground merged with aircraft. Whilst investigating I sighted another similar aircraft and proceeded to take up attacking position. No fire was observed from the rear cockpit of the Henschel. On sighting this second aircraft I took a position to attack from astern, at 200 yds the rear gunner opened fire and I watched his tracer bullets going above me about two or three yds. I closed to a hundred yds and having got him in my sights gave a long burst breaking away about 10 yds astern of the enemy. The Henschel immediately spun down and crashed into the ground.

After my combat with the two Henschels I steered a course due West. I eventually landed at Compiegne where I was informed by French personnel on the landing ground that I was approximately 30 miles South of Lille. I therefore took off with a view to landing on Vitry aerodrome. I found myself later over very wooded and hilly country and decided to forced land in a ploughed field approx. 600 yds long and into wind. One side of the field is the main Paris-Dieppe road and on the other the Foiet de Bray. I circled the field once, lowered my undercarriage etc. and as I was on the cross wind leg of the approach into the field my petrol supply ran out and I could not restart the engine with the emergency starter on the gravity tank should it have contained any petrol. I therefore only had just enough time to pancake the aircraft on top of the trees and crash through. I left the aircraft in the care of the local Police at Forges Les Eaux, and proceeded to Poix by road and thence to Abbeville by air».[1]

The identification of aircrafts concerned is delicate. If Brian Cull [2] refers to an aircraft of 1. (H) / 14 and 1. (H) / 23, Peter D. Cornwell [3] is moving towards a Henschel Hs 123 of the 3. (H) / 41 who crashed near Mons killing one of the crew members, while the second was injured (Oberstleutnant Graf von der Schulenburg).

Shortly after, another section takes off around 09:30. A Junkers Ju.88 is claimed by the Flight Lieutenant James G. Sanders between Charleroi and Wavre. Indeed, a Junkers Ju.88 A-1 (L1 + AR) crashes near Flines-lez-Raches, around 10h15, killing all the crew (Oberleutnant Ernst Schwartz, Alfred Dudeck Gefreiter, Oberfeldwebel Bernard Rinke and Gefreiter Georg Fuhrmann) [4]. The Hawker Hurricane Mk I seems, however, hit by defensive fire as the pilot is forced into a forced landing, although his aircraft is repairable.

If a few other patrols take place in the afternoon, no special events is noted. Flying Officer Anthony Eyre and Richard D. Pexton joining the Glisy airfield field aboard the Miles Master N7577, to receive two new Hawker Hurricane Mk I [5 ].

Miles Master – Source : Wikipedia, l’encyclopédie libre

[1] Pilot Officer Malcolm Ravenhill, Combat Report, The National Archives, Kew. AIR    AIR 50/86/32.

[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.186.

[3] 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.307.

[4] Once again, this claim is controversial since Arnaud Gillet (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.243) et Peter Taghon (TAGHON, Peter. La Lehrgeschwader 1 : L’Escadre au Gruffon. Tome 1. Lela Press, 2017, p.56) awarded victory to Flight Lieutenant Ian Soden of No.56 (RAF) Squadron who also claims a Ju.88 at the same time in concordant conditions. In addition, the absence of a combat report signed by Flight Lieutenant James G. Sanders prevents more details about this event.

[5] 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.187.

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