Flying Officer John Kendal, RAFVR – Battle of Britain pilot and the first member of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit to destroy an enemy aircraft.



The pilot, Oberleutnant Walter Radlick, the Staffelkapitan of 9./KG 53 and an accomplished pilot with a number of victories to his credit was apparently surprised by the Supermarine Spitfire flown by Pilot Officer John Bedford Kendal, RAFVR, of No. 66 Squadron RAF who had recently joined the squadron.

Closing on the German aircraft from behind and below he fired a number of short bursts. Kendal notes in his report that at no point did Radlick return fire before he jumped clear and the Messerschmitt dived into cloud . (1)

Unknown to Kendal at the time Radlick’s parachute failed to open and his body was found some distance from the wrecked aircraft.

Initially there was only his surname to identify him by and the Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the October to December 1940 quarter simply records him as ‘Radlick (Male)’.

He was initially buried in Section D, grave 42, at Nutfield Cemetery, Surrey until the German Military Cemetery (Deutschersoldaten Friedhof) at Cannon Chase in Staffordshire, England was dedicated in 1967.

Now Oberleutnant Walter Radlick lies in Block 5, grave 50, not far from other Luftwaffe aircrew who died over Surrey and southern England during the Battle of Britain. He was 25 years old at the time of his death. (2)

John Benson Kendal joined the RAFVR in April 1939 as an ‘Airman under Training’ to be a pilot.

Passing through a number of training establishments, he converted to fly Supermarine Spitfires before being posted to 616 Squadron RAF in early September 1940.

On his 20th birthday – 29 September 1940 – he joined 66 Squadron RAF, based at RAF Gravesend. Four days later he shot down Oberleutnant Radlick.

On 5 October, he was in combat over Tenterden, Kent and is believed to have made a forced landing in at RAF Detling (now the site of the Kent Showground) after his aircraft was damaged. He was treated at Preston Hall, Aylesford, Kent a commandeered mansion used as a hospital.

He returned to duty and was credited with destroying another Messerschmitt bf 109 on 29 October 1940. (3)

In early 1941 Kendal volunteered for service with the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit (MSFU) flying ‘Hurricats’ – ex- RAF Hawker Hurricane fighters used for convey protection.

large_© IWM (CH 15390)_Speke

Hurricane Z4935 being readied for a practice launch at RAF Speke near Liverpool, England, where MSFU pilots were trained. A number of propulsion rockets are awaiting to join those already loaded in the rear of the catapult. Image © IWM (CH 15390). Original source:

Launched from merchant ships (Catapult Armed Merchant or CAM ships) via a bow-mounted catapult, the aircraft got into the air without the normal long take-off run with the aid of rocket assistance.

large_ © IWM (CH 6915)_CAM_SHIP_HURRICANE Pixlr2

‘Hurricats’ of the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit being craned from a barge onto a Catapult Armed Merchant Ship (CAM ship) at Gibraltar. Note the man sitting on the wing of the aircraft on the barge and extending his leg to keep the wing from hitting the ship. Image © IWM (CH 6915). Original source:

‘Hurricats’ were ex-RAF battle-weary fighters designed to be used for a single mission – after which they could be either flown to a friendly airfield or ditched near the convoy so the pilot could be recovered.

Now fully trained as a MSFU pilot, Kendal sailed from Oban in Scotland aboard the SS Empire Morn on 26 April 1942 as part of convoy PQ15, its route via Reykjavik to Murmansk.

The Empire Morn was a converted 7,100 ton merchant ship and the first CAM ship to be included in a Russian-bound convoy. PQ15 consisted of 24 cargo ships, a tanker and two icebreakers escorted by four destroyers, a corvette, three minesweepers, four armed trawlers, an anti-aircraft ship and SS Empire Morn. (4)

large_© IWM (NA 3437)_CAM_Hurri

Safely aboard SS Empire Darwin on its way with a convoy to North Africa and readied for launch. Note the access ladder and platform and how the catapult is angled across the bow to starboard, ensuring that the rocket blast did not damage the ship’s superstructure and to lessen the chance of the ship running over the pilot if the aircraft should crash soon after take-off. Image © IWM (NA 3437). Original source:

Two days out of Iceland the escort was increased with the battleships HMS King George V, USS Washington, the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious, five cruisers, 12 destroyers and four submarines. The same day German aircraft spotted the convoy 200 miles northwest of Tromsø in Norway and subsequently lost three vessels to torpedo-armed Luftwaffe Heinkel 111 aircraft on 2 May, four days out of Murmansk. (5)

Having made it to Murmansk the ships had to return to the UK.

SS Empire Morn was attached to convoy QP 12 and left Murmansk on 21 May for the first part of the journey via Iceland. The convoy was made up of 17 merchantmen escorted by Empire Morn, six destroyers and four armed trawlers and an anti-aircraft vessel.

Far from land – and in deteriorating weather – QP 12 was spotted by a number of reconnaissance and attack aircraft on the afternoon of 25 May.

large_© IWM (A 9423)A

A ‘Hurricat’ launch at Greenock in Scotland. Image © IWM (A 9423). Original source:

large_© IWM (CL 2916)_BV_138

Amid debris an abandoned Blohm und Voss Bv 138 reconnaissance aircraft – nicknamed ‘Der Fliegende Holzschuh’ (‘Flying Clog’) sits on its launching trolley at Tromsø in Norway at the end of the war. Image © IWM (CL 2916). Original source:

With the German aircraft closing on the convoy, Kendal was launched in his aircraft (probably Hurricane Mk 1, serial Z4873) (6) and after forcing a Blohm and Voss BV-138 long-range reconnaissance aircraft away, he destroyed a torpedo-armed Junkers 88, one of two shadowing the convoy.

Having radioed the position of the wreckage and running low on fuel, Kendal prepared to bail out near HMS Boudicea as previously agreed but the ship was in an area of poor visibility he was instructed to select another vessel.

He flew over HMS Badsworth, taking the aircraft above the cloud base (out of sight of the ships below) in order to bail out safely.

Although he managed to escape the aircraft his parachute only partially opened at low level and he was seriously injured. Retrieved from the water quickly, he rapidly succumbed to the injuries he sustained after his parachute malfunctioned and died aboard. (7)

Flying Officer Kendal RAFVR was the first MSFU pilot to destroy an enemy aircraft and the only one to die on a combat operation. (8)

Having no known grave but the sea, he is commemorated on Panel 67 of the Royal Air Force Runnymede Memorial to the Missing. (9)


(1) File Air 50/26 – held at National Archives, Kew, England and downloadable from the National Archives website.

(2),-walter/ – retrieved 8 May 2018

(3) – retrieved 8 May 2018

(4)  – retrieved 8 May 2018

(5) – retrieved 8 May 2018

(6) – retrieved 8 May 2018

(7) – retrieved 8 May 2018

(8) – retrieved 8 May 2018

(9),-john-bedford/ – retrieved 8 May 2018




OPERATION BITING – a truly combined operation and the Parachute Regiment’s first Battle Honour


IN THE AIRSPACE HANGAR AT IWM Duxford is the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Assault Museum. Amongst the medals, uniforms, paintings and uniforms is a small model of a villa and a series of paths leading from it.

The well-detailed model – windows and brick work are shown –  was constructed at RAF Medmenham near Marlow-on-Thames in Buckinghamshire, England for use in the briefing on Operation BITING; the official name for the raid on the German radar site near Bruneval on the coast of northern France.

This action would became the British Army’s Parachute Regiment’s first Battle Honour.


The Bruneval briefing model in the model makers’ workshop at RAF Medmenham.
Note the cliff edge at the extreme left of the model. © IWM (D 7821). Original source: 


A close-up of the same model in the Airborne Assault Museum at IWM Duxford, April 2018. Image © R Maddox 2018.

From April 1941 RAF Medmenham – a requisitioned country house and now a hotel – was the home of the RAF Central Interpretation Unit. (1) Here specialist analysts scrutinised images captured by aircraft of No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (1 PRU) which flew from nearby RAF Benson.

At this time RAF Intelligence were aware of the German FREYA radar antennas – named after a Norse goddess. These installations equated to the CHAIN HOME long-range radar sites that enabled the RAF to detect incoming attacks during the Battle of Britain in September 1940.

Although FREYA could detect incoming aircraft at a range of around 50 miles they were unable to determine their height. (2)  Together both components were vital in order to direct Luftwaffe fighters and anti-aircraft (flak) guns onto any incoming attack.

As Operation BITING would reveal, that would be the task of the WÜRZBURG radar installations.

In autumn 1941 reports of a possible new radar appeared on the desk of Professor R V Jones of Scientific Intelligence. Slowly more information became available and other pieces of the puzzle began to be collected.

A significant piece was supplied by Squadron Leader Antony Eustace Hill RAF, a gifted pilot with 1 PRU who would later die of wounds after being shot down in October 1942. (3)

Flying Supermarine Spitfire R7044 (unofficially as another squadron had been detailed for the sortie) Tony Hill brought the first back detailed photographs of a possible new radar installation at Bruneval.


One of two images taken by Tony Hill’s of an object near the ‘Manoir de Falaise’ taken from a Supermarine Spitfire reconnaissance aircraft on 5 December 1941. Professor Jones described these photos as classics of their kind, which enabled a raiding force to locate, and make off with, the WÜRZBURG radar’s vital components in February 1942 for analysis in Britain. Image © IWM (D 12870) . Original source:

Technically this was a difficult task as the camera was mounted behind the pilot, pointing downwards and slightly backwards. The pilot had to fly past the target and when it had disappeared from view guess when it would be visible to the camera and then fire the shutter, all the time controlling his aircraft at high speed and at times 50 feet (less than 20 metres) above the ground and guarding against enemy fire from the ground or the air.

So significant was the raid and its outcome that in his book ‘Most Secret War’ (1978) Jones devotes a complete chapter to it as well as separate chapters to FREYA and WÜRZBURG radars. In the chapter titled ‘Würzeburg’ he writes:

… As I write this book and look at Tony Hill’s picture of the Bruneval Würzeburg… I am once again amazed at the precision of his photography. Just two photographs on each occasion, one full view and one profile, almost in the centre on each exposure from an aircraft travelling at more than three hundred miles an hour and the photographs taken over the shoulder… (4)

Elsewhere Jones describes how he on occasions disregarded security in order to allow pilots like Hill to understand how vital their work was.

… [P]eople like Tony Hill knew exactly why we wanted the photographs of radar installations. There were times when we were criticised for that on the grounds of security; you were not supposed to tell more than was absolutely necessary – I thought it was absolutely necessary. There was a risk that if a pilot was shot down, one way or another, he might be persuaded to talk, but I always took the line that if at all possible you should tell the pilot exactly what you wanted and why, and furthermore show him how his work fitted in with the overall picture that you were trying to build up. The consequent enthusiasm was one of the most rewarding things that you could possibly experience… (5)

It was as a result of Hill’s images, Jones’ need for up to date information and intelligence on the ground provided by local French Résistance groups that convinced the newly-formed Combined Operations (headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten) that a force could be dropped by RAF aircraft to carry out an armed reconnaissance of the equipment in February 1942.

The group of 120 soldiers were dropped by Armstrong Whitley aircraft of No. 51 Squadron RAF and included men of ‘C’ Company, 2 Battalion Parachute Regiment under the command of Major John Frost.

Frost would later command the battalion in the epic defence of Arnhem Bridge during Operation MARKET GARDEN in September 1944.

In addition to the paratroops were a detachment from No. 12 Commando (to provide security as the group departed by sea) together with Royal Engineers who were to dismantle the equipment under the guidance of Flight Sergeant Charles William Hall Cox, RAF a former cinema projectionist. (6)

At one point Cox (who previous to the mission never been on a ship nor an aircraft – let alone made a parachute jump) was working under fierce enemy fire when a bullet struck the item he was removing at the time. (7)  He would receive the Military Medal for his actions on the raid. (8)

Having been landed by air and with cover from the French Résistance the raiding party made their way to the beach amid fierce German opposition and experienced further difficulties getting away. However the Royal Navy eventually managed to get the waiting landing craft to the beach and with fast motor torpedo boats (MTBs) as escorts made their way back to England. (9)

Casualties were light on both sides with the British force of 120 experiencing two dead, two wounded and six captured. The Germans (with a similar sized force) had five men killed, two wounded and five missing – including two taken as prisoners to England. (10)


A WÜRZBURG radar in the Second World War Gallery, IWM London near the forward fuselage of an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. Image © R Maddox 2018. 

The raid gave scientists at the Telecommunications Research Establishment (who had developed the British CHAIN HOME radar system) an indication of German radar technology and influenced the design of ‘WINDOW’ (or ‘CHAFF’ as it is now called) a simple but effective weapon to flood enemy radar with information and thereby ‘hide’ attacking aircraft in plain sight.

There is little doubt that it helped save the lives of untold aircrew as the war progressed.

As a consequence of the Bruneval raid the TRE site was moved from Swanage on the English south coast inland to Malvern in Worcestershire.


Sources and further information



(3)  ‘Most Secret War – British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945’ Professor R V Jones (Hamish Hamilton, 1978). Chapter Twenty-six, ‘Würzeburg’ – Page 231.

Twenty eight year old Squadron Leader Hill, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF would die on 12 November 1942 from injuries after being shot down on 21 October while photographing bomb damage to the Schnieder armaments works at Le Creusot, France.

According to his book, Jones arranged for him to be rescued from hospital by the French Résistance but he died while being carried to a waiting aircraft.  He is buried les Pejoces Communal Cemetery Dijon France, see,-antony-eustace/

The National Portrait Gallery in London has a photographic portrait of him. See

The aircraft he was flying on the Bruneval raid – Supermarine Spitfire PR IV serial R7044 – would be lost in the hands of another pilot (Warrant Officer William John Payne) on a photo-reconnaissance mission over Norway on 13 January 1943.

See and ‘Aces High: A Further Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Air Forces in WW II’ by Christopher F Shores (Grub Street, 1999) Volume 2 – Page 155.

See also

(4)  ‘Most Secret War – British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945’ Professor R V Jones (Hamish Hamilton, 1978). Chapter Twenty-six, ‘Würzeburg’ – Page 231.

(5)  Proceedings of the Royal Air Force Historical Society, Issue No 10,

‘Photographic Reconnaissance in World War II’ Seminar, Royal Air Force Museum, 10 June 1991 – Page 73

(6)  ‘Most Secret War – British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945’ Professor R V Jones (Hamish Hamilton, 1978). Chapter Twenty-seven, ‘The Bruneval Raid’ – Page 237.


(8) Flight Sergeant Cox was awarded a Military Medal for his part in the operation. His citation reads:

This N.C.O. volunteered to carry out a hazardous task in the parachute raid on Bruneval on the night of 27th/28th February 1942. The success of the operation on the technical side depended largely in the performance of the duty allotted to him. After being dropped by parachute, Flight Sergeant Cox had only a few minutes to complete a task which had previously been estimated to require half an hour, and during this time he continuously was under enemy fire. He displayed great courage, skill and devotion to duty in completing his task in spite of these difficulties, thereby contributing greatly to the successful execution of the raid.



‘The Window Woman’ post on this blog gives more information on the development of WINDOW. 

HMS Belfast – Sir Bertram Ramsay, an absent friend at the celebrations

 Richard Maddox

With the Royal Navy’s White Ensign flying, the Allied Naval Commander in Chief, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, watches from the bridge of a motor torpedo boat as the invasion fleet sails to the Normandy coast, 5 June 1944. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference A23719A Original Source:

MARCH 17 2018 saw the eightieth anniversary of HMS Belfast, IWM’s largest item in its collection.

Celebrated in glorious weather – at least on one of the three days, the weather providing a summary of almost everything the ship had encountered over her life  including a little light snow  – it was a joyous occasion although away from public and media gaze I suspect the thoughts of more than one of the many veterans invited aboard turned to those who had ‘crossed the bar’ (a British naval term for having died) and could not be there.

One of these men was Sir Bertram Ramsay a career sailor who took command of his first ship the monitor HMS M25 in August 1915. The task of the thirty-two year old Ramsey and his crew of sixty eight was patrolling the English Channel, a task he continued with when assigned to the destroyer HMS Broke. He commanded the ship when it took part in the Second Ostend Raid, an attempt to blockade the port in May 1918.

With the First World War at an end he transferred to the staff of Admiral John Jellicoe before a series of command courses and then returning to sea in command HMS Danae – a light cruiser, the same type of ship as HMS Belfast.

He served in a number of appointments on shore and at sea including command of HMS Royal Sovereign before becoming Chief of Staff to Commander, Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Roger Backhouse.

Although personal friends, the two men disagreed on how the Home Fleet should be run and as a result Ramsay asked to be relieved of his post after only four months. (1)

Refusing a posting to China, there followed a period of relative inactivity (during which he seems to have been left to his own devices, turning his attention to modernising and reactivating the Dover Patrol) with the Royal Navy eventually placing him on the Retired List in October 1938.

It would seem as if his career was over.

But he (and presumably his plans for protecting the Channel) had been noticed by Winston Churchill who persuaded him to rejoin the Royal Navy in August 1939 with the rank of vice-admiral, and in command of the naval forces at Dover.

It was in this post that he planned and oversaw Operation DYNAMO, the evacuation of British, French and Belgium forces from Dunkirk.

With the Royal Air Force engaging German aircraft away from the embarkation area and with an initial target of evacuating 45,000 men over a two day period he, his staff and the crews of the 845 vessels involved – of which more than 500 were civilian – brought 332,226 men to England over nine days. (2)

In doing so he employed the flexible decentralised command system that he and Backhouse had previously clashed over.

For his efforts Ramsay was knighted three days after the end of the operation. (3)

His flair for planning lead to him being appointed Naval Commander Allied Forces during the Allied landings in North Africa and Sicily before working on Operation NEPTUNE, the naval component of Operation OVERLORD in June 1944.

NEPTUNE comprised of more than 4,000 ships and landing craft putting almost 200,000 men ashore in the first wave of D-Day on 6 June 1944. During the operation HMS Belfast played a key role in bombarding German-manned shore targets.

Again Bertram encouraged individual initiative by those under his command – not just on Royal Navy vessels – as this quote from his ‘Personal message from the Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief to the Masters of merchant vessels taking part in Operation Overlord‘ shows:

‘This Operation must by its nature be a set-piece but there will be plenty of opportunities for initiative on the part of masters and crews of which I and confident you will take full advantage.’(4)

His last operation was to secure the Scheldt River (between October and November 1944) in order that Antwerp could be recaptured, a vital step on the advance into Germany.

The Chateau d’Hennemont at St Germain-en-laye, Headquarters of the Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force, May 1945. In the foreground are Marines R Proudfoot, of Forres, Scotland and H W Brandon of Dagenham, Essex. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference A 28586. Original Source:

On Tuesday, January 2 1945 Ramsay left his headquarters at Château d’Hennemont at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, (some 20 kilometres west of Paris) to travel from the airfield at Toussus-le-Noble (also known at the time as USAAF Station 384) to a conference with British general Sir Bernard Montgomery in Brussels.

He never arrived.

His aircraft, a Lockheed Hudson Mk V, serial AM550 of 781X Flight, Fleet Air Arm crashed on take-off at 1115, the immediate aftermath of the accident being captured on a short film in the IWM archives. (5)

A letter from Captain E Hale RN, – Ramsay’s Deputy Chief of Staff at the time – written almost forty years after the event attributes the accident to a build-up of ice on the aircraft, making it unstable.

It should be noted that there appears to be some inconsistencies in the letter regarding the days events occurred with Hale appearing to suggest the crash happened on a Saturday not the Tuesday when it did happen.

Nevertheless, as I have been unable to find an air accident report at this time, the letter is a the only description to hand of the circumstances surrounding Ramsay’s death.

Hale describes in his handwritten letter how he was nearly aboard the flight at Ramsay’s request but pointed out that he was already representing the Admiral at a meeting in London on ‘Saturday morning’.

Because of this Commander Rowell was selected to go in Hale’s place to the Brussels meeting.

Hale left France for the London meeting ‘in the Hudson’ (presumably AM550 as this particular aircraft served as a VIP transport) on the Friday, that is according to his letter and recollections the day before the London meeting started.

He also states that the weather that winter was bitterly cold and that the river Seine river froze at St Germain-en-Laye sufficiently to enable ‘a jeep’ to be driven from one side to another .

This may be repeated hearsay, unintentional exaggeration or a clouded recollection. The Seine at this point is wide, deep, fast flowing and navigable with locks in the vicinity – but there is little doubt that the final winter of the war was very severe on mainland Europe.

On the subject of Ramsay’s aircraft (presumably having returned from ferrying Hale to England) he states this was left in the open and ‘for the first ten minutes’ after take-off proceeded to fly with the tail down (ie nose-up) attitude of around 20 degrees ‘due to ice build-up’.

He relates that the pilot Lieutenant Commander Lewis – who he describes as Ramsay’s ‘personal pilot and a personal friend’ was unconcerned but when the aircraft was at approximately ‘800 feet’ it fell back to earth ‘tail first’, presumably having insufficient power to climb to cruising altitude and fly level.

Whether Hale viewed the accident first-hand (having returned from London aboard AM55O or by some other means) is not clear from the letter.(6)

What is clear is that all aboard – Admiral Ramsay, Lieutenant Commander Sir George Lewis, Bart, OBE RNVR, Petty Officer David L Morgan RN (both aircrew from Royal Air Station Daedalus), Commander George W Rowell RN and Lieutenant Derek M Henderson RNVR (both from HMS Odyssey, a combined operations planning centre) would die.

They now lie in the New Cemetery at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Their funeral was attended by senior Allied military figures including General Eisenhower and was held on Monday 8 January 1945. (7) 

In addition a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey in central London at 1230 on the same day. This was by event was by ticket only, and those wishing to attend were to send a telegram or  a letter to arrive no later than 1000 on Saturday 6 January 1945. (8) 

Clearly the postal service was more reliable than it is today – at least in the UK!

The graves of Admiral Ramsay and those who died in the same air crash. Image © R Maddox 2018.

Although fate stopped him from setting down his memoirs of the war, there are memorials to Ramsay in Berwickshire, Scotland (where his main family home was) as well as at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and Portsmouth Cathedral in Hampshire.

There is also a statue of him at Dover Castle where Operation DYNAMO was planned. (9)

But for many HMS Belfast is also a memorial to him and his part in the largest invasion force the world has ever seen.

The final word on Ramsay goes to Captain Hale. In the letter (cited previously) he writes that Ramsay shunned publicity at every opportunity, in contrast to Eisenhower and Montgomery who had ‘considerable organisations to ensure maximum publicity’ and that is why ‘far too many people today believe that they alone organised OVERLORD’. (10)


(1) – accessed 3 April 2018.

(2) Ibid.

(3) – accessed 3 April 2018.

(4) Personal message from the Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief to the Masters of merchant vessels taking part in Operation Overlord – author’s collection.

(5) IWM Collections: IWM Film catalogue reference ADM 431

(6) IWM Collections: Letter from Captain E Hale CBE RN to Mr Cross, dated 20 July 1984, giving details of the background to the air crash.  IWM catalogue reference Documents.1157 – accessed 16 April 2018.

(7) – accessed 29 March 2018.

(8) Admiralty  Casualty file – Admiral Sir B H Ramsay, Temporary Lieutenant D M  Henderson, RNVR, Temporary  Acting Lieutenant Commander (A) Sir G J E Lewis. RNVR and Commander G W Rowell, RN, report of deaths in an aircraft accident. File reference ADM 358/2624 UK National Archives, Kew, England.

(9) – accessed 1 April 2018.

(10) IWM Collections: Letter from Captain E Hale CBE RN to Mr Cross, dated 20 July 1984, giving details of the background to the air crash.  IWM catalogue reference Documents.1157 – accessed 16 April 2018.

‘… A Gallant and Worthy Foe’ – a short history of the military flying career of The Red Baron

9TREVOR TORKINGTON – ‘Lives of the first World War’ remote volunteer

Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen – the ‘Red Baron’ – is credited with shooting down 80 enemy aircraft during his career with Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (the Imperial German Flying Corps).

These were both single and twin seat machines and so approximately 84 airmen were killed, 19 wounded and about 22 survived unhurt.

All told, 125 men (A) (some of the names are in dispute) were shot down by von Richthofen (1)

On 21 April 1918, Second Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May, Royal Flying Corps (RFC) (B) probably considered himself the luckiest man on the Western Front. He’d been pursued in aerial combat by von Richthofen and survived.

He would have been the Baron’s 81st victim but that day it was von Richthofen who had flown his final mission.

ACES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND THEIR AIRCRAFT (Q 107381) Formal half-length portrait of newly-promoted Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen wearing the Pour le Merité (‘The Blue Max’) awarded to him by Kaiser Wilhelm I on 1 May 1917. Richthofen took command of Jagdgeschwader 1 the following month. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Originally a cavalry officer, von Richthofen became bored with the duties he was assigned, and joined the flying service at the end of May 1915. He started training as a pilot in October and by March 1916 he’d been assigned to Kampfgeschwader 2 – a bomber squadron.

It was with this squadron that he shot down his first plane on 26 April, believed to be a French Nieuport 11 French Air Force single-seat fighter of Escadrille n.23, piloted by Maréchal des Logis Jean Casale.

Casale (who was wounded) was the only Nieuport pilot on the casualty lists for the day in question.

However, as the plane crashed within French lines and there was no independent witness, the claim was not officially recognised. Casale would be the only French pilot shot down by von Richthofen. (2) (C)

On 1 September 1916, von Richthofen joined Jagstaffel (Jasta) 2 – a fighter squadron under the leadership of the air ace Oswald Boelcke. Sixteen days later he claimed his first official victory by shooting down a Royal Aircraft Factory FE2B of No. 11 Squadron piloted by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris (D) with his observer Captain Tom Rees (E) (he was promoted to Captain that day).

Von Richthofen reported that Morris was an experienced pilot and did his best to prevent the Baron from getting behind him, but eventually the FE2B’s engine was hit and the propeller stopped. As the plane glided to the ground, Rees continued to fire his machine gun until he was shot and killed. Badly wounded, Morris managed to land the plane at Fesquireres, northern France but he too died later the same day. (3)

Richthofen celebrated his success by purchasing a silver cup engraved with the date and type of aircraft he had shot down.

The Baron shot down a further 14 aircraft in 1916 including Major Lanoe George Hawker. (F)

Hawker was a national hero who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for bombing a Zeppelin shed, and the Victoria Cross or VC for attacking three enemy aircraft in succession on the same day. His loss in combat was a major blow to the morale of the British armed forces and public.

The identity of the 15th victim is under dispute. Some sources suggest that it was an Royal Aircraft Factory FE2B flown by Captain John Bowley Quested, Military Cross (MC) (G) and his observer, Lieutenant Harold John Hugh Dicksee. (H)

However, in the book ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ it’s suggested that it was actually the Airco DH2 of James Thomas Byford McCudden (I) (who would later go on to be awarded the Victoria Cross in March 1918).

Having seen his opponent go into an ‘uncontrolled spin’, von Richthofen followed until the plane had fallen to 1,000 metres.

Assuming it would then crash, von Richthofen rejoined his squadron. This coincides with McCudden’s report which states that, to avoid the enemy closing with him, he turned the plane on its back and dived vertically in a slow spin.

At around 800 feet the hostile aircraft left him, McCudden recovered from the spin and flew back to his squadron. (4)

On 12 January 1917, von Richthofen was awarded the Pour le Mérite, one of Germany’s highest honours (known informally as the Blue Max), and two days later was transferred to take command of Jasta 11. He arrived at his squadron at La Brayelle in a new improved Albatross D.III aircraft which, to make an impression on his new subordinates, he immediately painted bright red.

A few days later, on 23 January, von Richthofen claimed his 17th victim. Second Lieutenant John Hay, (I) an Australian from New South Wales, was flying an escort mission when attacked. Von Richthofen flew to within 50 metres and fired around 120 bullets into Hay’s Royal Aircraft Factory FE8 fighter which immediately caught fire.

Studio portrait of Second Lieutenant John ‘Jack’ Hay, No. 40 Squadron RFC made at Lafayette Studios, Bond Street London, possibly in July 1916. Image from Australian War Memorial – Accession number P02118.001. Image © Australain War Memorial. Image location

Rather than burn to death, witnesses saw Hay jump from his aircraft. (5) Sadly, since RFC aircrew weren’t issued with parachutes, this wasn’t uncommon.

From this point on von Richthofen was dubbed the ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Le Petit Rouge’.

One pilot to survive a crash was the Baron’s 31st victim. Lieutenant Christopher Guy Gilbert (J) was also tasked to act as an escort on a reconnaissance mission. He crash landed in enemy territory following the Baron’s attack and was pulled from the wreckage by what must have been slightly bemused German troops. As it was an early morning ‘short’ mission, Gilbert hadn’t got dressed so was taken prisoner in his pyjamas. (6)

On 1 September 1917, von Richthofen flew, for the first time, the plane he is most commonly associated with, the Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. Flying near Zonnebeke, he came across a RE8 of No. 8 Squadron, flown by Lieutenant John Bristow Culley Madge (K) and Second Lieutenant Walter Kember.(L)

It appears the British flyers were unaware that the Germans had a triplane and may have confused it with the Sopwith Triplane design flown by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS – the Royal Navy’s air arm at the time)

Whatever the case, von Richthofen approached to a distance of 50 metres unopposed – he could see Kember standing upright without making a move for his machine gun – and fired 20 shots. The Royal Aircraft Factory RE8 reconnaissance aircraft fell out of control and crashed within German lines. Madge was badly wounded, surviving the war in German hospitals, but Kember was killed. (7)

Madge and Kember were the Baron’s 60th victory – the last to be celebrated by the purchase of a silver cup. Silver was scarce in Germany following blockades and von Richthofen wasn’t prepared to have cups made from base metal.

Seven months later, on 1 April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to become the Royal Air Force. The next day, Second Lieutenant Ernest David Jones (M) and Second Lieutenant Robert Francis Newton (N) became the Baron’s 75th victims and the first RAF crew to be shot down by him.

Their bodies were never recovered, and they weren’t recorded as missing until the next day. They are commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.

By coincidence, Jones attended the same school, Brecon Grammar School, as one of the Baron’s first victims – Tom Rees. (8)

The Baron’s 79th and 80th victories (the penulimate and last repectively ) were both Sopwith Camels flown by Major Richard Raymond-Barker (O) and Second Lieutenant David Greswolde Lewis (P)  on 20 April 1918.

Lewis’ plane was also in flames by the time it hit the ground, but he managed to escape from the wreckage and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

One pilot believed that Raymond-Barker was killed instantly, his plane falling from the sky in flames where it continued to burn on the ground. Lewis’ plane was also in flames by the time it hit the ground, but he managed to escape from the wreckage and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. Lewis was from Bulawayo in what was then Rhodesia, and returned to Africa after the war.

During the Rhodesian War of Independence he had another lucky escape when his car was ambushed and riddled with bullets. Despite this he managed to walk away unharmed. He died in 1978. (9)

Von Richthofen’s last flight was the very next day and the question of who shot the Red Baron is still a matter of debate. (Q)

The Royal Air Force claimed that Captain Arthur ‘Roy’ Brown (R) of No. 209 Squadron was responsible for shooting him down (and this was subsequently immortalised on the squadron badge which has an emblem of a red eagle falling).

Many believe that Sergeant Cedric Popkin (S) an anti – aircraft gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company as the person most likely to have killed the Baron. (10)

Whatever the case, the Baron’s plane made a relatively smooth descent and landed in a beet field where the undercarriage collapsed.

DEATH OF RITTMEISTER MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN, APRIL 1918 (Q 10929) Officers and NCOs of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps examine the battered remains of Baron Manfred von Richthofen’s aircraft at Poulainville aerodrome in April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The Baron’s body was recovered by Australian troops and transferred to Poulainville airfield.  An enquiry into Von Richtofen’s death was carried out by Colonel George W Barber of the Australian Army and Air Force Medical Services. (11) By a strange coincidence he had attended Whitgift School in Croydon, Surrey, England – the same school that Second Lieutenant Lionel Morris also studied at. (12)

On 22 April 1918 he was given a full military funeral in a cemetery at the village of Bertangles, near Amiens. Six officers from No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps acted as pallbearers while a guard of honour from the squadron’s other ranks fired a salute.

A number of memorial wreaths were presented at the funeral, one of which simply read ‘To Our Gallant and Worthy Foe’. (13)

THE FUNERAL OF RITTMEISTER MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN, APRIL 1918 (Q 10918) Chaplain of the Forces 4th Class, George Herbert Marshall leads the coffin of Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen past the saluting party as it enters the cemetery at Bertangles, France. The coffin is carried by six pilots of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. The funeral service was held on 22 April 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


(1) Commonwealth War Graves Commission Newsletter March 2012
(2) ‘Red Baron – The Life and Death of an Ace’ Peter Kilduff published David & Charles (2007) Page13
(3) Ibid Pages 72-73
(4) ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ Norman Franks, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery
published by Grub Street; (1998) Pages 46-48
(5) Ibid Page 53
(6) Ibid Page 87
(7) Ibid Page 156
(8) Brecon Grammar School Old Boys’ Association Newsletter WW1 Memorial Edition
September 2014 – Page 16. Retrieved 14 March 2018
(9) ‘Under the Guns of the Red Baron’ Norman Franks, Hal Giblin and Nigel McCrery
published by Grub Street; (1998) Page 203
(10) ‘Red Baron – The Life and Death of an Ace’ Peter Kilduff published David & Charles (2007)
Pages 229-233
(11) The Red Baron and the Croydon Connection Retrieved 14 March 2018
(12)  The Death of Manfred von Richthofen: Who fired the fatal shot? by Dr M. Geoffrey Miller
First published in ‘Sabretache’, the Journal and Proceedings of the Military History Society of Australia, Vol. XXXIX, No. 2, June 1998, and © 1998, M. Geoffrey Miller Retrieved 14 March 2018
(13) ‘The Independent’ newspaper 18 October 2015  Retrieved 14 March 2018

More information

During the Second World War Wing Commander John Heagerty RAF served in the Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms.

He is the subject of the ‘ The Wing Commander’s Sugar, The Red Baron and ‘Our Little War in the Middle East’ ‘ post on this site and was also shot down by Rittmeister von Richtofen.

For details of the men featured in the post please click on the relevant ‘Lives of the First World War’ or other web link. All information retrieved 17 March 2018.

(A) The aircrew shot down by the Red Baron 
Second Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May
(C) Jean Casele would finish the First World War with 12 victories to his credit. He would die in a flying accident on 23 June 1923 while flying a four-engined Bleriot commercial biplane.

Information about a memorial to him can be viewed at:

(D) Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris . Morris was a pupil at Whitgift School in Croydon, London where a major exhibition entitled ‘Remembering 1916’ was held.
(E) Captain Tom Rees
(F) Major Lanoe George Hawker
(G) Captain John Bowley Quested
(H) Lieutenant Harold John Hugh Dicksee
(I) Second Lieutenant John Hay
(J) Lieutenant Christopher Guy Gilbert
(K) Lieutenant John Bristow Culley Madge
(L) Second Lieutenant Walter Kember
(M) Second Lieutenant Ernest David Jones
(N) Second Lieutenant Robert Francis Newton
(O) Major Richard Raymond-Barker
(P) Second Lieutenant David Greswolde Lewis
(Q)  Who shot the Red Baron?
(R) Captain Arthur ‘Roy’ Brown
(S) Sergeant Cedric Popkin
(T) Chaplain of the Forces 4th Class, George Herbert Marshall

TREVOR TORKINGTON is one 23 remote volunteers with the ‘Lives of the First World War’ project which will establisg a permanent digital memorial to every man and woman who contributed to the British war effort during the First World War.

Throughout the centenary of the conflict IWM will work with the public to piece together the Life Stories of more than 7.6 million men and women from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform or worked on the home front.

The remote volunteers offer their skills and knowledge to assist other project members wherever possible.

All IWM volunteers commit to at leat one day a month volunteering. Lives of the First World War volunteers undertake a variety of administrative tasks connected with the project, including answering public enquiries on the website.

Find out more about the project by visiting our website, or send the team an email.

A plain and simple warning…



Hindsight – as we say in (British) English – is always perfect.

It can be easy with today’s values and our own individual experiences not only to judge but to simplify complex situations into simple black and white terms.

Take for instance the French Resistance movement.

Things are complicated.

First there was no such thing as THE French Resistance; those opposed to the German occupation were a very diverse and sometimes overlapping series of groups – academics, artists, postal workers, members of the French military, rail workers and civil servants etc etc.

Some individuals were or would become well-known – Robert Doisneau, who took the photograph of the couple kissing near the Hotel de Ville in Paris (Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville) helped forge identity papers and also documented the Liberation of Paris.

There were Communist groups and those supporting Charles de Gaulle, the leader of Free French Forces exiled in London. Some were non-political or had social tendencies motivate by Christian beliefs.

Among their ranks were Catholics, Protestants, Jews and non-believers.

But mostly they were ordinary and occasionally still anonymous individuals playing their part.

The actions of these people would be mirrored by those who saw the German occupation differently. Maréchal Phillippe Pétain beloved by the common French soldier in the First World War – Le Poilu – and the man credited with quelling the mutinies of 1915 by changing tactics and adopting a more humanist approach to the conditions of his troops.

After the First World War he became head of the collaborationist government. Pétain and his pre-war military protégé de Gaulle would both sentence the other to death for (as each saw it) treason against France.

Fashion designer Gabriel ‘Coco’ Channel promptly closed her dress business as soon as the Germans entered Paris (thus condemning her mainly female staff to unemployment when many French men were dead or prisoners of war). (1)

She took up with a German Abwehr (military intelligence) officer, Baron Hans Gunther von Dincklage and spent the rest of the war in the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

After the war – and despite being arrested and questioned and on a French resistance ‘death list’ – she was spared a trial and possible prison sentence. (2) (3)

Not for her the brutality of the mob, the tarring and feathering, the shaving and stripping of those women accused of ‘collaboration horizontale’ captured so terrifyingly in the pictures of Robert Capa and others. (4) (5)

But of course threats and punishments were meted out during the war to the enemy and those seen as collaborators.

A Special Operations Executive (SOE) file at the UK National Archives on REX (a codename for Jean Pierre Moulin, de Gaulle’s personal emissary tasked in uniting the various resistance groups in France) contains the following:

‘Informant asserts that without the help of French collaborators the Gestapo would have very little success in their business. He thinks therefore that the death of a collaborator is at the present time more vital to the cause of resistance than the death of a German.’ (6)


Crudely made miniature wooden coffin (L 15cm x W 6cm x D 2cm) with metal fittings, burned inscription: ‘Lucien Moreau / XPL 24 / R / Mort aux Collabos’
(‘Death to Collaborators’) and a separate lid.
IWM catalogue reference: Small wooden coffin (EPH 4313) © IWM.

Original Source:

The IWM catalogue description of the gruesome warning above describes it as ‘crudely made’.

While that is so, it is also well detailed, with inscribed handles, dots to simulate nails and clearly legible inscriptions – the receiver’s name on the ‘lid’ and ‘Mort au Collabos’ (‘Death to Collaborators’) inside.

With patterned marks from the point of a knife it is clear that a lot of effort has been expended on this object – almost as if in making it as accurate as possible (within the confines of the material and its use) the message it conveys will be stronger.

This was a unique item made with care from one individual to another – a terrifying hand-made ‘gift’.

The script ‘XPL 24’ is obviously important to Monsieur Moreau (and possibly the sender) as it appears not only on the top of the artefact but at the foot of the ‘coffin’.

What it means I have not been able to determine.

In addition the symbols on the coffin ‘lid’ are equally hard to decipher – the only obvious one being the two separate ‘Cross of Lorraine’ symbols (as used by Gaullist resistance groups) – although the letters ‘R C’ may identify the group sending the warning.

Or perhaps what appears as a letter ‘C’ is a depiction of a funeral wreath.

Who exactly Monsieur Louis Moreau was and what he had done to be an actual or suspected collaborator is not easy to ascertain.

All the IWM Collection online description of the object says about M. Moreau is that he died in Occupied France at some point.

Perhaps we will never know the full story of Lucien. Even after almost 80 years there are many who will not speak of these dark days that affected them or their families.

With different German, French, British and American factions seeking influence amongst the French population, the many intrinsic (morals, beliefs, the desire to settle old and new scores) and extrinsic (the desire to provide food and shelter for oneself and one’s family) motivational factors and choices facing individuals daily were many and deeply layered – for example what constituted ‘collaboration’?

Was the café owner who served Germans and French alike a collaborator?

The woman who accepted a seat on public transport from a Luftwaffe officer, seating being reserved for Germans?

And what of those who volunteered to work in Germany in return for supposedly better rations before forced deportations began?

For each of these choices – and many more – the cost of refusal had to be weighed against that of accepting.

As we say (again in British English) the plain and simple truth is rarely plain and never simple.




(1) ‘Les Parisiennes’ by Anna Sebba, published by Wiedenfeld and Nicolson (2107). Page 13.

(2) Ibid. Page 234.


(4) (in French).


(6) ‘REX, alias jean Pierre MOULINS [Jean Moulin]: French. File contains details of the REX Organisation operating in Occupied France’. UK National Archives File reference KV 6/24.


Happy birthday Women’s Royal Air Force!



THE ROYAL AIR FORCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1919-1920 (Q 3762) Dr Lily Baker (left) and Miss A. L. Chauncey (right) of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) outside their Nissen hut accommodation at Maresquel, April 1919. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

AMONGST ALL THE CELEBRATIONS connected with the centenary of the Royal Air Force it is easy to forget that the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) is also 100 years old, having been founded on the same day.

An interesting blog post by Louise Bell about the early days pf the service can be found at:

More of her posts (covering women in the British armed forces during the First World War and military medical issues during that conflict) are at:

Of the two women featured in the image above Alice Chauncey was born in America, where she died in 1986.

Less is known about  Lily Baker, although the British Medical Journal for  7 July 1956 carries an obituary for a Dr Lily A Baker.

You can add to what is known of the lives of these women – and the 8,000,000 others who served in the First World War by visiting the ‘Lives of the First World War’ homepage at:

The page for Lilly Baker is at:
while the one for Alice Chauncey can be found at:


Luftwaffe scrap and the RAF Benevolent Fund ‘Victory Bell’



large_© IWM (E (MOS) 54)

The wrecks of Luftwaffe aircraft in a British scrapyard, 24 February 1942. The wing of a Messerschmitt Bf 109E is being lifted by a crane. Image © IWM. Catalogue reference: E(MOS)54. Although not stated in the IWM caption this image was probably taken at No. 50 Maintenance Unit at Cowley, near Oxford, England.

WITH BATTLE RAGING ABOVE, innumerable aircraft on training flights, operational sorties and sometimes returning badly damaged it was inevitable that many would fall on British soil. And with resources short it was also inevitable that these aircraft – German and British alike would be salvaged, stripped of usable parts and if possible their aluminium parts recycled to fly again as new aircraft.

Formed in 1938, RAF Maintenance Command carried out a variety of maintenance and salvage duties. At Cowley near Oxford was No. 1 Metal and Produce Recovery Depot – an aircraft recycling centre (as we would call it today) using much of the facilities at the Morris Motors car plant.

Also located there was No.50 Maintenance Unit which together with other RAF Maintenance Units and civilian contractors transported the wrecked aircraft from storage deports to be smelted in the foundry at the car plant and then cast as metal ingots for re-use.

So how does this link to the production of the RAF Benevolent Fund’s ‘Victory’ handbells? 

large_© IWM (EPH 5895)_Victory_bell2

bell, RAF Benevolent Fund (EPH 5895) Cast silver metal bell with three heads of war leaders (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) cast onto the sides of the bell, around the edge of the bell there is an inscription which reads ‘RAF BENEVOLENT FUND, CAST IN METAL FROM GERMAN AIRCRAFT SHOT DOWN OVER BRITAIN 1939-1945’, the handle of the bell has a raised ‘V’ on each side. The clapper is attached to a ring on the inside of the bell. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The story (1) is that towards the end of the war Conrad Parlanti (a member of a family with a long tradition of foundry casting of works of public art and memorial in Britain and abroad including the RAF Memorial near the River Thames in London) (2)(3) drove past a stack of aluminium ingots and enquired about them.

On being told that they were cast from German aircraft he had an idea.

An idea that would ultimately celebrate the RAF’s victory in Battle of Britain, provide funds for the Royal Air Force benevolent Fund (a charity formed in 1919 to provide funds for the RAF members and their families in need and still in existence today) (4)  and provide a souvenir that could metaphorically ‘ring the changes’ as war changed to peace.

Although described as a ‘handbell’ they are primarily decorative and of little or any musical merit. (5) Examples were sold at around £1, although there is at least one account of one being auctioned at a charity dinner for considerably more.(6)

large_© IWM (EPH 5895)_Victory_bell

Bell, RAF Benevolent Fund (EPH 5895) Cast silver metal bell with three heads of war leaders (Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt) cast onto the sides of the bell, around the edge of the bell there is an inscription which reads ‘RAF BENEVOLENT FUND, CAST IN METAL FROM GERMAN AIRCRAFT SHOT DOWN OVER BRITAIN 1939-1945’, the handle of the bell has a raised ‘V’ on each side. The clapper is attached to a ring on the inside of the bell. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Palanti’s bell design has a number of variations (chiefly to the form of the handle but also to the inscription around the rim) but all contain portraits of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin as the leaders of the major victorious powers and a reference to ‘V’ for victory. (7)

Résistance members would often change one letter in the legend from ‘Deutschland Siegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany is victorious on all fronts’) to read ‘Deutschland Liegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany lies on all fronts’).

Although this is a hand gesture closely associated with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was also used as a symbol of resistance in Occupied Europe. So powerful was this ‘campaign’ that it was even adapted by the Germans in a counter-campaign in a number of Occupied Countries.(8)

In France the Eiffel Tower in Paris sporting a giant ‘V’ with the legend ‘Deutschland Siegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany is victorious on all fronts’).

Apparently Résistance members would often change one letter in the legend to read ‘Deutschland Liegt Auf Allen Fronten’ (‘Germany lies on all fronts’).(9)

Sources and further information:

(1) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(2) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(3) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(4) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(5) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(6) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(7) – retrieved 4 March 2018

(8) – retrieved 5 March 2018

(9) – retrieved 5 March 2018

Battle of Britain, Battle of Germany – Paul Nash and his aviation landscape paintings




Painted by Paul Nash (1) who – like his younger brother John – had served during the First World War on the Western Front before they both became official War Artists towards the end of that conflict.

Their work from this period depicts a soldier’s view of war – comrades, trenches, marches and battle-shattered landscapes.(2)

Come the Second World War, they were again called upon to produce artwork documenting the course of the war. John was attached to the Royal Navy (3) while Paul (who had become increasingly mesmerised by flying) documented the work of the Royal Air Force, initially on a six-month contract like his brother.

Starting in mid-March 1940 Nash planned to work on combat-related scenes. His first series of six watercolours (entitled ‘Raiders’ (4) and completed just before the Battle of Britain began) was well-received by the Air Ministry. However as his work became increasingly non-representational his popularity waned until his employment was ended in December 1940. (4)

Finding a post sponsored by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee (a section of the Ministry of Information) he again was producing images of RAF subjects. Here he painted three of his most famous works ‘Totes Meer’, ‘Battle of Britain’ and what was initially entitled ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ (later to be ‘Defence of Albion’) featuring a Short Sunderland aircraft of RAF Coastal Command, a section of the Royal Air Force working closely with the Royal Navy to provide convoy protection and maritime strike capabilities. (3)

Commissioned in November 1941 and completed by April 1942, when planning the latter painting, he wrote: “I am persistently hunted by a short Sutherland and I think it will play a large part in the composition“. (3)  Having never seen one close-up and unable to travel because of bad weather and the severity of his long-term asthma condition (he had endured an attack of bronchitis at the time) he wrote to fellow artist Eric Ravillous, who was depicting naval subjects at the time outlining his composition and asking for details of how the aircraft and an enemy U-boat might look in strong light (5) (6)

large_Paul_Nash_Battle_of Britain

Battle of Britain (Art.IWM ART LD 1550) by Paul Nash, 1940/41. Image © IWM. Original Source:

Submitting the completed ‘Battle of Britain’ painting to the War Artist’s Advisory Committee, Nash produced a description of the work:

‘The painting is an attempt to give the sense of an aerial battle in operation over a wide area and thus summarises England’s great aerial victory over Germany. The scene includes certain elements constant during the Battle of Britain – the river winding from the town and across parched country, down to the sea; beyond, the shores of the Continent, above, the mounting cumulus concentrating at sunset after a hot brilliant day; across the spaces of sky, trails of airplanes, smoke tracks of dead or damaged machines falling, floating clouds, parachutes, balloons. Against the approaching twilight new formations of Luftwaffe, threatening…’ (7)

It contains many of the elements we now associate with the battle; clear bright days, RAF fighters rising to defend Britain over southern England, a meandering river (reminiscent of the Thames) and long white contrails cutting across blue skies. Tethered barrage balloons stand guard, rooted to the British countryside, which is washed in the golden light of a setting sun.

There is also much symbolism.

Dark and occupied France (where the Luftwaffe operated from captured French air force bases) is separated by a narrow strip of water from bright (free) England.

Gleaming RAF fighters rise to meet the dark threat

Gleaming RAF fighters rise to meet the dark threat, while their outnumbered RAF squadron colleagues bravely soar and twist in an aerial ballet. The tracks of one group of RAF aircraft create a giant flower bud – flowers blooming being a recurring theme in much of Nash’s work.

The RAF create white contrails, the Luftwaffe aircraft fall at the end of spiralling black smoke trails indicating their loss of control. More German aircraft are shown in rigid formations, symbolising the unquestioning adherence to orders and obedience that many believed was German characteristic.

And of course in Nash’s painting no enemy aircraft ever reaches Britain…

large_Paul Nash_Battle_for_Germany

Battle of Germany (Art.IWM ART LD 4526) by Paul Nash, 1944. Image © IWM. Original Source:

The painting that became the ‘Battle of Germany’ was commissioned in September 1944, four years after the Battle of Britain had been fought and almost a year since the RAF had initiated the ‘Battle of Berlin’ a sustained bombing campaign not limited to the German capital but attacking targets throughout Germany.

Again Nash provided text to accompany his work;

‘The moment of the picture is when the city, lying under the uncertain light of the moon, awaits the blow at its heart. In the background, a gigantic column of smoke arises from the recent destruction of an outlying factory which is still fiercely burning. These two objects pillar and moon seem to threaten the city no less than the flights of bombers even now towering in the red sky. The moon’s illumination reveals the form of the city but with the smoke pillar’s increasing height and width, throws also its largening shadow nearer and nearer.

In contrast to the suspense of the waiting city under the quiet though baleful moon, the other half of the picture shows the opening of the bombardment. The entire area of sky and background and part of the middle distance are violently agitated. Here forms are used quite arbitrarily and colours by a kind of chromatic percussion with one purpose, to suggest explosion and detonation. In the central foreground the group of floating discs descending may be a part of a flight of paratroops or the crews of aircraft forced to bale out…’ (8)

The chairman of the WAAC Kenneth Clark was supportive and appreciative of the work but concerned at its complexity.

Comparing the two images above, Nash’s painting style is more abstract and his text seems less of an accompaniment to his work as an explanation of what his picture contains.

Symbolism is present again in the dull red-brown, white and vivid blue coloured streaks over German territory. A full moon (similar to that in his painting ‘Totes Meer’) hangs low in the sky, perhaps over Britain, illuminating the grey water.

The painting is so ‘loose’ in its style that one can read almost what they wish into it, within the contexts of the title and with the knowledge that it depicts an aerial attack.

As in Nash’s text the smaller white circles towards the bottom of the painting may be parachute (or ‘Roses of Death’ as he called them after the name the Spanish gave to them during the Spanish Civil War), (9) but for me they could also be the light of exploding incendiary bombs dropped by the attacking bombers.

Bomber Command have stated that the picture ‘Battle of Germany’ by Paul Nash is no longer required.

Perhaps because of this ambiguity there is a comment in a report dated September 1947 by AHB 4, (a section of the RAF’s Air Historical Branch that oversaw the allocation of RAF and German equipment as well as artworks to RAF Commands, Allied and Commonwealth Governments and major museums) that reads…

‘Bomber Command have stated that the picture ‘Battle of Germany’ by Paul Nash is no longer required. It is being returned to A.H.B. 4.(10)


References and further information

(1) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(2) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(3) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(4) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(5) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(6) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(7)  Eric Ravillous: Memoir of an Artist, Helen Binyon, Lutterworth Press (2016). Pages 127 and 128 – undated letter from Nash to Ravillous,

(8) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(9) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(10) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(11) ‘AHB4 Progress Report – September 1947’. Paragraph 7, subsection (ii) held at National Archives, Kew, England. File reference AIR 20/6289 – AIR MINISTRY: General (Code7/1): AHB (4) report on the collection and preservation for material for museum purposes. EXHIBITIONS, DISPLAYS, FETES AND MUSEUMS. (Code 33): Collection and preservation for material for museum purposes. AHB (4) reports

A selection of examples of Nash’s ‘Raiders’ series can be found at:

‘Raider on the moor’ – retrieved 24 February 2018

‘Raider on the shore’ – retrieved 24 February 2018


Other examples of Nash’s wartime depiction of wrecked German aircraft during the Battle of Britain period (often with a description of the event that inspired them) can be found at: – retrieved 24 February 2018

True colours

Richard Maddox

LIKE MOST BUILDINGS Imperial War Museums have teams of cleaners to ensure that floors, bathrooms, offices and the like are ready for staff, volunteers and 2.5 million visitors each year each morning.

But as good as these teams are they are not trained to clean the artefacts – many of which are unique, irreplaceable and inaccessible to cleaning from he ground.

Inevitably they have become a little dusty since they were positioned for IWM London’s reopening on 19 July 2014.

Now many of the artefacts in the Museum’s Atrium are looking brighter, thanks to IWM’s Conservation Technician Jason who oversees the care of all IWM’s Large Exhibits – the aircraft, tanks, rockets and vehicles at all five IWM sites.

This of course included HMS Belfast which is so large that it is BOTH an exhibit in its own right AND one of the three IWM Museum sites in London.

Working every night for a week after the Museum closed its doors to visitors until the early hours of the morning, specialists from both Total Access (a company that is skilled in working at height and in difficult locations) and Halahan Associates, a specialist care and conservation company (1) spent the time dangling over the massive objects gently cleaning them.


Dangling in mid-air, a member of Halahan Associates gently cleans the wing of the Fieseler Fi 103 Vergrltungswaffe 1 (‘revenge weapon 1’) in the Atrium of IWM London. The weapon was more commonly known as the ‘V1’, ‘Doodle-bug’ or ‘Buzz-bomb’ –  Image © IWM 2018.

IWM London’s V1

The specific history of IWM London’s Fieseler 103 isn’t known (2) but it was probably was acquired from No.21 Maintenance Unit RAF and was in place in time for the reopening of the Imperial War Museum in 1946. (3) It still retains its original paint scheme.

No.21 Maintenance Unit was a specialist explosive storage unit used by the RAF from 1938 to 1966 and then US forces from 1967 to 1973.

Set in a former gypsum mine at Fauld, Staffordshire, England. The site was the country’s main bomb storage site when, late morning on 27 November 1944, a massive explosion of around 3.500 – 4000 tons of high explosive bombs and other munitions killed 23 workers on site, another 41 and a plaster works nearby as well as others in the vicinity. (4) (5)

Besides the human devastation a complete 300 acre farm was completely destroyed, together with a large wood and top soil rained down up to 11 miles from the site of the explosion. It is said that the explosion was heard in London – more than 130 miles away. (6)


Sources and further information:



(3) ‘AIR MINISTRY: General (Code 7/1): AHB (4) Reports on the Collection and Preservation of material for museum purposes’. Document reference: Air 20/6289, UK National Archives, Kew.


(5) ‘Incident at Fauld – Staffordshire. No.21 RAF Maintenance Unit, 11.15 hours. 27 November 1944.’ Document reference: MFQ 1/1002/3, UK National Archives, Kew.


A comprehensive description of the development and deployment of the Fieseler FI 103 can be found at:

An introduction to Care and Conservation at IWM is available at:



Little to do but wait…



In Berlin the final touches are being put to what is going to be a memorable day.

Reichsmarschall Hermann Göering (Minister for Aviation and head of the Luftwaffe) together with Joseph Goebbels, the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) have rehearsed their speeches.

Radio equipment has been tested.

Engineers are ready to relay their words across Germany.

There was little to do but wait…


At RAF Marham in Norfolk, England three De Havilland MKIV fast fighter-bomber aircraft from No. 105 Squadron were silently waiting, fuelled and armed.

The two-man crew of each of the aircraft had had the latest information about weather conditions and any Luftwaffe or flak activities.

Here too there was little to do but wait…



de Havilland Mosquito aircraft from No. 105 Squadron RAF taxying to the main runway at RAF Marham at the start of a night attack on Berlin. Image© IWM catalogue reference CH 18013. Original Source:

At 0845 the RAF aircraft climbed into the air setting before course some four minutes later (1). With a return trip of over 1100 miles – most of it over enemy occupied territory and Germany itself – this was to be a mission where the skills of both the pilot and navigator were going to be tested.

The precise location of the target – the Haus des Rundfunks – (‘Broadcasting House’) had to be found and bombed at a precise time.

Like its BBC counterpart the radio studios were designed and built in the late 1920s and started transmitting during the 1930s. (2) In an age before television was widely available – never mind the Internet and social media – radio broadcasts were the nearest thing to up to the minute news and information.

The orders stated that the Haus des Rundfunks had to be bombed at 1100 exactly to prevent Göering broadcasting to the German nation.

And by implication the raid was to demonstrate that Berlin could be struck from the air at any time of day or night, just as London had been.

Taking off in poor weather, the three aircraft bombed on time through heavy cloud from a height of 25,000 feet (7620 metres).

The crews were Squadron Leader Reginald Reynolds with his observer Edward (Ted) Sismore, flying Mosquito serial number DZ413 (squadron codes GB-K) together with Flight Lieutenant John Gordon and Flying Officer Ralph G Hayes in DZ372, GB-C.

Finally there was Flying Officer Antony (Tony) Wickham (3) with Pilot Officer William Makin aboard Mosquito DZ408, GB-F.


Flying Officer Antony Trelawney Wickham (left) and his navigator, Pilot Officer William Edward Dennis Makin of No. 105 Squadron RAF, pose for (a somewhat relaxed) official portrait in the Air Council Room at the Air Ministry in London on 31 January 1943, the day after flying on the first daylight attack on Berlin. Image: © IWM CH 8522. Original Source:

Although Flight Lieutenant Gordon and Flying Officer Hayes noted that they recognised a pattern of lakes ‘west Berlin’ and ‘built up area through gap in cloud,’ while a second Mosquito bombed ‘a railway junction on the north side of town’, the raid was deemed a success.

After a round trip of more than 1100 miles the three aircraft landed back at their base between 1326 and 1352. (4)

large_Sismore_Berlin_© IWM (CH 10135)A

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 10135) Wing Commander R W Reynolds (right), pilot and Officer Commanding No. 139 Squadron RAF, and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant E B Sismore, standing in front of a De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV at Marham, Norfolk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Not content with this show of strength a second flight of three Mosquitos from RAF Marham – this time from No. 139 Squadron – attacked in the afternoon intending to disrupt the speech by Dr Goebbels.

Once more the aircraft left the flat Norfolk countryside and flew at low level across the North Sea.

According to the Operational Record Book for the squadron (5) they flew to a point just north of Heligoland,  turned inland to Lübeck and started climb to 20,000 feet (6,000 m) above the German countryside before setting course for Berlin when about 50 miles away from the German capital.

Unlike the morning raid which bombed through cloud, as they reached their target ‘Berlin appeared in brilliant sunshine on E.T.A., [estimated time of arrival] the cloud having broken abruptly’. (6)

Again unlike the morning the German defences were ready. Heavy flak was encountered and two fighters were seen by Flight Sergeant Peter John Dickson McGeehan RNZAF (7) and Flying Officer Reginald Charles Morris (8) in Mosquito DK337.

McGeehan and Morris and Sergeants Joseph Massey and Richard Charles Fletcher flying DZ279 evaded the defences and arrived back at base three hours after take-off.

The aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Donald Frederick William Darling, DFC and Flying Officer William Wright failed to return (9). Later investigations found that the aircraft had been hit by flak and crashed near Altengrabow. (10) (11).

Initially they were buried in Altengrabow Cemetery – around 100 km (62 miles) from the German capital – as unknown British airmen. (12) (13)

Today, having – been identified – they lie together in a communal grave in the Berlin War Cemetery.


In order to recognise the efforts of those concerned the King awarded a number of awards to the crews involved. Squadron Leader Reynolds was granted the Distinguished Service Order.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to Gordon, Hayes, Wickham, Makin and SIsmore. Sergeants Fletcher, Massey and McGeehan (Royal New Zealand Air Force) were each recipients of the Distinguished Flying Medal. (14)

Subsequently promoted, Pilot Officer McGeehan DFM was killed on 16 March 1943 and is buried at Texel (Den Burg) General Cemetery in Noord Holland. (15) (16) Flying Officer Reginald Charles Morris DFC was also killed on 16 March 1943 and he too is buried at Texel Cemetery. (17)

Pilot Officer (later Air Commodore) Sismore died in 2012. (18) IWM Sound Archives has an oral history interview with him recorded in 1989 in which he describes the raid. (19)

Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) Reginald Reynolds died in January 2018. (20)  During his wartime career he would become a highly decorated pilot. (21)

Of the aircraft that returned to RAF Marham after the raid, none would survive long.



Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight raid by twenty de Havilland Mosquito B Mark IVs of Nos. 105 and 139 Squadrons RAF on the German naval stores depot and marshalling yard near Rennes in France. A Mosquito can be seen in the lower left corner. Image: © IWM. Catalogue reference C 3425. PLEASE NOTE There is no indication that this shows Mosquito DZ413 or was taken during the raid on which the aircraft was lost. Original Source:


On 26 February 1943 Mosquito DZ 413 was lost over Rennes in France when it collided with another aircraft over the target area. (14) (15)

DZ372 Crashed at RAF Marham on 2 March 1943 during a training flight (16)

Mosquito DZ 408 crashed when the crew lost control near RAF Marham on 20 January 1944, again during a training flight. Although the aircraft was damaged, the crew survived. (17)
DZ379 was shot down by a German nightfighter on 18 August 1943 while tasked with a raid on Berlin (18)

Mosquito DK 337 failed to return from a mission to Duisburg on 31 August 1943 (19)


Sources and notes:

(1) No.105 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 837/2

(2) – retrieved January 25 2018

(3) Some sources (including IWM’s online Collection) spell ‘Wickham’ as ‘Whickham’. ‘Wickham’ is used as this aligns with the ORB and the London Gazette entries.

(4) No.105 Operational Record Book – ibid.

(5,6,7,8) No.139 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 960/12

(9) No.139 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 960/11

(10) – retrieved January 25 2018

(11) – retrieved January 25 2018


(see grave concentration files at this link) – retrieved January 25 2018

(13),-william/ (see grave concentration files at this link) – retrieved January 25 2018.

There appears to have been some confusion – which persists on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission today – as to which squadron Wright and Darling served with.

The CWGC website page for Flying Officer William Wright shows him in the main text and (together with Darling) as also being in No. 105 Squadron on the Grave Registration Form shown on the same page and dated 21 October 1957.

He is shown (correctly) as being in No.139 Squadron RAF in the amended the Grave Register shown next to the  on the same page.  No. 139 Squadron records (Air 27 960/11 and Air 27 960/12 held at the UK National Archives) show both Darling and Wright as being on their strength at the time of their deaths.

(14) – retrieved January 27 2018

(15),-peter-john-dickson/ – retrieved January 27 2018

(16) – retrieved January 27 2018

(17),-reginald-charles/ – retrieved January 27 2018

(18) – retrieved January 28 2018

(19) Reel 2 (approximately 3 minutes from the start) – retrieved January 27 2018



(22) – retrieved January 25 2018

(23) – retrieved January 25 2018

(24) – retrieved January 26 2018

(25) – retrieved January 26 2018

(26) – retrieved January 26 2018

(27) – retrieved January 26 2018