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

RICHARD MADDOX

ON 2 OCTOBER 1940 TOWARDS THE END OF THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN,  A LUFTWAFFE MESSERSCHMITT Bf 109E-1 FIGHTER FELL TO EARTH AT LIMPSFIELD COMMON IN SURREY ENGLAND.

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: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210723

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: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210239

‘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: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208057

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: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205185745

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: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205220401

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)

Sources

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

(2) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/7510281/radlick,-walter/ – retrieved 8 May 2018

(3) http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/Kendal.htm – retrieved 8 May 2018

(4) https://www.warsailors.com/convoys/qp12.html  – retrieved 8 May 2018

(5) https://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=298 – retrieved 8 May 2018

(6) http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?5806-420525-Unaccounted-airmen-25-5-1942 – retrieved 8 May 2018

(7) https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/cam-ship-hurricane-operations.44583/ – retrieved 8 May 2018

(8) http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/Kendal.htm – retrieved 8 May 2018

(9) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1802576/kendal,-john-bedford/ – retrieved 8 May 2018

 

 

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