Monthly Archives: May 1940

Tuesday, 28 May 1940


King Leopold had asked for an armistice on the 27th, and orders the Belgian armed forces to surrender. The armistice comes into effect at 0400 on 28 May.

Henri Leenaerts somehow makes his way to the coast, and during the following days is evacuated to England.

Monday, 27 May 1940: 7 p.m.

56 Squadron and 610 Squadron

Late in the afternoon S/Ldr Knowles leads half his squadron, a mixed bag from ‘A’ & ‘B’ Flights, on a patrol with 12 Spitfires from No. 610 Squadron. They are to patrol between Gravelines and Furnes (now called Veurne). At about 7 p.m. (other sources say 6.45), in the skies above Dunkirk they see ten Me110s at about their height, 20,000 feet. They attack immediately.

Knowles attacks one Me110 from beneath and almost directly behind, in the blind area for the Me110’s gunner. He gives it a five-second burst from 200 yards: ‘He burst into flames and went down in a steep spiral.’ He doesn’t see the Me110 hit the ground but has no doubt that it did.

Knowles finds another Me110 and attacks it in the same way, giving this one a 7-to-8-second burst from 250 yards. Flames and smoke appear from underneath, and it starts to go down. Knowles doesn’t see this one go down at all, for he sees a Spitfire coming directly at him. He turns away suddenly, but has no doubt about this Me110’s fate.

Knowles’s report indicates that there have been a total of between 40 and 50 enemy aircraft in the area, including others much higher. 610 Squadron’s log indicates that a solitary Heinkel was the initial object of the attack, but Knowles does not mention it in his report. This has been 610 Squadron’s first major encounter with the Luftwaffe, so the more experienced 56 Squadron Hurricanes may have been along to provide a bit of leavening.

In his report Knowles notes one Hurricane and its pilot missing: this was F/O ‘Fish’ Fisher, who turns up at Margate hospital.

Monday, 27 May 1940: 4.15 p.m.

56 Squadron

At about 4.15 p.m. Squadron leader E.V. Knowles is leading the twelve Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron on an ‘offensive patrol’ between St Omer and Ostend. It is the second day of the Dunkirk evacuation, and the squadron has temporarily moved base from North Weald to Manston, less than 50 miles from the action. As they approach Ostend they sight ten Heinkel 111s at 10,000 feet, indicated by bursts of anti-aircraft fire around them.

Knowles keeps one section of three aloft as protection, and leads the rest of the squadron in attacking the Heinkels from behind. He selects the left-most Heinkel and sets its port engine quickly ablaze; it peels away and down and eventually crashes. The other Heinkels jettison their bombs into the sea.

John Coghlan, now promoted Acting Flight Lieutenant and leading the second section, attacks the right-hand Heinkel. He gives it a five-second burst at 100 yards, then two more as he closes in. The fuselage is now on fire, but Coghlan has fired all his ammunition. Two other Hurricanes tear in to finish the job: P/O ‘Fish’ Fisher and F/O ‘Minnie’ Ereminsky. Fisher’s windscreen becomes covered in oil from the blazing Heinkel, which goes down and crashes. Coghlan breaks off and heads home to Manston.

Thursday, 23 May 1940

RAF Brize Norton

John Austin is awarded his pilot’s badge, his ‘wings’. Anticipating the previous war’s slaughter being repeated and, as he told me, ‘wanting some choice in the matter’, John joined the RAF shortly before the war. He started his flying training in June 1939. He is tall, possibly too tall for a Hurricane cockpit, and certainly too tall for a Spitfire. Since the end of March 1940 he has been at No. 2 Flying Training School, learning to fly the Airspeed Oxford, an advanced twin-engined training aircraft.

Sergeant Austin will continue his training on the Oxford before being posted to an Operational Training Unit. There he will complete his pilot training on larger twin-engined aircraft before being posted to an operational squadron. The pilot-training process will have taken about two years.

Wednesday, 22 May 1940


The German Army has already reached the Channel coast on the 20th. The BEF and much of the French army is now cut off from the rest of France. The German forces now launch twin assaults on the Channel ports of Boulogne and Calais, crucial to Britain’s ability to resupply its forces.

56 Squadron

Shortly after 4 p.m. S/Ldr ‘Teddy’ Knowles, 56 Squadron’s Commanding Officer, is flying with ‘A’ Flight over France, part of a larger group of about 20 Hurricanes. (The others are from 213 Squadron and 242 Squadron.) At about 4.15 a Henschel 123, a German reconnaissance aircraft which resembles a Lysander, is spotted. The exact location can’t be identified from Knowles’s report as his handwriting is poor; nor can the Henschel’s height, which may have been two, three or seven thousand feet. Knowles attacks the Henschel from 250-300 yards with a 2-second burst; so does another Hurricane which Knowles cannot identify. The Henschel ‘bursts into flames and goes down almost immediately. One of the occupants jumps out and lands by parachute.’ Credit for the victory is shared.