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Thursday, 9 May 1940

A Flight of Hurricanes of No. 56 (F) Squadron, North Weald, April 1940

A Flight of Hurricanes of No. 56 (F) Squadron, North Weald, April 1940, ©IWM (HU 104757)

Norway

The Allies — the British, the French, and the Polish forces in exile — are fully engaged with the German invasion of Norway: Denmark has already fallen, and southern, central and western Norway are now under German control. An Allied expeditionary force had landed in the north on 14 April at Harstad, near Narvik. They are having local successes, but are hampered by divided commands, conflicting orders, and poor battlefield control.

Lt Colonel Colin Gubbins is in command of Britain’s ‘Independent Companies’, a forerunner of the Commandos. With the French forces, Lieutenant André Dewavrin is an intelligence officer, and Maurice Duclos is a tall artillery officer rehabilitated after serving a prison sentence for membership of the Cagoulards, a radical anti-Communist secret movement in pre-war French politics.

England

At 13.45, Flying Officer John Coghlan of No. 56 (Fighter) Squadron is at 16,000 feet, leading a patrol of three Hurricanes – Red Section, ‘A’ Flight – flying eastwards above the Essex coastline near Clacton. Coghlan had joined the RAF in January 1936 at the age of 21 on a Short-Service engagement. He’d served with Nos 1 and 72 Squadrons before being posted to 56 Squadron on the outbreak of war. The other two pilots in his section are Sergeants Cooney and Baker.

Coghlan spots an aircraft about ten miles away. It is flying on a south-westerly course but it’s much higher at about 25,000 feet. Coghlan turns sharply to climb in pursuit. The other two Hurricanes make to follow, but are left behind. When Coghlan gets to about three miles behind the enemy and 1,000 feet below, the enemy spots him. It stall-turns, and dives to pass Coghlan to port, about 700-800 yards away.  Coghlan turns to pursue, with the other Hurricanes forming up line astern, following the prescribed method of Fighter Command tactics.

They dive to about 16,000 feet, but the enemy’s accumulated dive speed makes it difficult for Coghlan’s Hurricane to catch it. From the single pointed fin, long engine nacelles and high speed the aircraft appears to be a Ju88. Coghlan gets to within about 600 yards when the Ju88’s rear gunner opens fire with tracer, which passes harmlessly beneath the Hurricane. Coghlan gets to within about 500 feet of the Ju88 when he realises that he is no longer gaining. He opens fire in one long burst. One of the Hurricane’s eight guns jams after a few seconds, but he keeps firing for about 16 seconds, knowing this will be his only opportunity.

Coghlan throttles back, his ammunition spent, his Hurricane now impotent. The other two pursue the Ju88 down to 6,000 feet, but they never get close enough to engage. They are now 50 miles out to sea; if they engaged boost in an attempt to catch it they might not have enough fuel to make it back.

At some point during his time with 56 Squadron, according to Eric Clayton, one of his ground crew at the time, Coghlan acquires the nickname ‘Nine-gun’, though Clayton wasn’t clear about when. In one combat after his ammunition has run out, Coghlan pulls back his cockpit canopy and fires his service revolver at the enemy. In most combat circumstances this would have been implausible, but against a lone enemy reconnaissance aircraft in the clear skies above the Channel, during the last hours of the ‘Phoney War’, it sounds at least possible.

Sources

 

  • Combat reports No. 56 Sqn: TNA AIR 50/22
  • Eric Clayton, ‘What if the Heavens Fall?’ (Wye College Press, 1993)

 

Friday, 10 May 1940

German forces cross the borders of Holland and Belgium. French and British forces move over the Belgian border in reaction to the invasion.

Flying Officer Frank Keast, a pilot with No. 24 (Communications) Squadron, flies from Hendon to Le Bourget, then to Amiens in a DH95 Flamingo. He has been with 24 Squadron since the end of February, ferrying senior officers and politicians around the UK, and between England and the British Expeditionary Force in northern France. Highly-experienced, with more than 3,500 hours, Keast is one of many pilots trained by the RAF in the early 1930s then put out to the Reserve. During the later 1930s he had flown with domestic civilian airlines, including Railway Air Services, and he may have had a spell with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus. After his recall in 1939, Keast had flown Ansons at No. 3 Air Observers’ Navigation School, putting trainee Observers through their paces in practical navigation exercises.

Pilot Officer Ron Hockey has been with 24 Squadron since the beginning of 1940. He flies a brace of generals, two squadron-leaders and a wing-commander to Amiens from Hendon in a DH86b. He takes the two squadron-leaders on to Le Bourget before returning to Hendon with six new passengers. On these flights he is accompanied by a rigger for the elegant four-engined biplane.

Notes:

FJB Keast logbook: copy available in the RAF Museum.
Grp Capt. R.C. Hockey logbook, now in the Imperial War Museum; copy available in the RAF Museum.

Monday, 13 May 1940x

France

German infantry units cross the Meuse. The invasion of France has begun.

Holland

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands is evacuated to England aboard the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Hereward. Her daughter, Crown Princess Juliana, is evacuated sea aboard the destroyer HMS Codrington, with her husband Prince Bernhard and their family. Their escape is organised by a young Royal Dutch Navy officer, Lieutenant Lodo van Hamel, based at Ijmuiden. He has been responsible for guiding Allied shipping in and out of the port.

RAF Watchfield, Wiltshire

Flight Lieutenant Walter Farley pilots Anson N9736 on a 2 hour 20 minute flight. His passengers are LAC Hiles and LAC Solomon: they are  to practise ‘Air Observers’ Exercise No. 5′. Farley is the OC (Officer Commanding) the Air Experience Flight at No. 11 Air Observers Navigation School. The Flight gives trainee Observers practical experience in navigation.  Farley is an experienced flying instructor, having taught ‘ab initio’ pilots for all three services, in the RAF and as a civilian, during the late 1930s. His RAF career had started with a posting to No. 13 (Army Cooperation) Squadron, so he was experienced in landing in short, unprepared landing-fields. Like many RAF pilots who had joined in the early 1930s, Farley had been placed on the Reserve, in his case in 1938, and recalled on the outbreak of war. He may have been considered too old for an operational role in the early days of the war, but his instructional skills were at a premium. At this time the RAF has only enough front-line aircraft for its existing crop of regular and Auxiliary aircrew.


Sources
  • Logbook of W/Cdr W.R. Farley, DFC.

Monday, 13 May 1940

France

German infantry units cross the Meuse. The invasion of France has begun.

Holland

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands is evacuated to England aboard the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Hereward. Her daughter, Crown Princess Juliana, is evacuated sea aboard the destroyer HMS Codrington, with her husband Prince Bernhard and their family. Their escape is organised by a young Royal Dutch Navy officer, Lieutenant Lodo van Hamel, based at Ijmuiden. He has been responsible for guiding Allied shipping in and out of the port.


Tuesday, 14 May 1940

Rotterdam

The centre of the Dutch city of Rotterdam is heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. The failure of an attempt to call off the bombing doesn’t reduce the culpability for an attack on an open city that had just agreed a ceasefire. The Germans threatened to destroy Utrecht in the same manner, whereupon the Dutch government capitulated.

Lieutenant Lodo Van  Hamel, Royal Dutch Navy

The Dutch armed forces are ordered to lay down their arms. Lt Lodo van Hamel, escapes to England aboard a trawler. From England, he takes part in the Dunkirk evacuation, defiantly flying the Dutch ensign as he skippers the Dutch Navy motor-sloop M74 off the beaches.