Letter from Squadron Leader J McComb, 1940

The following is a letter from the Squadron CO, Squadron Leader J McComb to his mother in 1940, followed by a later note he made on it in 1972.

611 at Duxford

Sincere thanks to Edward Gill for sending the cutting

The photograph shows both Sqn Ldr McComb and Ralph Crompton, who is mentioned together with Donald Little; both failed to return and were killed

IN THE summer of 1940, Group Captain John McComb, RAF. then a Squadron Leader, commanded No. 611 (West Lancashire) Squadron Fighter Command which was based at RAF Duxford, Cambs, and saw action at Dunkirk and in the Battle of Britain.

My dear Mum

We had another do over Dunkerque yesterday. We got eight and lost Donald Little and Ralph Crompton. These two chaps shared "the cottage next to" us at the Annexe Wellington. Hard on the two wives, but they may turn up. It's amazing "the way chaps have been getting away with it and turning up days later.

Jack Leather saw what he thought was Donald shot down by a Messerschmitt. So Jack shot it down in flames and damn near in turn got shot down himself. Ken had half his aeroplane—all the hood and a dam great hole behind his head—shot by a shell. His controls were hanging by threads. He staggered home.

Barry Heath got a bomber and other fellows got bombers and fighters.

I reckon we had 60 fighters to deal with. I had a scrap with two fighters. Got one and was so pleased with myself I forgot to shoot, the other. Could have got him. I then gave two more the slip that got on my tail firing cannon shells, and got stuck into five Heinkel Bombers. I was by myself and thought it a trap but there seemed nothing behind or above so had a crack at them. I hadn't been there a second before a Messerschmitt 110 on my tail started pumping shells at me. I did a roll out of that—getting too hot and in an effort to nip round on its tail. I spun down 10,000ft to 2,000ft.

I went up again to 5.000ft and saw that there were only four Heinkels left. So I may have got it, but the AA fire was so heavy that I don't think I could have made it again without getting hit. So I beat it home. Hell of a fight.

AOC came down this corning and congratulated us. I think Crompton had his tail shot off. I saw a Spitfire spinning down, which might have been him, without a tail but there were so many aeroplanes it was hard to make much out—there were so many of the devils one nearly always had to deal with two or three at once.

Christ, I was frightened at times. Some of our machines looked like sieves. We’ll get another bang at the bastards soon I hope, but for the moment we are licking our sores. I had mirrors fitted or all our machines, which raved a few chap?

Young Macfie, aged 19, chased one straight into the harbour and when the bits came up gave it a burst too. Brown, 20, escaped by flying down a street in Dunkerque with a Messerschmitt on his tail and shook it off by diving under a crane! His comment in his battle report was: "Bet my performance didn't help the morale of the BEF a hell of a lot." It's damned frightening but hellish good fun (afterwards). I got 70 minutes sleep in the 24 hours Saturday/Sunday. Bit tired last night.


IN 1972 Group Captain McComb wrote these notes on his letter:

I had arranged a sherry party for wives in the Mess at noon on that day. When ordered to Dunkirk around 5 a.m. It was suggested I cancel the party, I refused because —

a) Nobody could keep a Spitfire in the air for longer than 90 minutes (or 60 minutes if in a fight) and we had time to do two trips and still be back by noon.

b) I resented the Luftwaffe interfering with one of my parties.

Donald Little and Ralph Crompton did not come back. We came home in ones and twos to join the party. June Little and Lil Crompton, both aged 19; realised their husbands were not coming back. So without a word they quietly withdrew from the party and went back to their cottage.

I phoned their mothers to come and get them.

Couple of brave girls who made no fuss.