Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar Ltd have a hangar at Biggin Hill airfield where they specialise in repairs, maintenance and rebuilding WWII aircraft, especially Spitfires.
On Wednesday 15 May 2013 they celebrated the 70th anniversary of the 1,000th Luftwaffe aircraft to be shot down by a Biggin Hill Sector based aircraft. There were two fighter squadrons at Biggin at the time, 611 and 341 (Free French), both flying Spitfires.
1943, On 15 May the Biggin Hill Sector tally of "kills" still stood at 998 - only two to go, when would the target be reached? Wg Cdr Deere announced it as "An easy one today, chaps. Just a quickie over Caen". With Gp Cpt “Sailor” Malan DSO DFC as Red Three, Al Deere led the Wing on “Circus” 297, a milestone in the history of Fighter Command. The sortie was a freelance sweep with the intention of stirring up any fighter opposition caused by a raid by six Mitchells and eight bomb-carrying Typhoons on Caen airfield. On a bright, clear day, the French coast was crossed at Trenville at 21,000 feet, and ten miles south of Caen a number of enemy aircraft were seen to be taking off. Blue Section went to investigate and immediately attacked a group of Fw190s. Sqn Ldr Charles took the Squadron down almost vertically in line astern and bagged two Fw190s in rapid succession. Commandant R Mouchotte of 341 Squadron was 3,000 ft above and spotted a lone FW190 under his starboard wing and was immediately after it with a long burst from dead astern. A good shot and the FW190 was destroyed. This brought the total of enemy aircraft destroyed by the Biggin Hill Wing since war began to 1001.
The landmark achievement by Sqn Ldr Charles was recorded in his Combat Report thus:
15 May 1943, Biggin Hill Wing, Circus 297, Yellow 1, 17.15, 10 miles SE of Caen, Spitfire IX (66)
I was leading Yellow Section, 611 Squadron. I saw two Fw190s at 3 o'clock starting to dive on the bombers. I crossed over to them, approaching from slightly underneath. I opened fire on the second e/a (4-sec burst) at 250 yds, closing to 50 yds. Bits came off the wings. A strike went the length of the fuselage on the right side. The underneath of the e/a went on fire. I continued overtaking and crossed over to the leading e/a who had started to turn right. I opened fire at 180 yds (5-secs) ¾ ring deflection. There were strikes on the wings and then an explosion round the cockpit. The e/a slewed to the right and went diving down. I broke left and saw a parachute over where the first combat took place. This is confirmed by Flt Lt Checketts (Yellow 3) who saw the pilot of the first e/a bale out, and the second aircraft dive straight in.
Claim - 2 Fw190s destroyed – signed Sqn Ldr J Charles (CAN)
I confirm seeing the pilot of the first e/a attacked by Sqn Ldr Charles bale out and the second aircraft dive straight in. Signed Flt Lt Checketts (NZ)
As all three enemy aircraft were shot down so quickly it was impossible to decide who had put paid to the thousandth one. The sweepstake was about to be won. The person naming the pilot who would claim the 1000th enemy aircraft would win £150 and the pilot himself would receive the £300. As the 999th and 1000th had been sent down at approximately the same moment, it was impossible to determine the winners. Who could claim the 1000th? At the de-briefing the Frenchman, Mouchotte, said he saw the two shot down by Sqn Ldr Charles go down first, but Charles swore that he saw Mouchotte's go down first. "Sailor" Malan, with great diplomacy ruled that they should share, so the two pilots shared the honour and the prize. A great achievement for 611 Squadron, and the winner of the £150 prize was none other than the Station Commander, “Sailor” Malan!
Biggin Hill was suddenly national news, with cameramen, journalists and reporters everywhere, and Charles and Mouchotte were national heroes. They shook hands for the cameras, signed photographs and autographs and had endless interviews.
Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar Ltd brought together four WWII veterans including Reg Findlay who was ground crew and served with 611 before and during WWII and who clearly remembers this day 70 years ago - remarkable!
Attached below are photos of the actual day and the anniversary celebrations at Biggin Hill this month. I await details of the names and units of the other three veterans and will add them as soon as I receive the information.
26 May 2013