127 Wing Operations

The date is Sunday 2 July 1944
In the table below 'claims' denote destroyed, probably destroyed and damaged; 'type' refers to source of loss (eg AA=anti-aircraft fire, MF=mechanical failure, GF=German fighter) or in the case of a claim it is the type of enemy aircraft; 'loss' records Cat B=repairable, Cat E=write-off, Cat Em=lost over enemy territory; 'fate' records KIA=Killed in Action, SAFE=parachuted to safety, POW=parachuted but was made Prisoner of War, EVD=parachuted but evaded capture, WND=wounded.
time place squ'n name serial claims type loss fate
1508 Caen 403 F/L J D Lindsay ML411 3 - 0 - 0 109    
1508 Caen 403 F/L A R MacKenzie MJ348 1 - 0 - 1 109    
1508 Caen 403 F/L M J Gordon MK730 1 - 0 - 1 109    
1508 Caen 403 F/L W J Hill MJ570 .5 - 0 - 0 109    
1508 Caen 403 F/O R B Greene MK859 .5 - 0 - 0 109    
1508 Caen 403 S/L E P Wood ML180 0 - 1 - 2 109    
1508 Caen 403 F/O F W Thomson MK881 0 - 0 - 1 109    
1515 Caen/Bayeux 421 F/L G E Stepenson ML140   AA CatB safe

All three squadrons were coming and going all day and the airstrip was in a continuous buzz as ground crews prepared, patched, loaded and filled their beloved Spitfires. By two o'clock in the afternoon the weather had changed very little from early in the morning - three distinct layers of cloud at about 5,000, 7,000 and 12,000 feet. The layers broke up or filled in somewhat over time, ranging from 3/10ths to 6/10ths cover. Sun broke through occasionally, but for the most part it was just a bright cloudy day.

The wing had already flown five armed recces and two patrols with only a couple of destroyed trucks to show for it, when 12 aircraft of 403 Squadron fired up their Merlin engines and prepared to go on another patrol. S/L EePee Wood taxied his aircraft, with its prominent KH-A painted on each side, along one of the dirt strips accompanied by his wingman F/O Red Thomson. Behind him, moving in pairs were the other 10 Spitfires preparing for take-off on this squadron-strength patrol of the beachheads and the Cotentin Peninsula. On the wing of each Spitfire sat a ground crew member.

Two-by-two the Spitfires moved onto the wire mesh runway, wing-sitters jumped off, the aircraft gathered speed and took off. The adjutant noted the time at 1410 hours. The other pairs took off immediately after the leader, snapping up their undercarriage when they were a mere ten feet off the ground. As they climbed to form up over the sea, F/S Ron Forsyth's Spitfire began to run roughly and he turned back and landed. The remaining 11 aircraft climbed to 8,000 feet. F/L Doug Lindsay was flying his first day as the replacement commander of 'B' Flight.

They flew west cutting diagonally in over the coast beyond OMAHA beach, until just inland of the beaches past Carentan they wheeled right and flew north-west up the Cotentin Peninsula to Cherbourg before turning and retracing their steps. On the return route they flew inland along the bomb line until they were over Caen. From time to time light flak met them, but at Caen the flak was heavy, intense and very accurate, causing them to take evasive action until they were east of Caen and out of harm's way. At that moment - 1508 hours - they spotted about 20 Bf 109s 2,000 feet below them. As previously rehearsed, and without breaking radio silence, Wood went into a shallow dive to attack, leading red and yellow sections while Lindsay climbed with his blue section to provide some high cover. As he broke through the next higher layer of cloud Lindsay ran into another gaggle of about 15 Bf 109s. The lower formation consisted of I./JG 27 and IV./JG 27. The upper group were the aircraft of II./JG 53. All three of these Gruppen were based in fields around the town of Champfleury near Paris.

In the history of the action by these gruppen as described by Jean-Bernard Frappé, the records are confusing and we will return to this matter later, but let us start the description of the action with the combat reports of the pilots of 403 Squadron. Wood submitted the following report.

"As we came towards Caen, Bazaar (ground control) warned us of enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Blue section broke upwards through cloud. Red and yellow sections continued to fly at about 7,000 feet. Just north of Caen we saw 20-plus Me 109s. We broke into them and I got on the tail of one, and I fired at 600 yards, closing to 100 yards with 10° to 30° deflection. I gave him another long burst and saw strikes on the cockpit and along the fuselage. He broke to port. I had to disengage because other enemy aircraft were on my tail.
"I saw another enemy aircraft climbing from about 800 feet below. I fired at him and dead astern. I was so close I had to break for fear of hitting him. I fired, getting a number of strikes on his tail, wing roots and cockpit. The enemy aircraft continued on climbing slightly, suddenly turned and rolled on aileron turns. I saw flames shoot out of him as he was falling into a vertical dive. I kept watching him until he was about 3,000 feet from the deck and apparently out of control.
"I closed on a third Me 109. I got within 50 yards range and directly behind him. I saw strikes on cockpit and wing. I was forced to break off again because of other enemy aircraft."

Wood claimed one aircraft destroyed and two damaged. We pick up the rest of the story from F/L Andy MacKenzie who led yellow section.

"Red and yellow sections engaged 20-plus Me 109s over Caen at approximately 8,000 feet. I closed to 400 yards on two 109s and they broke upward and to starboard. I closed on one to 300 yards and opened fire. It broke port and I then closed to 100 yards, after a long burst of 4-seconds the aircraft burst into flames, rolled on its back and I watched it crash in flames one-half-mile east of Caen.
"I saw another aircraft at about 6,000 feet climbing steeply towards the east. I closed to 150 yards firing about a 4-second burst. The port wheel fell down and I saw five cannon strikes on the cockpit. The aircraft then seemed to spiral down out of control but I was unable to watch the outcome as two enemy aircraft were attacking from four o'clock. I last saw the enemy aircraft at about 3,500 feet."

F/O Bob Greene and F/L Mac Hill submitted a shared claim for the destruction of an enemy aircraft. Here is the way they reported -- first Greene's account, then Hill's.

"We were flying west toward Caen when we sighted 15-plus Me 109s ahead of us at about 6,000 feet. We chased them and fired a short burst at one of the 109s from line astern and 250 yard range. He slowed down and his port wheel dropped down. He started to go down and was weaving violently. His speed had increased greatly. I kept firing at him. My starboard cannon stopped and I ran out of ammunition. I called on F/L Hill to finish him off, which he did. The pilot finally baling out and the aircraft crashing into the ground."

"We saw 15-plus Me 109s ahead of us and at the same height. We gave chase. The tailing section of three broke to starboard. I turned onto the last of the three and was about to open fire when another Spitfire almost collided with me and I had to break away. I looked back and saw this enemy aircraft being attacked by this Spitfire and saw strikes. I circled above them and the pilot of the Spitfire (F/O Greene) called up on the R/T and told me he was out of ammunition. I fired again from 300 yards with 10° deflection, a second burst and saw strikes on engine and wing root. White smoke poured from him and he started to go down. The pilot baled out at about 3,000 feet. The enemy aircraft went into the deck about 10 miles south-east of Caen."

Lindsay took blue section up to attack the Bf 109s of II./JG 53 who were flying at 12,000 feet. For his pains he performed that rare feat of claiming three aircraft destroyed on one mission. His report was as follows:

"I was flying Blue One with 403 Squadron, on a front line patrol. We were flying west at about 6,000 feet near Caen, when Bazaar warned us of enemy aircraft in the vicinity. Our section broke upward through cloud to about 12,000 feet and sighted 15-plus Me 109s in front and approximately two miles away. We immediately tried to engage and closed slowly from line astern. The enemy aircraft were flying sections of five line astern. I attacked the port section and opened fire at 300 yards on the trailing enemy aircraft from line astern. I saw strikes around the cockpit and wing roots. Black smoke poured from him and he half-rolled then went diving straight down into the deck.
"I attacked the next one in line firing from 300 yards allowing 15° deflection and again got strikes on cockpit and wing roots. The coop-top was jettisoned and pilot baled out at about 2,000 feet, and the aircraft spun into the ground.
"The next enemy aircraft in line had dove down towards the deck by this time. I closed on him from 300 to 250 yards and with 10° to 15° angle off, fired seeing strikes on the cockpit. This pilot also baled out at about 2,000 feet."

F/L Mac Gordon was with Lindsay when he performed this feat of nabbing three aircraft in a row. Gordon's report adds something to the drama of the battle up on top, but it also reveals something of the Intelligence Officer's role in corroborating all this. The intelligence officer was F/L Henry Martin.

"I was flying Blue Three with 403 Squadron on a front line patrol. We were flying west to our base at 6,000 to 7,000 feet and near Caen when control warned us of enemy aircraft in the area. Our section broke up through cloud to 12,000 feet and nearly about 20 Me 109s directly ahead of us and about two miles away. We gave chase toward south-west. They broke around in a circle. I got on the last one's tail and fired a fairly long burst with a full ring of deflection from about 200 to 75 yards. I saw strikes on cockpit and fuselage and wings. Black smoke poured from him and he rolled over into cloud. I got onto the tail of a second enemy aircraft and followed him around and down through cloud to about 6,000 feet. It was then that I saw an enemy chute come down through cloud.
"I opened fire on the second enemy aircraft from 150 yards from dead astern. I saw strikes and pieces fall away. The pilot baled out but his chute failed to open and the aircraft went down into deck."
"Assessment of Me 109 damaged - F/L Gordon . F/L Gordon in his personal combat report is claiming one Me 109 damaged pending further assessment and a second Me 109 destroyed. At the time of the combat no other aircraft was in this area which was about 12 miles south-west of Caen. The 109 he claims as damaged was hit and with black smoke pouring from it, half-rolled into cloud at 9,000 feet. He then followed another Me 109 round and down through the cloud layer at 6,000 feet. It was then that he saw an enemy parachute come down through cloud.
"Blue section of 403 Squadron were the only section to engage enemy aircraft in this area, the other two sections having engaged another gaggle of enemy aircraft to the east of Caen. In blue section only F/L Lindsay and F/L Gordon fired at enemy aircraft. The pilots who baled out from aircraft engaged by F/L Lindsay were both seen to bale out at about 2,000 feet. F/L Lindsay orbiting around at about 1,000 feet in the area where the section had engaged the enemy aircraft saw five distinct fires on the ground which he states were in all possibility burning aircraft. In the engagement we suffered no casualties so those fires if they were burning aircraft would have been enemy aircraft. From the evidence it would appear that this Me 109 F/L Gordon is claiming as damaged might well be a destroyed; the parachute he saw at 6,000 feet coming from the Me 109 he damaged and which disappeared in cloud. It is requested that this claim of one Me 109 damaged be examined and re-assessed if it is deemed necessary."

At the top of the combat report there is a hand-written annotation stating that the damaged was up-graded to a destroyed. So Gordon was officially awarded two Bf 109s destroyed. The final tally of claims by 403 Squadron was seven - three destroyed by Lindsay, two by Gordon, one by MacKenzie and one shared by Greene and Hill. All of the 403 Squadron aircraft returned safely to base, and there is no report of any substantial damage to any of the aircraft.

Now comes the mystery. As mentioned earlier, the expert on Luftwaffe activities during the Normandy Campaign is Jean-Bernard Frappé in his book 'La Luftwaffe - face au débarquement allié'. In the book he confirms that three gruppen were near Caen at 1506 hours through 1516 hours this day. However, each of the gruppen claim having shot down P-47s - five P-47s in all and they claim they shot down a Spitfire as well. Even more difficult to explain is the declared losses. The Luftwaffe records suggest that it was three squadrons of US 9thAF P-47s that shot down nearly all their aircraft. In the whole day's activity no claims were made by the US 9thAF and only one claim of a Bf 109 made by LCol Ben Rimerman of 353rd Fighter Group of the 8thAF flying P-47s. Since 20 German fighters were shot down 2 July, it could have been any of these. I believe the facts are as follows -- I./JG 27 lost Unteroffizier Günter Weigmann KIA. IV./JG 27 lost Leutnant Walter Rabenstein FTR. And II./JG 53 who Lindsay and Gordon say lost five, actually recorded four lost - Feldwebel Alfred Ostemeyer parachuted safely but was slightly wounded, Leutnant Otto Russ FTR, Oberfähnrich Karl-Heinz Trettau FTR and Oberfähnrich Günter Worm FTR. In summary, whereas 403 claimed seven destroyed, there is a record of six German losses.

There was a great thrash in the officer's mess that night to celebrate 403 getting out of the doldrums in terms of successful action. It had been a busy day. S/L Whalley summed it all up in the notes that went into the 127 Wing ORB.

"Despite variable weather conditions, again typical of the weather we have had for the past ten days, aircraft of the three squadrons carried out eleven sorties. 421 Squadron carried out an armed recce to start the day off in the Villers-Bocage/Caen area. The aircraft attacked enemy MT seen moving north. The next two sorties were carried out by 416 and 403 Squadrons respectively but were uneventful. In the third sortie 416 Squadron carried out an armed recce in the Caen/Argentan area. With 11aircraft in the squadron, they attacked MT near Argentan. Despite light and heavy flak being encountered, they left two vehicles smoking. 403 Squadron were detailed for the next flight and sent 12 aircraft up to dive-bomb Mézidon marshalling yards. One Spitfire was hit by flak but the pilot managed to return to base and land safely. The squadron dropped 12 500-pound MC .023 delay from 6000 to 3000 feet. Nine bombs were seen to land in the target area with good effect. Shortly afterwards, 12 aircraft of 421 Squadron carried out an armed recce in the Lisieux/Argentan area. MT were attacked and one was left smoking and two were damaged. During this operation two Me 109s were sighted but were lost when they dived through cloud. In the next patrol 416 Squadron returned to base without sighting any enemy targets. During the middle of the afternoon, 403 with 12 Spitfires, carried out a front line patrol with excellent results. The squadron engaged a number of enemy aircraft with the following results: -- three Me 109s destroyed by F/L J D Lindsay; one Me 109 destroyed by F/L A R MacKenzie DFC; one Me 109 destroyed by F/L M J Gordon; one Me 109 destroyed (shared) by F/L W J Hill and F/O R B Greene; three Me 109s damaged by S/L E P Wood; one Me 109 damaged by F/O F W Thomson; one Me 109 damaged by F/L M J Gordon; one Me 109 damaged by F/L A R MacKenzie DFC. 20-plus enemy aircraft were engaged during this operation. The next patrol by 421 Squadron with 11 aircraft was abortive but one of our aircraft was hit by flak but the pilot returned and landed safely. Two Me 109s were seen but the squadron was unable to engage. In the last two patrols of the day by aircraft of 416 and 403 Squadrons were uneventful. Owing to the very heavy rain falling in this area during the past week, the dust has been well and truly laid, and the topsoil has turned into mud making the roads very slippery and dangerous, but the airfield has remained serviceable despite these conditions. As I started to write this entry enemy ack-ack was heard in the distance and bursts were seen in the sky through the opening of my tent. With a pair of field glasses three Spitfires were seen to be carrying out a dive-bombing attack on a target (unknown) behind enemy lines. The flak was heavy and from the distance appeared to be rather accurate. On numerous occasions personnel of the wing are able to watch the ack-ack of the German gunners in addition to our own."

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