Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hornchurch vs the Luftwaffe - a Battle of Britain day post

Enzo Matrix recalls the story of two Battle of Britain pilots with the kind authorisation of Peter Bagshaw

During the late summer of 1940 Oberleutnant Helmut Rau was Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 3, based at Colembert in the Pas-De-Calais. While with Stab I/JG 3, he had gained four victories in the Battle of France; a Morane on 13 May, two Curtiss Hawk 75s on the following day and a Wellington on 29 May. On 24 August he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 3./JG 3.

Ronald Berry was born on 3 May 1917 in Hull. He worked for Hull’s City Corporation Treasury Department and joined the RAFVR in 1937. He was called up in June 1939, shortly before the outbreak of war. He was posted as a sergeant pilot to 603 Squadron at Turnhouse flying Spitfires and was commissioned in December of that year.
No 603 Sqn carried out defensive patrols over Scotland, gaining a number of victories. Finally, on 27 August 1940, the squadron moved to Hornchurch near London, as part 11 Group right in the thick of the Battle of Britain.
Berry was to claim 9 kills during the battle and a total of 17 during the war. He remained with the RAF after the war and served as the CO of the AFDU and 543 Sqn, flying Valiants. He retired in 1969 with the rank of Air Commodore. Ronald Berry passed away on the 13 August 2000.

On Saturday 31 August 1940, Hornchurch took a battering. The station was bombed heavily in the afternoon while 54 Sqn were taking off. One bomb detonated between three aircraft that were taking off. One, X4236, was piloted by Al Deere. All three aircraft were destroyed, but all three pilots were uninjured and were in action again the following day.
The station was again attacked in the evening. This time 603 Sqn were up and ready for the raiders. Richard Hillary and Peter Pease downed a Bf110 each. Brian Carbury claimed a Bf109 on this sortie, which made a grand total of five for the day. However, Carbury’s aircraft was hit by cannon fire, wounding him. He managed to land safely at Hornchurch.

Helmut Rau was flying top cover for the raid at 30,000 ft when they were attacked from behind by the Spitfires of 603 Sqn. Rau attempted to climb away from the attack, but saw that his wingman was in trouble. As he dived to engage the attacking Spitfire, he himself was hit.

Because of an unserviceability with his aircraft, Ronald Berry had not stayed with the rest of his unit. However, his chance came when the dogfight above him came down to his altitude. His combat report stated:

" As I had no oxygen, I had to leave the squadron at 22,000 feet and waited below in the sun for straggling enemy aircraft. After patrolling for 30 minutes, I saw a Me109 proceeding very fast. To overhaul him I had to press the emergency boost - indicated speed - 345. I caught the enemy aircraft off Shoeburyness. I opened fire at close range and fired all my ammunition until the enemy aircraft streamed with smoke and pancaked on the mud at Shoeburyness..".

Rau managed to make a forced landing on the mudflats and walked away unharmed from his aircraft. Berry made a low pass over the downed aircraft to confirm the kill and saw a defiant Rau stood on the sand, shaking his fist angrily. Rau was taken prisoner and spent the remainder of the war as a POW.

Spitfire Ia, R6626 was ordered as part of Contract No. B19713/39, built at Eastleigh. The constructor’s number was 715. It cost £4,250.
Its first flight was on 23 May 1940, flown by George Pickering Two days later it was delivered to 12MU and placed in storage. Issued to 603 Sqn on 20 July, it received the codes XT-V but was later coded XT-Y.
It was transferred to 266 Sqn on 20 October and later to 111 Sqn on 11 April 1941, where it was damaged on operations on 16 April and repaired on the unit. On the 17 June 1941, it was transferred to 58 OTU where it remained for a year. It was received by Scottish Aviation Ltd on 4 June 1942, presumably for mods and then issued to the PRU at Benson on 24 September, where it remained until withdrawn from use on 10 August 1943. Placed in storage at 222 MU, it was sold to Portugal. Embarked on the SS Empire Rhodes on 14 August, it arrived in Portugal on 29 August.

Little is known of Bf-109E-4 Werk nummer 1082 besides the fact that it was barely six weeks old when it was shot down. It was recovered from Shoeburyness and was used in a fund raising tour. In the photo it is shown on display in Bolton, Lancashire. The aircraft has three kill markings on the tail. This does not match Rau’s record so I assume that they represent the kills made by the aircraft.

Both pilots' aircraft can be modelled on the Southern Expo 'Hornchurch vs the Luftwaffe' decal sheet available from Peter Bagshaw via his link

Southern Expo Hornchurch vs the Luftwaffe decal sheet