The Biggin Hill Wing 1941 : From Defence to Attack - by Peter Caygill

Discussion in 'Books and Films' started by Antipodean Andy, Dec 12, 2008.

  1. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Peter Caygill’s latest work focuses on Biggin Hill’s part in Fighter Command’s 1941 offensive operations as it tried to wrest the initiative from the Luftwaffe. The Big Wing “formula” is applied to this task and the results, as analysed by the author, are interesting if not surprising.

    Following a brief history of Biggin Hill and an overview of the familiar, but necessary for context, conflict between 11 and 12 Groups and the subsequent ascendancy of Sholto Douglas and Leigh-Mallory, the Wing’s operations are reviewed in great detail. Following a fascinating and lively chapter on 264 Squadron’s Defiant night-fighter ops (some of the earlier daytime scores for this unit are impressive) during their brief stay, the Wing’s offensive operations really begin to get into gear as finer weather conditions prevail. Like any good unit history, fascinating characters come and go and there are many familiar names – Malan, Wellum, Richey, Duke, Sheen – in the thick of the action in the air and on the ground. The author has excelled in blending details gleaned from squadron ORBs and combat reports into seamless accounts of each month’s frenetic activity. These accounts are ably supported by fascinating extracts from the ORBs themselves, individual pilots’ memoirs/anecdotes and often seemingly obscure biographical details from both sides.

    Fighter Command’s campaign is initially successful but the pilots are pushed hard. Don Kingaby’s (92 Sqn) logbook, for example, is recorded as listing 23 shows over France in the first three weeks of April! Escorting small numbers of bombers to entice the defending Germans up for a fight met with varying degrees of success but the defenders soon became adept at waiting to pick off stragglers and aircraft heading home on their own. As the RAF had done during the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe used new radar installations to good effect. These, coupled with the superior climbing performance of the Me 109F and, late in 1941, the new Fw 190A, enabled the Germans to dictate when and where they engaged the escort Wings. By the end of the year, it was clear the Germans had, with just two JGs, regained the initiative and, in Fighter Command, questions were being asked as to the effectiveness of the 100+ Circus operations flown that year.

    Unlike the RAF in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was not forced into the air by large bomber formations that threatened material damage. The organisation of the various escorting Wings also proved difficult at times with missed rendezvous and incorrect altitudes flown - often ending in substantial losses. However, by now Fighter Command could replace the aircraft and pilots with considerable ease compared to the summer of 1940. While RAF losses were considerably higher than the defending Luftwaffe fighters, Fighter Command proved itself capable of taking the fight across the Channel and set the ground work for the offensive operations that were to prevail over Occupied Europe in the years to come. Of course, you could ask whether so many squadrons were needed in the UK when North Africa, Malta and the Far East were screaming out for fighters.

    Well-written and with the “serious work” interspersed with moments of humour and high jinks typical of RAF aircrew, The Biggin Hill Wing 1941, is a fascinating look at one airfield’s, and its resident squadrons’, contribution to Fighter Command’s broadening priorities.

    Excellent appendixes include post-Biggin Hill careers of many pilots, losses, claims and details of successful evasions and involvement in the Great Escape by 1941 Wing members.
  2. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    Sadly, I would only have the deaths that occurred during that time with either Aussies or Aussies in the RAF.

    If you can tell me what squadrons were involved, I can do a sort for those and then a sort with the dates.
  3. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Geoff, I only read of three Aussies within the Biggin Hill Wing and only the loss of one of them (on page 145 - I'm taking notes for you!). I'll forward details shortly.

    The squadrons involved were 66, 72, 74, 609, 92, 124 (all Spits) and 264 (Defiants).
  4. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    Thanks Andy!

    I will have a look and see if they match. If only 1941 I doubt any would be RAAF anyway.

    These are the squadrons concerned however only those who are buried or memorialised in the UK. The only RAF is Miller as the dates are much later for the RAAF lads.

    Y MORSHEAD, LESLIE ERNEST Flight Sergeant 413004 124sq 3/06/1943
    LEWIS, WALLACE GEORGE Flight Sergeant 404565 264sq 26/04/1942
    STUART, ANTONY INNES Flight Lieutenant 403383 264sq 26/04/1943
    RAF MILLER, ROGERS FREEMAN GARLAND Pilot Officer 42419 609sq RAF 27/09/1940
    Y NORMAN, WILLIAM DAVID Sergeant 404315 66sq 24/03/1942
    Y RITCHIE, MALCOLM JACK Sergeant 403390 66sq RAF 20/03/1942
    Y ENRIGHT, EDWIN GEORGE Sergeant 402960 72sq RAF 8/12/1941
  5. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    264 and 609 left the Wing during the course of 1941. I'll post the details from the book shortly.

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