A Day In The Life Of A Battle Of Britain Pilot

The following would have been a typical day in the life of a Battle of Britain pilot

The sequences are based on the works of different authors with the exception that the names have been changed. This is just to give you an idea as to how a pilot may have spent his day at the height of the battle.

My apologies to the authors for the alteration of some of the phrases and the addition of some additional sentences in this account.

I woke as the airman orderly tapped my shoulder and repeated, "Come along Sir, come along Sir, 4.30" in my ear. It was very cold in the hut and dark, so I wrestled with myself for a few minutes and then jumped out of bed and put on my flying kit quickly. Irvin trousers over my pajamas, sweater, flying boots, scarf, Irvin jacket......I left the hut to look at my aero plane.
I climbed into the cockpit out of which the fitter had just stepped, "Morning Williams, morning French, put my 'chute on the tail please," I checked the instruments one by one: petrol tanks full; tail trimming wheels neutral; airscrew fine pitch; directional; gyro set; helmet on reflector sight with oxygen and R/T leads connected - in fact everything as I liked it for a quick getaway when we scrambled.

Returning to the hut I found Hathaway, the orderly lighting the fire by the light of a hurricane lamp, while Chips lay fast asleep in a deck chair, his head lolling down on his yellow Mae-West. I lay down, and immediately became unconscious as if doped.......What seemed the next moment I woke with a terrific start to see everyone pouring out of the hut.......I could hear the telephone orderly repeating: "Dover 26,000; fifty plus bandits approaching from south-east."

Horton shouted, "Scramble Bill, lazy bastard," and automatically I ran out. Parachute on, pulled into cockpit by crew who had already started the engine. Straps, helmet, gloves, check the knobs, taxi out, get into the right position in my section and take off. I put the R/T on, and only then do I wake up and realize I am in the air flying with the distance between the ground and the Spitfire increasing all the time......

George Barclay 249 Sqn - Len Deighton/ Battle of Britain p122

As the twelve Spitfires maneuvered into formation, and climbed for the east, I glanced down at my watch. Under ninety seconds. 'Not bad. Hope the old man was impressed.'
I started to wonder if we'd be too late again. Somehow the Controllers seemed slower these days. (They were - the communications network had been hard hit. But what they gave was far more accurate....well, sometimes. Everyone was learning.) "Villa Leader, hullo, Villa Leader. Many bandits approaching Dungeness, Angels 15 and above. Buster!"

Thin trails of smoke reached back from the exhaust ports. I looked over at my number two, "pull in Chips, pull in, your too far out....and pull up a bit.......and watch that sun, that's where the bastards will be coming from." and from Chips, I wouldn't expect anything else for a reply, "and I suppose you want me to watch me mirror too sir!!!"

I had to start thinking tactics, we should really add a couple of thousand feet to our directed height, better to be a little too high, than caught in the murderous fire raining down from the 109s.... Johnson, rehearsing in his mind his first - and only kill; a bomber nearly two weeks ago. Had it been a fluke? could he ever do it again? Chips, with five to his credit, wondering if was really true that you got the DFM for six kills.....he switched on the reflector sight, and turned the knurled knob until the brightness was exactly right. By now, a hardened veteran at 21, he knew what to expect. We were climbing higher; he set the bars to the wingspan of a 109. Chalkie Turner, on his first operational sortie, checking every dial, every setting again and again, practicing lifesaving tips he'd managed to pick up from the others. Get the head moving - check above, behind, to the beam......And Horton, humming contentedly away in his cockpit again, adrenaline pumping already, senses alive.

"Jesus Christ, it's the whole of the Luftwaffe......" Shimmering in the morning sun, wave upon wave of bombers, driving for London. Stepped above and behind, the serried ranks of Messerschmitts. Covering mile upon mile of sky, as far as the eye could see. It was at once magnificent and terrible.
"Villa Squadron, aim for the bombers. Look out for snappers coming down.....here they come.....Villa, break, break"

Suddenly the sky was dissolved into whirling confusion, the headphones filled with snatches of command, of exultation, of warning, of stark terror.
"He's a flamer.....Jeez, that was close.....Hey, look out!"
"Go for the bombers......more at two o'clock......"
"Hold on Hamish, I'm coming. Hold on!"
Chips was jinking left, then right, as the tracer flashed past; suddenly, a twin reared up in his sights - long glasshouse, a 110. He let fly, saw little chips float off as the Messerschmitts completed its bunt. One damaged. He dived for the protection of the haze.

I was there again, and cautiously lifted the Spitfire up again, and was once again shocked by the sight of hundreds of black-crossed aircraft in unbroken phalanxes boring for London. What had all the sweat, the turmoil, the sacrifices of the last few minutes been for I wondered. I squirted at a Heinkel, and sank below the haze as it flew solidly on. I headed east, then rose again, hoping to come on the flank of the raid. Still they were there in dozens. By now, I was quite alone, fuel was low and circled long enough to take in the sight of bombs raining down over the docks. Fires springing up from Tilbury, a vast white splash in the Thames Estuary. Probably one of our boys, I thought. I swung for home and three 109s slanted across from the right. Instinctively, fired at the nearest; it rolled onto its back and dived away. I couldn't hang around to watch the results, with the other two whipping round to attack. Yellow noses - did that really mean a crack unit? - the thought was fleeting. I fired - the guns clattered briefly, then stopped. Time to go. I shoved the nose down, twisted, jinked, aileron turned, and all the time the 109s clinged to my elusive Spitfire. These boys were really good. With the altimeter unwinding like a sweep second hand, I finally found sanctuary right down among the Slough balloon barrage, and threaded my way carefully to the west.

Douglas McRoberts/Lions Rampant pp97-99

I landed the Spitfire back at the home base, and bumped my way across the grass towards the hangars, throwing the hood back and filled my lungs with fresh, clean English air . I came to a standstill, and the ground staff were immediately taken to task in refueling and rearming. I jumped out onto the wing, then down to the ground, "Running on fumes now, are we Sir." said the sergeant bending down and looking at me from under the wing. "We both are," I replied pulling my helmet and goggles off and making my way over to 'the hut', "both of us are exhausted."
"That bad is it Sir." he said,
"....and its going to get worse, " I said walking away almost shouting, "the bastards are in London."

As I got near to the dispersal hut, I saw a lean figure hurriedly put his head out of the window, "B Flight, "Scramble!!!" he had hardly got all the words out of his mouth as five or six bodies that were lazily lounging around outside sprang to their feet and ran to their awaiting aircraft. If they're going where I think they're going, there going to be in for it. By the time I got inside, the place was deserted except for the dispatch clerk and Horton who had already beaten me down. "Any of the others back?" I asked pouring a cup of tea from the urn.

We both walked outside and sat down in the now vacant deckchairs. "No, just me, I was back first for a change," he paused, "....mind you, if it wasn't for being low on juice, I would have gone to Margate....they tell me it's nice there at this time of year."

As we sat there, almost in a melancholy silence, the others came back one by one......Chips, Hamish, Turner, it seemed that we had all made it back, a little tired, a little weary and our thoughts were with the other flight that had gone out to take our place.

The rest that we had all looked forward to was short lived. I was just about to go and see 'the old man' when the telephone rang again, there was a short silence then "Everybody up....scramble."
There had been hardly enough time to service the aircraft, but we ran all the same, fired up the Merlins and within seconds we were bouncing across the grass with throttles open, and doing it all over again.

No Margin for Error/Author

The raid on London must be continuing as we were vectored to the same position we had been earlier. Again I started to think tactics, height, gain the advantage of height and again ascended two thousand more than our directed height.

With South London below, I cached a glimpse of a formation of enemy bombers as we turn southwest of London. I decide to maneuver our section to engage a group of Dornier Do17s from the beam but at the last instant the Germans turn so that a co-ordinate assault becomes impossible. My plan has gone astray, "Villa Squadron, Villa Squadron, okay boys...pick your target, break....break." I instruct the men to break up and make individual attacks, I took the leading Dornier. I turned, then closed fast, I fire a four second burst before diving underneath and swinging around for a second attack from the other side. Again I fired for four seconds. The leading Dornier seems undamaged but suddenly the second bomber in the formation breaks away and falls into a dive. I turn off, and spot a single Messerschmitt Bf109 below and ahead. I follow it through the thick smoke billowing over the Thames and finally catch up with it over the Estuary. I fired for three seconds. The 109 is hit and I close in to 50 yards and fired for the last time. Pieces of the German fighter are torn away before it crashes into the sea.

I returned back towards London. The scene below is devastating. A huge cylinder of black smoke from burning warehouses near the docks billows steadily up into the clouds. The docks and warehouses are ablaze as London's East End is hammered.
The sun glints on the wings of the German bombers as they turn followed by the flak. Smaller planes dart in and out of the enemy formation, and the German planes are scattered but there are so many that they seem impossible to stop.

I make contact with Horton and Chips, we gain height where the air is a little clearer and more room to move in safety as the bombers are below us and with no sign of 109s. A short conversation and I instruct them to go in again. Horton picked a target and banked away and I lost sight of him as he went down. Chips put his nose down and headed for a group of three Dorniers, I follow him to the left and behind. "Villa break, Villa break, bandits two o'clock" I gathered that it would only be a matter of minutes before the 109s would be on us.

Chips is still diving down at the bombers. He is ahead of me as he closes in on a straggling Dornier. I continue to follow him down and saw him make a quarter attack on the German bomber. Large pieces fly off the enemy machine, then a wing crumples as it goes down spinning. An instant later I see a Spitfire which I assume to be that of Chips, spinning down with about a third of its wing broken off.....Has there been a collision? The Spitfire spins wildly and he has no chance to bail out. Another casualty of this wretched war.

After doing my best to forget for the time being what I saw, I turned and attacked the bombers, evaded more 109s, I get a Dornier, and a probable, and damage a Messerschmitt, but with ammunition exhausted, and fuel tanks close to empty, we land back at our airfield in ones and twos. Pilots climb wearily out of their cockpits in grim silence carrying in their minds an unforgettable picture of the seemingly impregnable bulk of the German formations and of the terrible firestorm in London.

A Few of the Few/Dennis Newton pp116-117

For the front line squadrons, the daily routine varied little. Dowding had implied that each squadron be allowed one days rest a week, but this was not always possible. A normal battle day with a day fighter squadron could begin as early as 3.30am and carried on until stand down at around 8.00pm. Some flights or entire squadrons would be at readiness to take off within five minutes which, in actual practice, meant two or three minutes. Sometimes there would be a section on standby, with the pilots in their cockpits and able to be off the ground in a minute or so. Breakfast or a sandwich lunch would probably be brought to the dispersal points around the airfield.

It was now just after midday, we had flown two sorties today and that had taken the stuffing out of most of us, we were glad of the rest, no doubt other squadrons had been sent in to relieve us were over London, and we were now enjoying the rest, no matter how brief it may be. In the intervals between flights, we dozed on beds or chairs in the crew huts - or in tents at satellite airfields - or even on the grass. Some read, some played cards, draughts or chess. Tiredness inhibited conversation.

Periodically the telephone rang jerking us all into boggled eyed alertness. More often than not the telephone orderly would call one of us to some innocuous administrative call and the tension of another anticipated order to combat receded. That telephone played hell with our nerves. I don't think any of us pilots ever again appreciated the virtues of Mr Bell's invention. Sooner or later though, the action charged instruction came through. The orderly would pause, listen and then bawl "Squadron scramble, Maidstone, Angels two zero."

Before he'd relayed the message we were away sprinting to our Spitfires, It was on again, the sheer hell of the mornings sorties were now behind us, as was the precious couple of hours rest that we had just enjoyed, only one thing remained in our thoughts, and that was to get to those Spitfires as quickly as possible.
As we ran, the fitters fired the starter cartridges and the propellers turned with engines roaring into life. From strapping in to chocks away it was just a matter of seconds. We taxied to the take off point on the broad grass airfield, and pausing only to get the last aircraft to get into position, the squadron commander's upraised hand signal then came down and I led a flotilla of twelve Spitfires that were gunning their throttles and speeding away on the take-off in a wide vic formation of flights.

As we got airborne, we snapped the canopies shut, and pulling the undercarriage lever, the wheels sucked into the wells. I glanced around on all sides making sure that the squadron were all in position. "Rastus Villa airborne" I called over the R/T, to which the ground controller replied "OK, Villa leader, one hundred plus bandits south of Ashford heading north west angels fifteen. Vector 130, Buster." Buster meant the fastest speed attainable, so there was no time for sightseeing this trip, Oh for a nice easy patrol!!

We struggled to gain every inch of height in the shortest possible time we gradually emerged out of the filthy brown haze which perpetually hung like a blanket over London. Suddenly around 12,000 feet we broke through the smog layer and a different world emerged, starling in its sun drenched clarity. Long streaming contrails snaked way above us from the Channel coast as the Messerschmitt high flying fighters weaved protectively over their menacing bomber formations. Our radios became almost unintelligible as pilots in our numerous intercepting squadrons called out sightings, attack orders, warnings and frustrated oaths. Somehow, a familiar voice of any one of our pilots would call out and break through the radio chatter with an urgent "Villa leader, bandits eleven o'clock level."

Battle of Britain/ Richard Townshend Bickers pp141-143

I fastened on to the tail of a yellow nosed Messerschmitt, I fought to bring my guns to bear as the range rapidly decreased, and when the wingspan of the enemy aircraft fitted snugly into the range scale bars of my reflector sight, I pressed the firing button. There was an immediate response from my eight Brownings which, to the accompaniment of a slight bucketing from my aircraft, spat a stream of lethal lead targetwards. 'Got you' I muttered to myself as the small dancing yellow flames of exploding 'De Wilde' bullets splattered along the Messerschmitts fuselage. Before I could fire another burst, two 109s wheeled in behind me. I broke hard into attack pulling the Spitfire into a climbing, spiraling turn, as I did so: a maneuver I had discovered in previous combats with 109s to be particularly effective. And it was no less effective now, the Messerschmitts literally "fell out of the sky" as they stalled in an attempt to follow me.

I soon found another target. About 3,000 yards in front of me, and at the same level, a Hun was just completing a turn preparatory to re-entering the fray. He must have seen me almost immediately, he rolled out of his turn towards me so that a head on attack became inevitable. Using both hands on the control column to steady the aircraft and to keep my aim steady, I peered through the reflector sight at the rapidly closing 109. We appeared to open fire together, and immediately a hail of lead thudded into my Spitfire. One moment, the Messerschmitt was a clearly defined shape, its wingspan nicely enclosed within the circle of my reflector sight, and the next it was on top of me, a terrifying blur which blotted out the sky ahead. Then we hit.

The impact pitched me violently forward on to my cockpit harness, the straps of which bit viciously into my shoulders. At the same moment, the control column was snatched abruptly from my gripping fingers by a momentary, but powerful, reversal of elevator load. In a flash it was all over: there was clear sky ahead of me, and I thought for a moment, "God, I'm still alive," But smoke and flame were pouring from the engine which began to vibrate, slowly at first, but now, with increasing momentum causing the now regained control column to jump backwards and forwards in my hand. I had to think quick, I closed the throttle, and reached forward and flicked off the ignition switches, but before I could do so, the engine seized and the airscrew came to an abrupt halt. I saw with amazement, that the blades had been bent almost double with the impact of the collision, the 109 must have been just above when we hit.

Smoke poured into the cockpit, I tugged at the hood release toggle, but could not release it, how I would welcome a rush of air now, I tried again with the normal release catch, but to no avail. There was only one thing to do, and that was to keep the aircraft under control. The speed had now dropped off considerably and with a strong backward pressure on the stick, I was able to keep a reasonable gliding altitude.

Frantically, I peered through the smoke and flame that was enveloping the engine, trying to seek out what lay ahead. I daren't turn the aircraft, I had no idea as to what other damage may have been done, and at low level, even a small turn would be out of the question.

Through a miasmatic cloud of flame and smoke the ground suddenly appeared ahead of me. The next moment a post flashed by my wing tip and then the Spitfire struck the ground and ricocheted back into the air again finally returning to earth with a jarring impact, and once again I was jerked forward on to my harness. The straps held fast, and continued to do so as the aircraft ploughed its way through a succession of posts before finally coming to rest on the edge of a cornfield. The now dense smoke blinded my eyes, and my throat felt raw, I tried to keep swallowing, but it was almost as if my tongue was being welded to the roof of my mouth. For the first time, I became frantic with fear, I tore at my harness release pin then battered at the perspex hood in an effort to escape from the cockpit which entombed me. Then at last, with a splintering crash the hood finally cracked open, thus I was able to scramble clear from the cockpit and in the safety of the surrounding field.

Based on an experience of F/Lt Al Deere For a while I was completely disorientated, come to think of it, where was I, the field was relatively quiet, and peaceful, the sky was clear, but I could see the vapor trails in one direction, "that surely must be over London, no, wait, where did we make contact with the enemy, God I don't know....yes I do, Ashford," the sky was just one huge sheet of silken haze, but a very bright spot indicated to me the position of the sun and that was the direction of west as it was now late afternoon.

I relieved myself of my helmet, and unbuttoned my Alvin jacket and decided to walk leaving the burning plane in the empty field.

Well, for me, another day over. All I had to do was to get to the nearest airfield and I would soon be back at base. My story would be told, along with the many others that would be told that evening, maybe in the mess, maybe down at the local pub, all it wanted was for someone to come up with a suggestion. After a few beers, or a game of cards, maybe a letter to the folks at home may be written....yes I owe them a letter, oh, better write a letter to "Chip's" family.....a task we all dread, then the events of the day will soon be a thing of the past, remembered just how I want to remember them, or how I describe them in my letters. Tonight, I will sleep like a baby, lost in another world perhaps, only to be interrupted by that all too familiar call....."Come along Sir, come along Sir, 4.30".

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