During Reconnaissance flights made by the RAF on the Western Front numberless “dog fights” with German aircraft took place. One of the most thrilling of these, when five RAF machines encountered 15 Messerschmitt fighters, was described in a Ministry of Information bulletin on October 1st.
The wounded navigator of the squadron leader’s plane summed up the fight, and the feelings of the crew when he said, “old hitler’s given me a bit of a headache, but that’s nothing to what we’ll give him.”
Orders had been given for an RAF patrol to reconnoitre a position behind the German line in the most strongly defended part of the Saar. Anti-aircraft batteries put up a fierce barrage, but the British aircraft went through it successfully.
When well over the frontier, at a height of over 20,000 ft., the squadron leader sighted the enemy. Out from behind a bank of cloud came nine Messerschmitt fighters. They approached from directly ahead, flying 2,000 ft. higher. Away on the right another six swooped to attack. Breaking formation, the Germans concentrated mass fire on each British plane in turn. Three of our planes were shot down. Another made a forced landing, but out of the 12 men forming the crews eight were to be seen escape by parachute.
The squadron leader alone was left, but he flew on just the same to finish his job. Dodging, side-slipping and banking, he got away from the concentrated enemy fire, but held the course set for the reconnaissance. Meanwhile, in the tail of the aircraft the air gunner kept up a steady fire. A stream of bullets hit the engine of the leading Messerschmitt. The enemy plane swerved, and in a second burst into flame and plunged to earth. Keeping up his fire, the gunner landed further bursts into a second fighter. With black smoke pouring from the nose it went down in a spin. Two hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition had accounted for two enemy aircraft. Shaken by the gunner’s steady and accurate fire, the 13 remaining Germans gave up the fight.
The navigator, the third member of the crew, kept his pilot on the homeward course, though his instruments were smashed and he was also wounded in the forehead. The aircraft, when it landed, had 8 bullet holes in the fabric, the ailerons and rudder were damaged, both petrol tanks were burst and flooding the inside of the fuselage with petrol and fumes. As they crossed the frontier the engine failed. From the starboard tank petrol poured through a bullet hole each time the plane banked, but by stopping up the hole with his handkerchief the pilot was able to save enough petrol to get home. As the plane touched down it spun in a circle, cartwheeled over on one wing and caught fire. The navigator was flung out on his head with his clothes on fire. The gunner was jammed inside, but the navigator hauled him out and smothered his blazing coat with bare hands. The squadron leader had been flung clear and was picked up dazed, but not seriously hurt.