Back to Biggin Hill
The dreary patrols flown throughout January and February 1941 were occasionally relieved by interception sorties after single reconnaissance aircraft and Tony Bartley was fortunate in catching a Heinkel on 3rd February just over Southend Pier in full view of an admiring public. His aircraft was fitted with cannons and his wildly excited voice on the radio yelling: “Christ! He’s coming to pieces, there are bits flying off everywhere. Boy! What a sight!” bore witness to the devastating effect of these new weapons. This was the first victory for 92 since December and it raised morale quite notably.
On another convoy patrol on the 5th, Pilot Officer Sam Saunders, the formation leader was startled to see one of the ships explode; his first thought was that it must have struck a mine but then, to his amazement, he saw one lone Stuka low on the water heading for France. He and the other three dived to the attack and the German pilot, seeing the Spitfires after him, turned and made for Manston presumably to give himself up, as he had no hope of survival in a fight.
The night before this episode some of the officers had been saying that if they brought down a German in one piece the thing to do would be to take him to the Mess and entertain him before bundling him off to a POW camp. The CO overheard this and he didn’t feel that there was any place for the chivalry displayed in the First World War and he gave the boys a little lecture on the reasons they were there, these being firstly to defend the country and secondly to kill as many of the enemy as possible. They learned their lesson very well as the CO later recalled.
“Having been on the first patrol of the morning, I had been back to the Mess for breakfast and was just returning to Dispersal when I heard gunfire. I stopped the car and got out to stare in amazement at the sight of one lone Stuka weaving madly in an attempt to avoid the attentions of four Spitfires. All five were coming towards me and it occurred to me that I was in the line of fire so I hid behind a vehicle that was handy. Then I saw a notice on it reading: 100 Octane – it was one of the refuelling bowsers. So I darted back to my car! Just as I reached it the Stuka reached the edge of the airfield almost directly above me at about a hundred feet. Here he was headed off by one of the Spitfires and I could clearly see both gunner and pilot in their cockpits with the De Wilde ammunition bursting around them. The Spitfire overshot and pulled away and the German made another desperate attempt to land and turned violently to port but at this instant Pilot Officer Fokes, in my aeroplane, flashed past me and gave a short burst with the cannons. I can still hear the thump-thump-thump of them followed by the terrific whoosh as the Stuka blew up and crashed just outside the boundary of the airfield.
“My words had been taken rather too literally, as it would have been better to have let him land; at that time we did not possess an intact Stuka and it would have been very useful, particularly in setting at rest the minds of those vociferous Members of Parliament who complained so long and so loudly about the fact that the Royal Air Force had no comparable dive-bomber and in so doing gave the Stuka an importance it did not deserve – certainly not in attacks on England.”
The German crew, both of whom were killed, were a very brave, if foolhardy pair. They had come over alone from their base in Belgium bombed and sunk the ship right under the noses of the fighters while they must have known that their chances of getting home were practically non-existent.
Two days later one of the Flight Commanders took off with his number two, Pilot Officer Bill Watling, to do a weather test. The visibility was very bad and they lost contact. The Flight Commander was extremely lucky and managed to land back safely at Manston but nothing was seen or heard of his number two, At 11.45 the Squadron received a phone call from Hawkinge to say that a Spitfire had crashed into a hill near Deal in the mist. This turned out to be Bill Watling. He was killed instantly. His death was a severe loss to all on 92 and the only fatality to occur during the six months that Johnny Kent commanded the Squadron.
Several more patrols were made until 20th February when the Squadron returned to Biggin Hill. No enemy aircraft were seen on any of these but on one occasion on the 4th, Don Kingaby was flying alone when he caught sight of a lone enemy raider. He gave chase across the channel but didn’t catch up with it until he was over France. It was another ME 109 which he sent down to crash near Cap Gris-Nez. This brought the total bag of the Squadron up to two hundred and sixty confirmed, probables and damaged.
Everyone was very happy to be back at Biggin Hill. The Officers’ Mess was back in the original building that had been evacuated at the time of the ‘Blitz’.
At this time the Permanent Duty Pilot was a certain Douglas Stephenson, an American who had served with the Royal Air Force in the First World War, and later joined the staff of the Beaverbrook newspapers. Through him and his most charming wife, the well-known actress Jeanne de Casalis, a great many of the leading figures in the theatrical world came to Biggin and often would put on an impromptu show. Not being subjected to censorship a very free rein was given to their talents, the results being appreciated by all.
Wing Commander Stephenson’s role was to give assistance on the ground to any pilot in trouble in the air. Operational pilots were not called upon to carry out the function of Duty Pilot. The Stephensons were generous to a fault and often acted as hosts to our ‘fighter boys’, not only in their own home, but in London’s West End.
On 22nd February His Majesty the King decorated Flight Lieutenant Villa with the DFC and Bar and Flying Officer Wright with the DFC. Three days later Squadron Leader Kent, Flight Lieutenant Kingcome and Flying Officer Bartley were decorated with the same medal. On the same day the Squadron heard that the CO was posted on promotion to Wing Commander and would be replaced by Squadron Leader Jamie Rankin. The departing CO, in his autobiography, sums up his few months on 92 as follows:
“It was with great regret that I handed over command of the ‘Ninety-Second Foot and Mouth’ as the Squadron called itself, on the eve of what we expected to be a renewal of the German Offensive. I handed over early in March to a more than worthy successor Squadron Leader Jamie Rankin who was to make a great name for himself in the ensuing months eventually taking over the Biggin Hill Wing when Sailor Malan was sent on rest.
“Despite my regret I did have the satisfaction of having taken over what was something approaching an undisciplined, leaderless mob and six months later, handing over a first class fighting unit composed almost entirely of the same individuals as when I had arrived. Whereas, on my first assuming command the Squadron was on the point of being moved north out of the line I was not only successful in stopping this but the Squadron was to go on and complete fifteen months in the line at Biggin Hill the longest tour of any Squadron. Finally at the end of the war it was credited with a greater number of kills than any other fighter squadron even including 303 (Kosciusko) Squadron!
“What is even more important is that we had proved that the 20 mm Hispano could be made to give reliable service and in destroying several enemy aircraft with these weapons gave ample proof of their effectiveness.”
Jamie Rankin a twenty eight year old Stocky dark-haired Scotsman arrived at Biggin Hill on 26th February 1941. If he was feeling a little nervous he might have been excused. He had just been promoted Commanding Officer of ‘One of the roughest toughest and finest squadrons in the Royal Air Force’, station at the ‘best known fighter airfield in Britain’, commanded by ‘one of the Royal Air Forces greatest fighter aces’. The Wing Commander was of course Sailor Malan who, with over twenty victories, was one of Fighter Command’s top-scoring aces. The station, Biggin Hill, the top-scoring station in Fighter Command. The Squadron – Number 92, the top scoring squadron in Fighter Command and Rankin had not one Hun to his credit. In fact he had not even met the Luftwaffe in combat. However, Rankin need not have had any misgivings over his new position, for within a few weeks he proved he had all the qualities of a first class fighter leader – wonderful eyesight, brilliant marksmanship, excellent flying skill and an ability to seek out and turn to advantage the slightest weakness of the enemy. He had also a quality which eluded many aces, an uncanny sixth sense which enabled him to control an air battle against a number of enemy fighters and yet at the same time be able to shoot down an enemy aircraft himself – and still have time to guard his own tail and be on the look-out for any other pilot of his Squadron who might have run into trouble.
Rankin started his career in the Fleet Air Arm but in July 1939 transferred to the Royal Air Force as an instructor with Training Command. He did no operational flying until he took over command of the East India Squadron. For over a month the Squadron were sent on uneventful patrols. There was one incident, however, on the 19th of March when the CO led the Squadron up to thirty six thousand feet. Three were forced to land due to engine failure and Rankin himself passed out owing to lack of oxygen. He regained consciousness at twelve thousand feet but his engine had overheated and he was forced to crash land near Maidstone. Newly commissioned Pilot Officer Le Cheminant also crash landed and the Free French Pilot de Montbron crashed on landing at Chatham.
On March 3rd, Pilot Officers Duke and Brettell and Sergeant Rippon were posted to the Squadron, bringing the numbers back up to twenty three.
The next encounter with the Luftwaffe was on 11th April when four Spitfires were ordered to sink a Heinkel 59 Seaplane which was being towed back to France by an enemy ship. The four to go were the CO, Brian Kingcome, and Sergeants Lloyd and Gaskell. The enemy Seaplane was shot up and sunk and the tow ship badly damaged. During this operation fifteen 109s attacked and shot down Sergeant Gaskell who was seen going down into the sea. Jamie Rankin attacked the enemy and was able to see his bullets striking the cockpit of one of them before he was set upon by three more Messerschmitts. He avoided their attacks and managed to return to base without further incident.
On the 14th three new Dutch pilots were posted to 92 and ten days later Jamie Rankin was on patrol over Dungerness with one of them, Flight Lieutenant Bruinier. They intercepted a 109 which Rankin set on fire, then Bruinier fired at it and they watched it go down in flames. The pilot baled out and by the time Rankin landed they heard that the enemy had been taken prisoner. That brought the number of confirmed kills to a hundred and thirty three.
Pilot Officer Neville Duke received his first taste of air combat a few days later. Seven aircraft were on patrol at 13.00 hours and encountered four 109s near the French coast. Pilot Officer Fokes shot down one which went into the sea and Pilot Officer Maitland-Thompson and Duke shot at another but the result wasn’t seen.
One of the Dutch Pilots, Pilot Officer Pennys, was posted to 611 Squadron. A few days later the Squadron heard that he was reported missing. From this time onwards nearly all the encounters with the Luftwaffe were with the ME 109s. On the 9th May Flying Officer Wade and Sergeant Bowen-Morris intercepted a formation of them. Bowen-Morris shot one down and another, which was on Wade’s tail, crashed when his controls broke due to the violent evasive action taken by the Spitfire which he was trying to track!
The Squadron’s 109 ace himself, Don Kingaby had yet to claim several more of that type. On 16th May he scored a probable over the channel and later in the day shot down one which was confirmed.
June was ‘Messerschitt Month’ for Rankin, between the 12th and the 26th, destroyed eight of these enemy fighters in addition to claiming another as probably destroyed. The first he took out in a head-on attack and sent his quarry down into the sea. He received three machine gun bullets in his own wing in this combat but was unhurt himself.
The Luftwaffe got their revenge on the 14th after the CO had shot at a 109 which went down vertically into the mist near the ground. Flight Lieutenant Wright and Sergeant Payne were badly shot up and crash landed at Lympne and Hawkinge. Flight Lieutenant Kingcome and newly commissioned Sub Lieutenant de Montbron’s machines were slightly damaged in the same combat.
On the 16th, Wade and Bowen-Morris destroyed two 109s and the CO and Brian Kingcome got two probables but once again Kingcome was badly shot up. Similar scores were achieved on 17th and 18th.
Then on the 21st Jamie Rankin shot down two more in two sorties. The Squadron was covering the withdrawal of bombers from France when Rankin dived on a line ME 109 flying about two thousand feet below him. He fired both cannons and machine guns from directly astern of the 109 and had the satisfaction of seeing the tail of the enemy fighter break off and the pilot bale out. Two hours later whilst leading the Squadron on a sweep to Gravelines and Boulogne, he attacked three Messerschmitts just off the French coast near Boulogne. He fired one short burst and one of the 109s rolled over onto its back and then dived into the sea. Sergeant Aston’s Spitfire V, R 6923 was shot down and crashed into the sea but he was able to parachute down, inflate his rubber dingy and was picked up safely. He returned to camp later from Dover. The day’s bag for the Royal Air Force was twenty eight Huns to a loss of five of ours; two pilots being safe. Later it was ascertained that Sergeant Aston had shot down a 109 before he was shot down himself, and Tich Havercroft had a ‘damaged’ to add to his score.
Two days later during an afternoon sweep Jamie Rankin shot down two Messerschmitts in less than a minute. The Biggin Hill wing as usual led by Sailor Malan were on a ‘Circus’ as these large sweeps were known. They were just turning between Bethune and Lille when several aircraft were sighted and the Wing Leader ordered Number 92 to investigate. The boss led his squadron towards the enemy formation from the rear and on identifying them as ME 109s set fire to one of them with a no-deflection shot from short range. The remaining 109s began to take violent evasive action, but he got in a two-second burst at one which was climbing hard to the right. Black and white smoke shot out behind the Messerschmitt, and then he had to break away himself as another Messerschmitt came in behind him. On looking down a few seconds later the boss saw the first 109 blazing furiously and the second just beginning to burn and the pilot baling out.
Don Kingaby and Pilot Officer Archer destroyed one each and Neville Duke claimed one damaged. The latter had to land at Lympne. Sergeant Bowen-Morris was reported missing from this operation but a pilot was seen floating in the water just off the French coast and the other pilots hoped that he was Bowen-Morris. Three months later news arrived that Hugh was alive and a POW but had been seriously injured and had had an arm amputated. It wasn’t him seen floating in his dinghy at all. He had landed wheels up near St. Omer without the use of his right arm which had been practically blown off by an exploding 20 mm shell.
During the last week in June another nine ME109s were shot down for the loss of one with the pilot, Sergeant Aston, reported missing. The ME 109s shot down were claimed by Pilot Officer Dougall, Flying Officer Wade, Pilot Officer le Cheminant, Sergeant Payne, Flight Lieutenant Wright and Pilot Officer Duke. This was the second time Aston had been shot down in five days. His aircraft P 8532 crashed but he parachuted safely and was taken prisoner.
It was Duke’s first of many kills, which he made on returning alone from an escort mission to St. Omer, having been separated from his Squadron. He saw an ME 109 attacking a Spitfire near Dunkirk, dived on the enemy fighter and opened fire from a hundred and fifty yards. White smoke streamed out behind the damaged fighter and it went straight down to crash a few miles inland. On his very next mission, whilst diving to avoid an enemy attack, Duke cracked his ear drums and it was another three weeks before he flew again. He returned to operations as wingman to Sailor Malan, the Biggin Hill Wing Leader, and during the next few weeks learned a great deal about combat flying from the celebrated South African Ace.
So ended June 1941 with no less than thirty four ME 109s destroyed, probably destroyed or damaged in the last eleven days, for the loss of only four machines and two pilots. For this unparalleled feat, telegrams of congratulations were received from Sir Archibald Sinclair (minister for Air Defence) and the Air Officer Commanding. The notable individual achievements, led to numerous decorations in the following weeks. Flight Lieutenant Wright was first with a Bar to his DFC and Pilot Officer Wade next with a DFC.
Two further escort missions on the 2nd and 3rd of July provided Don Kingaby with the opportunity to add three more ME 109s to his score although one of them he only claimed as a probable. These successes led to the award of a Bar to his DFC. The citation to the award said that “He had continued to prove himself a very able Section Leader who fought with coolness and courage”.
“A blessing in disguise” was how Don described the combat on 2nd July, when he destroyed two 109s. The Squadron was returning from a sweep to Lille in the early afternoon, when two aircraft, which Kingaby thought were Hurricanes, dived down in front of his section. He realised that they were 109s, but by the time it was too late to do anything about it.
“The next moment two more 109s came diving down”, Kingaby said later, “and obviously the first two had been bait for us while the second pair was supposed to shoot us up”.
Kingaby whipped behind this pair and fired a long burst into each before breaking off because he suspected there might be more 109s on the way down. As he climbed he saw two more Messerschmitts diving and then a more pleasant sight, first a parachute and then two large splashes in the water made by the 109s he had attacked so successfully.
On the same day Sergeants Lloyd and Pietrasiak, a Polish Air Force pilot serving with 92, each shot down a 109 bringing the score for the Squadron to a hundred and sixty five confirmed with a total of three hundred and seven altogether.
The suspense for the ground crew and adjutant every time the Squadron went on patrol was unbearable. Usually the aircraft would split up into small groups of two or three, or sometimes return individually. Often some would land at Manston or West Malling either because they had been hit and did not want to chance the extra journey with the possibility of a fraying control wire, or just because they had used up all their fuel and couldn’t make it back home in one hop. Those left behind at Biggin would count the machines as they took off and again as they returned, but often they wouldn’t know if any were missing for several hours after they must have landed. Sadly, on the patrol on July 3rd when Kingaby claimed the probable, Lieutenant de Montbron failed to return. Also on the 6th Sergeant Todd was seen to leave the formation over the French coast as if to return to England, and was never seen again.
When the Squadron landed at 1600 hours on the following day the Prime Minister, Mr Churchill, was at dispersal. He spent some time there chatting with the pilots and watching the amazing tenacity of the ground crew as they refuelled, re-armed and repaired the aircraft. He also experienced the Squadron’s mixed feelings as they learnt in dribs and drabs how Pilot Officer Archer had shot down a 109 and damaged another, and that Sergeant Howard had crashed somewhere near Dymchurch was slightly hurt and in hospital.
July was another typical month with the Squadron giving a good account of itself. Twenty eight enemy aircraft were accounted for with the loss of six. Another two sergeants, Vinter and Waldron were reported missing, but Pilot Officer Dougall, previously reported missing, was now a Prisoner of War. Flying Officer Geoffrey ‘Boy’ Wellum was awarded a well deserved DFC on the 18th.
In August, operations which went by the amusing name of ‘Rhubarbs’ were commenced. These were in the nature of harassing attacks made by pilots either singly or in pairs, which amounted to a roving commission. Staff cars, transports, gun positions, troops, locomotives and wagons, signal boxes and similar targets were all attacked in the course of these sorties, continually harassing the enemy in Northern France.
Several combats still took place when the Biggin Wing went on their Fighter Sweeps. On August 9th Jamie Rankin was leading the Wing when they sighted and engaged a number of 109s near Le Touquet. Rankin chased and caught two of these, and in both cases scored hits with cannon shells. Later at Cap Gris-Nez whilst dog fighting with three more ME 109s, Jamie sighted another dozen approaching and ordered his section to break away and return to base. One of the Messerschmitts followed the Spitfires down at over four hundred and fifty mph, but the boss pulled up and broke to the right just as the 109 overshot, then fired a burst with his machine gun. The enemy fighter tried to turn whilst pulling out from his dive at less than five hundred feet, but failed to do so and crashed into the sea sending up a splash over a hundred feet high.
Don Kingaby also played a cat and mouse game with the Messerschmitts. He saw four 109s turning in behind him, so he climbed into the sun, lost his pursuers and then came down behind another pair near Le Touquet. He stalked this pair until he was in a position to attack the aircraft on the left. He fired a two second burst from a hundred and fifty yards; it wobbled violently, turned over and went down with glycol and black smoke pouring out. Kingaby then climbed and beneath the clouds found the other Messerschmitt going round in a steep turn, evidently searching for the Spitfire which had shot down his companion. Kingaby nipped into the clouds for a few seconds and then came out behind the 109. For half a minute or so Kingaby chased it round in circles until he eventually got in a burst of cannon fire which sent him down to crash about five miles south of Le Touquet.
After the sweep on the 9th August Jamie Rankin had brought his total to thirteen enemy aircraft destroyed and was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
On the 15th August the East India Fund presented their Squadron with twenty four beer tankards thus ensuring the Squadron’s lifelong loyalty. The presentation was made by Sir Alfred Pickford at the Dispersal.
Throughout the second half of August and September the Luftwaffe were not anxious to ‘mix it’ with the Spitfires. At the end of August Pilot Officer Dougall’s story made the newspapers. One wrote:
“A young ace Canadian fighter pilot, now a POW, gave his freedom for a comrade. His comrade was a sergeant pilot with whom he was flying over France. The sergeant pilot’s radio broke down and as he was unable to hear his Leader’s instructions he was obliged to return home.
The Canadian pilot, guessing what had happened, escorted his comrade back as far as the French coast before continuing with the Squadron. Over Cap Gris-Nez he saw three ME 109s coming up to attack the Sergeant pilot from below. The only way in which he could warn him was to fly alongside and make visual signals.
He closed in just before the enemy opened fire, waggled his wings and then banked to the right, forcing the Sergeant pilot to do the same to avoid a collision.
“As I came out of my turn,” said the Sergeant pilot, “I saw the three MEs blazing away. A split second later the Spitfire went down in flames. I hadn’t seen the Messerschmitts. Their yellow noses made a perfect camouflage against the sands. Once they got away from that background I could see them perfectly. They attacked me after shooting down the Canadian pilot and I had to use every trick I knew to escape their fire. I got away and shall be forever grateful to my comrade who saved me from certain death. I was a sitting target from below.”
The Canadian had already shot down two ME 109s. His commanding officer (a DFC himself) said of him:
“He was developing into one of the ‘aces’ of the Empire Training Scheme. He did one of the bravest things any member of this Squadron had ever done.” ”
Pilot Officer Dougall was awarded a DFC on the 19th August in recognition of this action.
Sailor Malan had come to the end of his tour of Operations at the beginning of September 1941, and Jamie Rankin was promoted to take over as the Biggin Wing Leader. The added responsibility of leading a large number of Spitfires gave Jamie a chance to show his qualities as a fighter leader, and time after time he gave his Wing all the tactical advantages of height, surprise and so on, when they encountered the German fighters over Northern France. After twenty one sorties as Wing Leader, Jamie was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The citation credited him with eighteen confirmed victories and ended with the following words:
“Wing Commander Rankin is an outstanding Wing Leader who had displayed exceptional ability, determination and courage on all occasions.”
The new Squadron Commander was twenty two year old Dicky Milne. He arrived on the 7th September and was rapidly introduced to the social side of the Squadron life as there was no operational flying, due to poor weather, and on the 8th, the anniversary of 92’s arrival at Biggin Hill, there was a big party in the mess. Several ‘Rhubarb’ patrols were flown on the 11th but then there was no more operational flying for another week. On the 13th some practice flying and formation flying was carried out over Bromley in the afternoon. Then some night flying was attempted. Sergeant Atkins overshot and went over on a wingtip and crashed and Sergeant Postethwaite crashed from twenty five hundred feet. No explanation was given as to why he got into a dive out of control. He crashed into a house near the aerodrome and was killed.
On the 17th at 1500 hours a fighter sweep led by Jamie Rankin took place over France. Several combats were fought and Pilot Officer Brettell was shot up and wounded. He landed at Hawkinge and was rushed to hospital. Pilot Officer Bartholomew, also shot up, had to bale out over the Channel. Sadly it was reported later that he had drowned. Sergeant Cox got a confirmed 109F and Flight Lieutenant Lund scored a probable. On this same day the order was given to move to Gravesend on the 24th.
No more enemy aircraft were destroyed before the Squadron left Biggin Hill but Sergeant Hickman failed to return from a sweep on the 20th.
At Gravesend the officers were billeted at Cobham Hall, only two miles from the aerodrome, which they found very comfortable indeed.
Operational flying commenced the very next day and on the 27th several combats took place. The CO scored one probable and one damaged. Sergeant Johnston also one probable and one damaged, and Pilot Officer Beake damaged one. Everyone got back safely but some bullet holes were found in Beake’s machine.
In October the Luftwaffe were more prepared to Mix it than they had been in the previous month. Don Kingaby by now a Flight Sergeant shot the tail off a 109 over Cap Gris-NezBartley on the 1st. On the following day the Luftwaffe got its revenge.
A sweep went off at 1200 hours to rendezvous with the rest of the Biggin Wing. One section returned to Gravesend at 1430, having seen nothing’ but the second section was bounced by a large enemy formation and only one of the four returned. The other three, Flight Lieutenant Lund, Sergeant Edge and Sergeant Port were all reported missing. Pilot Officer Bruce was injured when he crash landed at Ashford, Kent. A very bad day for 92.
On the 3rd a sweep took off from Biggin at 1430 and again 92 went into action over France. The first section led by the CO returned safely but the second section again ran into superior numbers of 109s and Sergeant Cox and Woods-Scaren were shot down. In this fight Kingaby destroyed his eighteenth victim, but later in the fight had a narrow escape. He was over Ostend at the time when his radio and reflector sight became unserviceable due to an electrical failure. A few minutes later he saw twenty ME 109s behind the Squadron and about to attack. He could not warn the rest of the Squadron because his radio was out of action, so he decided to turn into them. He fought with about six of the Messerschmitts before his cockpit was suddenly flooded with glycol and he thought he had been hit. He decided to make for the English coast before his engine failed and went into a dive with seven 109s following him. Eventually he managed to elude all the Messerschmitts except one, which gradually crept up on him. Kingaby realised that he would have to turn and fight. After two complete turns, Don had got on the tail of the 109 and chased it down to five hundred feet; he gave it a short burst of both cannon and machine gun fire, aimed through a bead sight which he always had fitted to his aircraft. The burst caused smoke to issue from the 109 which next moment dived straight into the Channel. Kingaby flew back to England, landed at Manston and discovered to his surprise that his Spitfire had not a single bullet hole in it. The glycol in the cockpit had come from the windscreen anti-freeze device, which had gone wrong due to the electrical failure.
By the end of the day 92 had lost a total of five pilots and seven Spitfires in the last two days. A very bad show.
The 10th October 1941 was the second anniversary of the reformation of the Squadron. Only thirty four of the original members of the Squadron were still serving and a party was given by them in London. They left Gravesend in a coach at 2 pm with their guests Squadron Leader Milne the CO, Flying Officer McGowan the adjutant, and Flying Officer Wiese the Intelligence Officer. The party attended the Victoria Palace to see ‘Black Vanities’ and afterwards had dinner at ‘Oddeninoes’. It was a very successful party and the spirit of the ‘Gallant 92’ was revived to its old place in the hearts of all who had served with the grand Squadron. The News Chronicle reported the event saying:
“They also celebrated their 190th confirmed victory; their 15th DFC and six Bars and their second DFM and one Bar.
Many of the remaining members of the Squadron either died during the Battle of Britain last year or have since been transferred to other Squadrons, but last night a toast was drunk to all who have been members.
Said one of the original members : “We’ve had great aces among us, like Wing Commander Tuck DSO DFC with two bars, who shot down 22 before he left the Squadron, and we’ve had great days, such as the 23rd and 24th May over Dunkirk, when we shot down eight and 13 each day. But our greatest day was Sunday September 15th when we destroyed seventeen German bombers in as many minutes.”
Ace man is now a flight sergeant (D E Kingaby DFM and bar), who had seventeen and a third enemy aircraft officially credited to him. In addition he had six probables and ten damaged.
The Squadron, one of Britain’s most famous Spitfire Squadrons which in one of the historic ‘so few’ mentioned in the Air Ministry official ‘Battle of Britain’ pamphlets now have a record which stands as follows:
One hundred and ninety confirmed, eighty two probables; eighty six damaged.”
The Squadron featured in the papers again three days later. A sweep went off to escort our bombers to a power station near Lille. The CO had to turn back early because his oxygen system was not working properly. When pounced on by some Messerschmitts, according to the Air Ministry News Service, the lone Spitfire proved no easy prey.
With a quick burst he destroyed one Messerschmitt. Then to escape the others he dodged and twisted so effectively that two of the German fighters crashed into each other while trying to follow him.
The CO then went on to damage a fourth and returned safely. This was the best individual single day’s score since 92 became operational and the Squadron was very proud of the splendid work of Squadron Leader Milne.
On the 20th of October the Squadron moved to Digby in Lincolnshire, its main occupation was still fighter sweeps but for the remainder of the year the poor weather severely limited the scope of operations.
Kingaby became the first Royal Air Force pilot ever to win three DFMs when he was awarded a second Bar on the 2nd November. The official citation paid tribute to “his great skill and courage” and “his determination and sound judgement, combined with a high standard of operational efficiency.” On the same day he ended his first tour of operations and was posted to an Operational Training Unit at Grangemouth, where he was commissioned and then became a flying instructor, later he went to lead his own Squadron, No 122 and was awarded the DSO. Then in 1943 he became Wing Leader of the Hornchurch Spitfire Wing.
On the 5th Squadron Leader Milne was awarded a bar to his DFC. The News Chronicle reported it by saying:
“Twenty two year old Richard Maxwell Milne took over command of “92” the hottest fighter Squadron in the Service last September. You count the merit of a Squadron by the average kill of its pilots, not the totals of a few. Milne led it on nineteen sweeps; he destroyed at least three and damaged two German planes. That brings his total to eleven destroyed, two probables and eleven damaged. ‘Dash and good judgement’ says his citation.”
The month of December passed quite uneventfully then at 1200 hours on 27th December the Squadron was withdrawn from the line before being posted overseas. Nobody knew where. The Squadron had been in action continuously since the dark days of the evacuation from Dunkirk. Many pilots, later to win high positions and fame in the Royal Air Force had flown with the Squadron, which was already noted for the efficiency and prowess, and for the happy atmosphere which prevailed amongst all ranks and trades. With a total of one hundred and ninety three enemy aircraft destroyed, eighty eight probables and eighty six damaged their record stood high amongst the top-scoring fighter squadrons.