Rescue Attempts

Ken Fenton’s aircraft had ditched, the dinghy was spotted by 3 Short Stirling 1’s from 7 Squadron, N6013 MG-A piloted by F/O Dennis Theodore Witt and N3655 MG-? Piloted by Sgt. Bernard Keith Madgwick. These aircraft were returning to Oakington from a daylight attack on Emden and Aurich, but having experienced a lack of cloud cover over their main target, they bombed Borkum seaplane base instead by daylight with 16 x 500lb bombs as an alternative on their return to base. Bursts were seen across the harbour and on the slipway. They met considerable defence from fighters, the Germans claimed 2 Stirlings at this point but none were lost at that time. Uffz Summerer from 3./JG52 claimed a Stirling at 14.00 hours 15Km West of Bokrum and another claim was made at 14.05 hours by Uffz Brey of 1./JG52, at a point North of Bokrum.

Meanwhile, at Schellingwoude at 12.01 hours, 2 Arado 196’s took off for an anti U-boat patrol off the Dutch coast.

The Blenheim crew, afloat in their dinghy, had various means to attract the attention of any passing aircraft including torches and heliographs. The heliograph, found in a pocket in their Mae West life jacket, used the sun to reflect at any passing aircraft and shine the refection into the cockpit or any watchers face.

The heliograph consisted of a mirror with a hole in it and a cross etched onto the back and a sighting scope which was a small arm with a white face and aiming hole.



1941 Heliograph, as would have been part of a bombers survival kit.

The idea was that you placed the mirror against your face, with the sighting arm about six inches in front, both lining up to the target aircraft. By moving the mirror, you could reflect the Sun onto the target aircraft. You knew you had it on target when the reflection on the back of the sighting scope showed the

F/O Kinnane, having been the first to see the three Blenheim crew members, continued to circle the dinghy trying to get a fix for the rescue operation that was soon to follow. The other two aircraft circled for a few minutes and then returned to Oakington, Kinnane’s aircraft stayed and continued to circle the dinghy sending out SOS messages. This must have been such a welcome sight for the three downed aircrew in the dingy, with the hope of a rescue.

At 15.00 hours this call was received in England, followed half an hour later by a second message that 2 aircraft had attacked F/O Kinnane’s aircraft. This was also witnessed by the returning Stirling’s who observed this attack at 15.11 hours, which does indicate that the other two aircraft remained for a while.

At 15.00 hours, two Arado Ar.196’s of 1./BFLSt196, 1/BordfliegerStaffel 196, returning to Schellingwoude at 400 meters altitude from an unsuccessful U-Boat hunting mission west of the location observed at grid reference 4426/05 east, the very slow circling Stirling from 3 kms. The Stirling turned south, then to the East and then North at low speeds. Both Ar.196’s appeared not to be observed.

The first Ar. 196 T3+GK piloted by Pilot Hptm (Hauptmann or Flight Lieutenant) Schmidt and his Bordfunker (Observer) Fw. Harings (or Hastings) attacked from 50 meters below and from a position 30 degrees to the port side of the Stirling. The Ar. 196 pulled up in a left turn and Hptm Schmidt fired it’s 22x20mm ammo from 300 meters until 50 meters away, hitting the upper cockpit and starboard wing between the inner starboard engine and the front fuselage (Luftwaffe GHQ Report July 1st 1941), before levelling off below the Stirling. Fw. Harings, the observer fired from the top gun, his flexible machine guns from 20 meters below the Stirling but his gun jammed.

The Crew of the Stirling were completely surprised and Kinnane turned his Stirling on a western course.

The other Stirling’s witnessed this attack at 15.11 hours local time. The crew of Kinnane’s Stirling, N6005, were apparently very surprised and were witnessed flying to the West.

The second Ar. 196, T3+LK, piloted by Oblt. (Oberleutnant or Flying Officer) Stav and his Bordfunker (observer) Ofw Stürtz manoeuvred his Arado into attacking position, attacked from the port side of the Stirling, diving from 50 degrees and 400 meters distance, firing its cannons. Strikes were seen from the port inner engine, along the fuselage towards the rear turret.

The Stirling dived, chased by Oblt Stav who fired another burst with his machine guns; the Stirling was again hit by bursts from Oblt. Stav’s plane. He continued to follow the Stirling, now firing his fixed gun until smoke trails could be seen coming from the Stirling.

Two Bf.109’s appeared on the scene and Oblt. Stav ordered Fw Stürtz to fire an ES signal flare. One of the Bf.109’s dived towards the burning Stirling, but did not fire. Four Bf.110’s also appeared from 6./ZG76.

The Stirling continued down and eventually crashed on its back in the North Sea at 15.20 Hours. Part of the undercarriage was still visible sometime later before the wreckage sank. Two of the Bf.110 pilot’s Ltn. (Leutnant or Pilot Officer) Oskar Hautt (Hauff?) and Uffz. (Unteroffizier or Sergent) Einar Arngrimm claimed the victory of the Stirling respectively at 15.20 Hrs. and 15.21 Hrs. at 100Kms West of Vlieland but it was awarded to Oblt. Stav and Ofw Stürtz.

Both Arado’s then circled the crash site. Wreckage was seen but no survivors.

Arado 196

There was also another Short Stirling claimed that day by the same crew members. The ditching was reported to be in ‘planquadrat 34.

Translations of the German combat account from War Diary 1./BFlSt196 – Combat account of T3 + GK and T3 + LK from de 1. Bordfliegergruppe 196 (Schellingwoude) at 1st July 1941.

Hptm Schmidt said “As tactical No.1 I was occupant of T3+GK and off the Dutch coast. We flew an eastern course. No.2 was pilot Oblt Stav and observer Fw Stürtz. At 15.00 hrs at 400 metres altitude we observed in clear sky and with moderate visibility at 3.000 metres distance a large aircraft. We pulled up, turned towards the aircraft and split up so that I was in frontal position and Oblt Stav behind me.”

“From a head on position I recognised the aircraft as a Short Stirling because of its engines. Our adversary was on western course when we saw it the first time. In a flat turn the Stirling turned via the South and East on Northern course at a remarkably slow speed. When it was on Northern course I was in a good position to attack and pulled up to cut off his turn. From a position of 30 degrees port, 50 metres below and from 300 metres distance I opened up fire with all fixed weapons, adjusting fire in a climbing port turn. The bursts first passed the cockpit, then hit the aircraft and stopped when hitting the underside of the wings to prevent overshooting the aircraft. 2 cm strikes were observed at the nose of the aircraft and starboard wing between the inner engine and fuselage. The distance was 50 metres when I quit firing. I passed the aircraft 20 metres below. The flexible MG jammed. 22 rounds were fired with both cannons.”

“Apparently the attack surprised the adversary as no return fire from nose and rear turret was experienced. Just after the attack the adversary dove away on western course and no results of the attack were observed. After turning around and the ensuing chase I saw Oblt Stav following at a rear and port position. Although jettisoning bombs and a pressure of 1.10 (330 km/h) I didn’t succeed in overtaking the adversary, rather got the impression that the distance was enlarging. Meanwhile I observed, besides Oblt Stav flying 1.000 metres ahead of me, two Bf.109’s (I/JG52) one of which was flying parallel to the adversary without attacking it while the second one made a diving attack. At a distance of 1.000 metres Oblt Stav and I turned away.”

“Soon after that I observed 4 Bf.110’s (II/ZG76) flying from the east and chasing the enemy. Before I saw them, Oblt Stav turned again towards the adversary while – as it turned out later – the adversary blew up. Several Bf.109s and the 4 Bf.110’s were circling the crash place. On arriving I only observed wreckage and no survivors.”

Oblt Stav, “On 1.7.41 I was on anti-submarine operations as tactical No.2. Towards 15.00 hrs my observer observed a 4 engine enemy aircraft, flying at starboard side. Flying at a low altitude I made a full throttle climbing right turn towards the adversary who was circling a dinghy at 400 metres altitude. At that moment the adversary was on western course and was turning a bit. I was still climbing to the west to cut off its track and to be in a good attacking position behind the adversary.”

“The speed of my adversary was very slow and it appeared that they hadn’t seen me. I was gaining height very quickly for the ideal attacking position and was turning with the adversary while I observed No.1 below and in front of the adversary. From a higher altitude and 400 metres distance I opened fire at an angle of 50 degrees and saw strikes in the port wing near the port engines. Besides that my burst also hit the fuselage from front to the rear turret. The adversary flew straight through my burst. During the first burst, the adversary was diving away so I could give a second and third long burst with cannon and machine guns. I observed strikes during both bursts.”

“I was out of cannon ammo and fired on the enemy with the fixed machine guns. While approaching sea level at 300 metres altitude I observed that the adversary was loosing speed and trailing faint smoke. When I was out of machine gun ammo I saw two Bf.109’s (I/JG52) passing me from behind on port side. My observer fired off ES signal flares. From a higher position I saw one of the Bf.109’s attacking, but no signs of a burst. Then my observer saw two other aircraft behind us, which turned out to be Bf.110’s when they turned away. While turning away my observer yelled: she’s burning! I immediately turned back behind the adversary and saw it crashing some 1.000 metres ahead. I flew over the crash place but only saw wreckage and no survivors. I didn’t observe an attack of the Bf.110’s.”

The other two returning Stirling’s were also attacked by Bf.109’s. Stirling N6005 was attacked 4 times, but rear gunner P/O J. L. A Mills, although hit in his arm and bleeding seriously, managed to shoot the Bf 109 down.

There appear to be no Luftwaffe losses, but two Bf 109’s of 1./JG52 crashed during their return landing at the airfield at De Vlijt on the Isle of Texel. These two aircraft were Werknr 8197, flown by an unknown pilot, the other one Werknr 8129, flown by Uffz Georg Brey. Both aircraft suffered 35% damage.

Stirling aircraft

Stirling aircraft of 7 Squadron at Oakington with the same recognition letters as Kinnane’s aircraft.

Kinnane’s aircraft with the full complement of crew was lost.

The body of  W/Op-Air Gunner, F/Sgt. Barrie K Nicholls was found on 15th August, 700 Meters to the South of the mouth of the river Kongeaen and was buried in Fourfelt cemetery in Esbjerg on 18th August 1941. The flight engineer Sgt. Frederick G Taylor was also found, having drifted ashore near Rejsby and was also laid to rest in Fourfelt cemetery in Esbjerg on 18th September 1941. Between them lies Sgt. John Mortimer Blundell, a 139 Squadron Blenheim V6176 Observer, who died on 30th July 1941 aged 28, when Bf110’s of II./ZG 76 claimed to have shot down 5 Blenheim’s in 12 minutes. His body was washed ashore near Nymindegab and laid to rest on 18th August 1941. The bodies of the Pilot Sgt Lawrence H Gruer and W/OP/Air Gunner, Sgt Derek G Dennis-Smithers were never recovered and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

F/O Kinnane’s body was reportedly washed ashore at Ribe and he was buried on 11/7/1941.

It was reported in a Danish newspaper The “Vestkysten” on 7/07/41 however that the following incident took place, the day before on 6th July 1941:-

Five Danish fishing vessels were attacked 50-60 miles west of Esbjerg by a number of Blenheim’s from 226 Squadron.

The Danish fishing vessel E476 “Alice” was attacked with two bombs, none of them making contact. The aircraft turned around and started a new attack, dropping a further bomb which also failed to make contact and the aircraft hit the mast of “Alice”, the pilot was observed trying to regain control of his aircraft and an airman was seen leaving the aircraft before the Blenheim hit the sea, the tail was seen floating about 30 meters astern of E476 “Alice”, soon disappearing in the sea leaving the sea covered by fuel, oil and debris of the aircraft. The body was retrieved from the sea by the vessel ‘Lajla’ but the flyer was found to be dead from severe injuries including severe facial injuries. The body was taken to Esbjerg and handed over to the German Wehrmacht who laid him to rest in Fovrfelt cemetery in Esbjerg on 11th July 1941 as an unknown English flyer. Marked as RAF in Al Stk. Row 9, Grave 22. It is of note that at Esbjerg (Fourfelt) Cemetery  there are 272 Commonwealth personnel buried from the Second World War, 25 of them unidentified.

It is further reported that after the war, the body was exhumed and was identified by the British armed forces as that of Pilot F/O John Kinnane, RAAF.

Kinnane 2

LAC John Kinnane (left) receiving his wings after training in Canada and the 7 Squadron memorial window at All Saints Church in Longstanton.

With the exception of John Kinnane, Barrie Nicholls and Frederick Taylor, the others have no known grave and are still listed as missing in action, their bodies were never found and they are commemorated on the panels of the Runnymede Memorial.

Pilot: F/O John Kinnane, age 29, 407077 RAAF, Mentioned in Dispatches. Grave Ref. A.14.12. Esbjerg (Fourfelt) cemetary. Son of Robert Joseph John and Mary Agnes Kinnane, of Prospect, South Australia. He had joined the squadron on 8th April from No 11 OTU.

Co-Pilot: P/O James Gordon Elliott, age 32, J/4878 RCAF panel 59, Runnymede Memorial, Son of George William and Ella Josie Elliott, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada; husband of Jean L. Elliott (nee Henderson), of Montreal.

Flight Engineer: Sgt Frederick George Taylor, age unknown, 567000 RAF. Grave Ref. A. 14. 15. Esbjerg (Fourfelt) cemetary

Observer: P/O Thomas Everest Bolton, age 27, 45619 RAF Panel 31, Runnymede Memorial, Son of Thomas and Henrietta Bolton; husband of Winifred Alice Bolton, of Yeadon, Yorkshire

Wireless-Operator: Sgt Kenneth Huntley, age 20, 620452 RAF, Panel 45, Runnymede Memorial, Son of Albert T. Huntley, and of Rosina Huntley, of Pontypridd, Glamorgan

Mid-Upper Gunner: F/Sgt Barrie Kendall Nicholls, age 21, 908683 RAF VR. Grave Ref. A. 14. 13. Esbjerg (Fourfelt) cemetary. Son of Albert T. Huntley, and of Rosina Huntley, of Pontypridd, Glamorgan

Rear Gunner: Sgt William George Marsh, age 28, 1377521 RAF VR. Panel 48, Runnymede Memorial. Son of Thomas and Eliza Jane Marsh; husband of Frances L. Marsh, of Bapchild, Kent.

Kinnane Graves

Of the other two Stirling crew involved on 1st July 1941:-

F/O Dennis T Witt was to loose two aircraft from under him.

On 15th July 1941, Witt was aboard Stirling N6022 MG-D when it was lost, having been abandoned by the crew of 7. The aircraft took off at 23.00 hours on the 14th July 1941 from Oakington, but having been unable to bomb the target of Hanover after a couple of runs due to heavy flak they then started to run low of fuel on their return leg. They limped over the Norfolk coast but the aircraft had to be abandoned at Newton Flotman, the aircraft was left to crash at 03.40 hours on 15th July 1941 at Shotesham Park, Newton Flotman, 7 miles South South East of Norwich. Sgt Prentice broke his back but made a good recovery and was later commissioned, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. F/O Witt gained his DFM during service with No.10 Squadron and P/O Deyell whilst serving with No.38 Squadron. The full crew were F/O D T Witt DFM, Sgt L D A Bolton, Sgt J T Prentice Inj, P/O D K Deyell DFM Inj, Sgt A E Burrows, Sgt L E J Davenport and F/O J L A Mills.

One month later, Witt was flying Stirling W7434 MG-E when it was one of three 7 Squadron Stirling’s lost on 15th August 1941 in two separate operations. The aircraft took off at 21.00 hours on 14th August 1941 from Oakington, but crashed whilst returning to base, trying to land in very poor visibility. The crew were not injured, consisted of F/O D T Witt DFC DFM, Sgt S G Matkin, Sgt D White, Sgt J R Alverson, F/S M G Gardiner, Sgt L A Penn and P/O A H Piper. F/O D Witt went on to fly over 100 missions and was also awarded a DFC.

F/S B K Madgwick was, however, not so lucky. He was aboard Stirling N6033, when it was lost on 15th July 1941, together with N6022. The aircraft took off at 23.00 on 14th July 1941 from Oakington but was damaged by Flak and on return to base the Stirling ran out of fuel. The aircraft was then abandoned and crashed at 04.15 hours into Gold Street, Northampton. Tragically F/S Madgwick slipped out of his parachute harness and fell to his death. Later, RAF Oakington received a telephone call from the Chief Constable of Northamptonshire registering his great displeasure about the crash in his County. He is reputedly to have remarked “”I can’t be having this!” The rest of the crew survived unhurt. F/S B K Madgwick KIA Sgt C H Tourville Sgt W H Robinson Sgt M Roach RCAF Sgt A Chambers Sgt J M Donlan Sgt H Macrae.

Returning to the 1st July 1941, at 15.33 hours, a radio message was logged as being received at 15.30 hours from Luftwaffe LH 1./196 stating ‘Grid 4436/04 East. English dingy with 3 occupants’.

Meanwhile, back home, following Kinnane’s Stirling’s report, Air Sea Rescue also received their orders at 15.30 hours to proceed to a position approximately 100 miles East by South from Yarmouth and pick up an aircrew adrift in a dinghy. Following this situation report, HSL 108 (High Speed Launch) left Gorleston, Norfolk, clearing the harbour bar at 16.00 hours.

The crew of seven consisted of:

Captain: Captain: F/O W F Jackman, (Service No. 1163494, POW No. 80921, DOB 25.5.1894, 47 Years old at the time from Westways, Monk Fryston, Leeds, Retired Navigation Officer, WO344/159/1)

Engineer: LAC Alfred  Baden Raybould Service, No. 946672

Air Gunner: AC2 Edward G R (Roger) Daggett, Service No. 1167012

Wireless Operator: AC1 William Thomas Guilfoyle, Service No. 620420

Coxswain: Sgt William Horatio Hales, Service No. 507047

Sailors: LAC George Peter Drayson, Service No. 1165605 and

LAC Alfred George Overill, Service No. 964939

In J P Foynes book “The Battle of the East Coast (1939-1945)” he states that HSL 108 was sent out to search for a Hampden off Texel.

He reports that ‘The Hampden crew suffered……for nine days they drifted in their dinghy, vainly signalling to passing aircraft and rescue launches with mirrors, enduring a storm, and trying to survive on thirty-six Horlicks tablets, a pint and a half of water and a bar of chocolate. At first they played a game in which the winner was he who held his head underwater the longest. When one player saw a mine right under the dinghy they abandoned it. They were resigning themselves to death when another Gorleston launch found them.’

F/O Jackman, an ex-Merchant Navy man from the 1st World War, was rumoured to be of Jewish decent, but as a precaution against possible capture by the Germans had changed his name by leaving the final ‘n’ off his surname, thus anglicising it but this was not the case.

The boat was missing a wireless mechanic and second engineer.

A G Overill should have been relieved at 14.00 hours as he had been on the early roster but he received a request from his replacement who wanted to complete some business in town, so Overill volunteered to carryout the mission as his replacement.

HSL 108, powered by three Napier Sealion engines, had a top speed of 36 knots and an overall length of 64 foot (19.5M) entered service at Marston Kent in 1938 having been conceived by Scott-Paine and designed by Fred Cooper. She then moved to Felixstowe Air Sea Rescue Station, Suffolk, in May 1940, from where she operated during the Battle of Britain.

HSL 108 receive a re-fit at Brook-Marine’s boat yard at Lowestoft, Suffolk during which a nest of rats were discovered in the chain locker and was then moved to Baker Street, Gorleston-on-Sea, Norfolk, in early 1941 to form a satellite base on the East Coast to Felixstowe to cater for the crews of the bomber offensive which started up with raids over Denmark, Holland and Belgium.  On the journey between to Gorleston, HSL 108 struck a railway sleeper floating in the water and her chernikeef log was broken off. She was also without her fresh water tank.

When the Air Force was formed in 1918, water was thought to provide an ideal flat surface on which to land and take off, float planes and sea planes became common and when the RAF was formed, they inherited many of them from the RNAS. Instead of tractors, trucks and trailers, boats were therefore necessary to ferry aircrew and servicing teams to and from moorings and to refuel & re-arm the aircraft as well as to tow them to and from the slipways. When planes were taxiing, taking off and landing, the attendant safety boats were also there to clear the water and lay a flare path in darkness; if there was a mishap it rescued the pilot and salvaged the pieces.

As speeds and distances associated with taking off and landing increased, and as aircraft, including those based inland flew further out to sea, it became clear that the ex-navy boats were too slow and unseaworthy for their intended function.

In 1929, Hubert Scott-Payne, creator of the “Miss Britain” record breaking speed boats of that era, approached Captain Beaufort-Greenwood, father of the Marine Craft Service to discuss possible solutions. As a result a new breed of high speed marine craft was ordered by the Air Ministry. These were fast boats that planed over the waves instead of cutting through them. Prototype Seaplane Tender No. 200 was evaluated by Aircraftsman Shaw, otherwise known as “Lawrence of Arabia”, who was serving at RAF Mount Batten at the time. The fundamental design concept of the No. 200 Class seaplane tender was to remain in RAF service for over fifty years. It was to lead to the design of the ’100 Class’ boats, which became famous as the wartime HSL (High Speed Launch) of the Air Sea Rescue Service, capable of operating at long range in open sea conditions.

These boats and their crews contributed to the very frontiers of aeroplane advancement, achievement and exploration in the 1930’s. They supported the float planes which won the Schneider Cup for Great Britain for three years in succession, and the seaplanes which made those pioneering flights across the Atlantic, to America, Africa, Australia and the Orient.

Few HSL’s had been built by the outbreak of war in 1939 and the ASR service was not formed until February 1941 when losses of the valuable aircrew in the sea began to become an issue, averaging 200 per month at that time. Marshal of the Air Force, Sir John Salmond was appointed Director of Aircraft & Aircrew Safety later that year and despite his muscle at the top, the production of sufficient HSL’s for rescue duties was delayed by the Admiralty’s intransigence. The Navy thought that just because it floated, they should have a say in what was necessary. it was because of the Admiralty’s attitude that Scott-Payne moved his design teams to Canada and produced boats over there for the Canadian and US Military as well, the famous American PT Boats were a Scott-Payne design.

By 1945 300 HSL’s, supported by a substantial numbers of modified Pinnaces and Seaplane Tenders and some 4000 marine personnel, were in service at 108 units in the UK and overseas. Although records were not kept in the early part of the war, ASR was accredited with saving well over 13,000 lives. The boats were in the front line on all the amphibious operations from Dunkirk to D-Day. Five seaplane tenders from RAF Calshot took some 500 men off the beaches at Dunkirk and on D-Day 136 ASR launches were deployed in the assault area. Throughout the campaign, many boats were deliberately attacked and sunk.

In November 1942, in recognition of their work, His majesty king George VI approved the distinguishing shoulder badge for marine craft crews and after the war, in acknowledgement of their operational record, He granted Royal approval for the designation of sea-going marine craft as His Majesty’s Air Force Vessels’, enabling them to fly the Union Flag forward, an honour previously reserved for HM Ships of the Royal Navy alone.

On the 31st of March 1986 the RAF Marine Branch was disbanded and the marine craft handed over to civilian contractors on the 1st February 1986. Thus ended 68 years of unbroken marine craft service with the RAF.

As the rescue launch had to travel at least 250 km, 4 Blenheim’s of 248 Squadron, 16 Group, Coastal Command based at Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands were also despatched to position ZKXU 3400 from RAF Bircham Newton to co-operate and provide escort to the HSL and cover for the dinghy. The weather was reported as ‘Fine during the afternoon becoming cloudy again at 19.00 Hours. Visibility: Moderate to good. Wind: Light and variable.

The Search was completed at 2036 Hours ZKXU/2806 or 53.28N, 04.06E, when they spotted a floating mine. It’s almost exactly between the position where the HSL crew and Blenheim crew were picked up! Apparently the Blenheim’s failed to see the HSL.

A.Z5973 reported seeing a floating mine and completed their search at position 2036/ZKXU.

The other three aircraft, B. Z5955, Y. L9448 and H. V5737 reported sighting pieces of wreckage over the search area but did not contact HSL or Dinghy.

Two Blenheim’s had to turn back because of engine troubles, the port engine on B. Z5955 failed at ZKHA 3709 and aircraft returned on one engine and H. V5737 had a port engine cut-out at ZKHA 1727. The four Blenheim’s were unsuccessful in locating either.

The following crewmembers were involved: –

A. Z5973, WR-A, crewed by P/O Wright, Sgt. Gatehouse and Sgt. Rourke.

B. Z5955, WR-B, crewed by P/O Stanley Haslop Birtles, P/O Deardon and Sgt. Diamond.

Y. L9448, WR-Y, crewed by Sgt. Cheshire, Sgt. Rogerson and Sgt. Croll.

H. V5737, WR-H, crewed by Sgt. Cripps, Sgt. Gurnhill and Sgt. Thomas.

Birtles died, aged 23, on 17th September 1941, whilst flying a Beaufighter T3351 on an air test with AC1 W T Bourne. He is buried in the Bradford (Scholemoor) Cemetery.

At 16.05 hours, 2 Ar.196’s from Schellingwoude took off for an anti U-boat patrol off the Dutch coast.

At 16.25 Hours 2 aircraft of 18 Squadron took off from Horsham St. Faith on a search for Sergeant Fenton and crew, but saw no signs of missing aircraft and returned at 1806 hours.

According to No 2 Group, Bomber Command Operational record book, these aircraft were attacked by ME 109’s during their search.

The HSL took a course of East-North-East for four hours to the fixed position ZKXU 3400 (53.34N, 04.00E, some 80 km NW of Texel) when the crew sighted what they thought was a yellow dinghy but this turned out to be a Dutch navigation buoy.

The Blenheim crew was eventually rescued by a Heinkel He.59 DB-MV Wnr 1829 seaplane from 4 Seenotflugkommandos based at Nordeney taking them to the Air-Sea Rescue base at Schellingwoude, North of Amsterdam. DB-MV was piloted by Fw Unterspann with crewmembers Uffz Barwitzki, Flieger Fischer and Flieger Rhase.


Pictures of a Heinkel HE.59 based at Schellingwoude, North of Amsterdam. The Picture taken by Ex-flight engineer, Hans Richstein (Dated 9th July 1941) based at Schellingwoude showing 3 RAF crew members and the likely reception they received.

Heinkel 59 2

Keith Simpson recalls Ken’s comments later during a conversation after the war at 14 White Street, Selby;

We were eventually rescued from the dinghy by a German float plane and carefully guarded by the crew during the flight to the base. No chances taken.

Map of area.

At 19.30 hours, 2 Ar.196’s from Schellingwoude took off on an anti U-boat patrol off the Dutch coast.

Meanwhile two other Ar.196’s were on a U-boat search in that area.  One was crewed by Fw Klisch and Oblt Poznin, the other by Fw Scharmarcher and Oblt Breiding. At 20.40 hrs local time the HSL 108 was spotted, thought to be an English MTB at position 3449 (120 km NW Texel) and attacked by both Arado’s.

It is reported that at some point, contrary to regulations, but thought to be after the initial attack that with their W/T operator dead, Jackman “broke the rules” and used the R/T, which could easily be monitored in nearby Holland.

The following is a narrative direct from Roger Daggett MBC, Air Gunner from HSL 108 (Tony Overill’s article in the August 2000 Edition of Flypast, Edition No. 228).

After we left the navigational buoy to commence our search for the Blenheim, we sighted two aircraft coming in low and from the West. At first, we thought they were RAF aircraft coming to assist with the search, but it was soon clear that they were German floatplanes (Arado Ar. 196’s).

After one run over the launch they returned and opened fire. (Luftwaffe reports state that they attempted to bomb the boat on the first run but failed) We returned the fire, but with less accuracy than the Germans, who had soon riddled the boat with machine guns and started a fire in the engine compartment. The fire extinguishers on the engine were operated which immediately brought them to a standstill. It was obvious that the engines would not re-start, and that we were ‘sitting ducks’ so we hoisted the white flag (actually a seaman’s sweater).

The Ar. 196’s reported that after the attempted bombing, they continued to attack the fast moving boat with cannons and eventually about 20 minutes after attacking the target with cannons, smoke was seen and the speed suddenly dropped and a white flag was put in top.

At 21.09 hours, a radio message was recorded at 21.00 hours from C 1./196: ‘Grid 4435/05 East. Bringing in English patrol boat, heading East’.

From the War Chronicles of 1.BFlSt196

1.7.41 at 21.17 hrs T3+KK reported that at position 3442/05 Ost an English boat was damaged, one crewmember was taken on board and that they were on the way back.

‘It turned out to be a, in all terms, hot day. The sun was burning in the clear sky. The aircraft was warmed up by the heat. We were just sitting in a bakery. Even flying over sea didn’t bring any coolness.

We were, like so many times before, on anti-submarine operations. This morning a Blenheim shot down into the North Sea and its crew managed to rescue themselves with the dinghy and were waiting to be picked up. A four-engined bomber tried to help them and radioed their position, but had to share their fate moments later.

Nothing remained of it, apart from an oil patch and a landing gear. Because of this we were expecting more contact with the enemy in this sector. The Tommy would come with naval assistance to rescue his comrades from the drink. They couldn’t know however that meanwhile the German Air Sea Rescue had picked up the Blenheim crew.

We were very alert and after an hour we observed a small vessel at the horizon. We expected a Sunderland. We saw a launch zigzagging with a foaming wake across the sea in search of the Blenheim crew. We approached and were engaged by two machine guns in glass turrets. We returned fire, but the zigzagging boat was that fast that we overshot the target time after time.

The engagement lasted 20 minutes when suddenly faint smoke was rising from the upper deck and the boat was losing speed. We were about to make another attack, when a white flag was risen in the signal mast. We hold our fire and circled the boat while the crew appeared on the deck, after which I landed to pick up possible seriously wounded Englishmen. Apart from some slightly wounded crew members, one of the Englishmen was so seriously wounded that it was impossible to take him on  board. Drifting beside the boat we saw the results of our cannons. It was almost dawn and time to leave the spot. I took one of the slightly wounded on board and left the boat alone as it was shot up that much that it couldn’t be repaired.

We arrived by dark at the base at 21.37 hours and some comrades where surprised when suddenly three persons climbed out of the aircraft! We wanted to pick up the remainder of the crew. Meanwhile the navy was informed and would recover the boat.

Early in the next morning we found the boat very quickly and a Air Sea Rescue plane landed and took the rest of the crew on board, while we were circling the spot as escort. While we returned, the boat was recovered and later repaired and went into German service.”

At 21.20 hours, Naval Commander of the Netherlands, Commander of Naval Security Group North and HQ of Sea Rescue were informed about the messages of 21.00 hours.

Daggett continued;

‘After we had ceased fire for some time, one of the Arado’s came down and landed on the water whilst the other continued to circle the launch. The Coxswain, Sgt Hales had been slightly hurt but the wireless operator, LAC Guilfoyle, although behind what was believed to be a bullet-proof mattress had been shot through the chest. He collapsed out of his cabin into the gangway, thereby losing our chance to send out an SOS to give our position. One of the crew, Peter Drayson, in response to a signal from the German aircraft, paddled our pram-dinghy, which had been damaged in the attack, over, to the Arado on the water, the dinghy, sinking on arrival.’ 

‘The crew pulled Peter Drayson aboard and took off in the direction of the Dutch coast (He was taken back to Schellingwoude Sea plane base). Apparently the Germans were asking that any wounded on board be sent across, but we were unable to understand them. After the German plane had left, George Overill went over the side with some wooden plugs to fill in some of the bullet holes, as by this time we were taking in water fairly rapidly. Water in the engine room hampered the efforts of our engineer LAC Raybould to get one of the engines going and the attempt was given up.’

‘The radio operator, Guilfoyle, was obviously in a bad way, but he volunteered to be lifted into the radio cabin to send out an SOS, (was this the radio message that had broken the rules as referred to earlier?) but clearly he was too far gone for this. He asked for water, but as we had none on board (The water tank had not been fitted during the re-fit) we gave him the juice from a tin of fruit. None of us had any training in first aid, but he was given a morphine injection. When he came round from this, there being no more morphine, he was given chloroform to deaden the pain, but he died shortly afterwards (He had died that night amongst his 5 comrades). His body was wrapped in blankets and laid on the starboard side of the deck against the wheelhouse.’

Aircraftsman 1st Class William Thomas Guilfoyle, Service No. 620420, aged 20, the son of Patrick and Agnes Guilfoyle of Fallowfield, Manchester is remembered on panel 57 of the Runnymede Memorial as he has no known burial, having been buried at sea.

2 Heinkel He 59 floatplanes from 4 Seenotflugkammando left their base at Norderney at 04.50 Hours searching two different areas.

At 05.30 hours, 2 Ar.196’s (HH and CH) departed from Schellingwoude on an anti U-boat patrol.

At 06.26 hours a radio message was recorded as coming in at 06.20 from H 1./196: ‘Grid 3446/05 East Patrol boat found. I’m staying in contact concerning observed enemy forces.’ A radio message was also received from C 1./196 at the same time: ‘Have found boat at grid 3459/05 East. Sea rescue plane is recovering crew.’

Daggett continued;

‘By dawn (on 2nd July 1941) the boat was very low in the water.’

‘Shortly afterwards, two Arado’s and a larger plane, SAR HE 59 arrived (Two He 59’s had been dispatched, (NE-UY Wrn 2598 piloted by Ltn. Ehrardt arrived on the scene and DB-MV piloted by Fw Unterspann returned to Nordeny after a fruitless search and landed at 08.02 Hours).’

‘The Arado’s circled the launch, whilst the He 59 came down on the water and taxied up to the launch. They launched their rubber dinghy and started to take us back to the aircraft one-by-one, but this was a slow and obviously with the element of a surprise air attack, they tried to hurry up the operation. The rear engine cover was ripped off and this was used as an extra means of getting the crew across to the Heinkel. Once on board we were given the usual greeting that ‘for us the war was over’ whilst surprised at being offered chocolate.’

A signal was received at 06.35 hours from H 1./196 confirming ‘HE 59 recovered crew’ followed by a new message at 06.51 hours ‘ Request Vorpostenboot.’ At 06.58 hours these messages were sent to a liaison officer of the BSN with the request to inform concerned officials.

H 1./196 sent a radio message at 07.01 hours ‘Continue operation with 3 other aircraft. Fly back.’

Daggett continued

‘We landed (at 07.20 Hours) at the former Dutch seaplane base at Schellingwoude, North of Amsterdam, where we were met by a deputation of German officers, including Commandant Dr. Possel and the inevitable cameraman. At the Luftwaffe base we were taken to the hospital for a quick check-up and then transferred by boat to the cells in Amsterdam where we not only met up with our other crew member, Peter Drayson, but that of the Blenheim crew that we had been seeking.’

HSL Crew 1

HSL 108 crew at schellingwoude, include left to right in RAF uniforn – Hales, Overill, Jackman, Daggett and Raybould. Drayson had returned to Scellinwoude earlier and Guilfoyle was buried at sea.

HSL Crew 2

HSL 108 Crew at schellingwoude , note life jackets in hand, include, left to right in RAF uniform – Hales, Daggett, Overill, Raybould and Jackman. Raybould had returned to Scellinwoude earlier and Guilfoyle was buried at sea.

HSL Mem 1 HSL Mem 2

Gorleston 24 Air Sea Rescue unit, RAF memorial on Brush Quay opposite the Pier Hotel.

HE 59 NE-UY Wnr 2598 was piloted by Ltn. W Ehrardt (killed in action October 1944). Other crew members were Fw R Gerster (Died 27th July 1985), Fw K Logemann (Killed in action with 4 Seenotflugkammando, 27th March 1943) and Uffz. W Strauss (Last recorded as a member of 10 Seenotflugkammando in November 1943, no further records exist). DB-MV, the HE 59 plane that rescued the Blenheim crew, piloted by Fw Unterspann returned to base after an unsuccessful search at 08.02 Hours.

The 2 Ar. 196’s landed at 07.49 hours and at 07.55 hours a radio message of the commander of Naval Security, Group North was received: ‘sailed off vessels can’t reach the location of the patrol boat because of the likely presence of sea mines. They have been ordered to patrol in their area.’

At Gorleston, due to the limitations of communication, nobody knew for sure what had happened. All kinds of rumours were rife. In command circles, it was suggested that F/O Jackman had violated radio silence and that possibly the code books had been captured, as referred to earlier.

The crewmembers have confirmed that neither of these were the case, the code books being correctly disposed of over the side in a weighted sack.

At Ken’s funeral, Keith spoke with a crew member of the air sea rescue launch. He said;

‘l understood he was the commander but now believe l am mistaken. Only point of reference is his employment – a Corporation Tax specialist in one of HM Tax offices’.

This points us to Roger Daggett. Roger described the Blenheim operation that day as a very costly venture and apart from the loss of Ken’s aeroplane, the RAF lost a Short Stirling as well as his boat.


‘whilst searching for Ken’s dinghy, the launch went close inshore and he became aware that they were under attack by hostile aircraft when cannon shells and bullets were seen striking the harbour/sea wall. Thereafter the launch was disabled, abandoned and then he and the crew were taken prisoner.’  

On 2nd July 1941 at 10.10 Hours, six Blenheim’s from 139 Squadron took off on a raid to bomb Hazebrouck lead by Squ/Leader Sydney-Smith, with F/Sgt. Caban DFM as his Wireless operator/air gunner. F/Sgt. Caban appears further in this story.

The story of HSL 108 continues on 2nd July 1941, the following narrative being taken from Security North Sea (Luftwaffe).

At 13.27 hours 2 Ar.1./196’s from detachment Schellingwoude took off for an anti U-boat patrol. They received a message at 13.45 hours: ‘To HH and CH – 1./196. Signal locality patrol boat.’

At 15.50 hours, the boat was found and in a radio message from C 1./196: ‘Grid 4452/05 East damaged English patrol boat.’ The 2 Ar.196’s landed at 16.12 hours.

The British rescue launch was no longer sea-worthy. Two Vorpostenboot (armed trawlers) VP1108 and VP806 were sent to the area with a view, from Luftwaffe command, to sink the boat. This was disputed by CIC Security North Sea (Kriegsmarine) who wanted to salvage the launch, and use it for naval control for the movement of traffic in Cuxhaven. It was for this reason the launch was saved.

When the launch was sighted she was drifting into a minefield. Two dinghies were launched from the Vorpostenboots to go aboard the launch. When the boat crews boarded it was deserted apart from the dead W/T operator Guilfoyle. After searching the launch and securing the many holes in the hull to provide buoyancy, the dead W/T operator was given a burial at sea. The launch was taken in tow back to Vorpostenboot VP1108 where she was lashed alongside and taken to Borkum and then on the 3rd July to lock No. 3 at Wilhelmshaven.


Ken’s view of the German Pocket Battleships as drawn in his POW YMCA log book.

Two years after this incident on 2nd August 1943, Vorpostenboot VP1108 was sunk at approximately the same spot as HSL 108 was captured, by a British torpedo aircraft with only one casualty, just like HSL 108.

The salvage of the boat was not simple and not without danger. It is therefore understandable that HSL 108 already promised to BSN (Befehlshaber der Sicherung) by Gruppe Nord was after inter-service wrangling handed over to Luftwaffe command of Ships/Boats, at Keil. The interests of the Kriegsmarine having to stand behind the wishes of the Luftwaffe. HSL 108 was refurbished and pressed into duty by the Luftwaffe.

Whilst in Sagan, Roger Daggett saw in a German magazine a picture of HSL 108 in German colours. It was being used for picking up survivors from the German ‘Lobster-pot’ survival buoys along the Dutch coast between Wilhelmshaven and Flushing (Now Vlissingen).

During the war, many aircrew, both bomber and fighter command, reported sightings of an RAF Air-Sea rescue launch operating just off the Dutch Coast. This was likely to be HSL 108 but it is still not clear as to her ultimate fate.

Syd Appleby reported about his training for the RAF at Perranporth in Cornwall in 1942. He reports that “a young pilot, who had escaped from Germany where he had been a prisoner of war, gave us a lecture on the topic of escape. He showed us a photograph of 3 other POW’s, one of whom was my school friend Roger Daggett.’

I asked of him, ‘When is Roger going to make his escape?’ He replied, ‘He is studying for his degree, it will be after that!’” This “Young pilot” is likely to be James McCairns.

He also recorded that ‘At ITW Torquay in 1940 I shared a room with “Screwball” Beurling. He had made at least one journey back to Canada to establish his validity for joining the RAF. At the end of the war he was a squadron leader DFC, DFM and bar. He was the No 1 ace fighter pilot of the war having at least 30 victories. He was killed in a flying accident in China in the 1960’s.

Following James McCairns initial accident in “D” for Donald, on 1st July 1941 and the foreboding that he then started to suffer, he reports in his memoirs:-

‘So with very mixed feelings l went through the activities of the following week – still sweating almost daily – borrowing for that purpose someone else’s aircraft and watching with considerable misgivings the absence of one particular friend after another.’

‘Sometimes in the air you would see them go streaking down to their doom, plumes of black smoke marking their downward descent. Sometimes they would just disappear completely and simply fail to re-appear at base. More often though, it would be some Iron-Cross marked kite that would disintegrate in the air and all your restraint was required to keep you from hurtling down and blasting to hell the white parachute which would almost immediately blossom forth- another Jerry allowed to retain the comforts of his mess, because we Britishers honourably played the gentleman – even in mortal combat.’

‘At the end of the week, on the Sunday, two announcements excited my interest. Firstly, l was told to prepare myself for an interview with the station commander at 10 a.m. the next day with a view to being granted my long-desired commission – a secret ambition of mine entertained since the day, six months before the outbreak of war in 1939 when l enlisted as a Volunteer pilot in the R.A.F.V.R.’

‘Secondly, to my great joy, the arrival of a new aircraft – a replacement of old “D” – was signalled. Like its predecessor because it was my own aircraft, it was to be labelled with the characteristic “D”. The same morning it arrived and by lunch-time we were ready for a formal introduction – the first air test.’

‘Every minute of that flight still lingers in my memory – larking about the sky, rolls over the Old Harbour at Chichester and a terrific beat-up of a country cottage where my nurse girlfriend was passing the weekend. For the next months of captivity l could always remember her face as she looked up at the Spitfire hurtling out of the Heavens above. Perhaps at that moment the premonition was born – certainly by the time l had landed l had more than an inkling that l would not return from the sweep scheduled for that afternoon – chiefly because l lacked faith in my new aircraft. It was so horribly new and stiff, deficient of many of those little modifications l had carried out on my old kite and, most importantly, the engine’s slow running was sadly out of order. Once more, speaking in jest, l declared on landing, “well, after this afternoon’s little effort, if l get back, that plane is definitely going to be U/S.” Little did l realise that within less than 1½ hours just how pathetically unserviceable it really would become.’

A few hours later, on 6th July 1941, he was shot down in Spitfire P8500, wounded and captured.