My Uncle Bob's Answers to Our Questions

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timman19
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My Uncle Bob's Answers to Our Questions

Post by timman19 » 05 Sep 2003 15:42

Hello everyone! I have returned from England.

As you know, I am visited my Uncle Bob when I was there and asked him the questions that all of you posted. They are below. My uncle was very cooperative and spent a lot of time answering the questions. A few pints of beer didn’t hurt either!

I have made minor changes to his answers just to make them more readable. Also, there are some details that he is sketchy on or just can’t clearly remember since all of his experiences happened nearly 60 years ago.

My Uncle Bob asked me to thank all of you for your questions and for passing on your best wishes to him. He wishes everyone the same thing.

I apologize for not posting this sooner. I had access to a computer but enough time to type out his responses until this morning. Without further delay, here are his answers:

Questions from Andy H

What squadron did fly with?

19th Squadron.

Did he ever encounter any Italian planes over England?

No, I never did. I know that they withdrawn at some point from the Battle of Britain and I think that may have been before I was assigned to the 19th. I do know that my squadron had faced them early in the battle. I remember pilots making jokes about them since their performance over England was horrible. “Like shooting rats in a barrel” I heard a fellow pilot once say. I also remember that a lot of pilots would have loved to get a crack at them since they were not very good.

Did he have any superstitions that he would carry out (Such as put his left boot on before his right etc) before flying and did he carry any lucky charms with him?

Most combat pilots and crewmen are that way. I never dressed any particular way but I did have some lucky charms. The first was my father’s pocket watch. He had it when he served in the First World War and he survived. He gave it to me when I was home on leave just before I joined my squadron in 1940. It was taken away from me when I was captured in France by a German soldier when I was being searched. He laughed at me as he put into his pocket.

After that, I kept a patch from the 82nd Airborne Division in one of my pockets. That was given to me by an American officer who commanded the unit that rescued us in France. I had that for the rest of the war and never once was my aircraft hit. That was a great lucky charm and I still have it to this day.


When he wasn't flying how did he and his fellow pilots unwind?

When I was based in England, the local pub was probably the most popular spot to relax. When we did get leaves, most of us that had families went home. Many fellow pilots indulged in drinking, sometimes too much, and in women when off duty. Depending on the weather, a football or a cricket game might be played. We also played cards a lot or read to pass the time.

When I was in Europe later in the war, it was different. There weren’t any local pubs around and we were confined to the base. Occasionally, the odd bottle of whiskey was produced at night and was passed around. But at that stage of the war, we really didn’t get much time off since we had opened up the Western Front and we were supporting the ground troops nearly every day if the weather permitted.


Questions from Timman19 (Me)

Please describe your first combat experience in a Spitfire.

It was frightening. Everything was happening much faster than I thought it would. Prior to takeoff, I was told by my squadron leader to stick close to him. I did until we intercepted a flight of HE-111’s escorted by 109’s. I chased off one fighter and then had a go at a bomber but I was so nervous that I missed him because I didn’t shoot fast enough and I flew right over him. Later, I damaged a 109 who started to trail smoke. He tried to get away by diving and taking his plane down low but I followed and bagged him over the countryside. I guess he thought he could slip away. I was balled out when I got back to base for leaving the squadron without permission. My squadron leader said I was very lucky that another one didn’t come after me as he was certain that the German pilot was probably calling for help but then congratulated me on my first kill and said that I did very well considering it was my first time out.

How much training did you have before joining your first squadron?

I only had 15 hours in a Spitfire when I was assigned to the 19th. I was working on Hurricanes when they suddenly rushed a bunch of us into Spitfires. They were short on pilots and they had to rush us through the rest of our training. I think most of us were unprepared but it would not have mattered. No training can prepare you for air combat as I found out. You have to learn as you go and hopefully you’ll have some luck on your side. I did manage to get some training with my squadron leader prior to my first action and I think that that helped.

My squadron leader was a good officer and tried to help me. He told me things that they never mentioned in training. The biggest one was never to fly on the straight and narrow for more than 30 seconds while in combat. If you did, you were likely to attract a 109. The idea was to keep turning while looking for targets. The other thing that he told all of us was to try to attack the bombers from the front rather than the rear whenever possible. His logic was to take out the flight crew which would obviously cripple the bomber and was a pretty quick way as well that used less ammunition. Most German bombers were not well defended anyway and I found that they were vulnerable form pretty much any angle of attack. If they had no fighter escort, they were I serious trouble.

There was one thing that German bombers did that I thought was strange. If attacked, they broke up instead of keeping a tight formation. I thought this was silly as they could have better defended themselves if they stayed together. But, on their own, they were sitting ducks since they were weak defensively.

Were you and your fellow pilots confident that you could stop the Germans from gaining air superiority thus leaving the door open to invasion?

We were very confident. We knew that we had advantages over them like radar and the limited range of their fighters. They never knew when we would hit them or where we would be as we were guided to them. Plus, it would not be unusual for another squadron to attack right after another one did. Many times, we would try to lure their fighters into combat to get them to use up their fuel and force them to head for home before they ran out of fuel. That would leave the bombers without any protection.

We knew that we were bringing down large numbers of their aircraft and that we were effective in that. We once got an intelligence briefing that opened some eyes. We were told that in interrogations of downed German pilots, their bomber crews were terrified of Spitfires due to its armament and speed. That was a real moral booster. Plus, we knew what would happen if we lost. We had families so every pilot that I served with was determined not to let that happen.

During the Battle of Britain, please describe what the average RAF pilot was going through.

It was very stressful. We were up 3 or 4 times a day. We go up, land, have a cup of tea and a sandwich and wait for another scramble order. You never knew when they would come. When down, the ground crews worked feverishly to refuel and rearm the planes. They also worked through the night to keep the planes serviceable so that we would be ready to go at dawn. My hat still goes off to those men.

It was hard to sleep soundly if you could sleep at all during the Battle of Britain. We were constantly faced with death and as a young pilot, I kept thinking to myself that the next flight could be my last but eventually that went away. The weather was unusually warm and clear that summer so the Germans had plenty of good weather to launch their air attacks.

Myself and my squadron became very fatigued and exhausted by the time it was over. You did not have much time off and if you did, it was usually limited to 24 hours. The Germans, on the other hand, probably didn’t need to use their squadrons daily since they had so many planes. Most of them I would guess were better rested then us.

During your capture, did you ever take the threat of being shot if you did not cooperate seriously?

My first guess was that he says that to everyone so, no, I really didn’t take him seriously. I knew why they wanted information with the Second Front about to be launched and that eventually I would end up in a POW camp somewhere in Germany. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

Please describe the de-briefing you received upon your return to England after being captured.

I was questioned by an RAF group captain from RAF Intelligence. Surprisingly, he was very kind and warm. He was the kind of person that you wanted to talk to and he made me feel comfortable. That made the process faster. He asked me what they wanted to know, what I told them, and how I was treated. They also asked a few particulars about how I was shot down and captured. It lasted for two days and I was confined to quarters during that time but I wasn’t really a prisoner either. After he was done, he told me on the third day that I had been cleared of any wrong doing and that I was being sent home for leave.

Please describe the reaction of yourself and that of your squadron to the news that you would be sent to the Pacific Theatre?

We were very surprised and very disappointed. After Germany surrendered, we spent a few weeks in Northern Germany at a former Luftwaffe base. We didn’t do that much and most of us amused ourselves by looking at the German ME-262’s that were found there.

We then received orders for the squadron to return to England. We flew back there and arrived in late June. All of us thought that we would be sent home but I was called to a meeting with our Group Captain. He informed all of his commanders that the entire unit would be sent to Asia to support our troops in Burma. We would be leaving following a month of leave since the pilots at that point were in bad need of a rest.

I told my squadron and they were disappointed but took it well. At least we all got some time at home. We returned in late July and were informed that our new Spitfires were already at sea on their way to India and that we would also be sent by sea in a week or so. The aircraft would be waiting for us when we arrived in India and we would then move into Burma to support our advance.

Then, it happened. One morning on the radio we had heard that the Americans had dropped some sort of huge bomb on Japan. As we know, it was the atomic bomb. That afternoon, we were advised that our departure was being delayed. But then the Americans dropped another one and then Japan surrendered so our departure was cancelled. A week later, my squadron was deactivated and all of us were discharged. I was offered the chance to stay in but I refused as I had promised my fiancee that I would marry her as soon as I was out of the RAF.

Please explain how you were able to rapidly advance in rank.

A lot of it was “dead man’s shoes” but that was not the case with me. A pilot officer was usually promoted to flying officer within a few months of service as I was. After the Battle of Britain, the RAF began forming new squadrons and took some experienced pilots from squadrons to form the basis of new ones. In 1942, I was promoted to flight lieutenant and I held that rank until 1944.

In 1944, our squadron leader was shot down over Germany. As senior officer, I was given command of the squadron and quickly promoted. As for our squadron leader, he was damaged by a FW-190 and was losing control of his Spitfire. He radioed that he was fine and was bailing out. Myself and several others saw that and he appeared to be okay. We assumed that he would be captured.

After the war, I looked into his whereabouts. I learned that he was officially listed as missing. He was not among the POW’ released by Germany and no record of his capture was made. It seems that he was either injured and killed upon landing or, more likely, captured and killed by Germans on the ground.

What makes you say that?

We were informed that the Germans were encouraging civilians to kill downed pilots. If you didn’t fall into the hands of their military, you were on your own. He was probably in his chute for 10 or 15 minutes. It was broad daylight and he was sure to be spotted by someone. I think that’s what happened to him. Plus, at the time, the Battle of the Bulge was over and the Germans were retreating so he may have been killed by a military unit for all I know. His body was never found and his fate remains a mystery.

Questions from the General


Did he see any Gestapo personnel when he was in prison??

Not to my knowledge. I do remember a man in civilian clothes being present in the room a few times when I was interrogated. He said very little to anyone but was interested in what was going on and was paying close attention. Every now and then, he would whisper in the ear of my interrogator. Clearly, he had some sort of rank and the Germans in the room seemed to be junior to him. It is possible that he was Gestapo and he was definitely German. The room that they used was large but had only one light and they kept me under that. There were other people in the room at times that I could not see.

Has he got any German souviners or photo's from his RAF time?

I have photos of my myself and my squadrons. My nephew has requested copies but I don’t want them damaged. They are dear to me and are very old and contain my comrades lost in action or survived and have since passed away.

I have few souvineers. I have some German Luftwaffe beer steins and glasses that I found at a former Luftwaffe fighter base in Belgium that my squadron took over in 1945. They left these behind in their officer’s mess and we found them in there. Everybody took a few to take home. That’s all I have and few other things that I found at that base like some Luftwaffe insignias and badges. It seemed that the base was hurriedly evacuated and was definitely hit hard by our aircraft.



Question from Victor

What made him join the RAF and not the Royal Navy, for example?

I graduated from the University of Bristol in 1940 with a degree in engineering. I knew that I would probably be inducted at some point so I decided to join for fear of ending up in the infantry since my father had done that in First War and told me nothing but horror stories. At that time, the army didn’t care what your qualifications were. If you were a great cook, they would probably put you in the artillery.

I scored well on the tests given by the RAF and qualified for officer and pilot training. The Royal Navy was my second choice but the thought of being on a ship that was sinking did not appeal to me especially with the U-Boat threat which was high at that time. Plus, I must admit that being 22 at the time, the glamour of the RAF appealed to me.


Questions from Ogorek

Any impressions of the Polish pilots in the RAF that he might have met?

I did meet them on a few occasions and I was very impressed with them. I know that when they were in Poland, their training was very intense and their required flying hours in order to receive their wings was much higher than those of other countries.

Some RAF pilots discriminated against them on the grounds that they were Polish. That quickly stopped after they performed outstandingly in combat. I had a lot of respect for them since they were helping us defend our country after their own was occupied.

The name of the 82nd Battalion commander... I have good contacts, and might be able to fill in some history

I think his last name was Wallace or something like that. I honestly don’t remember. I only spoke to him a couple of times when I got there and when we left since he was very busy trying to command his unit. We were brought to the battalion headquarters by the troops that rescued us. We stayed there until the ground troops arrived from Normandy. We thought it was best to stay out of their way and we did. We were grateful to them for what they did but thought we could best help them by not getting in their way. They took good care of us and their medics took care of the various wounds that all of us had received in captivity. We slept as much as we could as all of us were exhausted from our capture by the Germans. All of the pilots that I was with had been recently shot down like I was. I sought their commander out when transportation to the Normandy beaches arrived and thanked him personally. He appreciated that and then gave me the patch so I would not forget who it was that rescued us. I never have.


That's it. I am sure some of you may have follow-up questions. If so, I can e-mail my cousin and get his responses. He really enjoyed this.

Lars EP
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Post by Lars EP » 05 Sep 2003 17:46

Most interesting. Thanks a lot for your effort, and thanks to your uncle as well.

Regards --- Lars

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Henric Edwards
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Post by Henric Edwards » 05 Sep 2003 18:01

Very interesting reading. Many thanks to you both for taking the time.



~Henric Edwards

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PolAntek
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Post by PolAntek » 06 Sep 2003 08:43

Very interesting. Thank you for your efforts timman19.

Best regards.

timman19
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Post by timman19 » 06 Sep 2003 13:41

I am glad that all of you enjoyed it. Your are most welcome! Myself and the rest of my family are very proud of him so it is a pleasure to share his experiences. There are not many like him left and one day, we will be left with their writings and those of historians. I learned when I was over there that he is now the only surviving member of his 1940 squadron. The good news is that most of them survived the war and died from other causes.

I hope that I am able to see him again. When I said goodbye to him with my wife, I got a strange chill that told me that this is the last time we shall set our eyes on each other. When I was in Desert Storm in 1991 with the U.S. Army, he took the time to write to me and said that if it were up to him, he would join us in his Spitfire. You know what? He probably would have!

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Ogorek
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Post by Ogorek » 12 Sep 2003 16:32

Hello timman19

Thank you and you uncle Bob for the answer to my questions.

I appreciate his opinion of the Poles, and his answer did not surprise me.

As far as the 82nd battalion commander - the 82nd in Normandy was not as extensively documented as was the 101st. Perhaps if he could give a locaton, I could narrow it down.... but that might be asking too much to ask after so many years.

When you have contact with him, pass on my warmest regards, and God bless him.....

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Korbius
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Post by Korbius » 13 Sep 2003 01:15

Thanks timman19, it was indeed interesting reading about your Uncle during his war period. :)

timman19
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Post by timman19 » 15 Sep 2003 18:03

Ogorek:

My uncle had a lot of respect for the Polish pilots. He knew that all of them had already faced the Luftwaffe in battle and survived despite flying aircraft far inferior to what the Germans had. Given Spitfires and Hurricanes, they were a tough opponent in the skies over England.

In fact, he had and still has a lot of respect for all of the allied pilots regardless of their nationality. He really has a place in his heart for the B-17 crews that flew missions in broad daylight. However, he still thinks the Spitfire was "far superior" to the American P-51 Mustang!

However, he has absolutely no respect for the Luftwaffe. "Bloody Jerries", to use his own quote on that subject...

As for the 82nd Airborne, my uncle has no idea what regiment of the 82nd was involved. All he knows is that he was in a batallion HQ. He never asked which specific unit. He also has no idea or cannot remember where he was. I think that this is due to his age and perhaps the fact that the Germans kept him from knowing where he was after he was captured. Plus, given his state of mine at the time (recently shot down, captured, and interrogated), I don't think he really cared all that much and was just happy to be safe.

I have been able to get from him that he was pretty close to the landing beaches since when that unit was relieved, it wasn't a long ride to Normandy where he caught a transport back to England. I don't know if this helps or not. Plus, I do know that most units of the 82nd did not land in their assigned drop zones and this is probably what saved my uncle!

I will pass on your regards to him. Thanks for that.

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Ogorek
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Post by Ogorek » 15 Sep 2003 18:33

Hello timman19

I know, time and terror do not make for good memories, and we can forgive your Uncle Bob for that. It would have been nice to weave a quick story out of that as I have a lot of contacts with the 82nd Association and Museum, and how the patch became a talisman... just a another story that we will not be able to put together the connections.. Which would have been nice to tie the men together. However, with the subsequent campaigns of the 82nd, maybe the story would not have had a happy ending.

As an aside, today is September 15, which is celebrated as Battle of Britain day in the UK, and on which Polish 303 Squadron was credited with 16 kills on this day 63 years ago, which was the climactic day of the Battle....

By-the-by, what outfit were you with in the Gulf?

All the rest, and again, God bless...

Ogorek

timman19
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Post by timman19 » 15 Sep 2003 19:54

Ogorek,

It is a shame that we cannot complete some history. But I do thank those from the 82nd whom are resposible for my uncle's rescue. God only knows what might have happened to him.

Time flies, doesn't it? 63 years ago was the Battle of Britain. I am sure that my Uncle Bob will be celebrating down at the local pub tonight!

As for me, I served with the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. Yes, that 7th Cavalry!

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_The_General_
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Post by _The_General_ » 15 Sep 2003 20:50

thanks tinman!

timman19
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Post by timman19 » 16 Sep 2003 14:09

The General,

I'm glad that you enjoyed it. As a follow-up to the questions you asked him it does appear that there was a Gestapo agent in the room when my uncle was questioned. Why he asked him nothing is probably because he knew little about military tactics and would leave that to the SS officers that did. But the fact that he was in civilian clothes and apparently in control of things convinces me that he probably was.

My cousin is going to work on trying to get some of his pictures copied for me. He turned me down completely for fear of them being destroyed. The ones I saw are getting pretty old. My favorite one of him was taken in 1945. He is sitting in his Spitfire with 15 German crosses beneath the cockpit. It was taken just before Germany surrendered.

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Ogorek
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Post by Ogorek » 16 Sep 2003 15:49

Hello timman19

Tried to log on yesterday to reply, but was unable to.....

What part of NYC you from... I used to work in the same building with Mike Wallace, Captain Kangaroo, and the DEA on 57th and 11th

(The Captain was all right)

And a Garry Owen to you.....

Ogorek

timman19
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Post by timman19 » 16 Sep 2003 16:20

Ogorek,

Well, I work in NYC now but live in NJ. I was born in North Carolina and spent the first 10 years of my life on various Marine Corps bases as my dad was a U.S. Marine officer. My family moved to NJ when I was 10 as my dad is originally from there. As you can now figure out, I come from a big military family.

I received my commission in 1988 as a 2nd Lt. after graduating from college. I served with the 11th Cav in West Germany after initial training and then the 7th with the First Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas and was deployed to Saudi Arabia. In 1992, I was promoted to captain and then transferred back to the 11th where I was a troop commander. In 1994, I decided to leave after fulfilling my commitment.

During Desert Storm, I was awarded the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.

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