History of 410 Squadron


Over the Beachs and Normandy

(June – September 1944)





When the invasion of Normandy began, No. 410 Squadron, then approaching its third birthday, counted 19.3/4 enemy aircraft destroyed, one probably destroyed and five damaged. Fifteen weeks later, when the Cougars moved to the Continent, the number of "kills" had passed the half-century mark and three more probables or damaged had been added to the score.

The Squadron's first activity in connection with D-Day was to send a detachment of four crews, led by W/C Hiltz, to Colerne on the night of the 5th to provide cover for the airborne troops which opened
"the Second Front" early on D-Day. The same night six other crews made the usual patrols out over the North Sea, east of Bradwell Bay and the Thames Estuary. They found no enemy air activity; nor was there any the next night (6th / 7th June) when nine crews formed part of a night fighter "pool" that had been set up to support Operation Neptune (the sea-borne crossing). Free-lancing or patrolling over the French coast, these crews did see much evidence of activity on the ground – numerous fires and the flashes of guns and bombs that flickered like heat lightning in the night sky. The only A.1. contacts obtained were on Lancasters that were abroad in great numbers.

The next night was much the same, with the addition of enemy flak and some vain chases after
"bogeys" that could not be caught. Friendly bombers still outnumbered the enemy, although the night fighters had some doubts about the accuracy of the adjective, for the gunners of the bombers occasionally operated on the “Wild West” maxim of shoot first and identify afterwards. If the adjective sometimes seemed inaccurate, so too was their marksmanship, except for one Lanc mid-upper gunner who put some holes in F/O Dinsdale's Mossie.

Bad weather stopped flying on the night of the 8th / 9th. The next night Cougars made their customary nine sorties over the North Sea, the Rouen area and the beachhead. Five crews had nothing to report, two more had only friendly contacts, and another had a chase after a very elusive
"bogey". But the last crew to return had a different story to tell. After leaving the fighter pool, F/O R.L. Snowdon and his navigator, Lt. L.A. Wilde of the RNVR, had patrolled over the beachhead around Cabourg for about an hour, engaging in one or two unsuccessful chases. Then the mobile G.C.I gave them another vector which led first to a contact at 2-1/2 miles, followed by a visual of a Ju.188 at 1500 feet range. Closing rapidly, Snowdon fired one damaging burst that made the Junkers dive while its rear gunner opened up. The Mosquito followed, getting in two more bursts after which the Hun exploded as if its petrol tanks had blown up. It plunged headlong into the ground. Returning to the patrol line, Snowdon and Wilde had another chase before returning to base at 0515 hours.

They scored again three nights later when the Cougars made four kills, (possibly five) within four hours for the most successful bag in their long career. The series opened with a Ju.88 which F/Os J. Maday and J.R. Walsh attacked over Bayeux a few minutes after midnight of the 12th / 13th. The Mosquito's cannon shells ripped into the port engine of the enemy, causing a flash of orange flame. Then the 88 peeled off, and went straight down out of sight and A.1. contact. Maday claims it as probably destroyed.

1 The assessors admitted it as "damaged".

Eight-five minutes later P/O L.J. Kearney and F/O N.W. Bradford, who already had one victory to their credit, made it two by shooting down an He.177 in flames north-east of Le Havre. Their first burst missed the Heinkel, which was seen to be carrying some object slung out-board of each engine; but the second burst struck home. The starboard engine and wing root began to burn, and a large panel blew off. As the Mosquito orbitted, watching the bomber go down steeply in flames, one member of the crew was noticed to bale out. When the Heinkel crashed the terrific explosion illuminated and shook the night fighter 6,000 feet above. Kearney nosed down to take a photograph of the fiercely burning wreckage. At that moment the Mosquito's engine began to cut up. First, one ran rough, streaming sparks; then the other started to heat up and the first one again caught fire. The propeller was feathered and the flames died out but, unable to maintain height, Kearny asked if he could put down on one of the advanced landing grounds on the beachhead. It was necessary to fire Very lights so the night fighter could see where the strip was and in turn be located by the ground control. The first attempt at a crash-landing overshot and, after skimming under a balloon barrage that was flying at one end of the strip, Kearney and Bradford tried again. The Mosquito hit the ground, wheels up, and skidded to the end of the runway where it struck a truck, killing a man who was in it. The wreckage finally came to a stop in a field, a complete washout, but neither of the crew was injured.

W/O W.F. Price and P/O J.G. Costello had taken off from Hunsdon at the same time as Kearney and Bradford to join the fighter pool off the beachhead. Directed by the same mobile G.C.I., they too got a contact and despite violent evasive action closed to a range where, by the use of Ross night glasses, they could identify a Do.217. Coming in behind and below the Dornier, Price raised the nose of the Mosquito for two short bursts whereupon the port engine and wing of the target disintegrated in a flash of orange flame. The night fighter then stalled and spun; Price pulled out at 2000 feet and saw a fire burning on the ground directly below. Resuming patrol, the crew found a second 217 and, following the same tactics, shot it down to crash and burn near the first some 23 miles south-east of Caen. Two down in twenty minutes!

These combats had been fought between 0200 and 0230 hours, at 0405 Snowdon and Wilde concluded the night’s eventful and successful work by crashing a Junkers in the Caen-Lisieux area. The enemy, an 88 or 188, was taking no evasive action as the Mosquito closed in behind and below it, but, to Snowdon's disgust, the first two bursts from 200 feet missed. For a third time he pressed the firing button in an third longer burst. That did it! A sheet of orange flame gushed from the petrol tanks around the port engine, lighting up the bombs hanging in external racks. Slowly the blazing Junkers spiralled earthward, exploding in a great flash of flame as it crashed.

These five successes marked the beginning of a remarkable week in which the Cougars destroyed 11 enemy bombers and probably destroyed or damaged two more, scoring one or more victories on every night except one.

In the early morning of 14 June, F/L C.E. Edinger and F/O C.L. Vaessen, who were to become one of the Squadron's most successful teams, damaged a Ju.88 over the beachhead west of Rouen. They were handicapped by an unserviceable A.l., the set having gone out of action when the first burst was fired. As a result the target could not be relocated when it took evasive action out of visual range. A few minutes after this encounter S/L March and F/L Eyolfson found another Ju.88 over the sea due north of the beachhead. Closing on their A.1. contact, through several batches of
"window", the Mosquito crew first sighted a white light slightly above them. With the use of Ross night glasses, they were able to identify the enemy aircraft and pulled up into position for one burst that smashed into the left side of the Junkers, starting a small, but bright blaze. A second burst, fires as the bomber went into a diving turn missed, but the fire and white tail light enabled March to calculate the correct deflection for three more quick squirts. He was about to fire again when the 88 suddenly burst into flames and disintegrated, forcing the Mosquito to pull up hard to avoid the flying debris. Like a ball of flame the Hun plunged into the sea.

The next night, shortly after midnight of the 14th / 15th, F/L W.G. Dinsdale and P/O J.E. Dunn won one of the most unusual victories of the air war. From the fighter pool at the beachhead they were vectored south-east up the Seine to engage some bandits that were busily strewing
"windows” in their wake. Turning westward the night fighter got several contacts simultaneously, followed almost immediately by a visual of a curious aircraft lumbering along at 11,000 feet. With the help of night glasses the crew identified a Ju.88 carrying what appeared to be a glider bomb attached to the top of the fuselage. Actually this composite aircraft consisted of an 88, packed with explosives, coupled to an Me.109 which carried the pilot. Dinsdale closed to 750 feet astern of the cumbersome contraption and fired a short burst of 32 rounds from his cannons. Flames streamed from the cockpit and wing root. Banking slowly to port, the "pick-a-back" bomber suddenly went into a steep dive and like a meteor plunged earthward, blazing fiercely and trailing sparks. When it crashed, some 25 miles south-east of Caen, the terrific explosion lit up the whole countryside.

The night of the 15th / 16th was quieter, only five crews being sent out instead of the usual nine. Two of these sorties were abortive because of unserviceable equipment, and a third crew on patrol over the beachhead found only friendly aircraft. The other two crews patrolled over the North Sea. S/L Somerville and F/O Robinson during their patrol tried in vain to catch one of the new flying-bombs that were now bombarding south-eastern England. This was the Cougars' first encounter with the V.l. Several more were sighted on later occasions, but No. 410 was not detailed for
"anti-diver" work, being retained for the night defence of shipping in the Channel and the beachheads in Normandy.

F/O I.S. Girvan and his RN navigator, Lt. M. Cardwell, had some anxious moments when they destroyed a Ju.88 over the Cherbourg peninsula on the night of June 16 / 17. Stalking one contact, they closed on a raider at 11,000 feet in time to see it drop two bombs on some target near Valognes. Then the aircraft turned to port, showing its outline clearly silhouetted against the lighter sky of the spring night. Girvan opened up with a long burst that dotted strikes along the Junkers from tail to cockpit. Just as he released the firing button the whole port wing blew up. The Mosquito then resumed patrol for an hour before setting course for home. Midway over the Channel, Girvan and Cardwell were startled by a crack and a flash, followed by another very vivid flash beside the starboard engine. Whence the attack came, neither could say; the pilot thought it was an ack-ack burst, but the navigator believed it was a night fighter. Fortunately the attack was not repeated, for the Mosquito was in difficulty. The engines were running smoothly, but the aircraft lost speed and became very hard to handle, requiring full left aileron and full left rudder to keep it stable. Cardwell had to relieve Girvan at the stick several times as the strain became exhausting. Heading for the nearest base, Ford, the pilot came in on a normal landing, but the starboard tire had been punctured, causing the aircraft to swing off the runway. The undercarriage collapsed under the strain and the Mossie skidded 50 yards tail first before coming to rest.

Two more Junkers, both of the 188 variety, went down the next night before the guns of Edinger – Vaessen and March – Eyolfson. The first crew found their Hun over the Channel and blew its port wing away. The bomber spun into the sea, a few miles west of Le Havre, exploding as it hit. On the way home Edinger saw a flying-bomb buzzing up from behind, several thousand feet below. A diving turn brought the night fighter into position behind the doodle-bug, but the Mossie could not overhaul it in level flight and Edinger could only fire two chance bursts at long range as the target drew away.

March and Eyolfson had a long 15 minute chase after their
"bogey" before they caught up with it south-west of Caen. Night glasses showed it to be a 188. A short burst from 200 feet astern made debris fly from the cockpit, port wing and engine. The enemy pilot made a violent break down to the left, but a second burst caught his aircraft again in the port wing. After a great explosion the wing collapsed and the Junkers, flicking over on its back, went straight down in flames. March pinpointed the burning wreckage on the ground before heading for Hunsdon.

These were the last victories won from Hunsdon for on 18 June the Squadron moved from that station to Zeals, near Warminster in south-western Wiltshire. Here it was closer to the Cotentin Peninsula and the western flank of the invasion area over which the Cougars did most of their work in the next two months. The first night at Zeals was marked by a pair of victories won almost simultaneously in the vicinity of Vire. Lt. Harrington and Sgt. Tongue were patrolling east and west along one beat south of the American lines when the G.C.I. controller put them on to a target. As they closed on their contact it divided into aircraft which broke away in opposite directions. From their movements Harrington suspected they were fitted with rearward searching radars. He pursued one, coming in to 400 feet before he could identify it as a Ju.88. Recognition was difficult because the aircraft had two large bombs mounted on external racks between the engines and fuselage. Satisfied that it was a Hun, Harrington moved in to 200 feet, pulled up the nose of the Mosquito and tripped his guns. No strikes were seen. Then suddenly the whole aircraft blew up in the air. One wing and engine tore away and went hurtling past the night fighter. Masses of smaller debris and burning oil splashed over it, puncturing some holes in the leading edge of a wing and smearing the fabric on wings and fuselage. Ten seconds after the wreckage disappeared into the void below there was a vivid explosion on the ground which lit up the Mosquito 10,000 feet above. Some moments later Harrington and Tongue saw a second aircraft crash and burn near the blazing wreckage of their victim.

The second e.a. had been shot down by F/O G.T. Edwards and F/S W. Georges who were on patrol in the same area. Possibly it was the second of the two 88s that Harrington had stalked. Guided by the controller, the Mosquito crew were following one contact when another appeared nearer at hand. In one of its turns this
"bogey" passed across a light patch in the northern sky and Edwards saw from the silhouette that it was a Ju.88. He got away a quick burst of 34 rounds, hitting the port engine and cockpit. They burst into flames. The Mosquito, breaking away to avoid a collision, passed through the slipstream of the bomber and Edwards, struggling to regain control, lost sight of his target as it peeled off in a vertical dive through a thin layer of cloud. Some moments later when he orbitted the area he saw two fires burning on the ground – his Junkers and Harrington's.

Since D-Day the Cougars had destroyed twelve enemy bombers. They had to wait five nights before making it a baker's dozen. In the interval the crews, still maintaining their nine sorties a night schedule, had little but N.T.R. (nothing to report). One night there was much excitement and a near tragedy when one engine in W/C Hiltz’s Mosquito failed on the take-off run and the aircraft, swerving off the runway, crashed into "A" Flight dispersal. The crews escaped injury but the Mossie, a truck, a tractor and a building, went up in flames.

On the 23rd the Squadron got its thirteenth Hun since D-Day, and suffered its first casualties in over four months. W/O R.G. Jones and F/A L.W. Gregory were the successful crew in an engagement that was reminiscent of Edwards' victory on the 18th / 19th Patrolling east and west over the sea about 15 miles from the beachhead, they were vectored after a
"bogey" which proved to be a Ju.188. The Hun was taking evasive action, but the Mosquito kept closing in until it could open fire at 400 feet, continuing to point blank range. Then the e.a. exploded right in Jones' face, spattering the night fighter with debris and showering it with oil. As the Canadian crew orbitted they saw the Junkers crash into the' sea and burn. Visibility was difficult because oil smears covered the windscreen, so Jones deemed it prudent to return to base.

F/Os J.R. Steepe and D.H. Baker had taken off from Zeals at the same time as Jones and Gregory. Some time later Steepe reported that he had been hit by flak and that his aircraft was on fire.
2 His position at the time was off Barfleur. No further report was received. Later Baker's body was recovered from the Channel where the Mosquito had presumably gone down. He and his pilot had been with the Squadron since April of that year.

2 Crews frequently reported accurate flak at this period. One Mosquito returned with a flak hole through its cockpit cover, and on another occasion, S/L March’s aircraft was thrown on its back by a very close burst.

F/L Huppert and F/O Christie added a damaged to their score the next night (24th / 25th), while on patrol up and down the west coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Following a Ju.188, Huppert gave it two short bursts that struck on the port wing root and engine and on the bottom of the cockpit. One bright flash was seen, after which fragments flew away from the cockpit and fuselage. In a steep dive to port the Jerry disappeared from sight in the haze. At the same time the night fighter’s radar suddenly went out of commission, preventing pursuit of the damaged foe.

For the next weak the weather was poor, restricting operations by night. Most of the crews that did go out had to be diverted to other bases on their return. Enemy activity had also diminished and the beachhead was much quieter than it had been in mid-June. On the first two nights in July there were no sorties at all from Zeals. Then the weather improved and the nightly round of nine patrols was resumed. Edinger and Vaessen seized the opportunity to make another kill, their second, for ”A" Flight. Working again with Pool 2 over the western beachhead, they were put on to a target off Point de la Percee. Pursuing it through mild evasive action and some window, the Mosquito crew closed on a Ju.188 and, after checking their identification, dropped back into firing position below. The enemy pilot apparently realized then that he was being pursued for he made a violent peel off to port. It was too late. Edinger followed, firing. After 22 rounds from the 20 mm. cannons, the port wing tore away and the Junkers spun into the sea with one nacelle blazing fiercely.

Another Hun went down in the same area four nights later (7 / 8 July), but this time the victory had a tragic sequel and the Cougars lost one of the ablest pilots. F/L S.B. Huppert and F/O J.S. Christie ware on patrol over the beachhead with Pool 2 when they got a contact and gave chase. From the exhausts and a faint silhouette against patches of cloud, they could see it was a Ju.88. After a short burst from 600 feet which hit on the port engine and cockpit, Huppert closed in to 300 feet for the kill. With a very violent explosion the Junkers disintegrated. Seriously damaged by the shower of debris, the Mosquito was in immediate trouble. The starboard engine stopped, the aircraft lost height, and presently (the) second engine, labouring under the strain, overheated and seized. The Mosquito was now down to about 1500 feet and the crew reported they were baling out. Christie got away through the hatch and as he was floating down he saw the night fighter hit the water. Inflating his dinghy, he climbed aboard, bobbing on the sea for almost six hours until an American naval patrol boat picked him up and carried him to Plymouth. "Red" Huppert apparently did not have time to jump before his aircraft went in. Long-timers with the Squadron, Huppert and Christie had risen from sergeants to commissioned rank and had made an enviable record in air combat and ground attacks. A Canadian by birth, John Christie was educated in England where he joined the RAF in 1941. In September 1944 he was decorated with the DFC, the citation mentioning this experience and the "high degree of courage and determination" which he had invariably displayed in attacks on aircraft, airfields, locomotives and barges. Christie left No. 410 early in August on completion of his tour, but he later returned to the Cougars for a second tour and added further laurels to those already won.

The same night that Huppert and Christie won their tragic victory, a second Hun was destroyed by March and Eyolfson after a long chase which took them to the vicinity of Paris. They had gone out from Zeals in company with the first crew and had seen the Ju.88 go down in flames 15 miles north of Pointe de la Percee. A few moments later Eyolfson got a contact on his A.1. and the night fighter set out in pursuit. The enemy pilot seemed to know that he was being followed for he took violent evasive action at very high speed, dropping several batches of "window" as he fled southwards. Nevertheless the Mosquito was gaining on its target when the enemy veered sharply to the east and, probably presuming that pursuit had been shaken off, settled down to a steadier course. The range began to increase again. Opening up, March gradually drew in until he could see four bright exhausts which night glasses revealed were those of an Me.410. Two bursts were seen to hit the aircraft. Then the Hun, perhaps thinking he was being attacked by one of his own night fighters, switched on his navigation lights and fired a recognition cartridge. A third burst from March's four cannon produced an explosion and large fire in the Messerschmitt's port wing and engine, the glare lighting up the blue-green camouflage and black cross on the fuselage. With the whole port side blazing furiously, the 410 spun into the ground, crashing with a terrific explosion that illuminated the country-side and revealed the dispersal area of an aerodrome. The Mosquito crew fixed the position as the southwestern outskirts of the French capital. The very long chase at high speed from the Norman coast had overheated the Mossie's port engine and it was running rough as March headed westward and set course for home.

This victory was the third won by March and Eyolfson within 25 days. They both received the DFC, being the third Cougar crew decorated simultaneously for their services. The victory also marked the close of a period of excellent hunting for the Squadron. It was just over a month since the landings had been made in Normandy. In that time No. 410 had fought 19 combats, destroying 16 of its opponents. The next three weeks were much quieter over the Cherbourg Peninsula and the battlefields of Normandy. Despite much poor weather at Zeals, the Squadron was able to maintain its nightly schedule of softies on every night except the 21st, but the Luftwaffe seemed to be resting from its exertions of invasion month and most of the contacts gained during this period were on friendly aircraft. 3

3 June and July 1944 were the peak months in the Squadron s operations, with 209 sorties in the first month and 206 in the second.

On 28 July, No. 410 moved to Colerne, another station in Wiltshire near Chippenham, and about 25 miles north of Zeals. As was so frequently the case, a change of scene brought a change of fortune and the six weeks at Colerne were another fruitful period of 14 victories over Normandy and the Channel. There were no losses. The Somerville-Robinson team was outstanding during these weeks, accounting for four of the 14 kills.

Most of the action came during the first fortnight at Colerne. It began with seven victories in the first week (28 July – 3 August), followed by a further three in the second week. The first aircraft to take off from Colerne on the night of the 28th had trouble with one engine and was forced to land at the American airfield at Maupertus near Cherbourg. The Mosquito overshot and was damaged, but the crew, F/O F. Chad and F/S W. Georges, escaped injury. This was the second, quite unpremeditated, landing on the continent by a Cougar crew. Later that night F/L W.A. Dexter took off to patrol along the Cherbourg peninsula. With him was S/Lt. R.M. Richardson of the RNZNVR
***, one of half-a-dozen naval personnel serving with the Squadron. Several vectors from the ground controller brought the night fighter onto a violently jinking target which was identified as a Ju.88. After a short burst from 500 feet dead astern which blew up the starboard engine, the enemy aircraft went straight into the ground, lighting up the low clouds with a violent explosion. Dexter orbitted the burning wreckage to fix his position some miles east of Tessy.

*** Webmaster's Note: RNZNVR = Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve

The next night another Ju.88 was destroyed inland of the beachhead by P/Os D.M. MacKenzie and G.P.A. Bodard. They had been on patrol for some time and day was beginning to break when Yardley control put them on to their target. Aiming at the port engine Mackenzie fired a fairly long burst and saw the 88 dive into the clouds with the engine flaming. Following it down below the clouds the night fighter crew saw their victim burning on the ground. By this time fuel was running low, necessitating a landing at Maupertus, whence they returned to base the next morning.

July ended with the destruction of a third Ju.88 in the Granville area on the western flank of the battlezone. For an hour F/Os J. Maday and J.R. Walsh had patrolled one line without a nibble; then they changed their beat and almost immediately got a contact which the controller permitted them to investigate. At first the target was taking only mild evasive action, but as the Mosquito closed it began dumping very large quantities of
"window". Despite the interference Walsh guided his pilot to a visual on a Ju.88, confirming the identification by night glasses. The first burst hit the port engine; the second, fired as the 88 went down in a steep, sharp peel-off, made the other engine explode. There was another very large explosion when the Junkers crashed vertically into the ground.

August began as July had closed, with another Junkers diving into the deck. This time, for variety, it was one of the 188 types: but the locale was the same, a point ten miles north-east of Tessy, where the Americans had recently broken through the enemy lines and were rolling back the Nazi forces. At the beginning of their patrol, S/L Somerville and F/O Robinson intercepted two Stirlings. A third chase was more successful, as it led to the sighting of a Ju.188, weaving its way northwestward. In one of their
"jinks" the enemy crew evidently saw the Mosquito close behind for they did a violent peel off. Luck was against them. The Junkers' frantic manoeuvre carried it directly across the light of chandelier flares, enabling Somerville to keep sight of his target as he dived in pursuit. Then the e.a. pulled up in a steep climbing turn, but the Mossie made a tighter turn, closing the range for one quick deflection shot. The port wing disintegrated and, flicking into a steep spiral dive, the 188 went down, exploding violently as it crashed.

That was No.2 for Somerville and Robinson. They made it three the next night (2 - 3 August) by crashing a Do.217 a few miles from Pontorson, near the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Following vectors from the controller, the night fighter crew obtained a contact and, manoeuvring to silhouette it against the still bright northern sky, identified the target as a Dornier bomber. Somerville then got into position in line astern and opened fire. At that precise moment, the Hun pilot, catching sight of the Mosquito, made a sharp turn. But cannon shells tore away half of the port tail plane and rudder and holed the oil tank. A film of oil smeared the night fighter, so obscuring the windscreen that Somerville had great difficulty in keeping sight of the Dornier as it started down in a spiral dive. Either the enemy pilot had been put hors-de-combat or was having trouble in controlling his damaged aircraft. His gunners, however, were still in action, opening fire on the attacker from the dorsal and ventral turrets. The Mossie was not hit, but Somerville commented that the tracers
“appeared to be uncomfortably close”. He re-opened fire whenever he got close enough to see his target through the oil smears which were gradually clearing under the force of the slipstream. The dogfight continued, with both Mosquito and Dornier exchanging bursts until the night fighter's ammunition (600 rounds) was expended. As Somervi1le fired his last shells Robinson saw the other half of the Dornier's mutilated tail tear away. From 300 feet the bomber dived into the ground and burned furiously. During the long combat the Mosquito had encountered intermittent flak and on return to base it was found that a 13 mm. shell had punctured the left wing between the engine nacelle and fuselage.

Two hours after this Cougar victory another was won by F/L B.E. Plumer and F/O V.W. Evans in a brief combat over Normandy. In the bright moonlight of the August night the Mosquito crew sighted their target at 3000 feet distance and, after closing the range, identified it as a Ju.188, carrying two large bombs between the engines and fuselage. Thirty-eight shells barked from the four Hispano cannons. The port motor of the bomber blew up. Then, burning fiercely, it fell over to one side, crashed and exploded violently. Like Somerville and Robinson, this crew also met some flak in the combat area.

On the 3rd / 4th Dinsdale and Dunn knocked down a Jerry to give the Squadron its fourth successive night of joy. Working as usual with Pool 2 in the western area, the crew was informed of
"trade" approaching from the east and given a course to intercept. Through some "window” interference Dunn got a contact approaching head-on. His pilot swung about, came in behind, and closing rapidly, soon identified an Me.110. It too was carrying bombs externally but, unlike the Junkers, they were suspended outboard of the engines. Dinsdale let off a longish burst at the mildly Jinking target. It apparently missed. From dead astern he fired again. This time the starboard engine caught fire. With a start the Messerschmitt crew woke up. The rear gunner fired a short, wild burst, while his pilot took violent evasive action. Dinsdale went down after the bomber until his navigator cautioned him that they were approaching the ground rapidly. Yardley control also broke in with a warning that the Mossie was getting very low. At 800 feet Dinsdale pulled out of his dive, leaving the 110 still going down with its engine ablaze. After pulling out the Cougar crew searched the ground for signs of a crash, but there were so many fires burning in the area around Avranches no particular explosion could be distinguished. Yardley, however, reported that while it could still plot the Mosquito it had no further contact on the enemy aircraft. Dinsdale initially claimed a probable with the request that, in view of the circumstances, consideration be given to up-grading. The assessors concurred and the Me.110 was confirmed as destroyed.

After this series of seven kills in seven nights, there was no further joy until 6th / 7th August when Somerville and Robinson got their fourth Hun, a Ju.88 shot down over St. Milaire du Harcourt (near Isigny), followed the next night by another 88 shot down in flames near Rennes by F/L R.M.G. Currie and F/O A.H. Rose. The first action was fought while Somerville was on patrol south of St. Malo. Robison got a contact on a target considerably higher than the Mosquito which was cruising at 4000 feet. Despite considerable trouble with one engine which was missing badly, Somerville got the night fighter up to 5500 feet where he caught sight of his quarry, still 1000 feet above. Then ack-ack batteries came to his assistance. Their bursts ahead of the enemy aircraft seemed to frighten the pilot who began to turn and let down. Somerville cut across the turn, getting within range of the Hun which he now identified as a Ju.88 carrying the usual external bombs. The Mosquito's cannons set fire to one engine on the bomber which went down in a wide, sweeping spiral. It struck the ground with a very violent explosion that scattered debris over a great area.

During the brief combat the enemy aircraft took no evasive action whatever, but the Junkers which Currie and Rose destroyed the next night was weaving mildly and dumping lavish quantities of
"window” when the night fighter took up the chase. For almost five minutes Currie followed his target, closing the range until he could identify the type. Two short bursts had no effect other than to put the 88 into a sweeping turn. Coming in again, Currie fired a third time hitting the port engine, wing root and fuselage. "The e.a. exploded in a mass of white flame (Currie reported) and peeled off to port, going straight down. We followed him in an almost vertical dive from 9500 to 3500 feet before he disappeared into cloud. The last impression I had of the e.a. was a burning mass going straight down with pieces falling off it."

W/C Hiltz with F/O J.R. Walsh as his navigator made the first patrol on 10th / 11th August, a night on which there was considerable enemy
"trade". (No. 409 Squadron had three successful encounters). Guided by ground control, the Cougar C.O. obtained a contact over the Channel about 10 miles north of Pointe de la Percee, following the raider as it weaved eastward, scattering "window" for a time. With night glasses Hiltz and Walsh confirmed that their target was a Ju.88 and then attacked from dead astern. Nineteen shells sped from each of the four cannons. Strikes flashed on the starboard wing of the 88, followed by an explosion which appeared to be that of a bomb. Orbitting overhead, the night fighter crew watched their opponent go down through the clouds with a large orange glow shining on the wing. For some moments longer the clouds were lit up by the reflection of a fire from the burning wreckage. There were more Huns about, but Hiltz's windscreen and cockpit cover were smeared with oil, forcing him to cease patrol and return home.

Yet another Ju.88 was destroyed on the 14th / 15th by Somerville and Robinson in a combat that might almost be described as
"routine". A patrol with Pool 2 off the beachhead; vectors leading to a contact; a chase ending in a visual; identification at a close range, confirmed by night glasses; then a carefully aimed burst from dead astern at 450 feet range. The result, however, was not "routine". The Junkers, carrying two heavy bombs on racks between the engine and fuselage, disintegrated with a violent explosion and Somerville had to pull up in a very steep climb to avoid the flying debris. Calling control for a "fix", he was told that his position was 15 miles due west of Le Havre. As a sequel to this victory, their fourth since the beginning of August, "Red" Somerville and "Robby" Robinson were decorated with the DFC. 4

4 Their total score was five destroyed and one damaged, including two successes in February 1944.

S/L Somerville’s “B” Flight had enjoyed a monopoly of all the fighting since the beginning of August, as "A" Flight had been temporarily withdrawn from operations to convert to the Mosquito XXX equipped with the new Mark X A.1. While training on the new type progressed at top speed, "B" undertook all the operational commitments that were now reduced to four and later {after 11 August) to three sorties per night instead of nine which had been the schedule since D-Day. On 15 August the whole Squadron was ordered to go non-operational for a fortnight in order to accelerate the change-over, but by that time such progress had been made that the conversion had been virtually completed and W/C Hiltz was able to get the orders amended. 5 Very poor weather stopped flying on the night of the 16th / 17th , but the next night ”A" was ready to resume operations on their Mossie XXXs making three patrols nightly until the 25th when the schedule was stepped up to six. By early September the Cougars were again able to carry out a full programme of nine sorties. 6

5 For the past week the crews of "B” Flight had been taking instruction on new equipment on their free afternoons.

6 As a result of the reduction in their commitment during August, the Cougars' sorties fell off to 121, a decrease of 40K from the previous two months. Non-operational flying, however, was doubled.

In the eight and a half months (December 1943 – 15th / 16th August 1944) that they flew the Mark XIII Mosquito, No. 410's crews made over 1000 sorties, destroyed 37 enemy aircraft (roughly one-half of their total bag) and probably destroyed or damaged seven. They almost equalled this record in the next eight and a half months on their Mark XXX nightfighters, with a total of 29 kills and one damaged.

"A" Flight was soon in action on its new aircraft and began to whittle down the lead which "B" Flight had gained – in mid-August the score stood:

”B" 25.3/4 destroyed,
"A" 21 destroyed.

F/Os J, W. Fullerton and B.E. Gallagher did much to cut down this lead by scoring a double
"kill" on the night of 19th / 20th August. Working with Pool 1 this night (the western area had now been liberated), the Mosquito was sent to patrol south-east of Caen. Control reported a raid coming in from the east and Fullerton caught sight of flares which the enemy bombers dropped. Through "window" interference, several contacts were pursued until finally a Ju.88 was sighted and identified. Fullerton's first burst produced a cloud of sparks from the port engine; his second made the other engine blaze with a brilliant white flame. In a steep dive, with the engine burning fiercely, the Junkers hit the ground and exploded in a sheet of dull red flame. For five minutes the Mosquito circled about the burning wreckage, looking for further contacts. Then, as the raiders were returning from their attack, the night fighter found another Ju.88 that was throwing out "window" and doing fairly violent evasive action. At first its movements were too jerky to permit an accurate attack, but Fullerton waited patiently until the enemy pilot eventually steadied down. Then he fired a short burst. Blinded momentarily by his gun flashes and the glow of his ring sight, the Mossie pilot could not see if his shells struck home. The target, however, peeled off to the left and as Fullerton followed in a hard diving turn he saw the 88 crash and burst into flames. After this engagement one engine of the Mosquito packed up, forcing the crew to land at Camilly in France, where they remained overnight. 7

7 These two combats showed that with the new Mark X A.1. it was much easier retain contacts through "window" interference.

For twelve nights there was an uneventful round of patrols, hampered somewhat by poor weather which washed out operations on three nights. Hitherto the Squadron had been engaged exclusively with enemy bombers. It was therefore quite an innovation when one crew encountered and destroyed a Jerry single-seater fighter on the first night of September. The Mosquito, flown by F/L I.E. MacTavish and F/O A.M. Grant, was on patrol off the beachhead, between Cherbourg and Le Havre, when a bomb flash was seen amid our shipping. Turning towards it under the guidance of ground control, Grant got a contact which was flying eastward and gradually loosing height. MacTavish caught up with the Hun over Le Havre, identifying it as an FW.190. After one short burst of 29 rounds, the fighter blew up in a mushroom of orange flame, forcing the Mosquito to swerve violently to clear the blazing debris. Most of it burned out before reaching the ground, but one large piece was seen to hit in flames.

With this victory the Cougars' sojourn at Colerne ended. After weeks of hard fighting in Normandy the Allied forces had broken out of the beachhead and, wheeling eastward, were now driving ahead rapidly in pursuit of the Nazi armies as they fell back on their Rhine defences. It was time for the nightfighters to cross to the Continent and hunt in more distant skies. In preparation for the move, No. 410 returned to Hunsdon on 9 September. Here the Squadron remained for a fortnight, shifting its patrols from the familiar areas of Normandy to Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, Maastricht and Aachem. The weather was still poor, as it had been during the early days of September, and on only one night could any trade be found.

The lucky hunters were Edinger and Vaessen who destroyed an unidentified aircraft in a most unusual manner over Walcheren Island. While patrolling west of Antwerp, they were vectored to the north to intercept some
"trade". A contact was picked up and, as the Mosquito closed in at 330 m.p.h., the target began very violent evasion, warned possibly by a rearward looking radar. Despite its antics, Edinger continued to close in, but could get no nearer than 1200 feet due to the hard turns to one side and the other. This desperate effort to escape was the enemy pilot's undoing. In his turns he lost height to 600 feet at which point he began another hard turn to port, followed by an abrupt reverse turn in the other direction. Either he lost control or his aircraft did a high-speed stall, for it suddenly passed under the Mossie's wing and crashed into the sea. Not a shot had bean fired. With this unique victory the Squadron reached the half century mark (excluding two shared "kills"), and left the United Kingdom for a new base and new hunting fields.

Before leaving Hunsdon several crews made the acquaintance of
"Big Ben", as the new German V.2 (or A.4) rocket bomb was nicknamed. F/L Currie and F/O Rose were the first to meet it, on the night of 10th / 11th September. While on patrol from Brussels to Antwerp and Rotterdam they saw a bright orange light dead ahead and seemingly at their own level, 10,000 feet. At first glance Currie paid no attention to it, taking it for a bright star. Suddenly, Currie said, "it began to climb – hell it climbed!" The light appeared to go straight up, so rapidly that within a few seconds it had passed out of sight. On return to base the crew reported the sighting as a V.1., or flying bomb, but their account of the spectacular rate of climb and other details aroused great interest at higher levels. That night, a few moments after Currie and Rose made their sighting, a V.2 crashed on the English coast.8 Two nights later F/Os Fullerton and Gallagher also saw a ball of yellow flame streak vertically into the night sky, and in the weeks that followed there were many more similar reports.

8 The first reported V.2 incident had occurred in London on 8 September.

Several changes in personnel had occurred during the last weeks in England. On 16 August F/L T.B. Allerton, who had been Squadron Adjutant since July, 1943, handed over his duties to F/O E.P. Ward. A week later S/L March and F/L Eyolfson finished their tour and were posted for repatriation. Command of “A” Flight then passed to S/L R.H. Hedger, formerly in 409 Squadron.


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