We were ready to attack. We were now in the battle area and three-quarters of an hour had elapsed since we had taken off. The two bomber formations furthest from us were already being attacked by a considerable number of our fighters. Spitfires and Hurricanes appeared to be in equal numbers at the time. Some of the German machines were already falling out of their hitherto ordered ranks and floundering towards earth. There was a little ack-ack fire coming up from somewhere on the ground although its paucity seemed pathetic and its effect was little more than that of a defiant gesture.
We approached the westernmost bomber formation from the front port quarter, but we were some ten thousand feet higher than they were and we hadn't started to dive yet. Immediately above the bombers were some twin-engined fighters, ME 110s. Maida Leader let the formation get a little in front of us then he gave the order "Going down now Maida aircraft," turning his machine upside-down as he gave it. The whole of "A" Flight, one after the other, peeled off after him, upside-down at first and then into a vertical dive.
When they had gone "B" Flight followed suit. Ferdie and turned over with a hard leftward pressure to the stick to bring the starboard wing up to right angles to the horizon, and some application to the port or bottom rudder pedal to keep the nose from rising. Keeping the controls like this, the starboard wing fell over until it was parallel to the horizon again, but upside-down. Pulling the stick back from this position the nose of my machine fell towards the ground and followed White one in front, now going vertically down on to the bombers almost directly below us. Our speed started to build up immediately. It went from three hundred miles per hour to four or more .... Red Section had reached the formation and had formed into a loosened echelon to starboard as they attacked. They were coming straight down on top of the bombers, having gone slap through the protective ME 110 fighter screen, ignoring them completely.
Now it was our turn. With one eye on our own machines I slipped out slightly to the right of Ferdie and placed the red dot of my sight firmly in front and in line with the starboard engine of a Dornier vertically below me and about three hundred yards off. I felt apprehensive lest I should collide with our own machines in the melee that was to ensue. I seemed to see one move ahead what the positions of our machines would be, and where I should be in relation to them if I wasn't careful. I pressed my trigger and through my inch thick windscreen I saw the tracers spirallign away hitting free air in front of the bomber's engine. I was allowing too much deflection. I must correct. I pushed the stick further forward. My machine was past the vertical and I was feeling the effect of the negative gravity trying to throw me out of the machine, forcing my body up into the perspex hood of the cockpit. My Sutton harness was biting into my shoulders and blood was forcing its way to my head, turning everything red. My tracers were hitting the bomber's engine and bits of metal were beginning to fly off it. I was getting too close to it, much too close. I knew I must pull away but I seemed hypnotised and went still closer .... I pulled away just in time to miss hitting the Dornier's starboard wing tip. I turned my machine to the right on ailerons and heaved back on the stick, inflicting a terrific amount of gravity on to the machine. I was pressed down into the cockpit again and a black veil came over my eyes and I could see nothing.
I eased the stick a little to regain my vision and to look for Ferdie. I saw a machine, a single Spitfire, climbing up after a dive about five hundred yards in front of me and flew after it for all I was worth. I ... soon caught up with it -- in fact I overshot it. It was Ferdie all right. I could see the "C" Charlie alongside our squadron letters on his fuselage. I pulled out to one side and back again hurling my machine at the air without any finesse, just to absorb some speed so that Ferdie could catch up with me. "C" Charlie went past me and I thrust my throttle forward lest I should lose him. i got in behind him again and called him up to tell him so. He said: "Keep an eye out behind and don't stop weaving." I acknowledged his message and started to fall back a bit to get some room. Ferdie had turned out to the flank of the enemy formation and had taken a wide sweeping orbit to port, climbing fast as he did so. I threw my aircraft first on to its port wing-tip to pull it round, then fully over to the other tip for another steep turn, and round again and again, blacking out on each turn. We were vulnerable on the climb, intensely so, for we were so slow.
I saw them coming quite suddenly on a left turn; red tracers coming towards us from the centre of a large black twin-engined ME 110 which wasn't quite far enough in the sun from us to be totally obscured, though I had to squint to identify it. I shouted to Ferdie but he had already seen the tracers flash past him and had discontinued his port climbing turn and had started to turn over on his back and to dive. I followed, doing the same thing, but the ME 110 must have done so too for the tracers were still following us. We dived for about a thousand feet, I should think, and I kept wondering why my machine had not been hit.
Ferdie started to ease his dive a bit. I watched him turn his machine on to its side and stay there for a second, then its nose came up, still on its side, and the whole aircraft seemed to come round in a barrel-roll as if clinging to the inside of some revolving drum. I tried to imitate this manouevre but I didn't know how to, so I just thrust open the throttle and aimed my machine in Ferdie's direction and eventually caught him up.
The ME 110 had gone off somewhere. I got up to Ferdie and slid once more under the doubtful protection of his tail and told him I was there. I continued to weave like a pilot inspired, but my inspiration was the result of pure terror and nothing more.
All the time we were moving towards the bombers; but we moved indirectly by turns, and that was the only way we could move with any degree of immunity now. Four Spitfires flashed past in front of us .... There was a lot of talking going on on the ether and we seemed to be on the same frequency as a lot of other squadrons. "Hallo Firefly Yellow Section -- 110 behind you" -- "Hallo Cushing Control -- Knockout Red leader returning to base to refuel." "Close up Knockout "N" for Nellie and watch for those 109s on your left" -- "All right Landsdown Squadron -- control answering -- your message received -- many more bandits coming from the east -- over" -- "Talker White two where the bloody hell are you?" .... "I don't know Blue one but there are some bastards up there on the left -- nine o' clock above" -- Even the Germans came in intermittently: "Achtung, Achtung -- drei Spitfeuer unter, unter Achtung, Spitfeuer, Spitfeuer." .... "Yes I can see Rimmer leader -- Red two answering -- glycol leak I think -- he's getting out -- yes he's baled out he's o.k."
And so it went on incessantly, disjointed bits of conversation coming from different units all revealing some private little episode in the great battle ....
Two 109s were coming up behind the four Spitfires and instinctively I found myself thrusting forward my two-way radio switch to the transmitting position and calling out "Look out those four Spitfires -- 109s behind you -- look out." .... The two 109s had now settled themselves on the tail of the rear Spitfire and were pumping cannon shells into it. We were some way off but Ferdie too saw them and changed direction to starboard, opening up his throttle as we closed. The fourth Spitfire, or "tail end Charlie", had broken away, black smoke pouring from its engine, and the third in line came under fire now from the same 109. We approached the two 109s from above their starboard rear quarter and, taking a long deflection shot from what must have been still out of range, Ferdie opened fire on the leader. The 109 didn't see us for he still continued to fire at number three until it too started to trail Glycol from its radiator and turned over on its back breaking away from the remaining two .... At last number one turned steeply to port, with the two 109s still hanging on to their tails now firing at number two. They were presenting a relatively stationary target to us now for we were directly behind them. Ferdie's bullets were hitting the second 109 now and pieces of its tail unit were coming away and floating past underneath us. The 109 jinked to starboard. The leading Spitfire followed by its number two had now turned full circle in a very tight turn and as yet it didn't seem that either of them had been hit. The 109 leader was vainly trying to keep into the same turn but couldn't hold it tight enough so I think his bullets were skidding past the starboard of the Spitfires. The rear 109s tail unit disintegrated under Ferdie's fire and a large chunk of it slithered across the top surface of my starboard wing, denting the panels but making no noise. I put my hand up to my face for a second.
The fuselage of the 109 fell away below us and we came into the leader. I hadn't fired at it yet but now I slipped out to port of Ferdie as the leader turned right steeply and over on to its back to show its duck egg blue belly to us. I came up almost to line abreast of Ferdie ... and fired at the under surface of the German machine, turning upside-down with it. The earth was now above my perspex hood and I was trying to keep my sights on the 109 in this attitude, pushing my stick forward to do so. Pieces of refuse rose up from the floor of my machine and the engine spluttered and coughed as the carburetor became temporarily starved of fuel. My propeller idled helplessly for a second and my harness straps bit into my shoulders again. Flames leapt from the engine of the 109 but at the same time there was a loud bang from somewhere behind me and I heard "Look out Roger" as a large hole appeared near by starboard wing-tip throwing up the matt-green metal into a ragged rent to show the naked aluminum beneath.
I broke from the 109 and turned steeply to starboard throwing the stick over to the right and then pulling it back into me and blacking out at once. Easing out I saw three 110s go past my tail in "V" formation but they made no attempt to follow me round. "Hallo Roger -- Are you O.K.?" I heard Ferdie calling. "I think so -- where are you?" I called back.
"I'm on your tail -- keep turning" came Ferdie's reply. Thank God, I thought. Ferdie and I seemed to be alone in the sky .... Ferdie came up in "V" on my portside telling me at the same time that he thought we had better try to find the rest of the squadron.
....Ferdie set course to the north where we could see in the distance the main body of aircraft. London with its barrage balloons floating unconcernedly, like a flock of grazing sheep, ten thousand feet above it, was no feeling the full impact of the enemy bombers. Those that had got through -- and the majority of them had -- were letting their bombs go ....
....I wondered what the people were like who were fighting the Battle of Britain just as surely as we were doing but in less spectacular fashion. I thought of the air raid wardens shepherding their flocks to the air raid trenches without a thought of their own safety; the Auxiliary Firemen and the regular fire brigades who were clambering about the newly settled rubble strewn with white-hot and flaming firders and charred wood shiny black with heat, to pull out the victims buried beneath; the nurses ... in their scarlet cloaks and immaculate white caps and cuffs, who were also clambering about the shambles to administer first aid to the wounded and give morphine to the badly hurt .... Not least I thought of the priests and clergy who would also be there, not only to administer the final rites to the dying but to provide an inspiration to those who had lost faith or through shock seemed temporarily lost ....
I felt humble when I thought of what was going on down there on the ground. We weren't the only people fighting the Battle of Britain. There were the ordinary people ... all going about their jobs quietly yet heroically and without any fuss or complaint .....
We were now in the battle area once again and the fighting had increased its tempo. The British fighters were becoming more audacious, had abandoned any restraint that they might have had at the outset, and were allowing the bombers no respite at all. If they weren't able to prevent them from reaching their target they were trying desperately to prevent them from getting back to their bases in Northern France. The air was full of machines, the fighters, British and German, performing the most fantastic and incredibly beautiful evolutions. Dark oily brown streams of smoke and fire hung in the sky from each floundering aircraft, friend or foe, as it plunged to its own funeral pyre miles below on the English countryside. The sky, high up aloft, was an integrated medley of white tracery, delicately woven and interwoven by the fighters as they searched for their opponents. White puffs of ack-ack fire hung limply in mid-air and parachute canopies drifted slowly towards the ground.
....Beneath us at about sixteen thousand feet, while we were at twenty-three, there were four Dorniers by themselves still goign north and I presumed, for that reason, they hadn't yet dropped their bombs. Ferdie had seen them and was making for them. Three Hurricanes in line astern were delivering a head-on attack in a slightly echeloned formation. It was an inspiring sight, but the Dorniers appeared unshaken as the Hurricanes flew towards them firing all the time. Then the one on the port flank turned sharply to the left, jettisoning its bomb load as it went. The leading Hurricane got on its tail and I saw a sheet of flame spring out from somewhere near its centre section and billow back over the top surface of it s wing, increasing in size until it had enveloped the entire machine except the extreme tips of its two wings. I didn't look at it anymore.
We were now approaching the remaining three Dorniers and we came up directly behind them in line astern .... I slid outside Ferdie and settled my sight on [a] Dornier's starboard engine nacelle .... The Dornier's saw us coming all right and their rear-gunners were opening fire on us, tracer bullets coming perilously close to our machines. I jinked out to port in a lightning steep turn and then came back to my original position and fired immediately at the gunner and not the engine. The tracers stopped coming from that Dornier. I cnaged my aim to the port engine and fired again, one longish burst and my "De-Wilde" ammunition ran up the trailing edge of the Dornier's port wing in little dancing sparks of fire until they reached the engine. The engine exploded and the machine lurched violently for a second, as if a ton weight had landed on the wing and then fallen off again for, as soon as the port wing had dropped it picked up again and the bomber still kept formation .... The engine was now totally obscured by thick black smoke which was being swept back on to my windscreen. i was too close to the bomber now to do anything but break off my attack and pull away. I didn't see what had happened to the Dornier that Ferdie had attacked and what's more I could no longer see Ferdie.
I broke off in a steep climbing turn to port scanning the sky for a single Spitfire -- "C" Charlie. There were lots of lone Spitfires, there were lots of lone Hurricanes and there were lots of lone bombers but it was impossible now and I thought improvident to attempt to find Ferdie in all this melee. I began to get concerned about my petrol reserves as we had been in the air almost an hour and a half now and it was a long way back home.
.... I began to make some hasty calculations concerning speed, time and distance and decided that if I set course for base now and traveled fairly slowly I could make it .... I called up Ferdie, thinking, not very hopefully, that he might hear me, and told him what I was doing. Surprisingly he came back on the air at once in reply and said that he was also returning to base ....