Stephen C Challis - Authors page

The Luftwaffe was nothing if not consistent, and Fighter Command had risen to the challenge.  Most of 11 Group’s Squadrons were now ready for them.  Two (2) Squadron, 222 Squadron, 19, 41, and 74 Squadron Spitfires were joined by the Hurricanes of 46 Squadron; 238, 73, 249, and 17 Squadron blocked their path.  A fierce dogfight developed high over the Thames Estuary.  Three more Hurricane squadrons and the Spitfires of 92 Squadron from Biggin Hill were held back to cover the area over Kent and Folkstone.
 
Like some ghastly replay of a bad movie.  Mark heard the Tally Ho, over is headset and followed Green Leader into a cloud of oncoming aircraft.  The Four Spitfires of Green Flight swept in with all guns blazing fire as they passed over the lead aircraft of the bomber formations.  Two thousand yards ahead, Blue Section were finishing their run, leaving several bombers with shattered cockpits, and wings peppered with bullet holes.  But now, the 109s were on them.  Mark fired 3, two second bursts as he passed over the oncoming bombers.  He saw two break formation and peel off, streaming smoke, but had no idea if it was from his fire, or another of his flight.  No time to worry now, as he climbed away he saw the waiting 109s.  They were already targeting him.
 
Among the attacking aircraft was a yellow nosed BF 109 fighter, piloted by Major Kurt Hessler.  He had flow the aircraft off the roadway that morning after it had been refuelled, and the local police had temporarily closed the road.  After being turned round and checked at the airfield.  The 109 was cleared for operations and he had joined his squadron for this afternoon’s raid.  Kurt, a Staffelführer, [Squadron Leader] was an experienced pilot with 6 kills already to his credit.  He had great respect for the Spitfire and considered it a close match for his own fighter.  The head on attacks by the RAF were achieving the result of breaking up the bombers formation, but left them vulnerable to attack as thy completed their run.  In a movement termed, ‘the bounce’ the Germans came down with the sun at their backs, making it all but impossible for the RAF pilots to spot them in their rear view mirrors.  The RAF had coined the phrase, ‘beware of the Hun in the Sun’, during the First World War.  For good reason, RAF Fighter, Ace Adolph (Sailor) Milan had published his 10 rules of air fighting, after his experiences over Dunkirk.  The pamphlet was widely circulated among sector stations engaged in the battle of Britain.  He stressed that the best way of avoiding ‘the bounce’, was to never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds over the combat area.  Today, adherence to this rule would save Marks life. 
 
As he pulled clear of the bomber stream, Mark, like his colleagues, scanned the sky for the waiting 109s.  The sky seemed full of aircraft twisting and turning.  Nothing seemed near him and he levelled off, Kurt was now stalking him.  Like a predatory fox, he was now above and behind the Spitfire, with the bright September sun streaming over his shoulder and bathing the RAF plane in sunlight.  Kurt moved his thumb over the gun button.  Now the Spitfire filled his gunsight. 
 
Guten Tag Engländer“   He muttered under his breath, as he pressed the fire button.  At the same second, Mark, inexplicably, banked left and peeled away, leaving the German’s tracer tearing through empty air.  Mark was now climbing fast.
 
Kurt made the mistake of following, but realized he could not match the Spitfires rate of climb.  In seconds his aircraft would stall and go into a spin, and he knew that would leave him wide open to the other Spitfires.  He peeled off and looked for another target. 
 
Mark had dodged another bullet, but knew one day his luck would run out.  Hopefully he would end up a POW, or be injured and taken off OPS; but in all likelihood, his death would come while strapped in his cockpit, riddled with bullets, or being burned alive.
 
After several more evasive manoeuvres, the 109s disappeared, heading home after exhausting their fuel supply. 
           
This left the RAF to turn their attention to the Bombers; several had now jettisoned their bombs and were making a run for home.  Mark spotted one heading south west, and low, crossing the Kent coast.  Not easy to spot against the patchwork fields below.  He quickly gave chase and was joined by a Spitfire from 222, another Hornchurch Squadron.  The two fighters came in a stern, line abreast, firing short bursts.  The He 111 rear gunner opened fire as expected, concentrating his fire on the 222 Squadron plane, which took several hits, but continued the attack until his guns ran dry. 
 
Mark knew his ammunition must also be low, but the Heinkel was still flying, a good chance to score another kill.  As the other fighter peeled away, its pilot gave him the unmistakable arm gesture, ‘He’s all yours’.  Mark replied with a sharp salute and then moved into position.  He came in dead astern, targeting the port engine with another 2 second burst; now he was close, too close, giving the German gunner a clear shot.
 
Lead and tracers lashed the Spitfire, ripping a gash in the upper starboard wing and shattering the cockpit.  One impact starburst pattern covered a portion of the bulletproof window.  Mark could not understand how the bullet had made it through the propeller arch but it had.  Mark pulled away, satisfied that the 111 was trailing black smoke and with a feathered port engine.  The German did appear to be losing height, so he would claim a probable.  Now he needed to get back, he could see the coast to his right and banked over to line it up with the Spitfire nose in front, but then saw another coastline to his right.  This did not seem right, where the hell was he?  He realized he had been a little disorientated in the last few minutes, but this was bizarre.  He banked the aircraft 20 degrees and flew in a tight circle, scanning the horizon as he did so. 
 
Below him in the distance was an object in the sea; at first he thought it must be a ship, but it left no wake.  A check on his fuel, and he realized he was going to have to land quickly.  He took another closer look at the land mass in front.  It was not connected to the second mass, odd; then he realized it was tapering off into the sea, ending in in several points of rock.  The Needles, he was off the bloody Isle of Wight, almost 90 miles west of his patrol area.  No chance of making Hornchurch now.  He switched on the RT and called. 
“Hello Shortjack, Hello Shortjack; Miter 8 calling; request vector to airfield, I am low on fuel and have suffered some damage; over.”
 
There was an agonizing wait.
 
“Hello Miter 8, Shortjack answering.  Pancake as soon as possible.  Vector 23, Hostiles, 200 plus inbound.”
 
Mark dropped his left wing and brought the Spitfire round into a sweeping dive towards the coast.  In doing so, he came in over the Object he had mistaken for a ship; an old Napoleonic defence structure known as Horse Sand Fort.  The fort, originally build to defend Portsmouth Harbour in the Victorian era, was still serving in that capacity today, but instead of naval cannon, it now housed an anti-aircraft battery of Bofors guns. 
 
Shells began to explode around Marks aircraft as the jumpy crews opened fire.  Cursing, Mark dropped to 200 feet and banked the aircraft to show its unmistakable wing shape.  The firing ceased, but not before shrapnel had spattered his port wing, sending fuel streaming out of a ruptured tank. 
 
The fuel contents gauge showed a sharper drop.  With luck, he had about two minutes flying time before he became a glider.
 
No chance of making Tangmere; below him were what appeared to be mudflats, then miraculously, an airfield on a spit of land sticking out from the coast.   He did not recognize it, but no matter, it was in front of him.  He had a lifeline and took it.  He grasped the undercarriage lever and lowered it; wheels unfolded, and he breathed easier.  The hydraulics had not been damaged, the wheels locked into place.  Now he lined up with the runway the best he could.  There was a small church below the runway, isolated.  Aircraft were parked on the apron, looked like Blenheim’s.  Then the engine began to splutter, no chance of a go round, let’s hope the controllers had seen his approach, and recognized him as friendly; he would be a sitting duck for a trigger happy AA gun.
 
Approaching the threshold, the engine gave a last pop and cut out; the propeller shuddered to a halt.  But it did not matter; the aircraft hit the concrete runway and rolled out, under the circumstances, a pretty good landing.  He raised his goggles and slid back the canopy.  A Morris pick up was approaching.  It pulled up alongside, and a Flight Sergeant emerged from the front seat. 
        
“Good afternoon sir, spot of trouble have we?”
 
Mark grinned.
 
“Out of fuel Flight, plus a couple of holes from a Jerry gunner.  I could murder a cuppa, where are we?”
 
“Welcome to RAF Thorney Island sir.  I’ll run you to OPS, and we’ll get the kite towed off the runway.”
 
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