Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First RAF Plane shot down in World War Two

One thing about doing research for a historical novel, you stumble onto a lot of unusual trivia and little known facts along the way. I was recently taken aback to discover that the first plane shot down by an RAF Spitfire…. was an RAF hurricane! You can’t make this stuff up!

The Battle of Barking Creek was technically the first air battle of World War II. It all happened on 6 September 1939, just three days into the war. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had not even taken their positions in France and Belgium. They would not be engaged by the German Wehrmacht until 10th may, 1940. Dunkirk was almost a year away.

A report came through to RAF Fighter Command that unidentified aircraft had been seen flying over the Essex coast, just north of London. Six Hurricanes were scrambled from 56 Squadron nearby. Two Pilot Officers, eager to be in the fray, jumped into two reserve aircraft and also joined the Hurricanes. Hurricanes from 151 Squadron, and three Squadrons of Spitfires were also scrambled.

Now, let’s take a moment here and look at the larger picture. This happened three days after declaring war on Germany. It was the first ‘action’ that anyone had seen. We had eager pilots, little training, no dog-fighting experience, and very primitive communications. We also had a bunch of pilots who wouldn't recognize a German aircraft if there had been pictures of Hitler on the wings! Everyone expected to see enemy aircraft, but had little training in recognition.

Enter the two Pilot Officers and their ‘reserve’ aircraft with no comms, flying around, looking for the rest of 151 Squadron.

Spitfires from 74 Squadron saw the hurricanes, and dived to intercept. One Hurricane (Pilot Officer Frank Rose) was hit, but the pilot survived. The second was not so lucky; Pilot Officer Montague Hulton-Harrop was shot down and killed  near Ipswich. Hulton-Harrop was the first Pilot to be killed in the three day old war, a casualty of so-called "friendly fire". His Hurricane was also the first plane to be shot down by a Spitfire.

Oh, and the original report of aircraft over Essex? It turned out to be a false alarm.

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