Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fleet Air Arm Pilots in the Battle of Britain

Seventy-five years after the Battle of Britain, a small subset of pilots who fought in the crowded skies above England have almost been forgotten.  They are the Fleet Air Arm pilots, who took to the air, along with their Royal Air Force counterparts, to defend the British Isles.

Some of the Fleet Air Arm pilots while training with 7 Operational Training Unit at
RAF Hawarden  in June 1940.  Jimmy Gardner, Admiral Blake, Dickie Cork,
and Francis Dawson-Paul can be seen in this photo.  

During the Battle, the Fleet Air Arm had one resource that the RAF desperately needed:  pilots.  While aircraft could be built rather quickly in factories, it took time to train men. In the dark days of 1940, the FAA loaned a small group of pilots to the RAF for attachment to their expanding complement of fighter squadrons.  Two of these pilots, Sub Lieutenant Francis Dawson-Paul, who flew Spitfires with 64 Squadron, and Sub Lieutenant Arthur “Admiral” Blake, who flew Spitfires with 19 Squadron, quickly became aces.

As always, Canadian-born pilots were included in the mix.  Two Canadian Fleet Air Arm pilots were to earn their Battle of Britain clasp with Fighter Command.

Jack Conway Carpenter was born in Toronto, but as a young boy returned to his ancestral Wales.  He joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1939, but was attached to the RAF in June 1940.  He joined 229 Squadron flying Hurricanes, but was quickly transferred to 46 Squadron, which also flew Hurricanes.  While flying with 46 Squadron, he downed a Bf-110 on September 3, 1940, then shot down a Bf-109 on September 5, 1940.  Sadly, his short life ended just a few days later when he was shot down while flying Hurricane P3201.  He attempted to bail out of his stricken aircraft, but his parachute failed to open.

Roy Baker-Falkner, was born in England, but grew up in British Columbia.  He is better known for leading attacks against the Tirpitz during Operation Tungsten in 1944, but  was also involved in the Battle of Britain.  Sadly, his contribution to the Battle with Fighter Command is unknown, but he was awarded the Battle of Britain clasp for having flown at least one operational sortie with RAF Fighter Command during the period of July 10, 1940 to October 31, 1940.  (There is no question that Baker-Falkner was flying operations with 812 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.  This Fleet Air Arm unit, flying Fairey Swordfish, was attached to RAF Coastal Command for laying mines in German-held harbors as well as bombing sorties against German invasion barges.  However, only pilots attached to Fighter Command during the Battle are eligible for the Battle of Britain clasp.  While one can debate the merit of the decision to leave out bomber and Coast Command aircrew who served during the Battle, it appears possible that Baker-Falkner was not actually eligible to receive the clasp.)

Dickie Cork of 242 Squadron and Admiral Blake during the Battle of

A further Canadian connection to the Battle are the three Fleet Air Arm pilots attached to 242 (Canadian) Squadron.  Ostensibly, a Canadian squadron, 242 Squadron always had a complement of non-Canadian pilots attached to the unit.  After suffering heavy losses in France, Midshipman Peter Patterson, Sub Lieutenant Richard “Dickie” Cork, and Sub/Lt. Jimmy Gardner joined the Squadron in the summer of 1940.  While Patterson was killed in September 1940, both Dickie Cork and Jimmy Gardner made ace while flying with the Canadians of 242 Squadron.  Dickie Cork flew as the wingman for 242 Squadron’s famous CO Douglas Bader, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his “exemplary courage and coolness in successful action against enemy bombers.”  He later commanded 880 Squadron flying Sea Hurricanes, but was killed in a Corsair crash in 1944.  Jimmy Gardner survived the Battle and returned to fly with the Fleet Air Arm for the rest of the war.  To retain their nautical flavor during their time with the RAF, Cork and Garner wore naval uniforms and Gardner painted Nelson’s Trafalgar "England Expects" signal on the side of his Hurricane.  (Photos courtesy of the Fleet Air Arm Museum.)

The left side of Jimmy Gardner’s 242 Squadron Hurricane was painted
with Nelson’s "England Expects" signal from the Battle of Trafalger.
It is believed that the Hurricane which carried this art was P2884 LE-V.  Gardner
flew LE-V most often with 242 Squadron.

Modeler's Note:  Xtradecal has recently issued a decal sheet in both 1/72 and 1/48 scale which includes aircraft flown by Gardner and Cork.  Sadly, there are some issues with the depiction of Gardner’s aircraft as they have included no serial number, the aircraft is incorrectly marked as LE-T, and they’ve included a spurious flag signal for the right side of the Hurricane.  (LE-T was Hurricane V7203 in which Canadian Pilot Office Joseph Latta went missing on January 1941.)  Dickie Cork’s P2831 LE-K is much more accurate and carries a RN style crown painted under the cockpit.