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Excerpts from my grandfather’s WWII journal

collected by Tim Darling (email)


My grandfather, Flight Lieutenant James W. Darling (193 Squadron), was in the RAF and flew Hawker Typhoon bombers over areas of occupied France and Belgium in World War II. In 1944, he was one of 8 men credited with killing Germany’s ‘greatest’ general, Erwin Rommel, in a French village of Ste-Foy-de-Montgommery. (Press clipping), though it was later discovered that Rommel was only wounded in the attack and was forced to commit suicide a couple of months later for allegedly taking part in a plot against Hitler.

In his book Typhoon Attack, Norman Franks writes: "Another significant event on July 17 [1944] was that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who commanded the Germans in Normandy, received wounds that effectively put him out of the battle. He had been inspecting frontline troops as he expected an Allied offensive. On his return to his HQ, his staff car was strafed by Allied fighters. Although one of his officers thought the aircraft were Spitfires, history records it as Typhoons of 193 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Johnny Baldwin." German officer Heins’ account of the Rommel strafing incident on July 15, 1944.

The Typhoons were fast and often unreliable. He flew them from 1942-1945, logging over 800 flying hours, with 300 of those over occupied Europe. As best I can tell, he wrote these memoirs about his last year in the war around 1960. [The footnotes and explanations were added by me.] If you know anything about the 193 Squadron, send me an email. (Photos, logbooks, and other information are at the bottom of the page).


June, 1944 - (this story is also captured in Louis McBride’s journal entries here)

We were flying Typhoons. They were single-seater fighter aircraft used in the North European campaign. We had taken off from a makeshift airfield at Needs Oar Point 1 near Southampton. Over Cherbourg, the Hun had engaged us and we were now pointing homeward. One by one the aircraft touched down and taxied to the flights area. Ned 6 was missing. He had last been seen spinning down towards earth at the time of the dog fight. There had been no call on the radio. He was probably lost but you could never tell. We all liked Ned. He was a Geordie [someone from northeast England] with a baby face and fair hair. He was only about 5’3" high and quite as gentle as a lamb. But he was tough and strong when he had made up his mind to be. The Fathers sat around occasionally looking into the sky while we went off to the briefing tent to give our reports.

The general buzz of voices died as the CO lifted the tent flap and said "Ned has his tail flap shot off." We all looked toward the ground. "John, take the jeep and nip over to Beaulieu [5 miles northeast] to pick up Ned will you - he thought it safer to land there with no tail - he didn’t want to make a mess here. God knows how he got it back."

   
"I joined 193 early in April [1944] and had my first flight with them on the 18th. They were based on a strip just near the Solent [a stretch of sea on the southern shore of central England separating the mainland from the Isle of Wight; (map)] at a place called Needs Oar Point, just south of Beaulieu and in fact in nearly every case we took off from the airfield straight over the Solent, about 3-400 yards from the end of the runway. This proximity to the water did in fact present one or two problems as we neared D-Day, because all those damn boats had their balloons flying!" - Pilot Officer Jimmy G. Simpson, 193 Squadron 9

[60-foot long silver barrage balloons were flown over the coasts of England to deter low-flying aircraft. They were filled with helium gas and tethered by steel cables which allowed them to be raised to up to 10,000 feet. The cables were a threat to aircraft, capable of shearing off their wings and propellers. Balloon Comand units crossed the Channel on D-Day to protect the harbors, captured ports, and Allied troops and supplies against low-level aircraft attack.
Photo of balloons being prepared at Southampton in preparation for D-Day; Balloon over Tower Bridge; Barrage balloons at D-Day tethered to British LCTs (Landing Craft Tanks) at Normandy, at Omaha Beach.]11
   

Aug 9, 1944


Some of the 193 Squadron playing cards: Ian Ross; Peter Thorne (?);
Eric Horace "V-J" Vernon-Jarvis (wearing goggles to protect his night
vision) [KIA Feb 3, 1945 8]; Will Kilpatrick; Rod Davidge (dealing); Johnnie "Zip" Button;
Lowe; Eddie Richardson; Bill Switzer; unknown.
The Army were having trouble with the Hun in the woods near Caen [10 miles from the beach, Caen was a major city in the D-Day campaign that took over a month to capture.] An urgent request was made for us to dive bomb the woods. Army Intelligence Office briefed us and off we went.

After the job was completed, we gave our reports - and a dismal lot of reports they were. The woods were bombed alright, but we were used to more precise work - crossroads or a single building. These woods were quite a large target from our point of view and so the bombs dropped all over the place.

Each one reported scattered bombing. Ned’s face was particularly grim but it grew brighter as he heard the other’s reports. His bombs were all over the place - hopeless.

The field telephone rang: a message from Sector HQ. "Bombing of woods a complete success! The neatest bit of scattered bombing that had been seen. All mortar positions silenced. Congratulations to all!"

We didn’t know they were mortar positions - who would have expected mortars in the woods anyway?

[In his flight log for this day, he has: "Bombing mortar installations" / "0:30" / "Highly successful (congratulations received from army)]

Aug 11, 1944

We normally carried two 500 lb bombs on the wings of the Typhoons and the squadron operated in very close liaison with the Army. The beachhead had been established at Avranches [100 miles southwest of Caen] and the army was tied up at Caen. Our job was to back the Hun out of his strong points by dive bombing. The operation had been carried out and the squadron returned to our temporary base at Tangmere 2. All aircraft were in except Ned’s. Someone had reported seeing his aircraft hit by light flak and he had side skipped to earth at the beachhead. The CO said we would allow time for him to get back or to report from the beachhead. But by the time midnight came, we had had no news. The signal was sent to his parents and his personal effects were packed.

Twenty four more hours passed with still no news - not even of a crashed aircraft at the beachhead. The CO was worrying about a replacement when his door was sharply rapped and opened. "Sorry I’ve been so long sir, I had to cross the channel in a ‘duck’ - I couldn’t borrow an aircraft." Ned was back.

257 Sqdn with Typhoon at Warmwell, May 1942
photo: Charles E. Brown © RAF Museum
(Warmwell is on England’s southern coast, 60 miles west of Southampton)

Aug, 1944 - St. Croix Sur Mer [the beach near Caen], France. (photo)

The Germans had used many horses and horse drawn carriages in the North European Campaign and from time to time as they withdrew to new positions, they would leave equipment behind.

Killy [Will Kilpatrick] had found a motorbike which was in working condition. Felix [Cryderman] had found a fine and spirited stallion and others of us had found items of interest. Of course we couldn’t hope to hold on to them, but for a little while until we moved on again we could amuse ourselves.

Ned had found a cat. A wild and scabby looking thing it was too. It seemed happy enough to accept the odd scraps he offered in his tent and Ned amused himself watching the cat stalking seagulls in the long grass.

The beachhead had been open about 10 days. We were instructed to fly to B15 [a temporary airfield set up by the British at St. Croix Sur Mer, near Ryes on the beachhead where the D-Day invasion took place: 15 miles northwest of Caen 1] and there to tie up with the Army Intelligence for close support work. B15 consisted of a field with a strip of Sommerfeld Tracking and half a dozen tents. [Incidentally, B15 was where the Squadron took off from on the mission that injured Rommel - see this article.]

Jim Darling with the "new" MN912 DP-J at B3 [St. Croix],
probably Sept. 1944. He first flew the new "J" Aug 25; Pete Langille
was KIA in it in Nov 1944.

   
"We didn’t get to France as either a wing or a squadron until 17th July [1944]. Prior to that, we used a strip at B15 - fly over, do a trip, land on the strip, do another op, then fly home. If I remember rightly this strip was really a runway laid across the middle of a valley. If you didn’t get off in the first 2-300 yards, you had to thunder down the hill, go up the other side and launch yourself into the bright blue yonder. It was rather hazardous and one or two of us [caught our propellers on the ground]... But I can confirm that a Typhoon can fly around the circuit with all four tips of its four propeller blades bent inwards and still manage to land again!" - Pilot Officer Jimmy G. Simpson, 193 Squadron 4
   

We had dispersed the A/C [aircraft; dispersed to the aircrew - the grounds crew who fixed, rebuilt, and maintained their aircraft] and were standing round and smoking and talking and speculating when the next shell would drop when Ned let out a yell. He pointed to the end of the field where cows were grazing. A donkey was waddling slowly towards the cows. On his back were two milkmaids sitting back to back. Each of them had a yolk on her shoulders from which were suspended buckets and each carried a stool.

The donkey stopped and the girls with all their paraphernalia got off and proceeded to milk the cows.

In the meantime, the donkey gradually became ‘on heat’ and by the time the girls again took up their positions on his back, his organ extended right to the ground. As he waddled out of the field with his load on his back, his organ swayed from side to side followed by the chuckles of eight very amused young men. From that day on, the male organ of man or beast was always referred to as a ‘donk’ by the squadron.

Shelling intensified and we were ordered to fly to Hurn [along the southern coast of England, 20 miles west of Needs Oar Point].

Aug, 1944

Ned’s tent was the place we gathered to tell yarns - for the real gem! While Ned baked potatoes, me or others would tell the tale. From time to time, one of our number lost on an earlier operation would turn up and Ned’s tent was where we got the truth, good or bad.

John had been missing about 10 days. He suddenly appeared one evening in the mess tent and after the usual exchanges and drinks, we adjourned to Ned’s tent. John had bailed out near Pisuex [100 miles west of Paris and 100 miles south of Caen] and had contacted a French farmer who promised to help. He had given John clothes and told him to work round the farm.

Hardly had he begun this life when the German Army decided to put some troops on the farm. John was scared but the farmer told him that his French was as good as the German’s. He should mix with them. He did, and he taught them how to play poker. He had relieved them of over 7,000 francs [equivalent to about $750 US dollars in 2003 4]. He had given some to the farmer but had kept the rest to prove the tale.

The German troops had actually given John a lift part of his way back. The Maquis had done the rest. [The Maquis were local groups who illegally resisted the German occupation, as officially, France had surrendered to them.]

  Cockpit of a Typhoon

Sept 18, 1944 - (this story is also captured in Louis McBride’s journal entries here)

The campaign had gone well and the army had advanced to northern France but odd pockets of resistance had been left behind. We had taken over and were operating from Vendeville, the aerodrome outside Lille [in France, near the Belgium border; one of the closest points to England]. Ops ‘B’ told us to pull out and report to Fairwood Common [at Swansea on the west coast of UK/Wales, the site of this photo]. We couldn’t safely make the journey in one hop so we decided to stay the night at Tangmere. We all took off - beautifully and held tight formation because the visibility was so poor. We were flying west towards Bologne which was still in enemy hands. The CO decided to climb through the cloud. Up and up we went, still trying desperately to hold formation. Then the CO’s voice over the radio told individual section leaders to break off with their own formations and get to Tangmere separately.

Three sections continued upward. One went back down to sea level. No one really knows where Ned went. When we landed at Tangmere, Ned was missing.

  S/L Johnny Button with his ground crew13

At 8 AM the following morning, an Anson landed and out jumped Ned, dressed in his best blue and carrying his little attaché case.

He told us that he had had to force land with engine trouble. Unfortunately, this occurred over "no man’s" land between the Hun forces at Bologne and our own troops surrounding the area. He had been dressed in his best blue to fly back to England. The shattered soldiers on either side must have thought it queer that the RAF could fly clean showered in best blue with a weekend case! Allies had sent out a patrol which picked Ned up, took him to . . . . and Transport Command had taken over from there.

Oct 6, 1944 - Antwerp, Belgium

Ned and I were to have a rest, and when we arrived at Antwerp [on the Belgium coast], the CO asked us to get some unused houses ready for occupation.

We needed to bring several items and so we made a trip into Antwerp town. We had wandered around for some time going into shops and trying out our Flemish and our French and usually ending up in English when Ned said, "look there’s a zoo - let’s go and have a look."

raf flight log What a moth-eaten looking lot of animals they were too - we were told that the rest had been eaten! We decided to go to the lion house and there we were surprised to see people in the cages. All men and women were completely bald and they leered out at us like monkeys.

On enquiry we discovered that this was the way the people of Antwerp had decided to deal with the German collaborators!

We left there in a hurry and finished the evening in a pub drinking green beer while the locals delighted in singing "It’s the wrong way to tickle Mary" 5, etc.

Some of the 193 Squadron pilots on a German bunker, 1944, probably at B3 [St Croix, France]

 
Photo courtesy David Ince. (Click here for a larger, unannotated image). (Same occassion; alternate photo.10)
  • F/Sgt Pratt (KIA Oct 12, 1944).
  • F/Sgt J. Fishwick (KFA May 25, 1945).
  • F/O A. Will "Killy" Kilpatrick was a co-pilot in my grandfather’s log books.
  • W/O AE Sugden (KFA Aug 8, 1944). He was also credited with Rommel’s death.
  • Sq/L JC "Zip" Button (survived the war). He appears to be in the center of this photo (right behind W/C Baldwin).
  • F/O Jimmy G Simpson (survived the war).
  • F/O David HG Ince helped arrange reunions of the pilots through 2007.
  • F/O Jim Darling was my grandfather (survived the war; he died in 1984).
  • F/L AW Switzer became a POW on 15 August and was later released. Shortly after the war, Rod Davidge and he served as each other’s best men (They were both also credited with Rommel’s death), according to my conversations with Rod in 2005-2007.
  • [KIA=Killed in action; KFA=Killed in Flying Accident].
 

Photos, newspaper clippings, maps, and other stories:

References / Footnotes:

1 Needs Oar Point ALG (Advanced Landing Ground) was one of a few temporary airfields built on the southern coast of England in preparation and support for the D-Day landings in northern France (June 6, 1944). Collectively known as 146 Wing, 4 RAF Typhoon squadrons (with 120 Typhoon bombers) used it from April 11 - July 3, 1944 (193 Sq, 197 Sq, 257 Sq, 266 Sq.) Its 2 1500 yard runways were made of a heavy metal mesh called Sommerfeld Tracking that was laid on the grass. They were surrounded by the officers’ tents. The airfield was reverted back to farmland after the squadrons left.]
2 Tangmere’s aerodrome is 25 miles east along the English coast from Needs Oar Point. It was not heavily used after D-Day partly because of damages it sustained during raids following the Battle of Britain.
3 B15’s location was provided by Ken Trott, of 197 Squadron. Be sure to read his story of being taken in as a POW by the Germans. He was stationed with my grandfather at Needs Oar Point and was nice enough to talk to me about his time there.
Also see Back Overleaf of Charles Hall's logbook for complete translations of all location codes.
4 In his journal, my grandfather translated it to 35 British pounds, which was the correct equivalent around 1960.
5 "That’s the wrong way to tickle Mary" was an extra verse added by troops returning to England after first World War to the song "It’s a long way to Tipperary", which went: "That’s the wrong way to tickle Mary / That’s the wrong way to kiss! / Don’t you know that over here, lad, / They like it best like this! / Hooray pour le Francais! / Farewell, Angleterre! / We didn’t know the way to tickle Mary, / But we learned how over there!"
6 Pilot Officer Edwin "Ned" Statters, one of my grandfather’s better friends. Apparently he survived the war and ran a pub in Hull, England.
7Excerpt from Typhoon Attack by Norman Franks, pg 131.
8ibid, pg 224.
9ibid, pg 99.
10ibid, pg 138.
11Courtesy: www.skylighters.org
12 Logbook excerpt provided by Philip Lenson, Captain Benjamin Lenson’s (184170) son. Benjamin Lenson, one of the 8 pilots credited with Rommel's injury, survived the war and died December 25, 2007.
13 Photo courtesy John Simpson, Jimmy Simpson's son. Annotations courtesy John Simpson and Chris Woodcock. Annotation about 88mm cannon story courtesy David Ince.
14 Jim Fishwick's logbook and bio details courtesy J C Brindle, MBE, Jim's nephew.
15 Excel source files are here
16Photo courtesy http://www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk/193_Sqdn.htm

Francis Mellersh, an RAF pilot, gets a haircut between missions at
Fairlop airfield in Essex while reading John Buchan, Nov 1942.
Courtesy Imperial War Museums



All text and pictures copyright © 2001-2007 Tim Darling.