Not only did the aircrew have to
endure fairly dangerous and relentless training. The cold
weather in January in Northumberland was an added factor.
? January 1943
" ....last night we had 18 degrees of frost here and when I got
up at 7.15 I was far from happy in my work . After breakfast ,
to my horror I discovered I had to do some flying at 25`000 feet
. As you can imagine I still haven't recovered from the cold .
Although Reg seems to revel in
" ...the flying is grand , I manage
to scare myself stupid several times during the day , but I love
it . I am never cold flying , everything happens far too quickly
for me to have time to feel cold ."
And is clearly enjoying his
conversion from flying boats to fighters
14th January 1943
" ...what does Toddles think of her
bad type father becoming a fighter boy ? . I really am loving it
, you know how much I like flying anyway , but this is sheer
heaven . You have no idea what a kick I get out of screaming
around the sky at a rate of knots . Of course I have a hell of a
job to restrain myself from shouting for a dingy after I have
landed ! . This idle chatter must cease and I must go and juggle
with J.C. and Isaac Newton."
It was not all fun...
18th January 1943
" ...my life up here is made up of
sleeping , eating and flying . So much so I have not even been
off camp yet . We had a crack up here yesterday , one of the
boys caught fire in mid air and went straight in . It was
impossible to get him out . "
29th January 1943
" I... am looking forward to having another yellow pullover -
very swish . I shall then be the complete fighter boy - fair
hair , mad , yellow sweater , moustache and top button not
fastened . "
in a letter home...
flying over the countryside at 50ft!...
finishes his refresher course and Fighter
Pilot Reg Baker arrived at
182 Squadron at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, which was equipped with
the fearsome Hawker Typhoon fighter.
Hawker Typhoon 1B
13th February 1943
R.A.F. Martlesham Heath
"..... as you can see I managed to arrive quite safely . The
squadron are a grand lot , all very young and very keen , I know
I shall enjoy my stay with them very much as I told you it is an
old peace time station and really wizard , none of this walking
about 2 miles from quarters to mess . Last night there was an
e.n.s.a show , art gregory and his band . At present everything
is strange , but no doubt it will settle itself in a very short
16th February 1943
Martlesham Heath .
" I really am enjoying my time up
here , and I love flying these aircraft . They are terribly fast
, but most fascinating . "
Operation Spartan pitted two
forces against each other. Eastland representing a German
force and Southland an Allied one. Eastland was presumed to have
overrun Allied territory, an area within Cambridge, Coventry and
Gloucester. Southland was to regain the occupied territory
from a starting point of Swindon to Maidenhead. Eastland had an
airforce called X Group; Southland's was named Z Group. With
respect to to preparing for and examining plans for cross-channel
invasion 12 of Z Groups squadrons were mobile.
One of the squadrons operating as
part of Z Group was Reg's 182 squadron.
Whilst more detail work was
required, Spartan proved the viability of mobile squadron
182 Squadron Operations Record
A decided browned offness is setting in with everyone, even
though life is much softened in comparison with (Spartan)
The concept of mobile squadrons was
implemented fairly quickly....
24th March 1943
Martlesham Heath .
" I am leaving here within the next week or so for Middle Wallop
, near Salisbury , there to live in a tent ! . I shall be there
about a fortnight and then shall move south . I am not looking
forward to living in a tent and cooking my own food over a wood
fire . "
to Fairlop to begin operations.
Reg summed it
6th April 1943
R.A.F. Station Fairlop
" ...as you can see the move is over and here I am ; living in a
tent what with settling in and pitching our own tents the days are
simply not long enough . Of course the whole thing is a mess up ,
the last meal we had was b`fast at 6 o`clock on Monday and it is
now Tuesday afternoon . "
Reg Baker made
his first fighter combat contributions:
raid in the St Omer/Fort Range area.
Typhoon Ib of 182 Squadron
Dive bombing Courtrai airfield.
Reg had retained a
clarity of purpose. In a letter to his wife:
14th April 1943
" ..you are being messed about but I
do think that you understand - really this work is all for Toddles
, by doing it there is a good chance that when she is grown up and
married she wont have to face a war , I know that it is worth it
182 Squadron conducted three
one of which:
Flight Lieutenant Baker
and Flying Officer
Blue section, [airborne] from Fairlop 1115, down 1220 hrs
crossed coast at Rye and made landfall at Berck sur Mer. The
target being railway at Doullens. The section followed the
course of the River Authie to the main arterial road at Le
Boissot. The weather became extremely bad with heavy rain
and section turned 5 miles beyond Le Boissot to return to
base. Out over Fort Mahon where bombs jettisoned on the
beach, and made landfall at Hastings - zero feet
Rhubarbs were short-range low level
attacks, in poor
weather conditions, small
formations of two or possibly four fighters, on
targets of opportunity.
Trott flew Typhoons with 195 and 197 Squadrons and recalls
how such operations could be testing.
From my point of view it
was always what we called bad weather flying. They liked
to send you across when the weather was a bit duff:
could go in low level, in
most cases, find the target and come out again. The idea
being that you were sort of avoiding the flak. That was
alright if you avoided the towns and cities, or some of
I have a Rhubarb in my
logbook for January 1944:
It was a rather bad
weather day. We took off from Fairlop, flew down the
Channel and over the coast. As
we were going in the
chappy with me called up and said, `I've lost you. What
shall I do?' So I said: `Either proceed to the target or
if you're not sure where the target then you'd better
return to base.'
He returned to base. I
went on and found the target, then turned to come, home.
By that time it was raining hard and the weather was
really closing in. I happened to find myself over a
railway junction. I wanted to get out of there quick,
because at junctions you could expect flak. So I just
pulled straight up and went on to instruments. I suppose
I climbed through about 10,000 feet of cloud on
instruments and when I came out of the top it was a
lovely day, beautiful sunshine, cloud everywhere
however, no breaks. I called up Control and asked for a
homing. They just gave me a course to steer, and from
then on kept me under control until told to come down
through the cloud. As I was coming down they said when
you break cloud you'll be at about 800 feet, which, sure
enough I was. Control said `I want you to land at
Lympne.' I landed, stayed for lunch and, then got
permission to fly to Manston in the afternoon. But the
weather didn't clear for some time. I finally got back
to Fairlop in to evening. That one Rhubarb had taken all
182 Squadron conducted six Rhubarbs. Reg and his wingman
attacked a goods train, one locomotive and 15 open and covered
trucks in the station at Daunes, bombing at low level. Reg
scored a direct hit on the centre of the train with his two
The squadron moved to Lasham and in early May carried out
Conditions were not good
1st May 1943
124 Airfield HQ
" I don`t expect hearing from you for
days as this place is literally in the middle of the wilderness ,
it has to be seen to be believed . Last night it rained like the
devil and as my tent leaked like a sieve you can imagine what a
pleasant time I had , that applied with the mud here makes life
just a bowl of cherries ! . "
3rd May 1943
this place is of course , the very last word , miles out in the
blue and a perfect sea of mud . Our tents leak and as it has
rained every day since we arrived life has not exactly been a bowl
of cherries . The food too is pretty unmentionable but that is a
trifling consideration !! . I understand we are moving soon from
here within a week or so - amazing is`nt it ? . I don`t have a
stitch of dry clothing and my blankets are wet . "
182 Squadron detailed some of its pilots to cross the Channel
and attack an enemy airfield.
The squadron Operations Record
Book recorded the details:
In the afternoon Flight
Lieutenant Baker [and 6 others] flew down to Ford where
bombing up and briefing took place for the dive bombing
attack on Abbeville Drucat Aerodrome, with 8 aircraft from
The aircraft took off from
Ford at 1440 hours and set course direct for Abbeville. The
escort joined 181, 182 Squadrons over Ford, while still
Operations Record Bookiting, causing Squadron Leader
Crowley-Milling to set course immediately, leaving 182 well
in the rear.
The escort took up position to
the rear and to the other side of 181. 182 Squadron were
thus forced to fly through starboard escort in order to take
up position in line abreast, and to starboard of 181
Squadron. The squadron crossed the French coast at 6,000 ft
north of Ault, and then climbed to 10,000 ft. The formation
leader Squadron Leader Crowley-Milling gave his squadron the
order line astern and attacked the target in a steep dive
10,000 ft to 5,000 ft followed by his second flight, the
last two aircraft of which were some considerable distance
behind the rest of the squadron.
This caused 182 leader Flight Lieutenant Baker
to delay his attack for some 30
seconds. Squadron dived 70 degrees 10,000 ft to 5,000 ft
dropping 14 x 500 lbs GP on target. Hits were observed on or
near bowsers and aircraft in both NW and SE dispersals. No
enemy aircraft were seen in the air. Intense light and
medium flak was experienced both over the target and from
Crecy forest for some 10 miles. Squadron received no orders
from formation leader and Flight Lieutenant Ireson ordered
them into formation.
Out over coast south of Berck
where squadron dived to 0 feet and made cannon attacks on
machine-gun posts. Landfall Worthing/ Littlehampton. Landed
Ford 1610 hrs.
Flight Lieutenant Baker,
the squadron leader, was hit by flak OT at the end of his
dive. Flak burst in his cockpit blowing the top off and
wounding him in the thigh, elbow and head. All instruments
except rev counter and compass were u/s. The aircraft dived
out of control to 100 ft where Flight Lieutenant Baker
regained control. He gained height to 2,500 ft and headed
back to Ford making landfall at Beachyhead.
Attempted a crash landing on
side of runways at the airdrome, but found himself heading
towards Littlehampton village at 50 ft. He swerved and
successfully crash landed near the railway line. This fine
performance was a truly magnificent one and an example which
has filled the rest of the squadron with pride and awe.
There were large holes in the airplane, aileron, and cockpit
of the aircraft and only first class ability could have
brought it home, as F/Lt Baker succeeded in doing.
The crowning incident was that, when his wounds had been
bandaged, he insisted on being flown back to Lasham the same
evening, refusing to remain in Ford sick quarters, as he was
acting CO this time. Amusement was caused by a small box of
sundry objects extracted from Flight Lieutenant Baker. This
included a screw!
Reggies version of the events....
25th May 1943
" I have been in hospital since
Thursday the thirteenth with shrapnel wounds , but I am coming out
Tuesday or Wednesday . They put 12 stitches in me in various
places , thigh , arm and head but now they have healed beautifully
although I still have a sundry piece of shrapnel in my thigh - I
understand that will work out in the distant future . My manly
beauty is slightly marred by two scars between my eyes .
I collected the little packet over
France , had a most confusing flight home and crashed about a
thousand yards short of Ford aerodrome - they flew me up here
after patching me up . Do believe me when I say I am alright now ,
in fact I am returning to full flying duties as soon as I get out
- Wednesday at the latest . "
Squadron personnel visited Reg in hospital, but it wasn't too
long before he was back with a view to getting on ops as soon as
possible, in fact he returned to operational fitness on 27 May on the 30th May taking part in a dive-bombing
attack on steel works at Caen.
But Reggie's time at 182 Squadron was about to run out.....
Flight Lieutenant Baker DFC was posted to No. 263 Squadron,
Warmwell as Commanding Officer.
The 182 Squadron Operations Record Book paid tribute to his
'This appointment was very popular and well deserved, but he
will be very much missed.'
Reg was delighted....
16th June 1943
" ...but as usual everything happened very suddenly - they rang
me up to say that I had been given a squadron and I had to leave
within about an hour ! . Actually I am not staying here , but
going to Zeals , Warminster , Wilts . As you can imagine I am
tickled pink about the whole business - as the bottlers daddy is
now a s/leader we might promote her to f/o , what do you think ? .
At the moment it is raining like hell , but who cares ! . I had to
unpick your lovely sewing , and put another stripe in . "
Command of 263 Squadron
15 June 1943
Reg Baker took over command of
The 263 Squadron Operations record Book recorded:
Squadron Leader E. R. Baker DFC comes to the squadron
[as CO] in his third tour of operations. He has fought
and flown aircraft of many designations in almost every
theatre of the war, other than the Far East. It is
felt that the squadron has again been most fortunate in
18th June 1943
"... the chaps are awfully nice - so young I feel like an old
grey beard . The first night they took me out and tried to make
me somewhat tipsy , they failed I fear , not because of my
capacity but because of their lack of capacity .
Have had six letters from chaps in the old squadron asking if
they can come and join me - Tom Pugh will only let me have one ,
Alan Lowey . "
George Wood, who had joined 263 Squadron in February 1943,
recalled the impression he developed of the new CO.
larger than life and a wonderful person. He would brief
a dicey-do op and your eyes would come out like organ
stops, expecting all that flak.
say, `well you've got to die some time', and then carry
on. He was hard in that respect
When Reggie took over
as C.O. from Geoff Warnes, and we went to Zeals to
reform I was surprised to be called into the C.O's
(Reggie's) office and he said "Take my aircraft P7113
(the one shot down over France later) and aerobat it
over the airfield to bolster the morale of the troops
He asked me to give a mini
air-display, and so I broke all the rules, and no-one
reported me for low-flying and aerobatics lower than
permitted, as everyone watching (including the bods in
the control tower) thought it was the C.O.
It was a complete
give-away when the C.O. came out of his office to watch,
and everyone thought "Who the hell is breaking all the
rules and getting away with it!"
Westland Whirlwind Fighter
[View short story of the Westland Whirlwind]
263 Squadron moved to Zeals, Wiltshire, where a period of
intensive training began, owing to the fact that there-were
a lot of new pilots on staff. On 20 June one pilot is recorded
as having made `a successful landing on his first whirlwind
solo', but then selected wheels up instead of flaps up.
The conditions at Zeals where no better than previous locations:
" this place is
really in the wilds - two local pubs but they haven't any beer so
they aren't very much of a comfort . Living in a very old house - my
bed is an enormous four poster , Charles the Second is reputed to
have slept in it . "
" this place has a
certain number of mosquitoes and they seem to relish biting my
ankles , they are both up like balloons and irritate like the very
devil - shades of N. Russia . "
Norma and daughter Helen July 1943
7th July 1943
" I know how you feel about my not having any leave since
September , but I simply can't take any . You probably think I am
quite mad and rather stupid but I am needed with my squadron , all
the chaps are terribly young and inexperienced and if I took leave
and something happened I should never forgive myself - as you know
things are humming now and will be even more so in the near future
, my place is here as long as I am physically capable of staying .
If by not taking leave I can save one
of the chaps then it is the only thing for me to do . I could
legally , take my leave tomorrow but flying isn't just a job that
has to be done for so long followed by leave, it is something I
live for and shall probably die for.
At the moment I am dead tired . I
have been working all day , night flying until one in the morning
and then starting again at 4o`clock in the morning - in fact I
have had eight hours sleep in the last four days . "
12 July 1943
The squadron moved back to Warmwell, Dorset, and
would lead four shipping recces on 13, 18, 20, and 23 July
without any real incident except the threat of flak. Although
George Wood had become aware of an enemy presence on the 18 July
On this particular op I had sighted a Focke-Wulf stalking
the squadron and I reported this to Reg. Then unknown to me,
my RT failed and I didn't pick up that Reg had called up two
of the escorting Spitfires to go and investigate. When I
suddenly saw another aircraft crossing my bow I gave it a
squirt before realising it was a Spitfire. I wrote this in
my logbook, adding, `Missed him'. Reg wrote underneath,
`Rotten shooting'. .
The 263 Squadron Operations Record Book recorded the lack of
real action against the enemy:
Thus July ended without any contact with the enemy other
than four reviews of the Channel Islands and rocks and the
occasional and not inaccurate bursts of flak which are a
commonplace of these reconnaissance operations.
It seemed that the enemy now very seldom moves any shipping
by day between Brest and Le Havre. 164 Squadron of Hurricane
IVs have been at Warmwell since the squadron moved to Zeals
in June, and have not yet had even one strike.
Moreover the presence of a new squadron of Typhoon bombers
in the Portreath Sector removes the possibility of a good
deal of offensive work in the far south-west which formerly
fell to the detachments of this squadron. The work of the
squadron has therefore tended to become a kind of
anti-convoy patrol whose success is measurable by the
absence of enemy shipping in the Channel Islands and off the
coasts of the Cotentin.
But in August, matters were about to change and 263 Squadron
would see plenty of action.
Meanwhile Reggie kept his sense of humour...
6th August 1943
"... my full promotion has come
through and I am now a substantive squadron leader . I suppose you
have read in the papers about the new ribbons to be worn , service
chevron and wound stripes too - I shall either look like an
American or a commissionaire at Selfridges ! . "
11 August 1943
Reg Baker led his Whirlwind pilots, escorted by
Spitfires, to an area off the Brittany coast. In a small bay
where the Abervach river flowed into the sea, enemy boats were
sighted, seven E-boats and a trawler. The aircraft too were soon
spotted and the boat crews scrambled about removing the
tarpaulin from their guns, but the Whirlwinds were on to them
too quickly. Reg Baker took the first flight of Whirlwinds in,
and with his No. 2 they homed in on two E-boats. Reg's No. 2
would later report that.
‘We just couldn't miss them. The CO scored a direct hit on one
with a bomb and I managed to do the same with the other.'
George Wood also took part in the operation.
I was in the second wave going in, and all around E-boats
were blowing up. We went for those that hadn't yet been hit,
dropping bombs from low level. Sadly I still have a vivid
picture in my mind of a German mariner who was diving
overboard, looking up at me, horrified, and I just dropped a
bomb on him. It's been in my mind ever since. Not a happy
Eventually four E-boats were claimed blown-up by the squadron,
another set on fire and a sixth, either an E-boat or an armed
trawler, was destroyed. The Squadron Operations Record Book
recorded the 11 August operation as `The Massacre at the Aber
Vrach [sic] River'.
[View the 263 ORB and German War Diary entry for this raid]
The day after, Leigh-Mallory and the Secretary of State for Air
sent congratulatory messages. The mission was also reported in
the cinemas, on Pathe news, and when Reg Baker was asked what
had happened he had simply replied, twirling his wizard prang
moustache, `We caught Jerry with his pants down.'
George Wood also recalled that there was one other notable
person taking an interest in the operation.
At the time Queen Mary was in the ops room listening to the
raid. Now when on operations a deaf ear is turned to all the
language that's used on the air. A Polish squadron happened
to be escorting us, so when the swearing started the group
captain accompanying Queen Mary, in order to spare her
blushes, remarked that they were speaking in Polish. The
reply that is alleged to have come from the Queen is, `Not
" as you
probably heard on the wireless we had a wizard party yesterday over
France , we didn't lose anyone although the other squadron did . I
am writing this at midnight before crawling into bed for five hours
sleep and then another show , we have done four shows in 48 hours !
Just what the doctor ordered ! . "
14 August 1943
On this night Reg Baker further
inflicted his wrath upon his enemy.
The moonlight helped in the sighting
of an E-boat between Jersey and Guernsey. Reg swooped from up
moon, dropped his bombs which struck the ship causing an explosion
amidships. He then watched as two men struggled in the sea amongst
Reg would later recall,
‘I think the
E-boat was taken by surprise because though it opened up with one
gun, it did not put up as much flak as these boats usually do’.
And then just off Guernsey Reg, flying
at 300 feet, caught sight of a Heinkel 111 silhouetted against the
full moon, 200 feet above. Reg rose slowly and from 200 yards let
loose, and his enemy’s port engine caught fire. Then as the Heinkel
turned Reg unleashed again and his enemy plunged into the sea.
"... at the moment I can hardly keep
awake , three hours sleep in the last forty eight does`nt seem
enough !!. I had some more luck on Sunday night, I sank an E.boat
and shot down an enemy aircraft . "
15 August 1943
Whilst over Cherbourg harbour Reg
Baker spotted an armed trawler which had just fired some flak. He
lost height and came in low from the sea. Searchlights penetrated
the night sky and land based gunners tried to bring him down. From
50 feet Baker released the short delay bombs.
was pretty terrific. Every one of our aircraft was hit. However we
got the ship all right and our escort say they saw a great
explosion followed by sheets of flame.’ The bombs hit home and the
ship began to sink'
This must have been one of the rare
occasions when a quick low-level tour of the harbour had presaged an
attack on a vessel nearing the entrance. The method surprised RAF
Intelligence Offer as well as the enemy.
15th August 1943
" thank you very much for your letter
and congratulations - sorry about the newspaper people bothering
We have been inundated with telegrams
and messages and yesterday we received the crowning blow - the
Movietone news people came down and filmed us for the news you
have never seen a more embarrassed collection of pilots in your
life ! . It is to appear in the Movietone news next week - that is
the same week you receive this letter . We have been flying madly
for days and at night too , living on sandwiches for meals ! . "
18 August 1943
He took off at 0015 hrs on a night recce. Reg was `flying down moon
along the north coast of the Cotentin when he saw flak coming from
port and astern. He turned to investigate and saw a trawler lying
about a mile off Cherbourg and firing vigorously. He turned inside
Cherbourg harbour positioning for attack, meeting two searchlights
and flak from shore batteries. Then he bombed the trawler up moon
from 50 feet releasing short-delay bombs, and saw a large explosion on the stern of the ship.
After orbiting he saw the ship well down by the stern and apparently
sinking. Its guns were silenced. Flight Lieutenant Ross found no
trace of the ship an hour later. This armed trawler was claimed Cat
2, probably sunk.'
19th August 1943
" sorry about all this wretched
publicity , I have tried from this end to stop it but it does`nt
seem to have much effect . I think it is damned unfair for both of
us . I suppose by now you will have seen my ugly face plastered on
the screen . "
The rest of the month was taken up with convoy escort duties and
then on 7 September the unit moved to Manston, Kent, as a detachment
to 11 Group, to take part in operation Starkey.
8 September 1943
On 8 September Reg led 12 aircraft
dive-bombing operation to the naval and flak positions at Hardelot,
an attack which was designed to assist in the protection of the
ships of the amphibious exercise, detailed to make the feint on
Boulogne the next day. Reg and four others had to return early, but
seven aircraft did attack the positions.
The next day Reg again led 12 aircraft to the Hardelot gun
positions, taking off at 0800 hours, the Squadron Operations Record
`It went well from the start to finish. Dives were from 14,000
to 3,500 feet and bombing results were good - all bursts were in
the target area, within a circle of 150 yards radius. In both
operations the coast was crossed at Hastings at 4,000 feet,
after which the squadron climbed to 14,000 feet, dive bombed in
echelon starboard and returned in formation at 1,000 feet.'
10 September 1943
263 Squadron returned to Warmwell.
Reg with Whirlwind pilots at Warmwell with stags antlers
(Reg in centre)
10th September 1943
" ....on Sunday I am going on a
course to Old Sarum , Salisbury where I shall have the pleasure of
not flying for a week and living with the brown jobs - delightful
! . "
...the course was delayed...
17 September 1943
Operation Chattanooga Choochoo was devised by Reg Baker in
co-operation with 10 Group Intelligence, the aim being to sever the
main Rennes-Brest railway line if possible in nine places between
Lamballe and Morlaix.
263 Squadron ORB: ...
so that (a) trains should be bottled up [for] `ranging' on that
night (b) trains should be diverted to the southern loop line
single track and become targets for Mosquitoes on the following
Pilots were carefully and extensively briefed at Warmwell during
the previous days. They were to make landfall at 2,500 feet at
the point nearest to their targets where no flak was to be
expected and to bomb their allotted targets as an absolute
priority. Eleven aircraft were to be on target at approximately
the same time. These orders were nicely carried out. Our
aircraft met neither S/Ls or flak, tho' these were seen out of
range at Morlaix. Bombing was carried out between 0205 and 0215
from 2,000 to 700 feet. No pilot `lost his way'.
Reg contributed as one of four aircraft detailed to attack the
Ponthou viaduct. One pilot bombed the line SW of Morlaix. Reg and
the other two attacked the viaduct but think they hit the cuttings
to the side.
Shot down in the CO's Whirlwind
23 September 1943
George Wood took part in a 263 Squadron operation to Morlaix
airfield. Reg didn't take part in the raid; he was on leave. George
Wood was flying Reg's Whirlwind.
When we came in over Morlaix there was lots of ack-ack. I dived
from about 14,000, and when T got to 4,000 feet I was hit. I had
tit to off-load the bombs and then everything blew up. I think
some flak must
have hit my bomb. The
escorting aircraft all said it was like
a flower opening, and a chap
binoculars down below later told me it
looked like two aircraft had collided, as there was so much
I couldn't get out of the aircraft.
I tried everything but nothing
So I just shouted, 'Oh God help me.' Suddenly
myself outside the aircraft, don't know how, and I pulled
ripcord As I was descending the Germans started shooting
at me. There were bullets whistling past my
lughole. I was just hoping they wouldn't
hit the parachute or me.
Fortunately I wasn't suspended for too
long and I landed on
the aerodrome. I ran like hell and reached, some barbed
wire. I walked along until I came to a tree that had convenient
branch. I shinned up and dropped over to the other side then
George, as he was to find out later; had actually run across a
minefield. It was, however, believed to have contained anti-tank
They probably would not have exploded if I had trodden
on one. At least it dissuaded the Germans from giving
chase. I later learned that about 900 men had been mobilised
to look for me.
George believed this was because he had been flying Reg Baker's
aircraft; and a piece of wreckage had been found carrying
Reg's call sign, `Lochinvar'.
Reg was known to the enemy. In fact on some operations the Germans
had tried impersonating him, using his call sign, over the radio.
The Germans therefore believed they were looking for a, VIP,
who should be captured at all costs.
George hid his Mae West in
a hedge. He started walking south and eventually climbed a tree to
survey his surroundings. From his vantage point he became aware of
numerous German patrols keen to capture the 'VIP'. One
beneath his tree, for a
smoke and a
chat. George recalled:
I remained still hardly daring to breathe, but not one man
For the remainder of the day George managed to evade the patrols,
eventually making his way to
a farmhouse where he received help. For the next month George's
fate was controlled by French civilians and members of the
Resistance. Eventually passage
back to England by boat was arranged;
I got back one of my first things was to phone up Reggie and
apologise for pranging his aircraft. His typical flamboyant
response was, 'That's alright old chap. I'd only
have done it myself later on.' He said, 'Come down, let's
have a party.
23rd September 1943
" at the moment I am feeling somewhat
depressed , one of my boys was killed on a job this morning , he
blew up over the target . He wouldn't have known what hit him - I
suppose that is some consolation . Now I have the job of writing
to his parents - God , how I hate that . I shall be at Old Sarum
on Sunday and shall be there until October 1st .
1 October 1943
For his actions during this period Reg is awarded a Bar to his DFC.
5th october 1943 . Warmwell .
".... I now understand that I shall be leaving sometime this
month , back to tent life again but this time as a wing commander
Loss of Pilot Officer Simpson
8 October 1943
For the three weeks following operation Chatternooga Choochoo Reg
flew on night shipping recces and armed recces. That would
change on 8 October. Taking off at 1900 hrs Reg bombed an
E-boat off Varriville, but was prevented by searchlights from
investigating further. He landed at 2025 hrs. Then at
2215 two pilots returned from night recce in which one aircraft was
shot up by a 2,500 ton flak ship and damaged. Five minutes
later Reg led seven aircraft out and found the aforementioned ship
off Cap del la Hague.
263 Squadron Operations Record Book: ...
bombed it from mast height without seeing more than indistinct
explosions. He was forced to orbit in accurate heavy flak
from Alderney and Cap de la Hague, as well as much light flak
from the ship.... As the visibility was very poor in sea haze
the CO decided that this ship should not be further attacked in
this land-defended area and ordered the six aircraft which were
following him to return to base. Meanwhile fog had come in
rapidly at Warmwell and all aircraft were ordered to reurn to
Tangmere. It seems that that Pilot Officer Simpson who was
next to Squadron Leader Baker, the squadron's most experienced
pilot, had engine failure not due to enemy action and that his
other engine failed during the run to Tangmere. He crashed
into an anti-landing post a hundred yards from the runway and
was killed instantly.
Operation Chuffa Prang
17 /18 October 1943
263 Squadron Operations Record Book: ...
operation, locally devised, planned and briefed as Chuffa Prang
was designed to disorganise railway communications in and near the
Cherbourg Peninsula and thereafter take advantage of the tactical
situation. It was a great success. Each pilot arrived at his
target after a route which had correctly avoided intense flak
which is to be met by the unwary and Squadron Leader Baker blew up
an ammunition train SE of Valognes, then probably damaged a loco
Chasing the Munsterland
24th October 1943
On the afternoon of 24 October a
series of raids began against one particular target in Cherbourg
harbour, a blockaderunning merchant ship called the Munsterland.
263 Squadron Operations Record Book:
This was the squadron's first (and
perhaps the first of the war) low level attack upon shipping in
Our aircraft flew at just above sea
level on a course which brought them between the outer moles and
straight to the Munsterland. Four aircraft bombed the Munsterland
and two of these attacked with cannons, leaving her on fire in two
places - she was well ablaze 11 minutes later but the fire had
been extinguished 90 minutes later. The other four aircraft bombed
two ships aft of the Munsterland and saw cannon strikes on one of
Two pilots then scored strikes on
two of six M Class minesweepers in the transatlantic dock. Flak
was fired at our aircraft from more than a hundred guns within
range from harbour and ships: `It was like a horizontal hail
storm, painted red', (Flight Sergeant Beaumont).
All our aircraft were hit more or
less seriously. The formation broke half to port ESE over the
peninsula. Flight Sergeant Gray's starboard engine was smoking and
he glided down to port from 150 feet, about three miles ESE of
Cherbourg just in the manner of a controlled forced landing. The
country here is fairly open and it is hoped that he may still be
Flying Officer Mercer's aircraft was
hit over the target and it may have been for this reason that he
was flying considerably above the formation when they recrossed
the coast three miles S of St Vaast. Here his aircraft received a
direct hit from a coastal flak battery and dived into the sea,
disintegrating on impact. It is not thought that he could have
Flight Lieutenant Ross's aircraft
was severely hit in the starboard wing, juddered and stalled at
180 mph as well as the wing root. He made a perfect belly landing
at Warmwell at this speed.
Flight Sergeant Cooper's
undercarriage, damaged by flak, collapsed on landing.
Squadron Leader Baker was
bruised on the shoulder by perspex dislodged by bullets.
Ninety minutes later 183 Squadron
Typhoons attacked the Munsterland and lost Squadron Leader Gowers
DFC, a veteran of the Battle of Britain, and two other pilots.
‘Poppa` Ambrose recalls an operation
257 Squadron was involved in. In his log book he later wrote by this
operation – ‘Innocents Day’.
There was a ship in Cherbourg
Harbour, carrying Wolfram (tungsten ore). Our intelligence people
said it had got through from Japan and had to be hit at all costs.
We went out with Reggie Baker's
263 Whirlwind Squadron with bombs, while we and 183 Squadron were
flying with cannon. We were 24 aircraft.
When we went for briefing, they
said we were going out at nought feet. We said don’t be silly, only
idiots go into Cherbourg harbour at nought feet – we should dive
down, and even that was considered to be virtual suicide.
Reggie Baker rang
up the Group captain Ops at Box, Ludlow Manor, and said, ‘What’s all
this nonsense?’ but was told that was the order – nought feet.
Anyway out of 24
aircraft we lost ten and eight pilots, two pilots being rescued from
We came back to
the mess and normally most of us remained sensible and drank beer,
not spirits, but I remember that afternoon we opened the bar at four
o’clock; we were all hacked off. Gus Gower the CO of 183, had been
Reg Baker went in
with the Whilrwinds and we went in before there was any actual flak
from the ship. I remember one chap who actually got a Germans head
between the cannon on his Typhoon wing and when he got home it was
After the war I
met the group Captain Ops – I had not met him before – and I said,
‘You were the bloke who sent us into Cherbourg Harbour at nought
feet’. He said yes, but said it had been on Churchill’s
instructions. Churchill had laid down the tactics – we were to go in
‘on the deck’ as he put it. Anyway we blew up the ship!
Extract of Pierre Clostermann's "Big Show" - Chapter : "The
description of the real horror of the attack
1015 hours. The
fog thickened and it started to pelt with rain. instinctively the
sections closed up to preserve visual contact.
calm voice broke the strict RT silence :
"All Bob aircraft drop your babies, open up flat out, target
straight ahead in sixty seconds !"
Freed of its tank
and drawn by the 1,600 h.p. of its engine, my Spitfire leapt forward
and I took up my position fifty yards on Jacques' left and slightly
behind him, straining my eyes to see anything in the blasted fog.
"Look out, yellow
section, Flak-ship, one o'clock !"
And immediately after Frank Wooley, it was Ken Charney who saw a
Flak-ship, straight in front of us !
"Max blue attacking twelve o'clock !"
A grey mass rolling in the mist, a squat funnel, raised platforms, a
mast bristling with radar aerials - Then rapid staccato flashes all
along the superstructure. Christ ! I released the safety catch,
lowered my head, and nestled down to be protected by armour plating.
Clusters of green and red tracer bullets started up in every
direction. flowing Jacques, I went slap through the spray of a 37
mm. charger which only just missed me - the salt water blurred my
windshield. I was fifty yards from the Flak-ship. Jacques in front
of me was firing ; I could see the flashes from his guns and his
empties cascading from his wings.
I aimed at the bridge, between the damaged funnel and the mast, and
fired a long, furious continuous burst, my finger hard on the
button. My shells exploded in the water, rose toward the water line,
exploded on the grey black-stripped hull, rose higher to the
handrails, the sandbags.
A wind-scoop crashed down, a jet of stream sputtered from somewhere.
twenty yards - two men in navy-blue jerseys hurled themselves flat
on their faces. - ten yards - the four barrels of multiple pom-pom
were pointing straight between my eyes - quick - my shells exploded
around it. A loader carrying two full clips capsized into the sea,
his legs mown from under him, then the four barrels fired, I could
feel the vibration as I passed a bare yard above - then the smack of
the steel wire of the aerial wrenched off by my wing as I passed. my
wing tip had just about scraped the mast !
Phew ! Passed him.
My limbs were shaken by a terrible nervous tremor, my teeth were
chattering. Jacques was zigzagging between the spouts raised by the
shells. the sea was seething.
Half of dozen belated Typhoons passed to my right like a school of
porpoises, bearing down on the hell going on behind the long granite
wall of the breakwater
Illustration by Benjamin Freudenthal
I skimmed over a
fort whose very walls seemed to be belching fire - a curious mixture
of crenulated towers, modern concrete casements and thirty Years War
We were now in the middle of the roadstead - an inextricable jumble
of trawlers masts and rusty wrecks sticking out between the battered
quays. the weather seemed to have cleared a little - Look out for
the Jerry fighters ! The air was crissed-crossed with tracers, lit
up by flashes, dotted with black and white puffs of smoke.
The Munsterland was there, surrounded by explosions, flames, and
debris. Her four masts bristling with derrick and her squat funnel
well aft emerging from the smoke. The typhoon attack was in full
swing, bombs exploding all the time with colossal bursts of fire and
black clouds of smoke, thickening as they drifted away.
A Typhoon vanished
into thin air in the explosion of a bomb dropped by one in front.
One of the enormous harbour cranes came crashing down like a house
"Hullo, Bob leader, Kenway calling - There are Hun fighters about,
look out !"
What an inferno ! I was close to Jacques, who was gaining height in
Spirals, making for the layer of clouds. Two Typhoons emerged from a
cumulus, a few yards from us, and I just stopped myself in time from
firing at them. With their massive noses and clipped wing they
looked uncannily like Focke-Wulfs.
"Beak, Blue Four !"
Jacques Broke away violently and his Spitfire flashed past a few
yards under my nose, a white plume at each wing tip. To avoid a
collision I waited for a fraction of a second a Focke-Wulf - a real
one this time - flashed past, firing with all four cannon. A shell
ricocheted off my hood. As I went over on my back to get him in my
sights, a second Focke-Wulf loomed up in my windshield, head on, at
less than one hundred yards. Its big yellow engine and its
apparently slowly turning propeller seemed to fling themselves at me
and its wings lit up with the firing of its guns. Bang ! stars
appeared all over my slintering windshield which became an opaque
wall before my eyes. Thunderstruck, I dared not move for fear of a
collision. He passed just above me. A stream of oil began to spread
all over my hood.
the sky was now alive with aircraft and full of flak bursts. I let
fly at another Focke-Wulf and I missed. Luckily !... It was a
Typhoon. Jacques was circling with a German fighter. I saw his
shells explode in the black cross on the fuselage. The Focke-Wulf
slowly turned over, showing its yellow belly, and dived, coughing
smokes and flames.
"Good show, Robbie ! You got him !"
My oil pressure was disquietingly down. the rain began again and
within a few seconds my hood was covered witha soapy film. I slipped
into the clouds and set course north on I.F., first warning Jacques
and Yule over the radio.
I reached Tangmere as best I could, my oil pressure at zero and my
engine red hot and ready to explode. I had to Jettison my hood to
see to land.
In this business we had lost two pilots, as did 132. Seven Typhoons
were destroyed, plus two which came down off Cherbourg and whose
pilots were picked up by the launches.
As for the Munterland, although seriously damaged and with part of
her cargo on fire, she succeded two nights later in sneaking as far
as Dieppe. She finally got herself sunk off the coast of Holland by
a strike of Beaufighters.
28 October 1943
Reg led eight aircraft on a
dive-bombing attack, again against the Munsterland, all bombs
reported within 500 yards of the target, warehouses hit and an oil
fire started. Two days later Munsterland was the target yet again.
Whirlwind being re-armed
Operations Record Book:
started the dives rather too early and pulled back again to 12,000
feet, then almost vertically. A cluster of bursts hit warehouses W
of the target, two bursts were in the dry dock area. The Hun now
has dive bombing weighed up. His heavy flak was intense and
accurate at 12,000 feet and during the dive from 9,000 to 7,000.
The CO therefore led on down to 5,000. This and the change of the
early dive seems to have led to only one Whirlwind being slightly
damaged by flak. The six aircraft returned over Warmwell in
excellent formation, close two vics, vics line astern.
5 November 1943
Reg led 7 Whirlibombers to attack Munsterland but abortive owing to 10/10
Over the next few days the squadron conducted a number of
10 November 1943
Reg takes 4
aircraft on a night
shipping strike, the convoy located and Reg's bombs burst alongside
a small trawler.
Reg to lead an armed
shipping recce but aborted owing to bad weather.
25 November 1943
Reg part of 4
unsuccessful armed shipping recce then that afternoon aborts an 8
Ramrod owing to bad weather. Then that evening and the day after Reg
leads 8 aircraft continuing attacks dive bombing the Munsterland.
26 November 1943
In the afternoon Reg leads 8
aircraft to attack a secret target SW
of Cherbourg ORB - The target was protected by at least 8 heavy flak
positions which were seen, as well as by flak between the target and
the coast. All our aircraft were hit by flak, but no serious damage
was done, except to F/O Moggs aircraft which flew back on one engine
to as successful landing.
263 Squadron would continue attacking
shipping targets, including revisits to the Munsterland, although
poor weather would disrupt operations.
At the beginning of the month 263
Squadron would start to receive Typhoons. But Reg Baker, having now
added a Bar to his DFC, was to leave to take on more senior
Aeroplane May 2006:
Sqn Ldr Baker led three Whirlwinds to intercept some Junkers Ju
52/3m minesweepers off Cherbourg, but returned having failed to
It was the last operational sortie by
Whirlwinds and 263 Sqn converted to Hawker Typhoons the
following month. This was two years after Whirlwind
production had ceased at Yeovil. During the previous few
months the lack of replacement aircraft and pilots had gradually
reduced the squadron's operational status, even though some of
137 Sqn's aircraft had been transferred to 263 Sqn.
[View more details of the Hawker Typhoon]
5 December 1943
Reg is posted to
W/Cdr (Flying) Colerne and taken by Oxford to Fighter Leaders
Course Ashton Down
8th December 1943
Aston down .
....I am afraid my visit home just before Xmas is off - this
course I am on doesn't finish until after Xmas . At the moment I
am feeling pretty grim , I have just recovered from a bout of the
old fever and now I have twisted my knee badly . "
page last updated:Monday 22 December 2008
Table of contents detailing updates added
RAF Lasham 1942-48 - a project by
Trinny. Please click
here to view
Victory Fighters: The
Veterans' Story - Winning the Battle for Supremacy in the Skies
Over Western Europe, 1941-1945
By Stephen Darlow
Fighters is largely a collection of eye-witness accounts of the
struggle that raged in the skies over occupied Europe after the
Battle of Britain. Reg Baker is one of the six featured pilots.
Stephen Darlow has been a major
support and contributor to this website do please visit the
website of this excellent Military Aviation author.