No. 411 Squadron’s ORB makes it clear that Dick Audet was flying the Spitfire LF Mk. IXE, serial number RR201 during the remarkable sortie of 29 December. A question may be raised about other particulars of his aircraft.
It can be rather safely assumed that the vertical stabilizer of RR201 was of the new broad-chord type. The letters LF in the mark designation mean “low flying”. With the Merlin 66 engine optimised for medium-to-low level combat, this variant of the Spitfire was closely matching the characteristics of its main potential adversary, the Fw 190. It also had an ”E” wing, armed with a pair of Hispano Suiza 20 mm canon and an American 0.5” calibre Browning machine guns.
Years ago, there was a lot of discussion in the literature about LF Mk. IX having clipped wing tips, but this was not the case with No. 411’s aircraft, which had full-span, elliptical wings. At the same time, they had provisions for external slipper fuel tanks and bomb racks.
The key issue in my research was establishing the true individual code letter of Audet’s Spitfire. My previous book dealing with the history of ALG B.88 Heesch included a mention of this aricraft as DB-A (4). My colleague responsible for this chapter had picked this information from a reference book of Canadian origin. Indeed, there had been many paintings, models and drawings of Audet’s Spitfire displaying it as DB-A, but in the end we felt rather doubtful about it because we couldn’t find any convincing rationale to support the DB-A story. This was about five years ago.
An impulse for further research came last year. In a relevant Dutch periodical, BULLETIN AIR WAR 1939 – 1945 of June/July 2010, the cover showed another No. 411 Squadron Spitfire, as shown here at the Spitfire Site.
This photograph was taken at Tangmere immediately prior to D-Day. Beside the names of the “Erks”, the serial code had been given as well as the name of the pilot: Flt/Lt J.J. Boyle.
But be careful; this digital source discloses that this Spitfire, clearly carrying the Squadron code DB had serial number RR201 (An error which has since been corrected; records show that RR-batch of LF Mk. IX left the CBAF production line in August-October 1944, well after the D-Day – Ed.).
It alerted my latent unhappiness about the letter code of Audet’s aircraft. I did inform the Dutch editor of the bulletin that a source considered this as the RR201. As this serial number has a strong historical significance, it was my intention to conduct an in-depth research whether this was correct, and the outcome to be reported in his magazine.
Initially I did dig up the curriculum vitae of RR201 as given by a British source.(6)
RR201 LFIX CBAF M66 MU 18-9-44 66S 9-11-44 411 28-12-44 Engine cut on patrol belly- landed 2m NE of Scharesbeck CB 30-4-45 and in addition: KF LFIX 411 Sqn DB-A Dick Audet RR201 Heesch Holland 1944
I consider this as the most reliable source based on the administrative details, with exception of the quoted addition. As we can see, RR201 was officially assigned to No. 411 Squadron on on December 28, 1944.
It should be noted that RR201 first appeared in the ORB of this Squadron already to days earlier, on December 26, 1944. It was Flt/Lt J.“Jack” J. Boyle J.13615 who carried out a mission to provide support in the Ardenne area – to be precise twice on that date.
The same Spitfire was assigned to him on December 27, 28, 29 (first mission; start 9.30 hrs) for patrolling Rheine/Munster area.
The second mission on the latest given day had been carried out by Dick Audet (see afore) and the third and final mission on that day was made by Fl/Off J.M. MacAulay; departure time 15.15.hrs.
In the following weeks, RR201 was alternately flown by Jack Boyle and Dick Audet, and sometimes also by other pilots of the squadron. It was Fl/Off D.W. Wilson who took this plane to B.100 Gogh (Germany) on April 9, 1944.
Tracking the Pilot Logbooks
Other authors have put different hypotheses. A source refers to DB-G, (7) another to DB-B and a certain Mr. Michael Lavigne states to have discovered in Audet’s Pilot Flying Logbook that the aircraft was… AU-B (sic). (8) The letters “AU” in this case indicate the aircraft of No. 421 Spitfire Squadron, attached to 127 RCAF Wing at that time.
I tried to get hold of Pilots’ Flying Logbooks (PFL) from veteran pilots attached to No. 411 Squadron. My initial attempts by contacting relevant curators of museums and well-informed individuals in Canada, fruitful in many other respects, did not bring sucess. I had to rethink my strategy and why not make use of the concept of finding a needle in a haystack.
I did approach my trusty neighbours of “Documentation Group Volkel“ (DGV). Volkel is the name of a nearby town and air base. Its origins are going back to 1940; it was initially used by the German Air Force as “Fliegerhorst Volkel”. Taken over by the Allies at the end of September 1944, the base was quickly adopted by the 2nd TAF as B.80. After the war, the facilities were handed over to the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The base is still in full swing today (9).
It is a commendable practice that the present Station Commanders at Volkel are supporting the efforts of veteran ex-employees and civilians with genuine interest in the history of the base, particularly the war period of 1939-1945. Enthusiasts are collecting and archiving objects and documents in a systematic way, either as reference material or be put on display in attractive exhibition rooms. Indeed, hobbyists are welcome guests at the base and there is a thriving social atmosphere. I used to visit this group on occasions, during their “workshops”, which occur once a week. Much useful information has been exchanged during these meetings, although I must say that the benefits were probably mostly mine.
It was during on of these coffee breaks (which are as essential for the Dutch as afternoon tea is for the British) that I asked a member sitting beside me whether their records did include any Royal Air Force PFL’s or their copies. To my utter surprise he acknowledged, and offered to open the archive for me later the same day!
The “archive” turned out to be a steel cabinet filled with neatly arranged files, from which my host swiftly produced a well-organised list of contents. A brief look through it revealed that the archive contained a survey of ORB’s. Fortunately, there were also records referring to No. 126 Wing RCAF. The Canadian Wing was temporarily stationed at B.80 Volkel before it did move to B.88 Heesch.
A closer look denoted a section dealing with PFL’s, and the contents were impressive. Even some veterans of No.411 squadron had taken care to provide copies of their logbooks – from Volkel and Heesch. I soon discovered that the familiar names of E.G. Ireland and J.J. Boyle were on the list – and my fingers started to tremble…
Jack Boyle’s logbook, which covered the period between September 1944 and April 1945, can be considered as excellent, full of details from human and historical point of view. He had carefully entered each mission on the given date, aim, type of aircraft used. Luckily for me he also noted the individual squadron code of the aircraft used.
This was the breakthrough finding, paving the way for further deduction and research.
Jack’s entries on December 26th, January 1st, 4th and 6th denote clearly that the Spitfire assigned to him during the week was “G”. Putting his entires beside the squadron ORB provides a fairly good match, associating the “G” with the serial number RR201 connected to his name in the ORB.
To be entirely sure whether this guessing effort is right we would have to consult Audet’s PFL. Sadly, “Dick” Audet did not survive the war, failing to return from a mission over Germany on March 3, 1945. In fact, his body was never found and he is still officially reported as MIA (Missing in Action). The whereabouts of his personal flying logbook have not been discovered since the day he was reported missing.
So we may never know for sure. But until then, our second-best knowledge is:
“Dick” Audet’s famous Spitfire LF Mk. IX RR201 was DB-G.
My research about history of B.88 Heesch began in the 1980s. Having setttled with my family in the area, I heared many recollections of the local people – varying, often emotionally loaded, always personal. Some of them inspired me to look for more information in the books dealing with wartime air operations in Holland, and, as it soon became clear, RCAF in particular. A request for help was published to approach B. 88 veterans in a relevant Canadian magazine. Happily, several of them responded, sending letters often accompanied by private pictures of themselves, their mates, the Spitfires and numerous Dutch locals, their civilian outfits contrasting with drab uniforms of the military.
I once picked up a rumour that “pilots from Heesch” frequently spent their leisure moments at a pub/café at Hotel van Alem in the nearby town of Oss. The hotel still exists today, inviting the visitor with a well-designed lobby.
This place is connected with my family history. My parents and six out of their eight children had been evacuated from the frontline to the town of Oss. They stayed there for almost four months during the memorable winter of 1944/1945.
One of my elder brothers who attended a secondary school in the area told me that he was visiting the hotel to have a chat with the liberators and the Canadian fighter pilots. Like many youngsters of his generation, he adored the pilots and Canadians in particular. The schools were all temporarily closed that winter due to lack of coal for heating. For a teenager, hanging around with the victorious, friendly Allied Spitfire pilots must have presented an irresistable alternative.
My brother told me once that he clearly remembered the pilots’ state of mind at those occasions when someone was announced missing.(10)
I have my own recollections, too. I remember a cordial treatment which I received at the Christmas party organized by Canadian Army troops. They were more than willing to spoil the children with their generous supply of chocolate, but the happy stay was often interrupted by a single or flock of buzz-bombs, as Oss was located on a straight course between the launching sites and Antwerp.
The No. 411 ORB discloses another intriguing detail which is considered by me as relevant from the human point of view. At the night of December 29, 1944, Wing Commander (adm) Gr/Capt G.R. McGregor and Wing Commander (flying) W/C B.D. Russel attended the gathering to celebrate the victories gained in the air by the Wing that day. It was organized in a café in the town of Oss. There they were, rising glasses for “Dick” Audet’s success, barely two hundred yards from a hospitable house where the Thuring family had found their shelter …
A final word
The above story is a compilation from a Dutch article published recently in the Bulletin AIR WAR 1939 -1945, issue nr 320, February 2011.
I kindly request the assistance of colleague hobbyists in helping to identify the names of the pilots of the German pilots who perished in that area on that day.
As of this writing (22 February 2011), I have received a digital reaction from a reader: his archive disclosed twelve Luftwaffe pilots, ten FW-190 and two ME-109, who had been reported killed in action in that area on that day.(11)
A follow-up challenge is waiting.
1. National Archive, UK, Air 27/1804
2. Off to War with “054”, John Kemp; Antony Row Ltd, Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK, 1989
3. http://www.spitfiresite.com, sorting out the e-american armament for the Spitfire
4. Two sails and the weavers; JWGM Thuring & PLA Pouwels, Historical brochure Nr 6, Liberation Museum 1944, Groesbeek, 1991
5. The Planes the Aces flew, Vol. I, Les Morgan & R.P. Shannon, Ace printing and Letter Service, Dallas, USA, 1964
6. http://www.asisbiz.com/il2/Spitfire?LFIX-RCAF-411 Sqn-DB-
9. Gestaag gespannen, 50 jaar Vliegbasis Volkel; R.H. Wildekamp, H. Talen and P.G.M. Truren; Ministery of Defense, The Hague, The Netherlands, 2000
10. JAHM Thuring; personal communication, Breda, 1988
11. Frans Auwerda; personal communication, 2011