Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) – B.88 near the town of Heesch, in Noord-Brabant, the southern part of Holland, was the 88th airfield on the Continent in use by RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force. Declared operational from December 6, 1944, it was used until April 9, 1945. For units stationed at the field, it was a hectic time with many ups and downs if seen from the human point of view.
Interestingly, Heesch was a Spitfire base. No. 126 Fighter Wing RCAF, comprising four, sometimes five squadrons, was its sole user during the period.
By this time, the Spitfire units of the 2nd TAF were mostly occupied with ground attack duties. Their assigned targets had been the enemy aerodromes, but also roads and railways situated north of the river Rijn and east of the river Ijssel. Weather permitting, the routine included mostly offensive air patrols, often amounting to more than hundred sorties a day.
Tactically, No. 126 Wing also provided a protective umbrella above the Second Canadian Corps, keeping the Luftwaffe forces in the defensive role. Targets like Twenthe and Rheine aerodromes (on Dutch and German territory respectively) and bridges near towns of Zwolle, Osnabrück and Munster are mentioned frequently in their Operations Record Books, or ORBs.
Enemy encounters in the air were comparatively rare at this stage of war, as things were apparently moving in the Allies’ way. But meetings with Luftwaffe fighters occurred, and there was a prevaling danger from the notorious German flak. Squadron losses provided a painful reminder that air battle was still a matter of life and death.
A comprehensive description of the aerial battles in the North-Western European Theatre is not easy to come by. For this reason, I have dedicated part of my research on B.88 to establishing the circumstances and details of No. 126 Wing’s aerial combats during the period. This is a story of one memorable mission.
December 29, 1944, “Yellow Section”
On this day, No. 411 Squadron RCAF comprising eleven Spitfires took off for their second mission of the day. The time was 12.50 hrs. After take-off they probably split up in Sections, but these precise details could not be assessed.(1)
Their target was the Rheine/Osnabrück area, looking for German airplanes signalled by the control. The “control” was in this case the Group Control Centre coded “Kenway”, attached to the No. 83 Group, which employed field radar to track air activity near and behind the frontline.
By the time, British control room communications we so well-tuned that the changing pictures were quickly analysed and the most relevant Wing could be scrambled remarkably quickly. Rapid response was a necessity due to the low-level nature of most operations, but this capability gave the RAF a real advantage rarely mentioned in the literature. (2)
The ORB of No. 411 squadron discloses the names of the eleven pilots involved in this flight, and the serial number of each of participating Spitfire. They were all of the same mark – LF Mk. IXE. Recording the individual Squadron code letter for each aircraft was not a part of the procedure. The No. 411 squadron letters were “DB”.
Studying the ORBs often provides further useful information. They usually disclose the time of take-off and arrival back at the base. If applicable, there is also a mission summary picked up from debriefing procedures by the Squadron Intelligence Officer.
In some cases, there are also ominous letters FTR indicating “failed to return”. Luckily, further study shows that in about 50% of thje FTR cases pilots did eventually turn up back at the unit, sometimes having evaded the enemy and often aided by Dutch patriots.
Arriving in the patrol area, the Canadians sighted a lone jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262, too far to be engaged and obviously too much of a challenge for a Spitfire. Moments later, the pilots spotted a mixed group of about 12 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulf Fw 190s. The enemy formation appeared at 2 o’clock (to the starboard) and below, and the Spitfire pilots wasted no time to attack.
It was in this engagement that Flt/Lt Richard Joseph “Dick” Audet J.20136, leading the Yellow section, succeeded in destroying an incredible five enemy aircraft. His victims were three Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and a pair of Messerschmitt Bf 109s, as stated in his combat report filed back at the base.
In less than five minutes and a spectacular fashion, Audet became a fighter ace. His victory tally to date was nil – in fact, he had not previously met enemy aircraft in the air.
“I attacked an Me 109 which was the last a/c in the formation of about 12 all flying line astern. At approximately 200 yards and 30 degrees to starboard at 10,000 feet I opened fire and saw strikes all over the fuselage and wing roots. The 109 burst into flames on the starboard side of the fuselage only, and trailed intense black smoke. I then broke off my attack.
“After the first attack I went around in a defensive circle at about 8,500 feet until I spotted an Fw 190 which I immediately attacked from 250 yards down to 100 yards and from 30 degrees to line astern. I saw strikes over the cockpit and to the rear of the fuselage. It burst into flames from the engine back and as I passed very close over the top of it I saw the pilot slumped over in the cockpit, which was also in flames.
“My third attack followed immediately on the second. I followed what I believed was an Me 109 in a slight dive. He then climbed sharply and his canopy flew off about 3 to 4,000 feet. I then gave a very short burst from about 300 yards and line astern and his aircraft whipped downwards in a dive. The pilot attempted or did bale out. I saw a black object on the edge of the cockpit but his ‘chute ripped to shreds. I then took cine shots of his a/c going to the ground and the bits of parachute floating around. I saw this aircraft hit and smash into many flaming pieces on the ground. I do not remember any strikes on his aircraft. The Browning button only may have been pressed.
“I spotted an Fw 190 being pursued at about 5,000 feet by a Spitfire which was in turn pursued by an Fw 190. I called this Yellow section pilot to break and attacked the 190 up his rear. The fight went downwards in a steep dive. When I was about 250 yards and line astern of this 190 I opened fire. There were many strikes on the length of the fuselage and it immediately burst into flames. I saw this Fw 190 go straight intc the ground and burn.
“Several minutes later while attempting to form my section up again spotted an Fw 190 from 4,000 feet. He was about 2,000 feet. I dived down on him and he turned in to me from the right. Then he flipped around in a left hand turn ana attempted a head-on attack. I slowec down to wait for the 190 to fly in range. A: about 200 yards and 20 degrees I gave a very short burst, but couldn’t see any strikes. This a/c flicked violently, ana continued to do so until he crashed intc the ground. The remainder of my sectior saw this encounter, and Yellow 4 saw it crash in flames.”
The event launched the 22 years-old lad from Lethbridge, Alberta to a celebrity status. He subsequently received a lot of attention from various correspondents and press photographers.
London, Dec. 31, 1944 – F/L Richard J. Audet, 22-year-old Spitfire pilot of a Canadian wing operating with the British 2nd Tactical Air Force, had never before downed an enemy aircraft — but in five blazing minutes over Osnabruck he racked up five kills on Friday.
His feat was performed as Canadian fliers smashing at German communication targets in the Rhineland were met by stiff enemy aerial opposition.
Audet’s victims were three Focke-Wulf 190’s, one Messersehmitt 109 and an unspecified aircraft.
Pilots in this wing destroyed a total of nine German aircraft, probably destroyed another two and damaged six. They also smashed at Nazi rail traffic, destroying four locomotives, damaging 13 and damaging 75 freight cars.
The wing’s four remaining kills were scored by F/L E.C. Ireland of Toronto, F/L M. Cook of Boston Creek, Ont., F/O Arthur McCracken of Lakefield, Ont., and F/O Cameron of Toronto. All their victims were Focke Wulf 190’s.
The other two kills went to F/O Robert Lawrence of Edson, Alta., without firing his guns. He was attacked by five German aircraft over a distance of about 10 miles and was taking evasive action, turning first toward an “FW” on his beam. When the latter attempted to follow in tight circles, it crashed and burst into flames. As he circled he bounced past an ME. 109 and was just about to open fire when the German, attempting to make too tight a circle, crashed.
Canadian Press Cable, 31 December 1944
Audet was soon to show that his incredible initial success was no coincidence. By the end of January 1945 he had claimed a further five victories and shared a sixth. The last of these victories was over a Me 262 jet on 23 January, when he also claimed a second of these aircraft destroyed on the ground. However, his success would not last for long. He was killed on 3 March 1945, shot down by Flak on a strafing mission.