Deadly Avro Anson
Pilot Officer Peters' and his crew's claims on 1st June 1940.
I read decades ago the story of a combat between an Anson and a bunch of Bf 109s off Dunkerque on 1 June 1940. According to it P/O Peters claimed one Bf 109 with his forward firing machine-gun while his gunner got one plus damaged badly another. At that time I thought that it was just one of those claims and didn't write down the details. But after I bought Prien's Jagdfliegerverbände Teil 3 and Chorley's and McNeill's Losses books, I thought that maybe it would have been fair to give to P/O Peters and his crew a benefit of doubt and made some checking.
So, on 1st June 1940 at 8.34 am BST, P/O Phillip ”Pete” Peters of No 500 (County of Kent) Squadron took off from Detling to led a patrol of three Ansons to Dunkirk to support the evacuation of the BEF. The flight was attacked appr. at 10.40 am BST while flying at 50 feet near Ostend by a bunch of Bf109s, the British thought by 9 Bf 109s, from above. Seeing the two other Ansons take the brunt of the attack Peters ordered them to return to Detling, and dropped even lower and throttled back to make his aircraft, MK-V N9732, a difficult target. The navigator Sgt Deryk Cobham Spencer and the Wireless Operator LAC Pepper moved to man the extra beam guns in the windows of the “greenhouse” cabin. Peters immediately turned to the attack and so skillfully maneuvered his aircraft, that he and both the air gunner and the navigator were enabled to concentrate their fire on the enemy. Two Messerschrnitts were seen to crash, and two more appeared to be seriously damaged. According to the original award notices in The London Gazette the shooting downs were allocated to the navigator and the air-gunner LAC Lewis George Smith, who manned the dorsal turret during the combat, according to the notice each destroyed a Messerschmitt 109 and severely damaged another. The Anson flew 15 – 20 mls during the fight which lasted less than 10min. After the other Bf 109s flew off, Peters continued his patrol and then returned safely to the base landing there at 12.37 pm BST – with just four bullet holes in his aircraft. Peters was awarded a well-earned DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and Sgt Spencer and LAC Smith were both awarded a DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal). To celebrate this feat the IWM decided to restore their Anson – N4877 – in the appearance and configuration of Plt Off Peters' aircraft (N9732 MK-V ). N4877 had, in fact, served with the RAF from December 1938 to 1978.
From German side the situation was that I./JG 20 reported a clash with a Blenheim formation and made one claim (Oblt Walter Oesau, 11:35 GST 20km N of Ostende, later confirmed) but suffered one loss, Uffz. Werner Bielefeldt had to make a crash-landing near Dunkirk after his Bf 109E had been badly hit during the action, his Emil became 100% loss. Bielefeldt himself was wounded.
So time and place matched fairly well, the German Summer Time being one hour ahead of the British Summer Time. There were no Bomber Command Blenheim losses on June 1st and the two Coastal Command Blenheim losses were too early. I don't have Franks' Fighter Command Losses Vol. 1 but from my other books I didn't find any relevant FC Blenheim losses. Answers by Chris Goss, Frank Olynyk and David Pausey at Ruy’s excellent 12 O’Clock High! discussion boards confirmed that there wasn’t any suitable Fighter Command Blenheim losses on June 1st 1940 at the right time near Ostend. So it seems that we have a near match in time and place. Anson was much slower than Blenheim but at least both were twin engine monoplanes with a dorsal turret, so the Germans error in type recognition was understandable. If my reasoning is right, not bad for a Faithful Annie crew.
One must remember that the Ansons of 500 Squadron carried two extra 0.303-in (7,7mm) machine-guns in the cabin windows one each side. These had been installed on special mountings made locally by a Maidstone company which refused to charge for them. The arrangement enabled the wireless operator and the navigator to provide additional defence if necessary.
Of course that wasn’t the first successful air combat by an Anson unit, that happened on 8 Nov 1939, when Plt Off Greenhill from 206 Squadron shot down Heinkel He 115 M2+FH of 1./KüFlGr 106 at 11:00 near the island of Texel using his fixed front gun. Lt zur See Bruno Boettger and his crew were killed.
My reconstruction of the actual air combat is based on mainly the original award notices published on The London Gazette on 14 June 1940, that being the only contemporary source I have had access to. Also Sturtivant and Chaz Bowyer allocate the "kills" likewise, Franks allocated the "kills" to the air-gunner, but according to McNeill, Brooks, Ashworth and CCMAA Peters got one with his nose machine-gun and his air-gunner got another just as in the story I read decades ago. They might well have had access to better contemporary material like Operations Record Books and After action report of Peters' crew. But from the material I have had access I made this conclusion.
Chris Ashworth’s RAF Coastal Command 1936-1969 (1992) p. 27.
Chaz Bowyer's Coastal Command at War (1979) pp. 27 - 28.
Robin J. Brooks’ “Kent’s Own” -article p. 37 in Aeroplane September 2011.
Norman Franks’ Air Battle Dunkirk 26 May – 3 June 1940 (2000) pp. 125,
Ross McNeill’s Royal Air Force COASTAL COMMAND LOSSES of the Second
World War Vol 1 Aircraft and Crew Losses 1939-1941 (2003) p. 34.
Jochen Prien et al Die Jagdfliegerverbände der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1934
bis 1945 Teil 3 pp. 181, 187 and 189.
Shores et al: Fledgling Eagles (1991) p. 106.
Sturtivant’s ” Avro Anson: The Chronicles of 'Faithful Annie'” –article p. 43
in Air Enthusiast Forty-two (1991).