Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fleet Air Arm pilots

Four of the 58 Fleet Air Arm pilots who flew with RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain achieved unofficial 'ace' status for five confirmed aerial victories that summer; these are two of them - SILts R. J. Cork and A. G. Blake, who were both awarded the DSC. 'Dickie' Cork
(left) flew Hurricanes in No. 242 Sqn led by Douglas Bader, and Arthur 'Admiral' Blake (right) flew Spitfires with No. 19 Sqn; Blake scored four solo kills and one shared before he was shot down and killed on 29 October. Note the naval pilot's 'wings' badge, worn above the rank stripe on the left cuff only of the No. 5 Dress jacket.

While battles were fought in the seas, skies and fields of Norway, the British Expeditionary Force had also been locked in combat against German Army Group A in Belgium and France. The Allied forces failed to repulse the German mechanized offensive, and the decision was taken to evacuate the BEF. Between 22 May and 4 June more than 330,000 Allied soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk during Operation 'Dynamo', by an armada of military and civil shipping, and the already thinly stretched Fleet Air Arm was committed alongside the RAF to provide air cover. Skuas were involved in air-to-air combat over the beaches and the English Channel, protecting ships from German bombers and also flying alongside Albacores to attack German ground forces. Remarkably, FAA student pilots flying tiny Tiger Moth training biplanes were also used to drop off food and medical supplies for the troops waiting on the beaches.

With German forces now occupying Norway and the whole northern coast of NW Europe much of the UK was within range of aerial assault. While the Battle of Britain raged in the skies of England during the summer of 1940, two Fleet Air Arm squadrons - 804 and 808 NAS, flying Sea Gladiators and Fulmars respectively - operated under the control of the RAF's 13 Group in the north of England and Scotland. A further 58 FAA pilots were temporarily attached to RAF fighter squadrons during the Battle; 18 of them were killed in action, and 12 made claims. Four naval fighter pilots - SILts A. G. Blake, RJ. Cork, F. Dawson-Paul and R. E. Gardner - each scored at least five confirmed aerial kills during that summer.

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