Monday, May 18, 2015


26 September 1940
The combat claims made by the RAF during the summer and autumn of 1940 were in the main made by Hurricanes and Spitfires with a few by the twin-engine Blenheim and turret-armed Defiant. The Defiant's naval equivalent was the Blackburn Roc, named after the gigantic bird of Eastern legend, which was based on the Company's earlier Skua dive bomber. It was unsuccessful and saw only brief front line service with the Fleet Air Arm before being passed to second line units. Some were transferred to the RAF and in the summer of 1940 joined No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit (AACU) which was based at Gosport in Hampshire - right in the front line of the Battle of Britain.

Following an attack on the airfield by Junkers Ju 87B Stukas on 18 August 1940, 2 AACU was ordered to disperse four of its Rocs, with their turrets fully armed (they were usually unarmed), around the airfield for anti-aircraft defence. They were also to hold standby for fighter defence, though it took some time to fully equip them with guns and radios. However, by 8 September two Rocs were operational and the following day one of them, L3085, was allocated to Pilot Officer D. H. "Nobby" Clarke who chose Sergeant Mercer as his gunner.

The ebullient Clarke personalised his camouflaged machine with a red "Saint" within a red framed yellow diamond on the fuselage. Clarke's Roc was declared operational on the 12th and after every anti-aircraft cooperation sortie he and Mercer harmonised the guns and trained for more warlike work.

On 24 September the Luftwaffe bombed the Spitfire factory at Woolston; two days later the Supermarine works was attacked by a large force of Heinkel He 111s that extensively damaged parts of the vital site. During the late afternoon fighting, several defending Hurricanes - two from 238 Squadron and one of 607 - were shot down off the Isle of Wight. There had also been German losses resulting in their efficient air-sea rescue service sending out aircraft looking for their downed airmen.

At 17.30 hours, 2 AACU received a call ordering it to send an aircraft to search for downed airmen fifteen miles south-west of St Catherine's Point on the Isle of Wight. Clarke, with Sergeant Hunt as his gunner, was airborne in L3085 and, within fifteen minutes of the call, was heading for the search area.

In the increasing gloom of the evening Clarke and Hunt searched over the grey sea for three-quarters of an hour, when Clarke noticed what he took to be a Swordfish seaplane in the distance. Puzzled by its appearance and apparent size, he closed and seeing its camouflage and large black crosses realised that it was in fact German! The Roc crew had come across a Heinkel He 59 seaplane (probably of Seenotflugkommando 1) which was also engaged on an air-sea rescue search.

As Clarke approached, the Heinkel's gunners opened fire and hit the Roc's port wing. Hunt responded. However, the Roc's guns could not depress so Clarke was forced to fly at zero feet below the low flying seaplane.

"Diving slightly from 500 feet," he recalled, "I overhauled him rapidly and commenced the turn as soon as I was level with the nose. Hunt opened up; I saw our tracer pouring into the enemy's fuselage and wing centre section."

Time and again the faster Roc passed the seaplane with Hunt firing brief bursts from his four Browning machine-guns as he did so. The seaplane was hit but its gunners were also striking the Roc and as the French coast approached a frustrated Clarke was forced to break off and head back to Gosport. It was a prudent call as he was short of fuel and the Roc's engine stopped soon after landing.

The enemy fire had been accurate and ten hits were found on the Roc, including two (fortunately) unexploded incendiary rounds in the fuel tank. In his combat report, in what was probably the strangest air combat of the epic Battle of Britain, "Nobby" Clarke put in a claim for one He 59 seaplane damaged - the only claim made by a Roc during the Battle.

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