Spitfires over the Needles
by Philip E. West
June 1940, The Battle of Britain
Spitfires of 609 Squadron returning to their satellite station airfield
at Warmwell to
The overall size of this print is:
* Signed by a Spitfire pilot.** Signed by three Spitfire pilots. Please see details below
The Primary Edition is signed by:-
Sqn. Ldr. Percival H. Beake DFC, AE joined the RAFVR at Bristol in April 1939. Flying from Whitchurch Airfield on some evenings and weekends he had completed 50 hours training on Tiger Moths when war was declared. However, the mobilisation of all aircrew in Volunteer Reserve and Auxiliary Units overwhelmed the flying training facilities available and he was posted to No. 3 Initial Training Wing at St. Leonards on Sea where keep fit exercises and ground studies were the order of the day.
It was not until 26/3/1940 that he was posted to Redhill to commence flying training again from scratch. Training continued on different aircraft until 31/8/40 when he was posted to Hawarden where he first flew a Spitfire. After three weeks there he was posted to 64 Squadron at Leconfield. A month later the Squadron moved to Coltishall. It was not until 10/11/1940 that the Squadron was moved to Hornchurch in the London area by which time daylight raids by masses of enemy bombers had been discontinued in favour of night time raids.
On February 2nd 1941 Percy made a forced landing in a field at Sheperdswell in Kent. He tried to make a wheels-down landing to save his aircraft but ended up head down in the mud. Percy’s aircraft was a write-off and he suffered concussion for which he was treated in the RAF Officers Hospital in Torquay. He did not get back to the Squadron until March 27th. On May 16th the Squadron was posted to Turnhouse near Edinburgh. On June 26th Percy complained to the CO about the lack of combat opportunity there and the following day he was posted to 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill. On July 8, having taken part in a mission over France, he was shot down by an Me 109 just after leaving the French coast but he managed to bale out over the sea and was picked up 18 miles east of Dover by an RAF Rescue Launch. Towards the end of October the Squadron moved to Digby in Lincolnshire and by the end of the year Percy had completed 100 operation sorties and was declared ‘tour expired’.
In January 1942 Percy was posted to 601 Squadron which at the time was equipped with Aircobras. These aircraft had serious maintenance problems and were never made operational. However, the Squadron was re-equipped with Spitfires in March and was posted to Malta. The CO said “Beaky you are tour expired” so I can’t take you to Malta – you will have to go to instructing at an OUT. So it was he arrived at 58 OUT in Grangemouth on April 1st 1942. He remained instructing until the end of the year when he was posted to Harrowbeer in Devon as a founder member of a new Squadron - 193 – being formed to fly Typhoons.
The Squadron became operational in April 1943. On February 8th 1944, whilst flying over France they were lucky to see some FW 190s returning to Gael airfield. Two were on their landing approach. The leader touched down successfully but was immediately attacked and destroyed by Percy’s Wing Commander who was leading the operation. The second FW had decided to go round again but Percy shot him down and the ‘190 burst into flames when it hit the ground.
At the end of March 1944 Percy was posted to 84 Group Support Unit which had been formed as a reserve of potential leaders to replace the expected casualties in the build up to the invasion. At the end of May I was posted to command 164 rocket firing Typhoon Squadron based on Thorney Island, its CO having been shot down by flak on the previous day.
Prior to D – Day the Squadron was exclusively employed attacking radar installations. On D – Day they carried out two armed reconnaissance’s in the Caen area. The first was uneventful but on the second one they were engaged by five FW 190’s. Percy shot one down but one Typhoon pilot was also lost. Percy was awarded a ‘Mention in Despatch’ on June 8th and the DFC on July 25th. The citation read as follows:- This officer has commanded the squadron for several months and during this period has led his formation on many sorties against heavily defended targets with good results. He is a first class leader whose great skill, thoroughness and untiring efforts have contributed materially to the successes obtained. Squadron Leader Beake has destroyed two enemy aircraft.
He was amazed, baffled and disappointed to be then called by his Wing Commander after landing from an armed recce on August 13th to hear him say “Beaky you have just done your last ‘op’ – you are not to fly again until you get back to the UK and that is an order.” Percy’s (Beaky’s) protests were ignored and on being asked ‘why’ the Wing Commander said “You may not realise this but you are the longest surviving CO in my Wing and I want to send you home whilst you are still alive”. Back in the UK Percy was sent to the Fighter Leaders School where he was put in command of the Typhoon squadron and he remained in that capacity until he was demobbed in December 1945. On leaving the RAF he was granted the Air Efficiency Award.
The Artist Proof edition is additionally signed by: -
Group Captain Billy Drake DSO, DFC*, DFC (US) joined the RAF on a Short Service Commission in July 1936. He joined No. 1 Squadron at RAF Tangmere in May 1937 flying the Hawker Fury before converting to the Hawker Hurricane.
He flew Hurricanes in France at the outbreak of war, scoring his first victory in May 1940. Having achieved two further victories over France he was shot down and wounded by a Messerschmitt BF 110. In October 1940 he returned to operational duty with No 213 Squadron at RAF Tangmere, flying Spitfires. Posted to the Western Desert in early 1942, Billy Drake took command of 112 Squadron, flying P40 Kittyhawks, leading them with considerable success. He later served in Malta, and then as Wing Leader of 20 Typhoon Wing. Billy Drake was an outstanding Ace, scoring 24 ½ victories and in addition, another 13 aircraft on the ground.
Although one of the only two pilots in this photo not to receive a DFC in June 1940 (having been shot down and wounded on 13 May), he was to end the war as the most successful of all this group of outstanding fighter pilots. He had by then been promoted to Wing Commander, and had claimed some 28 aircraft shot down (three of which were shared and two unconfirmed), plus 15 more destroyed on the ground. He had also been awarded a DSO, DFC and Bar, and a US DFC. He remained in the RAF post-war, becoming a Group Captain.
Flt. Lt. Frank Newman left O.T.U. to join 131 Squadron
at Tangmere in time to participate in the closing months of the Battle
of Britain. As the enemy activity diminished so the policy of Fighter
Command turned to offensive sweeps over western France. By the end of
1942 the A.O.C. decided to give the squadrons of 11 Group a rest from
their intensive operations, so 131 Squadron was posted to Northern Scotland
to defend Scapa Flow naval base. This routine series of operations came
to an end when Frank Newman was chosen, together with a number of other
experienced pilots, to form a fighter Wing for the invasion of North Africa.
By mid-1943 Rommel and the Africa Corps had been swept out of Algeria
and Tunisia by General Montgomery and the Eight Army.
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