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RB396’s History

During the early days of the project, the only history the team were able to confirm was the delivery to 51 Maintenance Unit (RAF Lichfield) on 23rd November 1944 and the subsequent forced landing on 1st April 1945 by F/L Chris House. With the help of historians, authors, family members and museum archives over the last two years, research has been able to fill in the gaps and complete much of RB396’s history.

Hawker Typhoon RB396 was ordered under contract number 943 which comprised of the following allocated serials:

  • RB192-235
  • RB248-289
  • RB303-347
  • RB361-408
  • RB423-459
  • RB474-512


16th November 1944

All new aircraft completed a series of acceptance tests by an active RAF pilot before being accepted by the RAF. After baling out of Typhoon MN527 ‘X’ on the 3-July-1944 and evading capture with the help of French Resistance Acting F/L Laurence ‘Pinkie’ Stark was on rest from operations as the test pilot at Gloster Aircraft. On 16-November-1944 ‘Pinkie’ Stark took new Typhoon RB396 for a 45-minute acceptance flight followed on the same day by a further 15-minute flight following adjustments.

To learn more about Laurence ‘Pinkie’ Stark incredible RAF career, please read our RB396’s Pilots Profile.

Pinkie Log Book



9th December 1944

On the 9-December-1944 Polish ATA Pilot Anna Leska-Daab delivered RB396 from 51 Maintenance Unit to RAF Westhampnett (83 GSU).

AAnna Delivery Flight Smallerfter her arrival in Great Britain via Romania and France, she initially worked at the headquarters of the RAF and subsequently at the British Air Ministry. Having passed a flying test intended for those with 250 hours of flying, she was immediately recruited by the ATA, even though she had but one-tenth of the flight-time requirement. Along with Jadwiga Pilsudska and Barbara Wojtulanis, Leska-Daab was one of three Polish women to fly with the ATA, which was subordinated to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Leska-Daab started ferrying ATA aircraft on February 10, 1941, and served until October 31, 1945, longer than the other Poles, delivering the largest number of aircraft.Leska-Daab

Stationed at Hatfield and Hamble, Leska-Daab ferried a total of 1,295 aircraft including 557 Supermarine Spitfires. She flew 93 types of aircraft, including flying boats, and was airborne 1,241 hours (Malinowski 1981, 12). When picking up an aircraft at a plant, she had to check its operation both on the ground and in the air and comment in writing on its performance during the flight for the benefit of the destination wing. After landing a multi-engine combat aircraft, such as the Wellington, it took some effort on her part to persuade the male pilots receiving the aircraft that she was, in fact, the pilot. Among her subordinates, whom she instructed and assisted, were five British women and one each from the United States, Chile, and Argentina.

Leska-Daab received many Polish and British decorations, including the Polish Military Pilot Badge and the Royal Medal.



12th December 1944

G.R.G Gimblett

CVHF Sam, James, Bernard on stageThe TV historian and author James Holland invited the project to be part of a Q&A on stage at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2018, ahead of the large scale Typhoon on the hilltop in 2019. This Q&A featured Bernard Gardiner, WWII Typhoon veteran and our Trustee Sam as the project representative and potential future pilot of RB396. They were both asked questions by James about the Typhoon itself, its role, the project and its future in front of a crowd of 150+ on the opening day of the event. It was very popular, and at the end of the talk a member of the audience came forward to say he had his father’s logbook, and the he thought his father flew RB396. Gimblett 5

 

The gentleman brought the logbook up to the stage, and on inspecting it, it was found that RB396 was there on the 12th December 1944. This was while G Gimblett was attached to 83 GSU. The logbook entry simply states “air gun test”. From this we can surmise that the flight was carried out from RAF Westhampnett, as that is the last known location of the aircraft, and the entry above and below RB396’s state “to Tangmere”. If RB396 ended up at Tangmere on this flight, it could be reasonably expected to state that. The flight was 40 minutes in duration, so it would have been a very thorough test, perhaps some firing at the local ranges such as Selsey?

Gimblett 6

This was a previously unknown flight, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that the team are always working on completing and another 40 minutes added to RB396’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 



31st December 1944

RB396’s Delivery to 174 SquadronRB396 delivery to 174

We are able to interpolate that RB396 was delivered from the UK to 174 Squadron on the continent on the 31st December 1944 from this extract from the Squadron ORB. It says the weather improved and two pilots returned from 83 GSU after an eight-day wait, with two very new aircraft. RB396 would have been one of these. Then there was a good New Years’ Eve party. Most will know what happened the next day with the Luftwaffe and Bodenplatte…

 

 


Frank Johnson 1942


13th January 1945

On the 13th January, Pilot Officer Frank Johnson RCAF took RB396 up for some local flying and practice around B.80 at Volkel, south-west of Nijmegen. The 55-minute flight is the first record we have of Frank flying what he would term ‘his W’.

At some point, Frank would have his girlfriend’s name, ‘Shelia’, painted on the nose. Frank would record 34 flights and sorties in RB396 over the next two and a half months before Frank would be shot down in Typhoon SW495.

Frank Johnson RCAF

RB396 was noted to have been taken on strength by 174 ‘Mauritius’ Squadron on 4th January 1945 (this may not be accurate as the only record of this date is on the aircraft movement card). She was allocated as the replacement ‘W’ for MN141, pictured at a Forward Repair Unit (FRU) at Odiham in the Autumn of 1944, and was adopted by Canadian pilot Frank Johnson.

Although pilots were not allocated an aircraft until reaching the rank of Wing Commander all pilots adopted one unofficially. Some may have requested an aircraft through superstition but Frank seemed to find himself flying ‘W’ most of the time and so adopted her purely through use. Frank recorded ‘W’ in his logbook on 33 separate flights from 13th January 1945 with the last entry on 28th March 1945, baling out of XP-F on the 30th March 1945 to become a PoW. He logged just under 30 hours in her.

A family friend of Frank Johnson’s told the project the following: “In one of Frank’s drawers we found a short diary that began the day before he was shot down near the end of the war. It mentions Sheila and that she had received some damage the day before, needed repair and couldn’t fly, so he was assigned another plane.”

Frank started off in the RCAF and was ‘volunteered’ when his C.O. requested 15 men to join an RAF squadron. No-one was forthcoming so the first 15 in the front row were counted off and away they went to 174 Sqn, Frank included.

Frank first flew Hurricane P3095 a Hurricane 1 on April 3rd 1943 whilst in Group 9 at 59 OTU at Millfield Northumberland on course 31. He then went on to fly Hurricanes at 56 OTU at Tealing Dundee. Training included all types of fighter, ground and anti-shipping exercises. He flew his first Hurricane 2c, equipped with four 20mm cannon similar to the Typhoon, at 53 Bomber base Waddington. During his time here he also flew a Miles Master II and a Lancaster.

He first experienced rockets in June of 1944 with No 3 Tactical Exercise Unit (TEU) at RAF Annan in Dumfriesshire. No 3 TEU specialised in training to fly low-level Rhubarb missions that crossed the channel to attack targets of opportunity. Finally, his first flight in a Typhoon was in L2710 at RAF Honiley Wroyall Warwickshire on June 24th 1944. His log entry is annotated “first solo-whew!!!!”

Listen to an interview Frank gave, before he passed away, about the events of 30th March 1945 by clicking here.



22nd January 1945

Monday 22nd January 1945 saw improved weather and 174 Squadron put up 3 operations. The second of these saw P/O Frank Johnson and RB396 take off from B.80 at Vokel flying as RED 2 to the Boss, S/L D.T.N. Kelly. The sortie was a close support mission to the Aphoven area where enemy infantry and mortars were causing problems. 174 Squadron put up 11 aircraft for the mission, with 3 flying as part of 184 Squadron in a composite flight. The three squadron wing, which also included 245 Squadron, was led by 184 Squadron’s CO, S/L W. Smith DFC.

The callsigns for the squadrons were CRAYFISH for 174 Squadron, FIRKIN for 184 Squadron and LANDLORD for 245 Squadron.

Departing B.80 at 13:40, the wing climbed to 8000′ and the aircraft set course for the village of Maisyck [sic]. When they arrived, there was no red target smoke to indicate where to attack, so the two squadrons orbited the village in a wide arch. On the second orbit, the red smoke was spotted by Firkin Leader and the attack commence with Landlord squadron making the first attack, followed by Crayfish (174) Squadron and then Firkin (184) Squadron. The Wing’s rockets were seen to hit the village and they then followed up with a further attack with cannon.

No losses to the Wing were incurred and they had returned to B.80 by 14:55, a sortie of 1 hour 15 minutes. Frank’s logbook notes:

“Attacked Aphoven: R.P and cannon used. A good prang!”

174 Squadron would put up 6 aircraft for another close support sortie later that afternoon. All aircraft would return safe and it is not currently known if RB396 flew on that operation.

Hawker Typhoon Mark IB of No 263 Squadron RAF during an attack on an enemy headquarters and observation post south-west of Goch Germany

A Hawker Typhoon Mark IB of No 263 Squadron RAF during an attack on an enemy headquarters and observation post south-west of Goch Germany. Image (c) IWM


23rd January 1945

Tuesday 23rd January 1945 dawned fine and clear. RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson flew as RED 2 to 174 Squadron CO S/L D.T.N. Kelly for the second day running. The target for the day was gun positions near Dremmen, in the Heinsberg region, Germany.

174 Squadron put up 8 aircraft for the operation. When the squadron arrived over Dremmen, they had issues identifying the target as the gun positions they could see did not match with what had been reported. The squadron ORB reports that they encountered a ‘fare amount of flak’ and Frank’s logbook said the flak was ‘heavy and accurate’. Before the attack could begin, F/S T.D.V. Cram had to return to base as his windscreen was oiling up badly.

With Cram safely on his way back to B.80, the rest of the squadron attacked the gun positions and slit trenches on either side of the road where they were dug in. Their R/P and cannon attacks resulted in the gun pits being, as the ORB reported, ‘plastered’ with all RP and cannon strikes in the target area. Frank’s logbook states that he and RB396 managed to ‘prang 3’ guns during the sortie.

174 Squadron returned to B.80 at Volkel after a sortie that lasted 1 hour and 5 minutes. The squadron suffered no losses. 174 Squadron had one further operation later that afternoon, to attack an enemy headquarters in a chateau near Wassenburg. It is not currently known if RB396 flew on that operation.

With its rocket rails empty, a 175 Sqn Typhoon taxis between the trees at B5 Le Fresne Camilly after returning from a close-support sortie 1 Aug 1944. Image: IWM

With its rocket rails empty, a 175 Sqn Typhoon taxis between the trees at B5 Le Fresne Camilly after returning from a close-support sortie 1 Aug 1944. Image: IWM


F/O Sydney Russell-Smith

Sydney Russel SmithThere was a reason that Frank Johnson was not flying ‘W’ on 30th March. Two days previously he had logged a flight in ‘W’, but later that day F/O Sydney Russell-Smith, who had joined 174 Squadron at around the same time as RB396 had, flew her. On that sortie, as denoted in his log book, RB396 had been hit by small arms fire, meaning she needed repairs. This is the reason that there are no recorded flights in her from the 28th March until the last flight on 1st April. It is also the reason that Frank Johnson was not flying “his” aircraft when he was shot down on 30th March. SRS logbook

 

The project has had extensive contact with Sydney’s son and family, and Sydney is still with us. He is certainly the last known pilot to have physically flown in the very aircraft that the project is working on rebuilding. Sydney managed to sign two copies of the artwork depicting RB396 that was painted by Neil Hipkiss. Sydney, who was a P/O at the time, completed his ground training for the Typhoon MkIb on the 8/9th January 1945 and he appeared to arrived with 174 Squadron, who were at B100 Goch, sometime before the 22nd March 1945, completing his first sortie with them on that date.

 

 

 


F/L Chris House

F/L Chris House in his early RAF career.

F/L Chris House flew ‘W’ the day after Frank was lost in XP-F and was hit by flak, force landing RB396 on the 1st April 1945, returning to the squadron a few days later. RB languished on the battlefield until moved to a scrap yard after the end of hostilities. Chris House’ children have been in touch and very kindly supplied some pictures of their father. They still have their fathers log book and will hopefully be able to let the project have copies of these, perhaps RB396 was used by him on more than just her final flight of the war.

Chris went to enlist in the army as his Grandad was in Welsh borders. His Grandad was recommended for a VC. He had been given two out of the three recommendations but the third did not go through as his commanding officer was killed in action. Before enlisting he had too many beers with a couple of mates and walked by mistake, into the wrong recruitment office and ended up joining the RAF. His father was not happy. He trained as a  pilot with Command No 4 at Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Once his pilot training was complete he was posted back to the UK.

He loved Hurricanes and was posted to North Africa, possibly with 184 Squadron but this needs to be confirmed. During this time he survived two forced landings. The first was engine failure and he had to ditch in the Mediterranean. He was picked up by a flying boat from his dingy. The second time he was was shot down. He always said that he was proud of this as it was all his own work. Whilst in North Africa his logbook shows that he flew a captured ME109 on a covert mission. He was then posted back to Europe. It is believed that he requested to be posted to a typhoon Squadron. He never spoke much about his shooting down in RB396 but he did say that he was on a low-level sortie and was hit by flack and crashed landed. He said that as soon as he landed he did “a runner“. He was on the run for three days. He lived on swedes.

A Dutch family hid him for awhile so that he could rest and gave him food. They also gave him civilian clothes before they passed him on to the resistance. After he had left the Gestapo found out what the Dutch family had done and the whole family including the children were executed. When RB396’s fuselage was found by a Dutch museum he was invited to return to the Netherlands and open the museum. He refused as he could not face going back knowing that the Dutch family that had helped him to escape had been killed.

After 174 Squadron he was posted to 175 Squadron and flew Tempests. During this period he flew over Belsen. He said you could smell it at 500 feet. When he returned to the airfield he tried to wash the taste out of his mouth with rum and toothpaste. He was courts martialled due to an incident that took place on the day of the ceasefire. He was in the air and spotted a German staff car with a German officer trying to escape. He strafed the car killing the officer. This however was after the ceasefire had occurred.

He left the RAF after the war and went to work for BAC. This was a desk job which he hated. He left and went back into the RAF. He was posted to Sylt in Germany. Later in his career he flew Vulcan bombers from RAF Finningley. He was involved in the Cuban missile crisis. He was also selected to take part in an  exercise called Skyshield. This took place in 1960 and was repeated in 1962. Vulcan bombers were used to imitate Russian bombers to try and get through America’s defences. These operations were classified until 1996. Chris flew one of the few Vulcan bombers that got through. Chris was courts-martialled a second time after damaging a Vulcan whilst carrying out humps and bumps. He was docked a days pay. He finally left the RAF in the mid 1960s. During his last year he did not fly. He was in charge of ground radar at RAF St Mawgan. During his posting at RAF St Mawgan, he fell in love with the area and settle down in Cornwall. He bought and operated out of Padstow, a fishing boat named after his daughter “Shirley Ann” . His son Alan helped crew the boat.

During a house move unfortunately his medals and two of his logbooks were stolen from his car. His family still have his remaining logbooks.


There may still be operational flights still to be uncovered, indeed Chris House may have flown ‘W’ on more than her final flight with 174, other pilots may also have flown her as there were several large gaps in Frank’s log book. Perhaps there were no operations during this time or Frank may have been rested for a few days and ‘W’ was taken out by others. We would welcome any leads on other 174 Squadron records which may supply more detail. Please use the contact section of the website if you think you may have any information.

 

 

 

 

 

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Frank Johnson Describes the 30th March 1945

On the 30th March 1945, Pilot Officer Frank Johnson departed B.100 at Goch, Germany, in Typhoon SW495. He would not return from that support mission. In 2010 The Memory Project, an initiative of Historica Canada, interviewed Frank at length about his experiences in the air force, flying Typhoons and the events of the day he …

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Chris House in a Spitfire in North Africa

RB396’s Last Flight – 1st April 1945

On the 1st April 1945, Flight Lieutenant Chris House walked out to the Hawker Typhoon he would be flying on ops that day. XP-W was painted on her side and ‘Sheila’ on her nose. She was four months old and she had been damaged and repaired over 18 times. As Chris walked out that spring …

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