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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

Pinkie Log BookAll 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.

 

 



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…

 

 


 


13th January 1945

Frank Johnson - Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Frank Johnson – Peter J. Thompson/National Post

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

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

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

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.


 

23rd January 1945

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

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.



24th January 1945

The weather at B.80 Volkel was a tad questionable on Wednesday 24th January 1945. 174 Squadron put up two operations, one of which helped the Army take a village that had been causing trouble.

For RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson, there was only a 15-minute air test of the aircraft. Given the nature of the previous two days of operations, it is logical to think RB396 needed a repair that required a check flight.

 



28th January 1945

Gun Camera footage from a 609 Squadron aircraft attacking a train.

Gun Camera footage from a 609 Squadron aircraft attacking a train.

Sunday 28th January 1945 saw improved weather, but very low temperatures. 174 Squadron again flew two operations in the afternoon and evening with RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson departing B.80 at Volkel for an Armed Reconosance in the Munster area of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. The six Typhoons of 174 Squadron, of which RB396 and P/O Johnson were again Red 2, crossed the border into Germany near Winterswijk, Holland and found that the cloud covered had increased to 9/10ths below them at about 6000′. They pressed on but the cloud meant that their recce area was obscured. Turning to the north-west and their secondary target of Vreden in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, they found Vreden was also covered by cloud.

With no other option, the order was given to return to base. On route back to B.80, Red Section attacked two railway trucks and a railway shed which they claimed as damaged. All aircraft returned safely to B.80 after a sortie lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes.

 

 



2nd February 1945

Armourers loading a Hawker Typhoon with RP-3 60lb rockets. Image: IWM

Armourers loading a Hawker Typhoon with RP-3 60lb rockets. Image: IWM

A fair February afternoon saw RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson in action with an Armed Reconnaissance to Venlo on the Dutch/German border. The eight Typhoons of 174 Squadron, with RB396 flying as Green 1, arrived over Venlo in between two cloud layers which then joined as they approached their recce area. The squadron became separated in the cloud and they descended to try and reestablish visual contact with each other. As they finally broke cloud, F/L Irwin, flying as Red 1, decided that an independent attack was the way to go and the aircraft attacked transport vehicles north of Venlo. Each aircraft made an attack with rockets and cannons to the effect that all ammunition was expended.

The squadron turned for home and en route spotted a convoy of motor transport. While P/O Johnson and RB396 landed safely, four other 174 aircraft were quickly refuelled and rearmed and set off to attack the convoy, with good results.

 

Frank’s logbook does not record any comments against the 45-minute afternoon recce, but 174 Squadron’s Operational Record Book shows squadron claims for:

Motor Transport: 5 destroyed, 18 damaged.

Half-tracks: 2 destroyed, 1 damaged.

Locomotive: 1 destroyed.

Trucks: 3 destroyed.

RB396 would be in action again the following day.

 


3rd February 1945

Eight Typhoons of 266 Squadron in two finger four formations. Image: IWM

Eight Typhoons of 266 Squadron in two finger four formations. Image: IWM

Saturday, 3rd February 1945 would be a busy day for RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson with two Armed Reconnaissance sorties to Osnabrück, Germany.

Departing B.80 at Volkel at 10:50, RB396 and P/O Johnson flew as Yellow 2 to F/O J.M.Harbidge. The eight 174 Squadron aircraft flew as a strike six with the two aircraft in Green section flying as top cover. They found most of the recce area obscured by cloud, but the Dortmund-Elm canal was clear and quickly they spotted a number of barges making their way between Rheine and Osnabrück. Quickly into the attack, 4 of the barges we quickly destroyed with another 3 damaged. Heavy flak was encountered and F/O L.F.Higgins flying as Blue 1 was hit and was losing petrol.

The squadron turned for home and Higgins was able to make a forced landing about 4 miles short of base. He was safe but his Typhoon was declared Cat ‘B’. RB396 and P/O Johnson made no claims to the barges but faced a quick turn around, for their day was not done.

At 15:00 RB396 and Frank Johnson were airborne again flying as Blue 1, and heading back to Osnabrück. This sortie was more eventful, with Yellow  2 flown by W/O K.D.Bodden reporting engine troubles as they crossed the Bomb Line and returned to base with Yellow 1, flown by F/L G.I. Mallet, escorting him home. The remaining six 174 Squadron Typhoons continued, with a train spotted in a marshalling yard escaping attention due to heavy protective flak. Frank Johnson then spotted a lorry near a village and he and RB396 made an attack.

After rejoining the rest of the squadron, they began a low level (at 2,500′) search for any trains that might be in the open. They found one and attacked it, damaging all of the trucks. They then found another, about 15 miles away, and made an attack resulting in four more truck being damaged. 174 Squadron then set course for Arnhem after there were reports of motor transport on the road.

En route, they were met with a hail of light and heavy flak. The squadron ORB reports that RB396 was hit in several places, without sustaining serious damage. When they arrived in the area where the motor transport was reported, nothing was found so they returned to B.80 after a sortie of 1 hour and 35 minutes. Frank would briefly note in his logbook that he and RB396: “Attack on trains and MET: bags of H & L flak: very accurate.”

RB396 would be patched up and in action again.

 


9th February 1945

Squadron Leader J M Bryan, Commanding Officer of 198 Squadron RAF, inspects the damaged starboard wing of his Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, JR366, at Manston, Kent, after returning from a 'Roadstead' mission on 27 September 1943. © IWM (CE 108)

Squadron Leader J M Bryan, Commanding Officer of 198 Squadron RAF, inspects the damaged starboard wing of his Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, JR366, at Manston, Kent, after returning from a ‘Roadstead’ mission on 27 September 1943. © IWM (CE 108)

According to P/O Frank Johnson’s logbook, Friday the 9th February 1945 was eventful. 174 Squadron’s ORB does not record RB396 and P/O Johnson flying on the sortie recorded, but it is possible that they flew the weather reconnaissance. Frank’s logbook states that they returned early as they had been ‘Hit in spinner, rad, both nose tanks and on port wing. Ugh!’

While we do not have the exact information as to how RB396 was damaged, this was significant damage to the aircraft and Frank’s logbook remark sums this up. But, Frank’s logbook is also a testament to the skill of the ground crews who maintained the Typhoons in the field. RB396 would be ready for an air test the very next day.

A Weather Recce does sound like a rather innocuous operation, but the opening chapter of former 609 Squadron’s CO, Belgian Charles Demoulin’s memoir Firebirds!, described a weather recce over France like this:

 

 

“It meant entering closely guarded enemy territory in full sight of his defences, infuriating the Huns for over an hour and being pinpointed by all the radar stations of Fortress Europe. And, while flying in not too much of a hurry over the powerful flak defences, the chosen stooge was supposed to describe in plain language the exalting beauty of a French sunrise somewhat stained by the ugly black patches of Jerry’s ack-ack.”

 

These flights were made each day and the enemy knew they would be coming. Flown as single aircraft, the Typhoon crews used the aircraft’s speed and the eyes of Allied radar controllers to warn them of any enemy aircraft that may be in the area. By 1945, the primary concern would have been flak.

 



10th February 1945

Following the damage to RB396, P/O Frank Johnson took RB396 up for a 20 minute Air Test.

The aircraft was signed off and ready to return to the fray, as she would be on the 11th February.

 


 
11th February 1945

Life Magazine image of a 198 Squadron Typhoon being made ready by The Erks

Life Magazine image of a 198 Squadron Typhoon being made ready by The Erks

With RB396 repaired and signed off after the damaged of the 9th, P/O Frank Johnson and RB396 flew on 174 Squadron’s first armed recce of the day. 174 Squadron put up eight aircraft and at 09:05 were airborne for Coesfeld in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Frank and RB396 flew as Blue 4, with S/L D.T.N. Kelly leading the sweep.

When they arrived in the reconnaissance area, they found it covered by 10/10th cloud. With no other option, S/L Kelly ordered his aircraft back to base. After an eventful couple of days for RB396, today was a quiet one. But not so for the Erks! The squadron summary reflects the fluid situation on the ground stating that the Typhoon’s long-range tanks were being “whipped on and off aircraft just like nobody’s business!” The afternoon sortie would take 174 Squadron to Bremen.

P/O Frank Johnson and 174 Squadron would have the 12th February off as the weather closed in once again. On the 13th, the squadron would be stood down for a ‘practice pack up’. This was to prepare the squadron for its next move forward on from B.80. The dust stirred up from the practice packing up of what had been the squadron’s home for nearly six months, we are informed, required much lubrication of throats that evening to clear.

 



14th February 1945

For deeper penetration reconnaissance sorties, Typhoon Squadrons would sacrifice two rockets for two long range tanks. This is image is of a 137 Squadron Typhoon being readied at B78 Eindhoven. © IWM (CE 108)

For deeper penetration reconnaissance sorties, Typhoon Squadrons would sacrifice two rockets for two long-range tanks. This is image is of a 137 Squadron Typhoon being readied at B78 Eindhoven. © IWM (CE 108)

Valentine’s Day 1945 found 174 Squadron flying two Armed Reconnaissances and a composite mission with 245 Squadron. P/O Frank Johnson and RB396 would fly on the two armed recces to Bremen.

Departing B.80 at Volkel at 08:20, Frank and RB396 flew as Blue 3 in the 8 aircraft formation lead by the CO, S/L Kelly. As they crossed the Rhine, the cloud came in and the aircraft broke through to find a village. As they approached, they spotted a factory and a large number of MET (Mechanised Enemy Transport). The squadron broke and attacked, with S/L Kelly going after a nearby train, P/O R.B.T. Kelly in Red 3 find three more trains to the souths, which he attacked with considerable success. The weather was not helping matters, with low cloud making pinpointing targets difficult.

Returning to B.80, Frank and RB396 spotted a Military Camp north of Munster and attacked. Franks recorded the attack in his logbook: “10/10 over the area – broke cloud and were split up. I attacked an army camp and damaged one building; sure to have killed a few Jerries.”

174 Squadron all returned safely after a sortie of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Their claims for the sortie were:

  • Locomotives – 1 destroyed, 3 damaged, 4 tenders damaged.
  • Trucks – 3 damaged.
  • MET (Mechanised Enemy Transport) – 6 destroyed, 5 damaged.
  • Other – 1 Factory damaged.

That same afternoon, 174 Squadron took off with 8 aircraft flying in 4 sections, with Frank and RB396 flying as Blue 1. The destination was the Bremen area again. But again the weather did not play ball. Flying through 9/10ths cloud, when 174 Squadron finally broke free, they found they had been blown much further south, due to stronger than forecasted winds, and found themselves much closer to Hamburg than Bremen. Jettisoning their long-range tanks near Steinhuder Lake, Frank’s wingman, W/O W.F. Morley’s Typhoon started suffering engine issues and they turned for home. On the way back to B.80, Frank spotted a truck on the road and made an attack, he claimed 1 “pranged” MET. Both RB396 and W/O Morley returned safely to B.80 after a long sortie of 1 hour and 45 minutes, the rest of 174 Squadron returned a half-hour later, after another successful sortie.

The weather had caused the squadron to separate and each section acted independently. Yellow Section stumbled across an airfield and attacked it. Red and Green Sections found trains near Nienburg which they attacked, destroying 1 and damaging another 4. The claims for this sorties were:

  • Enemy Aircraft –  1 destroyed, 1 damaged, 1 prob destroyed.
  • Locomotives – 1 destroyed, 4 damaged.
  • Trucks – 2 destroyed, 21 damaged.
  • MET – 2 destroyed, 1 damaged.

Following a busy day with excellent results, the crews settled down for a movie, The Song of Bernadette starring Jeniffer Jones and Vincent Price. Jennifer Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for 1943 for her portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous. The director Henry King had made the fluffy A Yank in the R.A.F. with Tyron Power and Betty Grable but would go onto making one of the finest war films of all time, Twelve O’Clock High starring Gregory Peck.

After a night at the pictures, Frank Johnson and RB396 would be back in action again tomorrow.

 


 


15th February 1945

This remarkable image shows the contrail from a V-2 rocket photographed from a B-24 Liberator of the 93rd Bomb Group, 24 December 1944. © IWM

This remarkable image shows the contrail from a V-2 rocket photographed from a B-24 Liberator of the 93rd Bomb Group, 24 December 1944. © IWM

Thursday 15th February found morning mist descending on B.80 at Volkel as the sun rose. This meant that 174 Squadron flew only one sortie in conjunction with 245 Squadron. The target that afternoon was a V2 site. Things didn’t get off to a great start.

Getting airborne at 14:15, the 8 Typhoons from 174 Squadron were quickly reduced to 6 when both aircraft from Red Section had to return with engine issues and a burst fuel pipe respectively. The remaining 6 174 Squadron aircraft set off for the target. With the morning mist still hanging in the air, the remaining Red Section Typhoons became separated and, unable to rejoin the rest of the squadron, they returned to base. 6 Typhoons were now 4.

When the remainder of the squadron was about halfway to the target area, Blue 1 and 2 were forced to turn back as well. Blue 1 reported he was losing oil and Blue 2 had radio trouble. That left P/O Frank Johnson in the comparatively reliable RB396 and Blue 3 flown by W/O J.W. Hodges the lone 174 Squadron aircraft to arrive in the target area. They loitered until 245 Squadron arrived. Joining up, they attacked in squadron strength. All the rockets fired landed in the target area with Frank reporting: “A good prang for only 2 of us. No R.P strikes observed but many cannon strikes on buildings. No Flak!!!”

The sortie for Frank and RB396 lasted for an hour and five minutes. But their work for the day was not done.

 

 

That evening, 174 Squadron, according to the squadron summary, celebrated its second anniversary of B.80 Volkel. Given that they had only arrived at Volkel on the 30th September 1944, this is an interesting entry in the squadron diary. Still, a party is a party. Best Blues were dusted off and spit and polish applied liberally and the celebration commenced.

RB396 now has a rest in our records, until the 22nd February.

 

 


 


22nd February 1945

Hawker Typhoon Mark IB MN606 of 247 Squadron being overhauled by a Repair and Salvage Unit in a dispersal wrecked by the retreating Luftwaffe at B78 Eindhoven Holland © IWM

Hawker Typhoon Mark IB MN606 of 247 Squadron being overhauled by a Repair and Salvage Unit in a dispersal wrecked by the retreating Luftwaffe at B78 Eindhoven Holland © IWM

After a period of poor weather, Thursday 22nd February 1945 was fine and sunny which meant a busy day for 174 Squadron. RB396 and P/O Frank Johnson flew on 174’s first of 5 operations that day, an Armed Reconnaissance to the area around Osnabrück, Germany.

Things didn’t start well. After departing B.80 at Volkel at 10:00, 35 minutes later F/O J.M. Harbridge flying as Blue 2, developed engine trouble and had to return to base, escorted by Blue 3, F/O J.G. Penfield. That left Frank and RB396 in a section of 2 aircraft with Blue Leader, P/O F.E. Wheeler. They were contacted by Control to offer some trade in the marshalling yards at Dorsten. Before they arrived over the marshalling yards, engine trouble struck Red 4, and F/O J.S. Kennon had to be escorted home by F/L J.S. Knight in Red 3. That left 174 Squadron down to 4 of the 8 aircraft they had departed B.80 with, but as they arrived at Dorsten, they could not see any trains in the marshalling yards. Having a look up the Ems Canal, they spotted some barges and the remaining 174 aircraft made an attack.

They were met with a thick haze and intense flak that made picking out targets difficult. They claimed one barge damaged and returned to B.80 at Volkel, one hour and twenty-five minutes after departing. The four other 174 Squadron aircraft had already arrived home safe.

Frank’s logbook only notes the sortie and mission time but does not record any notes against this operation.

The other 4 sorties flown by 174 Squadron that day would also encounter the haze coming up, which meant results were minimal for the day, but other than a few spots of engine trouble, all aircraft and crews ended the day safe.

Frank and RB396 would be back in action on the 5th March.

 


 

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 logbook, 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 arrive 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Johnson - Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Frank Johnson Describes the 30th March 1945

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Chris House in a Spitfire in North Africa

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