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Spitfire Mk Ia, S/L George "Ben" Bennions, No 41 Squadron RAF

Aircraft print: Spitfire Mk I, George Bennions, No 41 Squadron RAF

A Spitfire Mk II of 72 Squadron over the northeast coast of Britain, April 1941. “After the Battle of Britain,” writes historian Ian Carter, “RAF Fighter Command went on the offensive, carrying out sweeps over the fringes of enemy-occupied Europe. The aim was to tie down Luftwaffe fighter squadrons. But RAF fighters lacked the range to penetrate far inland, and losses were heavy. 560 aircraft were lost in 1941 alone.” (Imperial War Museums)

Supermarine Spitfire Mark IIA in flight over the coast of England, April 1941

Following combat off Dungeness on the evening of 31 August 1940, F/L Forgrave M "Hiram" Smith of No 72 Squadron RAF found cannon shell shrapnel exploding in the cockpit and penetrating his head, neck, shoulders and arm. With Spitfire Mk I RN-L spiralling down out of control, the 27-year-old Canadian climbed out but was pinned to the rear of the cockpit by the slipstream. Hanging half in and half out, he came clear, drifting down to a hard but safe landing.

Following combat off Dungeness on the evening of 31 August 1940, F/L Forgrave M "Hiram" Smith of No 72 Squadron RAF found cannon shell shrapnel exploding in the cockpit and penetrating his head, neck, shoulders and arm. With Spitfire Mk I RN-L spiralling down out of control, the 27-year-old Canadian climbed out but was pinned to the rear of the cockpit by the slipstream. Hanging half in and half out, he came clear, drifting down to a hard but safe landing.

P/O Norman Sutton first encountered the enemy on 30 September 1940, the day after having moved to RAF Biggin Hill. On one occasion, the 26-year-old pilot became separated from No 72 Squadron RAF and, amidst a gaggle of Me 109 fighters decided discretion was the better part of valour, disengaging before being spotted. As he wrote to his parents, "Odds of 10 to 1 are a bit too much for my inexperience."

P/O Norman Sutton first encountered the enemy on 30 September 1940, the day after having moved to RAF Biggin Hill. On one occasion, the 26-year-old pilot became separated from No 72 Squadron RAF and, amidst a gaggle of Me 109 fighters decided discretion was the better part of valour, disengaging before being spotted. As he wrote to his parents, "Odds of 10 to 1 are a bit too much for my inexperience."

On 3 September 1940, F/O Dennis Secretan arrived at RAF Catterick to which No 54 Squadron RAF had been withdrawn the day before to recover. He missed the anchorite life the pilots had been living in the previous months while fighting from RAF Manston by day, returning from the satellite station to RAF Hornchurch to eat and sleep. He now found himself in the role of being groomed to become an effective fighter pilot until being moved to No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Biggin Hill on 27 September.

On 3 September F/O Dennis Secretan arrived at RAF Catterick to which No

Taken on strength by No 603 Squadron RAF as XT-K before being posted on detachment to No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Drem, the prototype of a cannon-armed Spitfire Mk I was piloted in combat by P/O George V Proudman of No 602 Squadron RAF on 13 January 1940, when the starboard cannon stopped after firing a single round, and the port gun after 30 rounds. By September, 24 of the new type delivered to No 19 Squadron RAF in August had been exchanged for older aircraft of an operational training.

Taken on strength by No 603 Squadron RAF as XT-K before being posted on detachment to No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Drem, the prototype of a cannon-armed Spitfire Mk I was piloted in combat by P/O George V Proudman of No 602 Squadron RAF on 13 January 1940, when the starboard cannon stopped after firing a single round, and the port gun after 30 rounds. By September, 24 of the new type delivered to No 19 Squadron RAF in August had been exchanged for older aircraft of an operational training.

P/O Herbert R Case closely befriended P/O Hugh W Reilley during their brief spell with No 64 Squadron RAF in 1940. Arriving at RAF Leconfield on 28 August, 5 days earlier than the 22-year-old Canadian, 2 years his senior, both pilots flew their first operational sortie on 3 September, with Reilley moving on to No 92 Squadron RAF on 12 September and Case going off to No 72 Squadron RAF 3 days later, both based at RAF Biggin Hill and spending leave together at Case's farming home at…

This Battle of Britain London Monument is an outstanding new sculpture commemorating

On 2 September 1940, only his second day with No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Croydon, Sgt William TE "Bill" Rolls claimed his initial brace of victories over Maidstone, an Me 110 and a Do 17. Seeing an Me 109 coming down and passing Spitfire Mk I RN-T firing at the aircraft in front west of Canterbury on 15 September, the 26-year-old pilot gave it a 3 second burst. He evaded another enemy fighter behind him, and with another 20 above decided to break off combat.

On 2 September only his second day with No 72 Squadron RAF at RAF Croydon…

Shot down in a surprise attack over Kent on 5 September 1940, F/O Desmond FB "Des" Sheen of No 72 Squadron RAF, though wounded, managed to exit Spitfire Mk I RN-J while hurtling towards the ground. Sucked out of the cockpit, the 22-year-old Australian found his boots caught on the windscreen and left lying on top of the fuselage. On pulling the ripcord and landing in trees, he was greeted with "You left it a bit late" and handed a flask by a policeman on a bicycle.

Shot down in a surprise attack over Kent on 5 September 1940, F/O Desmond FB "Des" Sheen of No 72 Squadron RAF, though wounded, managed to exit Spitfire Mk I RN-J while hurtling towards the ground. Sucked out of the cockpit, the 22-year-old Australian found his boots caught on the windscreen and left lying on top of the fuselage. On pulling the ripcord and landing in trees, he was greeted with "You left it a bit late" and handed a flask by a policeman on a bicycle.

Dropping down to low level to avoid being attacked by No 72 Squadron RAF on 7 December 1939, a He 111 was pursued past Bell Rook lighthouse by F/O Desmond FB "Des" Sheen. As the 22-year-old Australian commenced firing, Spitfire Mk I RN-J came under cross fire of another bomber, wounding him in the thigh, smashing his left earphone and rupturing his fuel tank. Breaking off his attack, he put down at RAF Leuchars, spending a month at hospital with a ⅓ share awarded from the fight.

Australian Flt Lt Des Sheen of No. 72 Squadron RAF just after his release from Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidicup in early October 72 Squadron was ordered to Hawkinge for the day on

F/O Paul J Davies-Cooke was attached to No 610 Squadron RAF at RAF Biggin Hill on 3 September 1940 before transferring to No 72 Squadron RAF on 20 September. Shot down 7 days later by enemy fighters over Sevenoaks, he bailed out but fell dead near Hayes Station, aged 23.

F/O Paul J Davies-Cooke was attached to No 610 Squadron RAF at RAF Biggin Hill on 3 September 1940 before transferring to No 72 Squadron RAF on 20 September. Shot down 7 days later by enemy fighters over Sevenoaks, he bailed out but fell dead near Hayes Station, aged 23.

Swift to Battle: No. 72 Fighter Squadron RAF in Action: 1937-1942

Swift to Battle: No 72 Fighter Squadron RAF in Action, Vol. 1937 to Phoney War, Dunkirk, Battle of Britain, Offensive Operations

On 15 August 1940, acting F/L Desmond FB "Des" Sheen of No 72 Squadron RAF escaped injury while leading A Flight to account for 2 Me 110 fighters beyond the Farne Islands. Emerging unscathed from his first victory, the 22-year-old Australian attacked another head on in Spitfire Mk I RN-J, noting, "The enemy aircraft, either with the pilot shot or in a deliberate attempt to ram me, approached head on left wing low." He dived steeply to break away, while the raider disappeared, burning…

On 15 August 1940, acting F/L Desmond FB "Des" Sheen of No 72 Squadron RAF escaped injury while leading A Flight to account for 2 Me 110 fighters beyond the Farne Islands. Emerging unscathed from his first victory, the 22-year-old Australian attacked another head on in Spitfire Mk I RN-J, noting, "The enemy aircraft, either with the pilot shot or in a deliberate attempt to ram me, approached head on left wing low." He dived steeply to break away, while the raider disappeared, burning…

Flight Lieutenant Ted Graham of 72 Squadron, pictured at Acklington during the Battle of Britain. Noteworthy are the anti-glare night-flying shields fitted fore of the windscreen – designed to prevent the pilot being dazzled by glowing exhaust ports.

Flight Lieutenant Ted Graham of 72 Squadron, pictured at Acklington during the Battle of Britain. Noteworthy are the anti-glare night-flying shields fitted fore of the windscreen – designed to prevent the pilot being dazzled by glowing exhaust ports.

Soon after leading No 72 Squadron RAF to RAF Acklington on 2 March 1940, S/L Ronald B Lees tipped Spitfire Mk I RN-B on its nose while putting down on the waterlogged grass runways. The 29-year-old Australian CO promptly declared the airfield unserviceable for Supermarine fighters. F/O Desmond FB "Des" Sheen recalled that aircraft could only be taxied with someone sitting on the tail, needing "great care, with its narrow track undercarriage and small wheels".

Soon after leading No 72 Squadron RAF to RAF Acklington on 2 March 1940, S/L Ronald B Lees tipped Spitfire Mk I RN-B on its nose while putting down on the waterlogged grass runways. The 29-year-old Australian CO promptly declared the airfield unserviceable for Supermarine fighters. F/O Desmond FB "Des" Sheen recalled that aircraft could only be taxied with someone sitting on the tail, needing "great care, with its narrow track undercarriage and small wheels".

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