One of the articles was based upon the wartime exploits of Wing Commander B Spragg a Typhoon pilot:-For the Second Tactical Air Force and its Typhoon squadrons, the build up to D-day was busy. Squadrons were briefed to attack and soften up targets in Northern France, Radar stations, road and rail communications as well as No-ball sites. Attacks were not concentrated in one area deliberately so as not to arouse suspicion or give away the landing areas for the forthcoming invasion. None of the pilots would have been aware of the plans for D-Day but they certainly were witness to clues that aroused suspicion. For one of those pilots Pilot Officer Brian Spragg, a Typhoon pilot with 257 (Burma) Squadron it was to be a busy month and his log book gives a great insight into his role in the unfolding drama. Many log books from the period are often just completed with comments such as ‘OPS’ or sometimes with the target with a comment on the flak or fighter opposition. Spragg unusually comments on pilot loses, flak, targets and sometimes his feeling which in conjunction with the Squadron operational record books, give us a unique picture of events immediately prior to and after D-Day. On the 5th June he was on a air sea rescue patrol flying typhoon MN757, he and several other pilots were tasked with searching for Squadron Leader Ross from 193 Squadron.
Earlier that day 146 Wing had been tasked with continuing the air assault on radar targets near St Vallery. On the return Sqn Ldr Ross was clearly having difficulties and bailed out 15 miles from Sandown and was seen to be climbing into his dinghy. Spragg and his fellow pilots searched in vain and soon a mist descended over the water which necessitated giving up the search but whilst airborne and flying in line abreast, they came across the invasion fleet near the Isle of Wight. Flying Officer S J Eaton of 257 Squadron commented ‘we suddenly became aware of all these boats, hundreds and hundreds of boats as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible picture and our Wing Leader, Reg Baker called up and ordered R/T Silence’ (1) The Wing Commander knew the game was up and that the pilots would guess what was in the offing! Spragg was also to witness an upturned boat in the water with many chaps swimming about in the sea but as they were on strict R/T silence they couldn’t report the position of the unfortunate occupants.
When they returned to Needs Oar point, the Operational Record Books record that Wing Commander Baker called all the staff to the Officer mess, rumours must have been rife and it was important for the senior staff to ensure that the cat was not let out of the bag. He put them out of their misery by announcing that tomorrow, the 6th June 1944 was to be D-Day. Maps and information about the plan were revealed, the atmosphere must have been electric! The ORB records that ‘suitable toasts were then partaken of, and the meeting closed in an atmosphere of eager anticipation of the “big party”’.
The pilots of 257 would have been keen to get in on the action but it was not until the evening did their Typhoons get called in to support the invasion. That honour went to three Canadian squadrons of 143 Wing who were over the beachhead when the first landing craft charged in to land their troops. Brian Spragg wrote in capital letters in his log book, JUNE 6TH INVASION-ALLIED FORCES LANDING IN FRANCE FROM CABOURG TO MONTEBOURG. BEACHHEADS WELL ESTABLISHED. D-DAY!!. The operational records book records a degree of disappointment, ‘Der Tag-but ours. Not such a heavy programme as anticipated, but almost all our pilots ranged over the beachhead once, and to the South seeking and attacking enemy transport.’ (2)
The pilots were to witness shelling from the warships with spasmodic flashes; they didn’t encounter any enemy aircraft but were approached several times by patrolling Spitfire and Thunderbolts who were carrying out standing patrols over the fleet. Fortunately there were no blue on blue engagements as had happened previously as the Typhoon could resemble an Fw 190 at first glance to the inexperienced. Brian Spragg took off from Needs Oar point at just after 5 p.m under the leadership of Squadron Leader R H Fokes DFC, DFM. His mount for this operation was Typhoon ‘T’ for Tommy. They came under the control of a ship off of the coast codename ‘Baldwin’ and were tasked with attacking two tanks 4 miles north east of Caen which they raked with cannon fire. Brian records in his log book that they attacked tanks, vehicles and cattle! In Norman Franks book Typhoon Attack, Spragg expands on his entry as follows: – ‘They were on the road but from that height we couldn’t really tell exactly. By the time we got down-spraying- we found that ‘they’ were cattle. It was all of a bit of an anti-climax for we’d been up since 3.45 a.m. waiting for something to happen. Two other flights from the Squadron operated over the beachhead on armed reconnaissance trips attacking more transports on the roads, tented accommodation and a staff car.
That day the Typhoons of the 2nd TAF had flown over 400 sorties for the cost of eight aircraft and pilots. Four of those has been shot down by the Luftwaffe although their presence was scarce they had some success. Four more succumbed to deadly flak or debris thrown up from the bombing. (3)
The 7th June dawned and a solid cloud base was seen over the North Coast of France from 1500 feet to 3000 feet. Brian Spragg records in his logbook that ‘weather was pretty poor’. His flight took off On an armed recce from Needs Oar point at 10.05 am, seven aircraft in total but as they approached the beachhead they were diverted by their control ship to take a look at a road south west of Caen through to Villers Bocage. As they roared across the French countryside, they spotted some German MT and attacked a half track and 3 tonne truck with bombs and cannon fire, recorded in Brian’s log as ‘vehicles left burning’. They returned to base after being airborne for 1 hour 45 minutes. There were some 493 sorties flown that day and unfortunately the opposition was much stiffer as the aircraft had to fly lower due to the cloud base and in range of light flak. Fifteen Typhoons were shot down.
The following day Spragg took part in a four ship armed recco south of the beachhead, patrolling from St Lo onwards to Caumont. This time they located tanks which they believed to be Mk IV panzers and they rolled into the attack with bombs. One immediately blew up and another was left smoking. They also discovered some German mechanical transport and attacked with cannon, the operational record books report that strikes were seen on the targets but no conclusive results could be observed. Spragg records in his log book ‘2Pz Mk IVs destroyed, 3 MT damaged bags of joy’. Many of the sorties flown by 257 over the next few days were often directed by the control ship at the Beachead codename ‘Baldwin’ and the targets included troop concentrations, MT, Tanks, railways and road communications.
The weather stopped play on the 9th June and Ramrod 986 took place on the 10th which again was diverted by Baldwin to attack enemy positions but Spragg did not fly on these sorties. The 11th saw the squadron loose one of its pilots on Ramrod 990 around the Argentan area, when after attacking tanks and a line of 30 trucks, Warrant Officer P.W d’Albenas force landed in France. He fortunately managed to make his way back to the unit. The following day, worse was to come and the unfortunate pilot would not make a home run.
The 12th June saw an armed recce in the morning lead by Squadron Leader R H Fokes DFC, DFM, a seasoned veteran and Battle of Britain pilot. Seven aircraft including Spragg forged out over the coast en route for an area between Falaise and south of Caen. They split into two sections and all found targets, in all six transports were hit including a staff car, another section attacked some flat bed railway cars carrying tanks near St Pierre. Sadly the Squadron Leader Fokes aircraft was hit by flak 8 miles south of Caen. He was seen to bale out at 1000 feet. Flying Officer ‘Paddy’ Carr his number 2 was orbiting overhead and saw the CO hit the ground hard after the parachute opened but no movement was seen after. Carr also suffered flak damage and landed at strip B3 Ste Croix- sur- Mer. From the operational record books it is clear that both pilots had attacked a bridge 12 miles South of Caen and although flak was reported as light, there was also some heavy accurate flak which claimed the pair. Fortunately for Carr the new strips in Normandy had started to be constructed from the 7th June and had only recently been completed. It probably saved him from a cold dip in the channel. Spragg records in his log book a sortie of 1 hour 40 minutes ‘armed recco South of Caen, Attacked M.T left smoking. C.O hit-missing’
In Norman Franks excellent book, Typhoon attack Brian Spragg records ‘I was on the show when Ronnie Fokes was shot down. I last saw him as I was pulling away and didn’t see him at all afterwards. We were very low and on those sorts of occasions it’s every man for himself really. There was a lot of stuff on the ground which we were shooting up’ (1)
The losses amongst typhoon squadrons was mounting including a number of notable typhoon leaders including Wing Commander Mike Bryan DFC* on D-Day plus 4 and Wing Commander Reg Baker DFC* of 146 Wing four days after Ronnie Fokes.
Spragg nearly came a cropper on the 13th on a sortie that he describes as ‘ Low level bombing and strafing south of Caen’. 11 aircraft lead by Wing Commander Baker were briefed to attack an enemy HQ near a wood south west of Troarn. All aircraft successfully dropped their bombs from 2500 feet down to 1500 feet, following up the attack with strafing runs Flak was noted as being ‘meagre’ but Spragg was unfortunate and records in his log book ‘hit by flak, wing tip blown off’ which must have focused his attention, but he still managed to nurse his aircraft back across the channel to make a safe landing.
Many of the other entries for the month again record the magnificent efforts of the Typhoon pilots in supporting the break out from the beachheads. The pilots were not only facing flak and small arms fire but remember that the problems with serviceability of the Typhoon had still not been fully ironed out with its complex Napier Sabre engine. The operational record books record that Flight Sergeant Whitmore made a force landing on the mud flats at Lymington on the 21st June after his engine had cut out, he fortunately survived.
Still these brave pilots continued on ops day after day facing the terror of flak which at low level could spell disaster as the pilots would not have much time to convert speed to height in the attack to get enough height to use the parachute. Many had no choice other than to fore land or ‘force lob’ as it was called and hope that the fuel would not catch fire or even worse they had a bomb hang up! One such unlucky pilot is recorded in Spraggs log book on 22nd June on a sortie described as an armed reconnaissance from Caen- Vire to St lo. This sortie, Ramrod 1031, was being lead by the new CO Squadron Leader W.C Arhens to attack targets west of Argentan. The typhoons swooped down on some MT leaving 2 in flames and 2 damaged. Flight Sergeant G Turton who was flying as number 2 to the CO was seen to be leaving the target area streaming glycol. Unfortunately he forced landed in a field and almost immediately the aircraft burst into flames. Pilot Officer Jenkins the number 3 to the CO circled overhead in the hope of seeing signs of life. None were seen and the operational record book records that ‘It is presumed that Flight Sergeant Turton died in the crash. He was a good pilot and a staunch companion and he is greatly missed on the squadron’. Spragg records in his log book ‘Shot up and bombed MT, Geoff Turton force lobbed-blew up’. After the war he wrote that ‘ I think most of us felt a little sad to lose acquaintances and friends but morale remained good, one always thought it would be somebody else. Keeping busy on operations probably helped one to quickly forget loses’.
Since D-Day the 2 TAF had lost nearly 70 typhoons in action, half of which were loses to flak or other small arms fire. Only about half a dozen of these had been lost due to the efforts of the Luftwaffe. Other loses were due to mechanical issues, dust in the engines or enemy shelling whilst on the ground near the front lines at the new strips B2 and B3 in Normandy.
Spragg was to complete 21 hours of operational sorties for June and continued with the squadron right through until February 1945 completing 187 hours of operational flying on the Typhoon. He survived being shot down twice and force landing his Typhoon, gaining two ‘Green Endorsements’ for exceptional flying skill and judgement. His log book gives a fascinating insight into a very intense period of the air war over Normandy and records the sad losses of his squadron comrades. Despite its problems most of the pilots who flew the ‘Tiffie’ thought it was a solid and reliable delivery platform, for Brian Spragg he summarises his thoughts as follows ‘I really got to like the Tiffie, because it was built like the proverbial shithouse!, it could sustain quite heavy flak damage but having a liquid cooled engine it was vulnerable to damage’. His thoughts on the aircraft in its role were that ‘it was a very steady gun platform and ideal for either dive bombing (60 Degrees) or low level bombing. It was also a steady platform for rocket projectile firing. (4)