Spitfire pilot and Battle of Britain veteran Nigel Rose, tells us about one of his closest shaves in the Battle.
602 Squadron were in the thick of the action in south east England in August and September 1940. Wave upon wave of Luftwaffe aircraft poured across the Channel, attacking first of all the RAF’s capability to fight back before targeting Britain’s towns and cities in a campaign that would last until the following spring.
In this excerpt from the interview, Rose explains how he was hit, yet managed to bring his Spitfire under control and land it safely.
"I'd been chasing a [Messerschmitt] 109 and I’d thought I’d done some damage and got some smoke out of him but I’d failed to notice that when the [Messerschmitt] 110s had been attacked they got themselves into a protective circle so that they were chasing each other’s tails.
"And that was quite a benefit for them so if someone was chasing the person in front of him, he could go for the person who was doing the chasing and that’s exactly what happened in my case.
"I forgot to look for the person who was second in the row and there was a hell of a bang and a crash and the cockpit got in an awful mess and I found that the aircraft was suddenly nosing down towards the sea, which was a long way away – I was at around 16,000 feet at the time, but it was going down fairly rapidly – and I thought that I'd better start preparing to ditch.
"So I undid my belt and the straps that lock you in and started to think about getting my feet up off the pedals and into a place where I could lever myself out into the sea.
"But when I got down to around 8,000 feet or something like that, I suddenly found to my surprise that the aircraft was coming out of its dive and the German chap had pushed off home to tea and so I started to ease it out – and I was only about three or four miles off the coast by then.
"When I got there [to the airfield at Westhampnett] I managed to get it into a circuit. I eased it down very gently just over the hedge – because in smashing the cockpit, it had ruined the air bottle which fed the brakes and the flaps, and they were out of order, and quite a lot of the instruments too had the glass cracked.
"I had to be very ginger about getting it down onto the grass, but I managed it eventually and stopped not far from the hedge ... in no time at all the bowser came up to refuel and the ambulance came along to cope with my arm, which had been shot up a bit.'
In fact, Rose was on sick leave for a couple of weeks while his arm healed, but was soon up in the air again, ready to face the massed ranks of German aircraft once more.
Thanks to the efforts of pilots like Nigel Rose, the Luftwaffe stopped daytime raids after 15 September (now called Battle of Britain Day) and turned instead to nighttime raids – one battle was being won but the Blitz had only just begun.