Sir CHRISTOPHER FOXLEY-NORRIS, DSO
In 1936 I was commissioned in the Reserve of Air Force Officers through the Oxford University Air Squadron; and was called to active service shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
In 1940 I joined No 13 Squadron in France. The squadron was equipped with the Lysander Army Co-operation Aircraft which, when the German offensive came, proved quite inadequate for first-line daylight operations. Consequently by the end of May we had lost all our aircraft; and eventually emerged on foot through Cherbourg, much chastened and looking for better things.
The better things for most of us consisted of transfer to Fighter Command, which I achieved in August 1940. After the necessarily brief training on Hurricanes, I was lucky enough to join No 3 Squadron in Scotland, where we saw only occasional and desultory action for a while. But at least one gained experience on type unlike many of my contemporaries, who were fatally flung into the hottest of the Battle with sometimes less than 20 hours flying on Hurricane or Spitfire. In early November I joined 615 Auxiliary Squadron (Churchill’s Own). After a operational tour during which I was shot up once and down once, I left 615 in April 1941.
The rest of my operational career, from July 1943 to May 1945, was spent on Beaufighters and Mosquitoes. Initially I commanded a flight in 143 Squadron operating against JU 88’s and other aircraft attempting to interrupt our antisubmarine operations in the Bay of Biscay, but in the autumn was flown out as an emergency replacement to 252 Beaufighter Squadron, which was suffering heavily in the Cos-Leros debacle. Thereafter, however, the squadron scored considerable success in operations aimed mainly against shipping trying to supply and reinforce the German garrisons on the Aegean islands; but also involving encounters with Me 109’s, JU 52’s and the Arado 196 fighter-seaplane. I had some success in these operations particularly against ships which, being larger, I found easier to hit than aircraft! In the late summer of 1944 I took command of 603 Squadron on similar operations but by the end of 1944 the war in the Eastern Mediterranean had been brought to a victorious conclusion.
On return to the UK I rejoined 143 Squadron, this time as Commanding Officer and flying Mosquitoes. Our task was to interdict German shipping along the Norwegian coast and later, with long-range tanks, in the Baltic. The squadron sank a considerable number of ships and even some submarines but suffered heavy casualties due to the nature of the Norwegian terrain and heavy-flak and fighter defences.
After the war I served nearly six years in the Far East Air Force and two tours in Germany, the highlights including appointments as AOC 224 Group in FEAF and Commander-in-Chief RAF Germany/Commander 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force. After retirement as an Air Chief Marshal in 1974, I joined my old friend of 40 years, Leonard Cheshire, as Chairman of his Foundation.
I served twice with 143 Squadron, latterly as CO, on Beaufighters and later Mosquitoes. Our operational task was largely but not exclusively anti-shipping on which the Squadron established a reputation second to none. Main weapons were anti-shipping rockets, solid or HE, and 20mm cannon. These were highly effective, but to attack the aircraft had to fly directly at the ship, giving its AA defences an equally direct no-deflection shot; Casualties were therefore very heavy but so were enemy losses. For example on May 4th, 1945, the penultimate day of the war, I led the Banff Mosquito Wing in a strike which sank an entire convoy of two large merchant vessels and three escorting warships.
On April 22nd 1945 I led the Banff Mosquito Wing on an anti-shipping strike into the Kattegat, which proved abortive owing to fog. While returning across the North Sea we encountered a German anti-force of 18 JU 88’s and Heinkel 111’s. In spite of continuing low cloud and poor visibility, we shot down 9 aircraft confirmed and 1 probable. Unusually, post-war research indicated that 15 German aircraft failed to return to base. This must have been one of the most comprehensive single-action defeats inflicted on Luftwaffe operational aircraft.
I flew the Lysander, Hurricane Mk I, Hurricane Mk II, Beaufighter and Mosquito in combat. The Beaufighter was an excellent and rugged aircraft but, as for so many other pilots, my preference must go to the Mosquito for its superb performance, handling and versatility which made it the outstanding operational aircraft of World War II. It could also absorb much punishment although its speed when fitted with 16 rocket projectiles and their fixed racks was naturally reduced. Its manoeuvrability enabled us to attack almost inaccessible targets in Norwegian fiords and harbours and to evade both AA and fighter defences; and when necessary it could still return across the North Sea on one engine. It was incomparable.