Friday, June 01, 2018

Fullbore Friday

If you think that the Good Idea Fairy should have a French last name, you are probably right;
RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté, who was born in India and was of partial French descent, devised this propaganda idea to boost the morale of the French when he was provided with intelligence report by Major Benjamin Cowburn of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) that the Nazi Forces paraded down the Champs-Élysées boulevard everyday between 12:15 and 12:45.
Oh, yeah ... you know where this is going,
... Philip called in Wing Commander Gatward to see if he would volunteer for the risky mission. With numerous low-level day light attacks under his belt, Gatward, along with his navigator, Sergeant Gilbert Fern, agreed. Beside flying low level down the Champs-Élysées and attacking the German soldiers, the plan also included a backup target of attacking the Nazi Navy (Kriegsmarine) headquarters in the former home of the French Ministry of Navy, Ministère de la Marine.
Of course you would. 

What a great story;
The duo took off again at 11:29 am on June 12, 1942 from Thorney Island in West Sussex in heavy rain. By the time they were flying over Rouen, the city in the North of France, there was bright sunshine and excellent visibility. The aircraft encountered the first anti-aircraft fires while passing over the suburbs of Paris at a very low altitude of just 30ft. They had circled around the Eiffel Tower at 12:27 and the radiator of the starboard engine of the aircraft suffered a bird strike. But they somehow managed to maintain their course.

The intelligence report about the schedule of the parade was found to be incorrect and no German soldiers were there to be strafed. However, Gatward flew down the Champs-Élysées at second floor window height and Fern released the first flag over the Arc de Triomphe. Gatward then attacked the Naval Ministry in the Place de la Concorde public square and strafed the ministry building with 20mm cannon shells, scattering the German soldiers, much to the delight of the Parisians. Then Fern dropped the second Tricolour. After completing the attack, Gatward turned the Beaufighter for home at 12:30 pm. They landed at RAF Northholt in South Ruislip in Western London at 01:53 pm.
That just started his war - one he had a superior record of excellence.
Upon returning to London, Gatward removed the dead bird from the engine radiator. It was found to be a French crow and was laid to rest at the RAF Northolt. Later, intelligence mentioned that the Nazi parade had been cancelled due to confusion following the Operation Squabble. The attack hugely boosted the morale among the British and French.

Gatward was immediately awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and Fern received a Distinguished Flying Medal. Gatward was also awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross in September 1944 for his heroics during the aerial attack on a German convoy off the Norwegian coast. He further received a Distinguished Service Order in October, 1944 ...
...and a life well lived,
retired in 1964 as Group Captain after spending 30 years in the RAF. The RAF hero lived with his wife Pamela in Essex and died in 1998 aged 84.
It is a shame the Beaufighter isn't better known. Here's a nice overview of a solid bit of kit.

Hat tip Tom.

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