A Battle of Britain Spitfire Squadron: The Men and Machines of 152 Squadron in the Summer of 1940
By Danny Burt
Taken from the Dorset Echo 2nd March 2019
The extraordinary story of 40 pilots who helped win the Battle of Britain from a Dorset airfield has been told by author Danny Burt in a new book. Joanna Davis reports.
A COMPELLING account of a Dorset-based squadron’s crucial role in the struggle to defend the country during the Battle of Britain has been published.
Danny Burt, who is in the Army, has just published his first book – A Battle of Britain Spitfire Squadron: The Men and Machines of 152 Squadron in the Summer of 1940.
It tells how the Spitfire-flying squadron defended southern England against attacks from the Luftwaffe forces from their base in Warmwell, near Dorchester in Dorset. It is not only a factual account, but an insight to the lives of the squadron’s pilots.
The Battle of Britain, from July 10 to October 31, 1940, was a key conflict in the Second World War. Germany had conquered most of Europe and the only major country left to fight them was Britain. To invade Britain, Germany needed to destroy the country’s air force and proceeded to bomb Britain to destroy the air force and prepare for invasion. Although the Germans had more planes and pilots, the British were able to fight them off and win the battle.
Danny, 36, who has served in Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, said he has written the book to shine a light on the courageous actions of the 40 men of 152 Squadron, 14 of whom were killed in the Second World War.
He said: “When it comes to the RAF, people seem to think of the squadrons around London, the the heavy bombing of the Blitz, but 152 Squadron really did play an important part in protecting the UK.
“They were a massive part of the Battle of Britain and protected the coast of the south west and the Royal Navy base at Portland.
“No-one really understands or knows much about what they did. They shot a large number of Germans.”
Danny said the idea for the book came about because of his interest in military history.
He said: “It came about because of my interest in military history – when I was away in Bosnia I got sent a magazine with a picture of Eric Shepperd in it. He had a typical RAF ‘handlebar’ moustache and I was intrigued, I thought I’d look into it.”
Charismatic Eric, who was born on the Isle of Wight, joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice. He flew 12 missions and shot down four Nazi planes in the Battle of Britain. He died on October 18, 1940, after crashing his Spitfire into a copse of trees in poor weather conditions.
Danny writes: “Eric’s body was recovered from the wreckage. He was taken home on the Isle of Wight ferry, on October 22, his fiancee travelling with him. His coffin was draped with the Union flag and was placed at the front of the ferry.”
Danny has illustrated the book with more than 100 pictures, many of which have never been seen before.
He spent much time researching the book by talking with the families of 152 Squadron.
“It was really made possible with the input from the families,” Danny said.
“Lots of the families were really forthcoming. I’ve managed to get all these great photos in the book – what people didn’t realise is that cameras were banned from the airfield during the war. So all the photos used are personal photos taken with a box brownie camera.”
The result is a series of candid photos of pilots often larking around at the air field and even enjoying trips to Weymouth beach on their days off – a contrast to the gruelling toll taken by the missions they faced. ‘Pilot officer’ Pooch, a white Staffordshire bull terrier and the 152 Squadron mascot, is ever present in the photos.
Danny said all his research made him feel like he knew the men.
He said: “They are not very well remembered for what they did during this period of the Second World War and by writing this book they have gone from not just names but to friends I never met.
“Hopefully they will be remembered in history for their sacrifice. The families seemed really grateful this book was being written to remember the lives of these pilots.”
Danny, who has been in the forces since he was 16 and is originally from Devon, took many trips to Dorset to carry out his research,
He said: “I visited Warmwell and went down to the airfield a couple of times – it’s a big quarry now. I also went walking in Knighton woods, which is where the aircraft watch tower was.”
One of the stories of 152 Squadron that stays with him was that of the three pilots who trained together and then all died within a few days of each other in August 1940.
There was also the story of the youngest pilot killed – 19-year-old John Sinclair Bucknall Jones. He was shot down in combat on August 11, 1940.
Danny said: “He was alive in a parachute which came down. His body was washed up on the French coast three days later. It’s interesting that he was the youngest pilot killed in the squadron, aged 19, desperately hoping his parachute would open and then they found his body.”
But there were also moments of levity at RAF Warmwell which really captured Danny’s imagination.
He said: “The 609 Squadron were also based at Warmwell during the Battle of Britain. There was a significant difference between the two squadrons. 609 were always dressed correctly and were a little better disciplined than 152 Squadron. The rabble of 152 squadron were completely different characters and always in trouble! A local policeman would come down every week with a list of items that had been stolen, However, 152 had some first class fighter pilots who saw the horror of death every day. Some cheated it, but others were not so lucky.”
Finish Reading the full article: http://rafwarmwell.org.uk/Dorset-Echo-2nd-March-2019