Before night flying operations we routinely carried out a short test flight in our aircraft during the afternoon, checking all radio channels, the gun sight, and the radar identification system (I.F.F.). We usually took the opportunity to do a few aerobatics for sheer pleasure of flying.
The duty roster would be made up by the flight commander detailing take off times for each patrol. During the long hours of winter darkness we would each fly two or sometimes three patrols of two hours duration.
Typically, as my own take off time neared, I would gather my parachute and helmet and go out on the tarmac. On a moonless overcast night, which was the norm, the only lights visible were the torches used by the ground crew. Having climbed into the cockpit (much higher than the Spitfire) the airman would help with the straps and give the hood a final polish. I would then go through the start-up checks before starting the engine. A few moments to check that all instruments were indicating correctly before waving ‘chocks away’. It was only a short distance to the end of the runway along the perimeter track which was marked by very dim blue and amber lights. Before take-off I would run the engine up to full power in order to check the magnetos. At this time I would also carry out the pre-take off checks and then call control for clearance.
The Tempest, with its powerful engine and huge propellor, had a very vicious swing to port during the early part of the take off run which meant winding on full rudder bias and applying full right rudder in order to keep straight. Climbing away from the airfield I would advise control that I was changing channels to the operations frequency. I would be given a sector to patrol and a height to fly. The patrol line consisted of a number of searchlights spread out over many miles all shining vertically. Alternate lights would be flashing a letter of the alphabet in Morse code. with a steady light between each one. We would fly a figure of eight pattern between two flashing lights, crossing over above the steady light. Mostly it was then just a matter of going round and round hoping something would happen. I could hear the R/T chatter of other pilots, some further off the coast, and the occasional sighting of a buzz bomb, just hoping that one would come my way. And eventually it did. I was told by ‘0’s that a diver was heading towards my sector, giving a course and height. I could see the flame from the engine of the bomb and had time to get above it in order to gain advantage of the extra speed available in the dive. It was flying at around 350 knots so I had no trouble matching that speed and closed rapidly, firing, first of all at too great a range, then getting closer and firing a longer burst. I knew that I had damaged it as it went out of control and exploded as it struck the ground. I called Control informing that I had destroyed it telling them that it gone down near North Weald. I was given a rocket for daring to mention a place name. When I eventually received the return to base signal I headed for Bradwell feeling somewhat pleased with the night’s work.
Close to base I would sign off from the operational channel and call base informing them that I was rejoining the circuit and landing. The runway lights were ‘hooded’ and only visible from a low altitude as on the approach. I would endeavour to complete the trip with an immaculate three point landing.
Back in the crew room for a welcome cup of tea, and file a report, similar to the copy enclosed. Feelings? Highly delighted at shooting one down, with perhaps, some concern at where it may have landed. Hoping it fell on open country.
Flying Officer Ron Bennett
via David A. Woolf