The crash of a Hawker Typhoon in Normandy during the weeks after D-Day was nothing unusual. What was unusual, however, was the record of what happened after a 198 Squadron machine crash-landed in July 1944.
Typhoon Mk.IB MN293 is, today, just another forgotten serial number of many tens of thousands painted on the sides of aircraft flown by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
The Hawker-built aircraft was a dedicated rocket-launching Typhoon used on ground attack missions, mounting eight 60lb rockets on rails fitted under the wings. Loaded rockets can be seen in the photo above, jutting out beneath the Typhoon’s four 20mm Hispano cannon.
While researching Canadian archives for material of interest to Project Overlord’s mission-building efforts, I came across this snippet featuring MN293 in the microfilmed Operational Record Book (RAF Form 540) of 39 (Photo Recce) Wing RCAF for July 1944.
The relevant part of the text above, which is the F540 entry for 27th July 1944, reads:
Seven airmen of 409 R & S.U. attempted to salvage a Typhoon MN293 a.c at Cuverville —, but enemy shelling resulted in the deaths of Sgt. Breadner and LAC. Forghan, causing injuries to five other members of the gang. The salvage was abandoned and included in the loss was a Coles Crane and one Mobile Savage Bedford 3 tonner. Sgt. Breadner and LAC. Forgham were buried by 10th Durham Light Infantry near Cuverville U.103694. Sgt. Cullen, Cpl. Podesta and Lac Severs, three of the wounded were evacuated to the U.K. LAC Sleight and Cpl. Cleaver, both seriously wounded will be evacuated to the U.K. when fit to travel.
Whoever 39 Wing’s diarist was, he recorded the attempted recovery of MN293 in quite surprising detail for a wing ORB – especially as MN293 wasn’t even a 39 Wing aircraft.
MN293 was force-landed on 25th July 1944. By that stage of the Normandy war 198 Sqn was based at Advanced Landing Ground B.7, Martragny, located a few miles south-east of Bayeux.
39 Wing was based at ALG B.8 Sommervieu, north of Bayeux and some miles from MN293’s base with 123 Wing, the parent formation of 198 Sqn.
25th July 1944 did not start well for 198 Sqn. Flight Lieutenant Harding, flying as Blue One, had taxied sister Typhoon MN882 (E) into a water bowser just before 6am while preparing to lead the first sortie. It was an inauspicious start, signalling lack of success to follow.
MN293 was one of seven aircraft to take off at 0555, with Flight Sergeant Ford at the controls.
Flying as Blue Two, FS Ford took MN293 to attack German gun positions “east of Caen”, at grid reference U.008562. The actual grid reference is south of the city as this green circle on the map extract shows:
The hour-long early morning sortie was not a success, however, as the ORB stated: “The last section [to take] off didn’t catch up with the rest of the formation owing to poor visibility and only five aircraft reached the target area.”
“They orbitted for 30 minutes but as no red marker smoke was fired it so they returned to base without making an attack. There was intense light and heavy flak whilst they orbitted and F/S Ford was hit but not seriously.”
The damage to Ford’s MN293 was not recorded in the war diary. It seems likely this was cosmetic damage caused by shell splinters from a bursting 88mm.
MN293’s second and final flight of 25th July was by Flight Lieutenant George Sheppard, who appears to have taken over his Blue Flight wingman’s aircraft to fly as Blue Two to Flt Lt Harding. Sheppard took off at 9.45am for an armed reconnaissance sortie planned to fly between Bretteville, Mezidon and Falaise.
Armed recce flights essentially consisted of taking a flight (6-8 aircraft) out to fire rockets and strafe whatever enemy ground targets presented themselves before reporting the results and any other points of interest to the intelligence officer back at base.
MN293 was one of seven aircraft of A Flight 198 Sqn taking part in that sortie. It was made up of four aircraft of Blue Section and three of Green Section, MN882 having been grounded after Flt Lt Harding’s collision with the bowser.
198 Sqn’s ORB says: “‘A’ Flight went off again at 0945 hours on an Armed Recce led by F/Lt Harding. As the formation crossed the bombline very heavy accurate heavy flak came up and the first bursts hit F/Lt Sheppard and F/Lt Harding. F/Lt Sheppard was hit in the radiator and turned for our lines streaming glycol. The engine eventually seized and he crash landed safely just inside our lines at COUVERVILLE and returned to us in the afternoon.”
Flt Lt Sheppard allegedly later recounted (in an unsourced quote) while talking about his wartime exploits: “I was also hit by 88mm flak on July 31st and forced landed over our lines at Cuverville, near Caen.”
The date does not agree with either of the two 198 Sqn record documents available from the National Archives or the 39 Wing ORB. Cuverville itself is due east of Caen by a mile or so.
As detailed in the 39 Wing ORB, the unit allocated to recover the crashed Typhoon was 409 Repair and Salvage Unit, at the time commanded by Flying Officer W E B Hurst.
Hurst’s papers, held by the Imperial War Museum, contain a 4 page account of what happened to his men. Sadly, that account has not been digitised.
10 Bn Durham Lt Inf’s war diary has been transcribed online but contains no mention of MN293’s crash, or the deaths of the salvage party. It says “intermittent shelling of our positions” caused “no damage or casualties” on 27th July. As the RAF men were not part of 10 DLI and the war diary is a record of what happens to the unit, not others from outside it, perhaps that statement about casualties is accurate on the face of it.
It is possible that 39 Wing’s diarist was mistaken about which Army unit buried the 409 RSU casualties, although a location given in 10 DLI’s war diary for 27th July is in the correct area. The Durhams took over from 2nd Bn Warwickshire Regiment, although the Warwicks’ diary records little; they suffered heavily in the days before 10 DLI relieved them in the line on 24th July, recording 248 casualties over five days of fighting east of Caen.
Nothing is known of what became of MN293 after its crash. While it was doubtless salvaged, the Second Tactical Air Force had substantial reinforcements available to it. 198 Squadron was ultimately part of 83 Group RAF, one of three groups under 2TAF command. 83 Group had 37 combat squadrons, each comprising 16-20 combat aircraft and around 24-30 pilots.
83 Group Support Unit maintained three spare pilots and aircraft per squadron within the froup, ready to dispatch them to the front line at a moment’s notice. MN293 was replaced by a new airframe likely issued from 83 GSU, with Flt Lt Sheppard rejoining his comrades after the crash. He flew again before the month was out and saw out most of the rest of the war with 198 Sqn on Typhoons.
Nonetheless, the effort put into recovering MN293 – and the deaths and injuries suffered by the 409 RSU salvage party – reminds us all of the great efforts and seemingly senseless sacrifices needed to oust Hitler’s armies from Europe after Nazi Germany’s invasions.
Lest we forget.