World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                       Norman Crookes

Night Fighting with New Zealanders

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Fl/Lt. Norman Crookes DFC**,DFC(US); Fl/Lt. George 'Jamie' Jameson DSO,DFC; F/O Roy Jeffs.
Location of story: RAF Colerne, Nr Bath; Milford Haven; Sunburgh, Shetlands; Exeter; RAF Bradwell Bay, Essex; Zeals, Wiltshire; Normandy; Amiens, France; Caen, France; Gilze-Rijen, Eindhoven, Holland.
Unit name: 125 Squadron; 488(NZ) Squadron.
Background to story: Royal Air Force


 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of Mr Norman Crookes.

I was born in New Tupton, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, in 1920 and attended Clay Cross, Tupton Hall School where I was Head Boy in 1938/39. I gained a King’s Scholarship to Kings College, London University in 1939 and studied for a BA (Hons.) History. I joined the RAFVR on 11 July 1941 and was accepted for training for flying duties. After navigation and radar training, I joined 125 Squadron at RAF Colerne near Bath, as a radar/navigator on night fighters. I crewed up with George ‘Jamie’ Jameson, pilot, from Christchurch, New Zealand, flying Beaufighters and using Mk4 radar. At that stage I was a sergeant and was commissioned in October 1942. We had our first night combat on 27 July 1942 when we shot down a Heinkel 111 over Milford Haven. A week later on 4 August 1942 we shot down another Heinkel 111 near the oil refinery. We were then detached for a time to Sunburgh in the Shetlands to try to combat the German weather reconnaissance aircraft flying out from Norway. We had one unsuccessful combat because the gun sight was u/s and on another occasion, suffered an engine failure, 150 miles out over the North Sea, but managed to limp back on one engine losing height to 2000 feet – but this was far better than the prospect of ditching in the cold North Sea!

In February 1943 we were back at Fairwood Common, and on 16 February 1943 were scrambled, with all the other night fighters and shot down a Dornier 217. The Squadron moved to Exeter shortly afterwards and ‘Jamie’ and I were sent as trainers for night fighter crews. ‘Jamie’ was to train pilots at Chedworth, Gloucestershire, and I trained navigators on the use of radar sets at Twinwood, near Bedford. This was in July 1943. By November I was also at Chedworth. My pilot, ‘Jamie’, by this time had been awarded the DFC. We then joined 488 Squadron, a New Zealand squadron at RAF Bradwell Bay in Essex and we converted to flying Mosquitoes and to using Mk8 radar. The squadron was busy here, but we had no combats.

In May 1944 we moved to Zeals in Wiltshire in preparation for D-Day. In June we were doing patrols over Normandy and on 25 June we had combat and destroyed a Messerschmitt 410, and on 28 June, we destroyed a Junkers Ju88. I was awarded the DFC in July. We were doing frequent patrols over Normandy and on 30 July, we were sent to patrol the beach-head area in the early morning. We had our first combat at about 3.00am and within the space of half an hour we had destroyed a Dornier 217, two Ju88s, and a third Ju88 which we originally claimed as a possible, but which was confirmed as destroyed 24 hours later. This was the first time such numbers had been achieved in one sortie, and as a result of this, ‘Jamie’ was immediately awarded the DSO, and I was awarded the Bar to my DFC. A copy of the Combat Report for this sortie is appended at the end of this account.

We had two more patrols and shot down a Ju88, and on my last trip with ‘Jamie’, a vivid moonlit night, we shot down another Ju88 and damaged another. ‘Jamie’ was then unexpectedly recalled back to New Zealand as his family had suffered the loss of his father, and other serving members of the Forces. I was then teamed up with Flying Officer Roy Jeffs – he was again a New Zealander, and on our first night patrol, we shot down a Dornier 217 over Caen. We then changed to Mk10 radar, based on an American system, but it was generally not very well received, as it seemed to be more a return to the earlier Mk4 and was not an improvement.

We had combat on 23 December 1944 (my birthday!) in the American Sector in the Ardennes as the Germans were pushing the Americans back. We claimed a Ju88 as damaged, and this was only subsequently confirmed as destroyed by a researcher in the 1990s! We did quite a number of patrols flying from Amiens in northern France, and we then moved to Holland in April 1945 at Gilze en Rijen near Eindhoven. The Squadron was disbanded virtually as the war ended and we returned home by sea. I then discovered I had been awarded a second bar to my DFC, and also an American DFC presented for our work in support of the American forces. I spent my last year of service in command of a Ground Control Unit (No.11 GCU) as Squadron Leader. We had a team of seven who could either be in a hut or a vehicle and whose purpose was to guide an aircraft down to a safe landing in poor visibility, by radar tracking, and by talking the pilot down.

I was demobbed in October 1946. I returned home to continue my studies at Kings College in London, gained my degree and Teacher Diploma and became a history master at Brockley Grammar School in Lewisham, and then Head of Clay Cross Boys’ School from 1957 to 1961. I was then Head of William Rhodes Secondary School, Chesterfield, from 1961 until 1981 when I retired. I also had 30 years service with the ATC. I was CO of the 2326 Clay Cross Squadron, 768 Squadron at Brockley, and the William Rhodes Squadron. I then became Wing Training Officer in Derbyshire and, in a civilian role, became Chairman of the East Midlands Wing. COMBAT REPORT STATISTICAL A. 29/30th July, 1944. B. 488 (NZ) Squadron. C. 1 Mosquito KIII MkVIII A.I. D. 0505, 0509, 0515, 0525. E. (A) 5 miles S. of Caen, (B) Same, (C)5/6 miles S. of Lisieux, (D) Same. G&H. Nil J. 2 Ju 88s destroyed 1 Ju 88 probably destroyed 1 Do217 destroyed. Pilot: F/Lt G E Jameson DFC, Navigator: F/O. AN Crookes DFC. GENERAL F/Lt G E Jameson, DFC and F/O A N Crookes, DFC took off from Colerne at 0235 hours and reported to Pool 2. They were immediately taken over by TAILCOAT and given a vector of 220 degrees, and placed on patrol off the Channel Islands. The R/T failed on channel K but BEDLAM Control handed them over to TAILCOAT on B then F. They then patrolled east to west (Constances and St Lo).

At approximately 0500 hours they were informed that there appeared to be trade approaching them and a vector of 100 degrees at full throttle Angels 5 was given. F/Lt G E Jameson, DFC continues:- “I proceeded on the vector of 100 degrees at Angels 5 and the controller asked me to make my Turkey Gobble and told me that he could not give me any assistance. I saw light anti-aircraft fire 2 miles ahead and almost immediately, a contact was obtained, i.e. 0502 hours, range 2 miles, 10 o’clock, height 5,000 ft, head on. I obtained a visual on a Ju.88 range 1 mile against the dawn, still approaching head on and at the same height. My navigator using Ross night glasses confirmed the identification. Meanwhile, I had turned hard to port after the enemy aircraft [and] followed it by means of A.I. as the enemy aircraft skimmed through the cloud tops. I closed in to 300 yards at full throttle as the enemy aircraft was then doing 260 A.S.I. Meanwhile I saw a series of explosions on the ground caused, I believe, by the enemy aircraft dropping its bombs.

Visual was regained in a clear spot (with no cloud) and I closed in and gave the enemy two short bursts from dead astern. Strikes were seen of the fuselage causing a fire in the fuselage and the port engine. The enemy aircraft went down through the clouds vertically and well alight, and about 20 seconds later, hit the ground with a terrific explosion. I reported the kill to TAILCOAT and gave him a fix. The enemy was destroyed 5 to 6 miles S of Caen at 0505. When I was doing a port orbit over the scene of the kill, much WINDOW was seen and a contact was almost immediately obtained, i.e. 0506, range 2 miles, 11 o’clock, height 5,000 ft. A visual was obtained very quickly on an enemy aircraft flying slightly above cloud. This aircraft was also skimming the cloud tops. I gave chase at full throttle to overtake. His speed was approximately 280 A.S.I.

While giving chase, another Ju.88 came up through the cloud, one mile range and flying in the same direction as the former aircraft. I closed in rapidly to 400 yards and confirmed the identity of the aircraft as that of a Ju.88. The enemy appeared to see me and turned very hard port diving towards a thick cloud layer. I followed on the turn and closed in to 350-400 yards when I opened fire from dead astern. Strikes were observed which caused a large fire in the starboard engine. The enemy well alight disappeared vertically through cloud. At this moment I saw two aircraft approaching me through cloud and as I was satisfied that the former combat had ended in a kill, and the Ju.88 would inevitably hit the ground, I did not follow but turned towards the two enemy aircraft whom I suspected to be customers. I closed in on both of them and I identified them as Mosquitoes. Sub/Lt Richardson a navigator of 410 Squadron (Jungle 33) confirms my first kill, having seen the E/A well alight and hit the ground and he saw the second E/A well alight. I reported the second combat to TAILCOAT. The combat took place 5/6 miles south of Caen.

Although the pilot did not see the E/A actually hit the ground, and in consequence, only a probable was claimed, he is convinced that it was a kill and he is supported by an eye witness who saw large flames issuing there and the E/A going down. It is therefore respectfully requested that consideration should be given in stepping up this claim to destroyed. Almost immediately after identifying the Mosquitoes referred to above, I obtained a Freelance visual on an aircraft 4,000 ft range, same height 5,000, crossing starboard to port. I closed to 2,000’ dead astern and identified the aircraft as a Ju.88 which identity was confirmed by the navigator. When I was about 300 yards behind the E/A it dived steeply to port towards cloud. I followed and gave two short bursts and I observed strikes from one of the bursts on the fuselage. The E/A took advantage of cloud cover and I followed with use of A.I. though it was taking violent evasive action and dropping large quantities of Window.

When we were almost at treetop height; visual was regained range 4,000 ft. dead astern. The enemy had ceased evasive action. I closed to 250 yards dead astern and gave it a short burst from which strikes were observed. The E/A pulled up almost vertically and turned to port with debris falling and sparks issuing from it. The enemy stalled and then nose dived into a four acre field and exploded. The kill took place 5 miles S. of Lisieux. I climbed to 3,000’ called TAILCOAT, reported the kill and at my request, was given a north westerly vector back to the scene of enemy activity.

I once again saw A.A. fire ahead above cloud and I headed towards it and at 0522 hours, contact was obtained on two aircraft and much Window (a) at a range of 4 miles 10 o’clock (b) 2 miles 10 o’clock. I decided to intercept the nearer of the two and obtained a visual dead astern at a range of 4000’ on a Do.217. The E/A must have seen me for almost immediately it dived into cloud and took very intensive evasive action and threw out large quantities of Window for several minutes in cloud. I followed through cloud using A.I. and the E/A eventually straightened out at cloud base. Visual was regained at a range of 2,000’ dead astern and below. I closed to 300 yards and fired a short burst. Strikes were seen on the fuselage which began to burn furiously. The E/A turned gently to starboard pulled his nose up and the dorsal gunner opened fire with a wild burst, which headed in the wrong direction. The E/A dived into the ground in flames and exploded.” Claim: 2 Ju.88s destroyed. 1 Ju.88 probably destroyed. 1 Do.217 destroyed. Cine camera gun used automatically. Ammunition. P.I.89, P.O.90, S.I.94, S.O.91.”

Pr-BR