Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4

Flown by Oberleutnant Gerhard Shöpfel, 9./JG 26, Chaffiers/France, August 18, 1940


Hawker Hurricane MK I

Flown by Pilot Officer Kenneth "Hawkeye" Lee, No 501 Squadron, Hawkinge/England August 18, 1940

On this Sunday nearly 500 Messerschmitt was sent out over the channel in front of the Luftwaffe bombers on a free hunt mission. On the British side the commander of the II Group, Park had no other option others to despatch five of his squadrons.

One of the squadrons, the 501st took off from the Hawkinges airfield close to coast and the town of Folkestone. As the commander of III/JG 26, Adolf Galland was absent this day for a conference with Göring, the Gruppe was led by the 9th Staffel commander, Gerhard Shöpfel. At 1:00 pm, Shöpfel bounced the climbing Hurricanes alone and manage to shoot down four of them and make a safe return. "it was quite easy, they must have been beginners" was Shöpfels laconic comment after the mission. However all four pilots downed by Shöpfel this day was experienced men with months of battle experience, one of them was the ace, Pilot Officer Kenneth "Hawkeye" Lee.

On the receiving end Lee recollect "We were all flying in a very tight formation climbing up to a rendezvous given by the radar people, and I was flying in the very centre of the squadron; if anything I would have thought that I was very safe from attack. In the initial attack Plt. Off Kozlowski was badly wounded, his aircraft crashing on Raynham's Farm, near Whitstable. Plt. Off John Welburn Bland was killed, his Hurricane burying itself in the ground at Calcott Hill, Surrey. Next in Schopfel's gunsights was Sgt. Don McKay, who was shot down over Dargate. Three pilots had been shot down in rapid succession, none having time to call out even a warning to the rest of the formation, let alone take evasive action or fire their own guns.

Lee was the last to fall: "A bullet hit my leg, which shot up in the air, and then another explosive bullet struck the metal behind me and filled my shoulder with little fragments, and a moment later a big burst of oil, smoke and flames came up between my legs from the main tank. I tried the controls but it was obvious my Hurricane was finished - there was too much smoke and flames. So, with the experience of my previous effort when I had bailed out and struck the tailplane, I rolled the aircraft on its back and pushed the stick foward and released my Sutton harness before pulling the canopy back. I had forgotten to disconnect the oxygen, which I quickly did, and baled out. My aircraft continued to dive earthward-bound, streaming flames and smoke.

Lees ordeal was not over however, Landing in a cornfield near Whitstable he was immediately "captured" by an elderly man pointing a rifle at him. As Lee was was out of his uniform and wasn't carrying ID, the man wouldn't believe that he was British. Then he was transported to the nearby Golf Club, where Lee was given brandy to "pick him up". He remembered: "Some of the members were coming in from playing golf and complained about an aircraft coming in low and disturbing them from their putting. I heard in the background: "And who is that chap over there with the dirty shirt... and I don't believe he's even a member".

© Claes Sundin 2015