You will by now hopefully have received word that your husband and my dearest friend, Ronnie, is a POW in Italy, and I thought I might write you these lines so that you may understand a little more about the sequence of events that led up to his capture.
Thoughout the past months we Malta based Spitfires have had a rough time of it I can tell you, and hence have been keen to take any opportunity of putting one back on the nose of the Hun. So it was that I applied to the WingCo for permission to take a few chaps over to Sicily early one morning and drop a couple of bombs on the blighters whilst they were having their morning sausage. The Winco agreed, and I called for volunteers to go with me. Ronnie was among those who came and I was delighted to have him flying as my wingman, along with Harry Deadwood, whilst Sgt Barnes (you remember him from our days at Biggin Hill, he was the Barbadian chap that got the DFM in June 1940) and Teddy Cross-Batter tooled up with 500lb bombs with which to awaken the Boche. We took off at 0430 and made landfall in good time for daylight, but some miles further up the coast than I would have liked. We’d agreed previously that Sgt Barnes section would run in low and deliver the wake up call whilst Ronnie, Harry and I waited up sun to keep an eye out for any early risers. Lo and behold, just as the other pair made their run into camp I noticed the sun glinting off metal at 12 o’clock low, and spotted a group of four Me109’s at about 20,000 feet. I called Tally Ho and as we moved in towards them Ronnie called in that he could see another group moving round behind us from our 9 o’clock. I told him to keep an eye on them whilst we drew towards the first group. We held the altitude advantage and, as we were coming out of the sun it seemed likely that the Jerries had not seen us. We pushed over to make a diving run but they must have seen us, for they quickly pulled up and our two formations zoomed through each other. The closing speeds were so quick that I had scarely had a chane to switch off the safety on my guns, let alone perchance a shot. I ordered a hard break to the right and was relived to see both Ronnie and Harry were still with me. A glimpse over my shoulder showed that the first groups of Me109’s had broken into pairs and were manoeuvring back round behind us. Further below them I could see the other section coming round also. Over the R/T I could hear that Sgt Barnes had started his run over the airfield – in the face of some pretty fearsome flak to boot - and out of the corner of my eye I saw the smoke that was climbing skyward from a building that looked like it might have been a mess hall – Good old Barnes, looked like he’d been right on the button. I pulled the spit into a hard turn and saw Ronnie do the same. After a series of twists and turns I managed to get lined up on one of the second bunch of Me109s – This was one of the newer F, or “friedrich” variants that the Huns are using these days. I gave him a six second squirt and saw my tracer curve into his wing root. I felt sure I had got him when suddenly he exploded in a mighty ball of flame (when I arrived back at Takali I found a piece of his fuselage had embedded itself in my engine cowling!). The hun inside didn’t stand a chance, poor blighter. Sweating, I hauled the Spit back level to take a look around me.
Then a warning call from Ronnie alerted me that a Hun was on his tail. I had been so busy concentrating on my own target that I had not been able to help my wingman. In a flash I swung the Spit round and tried to line up on the Jerry but it was obvious from his manoeuvring that he was a crack pilot. I told Ronnie to break left so I could get a clear shot at the Hun but as I did so I saw tracer fly past my cockpit. In an instant I felt my aircraft shudder and had a feeling in my shoulder as though someone had walloped me with a cricket bat. One of the other Jerries had obviously lined up on me whilst I was about the pop the chap on Ronnie’s tail. This unfortunately threw me off my mark and the Hun behind Ronnie hit him with a long burst. Ronnie’s engine immediately gave up the ghost and his Spit performed a long, slow roll to port and began to loose altitude. A long trail of white smoke began to tail behind him as he descended. Quickly I pulled myself back together, and squeezed off a burst at the Hun, enough at least to send him scurrying out of the fight, gloating no doubt over his victory. I watched Ronnie’s aircraft as it descended about 10,000feet, willing him all the while to bail out. But he’s a strong fighter that husband of yours, I could see he was wrestling with the controls of his Spit right to the end, and as I swooped back low to evade the by now circling gaggle of Me109’s behind me, I saw Ronnie execute a textbook belly up landing in a vineyard – luck blighter. Risking all, I circled the field but could not find a landing site, and even if I had I am sure the Huns would have bagged me too. I saw Ronnie scramble out of the wreckage and wave me away as I opened up the throttle and headed for the coast. To my right I could see some buildings on the apron of the airfield were a smoking ruin and ahead of my I could see the rest of the flight as they tore off home at zero feet and at high speed. We all made it back to Takali, where I was able to get my wounded shoulder looked by a lovely Maltese nurse.
Later that day one of our photo reconnaissance Marylands flew over the airfield and got some great shots of the damage Sgt Barnes and Teddy had done with their five-hundred pounders. Ronnie would have been proud.
Yours as ever,
Squadron Leader Johnny Danger