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F/LT. ERIC. S. MARRS DFC

ONE OF THE FEW

Marrs DFC 1

 

Instalments of a diary written by a young fighter pilot in the form of letters to his father

March 26, 1940........I have flown at last. On Friday I went off in a Gladiator without any other dual instruction. It is a very easy machine to fly and handles something like the Hinds which I have just been flying. When I have done a certain number of hours on this type I shall go on to Spitfires before I become operational on them. I have done about four hours on Gladiators since I started and I like them very much. They are very nippy and manocuvrable and easy to land. Their top speed is supposed to be about 250 m.p.h........ Life is quite interesting on the whole, but it ought to liven up soon if the Germans are going to do anything at all.............

April the 2...... I have got on to Spitfires at last. I had my first trip on Sunday and it was rather hectic. They are very sensitive and delicate on the controls at low speeds and after the other aeroplanes I have been flying I found myself being very ham-handed with the controls. Apart from this, they are very nice machines. The view forwards and downwards is not too good but is otherwise excellent, though when coming into land the approach is made with the nose up, and that makes you very blind. A special curving approach is thus necessary, which only leaves you blind for the final hold off. The speed is not noticeable until you get near the ground. On the whole they are very gentlemanly aircraft and the only really bad habit is a tendency to tip up on its nose very easily on the ground. This necessitates great care in using the brakes. There has been very little excitement here and we are all longing for the sight of a a Hun.........................

April 14.......I am getting on quite well with the Spitfire and have begun learning the methods of attack. These we practise in sections of three on one or three aircraft flying in a steady, straight line. It would be much more amusing if we had a bomber at our disposal on which to practise these attacks, while it did its best to evade us; The bombers, however have more serious work to do................

April 21......... I am nearly up to operational standard on Spitfires having done about 10 1/2 hours on them. Even when one is operational one gets plenty of training and practice flying, and as the Hun seems to be too preoccupied with Norway to do anything about britain I expect to get in a good deal more practice before I have to fly in earnest......................

May 15........ Our sector still remains deadly quiet, though we are all at an advanced state of preparedness and ready for anything. Iam taking my part in day operations now and have been off on one chase. We were sent about 50 miles out to sea but saw nothing. When you start going out to sea like that, it makes you listen very carefully to your engine. I have also started night flying. Spitfires are very nice at night as they are very stable machines and can be trimmed to fly hands and feet off. We also have to get up very early to be at readiness an hour before dawn; this works out that we get up at 03.30 about four mornings out of six, and if you have been night flying the night before it means that you get about 1 to 2 hours sleep some nights. It is surprising though with what little sleep one can do when the need arises. Besides, our work is not at the moment strenuous.............

May 29....... I think our squadron will move soon; in fact I am nearly sure it will move soon. We will not be leaving this sector unguarded for another aquadron will move in. The Southern squadrons, however, cannot carry on indefinitely and our job will be to relieve one of them for a spell. We are supposed to be next on the list for either France or south of England, from where we will guard the evacuation of the B.E.F. or escort bombers. when the system really gets going there will be a continuous rotation of squadrons to and from the battle area.......

June 9.......We were left out of the Dunkerque show and have been stuck up here all the time, and very quiet it has been too. Still we’re bound to be given action some time and the war won’t end yet awhile..... Leave has been resumed in the Air Force now for periods of four days. I am due for mine on July 13-16 inclusive. Just time to get down and spend a day in Town and a day at Heronden and nip back again..................

July 7.....I was very interested to hear that Hawkhurst had been bombed and machine-gunned and I’m very glad that worse casualties were not sustained. You mention that no British fighters were around, but they were probably all above the cloud. In these cloudy conditions it is almost impossible to catch lone raiders. They nip out and in again and don’t give one any time to get near them. We are having the same difficulty up here in catching them. One dropped four bombs on Newcastle the other day. There were 15 fighters up at the time but he got away. He could have flown back to Germany in cloud if he had wanted to for that day the cloud went from about 6,000ft, to 20,000ft, in several layers which merged into each other in places. We have been having some work to do these nights, but up to now only two have been shot down in our sector. One by anti-aircraft fire and the other by the squadron. On Friday night we had a proper go at them. There was however, a general over-excitement of the ground defences, and searchlights and guns were not up to much. Most of our own fighters were fired on and some had a bad time. The guns did, however, get their one enemy aircraft that night. They also received a large and powerful raspberry for firing on us. I was not actually on duty that night, but was aero-drome control pilot and was out on the flare-path all the time. The next three nights they did not visit us again. On the fourth night my flight was on again and I went up this time. The guns and searchlights were, however, too shy this time and they never even picked up a friendly aeroplane, much less an enemy one. We searched and patrolled and did what we could, but unless the searchlights illuminate aircraft for us we are not much use. The next day we had a big conference with searchlight officers from all the sectors round and cleared up many points and questions. That night the other squadron was on. the searchlights were a 100 per cent better and they fixed on a Hun which was promptly shot down. We now feel that with good co-operation between searchlights and fighters we can do fairly well. Tha’t happened last night. To-night we are on again, but it is the other flight’s turn............................

July 19.............. Our squadron had another little engagement some days ago.. They came up against some Ju 87’s escorted by Me 109’s and with a Do 17 as a decoy. I say they because I was unfortunately at breakfast during this show and missed it. They shot down the Do 17, a Ju 87 and the two Me 109’s confirmed, with one or two others rather doubtful. We had one pilot, Jumbo, shot down, but he got out all right with a leg wound and was picked up from the sea shortly afterwards. Since then things have been very quite indeed round here. The Germans seem to be concentrating chiefly round Dover and Folkestone at the moment, probably because that is the narrowest part of the Channel. The raiders that we have to deal with come, I think, from the Channel Island aerodrome at Jersey. We often fly more than halfway across and can see France quite clearly. The other day one section chased an enemy machine right over to France brfore they gave up.............

July 23... There has been quite a lot of enemy activity down here just lately, chiefly against shipping. Our squadron unfortunately has been off duty during most of it. We have, however, had one small engagement, when one section shot down a Ju 88. I myself have not yet been in anything.....

August 17...... Well I have been in the thick of things since I came back from leave. I had quite a good journey down here and arrived on time. I found that we had had two casualties and that was the reason for my recall. One was a flight commander and the other was the chap who only got married about a month ago to a red cross at Sidcup. I came on duty at 4.30 the same afternoon and have been on ever since. We get no released or avilable periods now and we are at readiness all the time. This is an emergency measure, but is somewhat tiring. We had no shows that evening. Next morning we had to get up at 04.30, but had nothing to do till about 7am. three of us were then sent after some enemy aircraft floating round the countryside. One of them eventually popped out of a cloud not far from us. I managed to get within 500 or 600 yds, too far to fire, but he popped into another thick cloud. I went round the other side but lost him. there was a lot of cloud that morning. The machine was a Dornier Do 17. The day then passed quite quietly though we flew quite a lot, until about 5.15 pm..........

As many aircraft as possible were ordered into the air. Nine of us took off and climbed up to 15,000 ft over Portland. Soon we were told over the radio ‘Many enemy aircraft approaching Portland fron south’. About two minutes later I had my first sight of them. A cloud of black specks milling round and round, about half way across the Channel and about the same height as us. We climed up another 2,000 or 3,000 ft up sun of them and about five miles south of Portland; and there they were. There must have been more than a hundred of them - Ju87’s escorted by Me110’s. The 87’s were in Vees of three, in tight formation. They were more or less surrounded by 110’s. Behind and to the right of and above these 87’s was another formation of 110’s.... I must say that at the sight of all these aircraft my heart sank. How could nine Spitfires stop all these ? However, we were ordered into line astern and down we came out of the sun straight in behind the bombers. That dive cheered me up no end. I was going too fast to get a good shot in ( I shall know better next time), but sprayed an 87. Then down and to the left and up into the sun again. I looked for stragglers. There were German aircraft everywhere, though from after that first dive I never saw another Spitfire in the fight. I found a 110 fairly separated. I had a short dog-fight and managed to get several short bursts in but noticed no effects. Then away again. It isn’t healthy to stay on one aeroplane for any length of time. I looked for more stragglers and could find nothing that looked pleasant, so I just charged back into the main group of bombers. I was nearly head-on to them and opening fire at a fairly long range I plastered a Vee of three 87’s but did not manage to put the coup-de-grace to any of them. I nipped under them at the last minute and went down in a dive. I then met up with another 110. I could’nt help it, there were so many of them. We circled around each other for a bit in tightening circles, each trying to get on the other’s tail, but my attention was soon drawn by another 110. Down underneath him I went and pulled up giving him a long burst into the belly. Nothing seemed to happen. I was then occupied by yet another 110. I milled around with him for a bit, but when I wanted to get in a shot O found I had run out of ammunition. I rolled on my back and pulled out of the melee and went home. I had unfortunately shot down nothing but as I came home I saw a Hurricane. Reinforcements had come up and were having their turn at the enemy. Twenty minutes after that show three of us were up again, but it was all over. Next morning we were up at 04.30 again. Nothing happened till lunchtime. We were sent up to 20,000 ft east of the Isle of Wight. When we arrived, enemy fighters materialised all around us. I was fully occupied with dodging and never had a chance to get my sights on anything. I finally went into a spin through doing too tight a turn at low speed. I came out and there was nothing in sight. I climbed up again towards the sun, and looked around. I saw about six aeroplanes bearing down on me from my left. I thought they were Spitfires and did nothing. When they were too close to be comfortable, they turned out to be Me109’s. I did such a steep turn that I went into another spin. When I came out I had a good look round and then made for land. I must have been about twenty miles out to sea. I looked for trouble or friendly fighters and finally found five other Spitfires or another squadron. I stuck with them until I was short of petrol but saw nothing and finally had to return owing to shortage of petrol. That evening we had another patrol. We saw nothing. Not long before we were ordered to land, I suddenly saw two Heinkel 111’s stooging along below us. I called up the leader on the R/T and dived straight after them as they were going into a layer of thickish mist. I managed to keep sight of the rear one and when it me out the other side I was able to shoot it up. I left it with smoke coming from both engines and my own machine covered in oil from it. I don’t think it could have got home and I’m pretty sure it didn’t. My R/T message was not understood and so nobody else saw them. I am counting that as my first. I returned home much cheered...... To-day nothing has happened at all as no doubt you heard on the news. Tomorrow ? Who knows? Probably raids on a scale we have never dreamed of. At any rate we have had a day’s rest and are feeling fine................................

August 22............ We have only had one show since I last wrote and that was the day after I wrote. It was the day the Germans lost about 150 aircraft. There was a large scale raid on Southampton and Gosport consiting of Ju87’s escorted by Me109’s. We arrived on the scene just as the 87’s had finished dropping their bombs. There were other squadrons already there and we have since learnt that one of them took on the fighter escort. We were therefore lucky, and when we arrived we found about thirty Ju87’s making for France. We dived after them and they went down to about 100 ft above the water. Then followed a running chase out to sea. The evasve action they took was to throttle back and do steep turns to right and left so that we would not be able to follow them and would overshoot. There were, however, so many of them that if one was shaken off the tail of one there was always another to sit on. I fired at about six and shot down one. It caught fire in the port wing petrol tank and then went into the sea about 300 yards further on. When I had finished my ammunition I turned it fired a burst in front of me. I could see the tracer and I seemed to fly straight through it. I was not hit, however and ran for home as it was senseless staying without ammunition. I was not followed and two other chaps shot down that 109 soon after. The squadron’s score was 11 that day : 10 Ju87’s and the Me109. We lost no pilots or aeroplanes and were mentioned in the news that night, when it said that ‘ Eleven Spitfires shot down their own number of enemy aircraft without loss’ There were celebrations that night. Since then there have been no shows and we are all enjoying a welcome rest........ yesterday our section found a Ju88 and shot it down and that now makes our squadron total of enemy aircraft confirmed to 33.....

August 27.... Excitements have begun again. We had about five days of very acceptable quietness, during which we merely chased odd lone raiders. We managed to get several of theses and another chap and I came across a Dornier which we shot down. I get half for that. Chasing these lone raiders is good fun and quite amusing for it means that, for once the odds are in your favour... On Saturday the big raids began again. There was one over Portsmouth which our squadron did not get into. We had to patrol an aerodrome which control thought was going to be attacked. On Sunday , however, we had our share. A big raid came over with our aerodrome as its objective. There were dozens of escort fighters and as usual we got mixed up with these without managing to attack the bombers at all. Other squadrons which arrived were a bit too late to prevent the bombing and the bombers were more or less unhindered in their work. Considering this, they did surprisingly little damage. They demolished the hospital luckily there was no one in it they ruined a hanger and damaged a second luckily there was only one aeroplane lost through this act, they dropped one or two bombs on the aerodrome. They dropped a number of delayed action bombs around the place some of which have not yet gone off. One is near the W.A.A.F.’s quarters, which they can therefore not use, and is in an empty hanger, and there are one or two others around and about the aerodrome. One of those on the aerodrome went off just as I was falling to sleep last night. It shook me considerably..... Well, as for the air battle. to begin with, the squadron was spilt up intwo flights. Our flight went into line astern to attack a formation of Ju 88’s, but on the way in I, who was the last of the string, became tangled up withsome Hurricanes which I thought were Me 109’s. The bombers had disappeared by the time I had disentangled myself, and I could not find anything to shoot at. then I saw a lone twin-engined machine about five miles out to sea and about 5,000ft below me, making for France. I dived after it and found it was an Me 110. When it saw that I was overtaking it, it whipped round and came head on at me. I held on as long as I could, but he seemed to be going to ram me, so I pushed the stick forward hard and just went under his wing. I went round in a steep turn and found he was doing the same in the opposite direction. I opened up my turn in order to give him a wider berth and then when I had passed him steepened it up again to come round on his tail. This I was able to do, and with a longish burst I put his port motor on fire. I then found myself overshooting. I throttled right back but could not pull up in time and drew out to his right. I overshot him by about 300yds, and I watched him over my shoulder. I saw him turning in behind me to get his sight on me, and, leaving it as late as possible so that he would not be able to follow me round. I went into a steep climbing turn to the left, going into it as quickly and violently as possile. His tracer passed under me. I continued my steep turn and came round behind him again. I took good care to stay where I was this time. With another long burst I put his starboard engine on fire and pieces flew off. I then left him. None too soon either, for I caught a glimpse of an Me 109 diving down out of the sun on to what would have been my tail. I was now about 20 miles out to sea and I made for home at top speed. About halfway back to land I passed six more Me 110’s going back to France. I did not stop to argue as I was still about 10 miles out to sea. Arriving back over land I hung around for about a quarter afan hour looking for somethingto finish my ammunition on. I then landed . When I landed I found that I had a bullet through my oil tank and had lost nearly all my oil. I reckon I was lucky to get back from 20 miles out to sea. We lost two people that day and only had three confirmed and one unconfirmed. We were rather depressed that night. We have now lost six people since we have been here and the squadron score stands at 40 confirmed and 15 unconfirmed. I don’t suppose we ought to complain really, but it is always a blow when people don’t return.....

September 3...We have been having a very slack time here since I last wrote. The Hun has been concentrating entirely on the South-East and the London area and doesn’t seem to be bothering about Southampton and Portsmouth any more.... I have christened my aeroplane ‘ Old Faithful’ as it is about the oldest aeroplane in the squadron and has now done nearly 300 flying hours. Looking through my log book I find I have now done over 130 hours on Spitfires, 14 hours of which are night flying. I have also flown 10 different types of aeroplanes at various periods of my career. My total flying hours add up to over 300...... You were asking my score. It is two and a half confirmed and one unconfirmed; the half being one I shared with another chap and the unconfirmed one being a Heinkel which I left with both engines giving off a lot of black smoke and which poured a lot of oil over my aeroplane. The two and a half consist of one Ju 87, one Me 110 and a half Dornier 17. I have shot down all these in my own aeroplane, which is another reason for my calling it ‘ Old Faithful’

Boy Marrs RAF Warmwell 152 Squadron3
              

September 5.... We unfortunately lost another pilot yesterday. He was chasing a Dornier out to sea when his glycol cooling system was punctured. He lost all his coolant and had to come down in the sea about 30 miles out. We sent out aeroplanes to search for him, but he was not to be found. There is a good chance that he may have been picked up by one of those German seaplanes which always search the seas after any battle. The weather continues to be stifling hot and very clear down here, for which we are not at all thankful. A long period of rain would be most welcome................................

September 10...........How are things going with you with all this bombing of London? Poor old London! It has received a terrible hammering and so long as this moon lasts is bound to receive worse. The casualties are colossal. This is the sort of thing I have been expecting for a long time and it is what everybody thought would come at the beginning of the war. We are still doing nothing down here. The Hun has been concentrating entirely on London just lately and it seems to go to show that Germany has not the colossal bomber force she claims to have, otherwise she would be able to concentrate on a greater number of places at the same time. I am glad we did not waste time and bombs on large-scale reprisals against Berlin is probably just what Hitler would like.......... The more I think about it, the more confident I feel that we shall be able to stop any invasion attemts. One has only to put oneself in Hitlers shoes and try to work out a plan of invasion to realize how difficult it is for him. What is the general feeling in London about this bombing ? Are the people terrified of it or are they taking it calmly? I think a great deal depends upon how the public can take such treatment. I have never been bombed myself and so don’t know what it is like, but I can’t think of anything worse unless it is being shelled, which I am told is much the same.... Our squadron is now up to strength again and we have managed to train quite a number of new pilots during the lull in operations down this way.........

September 22...... I have just received your letters dated the 17th. They take a shocking long time to come now, but considering the amount of bombing London has received I don’t think the Post Office has been doing too badly. London certainly has received a psting, but the Germans have paid heavily for it and don’t seem to have achieved much damage of military importance. This indiscriminate bombing seems to me to be a somewhat pointless affair. They haven’t been able to demolish completely any large area as they did t Rotterdam and Arras. At those places they were unhampered by any opposition and they caused tremendous havoc and killed all the civilians in the areas they laid waste. The weather has broken at last, for which I am most thankful, and I expect many others are too. The moon is also going and there is now not much more than a half left. This of course, hampers our bombers as much as his and may in a way be a bad thing because I think we have been wreaking havoc amongst his barges just lately with our night bombing. The sea was beautifully rough during that gale but is now unfortunately calm again. Still, his invasion is by no means made easy by that fact. The weather is still bad and so he loses all backing by his bombers..... We have had some more excitements during this last week. Last Sunday, the famous day of the 185, we had 30 Heinkel Mk.111 bombers over Portland. There was only one flight up at the time and I was leading it. A flight is six aircraft. I had been patrolling the aerodrome for some time already with one other chap, when the other four were sent off to join me. Before we had joined up we were sent off to intercept this raid coming in from the S.W. of Portland Bill. I was over Weymouth when I first saw them. They were coming at Portland from the west. I climbed up to come in behind them from the sun, but they were going faster than I thought. They were in tight formation and they dropped their bombs on Portland Bill from 16,000 ft, doing pattern bombing. We then came in on their tails and they turned out to sea. We chased them for about 10 miles, nibbling at the rear end of their formation and we knocked down two of them. I myself did not get one, though I must have damaged two of them. If we had had the whole squadron up we could have broken up thier formation and knocked down quite a number. The extraordinary part about this raid was that there was no fighter escort. I was keeping a very good look-out though in case such a thing should suddenly appear from out of the sun. On Tuesday I was leading a section of three and we were ordered on to a Junkers Ju 88 bomber up near Bath. I attacked first and hit the radiator of his starboard engine with my first burst. His glycol poured out in white streams and his starboard motor finally packed up. The other two then attacked in order and then we each nibbled around attacking when we could. He then managed to reach the clouds, which were thick puffy cumulus. I followed him into one and lost him. The other two went around and were able to find him again. When I’d lost him I circled round looking for him and then noticed a strange smell. I looked down and saw slight fumes arising from under the dashboard. During the scrap I had noticed an aerodrome with big runways standing out and showing up well. I made for it , and as I was still about 12,000ft. I was able to make it easily. My engine began to shudder very violently, making the whole aeroplane shake. It then seized up solid. I then noticed that my aerodrome was covered with small, square concrete blocks to prevent German transport aeroplanes landing. I had to come down and was able to pick a spot more or less free from blocks where I landed without damage to the aeroplane. The aerodrome was one just being built and that was the reason for the concrete blocks. I inspected my aeroplane and found one bullet through my oil cooler. I had lost my oil and my engine had seized up. When I got back here I found that 88 had come down at Imber a little village about three miles from Dauntsey’s. The next day the three of us who had shot it down motored up to inspect it. We did not get away from here until 3pm and arrived at 5pm. It was in very good condition and we were extremely interested. Of the crew of four, two were killed and one seriously wounded, only the pilot getting away scot-free. There were four bullet marks on the back of his armour-plated seat. We arrived to find quite a crowd all round the machine though kept at a distance by a rope. We were able to climb all over it and see where our bullets had gone and I was able to see where I had hit his radiator. We stayed two hours and then pushed on to Salisbury..... The unfortunate part about that engagement was that I lost ‘ Old faithful’. It will go to a mainienance unit to be repaired and then because of its age will probably go to a training unit. Poor ‘Old Faithful’. I had become very attached to it............... On Thursday, that is the day after we went up to see the 88. I was leading a section of two when we happened upon another 88 just off Lulworth Cove. He dived to sea level and headed at top speed for France. We chased him over the wave tops for 10 miles out to sea until he disappeared into a bank of fog. I think I put his rear gunner out of action because he fired at me to begin with and then ceased. I had a new Sergeant Pilot with me and he was able to have his first crack. On returning I beat up the dispersal hut as I was in high spirits, but it is strictly verboten, and I was seen. I was therefore given four days Duty Pilot to cool me off and here I languish having completed one and a half days of my sentence. Still it is a good opportunity to read and to write some very necessary letters...................

October 1...... On wednesday morning a flight was sent off to patrol. Soon afterwards the rest of the squadron was told to get into the air as quickly as possible. The result was we all went off in bits and pieces. I went off with one other chap, and as a pair we went looking for the trouble. We climbed up to 16,000ft and saw a tremendous cloud of aircraft just round Yeovil way going North. There were two large groups of bombers consisting of about 40 bombers each. Milling around and above and behind them were numerous Me 110’s acting as guard.. Well the two of us proceeded North, passed the enemy and came round in front of them. We waited just South of Bristol for them. Then we attacked. We went head-on straight for the middle of the foremost group of bombers firing as we went, we cut through the heart of them like a knife through cheese; but they wouldn’t break. They were good, those Jerry bombers they stuck like glue. On coming through the first group I ran into some Me 110’s. I milled around with those for a bit trying to get on the tail of one of them, but there was always another to get on to my tail. Things became a bit hot, and seeing a 110 very close to getting a lovely shot in on me, I pulled the stick back hard and pushed on full left rudder. I did three smart lick rolls and span. I came out of the spin below everything. I climbed up to sunwards of everything to have another crack at the bombers, climbed to the same height and slightly in front of them on their starboard side. I saw a Heinkel lagging behind the formation and dived to attack it from the starboard quarter. I put a long burst into it and it also streamed glycol from its starboard engine. My attenttion was then occupied by a Me 110 which came to the help of the Heinkel. A steep turn was enough to get behind it as it did not seem very anxious to stay and fight. I came in from the starboard quarter again and kept my finger on the firing button, turning in behind it. Its starboard engine (becoming a habit now) streamed glycol. Suddenly there was an almighty bang and I broke away quickly. I looked around glanced at my engine and oil tanks and positioned myself for another attack, this time going for the port engine. I just began to fire when my ammunition petered out. I broke away and dived below cloud, throttled back, heaved a deep sigh and looked around to see where I was. I steered South, came to the aerodrome and landed. I had a look at my machine and counted 11 bullet holes in it. the one that made a bang in my cockpit had come along from the rear, nipped in the right-hand side of the fuselage and smashed the socket into which the R.T.is plugged.......... (To be continued)

To signalize the Fifth Anniversary of the day which marks the victory of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain September 15 THE AEROPLANE publishes the first of four instalments of a diary written by a 20 year old fighter pilot in the form of letters to his father.

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