Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
THE CHANNEL DASH Eighteen young men of 825 Squadron in six Swordfish climbed into the sky over Manston. Among them were six Telegraphist Air Gunners. It was February 12, 1942. The time was 12.25 pm. Beneath each plane was a single torpedo. The targets were three German battleships, the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and the Prinz Eugen fleeing through the English Channel sailing with an armada totalling some 63 ships and protected overhead by the constant cover of German fighter planes. “About midday my brother was with me in our garden and in the overcast sky we noticed a number of bi-planes rising into the air from the direction of Manston. We eventually determined they were Swordfish torpedo bombers. They circled over Margate and headed out to sea.” “It was a fairly windy day, with low cloud and drizzle rain. Snow still covered the ground. I was working in a shop in Deal, Kent, and we heard and saw the planes that had just taken off from the airfield at Manston. It looked like such a strange aircraft as we were used to Spitfires and Hurricanes.” “Each Swordfish carried a pilot, an Observer and a TAG. “We took off and formed up over the coast. I exchanged a ‘thumbs up’ sign with fellow TAG, Ginger Johnson. I was in the first flight of three, spitfires were overhead just below the cloud cover. Through the mist, it began and despite all the hardware being thrown at us I had no impending sense of danger. Our torpedo was launched and the German fighters pulled away, my pilot and Observer were hit. The damage to the Swordfish was considerable, fabric had been torn, oil dripped, and two cylinders of the engine had been blown away.” “Losing power we ditched perfectly into the sea not far from a Motor Torpedo Boat. We were pulled from the cold water. The passage to Ramsgate was at full speed through choppy water. An ambulance waited and we were taken off to hospital, my pilot and observer to be treated and I roamed the halls awaiting transport back to Manston.” “Edgar Lee, the observer in the second aircraft also returned to Manston uninjured. His pilot had been hurt but Ginger Johnson was killed early in the battle. The next morning it was evident that only five of the eighteen has survived.” “I helped to pack the kit of the other five TAGs stowing photographs and other personal items, traumatic but it had to be done and rather me than anyone else.” The Channel Dash is an unforgettable story in the battle of the Straits and the Allied efforts of WWII. With bravery and determination these men delivered their torpedoes and died. The German ships passed through the Channel, their Captains feeling compassion for fliers sacrificing themselves against impossible odds. The TAGs were Jack Clinton, Henry Wheeler, Ernest Tapping, William Smith, Laurence “Ginger’ Johnson and Don Bunce. Each demonstrated their strength and courage in the face of overwhelming odds and indeed paid the ultimate sacrifice. (The above narrative on the Channel Dash was presented by Wartime Heritage (440 Productions) in the stage presentation of Time To Remember - Tragedy and Triumph - Memories of World War II on Saturday, May 19, 2007 at HMS Collingwood in Fareham UK. The Performance was a special tribute to the Telegraphist Air Gunners at the 60th Memorial Weekend of the Telegraphist Air Gunners Association commemorating their Diamond Jubilee.) To read a more detailed account of the Channel Dash visit the Channel Dash Association website:
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