Luftwaffe Losses over Northumberland & Durham (Broken Eagles 2)


(Leo Cooper/Pen & Sword Books, November 2002.)
223pp. c.60 photographs. 4 appendices.
ISBN 0-85052-913-1. Price £19.95

Extract from Luftwaffe Losses over Northumberland & Durham (Broken Eagles 2)

loss1..Among the Beaufighter crews scrambled to meet the raiders on the night of 14-15 March 1943 was Squadron Leader Morton (with Flight Lieutenant Strange) of 219 Squadron. They took off from Scorton at 22.40hours and just over an hour later, Strange got a contact which was flying south-west at altitude 8,000 feet and at a range of three miles. Under Strange's guidance, Morton closed to 3,000 feet, when a visual was obtained on exhaust flames; when he had closed to 1,500 feet Morton identified his would-be target as a Do217.

The enemy aircraft was doing violent evasive tactics, turning ninety degrees to port and then ninety degrees to starboard, as well as climbing and diving 100 feet to 300 feet from the horizontal; its speed was also being varied considerably. Morton closed in to 500 feet from below and astern and had just got the bomber in his sights when the enemy gunners opened fire with red tracer, which appeared to fall below the fighter and, seemingly, registered no hits. By that time, Morton had closed the gap to 300-400 feet and delivered a three-second burst of gun-fire from dead astern as the bomber turned gently to port. Many strikes were seen on the starboard side and the top of the enemy's fuselage, as well as on the starboard engine. A large and very white flash came out of the raider's starboard motor and that was accompanied by what appeared to be 'liquid fire'. Whatever it was, according to Morton, it was too bright and too white for petrol, and it poured out of the middle underside of the bomber's fuselage and passed clear of the Beaufighter's port wing. The German pilot then put his machine into a steep dive.

  Morton followed and was about to give his victim another burst when the Beaufighter was caught in the bomber's slipstream. At the same time, the fighter's starboard engine started 'running away' and the acceleration of the motor and the consequent vibration made it impossible for Morton to aim at the target. Then more 'liquid fire' came between the fighter and the raider before the enemy aircraft disappeared and was not seen again. However, even if the bomber had not been lost it is most unlikely that Morton could have continued the chase for shortly after his engine started racing away it also began to smoke and was soon threatening to burst into flames. Morton shut down the motor and broadcast a call for an emergency homing signal. Two minutes into his homeward run, and with his aircraft at 5,000 feet above the sea, Morton's situation worsened considerably when his starboard propeller fell off, tearing away most of the right-hand side of the cockpit with its compass and its trimming controls. Almost immediately, the port engine cut out and, in spite of trying everything, the pilot was unable to restart it. With ditching seemingly imminent, Morton ordered Strange to bale out while he himself began transmitting for an emergency fix to aid would-be rescuers but during the transmission the radio faded and the electrical system went dead.

Morton managed to keep his Beaufighter straight as it glided downwards, but without any motive power whatsoever it was fast losing height. However, he hesitated about jumping because he wanted to be certain that Strange was safely out. A backward glance towards the navigator's position revealed a light near Strange's seat and the pilot thought that his navigator was having difficulty escaping, perhaps because the escape hatch had been damaged when the propeller had been lost. Shortly afterwards, as the fighter continued downwards, a second glance showed the light to be on the floor and Morton speculated that it must have been dropped as Strange made his exit.loss2

That night, Fate was to play a cruel trick on Flight Lieutenant Strange. Such is the nature of luck that shortly after he had taken to his parachute and just before Morton would have to take to his, the Beaufighter's descent took it below 3,000 feet of altitude and the port engine burst into life again. It ran very roughly and gave only part of its power but that was enough to reduce the rate of descent and to convince the pilot that he had a reasonable chance of reaching land. He did finally make it and, with his machine down to 1,500 feet above the countryside of County Durham, he abandoned his aircraft shortly before the Beaufighter crashed at Castle Eden. It impacted at 23.55hours.

Squadron Leader Morton landed safely close by and lived to fight again but, sadly, Flight Lieutenant Strange did not. His body was found the next day by an Air-Sea Rescue launch some fifteen miles off Hartlepool: he had been in the water all night and it is believed that he had died from exposure. The would-be rescuers found a wheel and undercarriage of a Do217 close by. On the strength of that, and following a confirmatory statement from Hartlepool police that an aircraft had crashed into the sea off the town at about 23.51hours, Morton submitted a claim for one Do217 destroyed. His claim was accepted... ‘


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