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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. F P J Atkins

 

Frederick Peter John Atkins, known by his second name, was born on 1st January 1914 in Oxford. He married Joyce Brinkhurst on 1st January 1936, his 22nd birthday, in Oxford*.

He joined the RAFVR on 19th August 1939 and trained as an Air Gunner. He was posted to 141 Squadron with Defiants at Turnhouse in early July 1940. The squadron was then sent south and found itself in action off Dover on 19th July.

He was posted to 141 Squadron with Defiants at Turnhouse in early July 1940. The squadron was then sent south and found itself in action off Dover on 19th July. The German pilots, from III/JG51, were by now aware of the Defiants' deficiencies and caused heavy losses, four of the nine Defiants being shot down.

 

Above image courtesy of J Moles.

 

Atkins' aircraft, L7015, was shot down into the Channel and both men were killed. The pilot, P/O R Kidson from New Zealand, was never found but Atkins' body was washed up on the French coast and buried in Boulogne Southern cemetery.

He was 26 years old.

*Joyce, from Edmonton in Middlesex, died in 2009.

 

 

Atkins is also commemorated by a road name in a housing development opposite Biggin Hill airfield.

 

 

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July 2016 - his nephew John Moles has compiled this account of the events on 19th July.

18th July 1940 - 2045hrs - Sgt. Peter Atkins and P/O Rudal Kidson, in Defiant L7015, were sent to patrol the base at Hawkinge. No enemy aircraft were seen and they landed back at West Malling at 2145 hrs., spending the night in the local mental hospital where they had been billeted.

The following day, Friday 19th July 1940, was the busiest day of the month with considerable strain on Fighter Command. 701 sorties were flown, compared to the normal daily average of 500 sorties. This increased strain may have been a deliberate tactic by the German High Command, as during the day Hitler offered to discuss surrender terms with Britain, hoping that this day’s display of force would bring Britain to her senses. Indeed it did, for the courage and achievement of her airmen in this unequal contest strengthened Britain’s resolve to fight to the death.

19th July 1940 - 0845hrs - 141 Squadron moved forward from West Malling to Hawkinge, near Folkestone on the SE coast of England. Nine convoys were due to pass through the English Channel that day. Fighter Command, expecting trouble, moved squadrons forward. The crews of 141 had never been in battle and had only arrived in the south from Scotland a week before and were unaccustomed to 11 Group control procedures.

At 1038hrs. ‘A’ flight were sent off on patrol of the base. At 1230hrs. twelve Defiants were ordered to patrol 20 miles south of Folkestone off Cap Gris Nez on the French coast at a height of 5,000 ft. Three machines were left behind due to mechanical trouble therefore only nine carried out the patrol. Flying in sections of three in line astern they went to their patrol line.

There was no warning from control when, a quarter of an hour later, at 1245hrs, a swarm of a superior number of twenty Me109s from III/JG 51 (based at Saint-Inglevert but operating from Les Melettes near Guines and commanded by Hptmn. Hannes Trautloft) spotted the Defiants far below flying in tight formation. They identified them correctly by R/T as Defiants and therefore ‘easy meat’. The Messerschmitts moved in efficiently out of the sun for the kill, attacking from below and astern, where they were at no risk from the gun turrets, knowing that they could not be brought to bear on them.

Trautloft recalls 'I aimed at the right Defiant......my guns fired…pieces of the Defiant......broke off and came hurtling towards me…I saw a thin trail of smoke....then suddenly just this fiery ball'.

P/O Loudon gave warning. The squadron broke to port and turned to deliver a beam attack, their most effective attack position. Two Defiants were seen to immediately dive vertically into the sea. Realising what was happening the squadron whipped into steep left and right turns giving their gunners split-second chances to get their sights on the Me109s. Sgt. Powell was the first to send one down in flames. Two other Defiants were shot down in this first attack. The gunners, clamped in their claustrophobic turrets, went down with their aeroplanes.

One pilot, P/O Gard’ner in L7016, and one gunner, P/O Farnes in L7001, baled out and were picked up by rescue craft. P/O Gard’ner was wounded and taken to hospital at Canterbury. P/O Farnes was uninjured. A cannon shell smashed into the engine of P/O MacDougall’s Defiant, L6983. White glycol mingled with black smoke in a long plume as it spun down towards the Channel. MacDougall ordered his gunner, Sgt. Wise, to jump and was about to follow when the engine picked up. He circled twice over the water, watching Wise swim strongly towards the coast of France. He was never seen alive again and his body was not recovered.

In L7001 P/O (later F/Lt.) Loudon was caught in the cross fire of two Me109s. His gunner, P/O Farnes, got in three bursts before he baled out. P/O Loudon struggled home with his Defiant ablaze and crashed in Hawkinge village. In hospital five bullets were removed from his arm. P/O Farnes was picked up from the sea. The remaining Defiants dived for the cloud, but Defiant L7015 was caught. Sgt. F Peter Atkins bailed out. P/O Rudal Kidson was killed, his body was never recovered.

Three Defiants L6999, L7014 and L6983 made it back, two of them damaged, one beyond repair. Only one, L7014, badly shot up, landed back at the home base West Malling.

Altogether, in the space of a quarter of an hour, six machines had been destroyed and ten men killed. The losses would have been even greater if Hurricanes from 111 Squadron had not arrived to scare the Messerschmitts off. 111 Squadron reported that four Me109s were shot down, ultimately all four confirmed. Two days later what was left of the Defiant Squadron was sent back to Prestwick, Scotland.


Peter baled out, landed in the English Channel, but drowned, his body was washed up on the French coast. He is buried in Boulonge Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. He was 26 years old when killed, with 167 hours of flying experience and just 304 days service in the RAF. Relatively speaking, compared with those beginning their part in the Battle of Britain, he was an old man with long service and a considerable number of flying hours.

Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed, by so many, to so few. (Churchill)


Peter was one of the Few.

 


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