The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R J Coombs
Robert Johnson Coombs was born at Brockley, London on 6th September 1911 and was educated at the secondary school there. After leaving he went to work for Shell. He considered studying for holy orders when he was 18 but went on to work for Armstrong-Whitworth and in 1939 was a planning engineer with Folland Aircraft.
In May 1932 Coombs joined 600 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force at Hendon as a fitter-armourer. On completion of his engagement he joined the RAFVR on 25th January 1937 as an Airman u/t Pilot. Coombs went for a two-month course at 12 E&RFTS Prestwick. He continued his training afterwards at 13 E&RFTS White Waltham and when he moved to Southampton in August 1937 he did his weekend flying at 3 E&RFTS Hamble.
Called up at the outbreak of war, Coombs was posted to 5 FTS Sealand on 8th October 1939 and after completing his training rejoined his old Squadron, 600, at Manston on 10th February 1940. He was with the squadron throughout the Battle of Britain.
Commissioned in January 1941, he was posted away on 14th August to be an instructor at 51 OTU Cranfield. Coombs returned to operations on 8th April 1943 when he joined 151 Squadron at Wittering, moving to 157 Squadron at Hunsdon on 1st November 1943.
With another Mosquito, Coombs carried out a patrol from Predannack to Cape Ortegal and Ferrol on 19th February 1944. Over the Bay of Biscay they encountered a Ju290 transport, which they attacked and shot down into the sea. Debris from the enemy aircraft hit Coombs' port radiator and his engine seized, leaving him to return hundreds of miles across the sea on one engine and with both wings of his aircraft damaged by return fire.
On 12th March 1944 Coombs was posted to 487 Squadron at Hunsdon. On a night anti-rail sortie on 5th August to Nantes/ La Rochelle, his aircraft was hit in the starboard engine by flak. Unable to jettison his bombs and with his starboard engine overheating, he and his navigator, F/O W Judson, baled out at 8000 feet. Sheltered by local people and aided by the French Resistance, they eventually reached the American lines at Nantes on 1st October and returned to England on the 6th. His tour completed, Coombs joined No. 1 Ferry Unit at Pershore on 17th October 1944, engaged in ferrying four-engined aircraft. He remained with the unit until 20th August 1945.
He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 29th June 1945) and was released from the RAF in 1947 as a Flight Lieutenant.
Coombs rejoined the RAFVR, serving at 18 FTS Fair Oaks from 2nd December 1947 to 8th November 1952. He was Secretary of the 600 Squadron Association until his death in December 1957 in Battersea.