The Airmen's Stories - F/O H H Percy
Hugh Harold Percy of Chwilog, Gwynedd was born on 15th January 1920 in Haslemere and educated at Bradfield College and St. John's College, Cambridge where he read Classics.
He learned to fly with the University Air Squadron in 1939 and was called to full-time service soon after the outbreak of war.
Percy was commissioned in early November 1939, went to No. 1 ITW Cambridge and was afterwards posted to FTS Cranwell on No. 2 War Course. With the course completed at 5 FTS Sealand, he was sent to No. 1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum.
On 10th June 1940 Percy arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down and after converting to Defiants he was posted to 264 Squadron at Duxford on 19th June.
This account is taken from the webpage of P/O DMA Smythe, researched by Simon Muggleton:
Derek Smythe's first time in the air with 'B' Flight was on the 13th July in Defiant L7006, with P/O Hugh Percy as his pilot, whom he first flew with on the 19th June at Aston Down.
P/O Percy would become his regular pilot throughout the Battle of Britain, and right up until June 1942.
On the 15th July Percy and Smythe flew on an Interception Patrol in low cloud and heavy rain over Orfordness in L7026 but were unable to engage with any aircraft. On Thursday 18th July there was further cloud and showers over the Channel as they were flying L7025 on a Convoy Patrol, no enemy aircraft were engaged.
The following day in the same aircraft they patrolled over Harwich,again without seeing the enemy, whilst 9 Defiants of 141 Squadron were 'bounced' by 20 Me109s over Dover, resulting in 5 of the Defiants being shot down into the Channel.
From now on the Defiant would not be deployed solely as a fighter during daylight hours but would be used on convoy patrols and in a night fighting role, with the aircraft being repainted black. The 21st July was a day for testing the guns of L7018, Smythe and Percy engaged in air to ground firing followed by a station move to Kirton-in-Lindsey on the 23rd, in order to give cover to the East coast convoys.
By now constant speed airscrews had been fitted to the aircraft in place of the old variable pitch ones which increased its performance. The squadron was soon honoured by a visit from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Chief of the Air Staff at the end of July.
The experienced aircrews of 264 used a technique called ‘the Lufberry ‘ to repel the Luftwaffe fighters, forming quickly into a circle and descending, so that the enemy aircraft could not fly in front or beneath them. This was a complicated manoeuvre that required skilled coordination and communication from the pilots, who were hampered by the unreliable HF radio transmitters that were not tuned to the VHF frequency of the Spitfires and Hurricanes.
On the 6th August Percy and Smythe were on Convoy Patrol in Defiant L7013, taking off at 1140 and returning at 1255, without any engagements with the Luftwaffe. The following day there was a similar patrol between 1550 and 1725, in L7025, when the east coast convoys were attacked, but again no interceptions were made by 'B' Flight.
An early morning ‘scramble’ by Smythe and Percy at 0700 on the 8th again proved fruitless.
On the 11th August Percy and Smythe were flying in L7027 when they were scrambled to intercept a Ju88 over Ringway, but they could not reach it quickly enough. Goering postponed his full scale attack of Operation Adlertag until the 13th August, due to the weather conditions. Thursday 15th August started as a fine sunny day, but became known to the Luftwaffe as 'Black Thursday' when they lost 75 of their aircraft on this day to the RAF.
Luftflotte 5 based in Norway performed a flanking attack on the North East of England and in particular the bomber station at Driffield, where 16 enemy bombers with 7 fighter aircraft were lost in the combats that ensued.
Percy and Smythe were flying in L7024 on a very early morning patrol at 0640 hrs on this day but were also one of eleven Defiants sent up at 1300 hrs on a squadron patrol to cover Convoy Arena consisting of 28 ships that had sailed at midday from Hull, passing along the Channel.
Two days later they were on another convoy patrol, this time in L6957, with no contact being made with the Luftwaffe.
On the 22nd August the squadron were on readiness having moved to RAF Hornchurch the previous day. 12 Group were reluctant to lose a squadron from day operations and reassigned them to night operations only, but with no Aircraft Interception (AI ) radar installed in the Defiants this looked the likely outcome for 264.
Between 1920 and 2045 hrs Percy and Smythe were sent up in L7006, with nine other Defiants from 264 led by S/Ldr. Hunter on a patrol over RAF Manston on this day.
The airfield had been bombed just half an hour earlier by Me110s from Erprobungsgruppe 210 backed up with 27 Me109s, but no enemy aircraft were seen in the area searched by the Defiants.
Saturday 24th August is generally regarded as the third phase of the Battle of Britain which was the day that the Luftwaffe were ordered to destroy RAF Fighter Command once and for all.
This was a fine sunny day in Southern England, with breaking cloud, when the Luftwaffe sent over 170 raiders to bomb Manston, Hornchurch, North Weald, Dover, Ramsgate and Portsmouth.
First take off by 264 was at 0530 heading for Manston to re-fuel and patrol. Shortly before midday the scramble bell was rung but before they could form up properly the airfield was attacked by Ju88s and Me109s, destroying buildings, telephone lines and stationary aircraft, also leaving unexploded bombs on the runway. F/Lt. Campbell-Colquhoon was left behind with engine trouble but this was soon fixed and he joined what he thought at first to be the rest of the squadron, only to find they were Me109s who fired several bursts at him, setting the Verey cartridges on fire. P/O G Robinson, his air gunner, eventually put out the fire.
A series of individual combats were then taking place overhead with Percy and Smythe taking part for over one and a half hours flying in L6967. Smythe remarks in his flying logbook 'Numerous HE113s (sic) attacked but they would not engage'. The score for the morning was 3 Ju88s destroyed, one damaged and one He113 (sic) destroyed for the loss of four Defiants in combat with two colliding on take off.
The remaining crews returned to Hornchurch to snatch a hurried lunch before being ordered up again to meet another attack.
The Commanding Officer, S/Ldr. Hunter, was missing, having been last seen chasing a Ju88 towards France, and S/Ldr. George Garvin assumed command.
According to the Squadron ORB during the afternoon various combats took place, when 4 Ju88s were destroyed,with two damaged, 1 He113 (sic) and Me109 destroyed with 6 Defiants destroyed or missing.
Just why the Defiants of 264 were sent up in force on this day has never been fully explained, as it was only a month previously that 141 Squadron was decimated and now 264 suffered the same fate with the loss of these six aircraft.
RAF losses in total were 22, with the Luftwaffe losing 38 on this day.
On the 25th August Percy and Smythe, flying in L7024, were among ten Defiants patrolling the Dover area between 1900 and 2015 hrs as a result of over 100 enemy aircraft being tracked over the Pas de Calais area.
Six fighter squadrons were immediately sent up by Keith Park, along with the Defiants to engage the enemy but no contact was reported by 264 and all aircraft landed safely.
On the 26th August a large raid of about 40 He111s and 12 Do17s accompanied by 80+ Me109s crossed the coast north of Dover to raid Hornchurch, Debden and surrounding areas. The Hurricane and Spitfire Squadrons attacked the He111s and accompanying fighters, whilst 264 were sent to engage with the Dorniers over Herne Bay, they eventually destroyed 6 of them for the loss of 3 Defiants. Percy and Smythe did not fly on this day.
On the 27th the squadron flew to Southend-on-Sea (Rochford) in order to operate more effectively.
The next day, Dover Chain High reported a heavy raid forming up in the Pas-de-Calais area and Keith Park immediately scrambled 32 Hurricanes and 12 Defiant aircraft to engage them.
This was to be the last daylight attack by 264 who suffered heavy losses of 4 Defiants destroyed and 3 badly damaged. From now on the squadron were tasked in the night fighter role only, with the occasional cover of convoys along the Channel. Percy and Smythe did not fly on this day.
In September the squadron moved again and was split between two airfields, 'A' Flight under F/Lt. Smith operated at Kirton, using Caistor as a satellite for night operations, whilst 'B' Flight, under F/Lt. SR Thomas was detached to Luton, an airfield often visited by the Luftwaffe who were now jamming our R/T.
Percy and Smythe flew their first night operational patrol with 'B' Flight on the 7th September between 0015 and 0145, followed by two days of night sector reconnaissance sorties. On the 12th September 'B' Flight flew to Northolt and for the next two days Percy and Smythe were engaged on patrolling the Northolt area from 15,000 feet.
On the 16th they flew on a night patrol over Maidenhead, followed by two days of night flying tests. On the 19th September 'B' Flight flew back to Luton.
On the 20th between 2000 and 2230 Percy and Smythe were on a night patrol when they lost R/T contact 30 minutes into the patrol and became lost, only finding their way home 'by absolute fluke' as recorded in Smythe's logbook.
On the 22nd between 2155 and 2340 they carried out a night patrol in Defiant L6979. After a four day rest, Percy and Smythe flew between 0210 and 0345 and on the 27th September between 0530 and 0620. They were up again the next day with four other Defiants on a night patrol between 2045 and 2225, they did not engage any enemy aircraft on these patrols.
On the 3rd October Percy and Smythe were on a night patrol in Defiant N1627 from 0035 until 0220, followed by a similar patrol on the 10th in Defiant L7017 from 1930 until 2045, Smythe noting in his logbook 'out of radio range, landed with 4 galls in tank' .
Percy and Smythe undertook one more night patrol on the 15th between 0030 and 0310. On the 16th October P/O Des Hughes obtained the first confirmed night kill, a He111.
In November the squadron moved to Southend (RAF Rochford), Percy and Smythe undertook a night patrol of 1 hour 25 minutes on the 9th in Defiant N1623 and another in the same aircraft on the 23rd (P/O Hughes and Sgt. Gash destroying a He111 on this night). S/Ldr. ATD Sanders took command the next day.
Percy and Smythe made their last patrol in November on the 27th, on a night patrol between 0140 and 0320 in Defiant N1653. On this day the squadron moved again, this time to RAF Debden.
Percy's subsequent service is currently undocumented until 22nd May 1944. On this day he was killed in action as a Flight Lieutenant with 610 Squadron. On a morning shipping recce to Guernsey his Spitfire XIV RB162 was lost.
Its believed that he was shot down over Little Russell Channel between Herm and Guernsey, probably by gunners posted on Bréhon Fort (aka Bréhon Tower) which is situated on a rock in the middle of that channel. It’s possible he was hit by fire from Strasburg Batterie at the southern end of Guernsey: at any rate they fired, and reported the Spitfire crashing into the sea to the south.
Percy managed to bail out but his parachute malfunctioned.
Percy was 24 years old and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 203.
Additional research courtesy of Robert Peel (nephew).
Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner