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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. M L Robinson

 

Michael Lister Robinson was born in Chelsea, London in May 1917, the son of Sir Roy, later Lord, Robinson. He joined the RAF on a short service commission in September 1935. On the 28th he was posted to 3 FTS Grantham and after completing his training joined 111 Squadron at Northolt on 3rd August 1936. Robinson went to 11 Group Pool, St Athan on 30th January 1939 as an instructor and was appointed 'B' Flight Commander on 10th July.

He was posted to France on 16th March 1940 and joined 87 Squadron there. On 9th May he badly injured a hand in a crash in a Master and was sent back to England.

Fit again, Robinson was posted to 601 Squadron at Tangmere on 16th August as a Flight Commander. On the 31st he claimed a Me109 destroyed, another probably destroyed and a third one damaged, on 4th September he shared a probable Me110, on the 6th he destroyed a Me109 and on the 25th he got a probable Me110.   

 

(Above) Robinson with the damaged wing of his Hurricane at Tangmere

(Photo courtesy of Jack Riddle)

 

Robinson went to 238 Squadron at Chilbolton on 28th September and claimed two Me110’s destroyed and a Me109 probably destroyed on the 30th. He was posted to command 609 Squadron at Middle Wallop on 4th October. Robinson claimed two Me110’s destroyed on the 7th. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 26th November 1940).

Between 7th May 24th and July 1941 he claimed nine Me109's destroyed and another eight damaged. Robinson was awarded the DSO (gazetted 5th August 1941) and the Croix de Guerre (Belgian) on 22nd August 1941.

He was posted away to lead the Biggin Hill Wing in early August 1941 and on the 7th he probably destroyed a Me109. On 19th August F/O V Ortmans, a Belgian pilot with 609, went down into the sea during a Blenheim escort operation. Robinson circled him until his fuel ran very low, by which time an ASR launch was well on the way. He just managed to make it back to Manston, where he made a crash-landing.

 

 

 

On 27th August Robinson destroyed a Me109, his final victory. In September 1941 Robinson was rested and commanded RAF Manston until October, when he was appointed as aide to the Inspector General of the RAF.

Back on operations, Robinson was appointed to lead the Tangmere Wing on 1st January 1942. He failed to return from a sweep on 10th April whilst leading the Wing at the head of 340 Squadron. It is believed that his Spitfire Vb W3770 was shot down by Fw190s of JG26.


Robinson is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. His portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde.

 

 

 

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After his death the following account was found in his personal papers, it differed from the details recorded in his combat report and logbook for the combat of 16th August 1940 which read:

He [the German pilot] never rose above 100 feet until well south of Maidstone and then throttled back. I overtook him and formated on him, pointing downwards for him to land. He turned away so I carried out a dummy quarter attack, breaking very close to him. After this he landed his Me in a field. I threw him a packet of twenty Players and returned to base.

(Some while after Robinson had taken over command of 609 on 4th October 1940, he and Squadron Leader JS Ward, the 11 Group PRO, prepared a script to be broadcast by the BBC. Michael was to deliver it. It told how, six months or so before the outbreak of war, he and two young Army friends, one from the Welsh Guards and the other from the Argylls, were on leave, skiing at Garmisch. One evening in the 'local' they had encountered a group of Luftwaffe officers, also on leave, from the Richthofen Geschwader, based at Augsburg in southern Germany, some 60 or 70 miles away. After 'rather a long Kummel session', the senior German officer had invited the British contingent to a Guest Night in the Mess at Augsburg three or four days hence. The invitation was accepted.)

Robinson's account follows:


We set off from Garmisch in a taxi about six o'clock on a cold and starry night to drive to Augsburg. Eventually we reached a gloomy and windswept expanse reminiscent of Lincolnshire and were escorted to the Richthofen Geschwader's Mess. It's difficult to describe one's first impressions, but generally I was very impressed. We were shown into the anteroom, which was sparsely furnished, but clean and attractive, decorated with pictures of aerial battles of the First World War - only course, the Fokkers were always on top and the odd SE5A’s and Camels were spinning down in flames. I pointed out to a young Leutnant that we too, had the same sort of pictures in our Messes except that the role of principal characters was usually reversed. This seemed to amuse him, the remark was passed round the room in German.


The officers were most polite, clicking their heels and generally be anxious to bring us as many drinks as they could. Personally, I was very impressed by the appearance of all of them. We were led into the dining room and were placed by ourselves at two ends and the middle of a long refectory table. I sat at one end beside the CO, a First World War pilot. My friend from the Welsh Guards was at the far end beside the adjutant, another last-war pilot. The third member of our party was down the middle of the table next to the second in command. The room was lit only by candlelight. The walls were panelled, and the only decorations were squadron banners hung along the sides. The general effect was very good. Like most Guest Nights the dinner started rather pompously and I was surprised when the CO turned to me and said: 'You must not be surprised if you find my boys getting rather out of hand after dinner.' 'Well, sir,' I said, 'I shouldn't worry too much about that. I think we know the form all right.' The CO hesitated. 'I'm afraid you don't understand me. You see, your Air Force and mine, as things used to be, were brought up to certain definite traditions. You may have to excuse my pilots, but remember they are very young and perhaps lack some of the training.'

The dinner was good and very well and impressively served. We reached the coffee stage and it was apparent that they were determined put us under the table as quickly as possible. More and more Kirsch arrived until I felt that so long as I remained upright at the table I could cope. I did notice, however, that gradually, one by one, the pilots were disappearing - seeing a doorway leading into the open air we went outside, rubbed our faces in the snow and ran a couple of times around the Mess. We came back into the Mess expecting to find the boys turning somersaults over chairs and that sort of thing. Instead, they were gathered about in odd groups having drunken arguments in German. A young Leutnant came up to me 'You've got Hurricanes?' he asked 'Yes,' I replied. 'Well,' he said, 'we've got Messerschmitt 109’s and God help you if you ever have to fight us in your old tubs.'

It was their Mess so I didn't want to provoke an argument. 'You know,' I said mildly, 'even so, we still think our Hurricanes are pretty good, too.'


'Then,' he countered, 'you don't believe me? When the war starts (and I hope it does soon) I will take on any three Englishmen with Hurricanes in my Messerschmitt.' A few days later, we returned home. I was destined to meet that young Leutnant once again - not in southern Germany, but in southern Kent, in a hop field near Maidstone.

It was a most perfect day and the dust he had created by landing his 109, wheels up, hung over the field. I followed him down, landed nearby and walked across two fields to where he was lying in the sunshine. I recognized him before he recognized me. 'Hello,' I said, 'are you all right?' He nodded. Then,' I asked, 'may I have your pistol?' As he handed it over I said to him: 'Your face seems familiar, haven't we met somewhere before?' 'Yes,' he said, 'wherever was it?' His English was immaculate, I think he had been at Oxford.


'Augsburg, February 1939,' I said. 'It was a good dinner.'


'Ah, yes,' he murmured. 'But tell me - why didn't you shoot me down when I was in the air? I couldn't have escaped.'


'As a matter of fact, I couldn't shoot you down,' I said. 'I had to force you down the way I did. I had used up all my ammunition on some other 109's'


Then the Home Guard came and took him away.


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