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The Airmen's Stories - F/O B vanMentz


Brian van Mentz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1916 and educated at the City of London Freemen's School, Ashtead, Surrey. Having been provisionally accepted for a commission in the Reserve of Air Force Officers, Van Mentz began his training with No.4 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Brough, on 23 September 1937. He then reported to No.1 RAF Depot, Uxbridge, on 24 November for the short disciplinary course and while there was commissioned 70826 Acting Pilot Officer on probation, with effect from 24 November. From Uxbridge, Van Mentz then joined No.8 Course at No.8 Flying Training School, Montrose, on 11 December.

At the end of No.8 Course on 9 July 1938 Van Mentz was posted to Wittering, a permanent station three miles south-east of Stamford, Northamptonshire. There Van Mentz joined No.213 (F) Squadron equipped with the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II under the control of No.12 Group, Fighter Command. No.64 (F) Squadron moved into Wittering with its Demons for the annual Home Defence Exercises which were held between 5 and 7 August and then returned to Church Fenton. On 23 September Van Mentz came to the end of his year of service with the RAFO, but by this time he had applied for an RAF short service commission and was therefore retained on the strength of 213 Squadron. His new commission was formally granted on 19 October with the rank of Pilot Officer.

In December No. 23 Squadron exchanged its Demons for the Bristol Blenheim Mk If, and then on 16 January 1939 No. 213 Squadron received its first Hawker Hurricane. The process of replacing the Gauntlets was slow, however, and it was not until 3 March that 213 Squadron finally received its full complement of sixteen Hurricanes, and a few days later relinquished the last of its Gauntlets. No.213 Squadron spent the next few months familiarising itself with the Hurricane and then participated in the annual Home Defence Exercises between 8 and 11 August. On the morning of 17 August No.213 Squadron took part in another exercise when French bombers “attacked” industrial targets in the Midlands with 213 Squadron's Hurricanes intercepting them over Birmingham.

Following the outbreak of war in September 1939 No. 213 Squadron began maintaining daily detachments at West Raynham, a bomber station five miles south-west of Fakenham, Norfolk. From there, 213 Squadron flew convoy patrols over the North Sea while the resident unit, No.101 Squadron, trained fresh bomber crews with its Blenheims. At Wittering No.610 Squadron arrived with Supermarine Spitfire Mk Is on 10 October, while 23 Squadron's Blenheims began night patrols. Despite constant patrols throughout the winter and the spring of 1940 none of the Wittering squadrons encountered any enemy aircraft.

From 21 March No.264 Squadron began using Wittering for training with its Boulton Paul Defiants with which it was working up to operational status at its base at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. 610 Squadron took its Spitfires north on 4 April, being replaced by a detachment of Spitfires of No.266 Squadron from Martlesham Heath on 7 April. Early in May Van Mentz was posted from 213 Squadron to No.504 (County of Nottingham) Squadron, a former Auxiliary Air Force unit equipped with Hurricanes and based at Debden, a permanent station in 11 Group, Fighter Command, and situated two miles south-east of Saffron Walden in Essex. The commanding officer, Squadron Leader J Parnall, had only been in command of 504 for a few days, the previous CO having been killed in a flying accident at the beginning of the month.

On 10 May German forces invaded France and the Low Countries and later that day No.29 Squadron moved into Debden with its Blenheim Mk If’s. 504 Squadron had not yet seen any action but on 12 May it was posted to France to operate in support of British forces, arriving at Lille/Marcq, a landing ground just to the north of Lille and about ten miles from the Belgian frontier. There the Squadron came under the control of No.14 (Fighter) Group of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force.

Van Mentz claimed 504's first confirmed victory when he destroyed a Ju88 near the Albert Canal on 14 May. That same day, however, Pilot Officer Sibley and Sergeant Hamblett went missing in action and a further three Hurricanes were lost but the pilots - Squadron Leader Parnall, Flying Officer MEA Royce and Pilot Officer Hay - were safe. Van Mentz destroyed a Ju87 'Stuka' confirmed and a Henschel Hs126 unconfirmed on 15 May, while Pilot Officer JR Hardacre shot down a Ju87 and a Ju88, but Squadron Leader Parnall was again shot down and this time was killed. Parnall was succeeded by Squadron Leader JH Hill. Van Mentz damaged a Messerschmitt Me109 on 16 May and Pilot Officer Hardacre was shot down twice during the day but each time was unhurt. On 18 May Pilot Officer Rennison and Flight Lieutenant Owen went missing, although Owen had been seen to bale out.

With German forces now approaching Lille, 504 Squadron moved to Norrent-Fontes on 19 May. This aerodrome was about thirty-five miles west of Lille and near St.Omer in the Pas-de-Calais, and accommodation was provided in tents. At the same time, Van Mentz was promoted to Flying Officer, and later that day Pilot Officer Hardacre damaged a Me109 but Squadron Leader Hill and Sergeant Mapletoft were shot down and posted missing, Flight Lieutenant WB Royce therefore took temporary command. By this time 504 Squadron had been reduced to just four Hurricanes and now received orders to return to England. A great amount of equipment had to be destroyed as well as the Squadron's records and personal kit and those pilots without aircraft were evacuated via Boulogne.

The remnants of 504 Squadron gathered at Manston, just inland from Ramsgate on the Kent coast, on 20 May. A day later they returned to Debden, but on 22 May the Squadron moved to Wick, Caithness, where Squadron Leader J Sample DFC took command. One mile north of the town of Wick - where 504 Squadron's personnel were billeted - the aerodrome was a semi-permanent station in Coastal Command but also had a fighter sector headquarters controlled by No .13 Group, primarily for the defence of the Naval Base at Scapa Flow. The aerodrome was occupied by No.269 Squadron of Coastal Command which was just converting from Avro Ansons to Lockheed Hudsons and by No.43 Squadron with Hurricanes. From 26 May the Hurricanes of No.3 Squadron began to arrive at Wick, having also served in France, and on 30 May No. 43 Squadron moved south. As 504 Squadron regrouped it began to fly convoy patrols over the North Sea but then Van Mentz was posted to Kirton-in-Lindsey, a newly opened permanent station in 12 Group, sixteen miles north of Lincoln. This station housed two squadron, No.253 with Hurricanes and No.222 with Spitfires, but despite Van Mentz's experience on Hurricanes he joined the Spitfire unit.

No.222 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader HW Mermagen, who was keen on extremely tight formation flying, to the extent that wing-tips would overlap; and at times Mermagen would lead the Squadron on take off in formation, and occasionally land the Squadron in formation as well. Off duty a social barrier between officer and NCO pilots was maintained on the Squadron.

On the night of 19-20 June two Heinkel He111’s were shot down by Squadron Leader Mermagen and Pilot Officer TA Vigors while another was shot down on the night of 25-26 June by Pilot Officer Morgan, although his Spitfire crashed soon afterwards, severely injuring him. Then, in the afternoon of 4 July Sergeant EI Lewis was killed when his Spitfire crashed while returning from an interception patrol. 222 and 253 Squadrons began practising flying in a Wing formation early in July, with the Spitfires leading, while operationally the two squadrons flew local or convoy patrols, usually at section or flight strength. On 21 July, however, 253 Squadron moved out and were replaced two days later by No. 264 Squadron which flew the Boulton Paul Defiant. This fighter, with a hydraulic gun turret and air gunner behind the pilot, was too slow to co-operate with Spitfires so Wing practice now ceased.

Early on the morning of 25 July, while on patrol over a North Sea convoy, Red Section encountered a pair of He111's. Pilot Officer Vigors and Pilot Officer Assheton attacked one, while Pilot Officer Cutts attacked the other. Vigors' Spitfire was damaged by return fire and he returned to base unhurt, while Cutts ran out of fuel while also returning and force-landed four miles short of Kirton.

On 31 July Mermagen was posted away and Squadron Leader JH Hill arrived at Kirton to take command. Van Mentz had last seen Hill on 19 May when, as CO of 504 Squadron, Hill had gone missing. While descending by parachute he had been fired upon from the ground by French peasants with shotguns. Having landed unharmed he managed to convince them that he wasn't German. A French Air Force car arrived to pick Hill up but then a British army patrol came along and he was accused of being a fifth columnist. Hill reached for his identity card but was fired at by one of the troops and when he ducked behind the dashboard of the car the other troops also fired. Hill rolled out of the car into a ditch and when the firing had ceased he managed to persuade the officer in charge of the troops of his identity. These events, however, had convinced the French peasants that Hill was indeed German and they proceeded to beat him unconscious without intervention from the troops. He was eventually rescued by the French Air Force officer who had come to pick him up and was later evacuated by ambulance train to Dunkirk and then across to Dover.

On 10 August Pilot Officer Whitbread and Sergeant Hutchinson were scrambled to to intercept an intruder. They taxied out at speed, Whitbread leading. Hutchinson was swinging the nose of his Spitfire from side to side to see ahead, but as he swung the nose to the right he suddenly saw the tail of Whitbread's Spitfire, which had stopped. Despite braking and trying to swing clear, Hutchinson' wing demolished Whitbread's tail section. No.74 Squadron moved into Kirton on 21 August, replacing 264 Squadron which now moved south to No.11 Group with its Defiants. On 27 August a film unit visited Kirton to record both ground and airborne scenes on a fighter station for the 'March of Time' documentary series and Van Mentz was filmed playing chess with a squadron colleague. Then, on 29 August, No.222 Squadron moved to Hornchurch in 11 Group, flying there with nineteen Spitfires and exchanging places with 264 Squadron, which had been decimated while trying to operate its Defiants over south-east England. Hornchurch was a permanent station two miles south-east of Romford in Essex, and had been heavily bombed five days before 222 Squadron's arrival. Also based there were Nos. 54 and 603 Squadrons with Spitfires and No.600 Squadron with Blenheim Mk Ifs for night patrols.

Shortly before midday on 30 August, 222 Squadron was on patrol over Gravesend when ten Me109’s dived through 'B' Flight shooting down Sergeant Hutchinson who force-landed his Spitfire unharmed. Later, at about 1530 hours, the Squadron intercepted Messerschmitt Me110's over Canterbury. Pilot Officer WR Assheton, Pilot Officer JMV Carpenter and Sergeant S Baxter were each shot down but none of them were hurt. The remainder of the Squadron landed after this engagement at Rochford, Hornchurch' s satellite. This was a requisitioned civil aerodrome two and a half miles north of the seaside town of Southend, and had also suffered recent bomb damage. Then, at 1655 hours, Cutts and Davies, operating independently with a pilot from 603 Squadron intercepted a He111 over Billericay. It was seen to be shot down by those at Rochford, who in turn were scrambled at about 1730 hours and intercepted He111’s escorted by Me110's as they came in over the north coast of the Thames Estuary. Sergeant JI Johnson was shot down and killed, Flight Lieutenant GC Matheson and Pilot Officer HPM Edridge were injured, while Sergeant AWP Spears baled out unhurt. During the day's four patrols, Pilot Officer Vigors had destroyed an Me110, Pilot Officers Cutts and Davis had shared the destruction of an He111, Flight Lieutenant Robinson had probably destroyed an Me109, while Squadron Leader Hill had damaged another.

Soon after first light on 31 August 222 Squadron flew to Rochford, from where it was to operate again. At 0821 hours 'A' Flight flew a patrol over base at 25,000 feet without contact with the enemy and landed at 0940. Then at 1245 hours ten Spitfires were scrambled from Rochford and ordered to intercept bombers over Gravesend. Two formations of the Me109 escort were attacked, each comprising thirty machines. Pilot Officer Vigors claimed one destroyed and a second as probable. All 222 Squadron's Spitfires had landed at Rochford by 1415. In the meantime, Hornchurch had been heavily bombed again. Later, at 1725 hours, eleven Spitfires patrolled Canterbury at 20,000 feet. Over Maidstone they saw twenty-four Me109’s at 16,000 feet protecting a formation of He111’s. The Squadron attacked the bombers but were then attacked by the Messerschmitts. Flight Lieutenant Robinson claimed one Me109 confirmed, but was shot down and slightly wounded, Pilot Officer Broadhurst claimed one Me109 confirmed. Carpenter and Cutts each claimed Me109’s unconfirmed, while Van Mentz (in Spitfire P9628), Whitbread and Sergeant Hutchinson each damaged a Me109. Pilot Officer Davies baled out suffering from burns. At Hornchurch, two of the Squadron's Spitfires were destroyed on the ground when the aerodrome was bombed again at about 1800 hours.

At 1023 hours on 1 September, 222 Squadron took off from Hornchurch with orders to patrol the Manston area. Two formations of bombers were sighted and the Squadron attacked the fighter escort at 25,000 feet, Squadron Leader Hill and Pilot Officer Vigors each claiming the destruction of an Me109. The Squadron, having suffered no losses, landed at Rochford at 1125. Two further patrols were flown during the day, but no contact was made with the enemy.

On the following day nine Spitfires of 222 Squadron took off from Hornchurch at 0838 hours to patrol Chatham-Hawkinge--Manston and encountered a formation of Dornier Do17's and He111’s escorted by Me109’s and 110's. Flight Lieutenant Robinson destroyed one Me109 and damaged an He111 before being wounded in the leg and returning to Hornchurch. Sergeant Baxter shot down an Me110 and damaged another, plus a Dornier, while Sergeants Chipping and Scott damaged a Me110 and a Do17 respectively. The Squadron landed at 0915. That afternoon Hornchurch was bombed again, but not so severely as in previous raids.

On a morning patrol on 3 September Sergeant RB Johnson's Spitfire developed a glycol leak and he was slightly injured when he baled out. Meanwhile, No. 54 Squadron left Hornchurch for a rest and No.41 Squadron arrived with Spitfires to take their place. Later, at 1440 hours, 222 Squadron took off to patrol Rochford and Canterbury, encountering some Me110's over Rochford. In the resulting combat, Van Mentz destroyed one and damaged another in Spitfire R6837.

No.222 Squadron made one patrol on the morning of 4 September, over Canterbury, but this was without incident. Then, at 1235 hours, the Squadron was scrambled to intercept a raid approaching Canterbury and became involved with the fighter escort. Pilot Officer Assheton destroyed two Me109’s and Sergeant Chipping another, while Pilot Officer Carpenter's Spitfire was hit by anti-aircraft fire after he had just attacked an Me109, and he was literally blown out of the cockpit, he landed by parachute with only slight injuries. Sergeant JW Ramshaw was also shot down but was killed while Flying Officer Cutts was missing.

In the afternoon of 5 September, 222 Squadron took off at 1420 hours to patrol Maidstone and landed at Rochford at 1600 hours having seen no enemy aircraft. About ten minutes later, while the Squadron's Spitfires were being refuelled at Rochford, the aerodrome came under attack. The Squadron took off in haste and intercepted the raiders but not as a cohesive unit. Despite the confusion Sergeant Scott destroyed two Me110's while Sergeant Chipping probably destroyed another. Chipping's Spitfire, however, was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Dover and he baled out wounded.

On the following day, at 1730 hours, 222 Squadron was scrambled to patrol Hawkinge at 15,000 feet where they encountered a bomber formation escorted by a large force of Me109’s. Pilot Officer Vigors and Sergeant Hutchinson each destroyed one Messerschmitt, while the Squadron suffered no loss.

Then, on 7 September, after a quiet morning, 222 Squadron was scrambled to 27,000 feet at 1650 hours and intercepted a large force of enemy aircraft over London. Sergeant Scott destroyed one Me110, Van Mentz (flying Spitfire X4089) probably destroyed a Me110 and a Dornier Do215, Sergeant Johnson probably destroyed a Me110, while Pilot Officers Vigors and Whitbread each probably destroyed a Dornier. Van Mentz's Spitfire (X4089) was damaged in the glycol system as he pursued the enemy over Rochester but he was unhurt and returned to base. Sergeant JHH Burgess's Spitfire was also damaged and he forced-landed safely south of Maidstone.

On the following day 222 Squadron saw no action but on 9 September the Squadron was scrambled from Rochford and at 27,000 feet over Ashford, Kent, attacked a formation of Do17's flying west at 20,000 feet above cloud and escorted by one formation of Me109’s at 26,000 feet and another at the same height as the bombers. Pilot Officers Whitbread and Vigors destroyed an Me109 each, and Pilot Officer Broadhurst and Sergeant Scott damaged two more. Van Mentz, leading 'B' Flight, had no success himself but was able to confirm Whitbread's claim, having seen the Messerschmitt spin down and the pilot bale out. Vigors had to crash-land near Gravesend after his engine was hit, and Broadhurst's Spitfire was slightly damaged but he returned to base; neither pilot was hurt.

At about 1600 hours on 11 September, 222 Squadron was scrambled and ordered to patrol base. They then intercepted He111’s, Ju88’s and Me109’s over London and harried them to the coast. Van Mentz, flying Spitfire P9542, destroyed one Ju88 and damaged an Me109, Sergeant Baxter destroyed a Ju88 and an He111, Sergeant Scott claimed another Heinkel, Pilot Officer Broadhurst probably destroyed a Ju88, Sergeant Hutchinson probably an He111, and Sergeant Spears damaged an Me109. Pilot Officer WR Assheton's Spitfire was damaged and he forced-landed near Maidstone unharmed.

No.600 Squadron had experienced difficulties operating from Hornchurch during the last few nights, and on 12 September the B1enheims moved to Redhill in Surrey.

On 14 September Nos.222 and 603 Squadrons were scrambled as a wing of fourteen Spitfires to patrol Rochford at about 1530 hours. A large formation of enemy fighters was intercepted which proved difficult to attack as they formed a defensive circle. Sergeant Hutchinson destroyed a Me109 and Sergeant Marland damaged a Me110. Flying Officer McMullen chased a Me109 across the Channel and destroyed it over Calais. Hutchinson's Spitfire was damaged but he landed at Detling aerodrome unhurt, while Sergeant Johnson had to bale out and came down safely. Sergeant Baxter's aircraft also suffered damage but he was killed while attempting to force-land near Rochford.

On the morning of 15 September, 222 Squadron was held in reserve at readiness at Hornchurch while 41 and 603 Squadrons were scrambled between 1120 and 1140 to meet a large incoming raid. Then at 1400 hours, 222 and 603 Squadron were scrambled to join up as a wing over Sheerness at 20,000 feet, but the two squadrons failed to link up. Over the Kent coast near Dungeness, 222 Squadron was one of the first to intercept a huge formation of bombers and fighters and immediately became embroiled with Me109’s. The raid headed for London with more squadrons intercepting, and as the raid broke up Van Mentz (in Spitfire L1089) damaged a Ju88 over the Rochford area. No.222 Squadron suffered no losses.

At about 1350 hours on 18 September 222 Squadron intercepted some Me109’s over Canterbury and Sergeant Hutchinson baled out slightly wounded. Two days later, at 1055 hours No.222 Squadron and No.41 Squadron were scrambled as a wing to intercept a raid approaching the Ashford area. As they climbed they were attacked from above by Me109’s. Two Spitfires were shot down, Pilot Officer Whitbread being killed while Pilot Officer Assheton baled out with slight burns. Pilot Officer Edsall's Spitfire also suffered damage and he crashed through the perimeter fence when landing at Hornchurch but was unhurt.

Enemy activity on 23 September was mainly confined to fighter incursions high over the Dover area in the early morning and late evening. A large number of squadrons were scrambled to intercept these raids but few came into contact with the enemy. Van Mentz, however, managed to destroy an Me110 over Dover in Spitfire P9492.

At about 1130 hours on 27 September, 222 Squadron was scrambled and intercepted Me109’s over Maidstone. Sergeant RH Gretton was badly wounded and crash-landed near Rainham, Essex. Then in mid-afternoon the Squadron carried out a routine patrol but Sergeant Scott was missing when the Squadron landed.

On 30 September, at about 1345 hours, 222 Squadron went into action against an enemy formation approaching south-west London and Sergeant Hutchinson was wounded, landing at Denham aerodrome in Buckinghamshire. Later, at about 1715 hours, the Squadron was again scrambled and intercepted Me109’s over Kent. Flight Lieutenant GC Matheson's Spitfire was damaged and he crash-landed near Sittingbourne, unhurt.

The first few days of October were comparatively quiet, but in the afternoon of the 7th Pilot Officer Broadhurst was shot down. He baled out but was killed.

Despite poor weather on 12 October, the enemy launched a high number of sorties over Kent and towards London, and Van Mentz damaged an Me110 over the Dover area in Spitfire X4540. By now, enemy raids consisted mostly of Me109’s carrying small bombs and escorted by other Me109’s. At about 1400 hours on 15 October 222 Squadron was scrambled and in an action against Me109’s over Kent Sergeant JT Dunmore's Spitfire was damaged and he force-landed near Hawkinge, unhurt. About two hours later the Squadron was on patrol when Pilot Officer Edridge's engine failed and he safely force-landed near Bulphan.

On 20 October, 222 Squadron took off on patrol at about mid-day and linked up with 92 Squadron's Spitfires from Biggin Hill. The two squadrons then encountered a single Me110 east of Tunbridge Wells. Pilot Officer Edridge and Flying Officer McMullen attacked it along with three Spitfires of No.92 Squadron, and the Messerschmitt was finally seen to crash near Horsmonden, Kent.

On 25 October the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Van Mentz was announced in the London Gazette. The citation read:

Flying Officer Van Mentz has been engaged in operations against the enemy since the outbreak of war. He has destroyed six enemy aircraft and probably a further three, two of which were shot down during the period of intensive operations in France. This officer has led his section, and at times his flight, with skill and courage and has shown great determination in pressing home his attacks against large enemy formations.

At 1250 hours on 25 October No.222 Squadron was scrambled to join up again with No.92 Squadron, this time over Rochford. Large numbers of Me109’s were encountered to the south-west of Maidstone, flying between 20,000 feet and 28,000 feet. One Spitfire of 92 Squadron was shot down but the pilot was unhurt. On the following day 222 Squadron was on a routine patrol at about 1745 hours when Sergeant Davis's engine caught fire. He managed to crash-land near Latchington, Essex, and was unhurt.

222 Squadron intercepted Me109’s over the Eastbourne area at about 1800 hours on 27 October but during the resulting combat Pilot Officer Edsall's Spitfire ran out of fuel and he was badly injured when attempting to crash-land near Hailsham.

On 29 October, at about 1315 hours, 222 Squadron was scrambled to 28,000 feet over Kent and was perfectly placed by the controller to attack a formation of bomb-carrying Me109’s from above and behind. The Messerschmitts jettisoned their bombs and turned for the coast. Sergeant Burgess's Spitfire was damaged but he was unhurt and forced-landed on a decoy aerodrome at Lenham.

At around mid-day on the following day 222 and 41 Squadrons were scrambled as a wing. They then intercepted and broke up a formation of over thirty Me109’s coming inland over the Dymchurch area. Van Mentz, in Spitfire X4540, gave chase to one 109 which he damaged over Dover. Both Pilot Officer AE Davies and Pilot Officer Edridge were shot down and killed, however. Pilot Officer Carpenter's Spitfire was also damaged but he returned to base unhurt.

On 2 November at about 0815 hours, 222 Squadron was scrambled to intercept Me109’s over Kent but these had already been attacked by other squadrons and were heading for the coast. Flying Officer Vigors chased one from Maidstone to Dungeness but was only able to damage it.

In the early afternoon of 8 November, 222 and 41 Squadrons were scrambled and intercepted a formation of Me109’s at 1315 hours over Beachy Head. Flying Officer McMullen pursued one out over the Channel and it blew up when he opened fire. Sergeant Breeze's Spitfire was damaged but he landed at Martlesham Heath. Soon afterwards he took off to return to Hornchurch but then crashed and caught fire but Breeze escaped without injury.

Three days later, on 11 November, No.222 Squadron moved to Co1tishall, a permanent station eight miles north-east of Norwich in Norfolk, where it was to be engaged mainly on coastal and convoy patrols under 12 Group control. No.72 Squadron was based there with Spitfires but moved north on 29 November, being replaced by the Hurricanes of No.242 Squadron.

On 30 November a Do215 was intercepted off the East Anglian coast by Spitfires of 222 Squadron. The enemy aircraft turned away and flew on a southern track over the North Sea, with Van Mentz giving chase in Spitfire X4540. As they approached the Straits of Dover Van Mentz was able to inflict telling damage on the Dornier and it went down into the sea fifteen miles north of Calais.

No.242 Squadron was posted out of Coltishall on 16 December and was replaced on the same day by another Hurricane unit, No.257 Squadron. Then, soon after New Year's Day 1941, Squadron Leader Hill handed over command of 222 Squadron to Squadron Leader RC Love. On 28 January, a bitterly cold day, Van Mentz went over to the Coastal Command aerodrome at Bircham Newton, south of King's Lynn, in the company of Squadron Leader RR Stanford Tuck, commanding officer of 257 Squadron. At Bircham, in an investiture in front of the hangars - with band playing and airmen in white belts - Van Mentz received his DFC from the King, Stanford Tuck received the Distinguished Service Order and a bar to his DFC. Throughout the whole ceremony, which was also attended by the Queen and her two daughters, three Blenheim fighters patrolled over the aerodrome.

In the first engagement against an enemy aircraft since 29 November - when Van Mentz had destroyed a Dornier - a Ju88 was intercepted by a 222 Squadron patrol shortly after midday on 31 January when thirty miles off Yarmouth. In the poor visibility no confirmation could be made of the results of the attack, but Van Mentz, flying Spitfire X4067, was credited with the Junkers as 'probably destroyed' twenty miles east of Yarmouth.

No.222 Squadron was again in action on 2 February when an He111 was intercepted one mile east of Lowestoft. The bomber immediately jettisoned its bomb load and disappeared into cloud, but not before Van Mentz was able to fire at it and he was credited with having damaged the enemy aircraft.

On 14 February, Pilot Officer Klan of 222 Squadron shot down a low-flying bomber into the sea off Lowestoft. Two days later Coltishall was bombed during the evening by one or two aircraft. At about midday on 17 February a Do17 was damaged by a 222 Squadron section patrol while another section intercepted a Ju88 five miles east of Cromer and shot it down into the sea. Three days later a Ju88 made a low level machine gun attack on Coltishall, making use of the low clouds, the only damage was a bullet through the wing of a Hurricane of 257 Squadron. While on patrol over Yarmouth on 8 March, Pilot Officer BP Klee and Sergeant RG Marland intercepted a Ju88 and saw it crash into the sea.

On 9 March No. 222 Squadron received four of the newer Spitfire Mk IIa, and by 14 March the Squadron had been fully re-equipped.

During the afternoon of 18 March, Van Mentz was leading Pilot Officer Klee on a section patrol off Sheringham, on the northern Norfolk coast, when they spotted the vapour trail of an unidentified aircraft. As they climbed - Van Mentz in P7697 'Zanzibar I', Klee in P7699 'Zanzibar III' - the aircraft dived away to the south-east but after a chase Van Mentz and Klee closed in, identifying it as a Do17. They made rear and quarter attacks and the bomber began to lose height. Van Mentz made two more attacks and then the Dornier crashed into the North Sea twenty-five miles east of Sheringham.

The Coltishall Sector had possessed no night fighter element, defence after dark being provided by the Wittering Sector, but from 20 March a detachment of Defiants belonging to 151 Squadron moved in to Coltishall from Wittering.

No.222 Squadron was in action again on 3 April, a Ju88 being attacked inconclusively north-east of Cromer. Four days later Pilot Officer RG Marland (commissioned on 24 March) was leading a section patrol over a convoy off Yarmouth when he saw bomb bursts amongst the ships. Marland and Pilot Officer NHD Ramsay flew through the convoy's anti-aircraft fire to intercept the bomber, forcing the crew to bale out into the sea as their aircraft went down.

On the evening of Saturday 26 April 1941 Van Mentz was at the Ferry Inn with other members of No.222 Squadron and the commanding officer of No.257 Squadron, Squadron Leader Stanford Tuck. Popular with officers from Coltishall, this public house stood on its own in open countryside near the village of Horning. After a while Stanford Tuck left the Ferry Inn, having failed to persuade the others to accompany him to Norwich. Shortly afterwards, at 9.46pm, the pub was hit by one of three bombs which fell in the vicinity. Twenty-one people were killed, including Van Mentz and two other members of No.222 Squadron - the Adjutant, Pilot Officer HP Robertson, and the Medical Officer, Pilot Officer JA Atwill.

Van Mentz was buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Woking, Surrey.

©Bruce Burton 2004

Battle of Britain Monument