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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. D H Nichols


Dennis Hugh Nichols was born on 4th December 1920 and joined the RAFVR about June 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot. He had carried out some elementary flying training at 6 E&RFTS, Sywell before being called to full-time service in September 1939.

He was sent to 3 Initial Training Wing at Hastings, East Sussex, then completed courses at 5 EFTS Hanworth and at 8 FTS Montrose.

He was posted on 15th September as a Sergeant to 56 Squadron at Boscombe Down, flying Hurricanes, and fighting in defence of the West Country with 10 Group. The squadron had been sent there from North Weald for a well deserved rest from the heavy fighting over London. The squadron had fought well during the Battle of France and had then spent the whole of July and August defending London under 11 Group.

On the 15th the squadron lost Sgt. TR Tweed whilst on flying practice. He would never qualify for the Battle clasp as he only joined the squadron on the 5th September and never completed an operational sortie.

Nichols took part in the usual uneventful scrambles and formation practices over the next few days - a fellow pilot, Sgt. Charles Victor Meeson, being killed on one of these flights on the 20th September. The squadron retained a core of the experienced pilots from the Battle of France and the dog-fights over London, among who were Sgt. ‘Taffy’ Higginson, Hillwood, Smyth and Whitehead who would often lead these practice formation flights.



On 27th September the squadron was scrambled at 1105hrs with orders to patrol Middle Wallop at 25,000ft, as a large force of enemy bombers had been picked up on the radar. This was in fact 10 Me110’s from Erprobungsgruppe 210, escorted by 40 Me110’s of Zerstorergeschwader 26 en route to bomb the Parnell aircraft factory at Yate near Bristol.

The squadron was instructed to fly towards the Isle of Wight but missed the main force crossing the coast and could only engage them on their return route. Four other squadrons were also ordered to attack and together the five squadrons accounted for 10 Me110’s destroyed. On the 29th the squadron began to use Warmwell as a forward base, its first day being uneventful.

These many practice flights helped Nichols on 30th September at 1045hrs when the squadron was scrambled to meet 70+ Me110’s with an escort of Me109’s, at 16,000 over Warmwell. One Me110 was claimed as damaged by Higginson, but F/O Marston and Sgt. Ray were shot down during the engagement.

The squadron was again scrambled later in the day at 1630 hrs and Nichols was one of twenty aircraft from 56 and 152 Squadrons ordered up to meet forty Heinkel’s from 1/KG 55 and 11/KG 55. They were escorted by an equal number of Me110’s, en route to bomb the Westland factory at Yeovil. Hurricanes from 504 Squadron were also ordered to join the dog-fight, and the Heinkels soon turned back, jettisoning their bombs over Sherbourne.

56 Squadron lost seven aircraft on this day, with all the pilots returning safely.

Exactly a week later on 7th October, twenty five Ju88’s from 11/KG 51 escorted by fifty Me110’s from ZG26, would mount a raid on the Westland factory at Yeovil at 15300hrs. Five squadrons from 10 Group were ordered to attack these formations, six miles SE of Yeovil, one of them being 56. F/Lt. Brooker led the attack out of the sun, from above at 19,000ft, which surprised the attackers, scattering them over the area above Chesil Beach. No 56 Squadron claimed two Me110’s probably destroyed and three damaged during this engagement.


In December 1998, Denis Nichols recalled the part he played in this action whilst flying his Hurricane P3154:

During the engagement with the bombers, I lost sight with other members of the squadron, and on looking around noticed 25 Me110’s orbiting in a spiral, and like a clot, I went in for a head on attack into the spiral. Needless to say, I was outgunned and was shot down. I baled out at about 25,000ft and my chute opened OK, or so I thought. On closer inspection I noticed that the shrouds on one side were twisted up, and in-spite of attempts to untangle them I couldn’t repair the fault. I seemed to be coming down not too fast and decided to enjoy the descent. I never even saw the ground coming up to meet me, and one would call it ‘a heavy landing’. I was in a heap, and could not move, but the local Home Guard found me and thinking I was a German demanded that I ‘stick ‘em up’. I just grunted and laughed. I was taken to a hospital in Dorchester where they found that I had broken my back!

Nichols was in hospital for nearly a year and, after being cleared to fly again, he was posted to 286 Squadron, flying Miles Masters towing targets for anti-aircraft units.

Nichols was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on the 10th March 1942, and promoted to Flying Officer on the 1st October later that year, also regaining his operational category for flying.

He immediately volunteered for night–fighting and was sent to 54 OTU at Charter Hall in 1943 for training. He was then posted to 255 Squadron at Las Sabala near Tunis, North Africa, taking out the latest Mk. 8 Beaufighter aircraft (with AI fitted) from the UK via Gibraltar and Casablanca.

The squadron was very active in September destroying nine and damaging one enemy aircraft at night in five days. By November it was intruding up the Italian coast and moved over to the mainland to continue with these operations. Nichols also covered the landings at Sicily, Salerno and Anzio in Italy, with the squadron.

Nichols was promoted to a Flight Lieutenant on 10th March 1944 and was seconded to BOAC in 1945. He was forced to return to the UK soon after, following troubles with the wounds he received in 1940.

He was released from the RAF in 1946 and joined BEA, completing another thirty years in civil flying.

He died on 23rd August 2001 in Brackley, Northamptonshire.

©Simon Muggleton 2009


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