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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J A Potter


John Alfred Potter was born in Wallasey, Cheshire on 7th January 1915 and educated at Oldershaw Grammar School. After leaving he worked for his uncle, a builder in Liverpool.

In 1935 Potter joined the Class F Reserve and began flying training at Brough, obtaining his pilot's license on 10th September of that year. In 1936 he joined the regular RAF as a direct-entry Airman u/t Pilot. He completed his flying training at 11 FTS Wittering and in early 1937 was posted to 19 Squadron at Duxford, equipped with Gauntlets.



The first Spitfire to go into squadron service arrived at Duxford on 4th August 1938. 19 Squadron was placed on alert during the Munich crisis and was fully operational at the outbreak of war.

Potter was attached to 611 Squadron, newly equipped with Spitfires, firstly at Duxford and later at Digby in September/October 1939. He rejoined 19 in early November.

Over Dunkirk on 26th May he destroyed a Me109.


Above: (L to R) 'Flash', F/Sgt. GC Unwin and Potter.


On 1st June his Spitfire was severely damaged in combat over Dunkirk and the engine seized at 4,000 feet, still fifteen miles from the English coast. Potter saw a small boat, glided down and landed on the sea. He was picked up by a French boat. As they approached the port of Dunkirk, a destroyer, HMS Basilisk, was seen, stopped. Its engines were out of action through bombing.

The French crew agreed to tow the destroyer further out, away from the bombers. In the course of all this, German bombers appeared, attacked without result and were driven off by Spitfires of 19 Squadron.

Towing began again. Ju87's then appeared and their bombs set the destroyer sinking. The fishing boat took off 200 men and another destroyer arrived to pick up more survivors. Potter eventually landed at Dover, having been transferred to a coastal patrol boat.

Potter claimed Me110's destroyed on 16th and 18th August. He failed to return from combat with enemy fighters on 15th September 1940, in Spitfire X4070. He ditched in the Channel with severe aircraft damage and a foot wound, caused by a bullet through the cockpit floor.

Potter was picked up by a German naval launch, taken ashore and transferred to St. Omer. After periods in hospital in Lille, Brussels and Malines and the loss of two toes, he was sent to Stalag Luft 1 at Barth on 17th December 1940. A move to Stalag Luft 3 at Sagan came on 20th April 1942 and another to Stalag Luft 6 at Heydekrugon on 19th June 1943.

In July 1944 Potter was sent to the Offlag at Belana. In the face of the advancing Russian army the camp was evacuated on 23rd November and a week later the prisoners arrived at Stalag Luft 3A at Luchenwalde.

The Germans finally left the camp on 23rd April 1945 and the Russians arrived two days later. Repatriation began on 23rd May and Potter flew into Dunsfold on the 29th in a Lancaster.

After attending various rehabilitation courses, Potter was released from the RAF in June 1946 as a Warrant Officer.

He died suddenly on 14th May 1977.


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