The Airmen's Stories - F/O L L Pyman
Lawrence Lee Pyman was born on the 13th March 1917 to Ronald Lee Pyman and Catherine Freyda Pyman (nee Shaw). She came from a family of Australian sheep farmers who owned a large station in Victoria, Australia and was brought up in the correct manner, dressing for dinner each night.
Catherine was sent to Germany before the Great War ‘to grow up’ and have an education, under the watchful eye of a devoted governess who was very keen on German opera.
On the outbreak of WW1 she returned to Australia, where she met an Englishman, Ronald Pyman (known as George by his family), who worked for Asiatic Petroleum (Shell) in Melbourne, and after a short whirlwind romance, they married in 1916.
Above (L to R) : P/O ED Glaser, Sgt. HC Orchard, F/Lt.CGC Olive, F/O O St.J Pigg, Pyman.
Ronald volunteered to serve ‘the old country’ and enlisted in the army with the Middlesex Regiment. Catherine meanwhile joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse and was sent to France. Lawrence would never see his father, who was tragically killed in action on the 3rd May 1917, whilst serving as a Lieutenant on the Western Front with the 15th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. On this day, the British attacked the Germans on a 12 mile front just east of Arras.
Lieutenant Pyman is buried in Bay 7 of the Commonwealth War Graves plot in Arras Cemetery, France.
Catherine married again after the war, this time at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster London, and set up home firstly in Nottingham, then at Ash near Aldershot and finally Deddington, Buckinghamshire.
Lawrence was initially educated at West Downs Preparatory School in Winchester, moving on to Stowe School in Buckingham. Whilst there, he became interested in music and was fascinated with electricity, eventually being responsible for lighting all the school plays.
Gaining good marks in his School Certificate he was accepted by Jesus College Cambridge to read Engineering. He gained his ‘blues’ at rowing and after winning one race was presented with a decorated oar and a Nebuchadnezzar (equivalent to eight bottles) of Champagne.
He became extremely interested in flying and joined the University Air Squadron, flying as much as he could between lectures. He also visited Trinidad during one of his vacations, working in the asphalt extraction business. On graduation he spent some time in Bobb, Germany, and emulating his mother became fluent in German. On his return to the UK, he was taken on by British Thompson Houston, an electrical engineering firm in Rugby.
He never lost his interest in flying, becoming a commissioned officer in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in January 1939. Called up at the outbreak of war in September 1939, he completed his training at RAF Cranwell and was then posted to 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on 22nd June 1940.
Whilst there he converted to Spitfires and on 20th July he was posted to 65 Squadron, stationed at Hornchurch in 11 Group.
Hardly having time to unpack his suitcase, he was sent up for one hours flying practice over Hornchurch at 1800hrs in Spitfire K9909.
Two days later F/O Pyman was sent up on a Sector Recce flying the squadron Magister P2493 on three occasions between midday and 1400hrs, and on a fourth flight of the day between 1535 and 1650hrs, which was logged as ‘Experience on Type’.
On 23rd July he was shown in the Squadron Diary as ’Experience on Type’ this time flying a Spitfire K9909, between 1415 and 1520hrs, and 1745hrs to 1855hrs. The next day he took part in a ‘Formation Practice’ for one hour, flying Spitfire K9909 again.
On 26th July he completed an hours flying at midday in Spitfire K9911 on a Sector Recce, with two further practice flights later during the afternoon in Spitfire K9911 and L1094. Twelve Spitfires of the squadron had been detailed to intercept raiders seen in the direction of Folkestone but failed to find them, however a lone Dornier 17 was found by red section but it escaped into the clouds.
Aircraft Losses RAF 2, Luftwaffe 2.
F/O Pyman’s first ‘operational patrol’ began at 0830hrs, taking off from Hornchurch, which lasted for one hour forty minutes on Saturday 27th July, flying Spitfire L1094, landing finally at Manston. The weather on this day had the threat of thunder in the air with towering cumulonimbus clouds building up all morning. A convoy, codename Bacon, was making its way east along the channel when Pyman took off for another patrol at 1225 in the same Spitfire. By now the weather had deteriorated with lightning striking some of the barrage balloons and he landed a half an hour later. At 1615 hrs he took off from Manston for the short twenty minute hop back to Hornchurch. During the early evening, Keith Park ordered that three squadrons should cover the convoy Bacon as it had entered the Biggin Hill Sector and feared that an attack would be made upon it. F/O Pyman took off again for the fourth time in Spitfire L1094 for a patrol lasting just forty five minutes, with no attacks being made.
Aircraft Losses RAF 1, Luftwaffe 4.
On 28th July the weather was fine and sunny and F/O Pyman was woken early and soon found himself in the cockpit of Spitfire R6777 taking off with six other pilots at 0545hrs on a practice flight to Manston. After breakfast they all returned to Hornchurch at 0930hrs, the squadron diary records, ‘Exceptionally Quiet’.
Aircraft Losses RAF 5, Luftwaffe 15.
The weather was fine and cloudless on 29th July, when at 1245hrs P/O Pyman and his flight took off for the twenty minute flight to Manston. At 1350 hrs he took off for a patrol in Spitfire L1094 lasting just fifty minutes with no contacts being made, but expectations within the squadron were high. Dover had been attacked early in the morning by a large formation of Ju87 Stukas protected by eighty Me109’s which were met by Spitfires from 41 Squadron taking off from Manston.
F/O Pyman did a further patrol between 1655 and 1555 again with no contacts, before returning to Hornchurch at 2130 for a well deserved rest.
Aircraft Losses RAF 3, Luftwaffe 6.
On 30th July the weather changed with low cloud and continuous drizzle making any air activity greatly reduced. At midday his flight was on patrol with S/Ldr. Sawyer leading the formation but due to the weather this only lasted for some fifteen minutes. At 1325hrs F/O Pyman was up again flying Spitfire L1094 for one and a half hours, this time protecting a convoy making its way through the Channel.
Aircraft Losses RAF None Luftwaffe 5.
On 1st August six aircraft took off at 1250hrs for a flight to Manston, F/O Pyman flying Spitfire L1094, but due to mist enveloping the coast little flying took place.
Aircraft Losses RAF 1, Luftwaffe 5.
The weather improved the next day and P/O Pyman was flying Spitfire R6766 at 0830hrs on his way to Manston landing twenty minutes later.
Three hours later he was back in the air on a convoy patrol interception lasting just twenty minutes and returning to Hornchurch by 2 pm.
He took off again at 1630 this time in Spitfire R6884 for another convoy patrol with S/Ldr. Sawyer, lasting one and a half hours.
Just before midnight, S/Ldr. Sawyer took off alone from Hornchurch in Spitfire R6799 for a night operation and was killed when his engine failed at 1000ft, the aircraft crashing in flames. He was only 25 and had been with the squadron for just a matter of weeks. With a decrease in daylight operations Fighter Command seized the opportunity to combine limited night training with a system of ‘cats eyes’ patrols, unfortunately the Spitfire was totally unsuitable for this type of patrol. Aircraft Losses RAF None, Luftwaffe 3.
3rd August was a dull day with bright intervals and a very quiet day for 65 Squadron. A programme was arranged for Air Firing to be carried out at Sutton Bridge, P/O Pyman returned from Manston at 9am and took off for Sutton Bridge at 1400hrs in Spitfire R6766. He completed his Air Firing Practice in twenty minutes and returned to Hornchurch by 1630hrs.
Aircraft Losses RAF None, Luftwaffe 4.
The next day was also quiet, the Luftwaffe only sending reconnaissance aircraft, thus giving the squadron members time to put in some more flying practice. P/O Pyman flew to Manston at 1300hrs in Spitfire R6766 returning to Hornchurch at 2100hrs.
Aircraft Losses RAF None, Luftwaffe None.
Monday 5th August was a fine warm day with cloudless skies, ideal flying conditions resulting in the Luftwaffe sending over a Staffel (usually 10-12 aircraft) of Me109s from JG54 for a dawn patrol. They were met by six Spitfires from 64 Squadron from Kenley, and six Spitfires from 65 Squadron who had taken off from Manston at 0825hrs, P/O Pyman flying again as the ‘weaver’ in Spitfire R6766. The ensuing dog-fight over Dover resulted in Sgt Orchard from 65 Squadron claiming one Me109 as destroyed and one damaged. Sadly P/O Donahue and Sgt Isaacs from 64 Squadron were killed.
All six Spitfires from 65 Squadron landed at Manston one hour later, just giving the ground crews enough time to re-fuel and re-arm the aircraft, before the same six pilots took off again for a convoy patrol.
Between Plymouth and Newcastle five convoys made their way through the Channel and were protected in turn by various squadrons, P/O Pyman flew on three of these patrols between 1200 and 2035hrs that day.
Aircraft Losses RAF 1, Luftwaffe 6.
The next day again was very quiet for 65 Squadron, six pilots including Lawrence Pyman flew to Manston at 0710hrs returning to Hornchurch two hours later.
Aircraft Losses RAF 1, Luftwaffe 1.
7th August was a fair day with the threat of thunder and saw various small nuisance raids by the Luftwaffe which did not affect 65 Squadron. One flight including Pyman flying Spitfire K9915, took off at 1300hrs for a patrol lasting just over the hour with no contact being made. All six pilots returned to Hornchurch at 2030hrs.
Aircraft Losses RAF None, Luftwaffe 4.
8th August was an entirely different day for the squadron, and would be known in the RAF as ‘The Battle of Convoy CW9’. Twenty merchant ships with nine naval escort vessels (code-named Peewit) left the Medway under cover of darkness the previous evening, hoping to pass through Dover without being attacked. However, they were spotted by the German Freya radar situated at Calais and came under attack by German E-Boats at dawn, sinking three merchantmen and damaging three others.
Generfeldmarschall Sperrle then ordered an all out air assault by Luftflotte 3 and in particular the dive-bombers from Fliegerkorps VIII to be used against the ships. P/O Pyman took off in Spitfire K9915 from Hornchurch and flew down with his flight to Manston, ready for a patrol at 1015hrs. They were scrambled immediately to the area of the Isle of Wight where the convoy was now under attack from the fifty seven Ju87’s of Stukageschwader 2, 3 and 77. These aircraft were escorted by twenty Me110’s from V/LG1 and thirty Me109’s from II and III Gruppen of JG27.
Within minutes, six Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons were engaged in a tremendous dog-fight with the German aircraft, but were unable to stop four more ships being sunk with a further seven being damaged. Two pilots from 65 Squadron were shot down and killed, Sgt Phillips and Sgt Kirton. A further attack on the convoy was made off St Catherines Point during the late afternoon, but by this time 10 Group was able to put up a number of fighters to meet the attack. However, the convoy had been decimated, only four of the original twenty ships made it to Swanage.
Aircraft Losses RAF 19, Luftwaffe 31.
P/O Pyman was up early at 0615hrs the next day on patrol in Spitfire R6610 for an hour with three other aircraft from his flight, landing back at Hornchurch at 0920hrs, with no contacts being made.
Aircraft Losses RAF 3, Luftwaffe 5.
On 10th August the weather was not good, with wind and thunderstorms in the channel, forcing Reichmarschall Goering to postpone his intended air attack on the UK, codenamed ‘Adler-Tag’ (Eagle Day). P/O Pyman flew down to Manston at 1300hrs ready for two one hour patrols at 1500hrs and 1725hrs returning to Hornchurch at 2050hrs in Spitfire R6803, with nothing to report.
Aircraft Losses RAF None, Luftwaffe None.
The day started fine but cloudy on 11th August, P/O Pyman was on patrol at 1215hrs in Spitfire R6803 but did not become involved in the dog-fights over Dover induced by Me109’s attacking the barrage balloons. He was up flying again at 1350hrs for a one hour patrol with nothing to report, most of the Luftwaffe attacks by this time having moved away from 11 Group and onto Portland naval base. He did another patrol at 1745 lasting just forty-five minutes, finally returning to Rochford at 2050 hrs.
Aircraft Losses RAF 27, Luftwaffe 36.
12th August started fine with patchy mist, the Luftwaffe conducted raids on radar stations, and Thames Estuary convoys during the day. The raids started at 0730hrs on Dover in order to divert the British squadrons away from their airfields and protecting the five radar stations in their area. P/O Pyman's flight were in the air by 0850hrs on their way to Manston and on their first patrol by 1030hrs, too late to help the radar stations which had been attacked by 9am.
None the less the squadron was involved in several dog-fights resulting in claims of 3 enemy aircraft destroyed with five probables and four damaged by the end of the day. Pyman was back flying at 1230hrs in Spitfire N3101 (a change of aircraft as his usual Spitfire R6803 had engine trouble). On trying to land at Manston at 1325hrs he found it under attack from a low flying formation of Dornier 17’s who were dropping their bombs on the hangars and airstrip from where the other flight were in the process of taking off. P/O Pyman returned to Rochford twenty minutes later with his aircraft intact!
Despite all this action undertaken by the squadron, six Spitfires were detailed to hold a demonstration fly-past for representatives of the British East Indies at 1700hrs!
Aircraft Losses RAF 22, Luftwaffe 31.
August 13th was overcast at dawn with the Channel under thick cloud forcing Goering to postpone Adlertag zero-hour until 1400hrs. P/O Pyman and his flight took off for Manston at 0850hrs and were on patrol by 1030. Fifty five bombers from No’s II and III Gruppen had taken off from France intending to rendezvous with their fighter escort at 0530hrs, but due to conflicting orders this did not occur. The RAF radar stations in the meantime misread their ‘contacts’ reporting this bomber strength as ‘only a few’ resulting in only 74 Squadron being sent to confront them, but by this time the bombers had found RAF Eastchurch. Eventually Nos 111 and 151 Squadron caught the bombers on their return journey home. At 1235hrs P/O Pyman was on patrol again for an hour before returning to Rochford. Meanwhile the main Luftwaffe attack was centred on Portland and surrounding areas, but this was generally a failure due to the worsening weather.
Aircraft Losses RAF 13, Luftwaffe 34.
Again, the weather limited Luftwaffe operations on the 14th, but they managed to deliver two main thrusts on airfields in Kent (Manston again) and in Southampton with Me110’s from 2/Erprobungs Gruppe 210 leading the attacks.
P/O Pyman flew down to Manston with six other Spitfires at 0845hrs in Spitfire R6602 ready for a patrol at 1150hrs.
65 Squadron became engaged in dog-fights over the Channel with the
Me109’s that were accompanying the Me110’s, claiming two enemy aircraft destroyed and two probable’s with no loss of pilots or aircraft to the squadron. P/O Pyman made a claim of destroying one of the protective Me109’s and damaging another, his combat report gives a detailed account for that day:-
At 1150hrs on the 14th August 1940, 65 Squadron operating from Manston were detailed to intercept raiders in the Channel.
I was in the position of Yellow 3 and as such rearmost aircraft of the squadron. When near Dover at 15,000ft I was attacked by a Me109 and in attempting to engage it I became separated from the squadron. While trying to rejoin, I sighted and engaged a Me109 from astern and below. After a 2 second burst from 250yds, it went down in flames, pieces falling away as it went. I then engaged another Me109 and attacking from astern, I fired 2 short bursts from 350yds, no visible effect was seen.
While pursuing this enemy aircraft, I was attacked myself and suffered considerable damage.
Six (cannon) shells hit my fuselage and one wing, severing the rudder controls completely. The elevator cables and wireless were also hit. A number of bullet holes were found as well. I managed, however, to return to Manston and force-landed, with very little additional damage to my wing-tips.
P/O Pyman used just 960 rounds in this dogfight with the three Me109’s, his aircraft being hit by six 20mm cannon shells and a number of 7.9mm bullets from the MG17 machine guns of the 109’s. His aircraft would be unserviceable for seven days.
Aircraft Losses RAF 8, Luftwaffe 19.
Lawrence Pyman managed to get a days rest before taking off on 16th August for Manston with his flight at 1425hrs in Spitfire K9915. With the success of the previous days attacks, the Luftwaffe High Command calculated (wrongly) that the RAF was down to just 430 fighter aircraft, whereas they did in fact have 570 Spitfire and Hurricanes along with another 102 Defiants, Gladiators and Blenheims. Even so, every raid that the RAF met outgunned it massively.
Raids began at noon, with attacks on airfields destroying many aircraft on the ground, Tangmere being devastated by Stukas by around lunch-time.
During the late afternoon, Kesselring and Sperrle ordered three more bombing raids in conjunction with a number of free chases over Kent. Eight of these ‘free chasing’ Me109’s swung south over the North Foreland and swept over Manston, machine-gunning parked aircraft and buildings.
Six Spitfires from 65 Squadron including Pyeman chased after them and engaged them in a dog-fight over Deal. At sometime around 1730hrs P/O Pyman was shot down, crashing into the Channel.
His body was recovered by the Germans and later taken to the hospital mortuary at Calais to join another fallen British pilot on that day, Sub Lieutenant Henry la Fone Greenshields of the Fleet Air Arm (attached to 266 Squadron). Both pilots were buried next to each other at Calais Southern Cemetery France, in Plots P and Q of Grave 18, the Luftwaffe honouring the two heroic pilots by giving them a Guard of Honour at their graveside.
Aircraft Losses RAF 22, Luftwaffe 45.
P/O Pyman’s medal entitlement consists of the 1939-45 Star, the Air Crew Europe Star, and 1939-45 War Medal.
With grateful thanks to Mrs Primrose Buckle (sister of P/O Pyman).
Simon Muggleton 2008