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


Squadron Leader Maurice Wilbraham Sandford Robinson was born on the 20th September 1910, one of three children of Josiah Robinson, and lived in the Broadgreen area of Liverpool.

From 1919 until 1928 he attended Liverpool College, becoming a member of the First Fifteen Rugby Team. His entry in the college magazine of 1927/8 records

The most spirited forward in the pack. Is always on the ball, tackles well and plays hard right up to the final whistle

This comment was to be prophetic in so far as his career with the RAF was concerned. He was to be a pilot who was always on the ball and played hard to the end. He joined the RAF College Cranwell on 10th January 1929 as part of the January 1929 Entry and was posted to 'A' Squadron. He represented the college in rugby and shooting and was promoted to Flight Cadet Corporal on the 5th September 1930.


Above: Robinson is standing far left.


He left the college on the 19th December 1930 being commissioned the next day as a Pilot Officer and posted to 111 Squadron at Hornchurch on the 20th December 1930. Along with 19 and 23 Squadrons 111 participated in the Air Defence of Great Britain and trained for the annual Hendon Air Displays, flying Bristol Bulldogs during the early thirties. They were also heavily involved with the new ground to air and air to air radio transmitting equipment, as well as testing new high-pressure oxygen equipment.

On the 4th April 1932 Robinson was posted to 60 Squadron, then stationed at Kohat in India, being promoted to Flying Officer on the 20th June. When he returned to the UK on October 22nd 1934 he was posted to the staff of No 3 Flying Training School at Grantham and promoted to Flight Lieutenant on the 1st April 1936. On the 22nd April 1936 Robinson was posted to No 24 Communications Squadron based at Hendon, flying high ranking officers of the three services, politicians and sometimes royalty around the UK and other parts of the world. Only the most able pilots were selected for this squadron due to the nature of the work.

He married Margaret Gwendolyn Phelps in the same year.

On the 28th September 1938 he rejoined 111 Squadron at Northolt as a Flight Commander. On the 1st December 1938 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and took command of 29 Squadron at Debden, flying Hawker Demons and Blenheim 1Fs, mainly training in night fighting. He was posted away in February 1939, joining No 7 OTU at Hawarden.

S/Ldr. Robinson was posted to 73 Squadron at Church Fenton on 31st July 1940 taking command on August 8th when S/Ldr. More DFC was promoted to wing commander and posted to 9 Group Establishment at Preston. Right from the start S/Ldr. Robinson was determined to be 'in the thick of it' and not a commanding officer who would fly a desk!

Thursday 15th August 1940 started as sunny and fair and was to be ‘one of those days’ for Robinson. He was in the air at 0655hrs flying for 15 minutes possibly to check out his Hurricane - coded TP-C. The Luftwaffe were also up early, this was going to be a big attack by them which was to become known as 'Black Thursday'. At 1257 hrs the whole squadron was called to readiness as 50 unescorted Ju88's were plotted crossing the coast at Flamborough Head.

These aircraft were from Kampfgeschwader 30 or KG30, part of Luftlotte 5 that had taken off from Aalborg in Denmark with a mission to bomb Driffield airfield. Six Hurricanes from 'B' Flight were ordered to intercept at 19000 feet along with 12 Spitfires from 616 Squadron. According to the summary of events of the Operational Record Book for 73 Squadron, 7 enemy aircraft were confirmed destroyed, 3 unconfirmed and 3 damaged. S/Ldr. Robinson, flying as Yellow 1, was to claim one of the Ju88's as probably destroyed and 2 damaged. His combat report states;

.....attacked 4 different enemy aircraft. The first from astern when smoke was seen to come from both engines. Closed in to 225 yards, 2nd E/A attacked. Short flash in centre of E/A and smoke and a small flame observed from rear. When last seen E/A was either throwing articles out or pieces were coming away. 3rd E/A attacked at 150 yards. Two bursts and E/A dived to 150 feet from the sea. Yellow 1 broke away having overshot E/A. Smoke observed from starboard engine and propeller only windmilling. 4th E/A attacked above two ships but after one burst had to break off as having exhausted all ammunition

That night a message of congratulations was sent from the AOC 12 Group on a wonderful day's performance. This was to be the last flank attack in daylight without fighter escort by Luftflotte 5, as losses had amounted to nearly 20%. Six days later S/Ldr. Robinson was ordered to scramble at 23.11 hours as E/A were plotted approaching Church Fenton, despite remaining in the air for 49 minutes no contact was made by Robinson.

Wednesday 4th September started very misty over Church Fenton, 73 Squadron being unable to take off until 1025hrs in order to patrol over Duxford. S/Ldr. Robinson had to use P/O McFadden's Hurricane due to the hydraulic pump on his own aircraft becoming unserviceable. He later led 12 Hurricanes over North Weald without making contact with the Luftwaffe. That evening 73 Squadron received orders to move to Debden. Thursday 5th September was a day that Kesselring had deceided to abandon his usual pattern of attack and ordered the Luftwaffe to mount no fewer than twenty-two separate formations over an eight hour period.

This would be a very busy day for 73 Squadron. At 1015 hours the squadron had been hurriedly ordered south to Debden from Church Fenton, S/Ldr. Robinson leading 15 Hurricanes which landed at 1105 hrs. Within four hours they were ordered off against a raid over the Thames Estuary undertaken by He111's and Ju88s, their objective being the oil storage farms at Thameshaven. During the ensuring dogfights with the bombers, S/Ldr. Robinson claimed a He111 as probably destroyed but suffered damage to his Hurricane P2815, forcing him to land at Wallasea Yacht Club near Rochford, Essex. The damaged aircraft was later taken away by 48 Maintenance Unit. The aircraft claimed by Robinson was shared with Sgt. Chew, F/O Count MB Czernin and P/O Lock. This He111, with a code number 2632, was from KG53 (Legion Condor) and was seen to come down into the sea off Margate at 1530hrs, the whole crew being killed.

Sgt. AL McNay from 73 was shot down and killed over Burnham whilst F/Lt. Lovett DFC and P/O Rutter had to take to their parachutes.

Saturday 7th September was a warm, sunny and peaceful day for 73 until 1617hrs when Keith Park ordered 73 along with ten other squadrons into the air, six minutes later bringing all remaining Spitfires and Hurricanes to readiness. By 1630hrs all 21 squadrons based within 70 miles of London were either in the air or ordered to take off as the Observer Corps on the south coast reported hundreds of enemy aircraft approaching.

This would be a most decisive day in the Battle of Britain as Goering had decided to alter tactics from bombing RAF airfields to bombing London and had ordered 348 bombers with 617 fighters to undertake this operation.

A and B Flight of 73 (only 9 aircraft) were ordered off from Castle Camps to fly over Chelmsford at 15000 feet, led by S/Ldr. Robinson flying Hurricane P2796 as Blue 1. At 1720 hrs they sighted 24 He111s at 14000ft flying in sections of five in V formation line astern, accompanied by a large number of Me110s. It was quickly decided that Red Section of 'A' Flight (F/Lt. Lovett, Sgt. Marshall, Sgt. Brimble) and Yellow Section of 'B' Flight (F/Lt. Baytagh, Sgt. Plenderleith, Sgt. Garton) would attack the main force of bombers, whilst Blue Section of 'B' Flight (S/Ldr. Robinson, P/O Langham-Hobart, P/O McGaw) would attack the Me110s flying above.

Unfortunately the bomber formations were attacked before Blue Section had gained sufficient height to tackle the Me110s. This resulted in some of the fighters diving on Red and Yellow Sections without any opposition from Blue Section in the first instance. This was soon remedied. S/Ldr. Robinson attacked one of the Me110s giving it a short burst of fire and damaging one engine which resulted in it crashing at Old Tree Farm, Hoath, near Herne Bay in Kent. Lt. F Kislinger was killed outright whilst Uffz. R Dahnke baled out and was captured. This Me110 C-4, code number 2216 was part of 3/ZG2 based at Berk-sur-Mer.

F/Lt. Beytagh and P/O Langham-Hobart also claimed a Me110 destroyed, these three pilots experiencing their first confirmed 'kills'.

Sgts. Garton and Marshall each claimed a Me110 as a 'probable'. Sadly F/Lt. 'Reggie' Lovett DFC would lose his life over Billericay flying Hurricane P3234 which crashed onto Fritze Farm.

The morning of Wednesday 11th September was overcast and there was little enemy activity. The afternoon's weather improved and the Luftwaffe bombers started to form up en-route for London again, accompanied by more than 200 fighters. Unfortunately for them the Me109's of LG2 and JG51 had used up too much fuel waiting for the Heinkels of KG26 to form up and had to return to their bases leaving the bombers unprotected. Sixty Hurricanes and Spitfires from six squadrons including 73 attacked them. Seven bombers were shot down and ten damaged but six RAF pilots were killed that day. S/Ldr. Robinson claimed a Me110 as destroyed over the Thames Estuary at 1600hrs. This aircraft was code number 3231 and part of 9/ZG26( 'Horst Wessel') which crashed at Barnes Cote, Harvel, of the crew Oberst. J Junghans was killed and Gefr. P Eckert was missing.

Saturday 14th September started off with rain, clouds and thunder but this did not put off attacks by the Luftwaffe. About twenty Heinkels of KG4 made their way to bomb London followed by Ju88s of KG1 and their protecting fighters. Green and Blue sections of 73 Squadron led by Robinson were scrambled to form up over Tilbury at 1610hrs to attack these formations. Sgts. Plenderleith and Garton were then heard on the radio reporting they had been attacked by a section of Spitfires diving on them at 16,000ft. F/O Smith also reported the same on landing, stating that no enemy aircraft were in the area at the time.

At 1628hrs whilst flying Hurricane L2039 TP-F over the Tonbridge area, S/Ldr. Robinson was shot down (believed by the same Spitfires) forcing him to bale out, suffering wounds to his right eye, left wrist and left leg. He was taken to the Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells and recorded as 'missing' by the squadron intelligence officer as no one had seen him bale out.

The IO (Intelligence Officer) kept the news from Robinson's wife until 1900hrs when he had the unpleasant task of informing her, but half an hour later was able to give her the glad tidings that he was safe after receiving contact from the hospital. Robinson's Hurricane, L2039 TP-F was later found destroyed at Newenden. An enquiry looked into these events but with no positive result, except to suggest that the 'Spitfires' may have been He111s.

On 18th September S/Ldr. Robinson had an operation on his injured eye but the surgeons were unable to save the sight of it. He was posted out of 73 Squadron on the 26th September 1940, a letter being sent to his wife from the Air Ministry on 16th October informing her of this decision.

Most of 1941 was spent recuperating whilst on light duties at Fighter Command, where he was promoted to Acting Wing Commander on the 1st March. He received a Mention in Dispatches for meritorious service and devotion to duty on 1st January 1942 and was posted to HQ 81 Group as SASO with full promotion to Wing Commander on the 7th September.

In early 1943 he was the Officer in Command at Northolt, now back flying on sorties with some of the Polish squadrons stationed there. On the 4th May he was flying a 'Ramrod' with 316 Squadron near Antwerp, escorting Flying Fortresses to Germany. He was recorded in the ORB's as attacking the enemy fighters on many occasions that day. He received a telegram from General Anderson O/C 8th US Bomber Command stating;

American bomber crews are enthusiastically grateful for the splendid fighter cover provided today by the Spitfire pilots of your command.

Robinson was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on the 2nd June (London Gazette No 36033) and given promotion to Acting Group Captain. He was awarded the Polish Pilots Badge on 7th June 1943.

On the 23rd August 1943 the High Commissioner of New Zealand Mr W Jordan, in company with the Polish Air Attache to the Polish Embassy, visited Northolt and were conducted around the station by S/Ldr. Robinson both being greatly impressed with the station’s record. This visit was reported in the Times and the BBC.

On the 21st January 1944 a letter was sent to the Air Ministry from the Polish Embassy stating that the Polish Cross of Valour (KW) was to be conferred upon A/GpCapt. Robinson. This was recorded in the London Gazette of 10th March 1944. As well as mentioning the Ramrod operation on the 4th May 1943, the citation went on;

During a Ramrod 240 flight in a fight with an enemy wing this officer attacked a Focke Wulf 190 with great courage and skill. In all these flights and others he displayed great courage and was an example to the remaining pilots in spite of his advanced age and possessing the sight of only one eye.

From April to June 1945 he was the Station Commander at Biggin Hill and promoted to Group Captain (Substantive). It was probably during this period that he added his name onto the now famous 'blackout screen' at The White Hart pub at Brasted in Kent. (This board is now on permanent display at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum in Shoreham Village, Kent).

Robinson was promoted to Air Commodore on the 1st January 1955 and retired from the RAF on 1st March 1958, going to live at a house called 'Gwem Borter' at Roewen, Caernarvonshire, Wales.

He died on the 2nd April 1977, his wife Margaret predeceasing him the previous year. He is buried in the Conwy valley.

©Simon Muggleton 2008


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