The Airmen's Stories - P/O E Q Tobin
Eugene Quimby 'Red' Tobin, was born on 4th January 1917 in Salt Lake City, the son of Ignatius Quimby Tobin (1885-1974) and Mary Alicia Tobin (nee O'Fallon 1889-1922).
He attended the Blessed Sacrament School and Hollywood High School.
He qualified as pilot, paying for his lessons by working as a guide and messenger at the MGM Studios in Hollywood.
Tobin had signed up originally to fight for Finland against Russia but arrived in Europe too late to participate.
Once in France he enlisted (with his close friends Andrew Mamedoff and Vincent Keough) in the French Air Force but the chaotic conditions resulting from the German invasion resulted in them being shunted around France without ever being allocated a squadron or aircraft. Seeing that all was lost they managed to join the last ship from the port of St Jean-de-Luz and join the RAF in England.
Following Spitfire conversion training at 7 OTU Hawarden Tobin was sent to No 609 Squadron on 8th August 1940 and was soon in action, sharing in the destruction of a Me110 on the 25th of that month and a Do17 on 15th September.
On the 19th of September 1940 Tobin (plus his two friends) were the first pilot arrivals at the newly-formed 71 'Eagle' Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire.
Tobin was shot down and killed in Spitfire Vb W3801 near Boulogne in combat with Me109s on 7th September 1941 on 71 Squadron's first sweep over France.
He was 24 years old and is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, France.
In October 1940 Tobin was invited by the BBC to broadcast his experiences as part of a 'Our Airmen Speak for Themselves' programme. This was done anonymously but all the broadcasts were transcribed.
STORY BY A PILOT OFFICER OF THE AMERICAN EAGLE SQUADRON
I expect it must seem a long hop from guiding visitors round the movie studios in Culver City to fighting in an eight-gun Spitfire over London. But that's just how it happened to me, and all within a little more than a year, with some exciting adventures in between.
It was only my second air fight when I helped rout Goering's mass attack on September 15th. And I had the good luck to shoot down my first raider.
During the battle, the air over Surrey, Kent and Sussex, was full of bombers and fighters. At 10,000 feet I met a formation of Me110s. I gave one a burst and saw him giving out smoke. But I lost him in the cloud before I could press home my attack.
Then below me I saw a big Dornier 215 bomber trying to seek the safety of some clouds. I followed it down and gave it a long squirt. Its left motor stopped and its right aileron came to bits. Smoke was pouring from it as the bomber disappeared in cloud. I followed. Suddenly the clouds broke and on the ground I saw a number of crashed aircraft. It was an amazing sight. They had all crashed within a radius of about twenty miles from our fighter station. My Dornier was there too. I was quite sure I could see it. A little later I learned that the Intelligence Officer's report on the damage to the crashed Dornier agreed with my own, so I knew I had claimed my first definite German victim.
That was a great day for England. I thought this little island was going to sink under the weight of crashed enemy planes on that day. And was I proud to be in the battle! It was the fulfil-ment of a year's ambition.
But let me go back and tell you the story of this momentous year.
My home is in Hollywood. It was in the wonderful Californian climate that I was born, educated and learnt to fly. I don't suppose there are more than seven days in a year when you can't take the air in California. I learnt to fly at Mine Field, Los Angeles. I was always pretty keen on flying and whenever there were no classes at school I hurried out to the airfield to put in all the time I could learning about aircraft and their vices. My instructors were mostly army people. I went through the various graduations and by July last year I was a fully qualified charter pilot.
For nearly two months last year I flew parties up to the High Sierras in California on hunting and fishing expeditions. It was pretty tricky flying, because you get some fierce down draughts and you can't be too careful.
I had a civilian job of course in the MGM studios at Culver City; I finally acted as guide for visitors to the studios. I used to meet all the film stars and found them nice ordinary folk. But my studio jobs didn't keep me from flying and in the winter of 1939 I took a course in aerodynamics at evening school. Then a number of us met Colonel Sweeny, whose name you will know from his association with the Escadrille Lafayette in the last war. With him we decided it would be a grand idea to form a flight and go out and fly for Finland. But, I guess, that war was over before we could get going.
In May of this year we decided to form a squadron of all American flyers, another Escadrille Lafayette. The adventure was off.
Several of us went by train from Los Angeles, through the States to Canada. Finally we finished up at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where we got split up. I joined a large French motor vessel, which was part of a big convoy sailing for France. My boat could do about sixteen knots but she had to travel at only six. In front of us was a boat with 400 mules on board. The stench from the mules was something awful and so was the weather. We had pursuit planes, bombers, and munitions of all sorts on board, cargo worth in all about seven and a half million dollars. We rolled and pitched all the way across the Atlantic and were mighty thankful after seventeen days to tie up at St. Nazaire.
All our plans went haywire at St. Nazaire. I had no passport and had lost my birth certificate. Naturally the French treated me with suspicion.
Incidentally, there's a story about that birth certificate. In all my journeys up and down France, I stuck to an old shirt just in case I wanted a spare one any time. Only last, week I took out that shirt and from it dropped my birth certificate.
The next thing was to get to Paris and meet the rest of the boys. I took three and a half days to reach the capital and there I met my friends who had disembarked at Bordeaux. Just outside Paris while in the train I had my first experience of being bombed. The scream of the bombs dropping on the suburban houses from about 20,000 feet was awful.
We made our way to the French Air Ministry, saw high officials there, and were given our physical examination. The French didn't hurry, and we were in and out of the Ministry for three days. They kept telling us that all would be well and that we would be flying any day soon. Actually we spent a whole month in Paris, doing nothing, for nothing could be done for us.
Then suddenly one day we realised that Paris was going to be evacuated. As the Air Ministry had gone, we made up our minds to get going as well - to Tours. A pall of smoke - which might have been a smoke screen - covered the city and you couldn't see more than a block away. There must have been 10,000 people at one station, all patiently waiting for trains to take them to safety - staunch solemn queues all round the station, men, women and children.
It took us a day and a half to reach Tours and it was an awful journey. Sometimes we had to ride between the cars to get a breath of fresh air. But there was no panic among the refugees, just fear and depression. We didn't lose a bit of luggage on this journey.
We spent a week at Tours and were bombed by Heinkels and Dorniers every day. There was a pretty big party of us by now, most of them belonging to the French Air Force. We left Tours by bus for Chinon about an hour's ride away. We got away just in time, for the Nazis bombed and machine-gunned the main bridge out of Tours just as it was packed with refugees. The bridge was completely destroyed and very many refugees were killed.
Things weren't looking at all good. We were tired and food was getting scarce. We set out for Arcay about four hundred of us of all ranks. Our boots were completely worn out, and we had no food and no water. Dog-tired, we lay down in some fields, but not for long. At nearly midnight we were ordered by an elderly French officer to get going once again, this time to Bordeaux. It took us three and a half days in a packed train to reach Bordeaux, and when we got there we found that the French Air Ministry could do nothing for us. We Americans were pretty sore by this time and thought that the best thing we could do would be to take some aircraft and fly to England. But that little plan didn't come off and we began our travels again determined to get out of the country.
Our little bunch went by bus to Bayonne. The British consul had left. We had no money and were starving. Eventually we made our way to St. Jean-de-Luz and were lucky enough to get the American consul. He was a fine guy and treated us pretty hand-somely. But he told us the situation was pretty bad and advised us to quit. There was a crowd pouring into St. Jean-de-Luz and the quayside was crowded with refugees. They came any old way they could, in cars, on motor-cycles and cycles. The cycles they did not bother to park but simply threw them in the water.
We boarded a British ship, Baron-Nairn, a little old-timer of seven knots. We were a mixed crowd on board. Our number included seven hundred Polish refugees. A tragedy occurred as we were going on board. We had only one suitcase between our little bunch. The handle came off and into the water she went with all our belongings. All the extras I had then was a pair of shorts and a couple of shirts. We sailed across the Bay of Biscay. It was a three-day journey and all we had to eat was a dog biscuit - even the one dog on board wouldn't eat them. The boat had no cargo and rolled pretty badly. But the crew were rather kind and did all they could for us.
Eventually we made Plymouth, although I thought at one time we were bound for South America judging by the ship's course.
I guess we weren't too popular at Plymouth. We had no papers and we were evacuated straight away to London. We were put in an ice skating rink and had to stay there for three days. We weren't allowed out at all. We rang up the Air Ministry, who sent round an officer to see us. He was very kind but didn't hold out much hope that the Air Force could use us at the moment.
We talked it over between us and made up our minds to return to America. We rang the Embassy who sent round a representa-tive to see us. He got our particulars, checked them over with Washington, fixed us up with passages to America and lent us £1 for food and clothing. It looked as if the adventure was over.
Then, I forget how, we met a very fine English lady, who after hearing our story told us she was sure that a friend of hers, a well-known member of Parliament, could do something for us. We met him next day in the Houses of Parliament and he sent us to the Air Ministry. We were given our physical examination at once. All passed, and so we were in the Volunteer Reserve of the Royal Air Force for the duration of the war.
We felt pretty good when we went to the American Embassy. The officials there were mad with us at first for upsetting all their arrangements, but we soon smoothed that out. Things moved rapidly. Three of us, all in RAF uniforms, were sent north to an Officers' Training Unit. I had not flown for two months, but after twenty minutes in an advanced trainer I was put into a Spitfire.
After twenty hours flying in Spitfires I was attached to a station in the south, just in time for the opening of the big Blitz. But I had several weeks' training before I became operational, that is, fit to fight. And I guess my first fight was lucky.
I was patrolling high over an English port on the South Coast when I saw some Me110s. I went into them and hit the first guy with my first burst. He was quickly lost in cloud. Then another Me110 shot ahead of me. I gave him a long burst and saw my stuff entering his fuselage. He climbed steeply then, and then as steeply dived in a sort of spin. I couldn't turn on oxygen and suddenly had what they call over here a blackout. I went into a sort of dream from which I awakened when I was only 1,000 feet from the ground. I think I heard myself say "you'd better come to, you're in trouble."
Anyway, I landed safely with two probables in my "bag". And now, we Americans are a separate squadron. We wear RAF uniforms with the American Eagle on the shoulder. It's a grand idea this Eagle squadron of all American flyers. We must try and make a name for ourselves, just like the famous Escadrille Lafayette. After all, we're all on the same side and all fighting in the same cause. The fellows in the squadron come from various parts of America - New York, Idaho, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Illinois and California, we're all flyers and very keen. We have got a lot to learn yet, of course, and that is why I'm so glad to have been with an English fighter squadron, first. These English pilots certainly know their fighting tactics. My old squadron has brought down at least one hundred German aircraft. The German airmen may be pretty good formation flyers, but the British pilot has got the initiative in battle. He thinks quickly and gets results. He knows how to look after himself.
And are we lucky with our fighter planes? I guess the Spitfire is the finest fighter aircraft in the world. It's rugged and has no vices. I'd certainly rather fight with one than against one.
We like England and its people who are cheerful and very easy to get on with. I miss the Californian weather, of course, and if I could only have the English people and the Californian weather combined, everything would be grand. Everyone in the Royal Air Force is most kind to us all. They somehow seem to understand us and go out of their way to be helpful. It's grand to say hello to everyone on behalf of the Eagle squadron. You can be sure we will do out very best, because we're in this business to try and do a little job of work for England.