The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. T W Townshend
Thomas William Townshend was born in Edmonton, Middlesex on 31st May 1918 and attended St. James School.
He joined 601 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force before the war as an Aircrafthand. He was called to full-time service on 24th August 1939 and later remustered as an Airman u/t Air Gunner.
After 601 had exchanged its Blenheims for Hurricanes in February 1940, its air gunners were posted away. Townshend joined 600 Squadron in May, when it was replacing aircrew lost on the raid on Waalhaven on 10th May.
He served with 600 Squadron throughout the Battle of Britain. Townshend was involved in the following unique incident:
Erprobungsgruppe 210, a specialist fighter-bomber unit, was tasked on 14th August 1940 for raids on Ramsgate and Manston airfields, to be carried out by 1 Staffel and 2 Staffel respectively.
Ramsgate was a small civil field with no military function but it escaped damage as 2 Staffel were diverted by barrage balloons and joined 1 Staffel in attacking Manston, running in just after midday.
Because Manston was ill equipped for night operations 600 Squadron were operating detached flights from Hornchurch with other personnel remaining at Manston.
Townshend and an armourer had been detailed to man an emplacement on top of the firing butts, fitted with a 'homemade' AA weapon consisting of four .303 machine guns, possibly fashioned from a Blenheim under-fuselage pack. He had a telephone line direct to Hornchurch Sector Control which gave him a few minutes warning of the approaching raid.
I could hear faint aircraft engines in the distance which was more of a drone but I could sight nothing. The last message I can remember was "They must be nearly on top of you." They were. The identical attack as on 12th August. I picked the two long lines up through the haze, identical in detail as before.
I grabbed the mounting with the four Brownings fixed to it and had the leader of the nearest formation to me in my sights. Both lines of the formation swept past between myself and the hangars. They were that close that I still think today that I could have thrown a stone and hit one or other of them. As it was, I opened fire and to my utter amazement watched a row of bullet holes ripping through the port wing right along the aileron section, the bullet holes travelling towards the fuselage.
The formation was pulling out at just above hangar height. This particular Me110 rolled slightly, never pulled out, and went straight in, I would say about fifty to seventy five yards from my position. At the same time the Bofors guns were firing away and between my watching the one I was going for, the leader of the starboard formation of Me110s broke in two at where the Gunner/ Radio Operator sat. This happened just over the hangar which had been hit.
I think I can say I witnessed the most amazing escape I was ever to see throughout my war service. As the aircraft broke in two a body shot out horizontally and a parachute opened. How, I would never know because it was impossible for this gunner to have opened it. The 'chute opened that fraction of a second long enough for him to save his life as he fell to the ground in front of the remains of one of the hangars. The forward portion of the aircraft hit the ground and scattered bits and pieces all over the 'drome. This I would say was a definite Bofors gun hit.
I had fired in the region of 250-300 rounds.
The Me110 which 'went straight in' was that of 23 year-old Leutnant Heinrich Brinkmann, pilot, and his W/T Operator, 24 year-old Unteroffizier Richard Mayer. Both had no chance of surviving the crash. Their aircraft was coded S9+NK, a 2nd Staffel machine.
The other aircraft to be shot down was also from 2nd Staffel, coded S9+MK, crewed by Unteroffizier Hans Steding, aged 23, and his W/T Operator, Gefreiter Ewald Schank, aged 24.
Schank's recollection of the events surrounding his first and last combat mission over England are vivid:
At 7 o'clock on 14th August we left our airfield with our Staffel for Marck airfield near Calais. From there we were supposed to take off for a mission at 1100 hours. Because of bad weather, take-off was put back until mid-day. Two Staffeln took off, about 7-9 machines, with Me110 and Me109 as escort. Our aircraft carried two 500 kg. incendiary bombs. During the flight over the Channel two aircraft had to turn back with engine trouble.
At a height of about 3000m. the Staffel began a diving attack in order to hit the target. After the bombs had been dropped, we pulled our machine higher. In the same instant, our aircraft received a heavy blow from below, probably a hit from the 'Flak'. Because of this, the aircraft was damaged and crashed. I was thrown out of the machine, but remained attached to the aircraft by a boot. Without thinking, I freed myself from the boot. When I was free of the aircraft, I operated my parachute.
Shortly after the parachute opened, I landed heavily on the hard red tarmac. I quickly released my parachute, as it was pulling me towards a large fire. When I stood up I realised I was missing a boot, and was wounded in the head. As I looked around, I noticed pieces of aircraft, undercarriage, a wheel, and bits of the fuselage. The rest of the aircraft was smashed into the red tarmac not far away.
I dragged myself through the wreckage to search for the pilot, but could see nothing. As I was all alone and helpless on the runway, three men in blue uniforms came. I did not know, or understand, any English words at that time. I said to the soldiers in German: "My friend is in the aircraft' They took me in their midst and led me to a shelter, in which there were soldiers in brown uniforms and steel helmets, with guns.
A soldier spoke to me in German, but I no longer recall what he said.
I asked him "When will I be shot ?"
"You will not be shot," he replied "you will go to a prison camp with many others."
I probably said: "Ich bin glucklich, dass mich Gott gerettet hat" (I am lucky that God has saved me).
I fainted shortly afterwards.
Above account courtesy of 'Bombsights Over England: A History of Eprobungsgruppe 210'
by John J Vasco (ISBN 978-0951573709) via Simon Blackwell.
As the squadron was re-equipped with Beaufighters, Townshend and other air gunners were posted to Bomber Command.
He completed two tours of operations, with 57 Squadron at Feltwell and 101 Squadron at Holme-on-Spalding Moor. Townshend was later posted to 201 Squadron at Pembroke Dock, flying in Sunderlands.
Townshend was released from the RAF after the war and he emigrated to South Africa in 1948.
He died in South Africa on 2nd June 2013.