9

My great-uncle Kevin Riordan was an Australian WWII fighter pilot. Some time around the year 2000, not long before he died, he wrote up his war memoirs. According to his memoirs:

  • Joined the RAAF on November 4, 1941, initially training in Australia before shipping out to the UK via San Francisco and Boston, somewhere around late 1942/1943.
  • Introduced to Spitfires in UK, completing "revision of service training" on 26 May 1943 and posted to 53 Operational Training Unit at Kirton-Lindsey. "By now I had a total of over 250 flying hours and was expected to be competent to normal flying. Now it was time to learn to use the aircraft as a fighting platform. This meant learning operational formation, air to air gunnery, fighter tactics, ..."
  • Mentions heading into Lincoln to a pub while on leave and meeting an American officer who turned out to be Clark Gable, celebrating his 42nd birthday. If correct, this would've been February 1, 1943, which puts it before the completion of his service training revision.
  • Posted to "Balado Bridge, an air gunnery school" on 9 October 1943.
  • By around March 1944 after training he was flying Spitfires out of the UK with 130 (Punjab) Spitfire Squadron, temporarily renamed to 186 Squadron.
  • Flew missions in support of D-Day, got shot down on D+7 while patrolling but got back safely (some unkind comments about American friendly fire here).
  • On 29 June 1944, withdrawn from operations, returned to Lympne and converted to Spitfire XIVs.
  • Describes trying to intercept "German flying bombs" (V1s presumably).
  • On 20 September 1944 he was briefed on a support operation for hundreds of aircraft towing gliders headed for Arnhem.
  • Some time after that 130 Squadron was moved to Grave to protect bridges from air attack.
  • In November they moved to Diest, still in Holland.

Here's the bit I'm curious about:

This morning the briefing was most unusual. It appears the Germans were using the Philips factory in Eindhoven to manufacture sophisticated electrical parts for their new aircraft. It had been decided not to bomb the factory, but to destroy the one floor which was being used. The factory was 4 stories, the Germans were using the 3rd floor. We were to destroy the 3rd floor by machine gun and cannon fire through the windows. The management was to use some pretext to evacuate the building so there would be no loss of life. It was a tall order - we would have to open fire at maximum range to give ourselves time to clear the building. There was no way we could practice, so it was a matter of "go in cold".

At the appointed time we arrived over the target, assumed line-astern formation about 200 yards apart and took turns attacking the third floor. We continued this until we had used all our ammunition, then returned to base. The information was that the operation had been most successful. This was later confirmed when a representative of Philips arrived at the drome and presented each of the pilots who took part in the operation with an electric shaver, quite uncommon at that time.

The follow paragraph mentions a move "to Asch in Belgium", still in November, so this raid apparently took place some time in November 1944 between moves to Diest and moves to Asch.

It's an interesting story that has been part of family lore for years, but on checking the details I don't think it can have happened as described. Eindhoven was liberated on 18 September 1944 so I doubt my great-uncle would have been shooting it up two months later, nor would Philips have been giving out presents if he had...

Wiki records two raids on this factory: a major RAF bombing raid (Operation Oyster) in 1942, and a follow-up raid by ten Mosquitos on 30 March 1943.

His description doesn't match Operation Oyster at all - a precisely targeted fighter raid, vs. a bomber raid. As far as I can tell he was still in training at the time of the March 1943 raid and there's no mention in his memoirs of flying Mosquitos - he goes into some detail on the specs of the planes he's flown so it would be a surprise if he didn't mention this.

So I'm curious as to what event he might have been describing. My best guess is that the raid he flew was targeted somewhere else, and that when he wrote up his memoirs many years later his memory blurred the details with a more famous operation. The detail of the shavers is curious, but I guess it's possible that he heard that story from the pilots of a previous raid and misremembered it as something that had happened to him.

Any ideas? I don't know if it will be possible to answer this definitively, unless somebody has detailed records for 130 Squadron available, but I'd be interested to hear of any plausible candidates.

12
  • 7
    I seriously doubt that this kind of precision gunnery was possible, let alone attempted in a nap-of-the-earth strike over enemy territory. No offense intended to your great-uncle, but I have seen quite a lot of gun camera footage (example), and there is no way that a bunch of random pilots could be asked to (and succeed at) surgically taking out a specific story of a buiding by MG fire. (ctd.) – DevSolar Sep 30 '20 at 7:14
  • 3
    I agree with DevSolar, the precision was not possible then and the dates are wrong. Memoirs have to be treated carefully as sources. It reminds me of Operation Jericho, not in detail, but in concept. – Schwern Sep 30 '20 at 7:37
  • 2
    The following link contains an intelligence report gathered by a team who visited the Philips factory in Eindhoven shortly after it was liberated. It contains information about other Philips operations in Germany and elsewhere which were attacked around that time. There may be something you can use if you can find out what targets your uncle's squadron was attacking. Maybe the guys from Eindhoven were just the ones who gave the presents. dos4ever.com/EF50/CIOS.pdf – Agent Orange Sep 30 '20 at 9:38
  • 2
    Perhaps the raid was targeted at another Philips plant using intelligence and assistance from the staff at the Eindhoven plant after its liberation. If there was a concerted effort to limit collateral damage, and there was already an existing relationship between the Philips people at Eindhoven and the RAF then the gifts afterwards might have been a fairly understandable gesture. The actual precision of the attack may have been exaggerated somewhat, but may have been appreciated by the company. – Agent Orange Sep 30 '20 at 10:01
  • 2
    @DevSolar Thanks, and no offense taken. I'm aware that military exploits have a way of growing in the telling, and sixty years between the action and the memoir is plenty of time for inaccuracies to creep in, so I'm not tremendously surprised to hear that there are some other issues with this story. My great-uncle had a good long life and is no longer in a position to take any offense whatsoever. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 30 '20 at 11:00
3

RAF Operations Record Books (ORBs) are available at The National Archives; 130 Squadron's ORB for November 1944 is: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D8387862 (a free download for registered users at the time of writing). Usually there would be both a Form 540 (general summary of events) and a Form 541 (detailed records of events), but it seems most of the Form 541s are missing.

There doesn't appear to be anything corresponding to a precision raid in that month, just a number of armed reconnaissance missions (searching and attacking targets of opportunity).

130 Squadron was part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force (TAF). Christopher Shores and Chris Thomas wrote a very comprehensive three-volume history of the 2nd TAF and there were at least two precision fighter-bomber raids in November 1944 against targets in the Netherlands: the Amsterdam Gestapo HQ on November 26th and the Rotterdam Gestapo HQ on November 29th. They don't quite match the description (the buildings were bombed in both cases rather than specific floors targeted), and they were flown by the Hawker Typhoons of 146 Wing rather than Spitfires. As per your comment it sounds like a conflation of the earlier Eindhoven raids with 146 Wing's pinpoint attacks.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.