A Halifax Mark III of 518 Squadron at Tiree-Inner Hebrides, U.K.John Entwistle
Portrait of John Entwistle taken in May, 1943, while at Coastal Operational Training Unit.John Entwistle
Entry in Crime Stoppers Magazine during The Year of the Veteran, 2005.John Entwistle
Contemporary photograph of John EntwistleJohn Entwistle
"Flying over the Atlantic was hours and hours of boredom, interspersed by moments of sheer terror. But really, that’s what it was."
Britain declared war on Germany September 3rd, 1939. And I was 15 and I had finished high school or I finished senior matric [matriculation] and was just starting university. When was declared, everybody got to work filling sandbags in their spare time. I must have filled 10,000 of the damn things. And we put them around important buildings in the village [Sunbury-on-Thames, England] such as the hospital, etc. and so forth.
And down where I lived, in the southwest of England, we had a worm’s eye view of the Battle of Britain. It was quite a time really. We’d hear them and the Junkers Ju [Luftwaffe bomber] engines in the [Heinkel He] 113 has a very distinctive note, sort of a whoom, whoom, whoom. And you’d hear these damn things coming. And they were going all night long.
Just outside of Waybridge, about seven miles outside, was the Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory, manufacturing the Wellingtons [British bombers]. And the Germans carried out a raid on the factory and a whole bunch of Home Guards [British local defence volunteers] were called out there to help clean things up and rescue people, etc. And that is when I had one of my worst experiences. I walked into this office, a bomb blast had cleaned everything out, the glass and everything, and sitting behind a desk was a young lady, only she had no head. And for a 16-yearold, that was quite a shock, you know.
Another interesting thing that happened. We were out on patrol one day, during the Battle of Britain, and we saw an RAF pilot bail out of the Spitfire. And as he was floating to the ground, a German Messerschmitt machine gunned him in his parachute. And at that time, we all said to ourselves, if we ever see a German coming down in a parachute, by the time he gets to the ground, he’s going to be very dead. So when I was 18, I volunteered for the Royal Air Force.
I went to air navigation school and at the completion of training, was given my wing with the N on it and promoted to sergeant. Following that, I went to Coastal Command Operational Training Unit in Scotland and from there, I was posted to 58 Squadron, which was operating out of [RAF Station] St. Eval at the time, flying Halifaxes.
Protecting convoys, would mean flying out, rendezvouing with a convoy and then flying in a broad circle around itbecause submarines did not like to see an aircraft. And as soon as an aircraft was sighted, they would submerge. And on the surface, they could do between 12 and 15 knots but submerged, they could only do eight knots maximum. And then they were operating on battery power and at eight knots, they only had about three hours endurance before they had to surface again. So our objective was to keep the damn things submerged. That way, they couldn’t shadow the convoys and they couldn’t even keep up with it.
By now, it was well into 1943. I didn’t stay too long with 58 Squadron but I did have one interesting little experience. We were flying in cloud at about just over 2,500 feet if I remember rightly. And I decided that we were in the vicinity of the convoy. So we reduced air speed, dropped down through the clouds and we came out, slap bang in the middle of the convoy. Which was the biggest mistake we ever made. Of course, to the navy and to the merchant seamen, anything with four engines is a Focke-Wulf Condor [a Luftwaffe bomber]. And they immediately opened fire with everything they had. So we jumped, well, as I was talking to a naval officer afterwards, he said, were we upset, I said no, you were such a bunch of rotten shots, we didn’t worry about it in the least. We immediately headed back up in the clouds again and scuttled off as fast as we can and approached them a fair distance away firing off the colours of the day and all that jazz. I think that was the scariest thing really.
Flying over the Atlantic was hours and hours of boredom, interspersed by moments of sheer terror. But really, that’s what it was.
Interview date: 26 October 2010