Veteran Stories:
David Ritchie

Air Force

  • RCAF pilot David Ritchie in the cockpit of a M.K. 5 Spitfire in 1942

  • Squadron officers and NCO pilots of the 411 Squadron RCAF in front of Mk. 5 Spitfire, 1942. David Rtichie was sent this picture while he was stationed in North Africa.

  • David Ritchie's fellow pilots of the No.52 Operational Training Unit, D Flight at RAF Station Aston Down in front of a Spitfire Mark 1, November 1941

  • A letter from David Ritchie's former Commanding Officer (C.O.) of the 411 Squadron, RCAF with a message from the Air Officer Commanding (A.O.C). of No. 12 Group concerning his successful forced landing under difficult conditions on May 20th, 1942

  • David Ritchie flew his Spitfire Mark 5 off this aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean Sea and landed in Malta, 706 miles away on his sortie of July 15, 1942

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"I was in Malta for about three and a half or four months and I was shot down in my last flight with 126 RAF Squadron, used a parachute and dropped into the water…"

Transcript

David F. Ritchie. I was in the Royal Canadian Air Force, seconded to the RAF [Royal Air Force] part way through World War II. I started out in the Air Force as an Aircraftman 2nd class. And when I finished my flying training, on graduation at the Wing ceremony, I was made a sergeant pilot and was given my Wings. I went overseas on the [RMS] Empress of Asia. She was a messy ship. She was a dirty ship. She'd carried Italian prisoners of war to Canada and she wasn't cleaned for us. We were so angry when we got to England. When we disembarked, they gave us a box of food. It included a stale sandwich and an orange. And when we got on the dock we were marched away, we flung our orange at the captain who was on the bridge of the ship. Then I went on to learn to fly Spitfires and when I finished that training, I was sent to 411 [County of York] Squadron, a Royal Canadian Air Force fighter squadron, just outside of London. We did sweeps and patrols over ships and had some very serious losses. On one trip we lost four of our pilots. We were moved from 11 Group to 12 Group in Digby, Lincolnshire and we flew on ops over the Channel. After I had been with the squadron about four months, I was called into the commanding officer's office with another sergeant pilot, Harkness, and we were told, "We want two volunteers to go to Malta – you and you." I went to Malta. I was in Malta for about three and a half or four months and I was shot down in my last flight with 126 RAF Squadron, used a parachute and dropped into the water. I spent 24 hours in the water and was most fortunate to be picked up by an RAF air-sea rescue boat. The Germans were also picking up our crews and their crews when they'd find them in the water. So I went back to Malta and I went into hospital. I had a broken collarbone and lost a few teeth. And when I was fixed up, five or six weeks later, I was sent out to the Middle East. I went out to the Middle East by submarine – HMS Clyde, then the largest submarine in the world. The French Surcouf had been sunk and the Clyde was now the largest. She was used to supply petrol to the Air Force in Malta. They'd taken out one of the rows of batteries and they used to carry the petrol in five-gallon cans. So here I was going out in empty submarine, and I slept on the floor of the battery room and that trip lasted eight days. Several days out, we were depth-charged by the Axis Navy and we could hear the depth charges going off around us, and rattling the walls of the submarine as we sat in the mud on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow or other they missed us and after the Axis Navy had left, we turned on our engines again and we continued on. About two days later, we sunk a German submarine on the surface. Somehow or other they knew about the German submarine up ahead and stayed in position waiting for her to cross the bow of our submarine which was under the surface. My belief is that we knew about it through Intelligence, through the way we broke the German code through the Enigma. And they were a sitting target. They didn't have a chance. We fired the only two torpedoes our submarine was carrying. As I was mentioning, her job was to carry fuel and so she was light of munitions and only had two torpedoes and they were both fired. And we could hear the thump after so many seconds after they'd fired. And they would time it with their watches and then we eventually heard a thump, thump. And we were all convinced at that point that they had succeeded. Then we kept going. We didn't stop. And that was quite a trip.
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