German propaganda leaflet dropped by the Luftwaffe on the airfield at which John H. Thompson was stationed in Normandy. July 1944.John Hallett Thompson
John H. Thompson standing in front of a rocket-firing Typhoon, preparing for operations over Germany. April 1945.John Hallett Thompson
Class graduation from No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School in Fort William, Ontario. August 1942. John Thompson is middle row, third from left.John Hallett Thompson
John H. Thompson (right) and unidentified airman with Dutch children. Holland, October 1944.John Hallett Thompson
John H. Thompson after Wings Parade at No. 14 Service Flying Training School in Aylmer, Ontario. November 1942.John Hallett Thompson
"That was a fairly traumatic day too when he was killed because he’d been around, well he was considered an old man and I think he was 28 or 29 or something when he was killed."
I got to like the Typhoon eventually. I mean, although it wasn’t, kind of a love/hate relationship. Some guys said they were the best aircraft they ever flew but I never got quite that exuberant about them.
First of all, they had this horrible torque takeoff and if you didn’t know how to handle that part of it, your takeoff was just a, well, it was scary. Because this thing is going sideways and you’ve got full rudder on and you’re still not really straightening it out. And any time you put on full rudder and nothing’s happening, you’re not straightening this thing out at all, it gets kind of scary.
And they had a bad habit of stalling at between 90 and 100 miles an hour and you’re coming in for a landing and you turned into wind, your last part of your landing leg, they would flick, mean flick, they just stalled and one wing went down and that was the end of you, because you didn’t have enough height and can’t recover. And they still had trouble with the motors. They were seizing up without any reason at all. So there were a number of things that were still present with the Typhoon, even after we were in France for a number of months.
We were mainly what they call ground support and our job was to provide air support to the army. We were what they called, they had a cab rank system going where there’d always be a squadron flying over the front line. And the front line was only about 10 or 12 miles away from where our camp was. We could get airborne and then we’d fly back and forth over the front line. And if the army got into a hot spot where they figured it wasn’t worth putting men in, they’d ask us to come down and we’d use our rockets and our cannons and soften things up for the army and they would go through, take that point over and advance a little farther on.
And that’s mainly what our job was in Normandy. And most up until about the end of August, we were there in June, July, and August. And then the big breakthrough came when the Falaise Gap happened and the German Army started to retreat backwards and we just kept pushing them until they went over across the Rhine River and we ended up in Holland, just south of Arnhem in Holland for the winter of 1944-1945.
The winter was a bad winter because it was cold in, in Holland. I mean, northern Holland is much like Canada is. There’s snow and some of the trips we made were pretty dicey. One day we went out as a wing, - a wing was three squadrons, that’s 24 aircraft - and we attacked a German airfield that was inside Germany and had been used by these [Messerchmitt] ME262s, these first jets that were more brought into play during the latter part of the war. And I can remember, I think I was 31 or 30 [in attacking order], I forget, I was tail end at the back going down on the attack and the flak was so heavy, it looked like low cloud as far as I was concerned.
And when we pulled up out of our dive, there wasn’t anybody around. I couldn’t find a soul. I looked at my number two with me and by that time, we were kind of disoriented a little bit and getting back to our own airfield was a bit of a problem but it was what you call, what we called a hairy trip. It wasn’t one I enjoyed one bit.
Our casualty rates were considered high and mainly because everybody took a shot at you. I mean, we were shot at by the Germans and then we’d do the low level, the strafing with our cannons and even the guy lying in a ditch with a rifle took a whack at you. And with an inline motor, sometimes if they got really lucky, they could put you down. Just some guy with a machine gun or a lucky shot into the glycol system and two minutes later, your motor was on fire and that was it.
I mean, our CO [commanding officer], Squadron Leader Collins,* was shot down in August and we thought he got, we had a fair amount of flak on that particular trip and he got hit and he started to stream glycol, which is that white vapour that comes out the engine. He thought he could get back far enough in, back to our lines that he could bail out and he’d land on our side of the line. And he waited maybe 30 seconds too long and the fire got going and he bailed out and he hit the tail plane when he jumped. And his parachute was ripped open and never did open up. And he fell to his death.
And you know, that was a fairly traumatic day, too when he was killed because he’d been around, well he was considered an old man and I think he was 28 or 29 or something when he was killed. So there was some pretty bad days in Normandy that we would get hammered pretty good.
As a fighter pilot, you’re a special breed of person and you like doing things on your own and being responsible for your own life. And this is the way it was supposed to be.
*S/L John Russell Collins, Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar, Killed in Action 11 August 1944 at 31 years of age
Interview date: 25 October 2010