02 February, 2017

Godspeed... F/L John Wilkinson, 41Sq

These things never happen conveniently—planning for another project, details, decisions amidst the whir of daily life, this morning, I found out about F/L Wilkinson's death while scrolling through emails on my phone.

For those that don't know who John* is, click here and then click here.

The first link is to our "short" on John and the second is my blog post.

But, back to the moment when my finger paused on the screen, "John passed away this morning..." it all seems fitting because this great and humble man's story might have otherwise gone unheralded had the opportunity been passed over in favor of the more urgent (details, decisions).

The title of our film, "The Gentleman Next Door" was a nod to the idea that amazing, real history is all around us.  The gateway to the knowledge and wisdom afforded by History often requires no more work than ringing a doorbell and investing a little time.

From all of OGTA... "Thank you, John.  Godspeed, tally-ho and yes, we'd like some tea!"

And for the rest, in John's own words...

"As the sun was setting, we circled over the Baltic coast and cruised inland at about 25,000 feet. Approaching the town of Schwerin we spotted about 30 aircraft at low level and headed down toward them. Then something curious happened. We saw explosions around the airfield and town, so two of our number assumed that they were RAF Typhoons attacking the area and climbed back up to our cruising altitude and headed home. But Tony and I continued on down to further investigate.

As we got low enough to positively identify the aircraft we realized they were Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighters. We assumed, incredibly, that they had spotted us and were dropping their loads in preparation for a fight. Diving down from our cruising altitude, we had built up some excess speed. I picked out the highest FW-190 flying quite slowly, so I had to lose speed rapidly using my propeller in fine pitch as a brake and fish tailing as hard as I could to avoid overshooting him and becoming a target for him. I was very close to him when I opened fire, without a thought for the round object under his belly. But I soon found out as I fired with cannons and fifty-caliber machine guns.

The round thing was a bomb and there was an almighty explosion. I ducked down for maximum protection from my bulletproof windshield and large engine. Although the outside air was very cold, I could feel the fiery heat on my neck between my collar and leather helmet. I could see flaming fuel and wreckage engulfing my Spitfire. It was time to take stock of the condition of my aircraft. I was still flying and attempted to gain more defensive altitude, but I was obviously very badly damaged. So I called for a homing to take the most direct route back to base. The radio-direction-finding personnel were on the ball and got it to me immediately just before the Germans, who were listening in, jammed the radio.

My propeller was damaged because the vibration was almost enough to pull the engine out. I climbed using as much power as I dared to and I was wallowing, telling me that my tail was badly damaged also. Since I had about 100 miles to travel, my biggest concern, beside the possibility of being picked off by an FW-190, was the huge radiator under each wing. If either one of them was holed and leaked my glycol and oil, I would not make it home. I watched the temperature and oil pressure gauges very closely and to my relief, the needles remained at their normal settings.

Before getting too low on approach to the airfield I tested my flaps and undercarriage. Both were still functioning. So with the crash crew standing by I came in fast in order to retain control until my wheels were safely on the ground.

After climbing out of the cockpit, it was then discovered that one blade of my propeller had been split off long ways. Paint was burned off the wings, and the fuselage and part of the controlling surfaces of the tail were missing, plus various holes and dents in wings and fuselage.

But most remarkable of all was that nothing entered the huge radiator and oil cooler air scoops under each wing, even though the narrow cowling edges of the scoops were riddled with holes. Make no mistake: The hand of the Lord was indeed upon me."

*John will always be an "is" and not a "was."  The later is only applied to people who serve the world no longer and John, through his story, his Christian faith and the positive impact he left on so many others insure this immortality.