Archive for August, 2013

Ellis Knowlton

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

I met a fellow Spitfire pilot at the Abbotsford Air Show earlier this month. Here is a bit of his story in his own words. Ellis will be 90 later this year.

Hi John,
Firstly I would like to thank you again for the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of your Spitfire. I flew an almost identical model on ops for 208 Squadron during the war. You mentioned you would like a little of my background, so here goes.
I spent much of my early life, including the Battle of Britain in the town of Woolston, a suburb of Southampton in England. Woolston was the home of the Supermarine works, the birthplace of the Spitfire. We lived about 1/2 mile from the factory and I had family who worked there. Consequently I knew about the Spitfire, long before it was a household word. My younger cousin (who worked there) and I would cycle out to Eastleigh, a few miles north of Southampton where the Spitfire had their final assembly. Woolson had no airfield. We would watch Jeff Quill, the Supermarine chief test pilot put the prototypes through their paces, never believing that one of us would eventually fly them.
I passed the Supermarine factory every day as I traveled on the ferry between Woolston and Southampton. One day in the summer of 1939, I noticed the hangar doors (which opened on to the river) were open. When I looked inside, instead of seeing rows of Spitfires being assembled I saw a large four-engined bomber. I forgot about this until a few years ago when I discovered it really existed and two prototypes were being built. It had a vastly superior performance to anything else and had it gone into production, would have been formidable.
Once the Battle of Britain started there were sporadic daylight and a few night raids… these were not targeted. I am now going to describe four air raids and add my own speculations on their purpose. The first two have not been recorded in the history books. One Saturday afternoon some friends and I were playing soccer when, without warning, a Heinkel 111 appeared overhead, fired machine guns and dropped a couple of small bombs. They may have been aiming at a barrage balloon which was on the ground at the edge of the playing field. They missed the balloon (and us) and it seemed pointless, until recently when I plotted the course on a Google map. It had been flying over the Supermarine works. A couple of weeks later, I was in the garden when I heard a roaring in the sky. I looked up and there were about thirty five JU 88 dive bombers actually in the dive. There was no time to go to the shelter so I dashed into the house and told everyone to get on the floor away from the windows. None of the bombs hit the factory; there was a strong west wind blowing and the attack was from the east. There were probably significant civilian casualties as again, there had been no warning. The bombers had been heading as if they were going to bomb the naval base at Portsmouth (where a warning was given) and only changed course at the last minute. This attack told Supermarine that they were a target and could not be defended. Supermarine began evacuating partly completed spitfires and machine tools and dispersed them among the large garages in the area. There were two more attacks, both which have been recorded. The first was by about 200 medium level bombers. This largely missed the target, only a corner of the plant was hit. Finally a couple a days later a large force destroyed the factory. This was right at the end of the Battle of Britain; daylight bombing ceased a week later. By that time a large wartime factory was producing Spitfires and the flow was never interrupted. This raises the question why bomb when the Battle of Britain was already lost by the Germans? Were these attacks the swan-song of the Battle of Britain, or a pre-emptive strike against the Supermarine bomber? With the drawings and prototypes destroyed, work was abandoned and the RAF ordered the much inferior Short Stirling four-engined bomber.
This is rather long so I’ll close for now. Thanks again Ellis