Tag Archives: hurricane

Flying Officer John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan DFC

On 17 August 1940, Flying Officer John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan, from Southsea and of 56 Squadron RAF, was killed in France. He was 25. There is a full biography of John Coghlan here.

Born in 1914 in Shanghai, Coghlan attended the Imperial Services College, before joining the RAF in 1937. His address in Southsea was 16 Worthing Road. Apparently he was a short, well-built man with darkk brushed back hair and a large moustache, and was friendly and unflappable. However he was also described as overweight and unfit, and had a ‘prodigious intake of ale’. He took over command of A Flight just before the Squadron departed for France in 1940. At one point during an air battle he had exhausted the ammunition in his machine guns, so proceeded to fire his Browning pistol at his enemy, earning the nickname of ‘Nine Gun’.

56 Squadron were based at RAF North Weald in Essex, and were flying Hurricanes in 1940. Part of 11 Group, commanded by Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, 56 Squadron were in the front line of the Battle of Britain. The Squadron had earlier provided air cover for the evacuation from Dunkirk. During the Battle of Britain his personal aircraft was Hurricane US-N.

His was DFC gazetted on 30 July 1940:

This officer has been a flight commander in his squadron on most of the recent patrols and has led the squadron on some occasions. At all times he has shown the greatest initiative and courage and has personally destroyed at least six enemy aircraft.

The citation for his DFC suggests that he was in the thick of the air battles raging over southern England in the summer of 1940 – to have destroyed at least enemy aircraft was no mean feat. It is also notable that his DFC was announced in the London Gazette on 30 July – several weeks before his death, and indeed, the recommendation for an award would have predated the announcement by some time too. Therefore he may have accounted for even more aircraft.

But there’s more… Coghlan was not actually serving with 56 Squadron at the time of his death. According to acesofww2.com, he had attended a course at the Parachute Practice School at Ringway, Manchester on 7 August 1940. He took off on the night of 17/18 August 1940 in a Lysander aircraft to perform a special duties flight, but both he and the agent he was carrying were captured and executed. Whether this was a war crime or not depends on whether he was in uniform. If he was, Coghlan was entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention. If not, then he was liable to be shot as a spy.

So, a pilot who appeared to be one of ‘the few’, was in actual fact not only one of the few, but one of the earliest of the RAF’s special duties pilots, who was sadly captured and executed in occupied France.

Operational Records and Log Books should – hopefully – tell us a lot more about John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized, World War Two

Sergeant Bernard Taylor

While it is 70 years since the Germany Army invaded Holland, Belgium and France, we should also remember that in the Spring of 1940 British Forces were fighting in Norway.

46 Squadron of the Royal Air Force were operating Hurricane fighters at the start of the war, and was despatched to Norway aboard the Aircraft Carrier HMS Glorious on 14 May 1940. Their intended landing ground was found to be unsuitable, and they eventually landed at Bardufoss. After it was decided to evacuate British forces from Norway 46 Squadron were ordered to destroy their aircraft. However the Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader K.B.B. Cross, decided to attempt to land the aircraft back on HMS Glorious.

Squadron Leader Cross landed first, followed by the rest of his Squadron. However on the way home to the UK the Glorious was attacked by the Scharnhorst and sunk. From the ships crew and the flight crew of 46 Squadron only 46 men survived.

Among the flight crew from 46 Squadron who died was Sergeant Bernard Taylor, 23 and from Portsmouth. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized, World War Two

Victoria Cross Heroes – Eric Nicolson VC

Eric Nicolson VC

Eric Nicolson VC

Although the Battle of Britain has an esteemed place in British military history – think of the few and the many, spits and hurricanes, Douglas Bader and all – of all the young airmen engaged in that desparate struggle, only one was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. Not only that, but he was the only RAF fighter pilot to win the VC during the second world war.

Flight Lieutenant Eric Nicolson, 23, was flying a Hurricane with 249 Squadron in August 1940, over Southampton.

Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.

Not until the second fighter had been destroyed did Nicolson bail out. On landing he was approached by a Home Guard unit, who proceeded to shoot at him.

Later in the war Nicolson fought in India, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. He died in 1945 when the B-24 Liberator he was flying in caught fire and crashed in the Bay of Bengal. His body was not recovered. His VC can be seen at the RAF Museum, Hendon.

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Filed under Royal Air Force, victoria cross, World War Two