Traces of World War 2 
RAF - 54 Squadron
10/05/1940 - 28/05/1940

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54 SQUADRON - Fighter, Supermarine Spitfire Mk I

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Spitfires began to arrive in March 1939 and on the outbreak of World War Two were flown on defensive duties from Hornchurch. During the evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940, No. 54 Squadron flew patrols over the Belgian coast to intercept German raids on the port and beaches. After being heavily engaged in the first half of the Battle of Britain, No 54 was moved to Yorkshire early in September.

Following the withdrawal of the majority of the fighter squadrons from France on 22 May, fighter patrols over the northern battle area had to be flown from airfields in England, but in spite of this handicap the British squadrons continued to give battle, and indeed, as the main strength of the home-based fighter units was thrown in, the Luftwaffe began to falter. In particular the appearance over Belgium of new British aircraft, such as the Spitfire and Defiant, had a most disconcerting effect on the German airmen, and, on more than one occasion, an enemy formation jettisoned its bombs and fled at the sight of a few Spitfires.

Pilot Officer Alan C. Deere (1917-1995) of 54 Sqdn. scored a first double success in more unusual circumstances on 23 May. He was one of two Spitfire pilots detailed to escort a Miles Master —a two-seater training aircraft—that was attempting to rescue a British pilot forced down at Calais-Marck, an airfield which by this time was in no-man's-land. The three aircraft reached this airfield without incident, but just as the trainer - flown by 54 Sqdn.'s Flight Lieutenant James A. Leathart (1915-1998) - was taking off with its passenger, Deere's companion shouted over the radio-telephone that Messerschmitts were approaching.

Almost at the same moment one of them dived on the Master but overshot. Deere at once turned on the Messerschmitt and fired two short bursts. It carried on for a short distance then crashed into the sea a few yards from the shore, where its tail remained sticking up out of the water for some months afterwards. He then set about another German fighter which turned over on its back and crashed in Calais itself. An attack on a third Messerschmitt found Deere with his ammunition exhausted so he made for the nearest cloud and returned safely across the Channel. Meawhile, the training aircraft and Deere's companion, who had destroyed at least one other German fighter, had also made good their escape.

On the following day Deere's No. 54 Squadron, with which Colin F. Gray (New Zealand's top-scoring fighter pilot, 1914-1995) was also flying, experienced its first big air battle when it engaged two large bomber formations escorted by Messerschmitts.

In the many dogfights which followed nine German aircraft were claimed destroyed, with an additional four probables. Of these Deere was credited with one Messerschmitt destroyed and Gray with a probable, in what was his first combat. The next day Gray shared in the destruction of another Messerschmitt whilst escorting Allied bombers (Swordfishes) over Gravelines, but his Spitfire was badly damaged by fire both from enemy aircraft and the ground. Deere had a similar experience the following morning while escorting ammunition ships into Dunkirk. His section of Spitfires engaged some twenty Messerschmitts and in the resulting mêlèe he had his port wing partly shot away. However, he was able to claim two of the enemy before breaking away to limp home. He afterwards reported tersely:

'We saw enemy bombers attacking destroyers off Calais. On going into attack, we were in turn set upon by Messerschmitts 110s. Shot one down in flames after three bursts but immediately became sandwiched between two more, experiencing considerable fire. Steep turned and got on the tail of one of them and after three short bursts, both his engines commenced smoking and, losing height rapidly, he prepared to land north of Calais.'

'Now for the first time', noted the German General Halder in his diary on 24 May, 'enemy air superiority has been reported by Kleist.' And on the same day the War Diary of the German 19 Corps recorded: 'Enemy fighter resistance is so strong that our own air reconnaissance was practically impossible.'

During the period 27 May to 3 June the Germans, according to their own records, lost 189 aircraft, while British losses during the same period were 131 machines of which 99 were fighters.

On 28 May Deere was leading his squadron on their fourth patrol of the day when they encountered 17 Dorniers. In the engagement which followed, return fire from one of these aircraft hit the oil system of his Spitfire, and while Deere was half blinded by smoke from the burning oil his engine seized. He was then flying at barely 800 feet over the Belgian coast between Nieuport and Dunkirk, so he made for a stretch of beach along which his Spitfire slithered, finally coming to rest on its nose. Although injured in the head Deere scrambled out of his aircraft, set it on fire, and began to make his way on foot towards Dunkirk. After a hazardous and eventful journey, partly made by converting abandoned cars to his own use, he finally reached that port and returned by ship to England.

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Losses 01/01/1940 - 09/05/1940 (incomplete)

Pilot Officer Robert E. West, RAF 41508, 54 Sqdn., age unknown, 15/03/1940, Kingston-upon-Thames Cemetery, UK

Pilot Officer H.H. Prince Alexander Obolensky, RAF (AAF) 91075, 54 Sqdn., age 24, 29/03/1940, Ipswich Cemetery, UK
A Rugby player, H.H. Prince Alexander played four times for England scoring two tries in the 1936 match against the "All Blacks". He also played Rugby for Oxford, where he gained a "Blue". The Prince was killed in a Hurricane Mark 1 at Martlesham Heath. He was born in St. Petersburg on 17th February 1916.

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Losses 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: ?, KL-?
Operation: ?
Lost: 11/05/1940
Pilot Officer John D.B. McKenzie, RAF 40726, 54 Sqdn., age 26, 11/05/1940, missing

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Pilot Officer Donald S. Ross, RAF 41474, 54 Sqdn., age 21, 15/05/1940, Woodstock Methodist Cemetery, Canada (?)

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Type: Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: ?, KL-?
Operation: ?
Lost: 24/05/1940
Flight Lieutenant (Pilot) Thomas N. Linley, RAF 39617, 54 Sqdn., age 25, 24/05/1940, Calais Southern Cemetery, F

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Type: Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: N3096?, KL-?
Operation: escort
Lost: 25/05/1940
Sergeant Frank E. Buckland, RAFVR 741093, 54 Sqdn., age unknown, 25/05/1940, missing
Missing from escorting Swordfish to Gravelines. 54 Sqn lost 3 Spitfires this day: N3096, N3103, N3188. he pilots of 2 were P/O JL ALLEN (rescued) and F/Lt DG GRIBBLE (safe, returned UK by ship)

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Type: Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: ?, KL-?
Operation: ?
Lost: 27/05/1940
Flight Lieutenant Maxwell C. Pearson, RAF 33274, 54 Sqdn., age unknown, 27/05/1940, missing

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Type: Supermarine Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: ?, KL-?
Operation: Dunkirk Patrol
Lost: 28/05/1940
Pilot Officer Alan C. Deere - evaded.

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Commonwealth War Graves Commission
H.L. Thompson, New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force, Historical publications Branch, Wellington (NZ), 1953
Royal Air Force - Battle of Britain - 54 Squadron
RAF Museum: British Military Aviation in 1940
The Royal Air Force, 1939-1945
War over Holland
Wikipedia - 54 Squadron (LIV Squadron)


A. Deere 'Nine Lives' (Autobiographical; Gauntlets & Spitfires) (Wingham Press 1991)


Allied World War II Casualties in the Netherlands
British Aviation Archaeological Council - Books and research links
CWGC Cemeteries Netherlands
RAF Battle of Britain
Warbird Alley

The Aerodrome - Aces and Aircraft of World War 1

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This page is dedicated to the men of 54 Squadron.

© Bart FM Droog / Rottend Staal Online 2007. Permission granted for use of the data gathered here for non commercial purposes, if this source is mentioned with a link to