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RAF - 87 Squadron
10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

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87 SQUADRON - Fighter, Hawker Hurricane Mk I

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On 15 March 1937, No 87 reformed at Tangmere with Furies and received Gladiators in June on moving to Debden. Conversion to Hurricanes began in July 1938 and these were taken to France on the outbreak of war as part of the Air Component of the BEF.

When the German invasion came in May 1940, the squadron gave air cover on the Northern Front until its airfields were captured and after two weeks was evacuated to re-equip in Yorkshire. It moved to south-west England in July for day and night defensive patrols during the Battle of Britain and night fighting became its major task.

Roland 'Bee' Beamont, of 87 Sqdn., in a video interview by Bill O'Sullivan and David Collins for Newark Air Museum, Sunday 13 March 2000:

"When the war broke out I had just completed Flying Training and, as the wags at the time said, my course finishing was fine timing for me to become 'cannon fodder' in the war that was just going to start. So, we went to war untrained - well, we were not untrained - we had completed our basic training but were totally inexperienced in warfare and not terribly safe pilots, having flown only a few hours. I was posted, much to my surprise, straight out to France.

My first posting was to 87 Service Squadron, which was one of the four squadrons in the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, already at Lille - this would be in November 1939 - so it was going in at the deep end! I found myself amongst a bunch of absolutely marvellous peacetime experienced fighter pilots, all very proud of their Hurricanes, which were still fairly new at the time. I didn't get much flying that winter because we got bogged down with weather and, as I was a junior pilot, whenever the weather was good enough to fly the senior pilots seemed to get the flying and I didn't.

So, when the Blitzkrieg broke out on 10 May 1940 I hadn't really much time on Hurricanes - I doubt if I had flown fifty hours - but I got into combat rather quickly during the next few days, having my first combat flying actually from Lille on around about 12 May, when we were sent to Nomilly to escort some Blenheims attacking the advancing enemy along the line of the Maas River and the bridge at Maastricht (which became famous from the attacks made on it)[see 12 Sqdn., 15 Sqdn. ].

We never made contact with the Blenheims, but we intercepted a formation of Dorniers, which we went headlong into under the leadership of our Squadron Commander, and I found myself firing at a Dornier which I thought was in range. After I finally got back and landed, I reported to my flight commander, who said "What the hell were you doing, Bee! I wasn't in range and you were behind me firing like hell, nearly hitting my Hurricane!" He was laughing. It was that sort of combat - I hit that Dornier and stopped its engine, and then I hit another one later on but I don't remember much about that battle.

I had a few more quick battles in France and then we were evacuated, first of all to Merville on 19 May, I think it was. We had only four Hurricanes left, and those of us who hadn't got a Hurricane were flown back to the UK in a Douglas Transport of KLM Airline - it was all rather an exciting period!"

Ian Richard Gleed was posted to France with No: 87 Squadron, on May 14th 1940 and remained with them throughout the Battle of Britain. During combat on May 18th, he claimed his first victories shooting down two Bf110’s. The following day, May 19th, he destroyed a Bf109, two Do17’s, shared a He111 and damaged another Bf109. He shared a Ju88 on May 20th, which was his last victory during the Battle of France before the Squadron was withdrawn back to England and stationed at Debden on May 22nd.

When No: 87 Squadron became operational again on June 21st 1940, they were re-equipped with more Hurricanes and Pilots shortly before the move to Exeter, which would be their base for the duration of the Battle of Britain. As the early stages of the Battle unfolded, Gleed was again into action shooting down two Bf110’s and damaged a Bf109 on August 25th during an engagement off the Dorset coast near Weymouth

10/05/1940: From dawn on the first day of the German attack the fighter squadrons in France were heavily engaged with the enemy formations. The Hurricanes covering the advance of the Allied Expeditionary Force into Belgium had many combats, while the two squadrons with the Advanced Air Striking Force in the south reported 'ceaseless activity' and 'a day crammed with incident'. In these initial encounters the British pilots exacted a heavy toll in proportion to the casualties they suffered, over forty German bombers being destroyed on the first day for the loss of ten Hurricanes in combat or through forced landings.

Source: H.L. Thompson, New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force, Historical publications Branch, Wellington (NZ), 1953

Squadron Code: LK

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

10/05/1940: Interception, Thionville, F
12/05/1940: Escort, Maastricht, B/NL - 2 planes lost; 1 KIA
14/05/1940: Patrol, B/F - 3 planes lost; 2 KIA, 1 MIA

15/05/1940: ? - 1 plane lost; 1 MIA

19/05/1940: Interception, Valenciennes, F. 2 Planes lost, 1 WIA
20/05/1940: Patrol, France. 1 Plane lost; 1 DOW
ca. 26/05/1940: Interception, near Dunkirk, F
01/06/1940: ?. 1 Plane lost(?), 1 KIA or DOW

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

Sergeant (Pilot) Percy F.H. Thurgar, RAF 580293, 87 Sqdn., age 23, 12/02/1940, Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery, France

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10/05/1940: Interception, Thionville

Two New Zealanders in the thick of the air fighting on 10 May were Pilot Officers Dini (607 Sqdn.) and Saunders. Saunders, flying with No. 87 Hurricane Squadron based near Lille, gained his first victory in an engagement with six bombers over Thionville. A shower of debris fell away from one enemy machine after his first burst; it then dropped out of formation and went into a steep dive. Saunders renewed his attack but came under severe fire from the remaining bombers. He managed to put a long burst into one of them and then saw it break away and fall, apparently out of control. Shortly afterwards the radiator of his Hurricane collapsed and Saunders was temporarily blinded with glycol, but he was able to return safely to his aerodrome.

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12/05/1940: Escort, Maastricht Bridges

Fighter escort for bombers attacking bridges in the Maastricht area.

Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number:
L1970, LK-?
12/05/1940 (1 KIA)
Flying Officer (Pilot) John A. Campbell, RAF 39492, 87 Sqdn., age 27, DFC,12/05/1940, Maastricht General Cemetery, NL
Hurricane L1970 was shot down at 10.10 hours by Adolf Galland of Stab/JG27. This was Gallands first air victory. According to German sources this happened 10 kilometers west of Liège.

Air Ministry Honours and Awards Committee (Canada): 'This officer succeeded to the temporary command of a flight just before the German invasion of Holland and Belgium and during the two following days led it with great courage and determination. He set a fine example by destroying four enemy aircraft. On one occasion, when leading a flight of seven aircraft in protection of Blenheim bombers, he showed great personal gallantry in leading his squadron to an attack agaist forty enemy aircraft.'

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Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number:
L1632, LK-?
Fighter cover for Maastricht operations
Basis: Senon (F)
12/05/1940 (-)
Pilot: Sergeant F.V. Howell, bailed out.
Hurricane L1632 was shot down at 10.20 hours by Adolf Galland of Stab/JG27. This was Gallands second air victory. According to German sources this happened 10 kilometers south of Liège.

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14/05/1940: Patrol

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, LK-?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 14/05/1940
Pilot Officer Paul L. Jarvis, RAF 42609, 87 Sqdn., age 20, 14/05/1940, missing

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Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L1834, LK-?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 14/05/1940
Pilot Officer (Pilot) Christopher C.D. Mackworth, RAF 40728, 87 Sqdn., age 21, 14/05/1940, Bruyelle War Cemetery, B
Bailed out after combat with Me-110s, but his parachute caught fire.

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Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, LK-?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 14/05/1940
Pilot Officer (Pilot) Gordon C. Saunders, RAF 41620 (NZ), 87 Sqdn., age 23, 14/05/1940, Fenain Communal Cemetery, F
Shot down while attacking a formation of bombers heavily escorted by fighters (see 10/05/1940).

According to the CWGC another 87 Squadron pilot, Pilot Officer Arthur E. Le Breuilly, RAF 42615, went missing this day. In fact he belonged to 607 Squadron.

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Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, LK-?
Operation: ?
Lost: 15/05/1940
Pilot Officer Trevor J. Edwards, RAF 70200, age 25, 15/05/1940, missing

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19/05/1940: Interception, Valenciennes, F

Flying Officer Ward, flying in a section of four Hurricanes, was responsible for the destruction of a Henschel 126 intercepted near Valenciennes. After one of his section had attacked without result, Ward followed and got in several good bursts. As he broke away smoke began to pour from the German machine. He then closed and made a second attack, whereupon the enemy aircraft blew up in the air.

Ward had arrived in France only two days previously in company with five other pilots to deliver new aircraft to No. 87 Squadron. On hearing how sorely pressed the unit was at the time, the ferry pilots, who had no definite orders, elected to remain in France. They went into action immediately and took part in the many tasks the squadron was called upon to perform. Only two of the six—one being Ward—lived to return to England.

Squadron Leader Derek H. Ward, RAF 40786 (NZ), DFC and bar; born Whangarei, 31 Jul 1917; joined RAF Jun 1938; commanded No. 73 Sqdn, Middle East, 1941–42; killed on air operations, 17 Jun 1942, Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery, Egypt.

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: P2687, LK-?
Operation: Interception
Lost: 19/05/1940
F/O James M. Strickland, WIA
Bailed out after combat with Me 109. Received splinter wounds and a bullet wound from a French soldier. Strickland was one of the six reinforcements. He was killed 14/08/1941 in a flying accident with 130 Squadron.

According to Belgian researcher Dominique Van Den Broucke, it was actually Dunn who was flying P2687, he landed by parachute in Bachy, near the belgian border, and was burnt. His burns were dressed by a local family of farmers. It's difficult to have further informations from him, as he was killed in action a few days later. But his widow confirmed that he was burnt following the 19th May 1940 action. (see: Joss Leclercq on RAF Commands Forum)

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Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: L1620, LK-?
Operation: Interception
Lost: 19/05/1940
P/O Horatio J.L. Dunn
Bailed out after combat with Me 109. Injured, slight burns. P/O Dunn was killed on 01/06/1940.

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20/05/1940: Patrol, France

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: , LK-?
Operation: Patrol
Lost: 20/05/1940
Pilot Officer Richard A. Sanders, RAF 41872, 81 Sqdn. [=87 Sqdn.], age 20, 23/05/1940, Shorncliffe Military Cemetery, UK
Shot down by Bf110s in combat over base and crashed north-west of Arras 10.00 a.m. Pilot Officer R. A. Sanders badly wounded - died 23 May. Aircraft a write-off.
Richard Atheling Sanders of No.145 Squadron had arrived at Lille-Marcq with a replacement aircraft a few days earlier and stayed to fly operations with No. 87 Squadron. Having survived this crash, and an air attack on the ambulance train to Dunkirk, he is believed to have died of injuries aboard the Hospital Ship 'Worthing' en-route to England.
Source: Peter Cornwell

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ca. 26/05/1940:

Flying Officer Ward had his Hurricane badly damaged in combat over Belgium. The gun sights were shot away and his starboard petrol tank was leaking, so he decided to land on a French aerodrome and refuel before returning across the Channel.

But just as he began to glide down he saw two Dorniers begin a dive-bombing attack on the airfield he intended to use. Ward dived on the tail of one of them and gave it two short bursts, hitting it despite the absence of gun sights. The second Dornier escaped into cloud.

Again he prepared to land but was almost at once attacked by German fighters. However, after some sharp evasive action he managed to get down. The damaged tank was now spurting petrol and the ground staff refused to refuel his aircraft as they regarded it as suicidal for him to fly the machine in that condition. Ward then seized a bayonet and opened out the holes in the leaking tank, emptying it, and then had the other filled.

With insufficient ammunition or petrol for further combat he took off for England, only to run into a formation of six Messerschmitts a few moments later. He gave the leader a burst as he came down head-on, then dived to escape further attack and returned safely across the Channel.

Unlike many fighter pilots, Ward was not superstitious. His Hurricane bore a coat of arms of his own designing—a shield, quartered, bearing a broken hand-mirror, a hand holding a match lighting three cigarettes, a man walking under a ladder the figure 13, and under the shield the motto: 'So what the hell.'

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01/06/1940: ?

Type: Hawker Hurricane Mk I
Serial number: ?, LK-?
Operation: ?
Lost: 01/06/1940
Pilot Officer (Pilot) Horatio J.R. Dunn, RAF 33411, 87 Sqdn., age 23, 01/06/1940, Henham (St. Mary) Churchyard, UK

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Air of Authority
Air Force POWs 1939-1945
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database
Australian War Memorial - scramble of 87 Sqdn., France, May 1940
Bail-outs for 1940
Battle of Britain - Personnel
Battle of Britain - 87 Squadron
Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Interview with Roland Beamont
New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force
RAF against odds (Time, USA, 27/05/1940)
RAF Museum: British Military Aviation in 1940
RAF Order of Battle, France, 10th May 1940
Royal Air Force History Section
Royal Air Force 1939-1945
The Second World War - a day by day account

The War in France and Flanders, 1939-1940, by Major L.F. Ellis, 1954

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P Adams 'Hurricane Squadron: 87 Sqn 1939-41' (Air Research 1988)
R Beaumont 'Flying to the limit' (1940-41) (PSL 1996)
Peter D. Cornwell, The Battle of France, Then and Now, 2008
V A Winter 'Resurgam:The Story of Flight Lieutenant G L Nowell' (c1980)

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Abbreviations used in the Royal Air Force
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Belgian Aviation History Association Archaeological Team
British Aircraft Directory
British Aviation Archaeological Council - Books and research links
Canada's Air Force History
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Czechoslovak airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
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Dutch Pilots in RAF Squadrons
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Foreign Aircraft Landings in Ireland 1939-1946
Håkans aviation page (from Sweden, in English)
'High flight', poem by John Gillespie Magee
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, poem by W.B. Yeats
Jagdgeschwader 27 (in German)
Luchtoorlog ('Arial War', in Dutch, with many photos)
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These pages are dedicated to the men of 87 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