Hello and thanks for visiting this “War Years” page, this is the second of three pages that cover my Grandfathers “full story”.
War Years covers my Grandfathers time in Operational RAF Squadrons during WW2.
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Chapter 5 – Operational Squadrons
616 Squadron, Westhampnett (20 Nov 1942 – 27 Nov 1942)
Crest of 616 Squadron, motto “Nulla Rosa Sine Spina” (No Rose without a Thorn)
You get posted to different places. It came to the weekend and I said to this fellow in the orderly room don’t post me until Monday and I’ll go to London and spend the weekend there, then I would not be breaking the rules. Well he forgot to send the signal and I went down to this 616 Squadron on the Monday, down south of England and when I got there and they said, who the hell are you. The corporal had forgotten to put the posting through and they didn’t know who I was. I was out on the limb and no one knew where I was. Then the “wheels” took over after that and it all got cleared up. I didn’t stay there a long time, it was a nice station they had Spit 6’s there with a pressurised cabin. I nearly got killed in that, never mind, the fellows that I joined with were great, I was still a Sergeant at the time and they had organised one of the Batmen (A “Batman” is a Soldier or Airman assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant) to light the fire, polish your buttons, all these extras that didn’t come with the job as a sergeant. One day while I was there I flew the Mark 6 without the canopy, it was a clamp, two clamps that you pushed this way went this way and two that went the other, very tight cabin, but same size Spitfire, it had an elongated sharp wing tip and was supposed to be used for high flying. It was an ordinary 5 but pressurised, but the motor would take it up that high anyway, it was a bit of a failure, they built one more lot but they didn’t use them. To get out of it you pulled the two wires that were joined to the clamps and they opened the canopy in an emergency. I went up without the canopy and had a waltz around, it was interesting. I went up again, not operational, just practice. In the 5’s you used to hear the shrill of the airstream going through the Cranston (Supercharger) and through the canopy gaps, but in the Mark 6 there was nothing, it was sealed off, next to no noise just a low hum from the motor. I went up and did some aerobatics, I did a loop and was pulling out when I passed out from the G-Forces. I heard a voice, it was someone on the same channel as I was, and someone was telling me to pull up. I came to, I don’t know what position I was in but I was close to the ground about 1500 feet, no more. I got it straight and level and back to the airfield. Then I went into shock once I got down on the ground. I had to sit in the cockpit for a while. The Erks (Ground Crew) took the hood off, then I got out on the wing and sat there. I started sweating profusely and had the shakes, I’d realised how close I’d come I guess.
I had two shocks in my life, these sort of shocks. I nearly accidentally drowned a fellow over by Marton (New Zealand) once. He didn’t drown but when I realised I went into shock. There were 4 of us that went out in a rowboat at the Rangitikei river mouth. It was slow moving water, very wide and very deep. We rowed out, just to please the girls we were with I guess, I got in to have a swim and the fellow I was with was standing up and couldn’t make up his mind whether to get in or not. It was a flat bottomed boat and I had my feet and hands on the boat, so I pushed the boat and he went arse over into the water. He started to drift behind the boat because the tide was starting to go out, I was just swimming around thinking there was nothing wrong. He yelled to me “I can’t make it.” I thought oh shit. He could swim but not very well and he couldn’t get back to the boat. I yelled to the girls to get the anchor up and I swam back to the boat, hopped in and grabbed the oars and rowed over to him. I missed him but got an oar out to him and managed to pull him over to the side of the boat. Frank, he came from Napier and was a nice fellow, hung onto the side, but couldn’t get in. It was about that stage I went into shock, when I realised what I’d done, I nearly drowned a person by being foolish. His parents had a cleaning business in Napier, later he went to the Middle-East with the army and wrote to me once. He got through the war. I was twenty at the time. That was my first wake up. Later in the war, my mate Smithy had a similar thing flying. He went up on this height climb. He turned his oxygen on but it hadn’t been connected to the bottle. He remembered being at about 20,000 feet, when a Spit goes out of control, it will do a loop, well he didn’t know how many loops he did before he came back too.
A lot of people got killed or badly injured in accidents, in one year of fighter control there were 11,000 accidents alone… all preventable.
Me Sleeping, you felt tired a lot, all the fresh air
Next I was posted up the East Coast of England to Martlesham Heath, just out of Ipswich, and joined 132 Squadron there.
132 Squadron, Martlesham 30 Nov 1942
Crest of 132 Squadron, motto “Cave Leopardum” (Beware the Leopard)
This Chapter is incomplete at this stage, be continued soon…………
Chapter 6 – A Very Bad Idea.
29 April 1944
There was an American 1000 bomber raid on Berlin. Our C/O Geoffrey had asked permission to fit auxiliary fuel tanks so we would have the range to go into Germany to support the Bombers. It was a 90 gallon tank and only had a 6 inch clearance from the ground when you took off, which wasn’t much. They were made for ferrying aircraft not for combat.
We were going in on a “Ranger” looking for stragglers to protect them and to shoot-up any German fighters that were re-arming and re-fuelling between attacking the Bombers.
At 13.10 hours six of us set off from Detling, briefed to sweep from Eindhoven to Munster. We made it over the Channel and into Holland, low, over houses, telegraph wires and things like that, you kept as low as you could without hitting them. I can still remember seeing an old boy ploughing a field, horse and plough, waving to us.
We were looking for German fighters going down to refuel and re-arm again to attack the bombers.
It was a misty day with fog or smog, industrial haze, just big rolls of it. An aircraft came out of this fog, I didn’t know which way it was going immediately, I had a blink and he levelled out, it was going across our front less than a quarter of a mile away.
I thought it was a Dornier 17 Bomber as it had twin tails. It happened so quickly, I remember calling up to say it was there and then I thought “I’d go have a go” and “unclipped the button” before breaking off to attack it. At the same time he must have seen all of us by that stage.
There were 6 of us and only one of him so he must have had clean underwear. I was on the left hand side of our group. He turned into me at the same time I turned toward him, and we both “opened” up on each other, it all was over in a split second. My right wing was hit and the leading edge opened up, this probably saved my life as it tore my aircraft around to the right out of the way of his cannon fire and he passed to my left. I tried to turn around to line up on him again but that’s when I noticed a great big haze of fuel vapour from my aux 90 gallon fuel tank.
In retrospect I should have turned away and tried to get on his tail, but we were both flying at just above roof top height, there was no room to attack from above or below, it was that or nothing.
That stuffed up the whole day and with my aux fuel tank gone I knew I wasn’t going on with the crowd. I changed over the tanks straight away, as I was flying on the 90 gallon aux tank, and dropped it. So I don’t know who got that on their roof top! The thing now was to get up by the coast and get picked up by the air-sea rescue. My gauges were showing that the oil was in trouble. There was intense anti-aircraft fire, thick and fast you might say, and I called up and told Geoffrey, I’m going home, all he came back with in his impeccable English accent was “I’m sorry old man, I can’t help you, start walking.”
I later learned that Geoffrey was setting up to follow him, that’s what I should have done and set him alight. The others had strayed right over the German occupied Deelen airfield and there was a lot of anti-aircraft fire from around the heavily defended airfield, the air was alight with shells. Everyone got hit that day except my C/O Geoffrey and Smithy (Lacy Smith). Someone lost a hood, my number two got flak in his neck, we were in 3 pairs “Paddy Pullin” got hit after me, I don’t know how he got hit but he did, I don’t think Jabs got him, think it was anti-aircraft fire.
Above: Copy of the ORB report from 29th April 1944. It’s worth noting that the ORB is a record of accounts that happened each day by those that returned. So it is not always accurate as in the heat of battle not everything is seen or remembered correctly. For example above states J.J Caulton was hit by flak, this was not correct.
The German aircraft turned out to be a Messerschmitt Bf110 with 3 crew, when the pilot realised there were six of us and he was over his own airfield he made a dash at landing. Geoffrey said he was bloody keen as he was on his tail filling it full of lead and it was alight. The German still put his wheels down and landed it, with him and his crew abandoning the aircraft with it still rolling and jumping in a ditch before it burnt out.
Above: (Top) Example of a lightly armed Dornier 17 which with its twin tail, at a glance looked similar to a Messerschmitt BF110 (below).
I knew if I climbed the motor would not take it for long, then I could be committed to bailing out. I would not get very far to the North Sea where I knew there were Air/Sea rescue launches patrolling, they had an old amphibian that could land on water and pick you up. I called up and gave a mayday in case I got there. I could have been picked up, but I’d still have to make it into the water. That was a bit dicey really because Spits didn’t land too well in water, they flipped over on their back. Plus on the way (if I had made it to the coast) you got shot at by all in sundry as you were climbing up, or you could have been.
Chapter 7 – Back To Earth
I was still heading north but didn’t get very far. My oil tank had also been hit and it wasn’t long before my motor gave up, I must have got about 30 miles. I looked around and quickly picked what looked like a nice straight field between some canals. I was prepared for a rough careen across the ground, but I hadn’t bargained on hitting a bank straight off – I touched down, the props broke off and then I hit this bank. I was going around 120mph to a full stop, I had tightened my straps, but the crash broke the cable that held my straps, it was supposed to have a 7 ton breaking strain, that’s what let me slam into everything. I couldn’t feel my leg at all.
I got out and stepped down but my leg gave way because my kneecap had been smashed. It was unpleasant and there were cuts and bits and pieces everywhere. The gun sight had hit me on the head and taken a chunk out – I wasn’t completely knocked out, but it wasn’t far off.
The plane was sizzling, I should have used the thermite bomb and blown it up but I didn’t do it. I guess, maybe because I couldn’t get away far enough from it, if it exploded. A Dutch farm boy came over running and tried to pick me up, but he was small and had no show. I thought he was younger than me, about 16, but it turned out he was my age, then next minute one of the Germans Luftwaffe guards from the nearby post came down. He had a tin helmet on and had a sub-machine gun and stood behind me and said something, I turned around but could only see out of one eye, as the gun sight had hit me in the forehead and it was chock a block full of blood, he was shouting and waving his gun at me, I said “piss off” or something to that effect, I was annoyed that I was covered in blood, sitting on the ground and couldn’t walk and he was yelling at me. He wanted me to put my hands up I guessed. Then he came around the front and felt me for my revolver, which I never carried anyway. When he found I didn’t have one he was quite happy – more relaxed.
I had a revolver issued, a lovely Smith and Wesson, polished one, I just didn’t carry it. I’d often thought what would have happened if I had it in my boot like we were meant to. Six shots was no bloody good to you on the other side, you’d be dead after the first shot, I couldn’t hit the arse end of a haystack.
Then I was made to get up with the assistance of this Dutch fellow and a Priest arrived from somewhere. I wasn’t feeling too good, but between the two of them they helped me walk towards the German guard post. There was a drainage ditch with a small wooden board across it that we had to cross, which we did. I said to the Priest, what show have I got of getting away, he spoke alright English and he said, “no your leg will give you away” he asked my name so I don’t know if that got back to the Underground or whatever.
When the German guard was not looking I gave the Priest my escape money, I had about 40 pounds worth of escape money in foreign currency, I knew I was not going to run or walk anywhere. I said to him it’s yours, take it, and he did.
Then we went past the Dutch boys farm house, his mother was sitting outside on a chair in the sun. She got up and waved me to come in, I said thank you but no thanks, as I thought I might get them into trouble if they were involved, so then I walked on a little way and I heard a little voice behind me. I turned around and it was this Dutch boy’s little sister with a big glass of milk. I drank that down, that made me snap out of the shock that I was going into, and I started to think more clearly. My head had taken a big whack and I was knocked around. The German guard was walking beside me with his gun, he didn’t stop anyone that tried to talk to me.
When we got to the tower there were 10-12 guards in this two-storey tower and it was about 600 yards from where I crashed, a bit of a painful trip.
The guards policed the district, they were air force soldiers with a blue uniform. They lived with the town’s people and looked after the crossing, looking at identification of people travelling from one town to the next. Everyone knew the invasion was soon so the guards and towns people were all treating each other well. It was only a small town with a petrol station and a couple of houses.
I was put into this bottom room, they were quite decent to me, they gave me a cold boiled egg because it was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and some coffee, it was bloody awful made from acorns, very bitter. They left me in the room not too worried about me escaping I guess because of my leg.
I’d been there for some time and I could hear kids yelling and running around. One of the guards said come outside, I went to the door way and presented myself and a school was out, there was a whole lot of kids crowded around, it was almost embarrassing, they were laughing and pointing.
The school teacher, a woman about 40 or 50 saw me and got off her bike, threw it on the ground and rushed over and wanted to know when the invasion was going to take place, she spoke in English, I said I didn’t know but it wouldn’t be long. Then the guards came along and shooed them away.
I was back to sitting down feeling sorry for myself, I had a bit of meat out of my head and another out of my shoulder, all they had was crepe paper which they gave me to cover the wounds. I had been to the pub the night before and someone lent me a quid, don’t remember who it was and he never got it back. When the guards gave me the cold egg, I gave the two of them some money each.
The guards rang into the nearest aerodrome to say I was a prisoner in the tower.
After a couple of hours when I saw a small car coming along the road through the window of the room I was in. It was little, a little Opel and had 4 people packed in it. I thought to myself that I can’t get in there, that car, with a busted knee and realised then that it mustn’t be for me.
Sitting there through the window I could see the little bridge across the ditch that I had come over and I saw these four Germans walk over it and around the corner and next minute there was a knock on the door.
I said come in, and an officer came in. He didn’t stride in, which he had every right to, but just calmly walked in.
He didn’t have a word to say to start with and then stood to attention and saluted me. He did not give the Nazi salute, he gave the ordinary military salute which was surprising because everyone on their side was supposed to give the Nazi salute. I acknowledged him, but did not salute back as I didn’t have a hat on, we didn’t salute without a hat. He said in English “were you flying the Spitfire” and I said “yes”. He said, “I was flying the other one.”
He had his number one blue on, (best uniform) I thought my God. He introduced himself as Major Jabs. He spoke quite good English really, it was quite an interesting sort of a happening, because he treated me decently. Then we talked awhile with the aid of a few hand signals, maybe 20 minutes.
One of the things he said to me was “when’s the invasion going to take place?” I said “really……… Churchill hadn’t told me yet, if he had of I wouldn’t be telling you would I.” Jabs then replied “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked that question.” He was quite genuine about it.
They knew it was about to happen, it was about 6 weeks until the invasion (D-day landings). The Germans could see all the evidence, the pile up of traffic around the south of England, a lot of it was fake stuff, but a lot was real, all the shipping that was around the coast near Dungeness, concrete pontoons, they were great big tanks with no motors or anything like that, they used to tow them across and sink them in a line to create a break water to shelter the landing troops, but they were enormous, there was about a dozen parked along the south coast of England, we did not know what they were for at the time.
Next I said to him (Jabs) something that he would not of understood, an expression. I said ”You haven’t got a show, you might as well throw in the towel, you can’t win” which was a boxing ring expression. But it was such an unusual happening with such a decent fellow, he was such a nice fellow, you couldn’t have been shot down by a nicer one.
He said would I come out and have your photograph taken, I said well yes I don’t see why I shouldn’t. I thought I haven’t got much to lose now, and I have no option. So I went outside and there I meet the 3 others. Two were Major Jab’s crew who did not speak English, the third was a Political Officer who spoke good English and was taking photos.
Major Hans-Joachim Jabs (with hand raised) and talking to John J. Caulton a few hours after John’s plane crash-landed in Holland, 29 April 1944. This photo was taken by a “Political Officer” that accompanied Jabs and was not seen by John until the 1970’s. Caulton can be seen with a bandage on his forehead due to striking the gun-sight on landing and stands even though his knee-cap was also badly broken in the crash.
Accompanying Jab’s, left to right were Hptm. Knickmeier (NJG1 Operations Officer) and Jab’s radio operator Erich Weissflog.
I did upset him though (the Political Officer) he was taking these photos and I asked if it was an American camera. He said “we Germans make the best cameras in the world” he didn’t leave me in doubt. He didn’t like me asking that question much so it put in a little friction, I just ignored him as I was dealing with Jabs and he was Major and all the rest of it. You realise how far you can get with “care”, you don’t want to be silly about it.
It turned out that Jabs was told by the Political Officer at the aerodrome not to come out, but Jabs said no, he was going to see the man he had shot down, and having such a presence/reputation he was allowed, but only if this Political Officer could accompany him.
These Political Officers could be pretty dangerous. If you spoke of anything that was out of order, they informed the Gestapo who would take you away, they did not want them turning their backs.
Above: Another photo of Jabs and crew taken from a different angle. In this shot the German Luftwaffe guard that captured Caulton at his aircraft can been seen in a peaked cap.
So when this small encounter had finished, he was about to leave to go down to my aeroplane, I said would you mind telling me your name, which he did and I said to him well with my memory I’ll probably forget that down the road, I said would you mind writing it down. So he took this bit of paper out of his pocket and wrote his name and signature on it. I said will they take it off me? So he wrote in German something to the effect of “please let the prisoner keep this souvenir of Major Jabs” and I folded it up and put it in my top pocket.
Above: Note given to Caulton by Major Jabs a few hours after Jabs shot Caulton down in a head to head air battle. Caulton carried this note through the POW camp and back to New Zealand after the war.
TO BE CONTINUED SOON………………………..