Sketch by Jack Chalker

German Onslaught

In 1939, Norman joined No. 88 Squadron on Fairey Battle bombers at Boscombe Down, and moved to France to an airfield near Reims and other stations.   From his base in France, he wrote to his father to say he was with 88 Squadron. To his surprise, his father replied saying that he, too, served as a pilot with No. 88 in 1917, at an airfield near Arras, in northern France. This was just after its formation into the Royal Flying Corps.

In early May, 1940, Norman flew many sorties in the Fairey Battle  bombers during the German offensive. Many of his squadron mates were shot down as they all tried to hold back the German advance towards Brussels, Belgium.  Because of the ferocity of the German onslaught, Norman flew a lot more than the required number of missions.  Just before the fall of France, he was finally ordered back to England.  On June 17, 1940 he found himself regrouped at RAF Sydenham, near Belfast, Ireland.  Norman was suffering from battle fatigue and put in a hospital.   Norman called this hospital a “loonie bin” and, after a few frustrating weeks of idiotic tests, convinced them that he was not crazy, and was returned to active duty.

Fairey Battle Bombers

Fairey Battle Bombers from Norman’s  Squadron in 1938 - 1940

In July 1940, a month after returning from France, Norman was given a challenge.  He was to be the first RAF pilot to fly the Douglas A-20A light attack bomber, but it had to be assembled first.  Just prior to the outbreak of WW2, the French government had placed an order with Douglas Aircraft (USA) for a consignment of planes. The first ones were shipped from the USA in crates as deck cargo on board a merchant vessel. By the time it neared Britain, France had fallen and the cargo was off loaded in Ireland and transferred to RAF Sydenham, Norman’s new station.   Also based there was an aircraft engineer by the name of “Tex” Nixon.  He was an employee of Lockheed, but was loaned to Douglas at that time.  Tex approached Norman and said to him, “when I have assembled one of these aircraft, I want you to fly it, and I’ll fly with you”. Norman asked him if he realized what he was letting himself in for, “because I had no previous experience flying as a lone pilot on a twin engine aircraft, furthermore one with a tricycle undercarriage and reversed throttles”.

NOTE:  The French contract had specified that the aircraft have throttles that increased power as you pulled them back, instead of forward, as on most other nations planes, but standard in the French Air Force

Since this was a single pilot plane, Tex had to lay down over the bomb bay, just behind Norman’s seat during flight, so he could answer any questions Norman may have.  The flight test went well, but it was discovered that the A-20A was grossly under-powered.   They recommended modifying the plane with more powerful Cyclone engines.   This was done later.  Along with adding armour plating and self-sealing fuel tanks, and re-rigging the throttles, it became known in the RAF as the Douglas “Boston” bomber.    (In its’ new form, the A-20 was later supplied to No. 88 Squadron in November of 1941).


Next Chapter

Battle of Britain



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[Norman] [War Clouds Gather] [German Onslaught] [Battle of Britain] [Far East] [Croix de Guerre] [Love of Adventure]


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