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75 Years Ago Today


In Memory of one of the RAF’s Greatest Aces of World War II

19 APRIL 1919-3 AUGUST 1941

[Excerpt from “A Ruddy Awful Waste” (Fighting High, 2016).]

Morning fog cleared around midday on 3 August 1941, and this paved the way for a busy afternoon for 11 Group’s fighter squadrons. Most were involved in “fairly intensive” free-ranging Rhubarb operations, whilst a number of units also undertook convoy patrols, flew sweeps over northeastern France, or attacked shipping off the French coast. Between them, they claimed a total of six destroyed and one probably destroyed enemy aircraft in the air and one damaged on the ground for no loss, plus an array of ground targets that included small shipping vessels, locomotives, railway facilities, factories and buildings.

611 Squadron’s operational flying day commenced early, despite the fog, and included four uneventful Barrow Deep patrols between 05:45 and 08:40. The unit then undertook six Rhubarbs in sections of two, the first of which was undertaken just after 09:00. Following lunch, these operations recommenced at 14:30 and continued until just after 16:00. However, “a serious lack of cloud cover” changed plans and many of the pilots decided to forego the risk and returned early, empty-handed.

Eric Lock was back in the air again today after five days off operational flying, and was assigned to one of the afternoon’s Rhubarbs. Flying Spitfire Vb, W3257, Eric was paired up with 403 Squadron’s Flt Lt Edmund Cathels in W3242 for a Rhubarb to the Hardelot area. Cathels was undertaking an operational sortie with 611 Squadron today, possibly with the intention of introducing him to Rhubarb operations in advance of his Squadron’s move to Hornchurch to replace 54 Squadron, to enable him to better lead his own pilots on such operations.

They were airborne from Hornchurch at 14:45, and would have reached the French coast approximately twenty minutes later. The lack of cloud cover appears to have curtailed their trip – they were over France for no more than twenty minutes – and were on the way home when Lock spotted a column of German troops and vehicles on a road behind Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Catching them out in the open, Lock did not want to pass up the opportunity, and decided to strafe them. He advised Cathels, banked, and dived down to deliver his attack, and was last seen “streaking down a road… brassing off soldiers on bicycles and whooping over the R/T “Ha-ha, look at the b------s running!” However, no further communication was received from him and he was not seen again.

Flt Lt Cathels arrived back at Hornchurch alone at 15:45 to report the news and the shock sat deep both on the Squadron and elsewhere as word spread. Typically candid, 611 Squadron’s ORB lamented Lock’s loss that day, stating that, “It seems a ruddy awful waste to lose so great a Pilot on so trivial an expedition. It is anticipated that the German Press will make much of LOCK’s capture or death.”

It was his twentieth operational sortie with the unit, and he constituted 11 Group’s only casualty today.


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