Originally Posted by JohnnyS
Ernie, may I please ask you to present the next question? I'm stuck this week preparing for a big trip next week and I won't have time to do a new question properly.
JohnnyS; Yes, I will present the next question for you. But, not before I again offer the floor to any new questioner. If any one out there has NEVER asked a question, and would like to do so, please post your question ASAP. I'll wait until tomorrow afternoon before assuming no new questioner wants to take the lead. Thanks; Ernie P.
Question: What warbird pilot do I describe?
(1) This pilot wasn’t a particularly high scoring ace, but he did serve with distinction; serving as a pilot for a rather long time.
(2) He is most well known for shooting down a single aircraft, early in WWII.
(3) He took part in a very famous battle, very early in the war. But, his actions resulted in his being court martialled. He was exonerated; but the incident was never forgotten, and continued to plague him throughout his career.
(4) He flew Gloster Gauntlet
s, B-17 Flying Fortress
’, A-20 Havoc
s, P-38 Lightning
s, P-47 Thunderbolt
s, and P-51 Mustang
(5) But, he is best remembered for having flown a Spitfire; and for a Hurricane, a type he did not fly.
(6) During pilot training, he flew solo in around half the time of an average pilot.
(7) His aerial gunnery scores were better than twice the average pilot.
(8) He first met the enemy in a very famous action; which, although a defeat, has been celebrated since.
(9) He scored two victories during that action.
(10) He was also shot down during that action. An enemy gunner hit his engine and he had to crash land.
(11) Although it was touch and go, he managed to evade capture and return home.
(12) At one point, enemy soldiers had him pinned down in a cemetary; before he escaped.
Answer: Wing Commander
John Connell Freeborn, DFC*
John Connell Freeborn, DFC*
(1 December 1919 – 28 August 2010) was a World War II
RAF pilot. He was not only an ace
but also held the distinction of having flown more operational hours than any other RAF
pilot during the Battle of Britain
He was born in Middleton
, these days a suburb of Leeds
within the city's ring-road, then an area of open farmland.
His father Harold was a branch manager with the Yorkshire Penny Bank (now Yorkshire Bank
), and he was something of a disciplinarian at home. Freeborn remembered that his mother Jean (née Connell) was a stern woman, saying 'I never saw her smile'. He had five siblings, two sisters and three brothers.
They moved to Headingley
when Freeborn was still an infant. He later attended Leeds Grammar School
and, although a bright and confident pupil, his dislike of petty authority made him glad to leave as soon as possible.
Later, during the war, he borrowed a Gloster Gauntlet
and flew up to revisit his alma mater, giving an aerobatic display before landing on the school cricket pitch. Freeborn described the irony of having the masters who, only a few years earlier, had berated and beat him telling a new crop of pupils what a shining example he was.
He joined the RAF on a short service commission in January 1938. In training, he was flying solo after only 4 hours 20 minutes logged flight time, a little over half the average; his accuracy at firing whilst in the air was more than twice the average. Commissioned as an acting pilot officer
on probation on 26 March 1938 he initially flew Gloster Gauntlets, but in October 1938 he joined 74 Squadron
, and from February 1939 flew Spitfires
In July 1939 Freeborn was one of the 74 Squadron pilots to fly Spitfires to France to celebrate Bastille Day with the French Air Force.
On 6 September 1939 he took part in an action later to be called the Battle of Barking Creek
- a tragic misunderstanding during which two No. 56 Squadron Hurricanes
were intercepted and shot down by aircraft from 74 Squadron, thereby becoming the first aircraft destroyed by a Spitfire. John shot down the aircraft of Pilot Officer Montague Hulton-Harrop who did not survive, becoming the first RAF pilot to die in World War II.
Whilst their working relationship continued to be professional and exceptionally effective, the case left a strained personal relationship between Freeborn and Malan. It is noteworthy that Malan did not recommend Freeborn for either of his subsequent medals. On Malan's departure in March 1941, Freeborn was not given command despite being eminently capable and far more experienced than the man who did take over.
Confirmed in his rank of pilot officer on 17 January 1940, his first taste of enemy action was over Dunkirk
covering the British Expeditionary Force
's escape. 74 Squadron was there for six days from 21–27 May 1940. During that time they scored 19 confirmed kills—two of them Freeborn's—and 10 probable kills, with only four losses.
During one action his engine was hit by return fire from a Junkers Ju 88
and crash-landed in France. Evading the advancing German troops, at one point pinned down by machine-gun fire hiding in a cemetery, he walked for several days to Calais, where a Blenheim
took him back to England.
Freeborn fought throughout the Battle of Britain as part of 74 Squadron. On 10 July he claimed a Bf 109
of JG 51
and on 24 July shared a Do-17
'unconfirmed'. Another Bf 109 was claimed on 28 July. On 11 August 1940, the squadron flew into battle four times in eight hours, destroying 23 enemy aircraft, three by Freeborn (2 Bf 110s
and a Bf 109) and damaging 14 more. That evening, back at base in Hornchurch
, Winston Churchill congratulated the squadron and their ground crew. On 13 August he claimed a Dornier Do 17, but was shot down again, although he wasn't hurt. Freeborn's accomplished flying made him an ace during the Battle of Britain, with seven confirmed kills and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 13 August 1940 and promoted to command a flight on 28 August. His DFC citation said:
This officer has taken part in nearly all offensive patrols carried out by his squadron since the commencement of the war, including operations over the Low Countries and Dunkirk, and, more recently, engagements over the Channel and southeastern England. During this period of intensive air warfare he has destroyed four enemy aircraft. His high courage and exceptional abilities as a leader have materially contributed to the notable successes and high standard of efficiency maintained by his squadron.
Freeborn's portrait was drawn by war artist Cuthbert Orde
in August 1940 and on 3 September he was promoted to flying officer
. He claimed another Do 17 on 11 September and a share in a JG 27
Bf 109 on 17 November. By the end of November he had been with his squadron longer than any other Battle of Britain pilot and had flown more operational hours. Three Bf 109s (and one shared) were claimed on 5 December.
He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross in February 1941. The citation said:
This officer has continuously engaged in operations since the beginning of the war. He has destroyed at least twelve enemy aircraft and damaged many more. He is a keen and courageous leader.
In June 1941 he was posted to No 57 OTU (Operational Training Unit) at RAF Hawarden
, training pilots from overseas to fly Spitfires.
On 3 September, he was promoted to war substantive flight lieutenant
Following American entry into the war at the end of 1941, Freeborn was posted to the United States. He trained pilots at bases in Alabama, then moved on to test piloting new aircraft, including the P-47 Thunderbolt
(which he hated), the P-51 Mustang
, P-38 Lightning
, B-17 Flying Fortress
and A-20 Havoc
In December 1942 he returned to the UK and served as a flight commander with 602 Squadron
flying Spitfires. He flew escort operations to bombers attacking German shipping and installations on the French and Dutch coasts.
In June 1943 he joined 118 Squadron
as commanding officer, again flying Spitfires.
This only lasted three months before the squadron moved to Scotland for less-confrontational patrolling and training duties.
On 1 January 1944, he was promoted to the temporary rank of squadron leader
(seniority from 1 July 1943). He was promoted to war substantive squadron leader on 30 April.
In June 1944 Freeborn was promoted to become the RAF's youngest Wing Commander Flying, commanding 286 Wing based at Grottaglie
in southern Italy. This was a period of frenetic activity, attacking German installations and convoys in the Balkans and defending Allied ones in Italy.
In December 1944 he was posted to RAF Netheravon
. Believing the post-war RAF to be 'run by nincompoops,' he resigned with honour and distinction in 1946. He had flown 42 different aircraft in his eight years.
Freeborn was always an outspoken and forthright man, and never held back from expressing his opinion even when it was as iconoclastic as disliking Sailor Malan. He also had somewhat hostile views about another of the pre-eminent war heroes he flew with, Douglas Bader
, telling one author "He was not universally popular with his comrades, he made me sick. I’ve never met such a self-opinionated fool in all my life.
Freeborn qualified as a driving instructor, but soon joined Tetley Walker to serve as Regional Director for their Minster Minerals soft drinks brand. He took early retirement and in the early 1980s he moved to Spain, but later returned to the UK.
Although popular as an interviewee and event guest, for many years he shied away from committing his story to more lasting record. He relented to talk at length to military historian Bob Cossey, which led to the biography of his military career, A Tiger's Tale, in 2002. This, in turn, gave rise to Tiger Cub, Freeborn's own account of his time in 74 Squadron, which he co-authored with Christopher Yeoman and published in 2009.
He died peacefully in Southport and Formby Hospital on 28 August 2010.