Tuesday, 23 January 1945

At 18.05 hrs. (17.05 GMT), W/C James “Red” Somerville and P/O Alex Hardy took off on patrol from Lille-Vendeville, one of four Mosquito Mk. XIII sent up that night on defensive patrols by No. 409 (Nighthawk) Squadron RCAF. Because No. 85 Group’s bases were now well behind the front line, a policy of standing patrols had been adopted to ensure that there was at least some presence over the battle area. When a German attack developed there was no opportunity to oppose it with more than a handful of night fighters. A major Luftwaffe raid developed in the British sector from about 18.45 hrs. but they were not called on to intervene.

NOTE: for a map of operations over Holland and Belgium during the evening of 23 January, see Appendix Two below.

In Germany meanwhile, Copier was again taken to the airfield, where he and BECK were given something to eat before being kitted out with parachutes. He got a brief look at the aircraft’s crew before boarding but the policy was that the airmen and the agents should know as little about one another as possible, to maintain security. Again two boxes with static parachutes accompanied the agents. This all took place at about 19.00 hrs. (18.00 GMT) and it was about 45 minutes before they got airborne, climbing to around 2000 m. and taking up a heading of 310║. Ground mist precluded their planned use of the visual beacons IDA and OTTO, although signals were available from the Sonne stations at Sylt and Stavanger.

As Hauck was preparing for take-off, 20 or more Ju 88s of I./KG 66 and LG 1 began a mining operation over the Scheldt Estuary but Somerville and Hardy were not sent against this raid. For some of the time they flew in cloud and snow and ground mist obscured visual beacons on account of ground mist and were unsure of their position by the time they had crossed the front lines. Copier found the flight extremely bumpy, apparently not realising that the Ju 188 had come under anti-aircraft fire without suffering any damage but disconcerting the crew. Wuttge had seen a road running North–South with a wood some way to the West. Without checking further he decided that this must be the drop zone and told Hoppe to dispatch the first parachutist, and the second soon after.

A crewman (supposedly the Wireless Operator, Gro▀mann) indicated to Copier that it was time to jump, moved the ventral machine gun aside and opened the floor hatch. Copier was sitting ready to go when he noticed that the four static lines for the agents’ respective parachutes and baggage, attached to a rail behind the hatch, had become entangled. He was not understood when he tried to warn the crewman but was signalled to jump immediately. While trying to get hold of his gear, to make sure it came with him, he was given a push and quickly found himself floating to earth. Looking around, he could see no sign of his pack. Meanwhile aboard the Ju 188, BECK too was being urged out into the night. The tangled static lines may explain why, unknown to the aircraft’s crew, his parachute did not open. Apparently, both descents were seen from the ground and BECK’s body was found that night.

Interception

Wing Commander Somerville and P/O Hardy were at 8,000 ft (2500 m), returning from patrol, when warned by REJOICE (Ground Controlled Interception station 15119) of a contact six miles ahead at "Angels 4." Somerville turned to 270 degrees and descended to 3,500 ft.(1100 m) and was handed over to GCI 15112, BRICKTILE. Despite several vectors they were unable to close, even at 300 mph (500 km/h) . They were passed on again, this time to LAUNDRY (GCI 15128), sent west and advised that the "bogey" was by now down at 3,000 ft (900 m). The Mosquito dived to 2,500 ft (750 m), trying to keep the target out of the radar’s ground echoes and to silhouette him against the sky for a visual contact. Two miles to port they noticed heavy anti-aircraft fire and were on their way to investigate when three searchlights "flicked up into a beautiful intersection, illuminating an aircraft." They only held the contact for 15–20 seconds.

Hardy got a radar contact at two miles, slightly higher than the Mosquito. The Ju 188 climbed steeply and escaped the lights; Somerville followed, obtaining visual contact, identified the bogey as a Ju 188 and closed in to 200 ft. before opening fire from slightly below and to starboard. Somerville was momentarily blinded by the ensuing explosion, so he broke to starboard and came back around to find his victim's port engine burning furiously.

The German pilot was apparently trying to put the fire out by “diving down to the deck and pulling up into stall turns.” The second burst from the Mosquito's cannon missed completely but the third shot off the Junkers' port wing tip and it dived steeply into the ground. REJOICE Control fixed the location as 5 km. west of Diest, the time at 19.23 GMT. This was to be the last of Somerville's seven victories and had required 160 rounds of 20mm. ammunition. The weather at their home base had worsened and so Hardy and Somerville were diverted to Airfield B-58, Brussels-Melsbroek, landing at 20.15 hours.

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