Awards to Men of the Battle of Britain

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Date of Auction: 20th September 2002

Sold for £3,500

Estimate: £3,500 - £4,500

A fine night fighter pilot’s D.F.C. group of seven awarded to Squadron Leader S. S. Duff, Royal Air Force, who flew Blenheims in the Battle, afterwards claiming five victories over the U.K., France and North Africa, one of them in a Havoc

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., the reverse officially dated 1943, with its Royal Mint case of issue; 1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals extremely fine (7) £3500-4500

Footnote

D.F.C. London Gazette 20 August 1943. The recommendation states:

‘Flight Lieutenant Duff has been a Deputy Flight Commander in 153 Squadron for several months and his work in the air has been persistent and untiring. He has been a night fighter pilot for over two years, during which time he has made of 140 operational sorties at night and has destroyed four, probably destroyed one and damaged another. A most outstanding and courageous leader who sets and excellent example in the Squadron.’

Stanley Sutherland Duff entered the Royal Air Force on a short service commission in April 1939, initially being assessed as a ‘keen pupil who tries hard but is inclined to be a little dense. With perseverance he should make a useful service pilot.’ Prophetic words.

Transferred to No. 5 O.T.U. in March 1940, Duff joined his first operational posting, No. 23 Squadron, a Blenheim night fighter unit operating out of Wittering, in June. The onset of the Battle proper in July witnessed him completing three night interception patrols, and between then and the end of October, he carried out another 25 sorties, the whole without success. But in December, on the night of the 11th-12th, at 0010 hours, just south of Horsham, Sussex, his luck changed for the better:

‘I was ordered to patrol base, angels 10,000. When incident happened I was being vectored 050 to intercept a bandit, after two minutes my A.I. Operator received .... I was ordered to increase speed and climb 400 feet and it was then that the pip-squeak interrupted our intercom. The E.A. had by this time crossed the tubes and disappeared from A.I vision towards the left. I then altered course to port and after two minutes perceived the bandit ahead, just above this layer of cloud illuminated by the reflection of two S./Ls [searchlights]. I then opened fire from dead astern and saw tracer enter the fuselage before the bandit disappeared completely below the same layer of cloud. No markings or camoufalge were seen because of the reflection of the S./Ls. No fire or smoke seen. Tactic of the E.A. was to dive into clouds. Cloud was small and thin. No fire from enemy. E.A. flying north. Weather during interception was bright moonlight with very good visibility’ (Combat report refers).

Later again the same day, Duff was vectored onto two more enemy aircraft, but due to the latter’s superior speed he was unable to catch up with them. And due to the weather, the remainder of the month remained non-operational, although Duff took a turn in a Boston and crashed it through a hedge on the airfield, due to failed hydraulics. Indeed it was not until February 1941 that No. 23 went back on the offensive, flying intruder operations over St. Omer, Merville and Lille, in addition to a few bombing raids on towns in Western France, its aircrew converting to Havocs in the following month. Then on the night of 5-6 May, in a Havoc with Pilot Officer Langley Rippon and a Sergeant McDermott, he scored a spectacular success over France:

‘Took off at 0320 hours in Havoc YP-H. Set course at 0320 to patrol Lille and Vitry. Arrived over Lille at 0400 hours, found aerodrome east of Lille, Roubaix-Fleurs, which was very active. I circled round at 1500 feet watching E.A. firing four white followed by single red, and answered by single green rocket from ground. In all there seemed about 8 or 9 E.A. orbiting. I then attacked an E.A. coming up on my port forward quarter. I turned in behind him, closed up to 30-50 yards at 1000 feet and gave him a long burst from slightly below. I could see my tracer disappear into the fuselage and also hitting the engines. Sparks came from the E.A.. By this time I was point blank range. I then directed four bursts towards port engine and the E.A. suddenly blew up with an enormous orange flash between the port engine and fuselage lighting up myself and the E.A., which by then was obviously an He. 111. I observed fragments of the E.A. flying off in different directions. Immediately I saw the E.A. break up and fall out of view. At this moment I perceived another E.A. which I identified as an He. 111, 50 feet above me firing at me with its lower gun. At that moment my Gunner was not in a position to return fire, so I broke away and then climbed into some low cloud. On emerging from the cloud, I saw another flare path, Lille/Sud, with lights on but with no activity. My Observer dropped 24 x 40lb. bombs on the lights from 2000 feet and I quickly regained cloud cover and returned to base. During my attack the E.A. had its navigation lights on until it blew up. It took no evasive action and did not return fire. I set course for home and landed at Manston at 0500 hours on 6.4.41’ (Combat report refers).

Three further intruder sorties were flown by Duff before he left the Squadron later that month, one to Caen, another to Evreux and the last to Holland. He was advanced to Flight Lieutenant and joined No. 1451 Flight at R.A.F. Hunsden, recently equipped with Turbinlite Havocs. Having accumulated some 160 hours of non-operational flying time with this latter unit, Duff was posted to No. 141 Squadron at Acklington in January 1942, and over the next few months converted to Beaufighters, but not always with success - his Flying Log Book was endorsed on 24 February when he swerved off the runway when landing at night, an accident attributed to inexperience.

No. 141 was posted south to Tangmere in late June, its operational agenda quickly gaining pace, the Squadron’s pilots being ordered on average to fly six to eight sorties a month, a pattern repeated without interruption until the end of the year. And it proved a successful period, Duff accounting for another enemy aircraft on 14 August:

‘At 1920 hours I was scrambled from Ford, being given vector 240 degrees, angels four by sector control. I climbed up to this height through the first layer of cloud. After about six to eight minutes I was told to call “Blackgang” who told me to continue on 240 degrees and climb to angels ten. The A.I was switched on at this point. I was then told an E.A. was 25 miles S.W. of me coming North angels twelve, speed 180 m.p.h. The Controller instructed me to climb to angels twelve and vector 280 degrees. The A.I was switched off. After ten minutes I was given a vector of 310 and informed that the bandit was now twelve miles away still coming North. A few seconds later I sighted the bandit, a speck ahead and on the port, same level, coming towards me. Unable to identify it and being in such clear conditions above cloud, I dived to port to angels eight, leaving the bandit on my starboard and about four thousand feet above. The A.I was switched on again and A.I contact obtained. When the bandit came past on my port beam, I could then see it was a twin-engined aircraft and I turned sharply round onto the bandit’s course. I found myself 3-4 thousand feet below and practically underneath the bandit which I now identified as a Ju. 88. Our speed was about 190-200 m.p.h. I then commenced to climb, keeping the bandit just ahead when I was about 2000 feet behind and 500 feet below him. The A.I blew up and the bandit did a gentle turn to starboard onto 090 degrees at 190 m.p.h. Gaining the extra height, and turning with the bandit, I positioned myself 5-600 feet behind him and on the same level. The bandit was doing about 190 m.p.h. and our aircraft was gaining on him. Giving him a very long burst (10 seconds) of cannon and machine-guns, the bandit seemed to shudder and I myself and my Observer could see flashes from both the port and starboard engines and a large flash right across the port wing. My second burst (about 8 seconds) was from close range and exhausted all ammunition except for my wing M.G. which had a stoppage. Strikes again were made on both wings and the fuselage, and the port wing was seen to shudder violently as if nearly severed. The bandit then - just before I finished this burst - turned steeply to starboard and commenced a vertical dive nearly on its back. This action took place in clear weather at 1950 hours at 11,000 feet about 10 miles N.E. of St. Albans Head and the bandit was last seen going into 9/10ths cloud at 4000 feet, still diving but more shallow. No return fire was experienced. Bandit was then lost in cloud vectoring 180 degrees. As I was then being approached aggressively by a Hurricane, which appeared up through the cloud, I decided the cloud was the safest place and returned to base at 2029 hours. In view of the extent of the damage done to the E.A., and information received from other sources that it did not return to its base, this E.A. is claimed as destroyed’ (Combat report refers).

By the end of his time with No. 141, Duff had completed another 44 operational sorties, and in February 1943, he was posted to North Africa, joining No. 153 Squadron, a Beaufighter unit, at Maison Blanche, Algiers. That month he participated in five operations, followed by another nine in March and 13 in April. One of the latter, on the night of 20-21 April, ended in a successful encounter with a Ju. 88 at ‘zero feet’ over the sea, or certainly according to his Flying Log Book: ‘All cannon jammed after short burst. M.G’s O.K. 1 Ju. 88 destroyed (1st light of dawn).’ May saw Duff completing another 11 sorties, one of them ending in his fourth victory:

‘May 13th: Flight Lieutenant Duff and Sergeant Perfect patrolled with “Mumsie” and after a long chase in which no heights were given eventually obtained a visual on a Ju. 88. He then gave it three short bursts and although the E.A. was badly mauled and lost height, he did not see it fall into the sea and was only awarded a ‘probable’. During this engagement the R./T. plug worked loose and contact with control was lost. Flight Lieutenant Duff was forced to land through engine trouble’ (Operations Record Book refers).

The above incident took place over Algiers Bay at 3000 feet, confirmation afterwards being received from Y Service that the Ju. 88 had been destroyed. Two nights later, Duff gained his fifth and final victory:

‘May 15th: Flight Lieutenant Duff and Sergeant Perfect were scrambled from Bone under “Funless” and later sent over to “Forfar” who told him that they had a customer for him. “Forfar’s” vectoring was good but heights bad. When at 1000 feet our pilot was told to go angels three, but he stayed at 1000 feet and got contact below, reducing to 200 feet and closing in on the bandit from a range of 2.5 miles. When at a range of 800 feet, he opened fire and numerous strikes were observed on the enemy aircraft, which caught fire and dived into the sea. A 600 Squadron aircraft was in the vicinity and witnessed the end of the Hun’ (Operations Record Book refers).

On 26 May Duff was successfully recommended for the D.F.C., and on completing two further sorties in the first half of June, he raised his tally of operational outings with No. 153 to the 40 mark. His total for the War, meanwhile, had risen to some 140 sorties, a remarkable feat for a night fighter pilot.

Then following a stint as pilot to Air Chief Marshal Sir A. Tedder during the King’s visit to Tunis, Tripoli and Malta in mid-June, Duff was posted back to the U.K. for some well-earned and long overdue leave. Next employed at No. 1 Air Delivery Flight at Croydon, of which unit he became C.O., he spent three months at Fighter Command H.Q. and ended the War as an instructor at Tern Hill. Duff was released from the Service as a Squadron Leader in December 1945.

Sold with the recipient’s original Flying Log Books (2), covering the periods June 1939 to May 1942, and June 1942 to November 1945; his I.D. tags with attached lucky charm; and embroidered R.A.F. Officer’s cap badge.