Awards to Men of the Battle of Britain

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Date of Auction: 20th September 2002

Unsold

Estimate: £2,400 - £2,800

Five: Warrant Officer A. G. V. “Gerry” Holton, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who served as an Air Gunner in Defiants for much of the Battle, and afterwards as a Navigator in Beaufighters over North Africa and Malta

1939-45 Star, clasp, Battle of Britain; Air Crew Europe Star; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; Burma Star; War Medal 1939-45, mounted as worn, nearly extremely fine (5) £2400-2800

Footnote

Arthur Gerald Vaughan “Gerry” Holton enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in the summer of 1939 and was called up on 1 September, completing his training as an Air Gunner in June 1940. Posted to No. 5 O.T.U. at Aston Down, he converted to Defiants and joined No. 141 Squadron in mid-August. As verified by Richard Collier in Eagle Day, his future looked pretty bleak:

‘A two-seater fighter with an unwieldly power-operated gun-turret, the Defiant’s Dunkirk success had been the merest fluke: no Luftwaffe pilot had then met a “Hurricane” boasting a rear-gunner. But the surprise had been minimal. Within weeks the Germans knew the Defiant for what it was: a humped-backed non-starter, lacking all forward armament, with a maximum speed of 304 miles an hour. Since the pilots relied solely on their gunners’ verbal instructions to manoeuvre into a firing position, they were almost powerless against frontal attack.’

To such stark statistics it should be added that Air Gunners like Holton had another problem. If the Defiant’s electrical wiring was damaged, the power-operated turret jammed and the gunner could not bale out.

Under such frightening restrictions, he flew his first mission, a convoy patrol, out of Dyce, on the 23rd of the month. Five more patrols were flown in quick succession, the majority with Pilot Officer J. G. Benson, afterwards a highly successful night fighter pilot with a D.S.O. and two D.F.Cs to his name.

The Squadron moved to Turnhouse at the end of the month, Holton flying with Sergeant R. C. Hamer on his first night operation on the 8 September - Hamer would later be recommended for a posthumous V.C. as a Beaufighter pilot. And on the Squadron moving to Church Fenton a few days later, he teamed up with Sergeant H. E. Green, the pair of them completing another four night sorties by the month’s end, an He. 111 being sighted during one of them. And another enemy aircraft was seen on the second of three night patrols flown in October, probably a Ju. 88, but it was eventually lost in cloud - see Derek Wood’s The Narrow Margin. No. 141 had, meanwhile, been operating out of Biggin Hill and Gatwick.

In early October Holton had the misfortune to meet a Do. 17 as he was being flown to the Squadron’s new base at Gravesend in a Magister, although his Flying Log Book reveals no further information on what must have been a worrying encounter. A few nights later he was back on patrol with Green. And in December, prior to being rested, he flew a night patrol with Pilot Officer E. J. Stevens, in which they pursued an enemy aircraft, possibly the He. 111 credited to Stevens in Men of the Battle of Britain.

Holton returned to the operational scene with No. 141 in March 1941, flying a patrol over the Beachy Head area on the 8th, and in early April he flew on his first mission to France, patrolling the Cap Gris Nez to Boulogne area. In the following month the Squadron was sent north to Ayr, and Holton did not fly again operationally until his next posting to No. 89 Squadron, ‘A wizard outfit’, operating in the Middle East in Beaufighters, at the end of the year.

By now a qualified Navigator (Radar), Holton teamed up with Pilot Officer Gifkins, the occasional ‘flap’ necessitating a few sorties being flown in the period January to March 1942, one of them ending in a crash landing - ‘Wrote Kite Off.’ But it was really once the Squadron had widened its brief to include convoy patrols and other daytime work, in addition to its night fighter role, that Holton’s operational tour took on a more hectic schedule, not least when he was sent with a detachment to Malta in September 1942. By now teamed up with Flying Lieutenant George Nottage, he went on to complete 16 assorted scrambles, intruder operations or patrols, the whole by late October, several of them resulting in combat of one form or another. Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942, by Shores, Cull and Malizia refers to one such outing on the evening of 20 September:

‘That same evening Beaufighter T5161 of 89 Squadron, crewed by Flight Lieutenant Nottage and Flight Sergeant Holton, visited Castelvetrano [Sicily] but found the airfield covered by a thick haze, so flew south to Empedocle, where a 100-foot vessel was seen about 300 yards offshore. This was attacked [at 100 feet], and many strikes were made before the Beaufighter sped out to sea and back to Malta.’

Another intruder sortie against Sicily was flown by them on the 23rd, and ‘they bombed and strafed some flying boats tethered inside the mole at Syracuse, but did not observe results as the Beaufighter hit a seagull which made it difficult to see through the windscreen’ (Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 refers). A few days later, on the 29th, following a brace of patrols over the Island, the intrepid duo intercepted an enemy aircraft and got to within half a mile of it before Holton’s C.R.T. screen broke into a series of violent flashes, causing the contact to be lost. Exactly the same happened to his set on 6 October. The rest of the month proved pretty relentless, seven more scrambles and two more intruder operations making up the Squadron’s agenda, one of the former, on the 17th, developing into another contact, which they pursued for 50 miles before losing it.

In November Holton departed Malta for Edku in North Africa, the port engine of his Beaufighter exploding on take-off during a scramble on the 21st (‘A/c - u/s’). And in December he flew six convoy patrols and participated in three scrambles, the latter largely to Tobruk. In January 1943, however, both he and Nottage were detached to Calcutta to help form the nucleus of No. 176 Squadron, flying their first patrol there on the 18th. Here, however, the pace mercifully slowed down, although the pair of them were still around on 5 December to participate in a scramble against a large scale enemy attack on Calcutta, an attack comprising 40 Zeros and 20 Army 97 Bombers.

In January 1944, Holton completed his second tour of operations and was posted to an O.T.U. back in the U.K. He ended the War with No. 551 Squadron and logged his last flight - in a Horsa Glider - on 20 September 1945. Afterwards employed by the George Fischer Engineering Works, he retired to Clapham and died in 1994, having logged a flight in a Bell Helicopter in 1982.

Sold with an impressive array of original documentation, including the recipient’s Flying Log Books (2), covering the periods January 1940 to November 1942, and November 1942 to September 1945; an evocative wartime photograph album featuring air-to-air Defiant shots, fellow aircrew and much besides; his original R.A.F. notebook with copious handwritten gunnery course notes; a large quantity of wartime maps, covering the U.K., North Africa and India, several annotated, the whole contained within R.A.F. Navigator’s blue file; a copy of the Times of Malta, Monday 11 May 1942 (‘Battle of Malta: Axis Heavy Losses ... Brilliant Team Work of A.A. Gunners and R.A.F.’); and Battle of Britain Fighter Association life membership card.