Interview of WDAF pilot J.F."Stocky" Edwards by Dave "Prophet" Williams
Earlier that year I met with Canadian ace James "Stocky" Edwards D.F.C. D.F.M. C.D. over coffee at his home in Comox, British Columbia. Edwards flew P40s in North Africa during WWII as well as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs and even "tame" versions of the legendary FW190 and Messerschmitt 109.
Edwards also served as a gunnery instructor concluding his WWII service with 18 enemy AC destroyed, 7 probably destroyed and 15 damaged. Although a Canadian, Edwards served most of his time with the RAF’s 260 Squadron. He also spent a brief period as CO of 417 Squadron RCAF (whose virtual counter-part is active in WarBirds). He is Canada’s 2nd highest surviving ace.
His complete story is described in Kittyhawk Pilot: Wing Commander J. F. (Stocky) Edwards by J.P.A Michel Lavigne and J.F. (Stocky) Edwards, Battleford, Saskatchewan: Turner-Warwick Publications Inc., 1983, 332 pp. (hb)
Edwards’ most famous victory was over 51 victory experten Otto Shultz of II/ JG 27 whom Edwards shot down and killed on 17 June, 1942. His observations on air combat in WWII propeller driven aircraft are invaluable and presented here for our mutual edification.
Prophet: I’ve explained a bit about WarBirds for you and what I’m after here are questions dealing with performance characteristics of the aircraft and some of the combat issues involved. For example, Lavigne brings up the point that you guys flew outdated VIC formations as opposed to the finger four or line abreast formation. Does he have this right?
Stocky: There were some fighters in England that flew finger four such as [Johnny] Johnson, but there were also other RAF leaders who loved three or four aircraft line astern...and they would hardly give it up. They used to love to fly it with the Hurricanes and Spitfires. When you are in trouble or bad weather to be line astern was an easy formation to control. But when you are spread out like this [Stocky demonstrates finger four with his hand] it meant that control was spread out among different commanders, the section leaders, rather than one man. And sitting behind one leader line astern meant the guys at the back couldn’t see anything. They were supposed to be the people who kept a lookout. We called them "tail-end Charlies". The tail end Charlies were constantly weaving back and forth but to stay in formation left them very vulnerable. This is why most of those guys were shot down. Terrible, especially when you got into those turns. It was a good formation for closing up like crossing out of the channel or coming back to your airfield or climbing out and then splitting up into finger fours over your own territory. Because there were so many squadrons flying in England at that time we had to fly tight formations; it took up so much sky space. In Europe after D-Day, the two main groups we had there had 50 squadrons in each one. You had to take off and land in close formation and the quicker you did that the better. So the line astern would work in those cases.
Prophet: In your book, seldom if ever is it reported that you had altitude on the Luftwaffe’s 109’s. What accounted for that?
Stocky: The Kittyhawk wasn’t that good at altitude and the 109 was always better at altitude, far superior and it could climb. You couldn’t attack them if they were above you. If they saw you coming they’d just keep climbing and you’d fall away and they’d come back down on top of you. So you had "do’s" and "don’ts". When you were doing a bomber formation you’d stay with the bombers. And we’d have one squadron flying close formation and one medium and maybe one high cover or two up there. And they (the top ones ) could wander around a bit. But normally, say you were flying west if the Huns came from the west (with the sun behind them most of the time) and they would see our formations from some distance they would make sure they were high above. Then they’d come up behind us and start coming down. This was a routine for them.
The Kittyhawk F had a Packard Merlin engine in it and they were high altitude engines. The blower would cut in at 21,000 ft. But we never got up there. We never had oxygen in the Kittyhawk. The only oxygen equipped aircraft would be in the PRU aircraft, Hurricanes or others and the Spitfires squadrons that came near the end. We had everything but oxygen, it was a luxury we couldn’t really afford. At the times we flew above 15,000 ft. we flew without oxygen and you couldn’t be up there very long before you were getting kind of silly :)
Prophet: What altitude would you normally be at?
Stocky: 12000 ft. Sometimes we’d try and patrol at 17, 18,000 ft. It wouldn’t be long before you started to feel the effects. Some people would get headaches right away. No matter how high we went the Messerschmitt went above. It was only when we got the Spit IX’s that things changed.
Prophet: It’s amazing when reading Lavigne’s account of things how quickly an engagement would occur. On your very first sortie you knocked down a 109 F but from the read it sounds like it took only 2 or 3 seconds.
Stocky: We were close escort for a bomber formation bombing an aerodrome, a fighter base. I could see the dust trails, we were approaching the field and I could see the dust trails coming off and I thought then it would be fighters taxiing. I hadn’t really seen a Hun in the air...then I saw one coming up through the bomber formation almost riding on their tails and ignoring the bombers going right up through. And this would be a couple thousand feet below us. I guess they came up in that attitude into the Kittyhawks and didn’t really see what was behind them. That’s what I assume...this fellow rolled out and did a wing-over right in front of me and turned onto my leader, not being very careful that I was sitting behind..or not caring really.
Prophet: He learned something pretty quick. From the time he does the wing over how long is this?
Stocky: Very few seconds. You could count them off 1, 2 , 3, 4 sort of thing.
Prophet: How far from the German aircraft were you?
Stocky: He wasn’t more than a hundred yards.
Prophet: Where’d you aim?
Stocky: When he did his wing over he did it just off to the right of my nose so I had perfect deflection right there. I just shot right in front of him. When he stalled out to do the wing over he didn’t have much speed...he was almost like stopped there only he hadn’t actually stalled so I didn’t have to shoot way in front of him. I just had to shoot in front of his nose. In fact that’s where he was, right in front of my aircraft and he was turning then onto my leader.
Prophet: In WarBirds the 109 F has been described as "soft in the nose". In other words, it’s a good place to target a Messerschmitt.
Stocky: All aircraft are soft in the nose if you hit them in the engine or in the cockpit. But you have a spread of six guns. You’re not necessarily harmonized at that point you’re still spread out; you’ll probably hit the whole airplane.
Prophet: Oh! Where’d you set your convergence in the Kittyhawk?
Stocky: I was at 250. 250 yards. 250-300 at that time [Rookie flight] I didn’t have anything to do with it. But the guns at 75 to 100 yards would be spread out. So you’d probably rip the whole airplane because there were little pieces all over.
Prophet: Were you able to maintain control of your emotions at that time?
Stocky: Not really... Hehehe... It happened so quick. This guy is gone now so I’m looking for my leader. And I can’t really see him for some reason he’s gone on down a bit maybe and turned under my nose maybe but I can’t see him so I level out and I see another one coming in on me. Probably his buddy. I look and I see this big red nose and he’s not very far away and he’s just slightly high like that [Stocky again illustrates the relative aircraft positions with his hands]. He probably went up higher. And I saw his nose drop and he wasn’t more than a hundred yards out again. And I felt all this happen and I saw his nose coming down, and I thought beautiful... intercept, so I just jammed the stick forward. When I did that all the dust and sand in the airplane went flying up in my face. I put it right forward and I’m going down more or less spiraling almost out of control because when you push it that hard at that speed you lose control of your aircraft.
Prophet: It goes out of turn would that be a way of describing it?
Stocky: It won’t turn properly nose down. You’re holding it down because it wants to come back up. By the time I got all this corrected, and the dust out of my eyes and the spiraling I couldn’t see anybody chasing me. I was down closer to the ground.
Prophet: When you engaged the Me 109s I read time and again that you would make a hard turn into the attacking aircraft. What is the rationale behind that?
Stocky: If you were escorting or going out on a wing sweep. They would be high above coming towards you. And really you couldn’t do anything if you were escorting you’d have to wait for them to attack. Unless you were in the high cover (you learned afterwards) you’d go after them, confuse them or whatever, put them on the run, on the defensive. But normally they would come across the back and start down. And when they started their turn in on you...usually they’d be at about 350 yards you had to do some thinking; and take some kind of action right there. Once the airplane has committed itself to the attack and dropped its nose he can’t pull up again in a few seconds. He can go down, and turn away, but he can’t pull back up again. He’s committed to an action and it’ll take a few seconds to change that. When he comes in at 350 you know that shortly after that he’s going to start firing. He comes in and gets himself adjusted and then starts firing; probably has himself a 30 degree or so defection shot and there would be several coming in from behind. So what we would do is do a turn about. Usually we’d be flying in fours so we’d do a turn about staying in formation. So if he didn’t pull up he’d be facing four Kittyhawks.
We used to practice those turn abouts so we could do them at any speed. We would turn before they’d shoot. Very seldom did they start firing because they had that kind of confidence...because their leaders had lots of experience. They didn’t really start firing till they were at 150, 250, 300 anyway...they liked to get right in close...a hundred yards. The only way to thwart these attacks if you were freelancing and you had your four, depending on how many 109s there were. I’d say that usually they just used 2; 2 here and 2 there [again Stocky illustrates with his hands]. So you never really knew where the other 2 were. And they never came down to mix it up. They stayed back up again. We could turn right in...when we saw them coming instead of waiting for them to attack we could go right up after them or at least turn on their defense and that makes them start looking out for you. They changed their tactics but you had to be very careful because they took off from their bases in twos and fours. They never had the numbers of airplanes we did and they operated like that and they had good leaders, leading them, experienced...guys who had scored. At times when they escorted Stukas they came off in swarms, whole squadrons at a time. They never did the really tight escort on the Stukas that we did. They were too fast and had trouble staying with them and didn’t like to get their air speed down. And we always had a squadron or two to split up...we called it de-lousing out in front. They’d fly their own speed and keep it up... so it was very dangerous to go near those Stukas because they’d be coming from all directions. They would be like hornets...get mad. The RAF at that time liked to get the Hurricanes after the Stukas and keep the Kittyhawks up higher. Some Kittyhawks got into it but I never did. I never had that opportunity.
Prophet: Did you want that opportunity? :)
Stocky: I saw them in the dis...Oh yeah :) But I used to see them in the distance but the 109s were so thick you couldn’t get down there. They would come in behind see. It was kind of an organized war; kind of what you guys play on the net there. We took off , we had escort or were on our own and as we approached the bomb line or just crossed it there would be Huns coming off their field. All they had to look for was the big formation and they’d come around and attack...it was kind of routine. They used to do strafing and bombing, they didn’t like it very much. You could tell they didn’t want to be caught down on the deck. But they had a remarkable airplane in many ways [Me109 F] the times we would attack or bomb the airfield or we would fly across to strafe them they would take off in front of us and climb and stand on their tails and climb right up above us. Before we could turn around and circle the field they’d be coming down again.
Prophet: They were doing a stall turn?
Stocky: Yep. They were going up in those excellent G’s in particular. Take right off and stall point the nose and come down again. It was remarkable to see them...Do the wing over and you hold your altitude so now you’re up there...you don’t have any speed yet but now you’re up there. [again Stocky illustrates the relative plane positions with his hands] They were very good at this. When we first got the Kittyhawks and we had them for a few weeks under an RAF sonofab**** name of Imshi Mason. He was quite an ace in the Hurricane and so on. He thought the Kittyhawk was a good airplane for the 109 and maybe a little superior. And this one time he took the squadron to go across an airfield and attack these 109s on the ground. This was shortly after we converted to Kittyhawks on 94 Squadron. They were supposed to have another squadron the 112 Shark Squadron as top cover. Imshi took his airplanes across the field and turned. And there was one Messerschmitt that scrambled going the other way. This one Messerschmitt (it was Shultz).
Prophet: Otto Shultz?
Stocky: Shot down five of those Kittyhawks including the Squadron Leader [Mason]. He took off and got above him see. This was stupid hehehe if you like but shows the superiority of that airplane. Also, our people weren’t experienced on Kittyhawks. The Kittyhawk wasn’t a simple plane to fly. Particularly the initial ones . They were clumsy. They cruised at about two hundred and something. But they couldn’t climb worth a damn...sustained climb. They dived. They were good in a dive. Always catch a 109 in a dive though not initially. And whenever you moved the throttle, open or closed it, it would yaw all over the place. Really the airplane was too short for it. The whole design was wrong in my opinion. It would yaw all over the sky at low speeds. You know that Curtiss probably wouldn’t like to hear that :) We got the Kitty II’s with the Packard Merlin before Alamein. They were a little better airplane but we never used the Packard Merlin because we never really went up high. Then we got the Spitfires and they were the ones that would be way up there.
Prophet: Would these be Spitfire Mark V’s?
Stocky: They were V’s. And you would hear that they would be in the area. They never took off with us but they would cover the area. And now the 109s had to look up. They had the bombers below and they had to look up or the Spits were going to get them. They had a fear of the Spitfire, some of them did, most of them did; but their good pilots shot down inexperienced Spitfire pilots pretty quick.
Prophet: Using the strengths of their own aircraft and knowing the limitations of the Spitfire...if there are any hehehehe<G>
Stocky: Well you had to be sharp and know what’s going on. Experience is the thing that does that. Those 109 pilots would get out there flying in combat for over a year. When the Spitfires first came, first of all the squadrons were sent out there to get Spitfires but they didn’t have any so they got Hurricanes...92, and 601, 404, 405 all those guys were given Hurricanes till the Spitfires came; which was crazy. They had so many Spitfires in England they didn’t know what to do with them, and IX’s not V’s. These were desert pilots and by the time the Spitfires came they had some new pilots from England. No experience in the desert and they were landing their Spitfires 30 ft. in the air and putting the wheels up through the wings. Anyway they caught on and got some experience but if a guy like that ran into one of those 109’s, the 109 would make mince-meat out of him. Some of them had leaders with 30+ and there’s all kinds of them. And then there’s Marseille with 150. Those guys...You didn’t fool around with them.
Prophet: At one point in the book there is a sortie mentioned where it is likely you encountered Marseille.
Stocky: We wrote that one up in there but there may have been several of those where this guy was in the air, we didn’t know that. The way they operated they were pretty slick you know. They were just super...the airplane seemed to be a super little airplane too. When the wheels were up on that thing it just looked so beautiful.
Prophet: Tell me about your fateful encounter with 51 victory ace, Otto Shultz
Stocky: They get too over confident...or it isn’t that so much as callous.
Prophet: Shultz’s signature was to strafe a downed aircraft until it burned...
Stocky: Yeah; to make sure everything was written off. He couldn’t care less about it. After all he shot down 5 that one day. He was known as 1, 2, 3 Shultz. The Germans were good pilots but they had to operate with a plan. But they ran up against the Canadians and Americans who were different and if a plan wasn’t working we’d change it. We’d use whatever we could. This is something they weren’t used to so you could fool a Hun pilot just doing that. He’d expect an orthodox plan, and it turned unorthodox. I suppose some of their more experienced leaders used a lot of these things. But initially, they didn’t. They didn’t think that way. They had an airplane that was superior, they thought. It was faster and could climb better and had good armament and didn’t have to worry about these other guys unless a Spitfire got in behind you. But that’s about the way they were. If you were unorthodox which you had to be, they were fooled.
Prophet: Would you say the 109 F was definitely superior to the Kittyhawk?
Stocky: Oh God. The E was! The superiority lies in the fact that they didn’t have to get involved unless they wanted to. They had to be careful they didn’t get caught taking off or landing or short of fuel or strafing. If they made their attacks and they weren’t successful they could go home if they wanted to. Try another day, or go over to another formation. Just before Alamein our side was full of airplanes. All sorts, they had a couple wings of Hurricanes, there were anywhere from three to five squadrons in a wing. And there were two RAF wings of Kittyhawks and then we had the Americans join us. Three more squadrons, a whole wing of American Kittyhawks and these boys could really fly their airplanes. They had 4 and 500 hours on the Kittyhawk. And they helped us by showing us what you can do with an airplane.
Prophet: On the other side of that coin, you guys were the ones with the combat experience.
Stocky: They didn’t have anything. And you might say, they came to fly with us. I had a Major flying with me once or twice as my number 2. He was CO of one of the squadrons and he became CO of the wing. He had no combat experience and he’d never even seen a Hun. But he had all this flying time and knew how to fly and how to do everything. Yet they were willing to fly behind us and learn some of these things; what you don’t do. The "Don’ts" you see. They had Spitfire IX’s and you didn’t have to tell them anything I suppose. And right away they wanted to chase the 109s . Well it might be ok for the guy you’re chasing; you might get him. But the other guys are going to get you as sure as heck. So they came and they learned but it was marvelous to see them fly an airplane. The Kittyhawk had a lot of advantages over other planes in a way. It was a great strafer. It was a heavy airplane in a way. You could taxi all over the field with the tail up...at quite a speed. That’s what we used to do. We always landed into the wind and you might be on the opposite side from where your squadron was, and you’d just turn around and open it up and the tail was up and we’d just steer it carefully back. We did wheels up landing on all our airplanes, none of this 3 pointed stuff or you’d lose control. You’d wheel it in. We taught that particularly to the RAF guys...we used the Spitfires and everything.
Prophet: One of the things we experience in WarBirds is the undercarriage collapsing if we’re taxing too fast.
Stocky: Naw...doesn’t work. Nothing like that ever happened. In the desert the field was a mile and a half each way....square and you’d have a squadron on each side and you’d taxi out from your dispersal to the runway and take off. Into the wind, mostly, because the dust is going to blow, depending on how hard that field was. And you had to stay up in formation because if you didn’t you couldn’t see anything. The dust was just streaming out. You learned to stay right up there. Sometimes, if the leader was inexperienced or keen to take off he’d take the side of the field like that [Hands talk again] and the guys over here wouldn’t have enough runway. They’d end up having to go through their dispersal with the split trenches and tents...they’d just lose it. And taking off where you’d [be] putting on rudder and stuff...you never noticed those things in the airplane. People had trouble, when you’re a sprog, (that’s when you first arrive there), you have trouble landing your airplane kind of. But after you’ve had a few Ops, just landing is like sitting down for breakfast.
Prophet: In WarBirds on taking off if you throttle up too fast the plane tends to veer off.
Stocky: Actually, you don’t jam the throttle open ever because usually you go ahead of yourself and the engine just coughs and stops. You move it smoothly up. If you move it fast you move it smoothly all the way through. And you learned that particularly after the jets. You couldn’t do that. If you had to move it too fast you went ahead of the gas and it stopped right there. You’d have no engine. You might have problems with take-off with the dust there or cross wind. You had to watch the airplane as soon as it lifted off it wanted to do something you had to correct for it. There were lots of times when you took off in an airplane that wasn’t serviceable or somehow the trim was wrong or it had been shot-up and hadn’t been corrected. You’d notice that as soon as you were airborne and you had to correct it properly or it would take over and you’d be in trouble. Or the odd occasion where the ground crew would cross the trim. You’d yaw to the left and went to the right. You’d only do that for a couple of seconds and you’d realize the whole thing was wrong. And you learned in combat, on Operations, everything is priority. How simple it is...this is the thing you do first...and then next. Never try to do everything together you never start from the other end. You just learned that this is the way to do it.
Prophet: Standard Operating Procedure.
Stocky: And you really had to know all those things so that they’re automatic. Like the simple action, (well it wasn’t simple), of bailing out. Guys had to undo their RT and their oxygen and their harness. And that was quite a few things for a fighter pilot to remember...3 things...sometimes there were 4 in there. <G> And they all had to be done smoothly. A lot of guys would forget to undo their oxygen or their RT and the thing would stretch way out and come back and wop em....really hurt them.
Prophet: You hear horror stories of guys bailing out and hitting the tailplane.
Stocky: Yeah, you could actually step over the side, you thought. I had guys do this...a good friend of mine. He had it all trimmed up and everything and it was just a matter of getting out. So he thought he’d just step over the side and dammed if his leg didn’t hit the tailplane. Couldn’t do it. The airplane had to change direction; or you’d have to move away from it quickly...somehow. And usually they’d say you’d trim its nose forward and be holding it and you’d roll over and drop out and you’d be sucked out. There were times when the plane was in a tight spiral and you couldn’t get out of it.
Prophet: When you were taking off there was no noticeable yaw?
Stocky: You’d just take off. Spitfires and Hurricanes were wonderful airplanes for just rolling straight down the runway. You’d land on a grass field, cross winds or anything and just take your hands off everything, feet off and it would just run straight down the field. In a Kittyhawk or any American airplane they’d ground loop if you weren’t flying it all the way to a stand still. Soon as the tail came down on a Kittyhawk (Tomahawk was the first one) it wanted to ground loop. Because it probably castered see. To improve the Kittyhawk, the P40, they added 18 to 20 inches to the fuselage down near the tail section and it just changed the whole procedure. We basically got these near the end of Tunisia. And those were the airplanes that were all sent out to the Far East for the Americans. They were N’s. We had Warhawks, then they went into the Kittyhawks. We had Kitty 4’s you know with the Allison engine. First of all they beefed up the tail so it looked like a big Boeing tail. And that helped because it had more surface back there for control. They did a number of things. All the variants from F’s, G’s, H’s, JKLMN...OP’s QRST’s, we even had V’s that had something added to the airplane. But when the N came along that’s when they extended the fuselage about that far [Stocky estimates the distance with his hands]. And the airplane became a nice airplane to fly. It just changed the whole thing.
Prophet: And that cut out that yawing characteristic? Stabilized the whole airplane?
Prophet: What about the turning capability of the P40? When you fought 109s it seemed the Kittyhawk turned pretty good.
Stocky: The 109 wouldn’t turn with you. He knew he would end up in front. The Kittyhawk had a good rate of turn. Not as good as the Hurricane. Even at slow speed, it had a good wing for that. The 109 would stiffen up and it would stall out before it could turn inside a Kittyhawk. But if you got a good 109 pilot he could probably turn inside an ordinary Kittyhawk guy who didn’t know how to fly his aircraft.
Prophet: In combat during a turning fight would you drop flaps?
Stocky: You’d do that too but you didn’t really have to...unless you ran into somebody like Marseille. But he didn’t stop to turn much. He might turn half way, then pull up. He wouldn’t stay in there because as soon as you stay you start losing your airspeed and that meant you couldn’t climb away as quickly. And they hated to do that. As soon as you start to pull G’s on the turn, off goes your speed. Speed’s knocked right off. What we used to do depending on the conditions and how many people were there and what kind of fight ...the guy who’s coming in on you...you started your turn and as long as he didn’t get the nose in front of you he couldn’t hit you. He’s pointing at you but you didn’t worry...You just looked back and try to hold it there...suck him in...keep him in the turn if you want to stay in there. Pretty soon he’s going to realize and get concerned right away. Then he’s going to pull up. So then you turn back on him. He’s not going fast enough now so you’re going to be at 200 to 250 yards...right in harmonization. So they had to be very careful on how far they hold a turn.
Prophet: So you would do a reversal on them and cut back in on them.
Stocky: That’s exactly right. We’d try and suck them in.
Prophet: Did you score any hits that way yourself?
Stocky: Oh yeah...lots of them. They don’t know what hit them boy. They can’t get away see..they’re stuck. They could have rolled and gone down, changed their whole attitude and got away but most of them would keep their climb.
Prophet: Was the split s an effective escape maneuver?
Stocky: No no...the split-s is no good. You don’t go up and then turn because you turn back into his gunsite. Mostly level and steep turns depending on the whole situation of course...what’s going on. If you could do a steep turn right on the deck, pulling it right around making the streamers come off then no one could follow you. He wouldn’t dare because he’d go into the ground sure as hell. He’d have to be down there beside you. He couldn’t do it, he’d be hitting the ground. He couldn’t afford to just pull up and stall..that’d be the end. You couldn’t always do it on the ground but if you had to and then you bring it back up....You would use flaps if you were really tight, 10 degrees or so. But you have to have all these things under control while you’re doing everything else. You can’t be dropping too much flaps. There were lots of things, if you were caught and you turned around and saw this guy coming in on you and he’s about to fire and he’s going real fast. Sometimes we used to cut the throttle and that would be enough to bring him right up here like this see [Stocky describes an overshoot with his hands]. Then you could pull up and get a shot at him. But that’s very dangerous because he might not fire right then...you never know. A lot of times the 109 when they pulled up and you were behind them and they pulled up to climb away from you like that they would put rudder on . He’d still be pointing straight up but he’d be sliding this way [again Stocky demonstrates with his hands] or the other way and you wouldn’t hit him. You’d be wondering why you couldn’t hit him. The young kids wouldn’t really know what the hell to do and they’d be firing at him and [saying] "why can’t I hit him?" The guys standing on the rudder...
Prophet: One traditional point of contention in WarBirds is Head-on encounters. Two planes will converge nose-to-nose, guns blazing, and if they get too close they pay the price.
Stocky: It’s not that easy to get guns blazing because you have to be a long way apart. It’s all split seconds. The moment you can fire because you’re not directly heading at once is so small it’s like that [Stocky snaps his fingers to emphasize the point]...you’d be hitting him. I tried to ram a 109 one time. I got cheesed off...
Prophet: Your guns had packed up again? :)
Stocky: Yeah. And he took off. He left. Scared the hell out of him.
Prophet: Did you scare yourself? :)
Stocky: Oh yeah. We just passed wing tip over wing tip like this [demonstrated with hands]. He could see that I was trying to protect the airplane. This was only a matter of seconds too. But he had been attacking me and I got tired of this so the next time he pulled up to come around again I dropped my flaps and turned very quickly so that when he came down I was facing him. And then I was just trying to be jockeying away from him. He passed over top of me and turned and kept going...I told the Intelligence Officer about that one when I got back. He was a little upset about that one ...he thought it was stupid. :)
Prophet: hehehe...One of my squad mates asked me to get your opinion on the turning capability of the Spitfire V vs. The Hurricane.
Stocky: Yeah. The Hurricane. If a good pilot meets one of them the Hurricane will out turn the Spit. They had a big thick wing and at low speed...mind you, you had to be a good pilot but the Hurricane would out turn em. They had the turning ability; really turn.
Prophet: In conversation with Cooper-Slipper a Battle of Britain ace who flew Hurricanes, I was told that the Hurricane was a good airplane. From reading Lavigne’s book I get the impression that you felt the exact opposite of this.
Stocky: The Hurricane was a dog. In the Battle of Britain it was probably a great airplane. They needed all the airplanes they could get. The Hurricane could take punishment... a little more than the Spitfire could. But considering its disadvantages if they had had all Spitfires they’d have been way ahead. They had great guys like Tuck and them... they flew them all. The Hurricane was big inside. You could put somebody down beside your feet in there. It was an easy airplane to fly. It would almost fly itself but it never flew very accurately. The ball seemed to be sliding around...It didn’t matter to the airplane. It’s the same thing when it landed it would just sit down in the field. Just point it at the airfield...let it go and it would land. The Spitfire was a pilot’s airplane; a fighter pilot’s airplane. It had a response and it was smooth and ...ohh a beautiful thing.
Prophet: When you talk about the Hurricane it seems it didn’t have the response the Spitfire did?
Stocky: You’d push the stick over then the wings came up. Don’t let any of those old Hurricane pilots tell you different. We had guys in the desert that just didn’t want to fly that Kittyhawk. They’d sooner go back to the Hurricane. But the Hurricane didn’t have a chance against the F’s and G’s [Me109s]. And they’d always be in a defensive circle. In the Battle of Britain there were so many airplanes involved the Hurricane was a wonderful airplane if it had have had cannons...they would have downed all those German airplanes...the bombers.
Prophet: Tell me about the relative merits of .303, .50, and 20mm cannon armament.
Stocky: Well you see I go back to the facts...in the beginning we didn’t know. With the .303’s you make holes; with point fives you get pieces; with cannons you get chunks. If you’re going at any speed and chunks start coming off, the whole airplane comes apart. And yet one little .303 could put a Messerschmitt out of action...or it could get his oxygen bottle and blow up the back end of the airplane, or it could set fire. You even hear of guys like Marseilles and Shultz guys like that coming back with 30 or 40 holes in their airplane. All in their wings and fuselage never hit a vital thing.
So where do we go? And here’s the Americans, I never argued with them because... they had so many more people....but ah...
Stocky: They loved the point fives. They had it in every damn thing and they swore by it...Strafing targets on the ground, trucks and things like that the .5’s were terrific because you had a lot of ammo and if you did it at harmonization which we got used to...this is why we were at 250 to 300 because of the strafing. You couldn’t have it too close you wouldn’t hit the target. Say you were lining up on that coffee pot out there [Stocky points to his kitchen appliance] see the red light?
Stocky: You know they had the nose just slightly above and if it’s 250 and it’s slightly above and at 250 you’d drop the nose and fire you would; or slightly below and you’d lift the nose and fire. And the whole thing hit the target and the whole thing just disintegrated. The whole thing was range and harmonization knowing where your bullets are. So if you had cannons you didn’t need that big a burst to hit the target. We used to take the Kittyhawks and test the guns we’d put them down low over the ocean and fire and you could see the bullets going like fish but you had to know where to look and you had to do it in enough time to find it. Once you found out where to look you could see them every time. Just a short burst and you could see all these little fish all come together at a point. Don’t forget that you’re firing off quick bursts and you’re moving so you have to look in a different place. You were always looking in the wrong place. You weren’t level, the nose would be down so you could see them in the water. Initially you couldn’t see anything; you learned to look.
Prophet: It’s often said that the best fighter pilots could see the enemy before anyone else. People like Chuck Yeager, Bud Anderson and Buzz Beurling come to mind.
Stocky: Yeah 15 minutes before. The secret to not getting shot down was to see the enemy first. And then position them in your mind..there’d be some here and those are the ones that are going to be here first and there’s some back...and back and back and back, and some over there and it’s likely the whole sky will be full of dogfights. And my eyes were computed to see only lets say 500 yards or maybe one thousand. Whatever it was, but outside of that I didn’t see it because the danger isn’t there yet. I thought about that a long time and that’s the way I explain it today. I had my eyes computed to a certain range and I don’t look outside of it.
Prophet: Was that a conscious thing at the time?
Stocky: I think I was conscious of it at the time. Because I didn’t want to see those guys up there...too many...because I had to keep track of those other fellows and some behind you...that sort of thing. It’s a wonder I didn’t see the JU 88s flying high altitude. Somebody would report them and they’d be up some several thousand feet and I didn’t see them because they were out of my combat sphere.
Prophet: How many operational sorties for you?
Stocky: Oh I had about 400.
Prophet: And you were hit once by an enemy aircraft?
Stocky: Only once by an enemy [airplane]
Prophet: What accounted for that low percentage of enemy damage...luck? skill?
Stocky: Oh I think you needed to have a hell of a lot of luck. For one thing you needed to know what was on your tail or below you. And that’s seeing things in front of you first. Eventually in a fight they [can]get behind you. And your neck was always on a swivel; and the Kittyhawk was particularly so because anytime you forgot or went to sleep somebody would come in behind you.
Prophet: Tell me about the FW190 and something you noticed about the damage it took.
Stocky: In Italy I had run out of cannon and chasing a 190 on the deck I fired one burst and he went on fire.
Prophet: One burst of?
Stocky: of 303s
Prophet: And a Focke-Wulfe 190 goes on fire?
Stocky: Very quick. They go on fire pretty quick. 109s didn’t flame. It might go on fire but it would go out. But the 190 went on fire and stayed on fire. It went on [fire] quite quickly. It was easier to set afire. A lot of guys said that. I mentioned that to a number of people, like Rod Smith in Vancouver. He said he noticed that too. A lot of this depends on speed. Particularly if it’s diving, if it’s diving and chunks start coming off it just tears apart. And opposite to that is almost into a stall and you hit them with harmonization they just sort of explode. And that was the thing to think about you might have 4, 6 guns there and 2 cannon... But when you’re hitting you’re hitting with a number of shells...The majority of times if there’s any deflection at all then you’re always shooting behind; Until they brought the gunsights. But to me, I never liked the gunsights because I was brought up without it. The Kittyhawk had a ring and bead on the nose, right on the fuselage. And you needed that for ground strafing. But they had a gunsight that tracked itself and all very well if you’re just tracking an aircraft and there’s no one around. But they’re tracking you as well and you can’t concentrate on a thing like that. Guys like Beurling didn’t need that.
Prophet: Hehehe guys like Edwards too ;)
Stocky: The only thing I did, in the Kittyhawk with the needle and ball part of the instrument...I put it right below where the gunsite is so all I had to do was glance at this ball and see that everything was centered. To me there was no need to fire unless it was centered. If you skidded you’d miss. Particularly with the Kittyhawk, they were bad with that.
Prophet: Needle and Ball = turn and bank?
Stocky: That’s it! That simple little thing...
Prophet: In the Spitfire IX, we have a heck of a time trying to catch FW 190s. They are so fast! Even when we use WEP it’s tough to catch them. Is that modeled in real life?
Stocky: Yeah. You went through the gate. You had to move it over a little bit. Just a little bit of a stop there [on the throttle]. You had to move it out to go by the stop. Then the engine really wound up. The 190s didn’t really run away from the Spit 9s. What happens is if they know they’re being chased well then they’re going to keep their power up. If they’ve got their power up and they might have their fuel injection on...it doesn’t last forever. Once they start approaching home they start throttling back; save their engine. And this is where the Spits would catch them. And usually when they chased them they were down below and you don’t see them. They did a lot of this on the Continent after the invasion. The enemy was coming out low it wasn’t coming high. And our guys caught all kinds of these guys as they’d go down. As they would turn for home the Spits would just shoot them down.
Prophet: You flew a captured 109F how did it compare with the Kittyhawks and Spitfires you flew?
Stocky: The Kittyhawk III used to cruise at about 225. That was the same that the Spitfire IX cruised. Or if you opened up a little more you were cruising at a reasonable rate, control the airplane. But if you wanted to open the throttle and climb up, the Spitfire would just walk away...so would the 109. When we used to go up and attack the Kittyhawks to see what the 109 would do [with the tame 109] . As soon as you put the nose down and got the speed up the stick would get stiff . And I wondered how in the hell could they like these things so much...but they got used to it, I guess. But for us it was completely different again. The stick in the Spitfire was always loose and controllable. The Kittyhawk would stiffen up too and you had to trim and do certain things; until they extended the fuselage. The Kittyhawk, the original ones, as soon as you put the nose down and got the speed up, it wanted to roll to the right...very decidedly. So I put my leg up against the fuselage and my elbow in beside it against the stick to hold it. You could take some of that off with the trim but you wouldn’t take too much trim out because as soon as you pulled up it would go to the left. So you’d have it rolling one way and rolling the other so you left it about half-way and held it strong arm. And this in a dogfight was awful. The ball was going everywhere. When they extended it and got the Kitty III’s and put the extension in, there was no more of this. It was just like in a Spitfire. There was no of this and kept its longitudinal axis all the time. But as soon as you put the nose down in a 109 the stick would start to get stiff. And the Mustang was similar to this, not quite as stiff. It was almost like you lost the feel of it...and you’d immediately want to throttle back so you weren’t going so fast...You had to trim it to get it out and to trim an airplane to bring it out is really dangerous because you’ll pull the trim tabs out.
On concluding the interview I asked Stocky to send a personal note to my WarBirds squadron the 401 Rams. The dialogue went like this (as recorded):
Prophet: Want to say good-bye to my guys for me? See ya round Rams
Stocky: See ya round Rams. Keep yer eyes open boys.
Prophet: Check 6..hehehe..Thanks :)
[Sound of Cassette player hurriedly being reactivated]
Prophet: Whoa! we cut that out say it again!
Stocky: Watch your ass, eh? hehehehe