The 'Battle in the Bay'
2nd June 1943: A Sunderland 'flying boat' survives an encounter with eight Ju-88 fighters over the Bay of Biscay
The aircraft of RAF Coastal Command were spread far and wide as the Allies sought to extend their surveillance of the seas. In turn of course the Germans were intent on fighting back. They attempted to arm their U-boats with better anti-aircraft guns. And they brought in more aircraft to take on the U-boat hunters.
1900 hours. Goode, swinging his tail turret to the right, suddenly stopped. His eyes widened and his heart missed a beat:
“Tail to Control,” he barked.“Eight aircraft. Thirty degrees on the port quarter. Six miles. Up one thousand feet.”
No sea area was contested more fiercely than the Bay of Biscay. Here RAF aircraft were proving remarkably successful in catching U-boats as they departed from their French bases or returned from patrols. But the hunters soon became the hunted as the Luftwaffe struck back.
On 2nd June 1943 a Sunderland of 461 Squadron R.A.A.F took on eight Ju 88s and lived to tell the tale. It was a remarkable air battle, memorably described over the course of a full chapter in Ivan Southall’s1 memoir, who was a member of the Squadron at the time:
1855 hours. The turrets moved slowly while eyes strained in the sunlight. This was indeed the Tiger Country, a slaughteryard, a stage for a play of suspense and savagery, where all men at one time or another knew the meaning of fear. Here there were no parachutes and no patriots in the back country.
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