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Spitfire Groundcrew Under Fire (Hardback)

An RAF ‘Erk’s’ War from the Battle of Britain to D-Day and Operation Bodenplatte

Aviation > Pilots Military WWII

By Mark Hillier
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 120 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399059862
Published: 31st October 2024

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So often it is daring, even dashing, exploits of the fighter pilots which attract the most interest. Theirs is, indisputably, the glory – but not theirs alone. For it is the groundcrew who kept the aircraft in the sky who deservedly share in that glory.

The bond between pilots and their groundcrew was often an immensely powerful one. Each day they took to the sky the pilots put their lives in the hands of the fitters to keep their engines at maximum efficiency, the riggers who maintained the airframe and refuelled the aircraft, or the armourers who serviced the guns and loaded the bombs. The ground crew, the ‘Erks’, were only too aware of the responsibility they bore. Nothing could be overlooked. Everything had to be done correctly, often under enormous time pressures and far from ideal conditions.

Those conditions included coming under attack from the enemy, as the title of this absorbing and unusual book indicates. It was at his first wartime posting of St Eval near Padstow in Cornwall that Joe Roddis first came under fire in July 1940. This, though, was a minor affair compared with what was to come.

As the Battle of Britain grew in ferocious intensity, Joe’s squadron, No.234, moved to Middle Wallop – the groundcrew being flown in just as the airfield came under Luftwaffe attack. Joe was now firmly on the front-line, and his descriptions of the attacks inflicted upon Middle Wallop are detailed and exciting. Even more fascinating are his explanations of how each aircraft was prepared by the groundcrew, as they turned round the Spitfires as rapidly as possible to get them back into the air to beat off the enemy attackers. Under immense pressure, each function had to be carried out with great care and checked off before the aircraft could be released. The tension was immense.

In September, the Battle of Britain having passed its peak, 234 Squadron returned to St Eval, where Joe remained until being posted to 485 (New Zealand) Squadron at RAF Driffield in March 1941. The squadron moved a number of times, to Leconfield, Redhill, Kenley and Kings Cliffe, while undertaking offensive operations across the Channel. It was eventually posted to Westhampnett where, among other tasks, it undertook night patrols.

Joe’s squadron was heavily involved before and during the D-Day landings and he, and his fellow groundcrew, were shipped over to France to support the pilots as the fighting moved ever closer to Germany. It is in those months after the Normandy invasion that Joe writes more expansively, his story culminating in the Luftwaffe’s last futile throw of the dice – Operation Bodenplatte.

There was, of course, a personal side to Joe’s life and a surprising post-war reunion adds a touch of heart-warming tenderness to a story well told. It is a story in which Joe personally faced death and destruction on at least nine occasions.

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 Mark Hillier

About Mark Hillier

MARK HILLIER is Head of Operations at Spitfires.com. He has a deep knowledge of the history of the RAF, with a particular focus on the Second World War. He is also a qualified pilot, having flown for more than thirty-four years as an instructor and PPL pilot. Mark has flown many different types of aircraft from gliders to vintage tailwheel types, including the DH Chipmunk, Boeing Stearman and T6 Texan. He has previously written or co-authored fourteen successful books on aviation, including the authorised biography of Wing Commander Thomas Murray DSO, DFC and Bar, contributed numerous magazine articles, advised, and appeared on, a number of television programmes, and is a regular public speaker on aviation matters.

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