FLT LT ERIC LOCK – POSSIBLY THE GREATEST BATTLE OF BRITAIN PILOT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF.
Recently, as part of the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, members of 41 Sqn were privileged to attend a memorial to pay their respects to a truly great fighter pilot…
When discussing World War Two fighter aces, pilots that spring to mind are often names such as Bader or Stanford Tuck; however, the most prolific Allied fighter ace during the Battle of Britain was 41 Squadron’s Flt Lt Eric Stanley Lock DSO DFC and Bar. Known as ‘Sawn Off Lockie’ to his friends due to his extremely short stature, Lock flew combat sorties for just over 15 months before his untimely death in August 1941. During this time he was credited with 26 aerial victories, 21 of which came during the Battle of Britain.
Lock joined 41 Squadron at Catterick in May 1940 fresh out of training, but only entered the fray of the Battle of Britain in August when the Luftwaffe targeted sites in Northern England. It was in this battle that Lock gained his first victory against a massed formation of Messerschmitt Bf 110s and Junkers Ju 88s. In the attack, Lock had an opportunity to fire at a Bf 110 heavy fighter. After two short bursts the starboard engine caught fire. Following the enemy fighter down to 10,000 feet, Lock fired into the fuselage and set the port engine on fire. The machine-gunner ceased firing and Lock left it at 5,000 feet. He then attacked the Ju 88s, downing one of their number.
In light of Fighter Command’s need for units in the south of the country, 41 Squadron was redeployed to RAF Hornchurch in Essex in September 1940. On 5 September, Lock shot down two Heinkel He 111s over the Thames estuary. One of his victims crashed into a river, the other caught fire and its undercarriage fell down. Lock followed it down, but he quickly realised his mistake – reducing height to pursue a damaged enemy put a pilot at risk from enemy fighters – but it was too late. A Messerschmitt Bf 109 attacked him and he sustained damage to his Spitfire and a wound to his leg. Lock immediately zoom-climbed. The Bf 109 attempted to follow but the pilot stalled and fell away. Lock reversed direction and dived. Waiting for the German fighter to come out of its dive he fired several short bursts and it exploded. Looking around he saw the second He 111 land in the English Channel, about 10 miles from the first. Lock circled above the He 111 and, noticing a boat, he alerted the boat to its presence by flying over it and led the vessel to the crash site. As he left the scene he saw the crew surrendering to the occupants of the boat. On the way home he saw his first victim in the river, with a dingy nearby. A further Bf 109 was claimed destroyed on that date.
The following day, despite pain from his leg and against medical advice, Lock claimed his seventh victory, a Ju 88 off the coast of Dover. On 9 September he claimed two Bf 109s destroyed over Kent and he followed the success with two victories over a Ju 88 and Bf 110 on 11 September1940. The victory brought his tally to 9 enemy aircraft destroyed, 8 of them in less than 7 days. He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). Lock continued to shoot enemy aircraft down regularly. Upon landing after a sortie during which he attacked 3 Heinkel He 113s, he was told by his commanding officer that he had been awarded a Bar to his DFC for 15 victories in 16 days.
41 Squadron’s pilots were placed on 4 weeks of rotation rest following the intense period of operational sorties, returning to RAF Hornchurch in early October 1940. By the time the Battle of Britain ended on 31 October 1940, Lock, with 21 enemy aircraft destroyed, was the most successful Allied ace of the campaign.
On 8 November 1940, Lock’s Spitfire was badly damaged during a skirmish with several Bf 109s over Beachy Head in East Sussex. The Spitfire was so badly damaged that Lock crash-landed in a ploughed field, but was able to walk away. On 17 November 1940, 41 Squadron attacked a formation of 70 Bf 109s that were top cover for a bomber raid on London. After shooting down one Bf 109 and setting another on fire, Lock’s Spitfire was hit by a volley of cannon shells, which severely injured Lock’s right arm and both legs. The rounds also knocked the throttle permanently open by severing the control lever. The open throttle enabled the Spitfire to accelerate swiftly to 400 mph, leaving the Bf 109s in his wake without Lock having to attempt to operate it with his injured right arm. At 20,000 feet, he began to descend. With little control and no means of slowing the fighter down, he could not execute a safe landing. Too badly injured to parachute to safety, Lock was in a perilous situation. After losing height to 2,000 feet, Lock switched the engine off and found a suitable crash site near RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, into which he glided the stricken fighter for a “wheels down” landing. Lying in the aircraft for some two hours, he was found by two patrolling British Army soldiers and carried two miles on an improvised stretcher made of their Enfield rifles and Army issue winter coats—made after instruction from Lock. By this point, Lock had lost so much blood that he was unconscious, and so unable to feel the additional pain of being dropped 3 times, once into a dyke of water. After being transferred to hospital, he was awarded the DSO on 17 December 1940. Lock underwent 15 separate operations over the following 3 months to remove shrapnel and other metal fragments from his wounds. For the following 3 months he remained in hospital recuperating from his injuries.
In June 1941 he received notification that he had been promoted to Flying Officer and was requested to report back for immediate flying duties with 41 Squadron. 4 weeks later he was promoted again to Flt Lt and posted to 611 Squadron as a Flight Commander. On 3 August 1941, Lock was returning from a mission when he spotted a column of German troops and vehicles on a road near the Pasde- Calais. Signalling the attack to his wingman, Lock was seen to peel off from the formation and prepare for the ground strafing attack – the last time he was seen. He is believed to have been shot down by ground–fire. Neither his body, nor his Spitfire, have ever been found, despite a thorough search.
Lock’s name is carved in Panel 29 on the Runnymede Memorial along with the 20,400 other British and Commonwealth airmen who were posted missing in action during the war. In his short time defending this country, Eric Lock achieved a tally of victories which only 6 British pilots surpassed; however, Lock achieved all of his victories in less than a year. A feat which deserves considerably more recognition than it received.