Remembering the original Typhoon Force
Each year, in early June, veterans of the original Typhoon Force return to Normandy to remember their fallen comrades and the sacrifices that were made during the Second World War.
For the last few years, personnel from RAF Coningsby have accompanied them. Unfortunately, this year, operational commitments prevented attendance but this article aims to give a flavour of the weekend. It is an excellent visit that combines so many different things: fascinating places, great people and incredible stories.
There is an opportunity to meet all sorts of different people who have a connection to the Typhoon. The group roams around the beautiful Normandy countryside to one place after another of momentous significance to the Typhoon Force. The original Typhoon was conceived initially as a fighter which served in the Air Defence of Great Britain before being adapted as a fighter-bomber and deploying abroad – just like its current namesake. At the time it was one of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, noticeable for its chin intake and enormous thrust. There were 18 Typhoon Sqns (now the present and the past begin to differ!) in the 2nd Tactical Air Force which formed for the D-Day invasion and went on to fight their way to Germany. Aircraft were operating from temporary strips made of wire mesh just 3 days after D-Day.
In what is today a most peaceful and beautiful place you can imagine what it was like operating the mighty Typhoon from a dust blown airfield, living in tents and slit trenches, sometimes under fire from German artillery. Then you can turn to the elderly gentleman standing next to you and ask him what it was like. With a look as if it was yesterday he will tell you a story to widen your eyes. Such as the chap who was shot down and captured but persuaded his guards to head back to Allied lines with him and surrender. Or perhaps he will show you a scar on his hand that he received from a German bayonet while evacuating from Dunkirk.
It is not just the veterans who have stories to tell. This year the party was hosted to a dinner in the chateau of Baron d’Huart. His father had rescued a shot down Typhoon pilot and kept him hidden from the Germans. After the war he was accused of collaboration and the pilot returned to vouch for the kindness of the family. There is also an organisation devoted to remembering the aviators who helped to liberate Normandy from German occupation. The welcome from the local people to the veterans is truly impressive and respectfully consists
of one Vin d’honneur in a local town hall after another. The organisation of the weekend is pretty haphazard, getting lost being a distinct possibility. This is part of the fun, trying to think what it was like driving a tank or truck through the hills of the Suisse Normande whilst actually following a convoy of French and British vehicles from the veterans group.
The main event of the weekend is a ceremony at the Typhoon memorial in Noyers-Bocage. The memorial commemorates the pilots and ground crew who died during the battle for Normandy. The D-Day landings were a critical part of the strategy to defeat Hitler. Once the beachhead was secured the battle raged to throw the Allies back in the sea. The breakout from Normandy was achieved and German forces collapsed all the way back to the Seine and then to Paris.
The most enjoyable aspect of the weekend is realising that the previous Typhoon generation are the same type of people as the present generation. This is true, from the straight talking pilots, to the even straighter talking ground crew, who seem to most enjoy winding up pilots of any age; yes they are equally as good at it. They all appear proud that the modern generation is willing to stand beside them during remembrance, yet their feats of courage were quite remarkable. 151 pilots were lost in the battle for Normandy alone.
Intense flak was the most numerous cause of casualties, with a high accident rate and the occasional enemy fighter as well. Unfortunately, there are no accurate figures for support personnel losses but it is known they suffered many casualties from aircraft and artillery attack. Standing beside them during remembrance and assuring them we will not forget is the least we can do.
If you would like to know more ask someone who has been on one of the visits (Cpl Bell, Sgt Clarke (XI Sqn), Flt Lt King (3 Sqn), Sqn Ldr Walls) or contact the Typhoon Entente Cordiale Trust through their website www.tect.org. Staff Ride funding can be made available so the weekend doesn’t cost too much. If you value history and ethos in the RAF, this opportunity is too good to miss.