Sunday, 17 March 2013

Defiant aces: Ted Thorn and Fred Barker

Edward Roland Thorn was born in Portsmouth in 1913. He joined the RAF in the early 30s - according to some sources in late 20s - as an Aircraft Apprentice. After successfully applying for pilot training, Thorn was posted to No. 264 sqn at Sutton Bridge on 30th October 1939. The unit was the first to be equipped with the Bolton Paul Defiant.

On 28 May 1940 ten Defiants, led by Sqn Ldr Hunter, took off from Manston for a patrol over Dunkirk. They were attacked off the coast by Bf 109s, at around 12:15. Hunter was a charismatic leader and a fine tactician, and during the previous months had implemented effective tactics to counter single-engined fighters. He ordered the squadron into a line astern spiral dive, thus giving mutual protection to each one of his aircraft.

Thorn and his gunner Frederic Barker where the last in the circle, and were shot up enemy fighters but downed three Bf 109s as well. Hunther and his gunner LAC King shot down two Messerschmitts, while Plt Off Young and LAC Johnson claimed a further one.

With these two confirmed victories, Philipp Hunter became the first Defiant ace. However, No 264 Sqn's victories came at cost, as three Defiants were lost.

The squadron saw further action the following day, once again over Dunkirk. As the previous day, the Defiants were attacked by Bf 109s, and fought the attack off shooting one down. They then intercepted a formation of Ju-87s, escorted by Bf 110s. Once again Hunter and his pilots adopted the same defensive manoeuvre. Thorn and Barker broke off from the circle and downed a Stuka, then rejoined formation and shot down one of the Zerstorers. Five more were claimed by the rest of the unit, together with four more Bf 109s. Overclaiming in such chaotic engagements was the rule, however the Defiants demonstrated once again their effectiveness on the battlefield.

Two days later, on 31 May, No 264 Sqn headed again towards the French coast, together with Spitfires from No 609 Sqn and Hurricanes from No 213 Sqn. The British fighter intercepted a formation of He 111, heavily escorted by III./JG 26's Bf 109s. The Defiants dove onto the bombers forcing them to jettison their bombs and ran away, leaving the Messerchmitts to deal with the RAF. Once more, Hunter ordered the squadron into a descending circle, allowing his gunner, LAC King, to hit one of the enemy fighters which crashed into the sea. Two Defiants collided with each other with Plt Off Young bailing out and LAC Johnson lost. Thorn and Barker managed to down a He 111 in this action, but two other turret-fighters were lost.

On 3 June, following a successful but at the same time costly week over Dunkirk, No 264 Sqn was sent back to Duxford for rest and re equipment. The unit made good their losses and trained for almost two months, when it was then sent to Hornchurch and Manston. On 24 August the squadron went on patrol and returned to its airfield at Manston just as it was being bombed by Ju 88s. The fighters attacked the German bombers as they levelled from their dives, claiming three destroyed, including one by Thorn and Barker. Three Defiants were lost as well, including commander Hunter and his gunner Sgt King, who went down in N1535.
The swan song for No 264 Sqn came two days later, on the 26th. A big formation of Do 17s and Bf 109s was intercepted between Deal and Dover. Dogfights developed, and once again the Defiants suffered heavily against the faster Messerchmitts. Thorn and Barker managed to claim two Do 17s destroyed, before being hit by the escorting fighters. They left the scene and headed home: just as they were preparing for an emergency landing, they were attacked by a single Bf 109, which Barker hit and shot down. They crash landed near Chislet in L7005 and were both injured.

The squadron flew its last action two days later, bringing the Defiant's career as a day fighter to an end. Although claiming a considerable number of enemy aircraft shot down, losses had been extremely high, and no more than a handful of machines and pilots survived the Battle of Britain.

Despite outclassed by day, the Defiant could still play a significant part as a night fighter. When the Luftwaffe switched from daylight raids to the night Blitz, No 264 Sqn was given training in its new role. Intercepting bombers by night was, however, a difficult task, especially for radar-less aircraft such as the Bolton Paul fighter. Thorn and Barker managed to add a single victory to their tally anyway. On 8 April 1941, the pair attacked He 111P-2 "G1+DN" of 5./KG 55, which crashed near Godalming.

This was the last claim for Ted Thorn and Fred Barker, which ended their Defiant career with 12 confirmed victories, one shared and two damaged. They were both awarded the DFM.
Thorn was given command of No. 32 Squadron until September 1942, when he was awarded the DFC. He was killed in a flying accident on 12 February 1946. He was flying a Meteor F.III, serial no. EE456, from the Empire Central Flying School at Landbeach.

Frederick Barker survived the war

RAF Fighter Command combat claims, John Foreman, Cromwell Press
Aces High, Christopher Shores and Clive William, Grub Street
Defiant, Blenheim and Havoc Aces, John Weal, Osprey Publishing
Dunkirk 1940, Operation Dynamo, Douglas Dildy, Osprey Publishing

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