Pilot Officer Richard J Edwards
RICHARD (DICK) JOSEPH EDWARDS
Little is known of Richard's formative years but he first began flying training on Tiger Moths at 26 EFTS in August 1942. Towards the end of the year he was flying Miles Masters (Mk II) at RAF College, Cranwell. From Master aircraft he converted to Mk II Spitfires in May 1943 but on occasions also flew Mk I's and VA's: his was at 61 OTU Rednal. Some further training was also undertaken at Mountford Bridge. Richard also flew Hurricanes at ITEU Tealing and Kennel.
By 1944 he had joined No 66 Squadron at 132 Airfield where piloting Mk IX fires he flew mainly Beachhead patrols and as escort to Lancasters and Mitchells. In July of that year 66 Squadron went under canvas prior to moving to Normandy (a picture of the pilots and administrative personnel appears earlier).
Bomber escort duties and fighter sweeps occupied the rest of the year and Richard had accumulated 250 hours in Spitfires by that time. He had flown from a variety of airfields, including B16 Villons-les-Buissons, Normandy, B33 Campneusville and B57 Lille (Nord). In the October 66 Squadron was operating from B60 Grimbergen, Brussels and by December from B79 Woensdrecht (Holland). During December conversion to Mk XVI's had taken place and dive bombing attacks increased as a result. Richard recalls that a Spitfire loaded with 1000 lbs of bombs landed like a brick! From time to time bombs broke loose on landing and bounced along beside the landing aircraft.
By the end of March 1945, Richard, along with Pilot Officer Hugo (see TB 752's service record) and Warrant Officer Jock Brydson were the longest serving members of '66'. Hugo was killed on the 1st April and Brydson on the 11th. Richard was also shot down ( 1st April) and wounded; his left leg paralysed in this action and was captured, remaining a prisoner of war until the surrender in May 1945.
Richard recalls Manston well. On the 4th September 1944 66 Squadron landed there owing to bad weather conditions. Spitfires overheat quickly when undertaking prolonged taxi-ing but the driver of the vehicle sent to guide the aircraft to dispersal was obviously unaware of this and proceeded at snail's pace with the result that Manston was littered with abandoned and overheated Spits.
66 Squadron also night-stopped at Manston on the 16th March 1945 on their way from Fairwood Common to Schijndel with a certain Spitfire Mk XVI — TB 752 amongst their number. Richard has many views on the clipped wing configuration and with many others felt there was a sinister reason for wing clipping. In dive-bombing with the normal wing configuration Spitfires experienced many problems with the upper wing surfaces wrinkling, giving a corrugated iron effect. By clipping 1 wings, Spitfires could not be pulled out of the dive so rapidly. The more (official) view was that, as the Spitfire was a little heavy on the aileron, the clipped wing increased the rate of roll to that approaching the FW 190. Richard also maintains that, with the fitting of 0.5 machine guns close to the cannon, the wings were overloaded at] that particular point. Perhaps it would be fair to say that each of these reasons has some truth behind it.
To increase the range of the Spitfire, an auxilliary fuel tank could be fitted under the fuselage. Apparently these made the aircraft difficult to handle with fuel sploshing around a half empty lank because of insufficient baffles. In addition, the tank could only be released by the application of negative 'g' at the same time as the virtually inaccessible release handle situated low down on the cockpit floor was operated. As Richard so graphically describes this performance "unless the pilot had arms like a gorilla he had to lower the seat to reach the handle. On this basis it became difficult to see where you were going ... the sight of a squadron of allegedly lethal Spitfires lurching through the sky like a bunch of drunken sailors must have caused great entertainment to any watcher on the ground before, if we had any luck, he was hit on the head with a jettisoned tank".
Richard maintains that the cannon fixings on TB 752 are not as originally fitted in 1945 which reinforces the view now held, that possibly through landing accidents neither wing on the Manston Spitfire are original.
On leaving the Royal Air Force at the end of the war he worked with an insurance company in Bulawayo, finally retiring to South Africa. The photo below shows Dick, now 87, enjoying the sun on the veranda of his bungalow.
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