August 26, 1940
Willie McKnight with his Hurricane December 1940
I got over the 700 hour mark just
a few days ago and I am still being offered a chance to return home
as an instructor but the old reasons still keep me here and I suppose
I shall remain here until the end or until the other end. I’ve
got so used to the thrill and the, I don’t know how to express
it, final feeling of victory that I’d feel lost and bored by a
quiet life again.
Your friend, Bill
Born in Edmonton, 18 November 1918
Killed in Action along with John Latta, 12 January 1941
See H.A. Halliday, The Tumbling Sky and
"McKnight's Hat Trick" by Michael Martchenko
On this day, August 30, 1940, following hard fighting, S/L Bader tucked in alongside his wingman, "Willie" McKnight as they returned to base. The exuberant Bader held up two fingers indicating his two victories. The Canadian flashed back three indicating a "Hat Trick". Bader was elated. The squadron that day claimed a total of 12 enemy A/C destroyed without loss to themselves. The tide of the battle was turning.
McKNIGHT, P/O William Lidstone (41937) - Distinguished
Flying Cross - No.242 Sqn.
On the 28th May, this officer destroyed a Messerschmitt 109. On the following day, whilst on patrol with his squadron, he shot down three more enemy aircraft. The last one of the three enemy aircraft was destroyed after a long chase over enemy territory. On his return flight he used his remaining ammunition and caused many casualties in a low-flying attack on a railway along which the enemy was bringing up heavy guns. Pilot Officer McKnight has shown exceptional courage and skill as a fighter pilot.
NOTE: Public Record Office Air 2/4095 has the original recommendation, apparently drafted by W/C R. Grice, Commanding Officer, RAF Station Biggin Hill, on 2 June 1940. The identity of several of his victims is confused; the victims of 1 June 1940 were more likely Ju.87s rather than Ju.88s.
Pilot Officer McKnight, a Canadian pilot, has shown exceptional skill and courage as a fighter pilot during the operations over France from 28th May to 1st June 1940.
On 28th May 1940, this officer destroyed one Messerschmitt 109 over Ostende.
On May 29th, whilst on patrol with his squadron over France, he shot down two Messerschmitt 109s and a Dornier 17. The Dornier 17 occasioned a long chase into enemy territory but the pilot with great tenacity and determination succeeded in destroying it. On the way back from this, the pilot used up the remainder of his ammunition by carrying out a low flying attack on a railway east of Dunkirk, along which the enemy were bringing up heavy guns, and caused many casualties.
On 31st May, this officer was again on patrol with his squadron and with great skill, whilst protecting the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk area, he shot down two Messerschmitt 110s.
On the afternoon of June 1st, he was again on patrol covering the evacuation of the Dunkirk beaches when his squadron encountered eighteen Junkers 88s about to attack our shipping and he succeeded in shooting down two Junkers 88s and two unconfirmed.
Between the 28th May and 1st June this officer has displayed great skill and courage and has destroyed two Messerschmitt 110s, three Messerschmitt 109s, one Dornier 17 and two Junkers 88s.
On 3 June 1940, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park (Air Officer Commanding, No.11 Group) added the following minute:
This officer, a Canadian, has shown exceptional skill, determination and courage. He has destroyed eight enemy aircraft as well as attacking successfully heavy guns on the railway east of Dunkirk causing many casualties. I strongly recommend him for the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The same day (3 June 1940) Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding minuted the document as "Approved".
McKNIGHT, P/O William Lidstone (41937) - Bar
to DFC - No.242 Squadron
This officer has destroyed six enemy aircraft during the last thirteen weeks. He has proved himself to be a most efficient section leader, and has consistently given proof that he is a courageous and tenacious fighter.
RECORD OF MAPLE LEAF FLYERS THROUGH 1940
For a time Bader was an instructor but he put forth some persuasive argument and he was transferred as leader of another squadron He never did go back to No 242 but he left behind, in the officers mess and across the airfield, generally a fighting spirit that can never die.
Associated with him as the inspiration for the squadron were men like P/O William L. McKnight of Calgary who held the DFC and Bar and was in line for the DSO when he was reported missing. McKnight at one time was the top ranking fighter pilot in the RAF with at least twenty three German planes to his credit.
On a sortie over France with Bader and others McKnight, who once brought down three German planes in one day, failed to return. He was strafing enemy troops from a particularly low height when he was last seen.
“Lots of Hurricanes"
Later Sclanders, appearing in the mess, apologized for apparently spoiling the days show.
Bader stopped sipping his cocoa looked at the boy's bruised eye and slapped him on the back saying “Hell, they’ve got lots of Hurricanes. We’ll get another one tomorrow but I doubt if that eye will cleaned up for a week or so."
The names of many young Canadians have since been added to the squadron’s roll of honor and in the officer’s mess there is to be seen only one of the original Canadian members — F/L R.D. Grassick, London, Ont., who has won one of the squadron’s eleven DFCs. Today most of the fliers are British.
Bader lost his legs in a flying accident before the war when he was regarded as one of the best stunt pilots in Britain. After many attempts he persuaded the RAF he could manipulate a plane with his artificial legs as well as most men without his handicap. His record showed he was right.
(Written for the Canadian Press by F/L Basil Dean,
Fighter Command, Somewhere in England, Sept. 8, 1943 — (CP) — There are still some of the few left, some of those hard-fighting combat pilots of Battle of Britain days, but mostly it is a new brood of pilots who fly from the air bases hereabouts in Britain's Fighter Command. Three years ago, when the first few of Canada's aerial aces were fighting their way to fame, the battles were over British soil. Now, with greater numbers of Canadians than ever before in Fighter Command, the pilots are going out to seek the enemy over his own territory. This air fighting of today is offensive, not defensive, as during the Battle of Britain, but it was the fighting then that made the current offensive possible.
Some Still Flying
Some of the Canadians who fought with honour and glory in those grim days three years ago are still flying. Wing-Cmdr. D. B. Russel, D.F.C., of Montreal, who now leads an R.C.A.F. Spitfire wing in Britain, was then P/O Dal Russel and a member of Canada's No. 1 Fighter Squadron, which arrived in England in June, 1940 — just in time to get trained for the fierce tests of August and September of that year.
Russel's old commanding officer, Ernie McNab, now is Group Capt. Ernest McNab, D.F.C., of Regina, commander of an R.C.A.F. fighter station.
In Sicily, Squadron-Ldr. Stanley Turner, D.F.C. and Bar, of Toronto, led the R.C.A.F.'s City of Windsor fighter squadron through the island campaign. In 1940, he was a flight commander in the R.A.F.’s famed "all-Canadian" squadron led by Wing-Cmdr. Douglas Bader, D.S.O., D.F.C., which destroyed 63 enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain and shared three with other squadrons.
The squadron was composed mainly of Canadians who had joined the R.A.F. before the war, and fought nobly during the Battle of France and over Dunkerque.
Its achievements during the Battle of Britain, indeed, brought from the air officer commanding of the group in which it was serving at the time a message which said that its efficiency as a squadron was "equal, if not superior, to any squadron in the R.A.F." The British chief of air staff signaled: "You are well on top of the enemy and obviously the fine Canadian traditions of the last war are safe in your hands."
Greatest pilot of the "all-Canadian" squadron — apart from the legless commander, Bader (who was not Canadian) — was P/O W. L. McKnight, D.F.C. and bar, of Calgary, who was reported missing some months after the Battle of Britain ended. McKnight destroyed 16½ enemy aircraft, and was the first Canadian ace of the war.
The "all-Canadian" squadron's first Battle of Britain engagement was August 30, when Bader, now a prisoner of war, led a formation of 14 Hurricanes against a "vast number" of German aircraft, two swarms of 70 to 100 each. Detaching one section to investigate a third formation of aircraft some distance away, Bader led the rest of his pilots to the attack. As a result, 12 enemy aircraft were destroyed and not one of the Hurricanes had so much as a scratch.
Similar engagements followed. On September 7, Bader and his Canadians destroyed 10 enemy aircraft without losing a pilot, although seven of the squadron's Hurricanes were damaged. On September 19, when the wing in which the squadron was flying destroyed a total of 18 enemy aircraft, the "all-Canadians" were credited with 11 of these for the loss of one pilot killed.
And then, in the greatest day's fighting of all on September 15, the squadron destroyed 12 enemy aircraft. This was the day on which Bader described the fighting as "the finest shamble I've ever been in."
"The sky," he added, "was full of Hurricanes and Spitfires, queuing up and pushing each other out of the way to get at the Dormers. I was seldom able to hold my sights on a target for long for fear of colliding with other Spitfires and Hurricanes anxious to get in a burst."
Among the Canadians P/O. J. B. Latta, D.F.C., Victoria, B.C., had knocked down five enemy planes; F/L Turner had five; so had P/O N. K. Stansfeld, D.F.C., Vancouver. P/O H. N. Tamblyn, D.F.C., North Battleford, Sask., and P/O N. Hart had four each. Altogether Canadian pilots in the squadron had destroyed 45 of the total of 65 credited to the squadron. Bader had scored 11.
Canada's own No. 1 fighter squadron, which although its personnel have completely changed, is still flying in Britain with fighter command, had scored a total of 31 victories during the battle under McNab's leadership. McNab himself had scored the first victory to be credited to a member of the squadron when, in order to gain combat experience, he flew as a supernumerary officer with an R.A.F. squadron before No. 1 fighter was ready for front-line duties.
In the squadron's first engagement as a unit, on August 24, it destroyed three Dorniers for the loss of one pilot. By the end of its first week in action it had destroyed eight enemy aircraft for the loss of one pilot killed. The score continued to mount until September 27, when the Canadian squadron destroyed seven enemy aircraft out of about 70 engaged during the day; one pilot of the squadron was killed. In the day's first fight, Russel had destroyed an ME 109 and an ME 110 and had shared with a Polish pilot the destruction of a third enemy fighter.
McNab, F/L G. R. McGregor and Russel were each awarded the D.F.C., having destroyed between them, 11½ of the squadron's total. McNab and McGregor now are both group captains. Russel is a wing commander.
In other squadrons of the R.A.F., Canadians had also distinguished themselves. One of the flight commanders in the R.A.F. squadron was a Canadian, F/L. R. A. Barton, Kamloops, B.C., who later became squadron commander of his unit. He was awarded the D.F.C. for his "outstanding leadership" on September 27, a day on which the squadron destroyed 21 enemy aircraft for the loss of two pilots killed. The total bag during September was 48, a total exceeded only by the famous No. 303 Polish squadron, in which another Canadian, F/L (now Wing-Cmdr.) John Kent, Winnipeg, was at that time a flight commander.
By FRED BACKHOUSE
London, July 15, 1945 (CP) — Group Captain J. E. (Johnny) Johnson, English-born, former leader of a crack Canadian Spitfire wing, has been officially recognized as "ace of aces" among Allied fighter pilots who fought over Europe.
Final scoring records, compiled by The Canadian Press from figures supplied by the RAF, RCAF, and United States 8th and 9th Air Forces, put this peace-time accountant from the Leicestershire town of Loughborough at the top of the list with 38 German planes destroyed.
Group Capt. Johnson, who so closely identified himself with his otherwise all-Canadian squadron that he wore "Canada" on his shoulder, has often given much of the credit for his success to the Canadians who flew with him. "It's all a combination play" he said. Many of his men themselves became "aces."
Of the first 16 places supplied by the air forces, fourth is held by a Canadian — Flt. Lt. George (Buzz) Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM and Bar, of Verdun, Que. — and 11 by RAF pilots. For the record, only those with more than 24 "kills" were offered by the three services as their top men.
Official final scores are:
Group Capt. J. E. Johnson (RAF), 38
Group Capt. A. G. Malan (RAF) [no score given –ed]
Sqdn. Ldr. P. Finucane (RAF), 32
Flt. Lt. G. Beurling (RCAF), 31
Wing Cmdr. Stanford Tuck (RAF), 30
Wing Cmdr. J. R. D. Braham (RAF), 29
an anonymous Polish sergeant (RAF), 28 [Czech pilot Josef Frantisek -ed]
Wing Cmdr. F. R. Carey (RAF), 28
Lt. Col. F. G. Gabreski (U.S. 8th), 28
Maj. G. E. Preddy (U.S. 8th) [no score given –ed]
Wing Cmdr. C. Caldwell (RAF), 27½
Capt. R. Johnson (U.S. 8th) [no score given –ed]
Flt. Lt. Mungo Park (RAF) [no score given –ed]
Sqdn. Ldr. J. H. Lacey (RAF), 27
Flt. Lt. E. S. Lock (RAF), 25
Lt.-Col. J. C. Meyer (U.S. 8th), 24½
[some of these numbers have been modified since the war – ed]
RCAF fighter pilots in the European war with scores of 15 or more German planes destroyed number six according to overseas headquarters in London. In addition, there were two equally high-scoring Canadians in the RAF, both of whom were killed in that service before they could transfer to the RCAF.
After Beurling they are:
Sqdn. Ldr. H. W. McLeod, DSO, DFC and Bar, of Regina, 22
Flt. Lt. J. T. Caine, DFC, and Bar, of Toronto, 20
Wing Cmdr. Mark H. Brown, DFC and Bar (RAF), of Glenboro, Man., 18
FO. W. L. McKnight, D.F.C. and Bar (RAF), of Calgary, 16½
Wing Cmdr. R. W. McNair, DSO, DFC & two bars, of North Battleford, 16
Wing Cmdr. L. V. Chadburn, DSO and Bar, DFC, of Aurora, Ont., 15
Flt. Lt. Don C. Laubman, DFC and Bar, of Edmonton, 15
The late Wing-Cmdr. Brown is officially credited by the RAF with "at least 18" aircraft destroyed. His score may well have been higher, but uncertainty exists because the records of No. 1 Squadron, RAF, of which he was then commanding officer, were destroyed during the retreat at the time of the collapse of France.
Douglas Bader and his 242 Sq. wingman "Willie" McKnight
these pages I use info from the Air
force Association of Canada's web site
in Hugh Halliday's excellent Honors & Awards section,
newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC)
as well as other sources both published and private
--- Canadian Aces ---_______________________________________________________________