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First Shots in Anger - Skeets Ogilvie - 7th September 1940

In Battle of Britain pilot Skeet Ogilvie's biography, 'You Never Know Your Luck', written by his son Keith C. Ogilvie, Keith draws on Skeets' recollections and diary, regarding one of the most significant days during the battle, 7th September 1940, when the Luftwaffe targeted London direct.

('You Never Know Your Luck' is currently available with a £5 discount - just click on the cover below. The discount will be automatically applied at checkout.)

7th September 1940

Skeets was sitting in the crew room in the dispersal hut with the other pilots on standby. The weather was good, around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, few clouds about and good visibility. The ring of the operations phone with the scramble order cut the reverie of the pilots, who ran at the double to their aircraft, parked close to the dispersal hut. By the time they were in their seats, the fitters and riggers were already there, strapping them in, while others rushed to pull the chocks away. Engines ticking over at around 1,200rpm and the slipstream already blowing the grass flat, the aircraft trembled as they waited to form up on the leader and taxi out to join the fray. The excitement Ogilvie must have felt would be justified; it was the first time he would fire a shot in anger. His diary picks up on this rapid transition to full operational status after the initial quiet period of patrolling around their home base.

However, this blissful state of non-action could not last forever and on Sept. 7th I saw my first action. About one o’clock, the bell went and orders came, ‘London’, ‘20,000 feet’. We arrived over our sector and were encouraged by the radio announcing 200 plus coming in our sector. To say I was not excited would certainly be a fallacy but I’m sure that I was not frightened, mainly because there was too much to be done before entering the scrap: routine checking of instruments, turning on gun sights, gun button to fire, etc. were all calming and reassuring factors.

I well remember seeing what seemed to be a cloud of little black beetles crawling in towards us, and there was no doubt but that they were headed our way. We were given orders to engage and positioned ourselves as best we could in the sun to one side and above the bombers. I was third in the leading section and following S/Ldr Darley and Mike Staples I half rolled and dove in on a beam attack on a formation. This type of attack strikes the enemy where they are least protected and consequently most vulnerable. ‘Mike’ Staples, I think, must have hit one because he pulled up and over, giving me a clean shot at his belly. I opened fire and hit it for a few seconds and he fell away. That was all I saw of him because in my excitement I found myself directly in the centre of the formation and receiving no little attention from the rear gunners. I did the obvious and dove straight down collecting only a hole in my wing and tail as I went.

Well out of range, I pulled up and saw the bombers haring for home. I was a bit sad about my first effort and climbed into position for another attack. As I prepared for another go, I was certainly surprised to see a yellow nosed Messerschmidt [sic] ‘109’ drift across in front of me, and then another. By sheer blind luck I was in the sun to them and they either did not see me or figured I was another escorting fighter … had they come out the other side of me … but we don’t think about that. I opened fire on the second one, which had a big number 19 on a silver background, and connected as he rolled over and dove, turning on his back. I got very close and emptied my guns as he streamed glycol, then smoke and finally a sheet of flame. This was a certain, and now out of ammunition I streaked for home. I could feel nothing except my insides were frozen and my heart was beating up where my tonsils should be.

The squadron had a good day and the score was six destroyed, six probably destroyed and there must have been many more carrying scars as they made for home. We had no casualties and only ‘Aggie’ [Agazarian] had a bullet in his oil and landed at Maidenhead. The squadron score is now sixty two aircraft destroyed. 

His survival, and his victory over the Me109, were as much a matter of luck as anything else. He later described in more detail how the event unfolded: 

After a squadron attack, it’s pretty much everyone for himself, you attack whatever you can find. So I climbed back up into position again, hoping to do a little better this time, and turned to my left to go down again, and saw two Me109s doing the same thing, looking down to find a target. I didn’t seem to be any more than 10 or 20 yards away from them. Two big yellow-nosed 109s, and I could see the pilots in their seats, looking to the left. If they had come out on the other side of me the war would have been very short for me, like one day. However, I swung my nose over and opened fire on the leader and the second guy rolled over, pouring smoke and glycol and disappeared. I didn’t have enough experience to follow him. That was over, and I looked around the sky, and it’s a funny thing, all pilots remark on this – one minute there are umpteen airplanes all around, and the next minute you can’t find one. I couldn’t find another aircraft anywhere. My fuel was getting down and I started heading home.  It counted as a probable. Once you hit the glycol, he wasn’t going to get home. I was so close, I should have blown him out of the sky. However, this was the first engagement … and you learn.

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