Reg and Sunderland - 9 Sept 1939
The Lead Up to War
At the beginning of
1939 Reg Baker, second pilot on a
210 Squadron Sunderland had been carrying out his squadron duties with his crew on
escort duty to shipping.
He was flying beyond the shores of
Reg's letters give an insight into
the build up:
28 April 1939
I am back in
England, about an hour ago - we left Malta at 4 this morning.
4 July 1939 - a Telegram from
" I MUST GO ,
WE ARE JUST TAKING OFF "
19 July 1939
I am in the midst of wild and woolly Wales - this place is the
most deserted spot imaginable. A very small place 2
miles away and Tenby (which I am told is terrible) 14 miles
away. A pretty grim outlook isn't it?
The Squadron is what is called 'Operational'.
That is it may be sent anywhere at 48 hours notice. We have had
all the inoculations, Typhoid, Malaria, Tetanus etc. Yesterday
three of the pilots set off to fly out to Singapore and they only had
forty eight hours notice.
23rd July 1939
have just about recovered from the inoculation now, my arm is
exceedingly stiff and sore. I am waiting at the moment
for my luggage to arrive so that I can staqrt swotting for an
exam - so that I shall be sure of getting into Imperial
Airways when I leave the service
August 18 1939
flying to Alexandria on Saturday morning. I expect being
away for about a month. I expect coming back by P&O boat
landing at Southampton. We are in a colossal 'Flap' here rushing
about buying tropical kit and frantically packing.
Three flying boats are going
23 August 1939
back in England just in time to join the war. Arrived
Malta Wednesday straight back here in another flying boat on
Sunday. The trip was cut short and completely spoilt by the
darned international situation. We arrived at Malta on
Wednesday and were shot back here in another flying boat on
Sunday. Altogether I have flown 4,000 miles in about 5
days. We are on a wartime basis here, standing by, day and
night loaded up with bombs and guns etc. and we have to stay in
camp and stand-by, ready to go at 5 minutes notice.
Just a note to
say I am back in England. Arrived about an hour ago.
I am feeling very tired - we left Malta at 4 this morning and
have been going all the time.
From Reggie's journal..
I had been in the RAF 19 months
when war was declared and was in fact arriving at the stage where I
could be considered a reasonably useful flying boat second pilot. A
training of 19 months in today’s light may seem long, but in those
days after that training one was considered capable of making tea,
maintaining the stock of toilet paper, seeing the boat was left
clean and in fact doing the countless odd jobs a cabin boy is
required to do.
We knew that when the war
started it was about 90 to 1 against our being alive after the first
six months. Still it was our job and if we managed to keep going
until the people shook themselves and trained chaps to take our
places then it was a good show. At the back of our minds too we had
a suspicion, or hope if you like that it was probably 90 to 1
against most chaps but not us, we should be all right.
The Start of War
From Reggie's journal..
morning Alan taxied Sunderland L2165 down the haven to do a dark take
off. We had received our orders from operation room, stumbled our way
down to the pier and been carried by means of the inevitably greasy
dinghy to ‘65.
The crew were all
ready on board, the Sunderland was a blaze of light and everything was
under control as we climbed on board. Alan signed the crew list and I
handed them to the waiting dinghy and we then went on to the flying
Murphy the rigger
reported that we were on short slip, Cpl Ewings doped the two outboard
engines and we were ready to start up. The starboard outer lurched
into life, then the port outer ‘Let her go’ shouted Alan. Murphy
slipped the buoy and we were away. Ewings doped the two inboard
engines and I started them saying ‘OK Alan all four’. We taxied out
into the channel and proceeded down the haven keeping the long line of
the S H buoys on our port side for we were heading out to sea.
It was a long
taxiing for miles to Angle Bay where the flare path was laid. As we
approached the flare path Alan ran up the engines, they were OK. Once
on the flare
path the control office gave us a green and we were ready
to go. I wound the flaps out one third, checked that the crew were all
set, told Alan and stood by to put in the over rides. Alan checked his
trimming tabs, grinned, said ‘Here we go’ and opened up the four
engines. At full throttle we passed No.1 flare. I put in the override
and at No.2 flare we left the water, smoothly and apparently without
We carried out
straight ahead to a height of seven hundred feet, straightened out,
throttled back with flaps in, override out and props coarse pitch. We
circled the twinkling lights below, picked up
St Ann's Head lighthouse and set off on a course of 250 degrees for
Dawn found us five
hundred miles out to sea, alone in a sky of wispy cloud. Ahead of us
about ten miles we could see the straggling convoy, eight ships in a
loosely knitted mass; looking rather like toy ships on crumpled paper
they poured out black smoke and wallowed in the long Atlantic rollers.
We spent several uneventful hours looking after these children rather
like an indulgent mother and then set course for base. At 1600 hours
we made our landfall at
and thirty minutes later we came gliding in to alight in the channel
north of the flying boat trots??. I wound out the flaps to two
thirty??, changed into fine pitch and stood by while Alan brought her
down. As usual we alighted beautifully, finished our run and taxied up
to a buoy. With both drogues?? out and inboard engines cut we moved
slowly up to a buoy. Murphy stuffed the short-slip?? through the loop,
took two quick turns round the boat bollard, turned round and put his
thumbs up. I switched off and turned to Alan. ‘There seems to be a
hell of a lot of activity here.’
Alan looked out, saw people
scurrying backward and forward from the pier; airmen on the pier
with machine guns and in fact more activity than we had seen
before. By this time a dinghy had come alongside and we climbed
in. Alan grinned at the dinghy driver and said ‘Why all the flap?’
The dinghy driver
looked at us in blank amazement. ‘Flap! Blimey there’s a war on! We
declared war on Germany at 11 o’clock this morning.’ It was September
My thoughts were
confused but one thing stood out. We had been flying for 5 hours at
war with Germany, our only lethal weapon was a
Verey pistol and
we hadn’t been warned. I hoped that it wasn’t an augury for the
future. The mess that night was chaotic, everyone stood around
clutching pints of beer and taking excitedly. The general feeling was
one of relief, at last we knew exactly where we stood. Bets were laid
as to how long the war would last, one optimist said it would be over
by Xmas. Our CO looked at him and said dryly ‘I seem to remember
hearing that said in the last war.’
Alan was in the
mess and he asked me to go back with him for some food. As we walked
slowly through the streets to his house Alan was silent until he said
‘What do you think about it Reg?’
I thought for a
minute or so and replied ‘Well I think that we all expected it and
personally I feel relieved that it is now a plain issue, the Germans
or us. At heart we all have a very deep respect and love for this
country of ours and for our way of living and as we are fighting to
preserve that well it’s a good fight. Personally I think that most of
us will never see the end of the war, at least not from this world,
but I don’t feel that that is important. I don’t particularly want to
die, but if it is written so well there it is and what’s the good of
worrying. Alan grunted and said ‘When are you getting married?’ I
looked at him in surprise. ‘Married? I hadn’t thought about that.
What the heck has that to do with the war?’
Alan smiled and
said ‘Ask me that question again in the morning?’ We completed our
walk in silence and went into Alan's house.
Nancy was Alan’s wife, dark
not beautiful but attractive, a delightful understanding woman who
lived only for Alan. As we had supper and chatted of odds and ends I
watched Nancy, she was cheery and bright and seemed full of life, but
her eyes betrayed her. I began to realize a little of what Alan had
hinted at. Nancy’s soul was in her eyes and her eyes were saying ‘I
can’t lose him, it must come out all right. Why must men fight’.
took my leave of them rather abruptly. I felt that I was looking on
forbidden sights. As I said goodnight to Alan he looked at me and said
‘For men must work and women must weep’. As I walked back to the Mess
I realized for the first time why women hated war so deeply, they had
the worst job, all they could do was sit and wait and hope. For the
first time that day I felt unhappy.
Flight Lieutenant Ainslie
and his second pilot Flight Lieutenant Baker took off on their first war
patrol and were lucky enough to sight a submarine on that initial
trip. They at once attacked
with bombs, but to their chagrin the submarine escaped.
Reg's views on his
first attempted kill
The first patrol we did after the
declaration of war was completely uneventful until we were on the
homeward leg. About a hundred miles out from the coast we sighted
U-boat. The U-boat was about 2 miles away on the surface, we went
straight into the attack. The warning horn had been sounded on
board and every one was at his post. We were flying at about 1700
feet and with the throttle fully open we went for the U-boat. Alan
pitched the nose down and we dived at the swirl left by the
submerging sub. At 500 feet the ‘fit’ was released and 4x250lb AS
bombs released. We climbed sharply and turned to port.
The 4 bombs straddled the ‘wash’
of the submarine beautifully. We circled, watching and hoping.
Nothing happened, the area was slightly discoloured, a faint
greenish brown and that was all.
We had already reported our
attack by wireless and after waiting for half an hour hoping
against hope that we should see results, we set course for base.
We were all excited but badly disappointed, we were the first crew
in the squadron to have any action but it had been most
When we had moored up and
reported to Operations Room we were surrounded by a crowd of
“What had it been like”
“You lucky devils”
“Did you fix it?”
And a host of other questions
were hurled at us from all sides. Alan good naturedly answered all
the questions and eventually we were left alone with our food and
pint of beer.
As soon as was
possible I lay in a steaming hot bath, my pipe burning away
smoothly and myself completely at rest.
found a hot bath and a pipe the best possible relaxation. I lay in the
water and tried to analyse my somewhat confused feelings. For the
first time I had been in action and one thing had registered if
nothing else, action was so sudden engrossing that one had no time to
think, merely time to react instinctively for the first time. I had
tried to kill some human beings. Was I sorry? I knew that the only
cause for sorrow was that we hadn’t definitely killed the U-boat.
pleasant reclining there and trying to analyse my feelings but
like all good things it came to an end. My batman entered -
“you are wanted on the phone”
“Oh hell I
groaned who wants me?” the batman mumbled “It’s a French call sir
and it sounded like a lady”.
‘French’, climbed out of the bath and slipped into my dressing
gown slithered down the corridor to the telephone.
A faint yet
recognisable voice came over the wire, “Is that you darling this
During their second patrol they again sighted a submarine and
let loose their load of bombs, but once more the enemy eluded them.
They went out for their third patrol and sighted their
third submarine which was promptly bombed without avail.
Three submarines sighted on three trips and not one
attack successful there is no need to touch on their feelings!
Hopefully they took to the air again on , and generous Dame
Fortune gave them another chance to sink an enemy submarine, but
although their bombs crashed down without delay, the U-boat
Thus on four successive patrols Flight Lieutenant Ainslie
and his second pilot Flight Lieutenant Baker had the unusual luck to
sight four submarines and the misfortune to lose them all.
By trial and error some of the greatest discoveries
have been made. As attacks had not given the results expected, it
seemed that something more was needed to bring success. The question
remained whether the method of attack and the weapons employed were
the most suitable for the purpose. That was the problem which all
those engaged on the task had to work out.
On the last operation a
friendly ship had been sunk by the U-boat and they directed a Dutch
tanker to the area and the lifeboat containing the survivors.
The Loss of
End of September
Baker and his pilot remained on shore and on the station whilst the
rest of their normal crew were on an operation in their aircraft
evening they went to the pub and as Reg’s normal crew wasn’t due
back until midnight he went to bed. The next morning at breakfast
Reg noticed a colleague looking longer in the face than usual.
"I ruffled his head and said ‘Cheer up Ivor, only the good die
young.’ He looked at me. ‘What the hell is there to cheer up
about,’ he answered, ‘65 crashed last night. Everybody was written
off.’ I couldn’t believe it . . . all the old crew gone.
out the whole story as far as it could be done. By midnight when
they were due back the weather was somewhat hazy. W/T fixes had been
sent out and 65 had actually flown over the station without seeing
it. Ivor was on the flare path and at last he saw 65 coming in, she
was coming over the cliff towards Angle Bay when suddenly her
engines spluttered and stopped. 65 hit the edge of the cliff crashed
into the haven and went down like a stone.
About two weeks later the bodies of the crew began to be washed up
and ‘we had funerals day after day’.
Murphy was the last to come up. He lay there on the bare rock,
looking more muscular than he had ever done alive, his chest greeny
blue mottled seemed to be fully expanded but his face and hands were
eaten away. I thought of the fish I had eaten for lunch, turned away
and was quietly sick. We rolled the body into a blanket, carried it
down to the power boat and with an ensign at half mast headed for
the station. Rob and I sat at the stern smoking; the body was lashed
My thoughts were chaotic, was this pitiful corpse all that
was left of our fitter? What had happened to turn a living man who
loved and thought into this shrouded clay? I knew the physical
explanation, his heart had stopped beating, he had died, but was
that the whole of life. Were we all just like mechanical toys,
capable of running for so long, and then becoming cold and empty? I
couldn’t quite feel that our life was an end in itself; probably it
was wishful thinking. We said little to each other, Rob and I, on
that ride home. What could we say, we were in the presence of
something which was beyond our understanding. As we stood by and
watched the body carried away from the pier Rob lightly put his hand
on my shoulder. ‘Well I must away. I’ve lots to do on the poor
demise’. He hesitated. ‘Thank God it wasn’t you.’"
Reg went to the Pub for
his supper, spirits low and later on walked back to camp.
"I passed airmen and soldiers arm in arm with their girlfriends,
completely wrapped up in each other. In my mind I said, ‘Of course
they don’t know about my crew, or else they would be bewildered like
But I knew that I was wrong. A fragment of poetry came into my mind
and I found myself repeating unconsciously.
‘What is life if full of care We have no time to stand and stare.’
To stare. God how those sightless eyes had stared into the heavens.
Had they stared in vain. I didn’t know."
Mourning the loss of loved ones
Reg also had the task
of meeting his former crew mates Mother and Sister when they came to
the station to mourn the loss of their loved one.
"Murphy’s mother was slightly built, grey-haired, dressed in black,
her fingers curling and uncurling spasmodically. Her face was swollen
with crying and her eyes had the dazed hurt look of an animal that had
suddenly been cuffed without understanding why. I tried to say that
Murphy and I had been in the same crew, but I couldn’t. I knew that
nothing I could say or do would get through that overwhelming sorrow.
My eyes will never forget the dry eyed sorrow of Murphy’s sister and
my ears can never banish the sobbing of his mother and the bitterly
repeated ‘He was such a good boy.’
That night I went to bed very drunk."
Pembroke Dock .
At the moment I
am singularly fed up. I am laid up with a badly damaged
shoulder - heaven only knows when it will be right again - I
have torn the muscles and badly bruised the bones.
Reg Baker returned to
his home in Doncaster, to spend it with his parents. Unsurprisingly
they were concerned about the welfare of their son.
tried to answer their questions about the War although I probably knew
less than they did; Dad startled me by saying, How long is it going to
thought - how long is it going to last? Three months have gone and we
have done nothing. The last one took four years and the world hadn’t
been too well developed for dealing out death and destruction.
‘Four and a half years’ I answered. ‘Certainly not less.’ Mother
turned her head away and Dad sighed ‘God as long as that.’
echoed him ‘Yes, as long as that.’
1. The Submarine Hunter
- David Masters
Reg is featured in a chapter from David Masters book 'So Few' first published
in 1941 [View]
page last updated:Thursday 01 October 2009
Table of contents detailing updates added
RAF Lasham 1942-48 - a project by
Trinny. Please click
here to view
Victory Fighters: The
Veterans' Story - Winning the Battle for Supremacy in the Skies
Over Western Europe, 1941-1945
By Stephen Darlow
Fighters is largely a collection of eye-witness accounts of the
struggle that raged in the skies over occupied Europe after the
Battle of Britain. Reg Baker is one of the six featured pilots.
Stephen Darlow has been a major
support and contributor to this website do please visit the
website of this excellent Military Aviation author.