The first half of 1940 was a time when
the pressures of war manifested themselves as long hours and little
sleep for Reg. There is very little documented history of
these months but the following set of excerpts from his letters
to Ann give an insight into the confusion, frustration and sorrows
of the war.
On Sunday from
here, we are broadcasting a very big concert party - lots of
London stars are coming down for it - Sir Kingsley Wood and
quite a mob of other people. It is being broadcast at
about 7pm. So don't forget to listen in.
I did a spot of
fly today, for the first time since I came back. My
shoulder stood up very well. In fact I didn't feel it at
all - you have no idea how grand it was to get back in the sky
again - to feel the wind in your face and to travel at speed.
They have suddenly decided here to make all the married chaps
live in the camp - the chaps are having to send their wives
home! - I have been expecting it for some time.
I have been in
France for two days - I came back here last night (by air).
I must say the
French looked after us very well. They couldn't speak a
word of English and my French is pretty bloody, but we seemed to
manage alright - especially when we knocked back a few drinks!
At the moment I
am suffering a very powerful attack of my old disease -
wanderlust. Unless things brighten up here I shall apply
for a transfer to any squadron in France.
There is a
strong rumour that they are going to call for volunteers to go
to Finland. I hope they do 'cos I shall go like a shot.
I don't think I
shall ever be free from this wanderlust it is still there as
powerful as ever...
We have been so
busy here we are all completely worn out. For the last
week I have been up every morning by 4 o'clock, and have been
crawling into bed about midnight. I am really dead with
This place has
been hell on earth lately, everybody flying and working like the
devil - and there seems to be very little chance of it easing
off at all.
I am feeling
very very restless and we are actually having a hell of a time of it
at the moment.
I am also trying
to prepare for this concert party broadcast - it comes on
Tuesday February 27th from 6.25 to 7 o'clock. I am
broadcasting with the doctor here - we have written a song and
some cross talk. I hope you wont think it is too bad!.
Remember we are only amateurs!!!
Well I hope that
you didn't have to switch it off because it was as bad as all
that! - some of it was pretty bloody - but altogether it wasn't
too bad. The stuff that Maycock and I put over I wrote
myself - so far we haven't received any professional offers!!!
15th March 1940
Our squadron has
been given today off. The first day since war started
Reg perhaps starts to
25th March 1940
It seems so long
ago - so much has happened, lots of my ideals and hopes have
gone west in this war....
15th April 1940
As you can see by
the address I am back here.
I came down on
Saturday, bringing my damaged flying boat back for repairs - she
is full of bullet holes and shrapnel, which I collected over
I got away without
a scratch although one of the bullets just about parted my hair. I shall be here
either until the boat is repaired or they give me a new one.
Do you remember
Peter Kite? He was at Calshot with me - he was up in
Scotland with me and I am sorry to say he was shot down in his
boat on Tuesday afternoon over Norway - it is a damned shame.
He was such a grand bloke. Poor old Peter he was really
looking forward to pinching a bridesmaid at our wedding.
22nd April 1940
My leave has
been cancelled - I have just been awakened and I am taking off
in half an hour for the North.
I haven't the
faintest idea when I can let you have another letter...
28th April 1940
I don't know
when you will get this letter, it all depends on the chap I am
giving it to. It may be weeks before I can even get a card
through to you.
ME AT KINGS CROSS AM ON THE MOVE ...
11th May 1940
I arrived here
at 9 this morning.
At the moment
there is a complete and utter flap on here, nobody knows what is
happening - we are all standing by at 1 hours notice.
All set to go
but nobody knows where! What a mess...
8th June 1940
I am definitely
not moving from here - our work has been doubled here and I am
flying 10 hours a day.
2nd July 1940
It seems that
Angel and Junior were shot down just off the coast here - it's a
damned shame they were two grand blokes. Incidentally my
crew weren't with them - chaps I have flown with since came
16th July 1940
R.A.F. Station Oban
Just a note to
tell you I have moved.
26th July 1940
Station Hotel, Oban
I have just been
and bought the wedding ring - white gold, and half a size
smaller than the ring you sent me - I hope that I don't break
your finger putting it on!
1st August 1940
Station Hotel, Oban
I have just
received your grand present, it is marvellous, much too nice
for the boat.
(Ann made and embroidered a
table cloth for Reg's flying boat)
I have been
trying to work out some sort of programme for September. I
arrive in Portsmouth on Friday evening (27th). We are married on
Saturday afternoon, spend Saturday night in London and catch the
7.30 (evening) train on Sunday - arrive (Somewhere!) for four or
five days honeymoon - and then Oban.
16 August 1940
Reg took Sunderland ‘H’ of 210
Squadron, ‘Queen of the Air’, on patrol in very poor weather
conditions in support of a five ship convoy.
Queen of the Air
Owing to the weather he considered
aborting, but a call came through informing Reg that the Empire
Merchant had been torpedoed and they were told to search for a
U-boat. It was five hours later that U-51 was spotted.1 Reg steeply banked the Sunderland into
the attack, throwing members of his crew around.
My second pilot spotted the
U-boat about 300 yards on our port side. It began to submerge at
once. As we passed over the swirl we let go a salvo. The bombs
apparently got just under the submarine before they went off. It
was terrific. The surface of the sea seemed to shudder for yards
around then suddenly blow up. In the middle of all the foam the
submarine appeared, but sank again.
Reg’s rear gunner would receive a
painful souvenir of how low the attack had been, the explosion
buffeting the Sunderland, and the rear gunner banging his head of
the top of his turret.
We turned and dropped another
salvo plumb in the middle of the patch of foam. Up came the U-boat
once more, but this time it rocketed out of the water at such an
angle that we could see daylight between it and the sea. It seemed
to stay poised for a moment, then slowly went down. I dropped a
third salvo just to make sure.
If a coup de grace was needed that
supplied it. Huge air bubbles came rushing up – one was a good
30ft across – then masses of oil. The whole thing was over in a
Reg’s rigger brought his captain a cup
of tea after the sinking and Reg was heard to say ‘I’ll bet those
fellows in the sub are drinking salt water now instead of tea!’
The Senior Naval Officer with the
convoy was informed of the attack and apparent success and a
destroyer was sent to investigate further but found nothing. In fact
the U-boat had not been sunk, but four days later it would be sent
to the bottom by the British submarine HMS Cachalot. U-51 had sunk
eight ships on four patrols.
Reg returned home landing at 7.30 that
evening. Believing a kill had been made a white star would soon
appear on the hull of ‘Queen of the Air’.
For this and subsequent successes
against the U-boat threat Reg Baker was awarded the Distinguished
Flying Cross. Reg and his wife of six months Norma Ann went to
Buckingham Palace in March 1941 to receive his DFC from the King.
There is a chapter
from David Masters book
'So Few' first published in 1941 describing in full the
attack that won Reg his first DFC.
29 August 1940
Reg scored his second success against
Just before dawn, the
Queen of the Air began to roar over, the waters. The smoke from the
adjacent city mingled with the mist to add to the difficulties of that
particular base, but she got safely away and was soon heading out to
sea to pick up her convoy. At dawn contact was made and thereafter for
hour on hour the captain and crew of the Sunderland carried out their
normal submarine patrol, circling the convoy and flying ahead to
search for submarines or mines in the course of the ships.
About 11 o'clock that morning the
escorting destroyer signalled: "There's a U-boat about here
somewhere." The sensitive ears of the Asdic had detected the sound of
the submarine moving under the sea and the naval commander had at once
invoked the eyes overhead to help to find the enemy:
Diving low, the
flying-boat began a creeping line ahead search, but it was about ten
minutes before the keen eyes on the aircraft saw the track of the
submarine's periscope. Instantly the captain attacked with a depth
charge, flinging the crew about as he came round steeply to get in
another attack before climbing to finish the U-boat off with bombs. He
made no mistake. All that he had been taught about the distance a
submarine can travel under water in a minute was in his mind as he
made his three attacks along the track of the invisible-enemy.
Directly the Sunderland had finished attacking, the destroyer came
roaring on the scene to add a few more depth charges just to make
sure. The huge air bubbles which belched up to the surface and the
gobs of oil which appeared and spread over the area marked the
destruction of the enemy. When the destroyer carried out a sweep with
the Asdic, she signalled: "No contact. Sub destroyed."
That evening the
Queen of the Air landed at her base at 6 o'clock with a very happy
crew. If anyone had cause for complaint it was the rear-gunner who had
another large bump on the top of his head to prove how the explosion
had flicked the tail and jolted him hard against the top of the
turret. But he was in no mood to grouse. He was quite willing to stand
any number of bumps providing they got the U-boats. So, with due
ceremony, the second white star was painted on the hull of the
You have to be
quick to catch a prey of this kind. Everything must be done in the
course of about a minute. If you miss your target on your first
dive, he submerges deep and cannot be despatched with the same
assurance by the time you have regained height and swooped for
28 September 1940
Reg Baker married Norma Ann Snelling
at Christ Church, Portsdown, Hampshire.
The war wouldn’t leave them alone even
then, as an air raid took place during the ceremony.
As they were pronounce man and wife,
the all clear sounded.
3rd U-boat Kill
A Sunderland Flying Boat from Coastal Command attacks
The third white
star was earned on October 17th, about 300 miles away from Cape
Wrath, that bleak headland in the north of Scotland, where the
Atlantic pours through the Pentland Firth into the North Sea, often
with such fury under the lash of the gales that the English Channel
at its worst bears no comparison. Getting away in the dark about
5.30 in the morning, the crew of the flying-boat watched the dawn
gradually light up the sea beneath them. For several hundred miles
they cruised on their normal routine of guarding a convoy when,
about 9.30, the warning Klaxon blared through the aircraft.
The front gunner
sighted the submarine on the starboard side and at once signalled
and opened fire. It was on the surface and travelling towards the
convoy, but a smart look-out was being kept on the submarine, for it
immediately did a crash dive. Quickly as it tried to escape,
however, it was seconds too slow for the Sunderland, whose captain
sent her diving down to attack. Round came the flying-boat, throwing
her crew about, to attack again. Just before this attack, all on
board felt the flying-boat stagger as a great blow hit the tail.
"There was a most colossal crack on the tail plane," explained
Flight Lieutenant Baker later. "It gave us a big shaking."
The rear-gunner who
received his usual bump on the head when the first attack was made,
got a nastier bump still the second time round, for there was a big
explosion inside the submarine and he saw pieces of wreckage flying
up out of the sea and felt them hitting the tail plane. "The tail
plane has been damaged by wreckage from the sub," he reported to
They watched the
surface of the sea belching great air bubbles, saw the oil gushing
up and spreading wider and wider, and as the sea quietened down the
captain turned the flying-boat for home. "Are you all right?" he
inquired of the rear-gunner through the "intercom." this is the
service way of describing the intercommunication system between the
members of an aircraft.
The rear-gunner felt his
no need for you to press the buzzer in future," he replied, "as
every time I get a crack on the head I shall know you've got a
They landed safely
at base, to find their tail plane fabric badly cut about in dozens
of places by the wreckage hurled up from the exploding submarine. In
due course the third star made its appearance on the hull of the
Queen of the Air.
Silver salver from Doncaster Mayor
The Mayor of Doncaster presented a silver
salver to Reg in recognition of his DFC
Search Find and Kill Coastal
Command’s U-boat Successes, Franks
N.L.R. (Aston Publications) p16
Search Find and Kill
Coastal Command’s U-boat Successes,
Franks N.L.R. (Aston Publications) p16
page last updated:Monday 22 December 2008
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.