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History of St. Lawrence

 

 

 

THE WAR COMES TO ST LAWRENCE

Many thanks to Harry Kyle for the following article

 

By the summer of 1940, with occupied France firmly under their control, the Germans were busily preparing for a decisive aerial assault on Britain, and Southern England found itself in the front line as the Luftwaffe established air bases in Northern France.

Prior to all-out attacks on ports and airfields in the South of England, the German Air Force attacked Britain's convoys sailing through the English Channel, partly to close this route to shipping, but primarily to bring the RAF to battle and destroy it piecemeal as it came up to defend the convoys. The RAF was not to be drawn however, and limited its response to sending one or two fighter squadrons to disrupt the attacks rather than prevent them.

One such occasion was a convoy battle off St Lawrence on the 8th of August, when 20 merchant ships with an escort of 9 naval vessels sailing westwards down the Channel was warned by Ventnor radar that a large force of hostile aircraft was heading in their direction. Fighter Command had also been alerted and scrambled two Hurricane squadrons, No 145 from Westhampnett and No 43 from Tangmere, to intercept the raid. The Luftwaffe force consisted of 57 Junkers Ju 87B dive bombers, 20 Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighters. Although the Hurricanes were heavily outnumbered they waded in and a fierce air battle developed off the Island's south coast in which both sides suffered grievous losses. Although the RAF fighters saved the convoy from annihilation it nevertheless lost 7 ships sunk and a further 18 damaged, six so badly that they had to put in to Poole harbour for repairs.

During the course of the battle a Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Parrott of 145 squadron attacked a Ju 87 of 4 Staffel, Stukageschwader 77, and damaged it so severely that it just managed to reach the Island and crash land at the top of St Lawrence Shute. Of the two man crew, the pilot was badly wounded and died shortly after the aircraft came down but the gunner survived and was taken prisoner. The dive bomber became the first German aircraft to be shot down on the Isle of Wight and was featured at great length in the local press. There is an excellent picture picture of this Stuka in Adrian Searle's book The Isle of Wight at War 1939 - 1945.

German losses in the air battle were 8 dive bombers, 7 fighters and 2 fighter bombers, with 21 aircrew killed, 3 missing and 5 rescued. RAF losses amounted to 10 fighters with 8 pilots killed and 2 saved. This tally when added to the ships sunk and damaged bears eloquent testimony to the ferocity of that battle off St Lawrence in the summer of 1940.

Harry Kyle