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31 July 1940 - 3 Spitfires from 74 'Tiger' Squadron shot down on one sortie including Sgt Fred Eley

Three Spitfires from 74 sqn from Hornchurch were shot down at 4pm over Folkestone Pier. Sgt F. Eley was shot down in flames (see photo left); P/O HR Gunn was shot down into the Channel; and F/Lt DPD Kelly’s Spitfire was very badly damaged but he was able to return to base.

Frederick William Eley was born on 14th May 1919 and in his early years lived at Cholmondeston Hall Farm, near Wettenhall, south Cheshire where his father was a dairy farmer.

The business failed, Fred's mother died and he went to live with the family of his cousin Brian George, seven years younger than Fred, in Aston, another nearby village. Both boys went to Nantwich and Acton Grammar School, popularly known as "NAGS". On leaving school Fred joined Lloyd's Bank, working first in rural Shropshire and then in the Potteries. He had always been interested in aviation and, in the spring of 1939, Fred joined the RAFVR at Tern Hill, near Market Drayton. He was called up on 1st September 1939 and, training completed, was posted to 74 Squadron at Rochford in Essex. Apart from a brief spell at Leconfield, the squadron would alternate between Rochford and Hornchurch until August 1940.

It was not until 31st July that 74 lost pilots in action in the Battle of Britain. This was a day of Luftwaffe attacks on shipping and on the Dover balloon barrage. In the late afternoon, 74 engaged Me109s over Dover. In the resulting fight the squadron suffered three casualties. P/O Gunn was killed, his body being recovered by the Germans and buried in Belgium. F/Lt. Kelly returned to Hornchurch uninjured, but in a badly damaged aircraft. Fred Eley's Spitfire went down burning off Folkestone harbour. It seems he was the victim of the vastly more experienced Oberleutnant Horst "Jakob" Tietzen, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

Boatmen and service personnel brought the British fighter ashore and Fred's body was recovered from the cockpit. Brian George remembers clearly the moment he learned that his cousin was gone. The school holidays had started and he was in the garden with his father. His mother came out of the house holding a telegram and crying.

Many local people attended Fred's funeral and there was an RAF flypast. "Jakob" Tietzen survived less than three weeks longer than Fred. On 18th August his aircraft fell into the sea off Whitstable, probably shot down by P/O Zenker of 501 Squadron. Six days later Zenker himself was killed. Tietzen was posthumously promoted to Hauptmann.

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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