[2nd Baron, Flying Officer Lord Richard Kay Shuttleworth of Gawthorp of 145 squadron]
Casualties in combat units on land, sea or air were always keenly felt by comrades. However heavy losses within a comparatively small and close-knit squadron of twelve operational pilots could be devastating to operational effectiveness and morale - none more so than on 8 August 1940.
As the Luftwaffe continued to attack shipping convoys on the south coast and draw the RAF into combat during the first phase of the Battle of Britain (10 July - 11 August 1940), many pilots were killed fighting over the Channel. Thursday 8 August was one such day for 145 squadron.
A significant convoy codenamed 'Peewit' which was passing south of the Isle of Wight came under sustained attack from German aircraft. 145 squadron were scrambled to meet the first raid at 9am. Lionel Sears (described by Geoffrey Wellum in 'First Light' as his closest friend during training as 'Peter' Sears) was shot down in his Hurricane at 9.05am. He was followed soon afterwards by Sgt Eric Baker at 9.15am. Both aircraft were lost over the Channel and both pilots listed as 'Missing'.
An afternoon raid was even more far-reaching for 145. A number of dogfights broke out with Stukas and Me110s over the same Channel convoy just south of the Isle of Wight at 4.40pm. Pilot Officer Ernest Wakeham and Flying Officer Lord Richard Kay-Shuttleworth failed to return after combat . Just five minutes later, Sub-Lieutenant Francis Smith (who had been loaned to the RAF from the Fleet Air Arm) was shot down into the sea and, like his comrades, listed as 'Missing'.
[Pilot Officer Ernest Wakeham, above]
Although the loss of valuable RAF pilots posed a significant threat to Britain's survival - as well as the effectiveness of individual squadrons - the numbers of men and aircraft available to fly never dropped to the vulnerable levels recorded in German intelligence reports. The ability of Fighter Command to mount a sustained defence throughout the summer of 1940 against Luftwaffe raids was critical to victory in the Battle of Britain.
If you would like to hear more about the experiences of fighter pilots such as Lionel Sears and others in 145 squadron on either a London walking tour or whole day tour in East Kent, please get in touch now. You can also visit the website www.thebattleofbritain.co.uk, call 07852 765901 or email email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of the Battle of Britain monument.