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'Slim' Coghlan - a mysterious end for a successful fighter pilot

John Hunter Coghlan, whose family came from Southsea, Hampshire, was born in Shanghai on 7th September 1914 and joined the RAF in January 1936.

He was posted to 7 FTS Peterborough on 18th April and joined No 1 Squadron at Tangmere on 25th October of that year. When 72 Squadron was reformed at Church Fenton in February 1937 Coghlan joined it but, in March 1938, he went back to No 1. After the outbreak of war he was posted to 56 Squadron at North Weald. In mid-May 1940 'A' Flight of 56 was operating from Lille by day and returning to North Weald at night. On 18th May 1940 he damaged two Me109s; probably destroyed a He111 on the 19th; and shared a He111 on the 27th. Two days later he damaged two Ju88s but the squadron was then withdrawn to Digby on the 31st to rest.

Above: 56 Squadron

F/O L Eriminsky, F/O P Down, F/O I Soden, F/O J Coghlan, F/O P Illingworth, F/O F Rose

F/O ML Hulton-Harrop, F/O E Holden

On 5th June the squadron was posted to North Weald again and Coghlan was appointed 'A' Flight Commander. He claimed a Do17 destroyed on 3rd July; probably destroyed a Me110 and damaged two Me109’s on the 10th; and then on 13th July he claimed a Ju87 and a Me109 destroyed. On this day his Hurricane, N2402, was damaged in an attack by Oberleutnant Fszs of 4/JG51, whilst engaging Ju87s of II/StG1 over the Channel, off Calais. Coghlan was slightly wounded.

On 30th July 1940 he was awarded the DFC and then posted to the Parachute Practice Unit at Ringway (now Manchester Airport) on 7th August. It seems strange in hindsight why an experienced and successful pilot should be transferred out of Fighter Command at a time of increasing strain.

He was killed in Lysander R2625 "C" on 17th August 1940 when it was lost over the Channel on an agent-landing sortie. The fate of his passenger is not known. His body was recovered by the Germans and he is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. Coghlan was 25 years old.

Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website

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