fore that, to distract the enemy eight Hurricane fighter-bombers
were to attack the spirits manufacturing plant in St. Pol. These
were escorted by another six Spitfire squadrons with 64 aircraft.
This operation was code-named Ramrod 8. From the very beginning
the odds were against the British. Strong wind scattered the formations which did not meet at the planned time. The command was
given to elderly W/Cdr D.R.Scott who had served in administration
and never commanded the operation at such a large scale, in fact
he did not fly combat missions at all! On ther other hand the German defense performed perfectly. The area headquarters reacted
quickly and dispatched the fighters exactly to the right spot in a timely manner. On the top of it the fighters were led by Adolf Galland,
a seasond veteran with enormous experience. He had gained the
combat experience during 1937-38 in Spain. During WWII he flew
705 combat missions and shot down 104 enemy aircraft (all at the
Western Front). During Circus 110 he shot down 2 Spitfires which
accounted for his 94th and 95th victories.
When RAF fighters crossed the French coastline, the bombers failed
to rendezvous at the agreed point. Therefore, W/Cdr Scott ordered
the fighters to fly in tight circles at this point. The British pilots
were too busy to maintain the formation and not to collide. They
had no time to sufficiently monitor the environment and at exactly
that time the German Fw 190 and Messerschmitts Bf 109 form JG
2 and JG 26 dived on them like hawks. Canadian 412 Squadron was
responsible for the top cover of the whole formation. It’s 12 Spitfires were the first target of the enemy’s attack. Magee flew in four
aircraft section with squadron commander S/Ldr G.D.Bushenell,
P/O K.R.E.Denkman and Sgt.O.F.Pickells. All three were shot down
and killed. Their victor was II./JG 26 commander Joachim Muncheberg. On that day only two of his kills were confirmed accounting
for his 62nd and 63rd victories. His total score was 135 kills out of
which 102 at the Western Front. Magee was the only survivor from
that section, his aircraft undamaged. During the encounter he shot
160 machine gun rounds.Considering Spitfire machine guns‘ rate
of fire he shot two seconds burst. It seems probable that it was
only an aiming shot. It’s supported by the fact the he did not use
cannons and also after landing did not claim any hits and enemy’s
aircraft damage. It was the only Magee’s encounter with Lutfwaffe. He flew the mission in AD291 coded VZ-H, the aircraft that
later sealed his fate. On that day the German pilots claimed total
24 aircraft shot down. In reality RAF lost 15 Spitfires and 14 pilots.
Besides the 412 Squadron commander another 2 leaders were lost-S/Ldr W.Szczeszniewski from 315 Polish Squadron was killed and
S/Ldr W.Wilczewski from 316 Polish Squadron became POW. Even
commanding office W/Cdr Scott lost his life. His last radio transmission supposedly sounded like this: „I suppose I am too old for
this boys“. Sgt. Svatopluk Stulir, a Czech member of 65 Squadron
was among the pilots who perished. He was killed after a hit from
Bf 109 nearby Le Touquet. The British pilots claimed four kills.
In reality Lufwaffe only lost two aircraft, one German pilot was
killed and another seriously wounded. Both sides suffered damages
to a number of aircraft.
A fateful collision
It was the last RAF operation type Circus in 1941. Futher large-scale daylight raids were only resumed in the spring of 1942. Magee
no longer participated in those. Between November and December
1941 he flew three more combat missions-convoy escorts without
any contact with the enemy. On Thursday December 11, 1941, at
10:40 am he took of with some other pilots to practice the formation flying. He flew Spitfire Mk.Vb serial AD291 again. Upon their
return to the base at 11:30 am, Magee together with three other
pilots had to fly through the clouds. They found a small gap in
the cloud cover and initiated their descent. However, they did not
see an Airspeed Oxford trainer flying right below the cloud cover.
The aircraft serial number T1052 was piloted by 19 years old LAC
Ernest Aubrey Griffin. He was two weeks short of finishing his training and took off from Cranwell for a solo training flight. Oxford’s
and Magee Spitfire’s flight paths intersected at approximately 400
meters above the ground. Spitfire’s engine broke off and so did the
left wing right at the attachements to the fuselage. The crippled
aircraft fell to the ground like a stone. A farmer who witnessed the
accident stated that at about 120 meters Spitfire pilot had struggled to open the canopy. He managed to do so and bailed out
but was too low and the parachute could not fully deploy. Magee
landed at the field nearby Roxholm Hall and was killed instantly.
Not far away, the Oxford pilot, Aubrey Griffin met the deatch in the
INFO Eduard - August 2021
wreck of his aircraft. The majority of the internet sources state
that the collision took place at the altitude of 400 feet. They go on
with the exactly same description of the events that followed so
obviously the error is carried along. In reality the collision took place at the altitude of 1400 feet which is approximately 400 meters.
Clearly it is an error in converting the imperial and metric units of
measurement. This is also supported by a fact that some internet
sources state that Magee’s high altitude flight was performed at
10 000 feet and not 10 000 meters. In case of 10 000 feet we cannot
really speak about a high altitude flight.
A place in the history
Magee was buried on December 13, 1941 at the cemetery in Scopwick in Lincolnshire. He was only 19 years old. In the evening,
after the burial, all pilots at the base were summoned. They were
lectured in safety rules and shown an instructional film Flight Safety.
Magee’s poem High Flight continued to live its own life even after
his death. The same month his father published it in his church‘s
periodical. Poet and writer Archibald McLeish, who at that time
was in charge of the Library of the Congress, took note of the poem.
In February 1942 he included the work into the poetry exhibition
named Faith and Liberty. The poem manuscript has been in the
Library of Congress ever since. This poem gradually became kind
of the anthem for all English-speaking aviators and later astronauts.
High Flight is an official RAF and RCAF poem. Astronaut Michael
Collins took it with him on the Gemini 10 mission and James Irwin
brought it all the way to the Moon on the Apollo 15 mission. In 1986
American president Ronald Reagan quoted from it during his speach
after the Challenger spaceship disaster. It also appeared in the popular culture – for example in the TV series Simpsons or Battlestar
Gallactica. In the end it should be noted that other Magee family member left they mark in the history. His father, reverend
John Magee, helped a lot of Chinese during the Nanking massacre.
He also documented the Japanese atrocities with the camera.
Nowadays his films are stored in the Nanking museum. His cousin,
Chris Magee, was a fighter ace during the WWII. He served under