Battle of Britain London Monument – P/O K G Hart

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Privacy Statement The Airmen’s Stories – P/O K G Hart

 

The term’Flying Ace’ originated early in WW1 by the French, who considered any fighter pilot who destroyed five enemy aircraft in combat in the air to be worthy of that title. The Americans were quick to follow with this honour, in naming their pilots, but the RAF were always somewhat reluctant to use that term.

It was only in the Second World War that the RAF really began to use the phrase, mainly for publicity purposes, when things began to get tough for the pilots attacking larger numbers of enemy aircraft, as depicted during the Battle of France and Britain.

Luck did play a part in building up their scores, but the fighter pilot had to be just that bit better at flying than his opponent in the heat and disarray of air battles. Kenneth Hart fitted that description and was decorated for his skill by the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross for destroying a total of 9 enemy aircraft, and damaging many others, making him an ‘Ace’, this is his story.

Kenneth Grahame Hart was born at Mitcham, Surrey, on the 27th April 1921, the second son of Frederick and Elizabeth Hart who lived firstly at ‘Rayleigh’ 16 Bishops Park Road, and then 38 Galpins Road, and finally 75 Headcorn Road, all in Thornton Heath, SE London.

Kenneth Hart entered Norbury Manor Junior Mixed School on the 27th April 1926 (along with his brother Charles), moving to the seniors on the 31st March 1930. He then won a place to Heath Clark Central School, Thornton Heath on the 5th September 1932, being also an active member of the 34th Croydon Scout Group.

He passed the Royal Society of Arts Stage 1 in English in July 1935, finally leaving school prematurely during May 1936 in order to start work. Ken would travel the short journey to his work past Croydon Airport, often stopping to look at the aircraft taking off and landing. He always had an interest in flying, and being an avid reader of the Biggles novels soon decided to join the RAF.

He was accepted on a short service commission and made an acting Pilot Officer in March 1939 (No. 42222). After his training finished Hart arrived at the 11 Group Pool in December 1939 and on the 25th January was then posted to 65 Squadron at Hornchurch.

During March 1940 as a front line squadron flying Spitfires, the squadron were featured in LIFE magazine, Hart being photographed by the magazine photographer William Vandivert wearing the B Type flying helmet, Mk III goggles and Mk 19 microphone/oxygen mask, looking the part of a dashing eighteen year old fighter pilot (photos below).

 

 

His first sortie was on the 1st April when he was engaged on a Convoy Patrol along the Channel from 1120-1230 flying in Spitfire N3164, the Squadron ORB then shows ‘Nothing to Report’ from 2nd to 30th April. During May 1940 65 Squadron were daily engaged providing air cover for the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo), and action was brisk.

Hart is shown flying his first patrol with B Flight, Blue Section between 1900-2015 on Monday 20th May in Spitfire K9920, investigating a ‘X19’ raid. The next day he is flying with Green Section when they were sent off to intercept ‘X43 raid’ (an X search – code for enemy aircraft ) off Dunkirk, but saw nothing.

On 22nd May, ‘A’ Flight led by F/Lt.Gerald ’Sammy’ Saunders took off at 0830 to patrol over the area between Calais to Dunkirk. Hart was flying No. 3 in Blue Section, when his engine developed trouble around the Arras area resulting in fire breaking out in his Spitfire K9920. By skilful piloting, he belly-landed with the undercarriage retracted at North Foreland. Although he was uninjured, the aircraft was completely burnt out.

Fighter Command flew 198 sorties on this day. Hart was back on patrol over the French Coast the next day, between 1930-2030 in Spitfire K9908, and again the following day between 0500-0700 and 0920-1020. RAF operations from the UK were now exclusively in support of actions in northern France.

On 26th May twelve Spitfires from the squadron took off at 0815 led by S/Ldr. Cooke for an offensive patrol over the Calais-Dunkirk area, Hart flying in Spitfire K9921 YT-O. They came across at least 50 enemy aircraft consisting of Me109’s with Me110’s bombing Calais, along with Henschel 126’s in their reconnaissance role, and immediately engaged them. Pilots of the squadron were soon involved in several dogfights with the Luftwaffe at 8000 feet, resulting in a final tally of 3 Me109’s destroyed, 5 probable or damaged, 2 Me110’s destroyed and 1 Hs126 destroyed.

Hart shot down one of the Me 109’s at about 0840, seeing it crash in flames onto the beach at Dunkirk, unfortunately his aircraft was hit in the starboard wing (possibly by Hptmn Balthasar (Staffelkapitan of 1/JG1), forcing Hart down onto the same beach alongside the burning Messerschmitt (possibly that of Leutnant M Jaczak).

‘During a dogfight in which 65 Squadron were engaged, I sighted several Me 109’s in formation in line astern. I attacked nearest from behind. I fired 2 bursts of 2 seconds at 300 and 280 yards. I then saw the enemy aircraft fall out of the formation and crash to the ground. I was then attacked from behind and forced down. My aircraft was completely unserviceable, and after usual formalities, returned to my base, by sea and rail’.

Hart managed to escape from the damaged Spitfire uninjured, (although the Air Ministry Casualty File No. 5801 of 26.5.40 first records that he gave out a radio message stating he was injured, and intended to torch the Spitfire using his flare pistol). Hart escaped back to the UK via a ship engaged on Operation Dynamo on the 28th May, quickly rejoining 65 Squadron at Hornchurch.

Over 200 sorties were flown on the 26th by the RAF, with the loss of eight RAF fighters and pilots (two returning later to the UK, one being Hart). Having now crash landed twice in four days, on his return, Hart was given leave.

He returned to active duties on Saturday 15th June, this time flying Spitfire N3126 on a convoy patrol between 1020-1215. The military situation remained grim, with the French Army retreating towards Brittany, and Fighter Command taking part in 22 operations without any further losses. Four more patrols were carried out by 65 Squadron between the 20th and 24th June, again with no results.

On the 25th, three sections had been detailed to patrol over the Abbeville area between 1625 and 1805 at 17,000 feet, led by F/Lt. Saunders. Hart was flying a Spitfire Mk1, R6618. They were met by 12 Me109’s over France and during the ensuing dogfight P/O Hart fired 520 rounds, claiming a Me109 as certain.

‘I was No 3 in Blue Section in line astern and as an enemy aircraft came in a steep diving right hand turn to get on our tail, I broke formation to manoeuvre into an astern position. I fired two long bursts at about 200 yards and I observed the enemy aircraft to dive vertically to the ground out of control and black smoke was pouring out of the engine and fuselage’.

Sgt. Franklin fired 240 rounds, claiming 2 Me 109’s, P/O Smart 560 rounds, claiming 2 Me 109’s as ‘probables’, and F/O Walker expending 2,785 rounds claiming another ‘probable’. Hart also damaged, and forced away, two others, smoking badly, leaving the rest of the squadron to damage six others.

All returned safely to Hornchurch with no bullet hole or mark on any of the aircraft. Three more early morning patrols were carried out by Hart flying over Manston in the same Spitfire R6618 on the 26th at 0330, and on the 27th at 0910 over Canterbury, and at 1030 over Calais, with no intercepts.

The month of July started quietly with 65 Squadron carrying out evening patrols, flying practice and exercises with the Thames Estuary gun defences. Unknown to the pilots of Fighter Command this was the eve of the Battle of Britain.

On Friday 5th July the weather was poor and enemy activity was naturally on a reduced scale, but at 0556 9 Spitfires from 65 Squadron took off to intercept raiders over the coast. One lone Heinkel 111 of 8 Staffel/KG1 was sighted over Dover at 0615 and was fired at by anti-aircraft fire, which it managed to avoid, jettisoning their bombs. It was then intercepted by Blue Section consisting of Blue 1, F/O Proudman (sadly killed 2 days later), Sgt. Kilner (Blue 2) and P/O Hart (Blue 3):

‘Blue section, of which I was No3 was leading, and No1 and 2 engaged the enemy aircraft. As they broke away I attacked the e/a who was in a left hand turn losing height rapidly. I closed in from 300 yards, firing into his port quarter 3/4 bursts. There was no return fire. I pursued in the attack from astern and delivered 2 more short bursts. The e/a was emitting smoke from fuselage and the undercarriage was down’.

All three were given a third share in its destruction, Proudman firing off 1655 rounds, Hart 1050, and Kilner 80 rounds into the Heinkel, shooting it down where it was seen to land on the sea off The Warren, near Folkestone, sinking almost immediately. Uffz. Rudolf Marchlowitz and Gefr. Burian were killed in the attack, whilst three of the crew who were wounded managed to escape the sinking aircraft using their Mae West’s to stay afloat. These were Ofw. Hermann Frischmuth, Uffz. Gottfried Wagner and Geft. Franz Martinck, who sadly drowned before the other two were picked up by the Dover Garrison and taken to Hawkinge.

This was the crew’s first operational flight over England, intending to damage a bomb dump near Lympne, Kent, taking off from Rosiere-en- Santerre, SW of Amiens, France. The aircraft was carrying no armour, and fitted with two additional machine guns that fired sideways.

Sunday 7th July started with 65 Squadron carrying out flying practice during the morning, but they would soon be involved in heavy dogfights with the Luftwaffe over Dover during early evening, with the loss of three experienced pilots. During the early afternoon a convoy of 35 merchant ships was making its way from the Isle of Wight towards Dover being protected by 43, 145, and 601 Squadrons along the Sussex Coast.

Sporadic attacks on the convoy were made by Do17’s with Kesselring’s Luftflotte 2 commencing fighter screen operations with free chases along the South Coast between Bognor and Dover. By 1830 the convoy was off Hastings and three squadrons from 11 Group were scrambled having received information from Pevensey and Rye CH radar of approaching raids, but were too late to intercept over 70 Me109’s.

An hour later, 45 Dornier Do17Z’s took off from their base at Arras with orders to bomb the convoy. Fifty-five minutes later they had sunk one of the ships and damaged three others. Seven Spitfires from 64 Squadron at Kenley together with six Spitfires from 65 Squadron at Hornchurch were ordered up at 2020 to intercept the raiders. Fighters from JG27 were sweeping over Kent and Sussex at the same time and ‘bounced’ 65 Squadron, shooting down and killing all three pilots of Green Section. ( F/O Proudman – Sgt. Hayes – P/O Brisbane).

P/O Hart recorded the events in his combat report for that day flying Spitfire R6620:

‘At 2020 B Flight were detailed to intercept raiders in the Channel. I was No 3 of Blue Section when it was attacked from the rear by a number of Me109’s. The section, warned by No2 broke up and manoeuvred to attack the Me109’s. I chased one aircraft and fired a burst of 115 rounds at approximately 250yds. The enemy aircraft did not take any evasive action but flew on a straight course without turning either way. I then noticed tracer bullets shooting past me, and did a steep turn to the right. My attacker had then disappeared into a cloud, so I orbited in the vicinity for some time until Blue 1 appeared when we returned to base at 2116’.

On 9th July at 0750 Hart took off in Spitfire R6618 from Manston aerodrome on a patrol lasting thirty minutes with no sight of the enemy. His next patrols were on Sunday 14th July and were carried out between 1415 and 1545 and 1615 to 1800 both in Spitfire R6618. The weather was not good, but this helped protect the nine small convoys making their way along the Channel.

Fighter Command flew 597 sorties this day almost all of them protecting the ships. Hart was up flying at 11am the next day in the same Spitfire trying to spot the dozen or so enemy reconnaissance aircraft that had been plotted flying singly off the South and East Coasts. He landed at 1225 without any contact being made.

Wednesday 17th July brought no change in the poor flying weather, the fine drizzle confining the Luftwaffe to isolated reconnaissance sorties and light raids. Hart partook in two one-hour patrols, one at 1300 and one at 1600 with no contacts on either.

Hart was up flying again the next day at 1000 for just one patrol lasting forty five minutes, again with no contact with the enemy due to the weather.

On Friday 19th July Fighter Command would record that 701 operational sorties took place with the loss of five RAF pilots killed with another five being wounded just for the loss of five Luftwaffe aircraft (although thirteen being claimed at the time).

This was the day that the Defiants from 141 Squadron were almost annihilated by the Me 109’s of II/JG2 Richthofen Geschwader. Hart undertook one patrol between 1200 and 1330 without sighting the enemy.

On Saturday 20th July Hart went on four separate sorties each lasting over the hour flying Spitfire N3128, the first commencing at 1300 and finishing at 2040. The convoy BOSOM made its way from Lyme bay to Dover during the day, Keith Park ordering that no less than 24 fighters from both Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons should be on standing patrols in order to protect the convoy. Another convoy went through the Channel the next day, this time with only twelve fighters acting as cover, it came under attack at 1430 by fifty Me 109’s and Me 110’s that were escorting a Gruppe of Dornier Do 17’s. These enemy aircraft were attacked by 43 and 238 Squadrons.

Hart undertook one sortie between 0925 and 1040 with no contacts. The afternoon was heralded by bad weather again taking hold, a number of barrage balloons being struck by lightning.

On the 22nd July Hart was back flying Spitfire R6618 at 0700 for forty minutes, this was the day that Reichmarshall Goering had laid his plans for the Luftwaffe’s part in the invasion of the UK under Operation Sealion (the Luftwaffe suffering five losses on this day).

Hart was up flying the next day in the same Spitfire between 1255 and 1345, but no heavy attacks came, giving Dowding and his commanders a breathing space in which to arrange their lines of battle.

On 24th July Hart flew Spitfire R6618 between 1050 and 1220 changing to Spitfire R6612 during the afternoon between 1300 and 1400. The Luftwaffe continued with isolated reconnaissance and nuisance attacks, but a much more dangerous raid took place on a convoy leaving the Medway about 1100. Eighteen Dorniers and forty 109’s from Adolf Galland’s III/JG26 attacked the convoy, 54 Squadron, helped by 610 and 65 Squadron engaged this formation.

Hart was one of the six Spitfires from his squadron that tried to get in close to the bombers but were unable to because of the effective cross-fire and compactness of the enemy formation, which eventually claimed the aircraft of the CO of 65 Squadron, S/Ldr. Henry Sawyer (who was later killed on take off on a night operation on the 2nd August) and P/O Colin Gray of 54 Squadron.

After all the action of the previous day, Hart and his fellow pilots should have had a well deserved rest on the 25th, but between 0615 and 1715 that day, Hart took part in another five sorties in two different Spitfires K9915 and R6620, even though the weather was low cloud with heavy rain.

On Saturday 27th July, Hart was back flying Spitfire R6618 again in another four sorties between 0925 and 2155. The weather continued stormy as another convoy set off from Portland towards Dover. Code-named BACON it was soon under attack by 40+ Ju87’s and 109’s despatched from Caen. Squadrons all along the coast were sent up in its defence, one of these being 65. No claims were made by 65 Squadron and the convoy made it safely to port.

Hart flew for just 15 minutes on the 28th and 50 minutes on the 29th whilst flying for an hour on the 30th, all on general patrols in Spitfire R6618. Five days rest followed and then he was sent on a night training exercise to Manston with P/O ‘Paddy’ Finucane.

Back on operations on 10th August Hart only flew for just over an hour in Spitfire R6618, due to the bad weather and lack of enemy activity.

On Sunday 11th he completed four sorties flying R6712 between 1215 and 2045 , this was a really busy day, probably a ‘dress rehearsal’ for Adler Tag (Eagle Day) that Goering had decided would take place in two days time. The Luftwaffe suffered more losses, with a final tally of 51, compared to the loss of 38 aircraft by the RAF.

Monday 12th August dawned fine but with patchy mist, General Wolfgang Martini (head of Signals Branch of the Luftwaffe) had persuaded Goering to attack the radar stations in readiness for Adler Tag. Ventnor, Dover and Pevensey stations were soon out of action whilst the bombers concentrated on Dover, Hastings and Portsmouth. Hart was already in the air on his first sortie by 0850 landing some 55 minutes later to refuel and rearm. The Luftwaffe’s next targets would be two small convoys AGENT and ARENA that were off the North Foreland. These were dive-bombed and 65 Squadron were sent off to intercept them. Hart was flying R6712 again and was one of the six Spitfires detailed for this counter attack. Unfortunately they arrived too late to prevent the bombing and were in turn engaged by the escorting Messerschmitt’s at 24,000 feet. His combat report gives the following account:

Whilst on patrol at about 1130 the squadron sighted about 30 Me109’s in tight vic of 5 and 7 over the channel off Deal. I was flying as Green 2 and attacked a formation of 7 Me109’s from above.
I dived onto the rearmost enemy aircraft who was some distance behind the rest, and approaching from the sun, I opened fire at about 150yds onto its starboard quarter, and after a 4 second burst, the enemy aircraft broke away and dived straight into the sea approximately 15 miles NE of Margate. I then climbed to 10,000ft and was unable to locate my section, so returned to base. 420 rounds fired. 1 Me109 destroyed’.

Again Hart had to return to Manston in order to refuel and rearm, but at the point of take-off the airfield came under attack from the 109’s and 110’s of Erprobungsgruppe 210 led by Hauptmann Walter Rubensdorffer. Hart was in the process of taxying for take off when his engine suddenly stopped, caused by a nearby blast. Hart was not injured and the aircraft was repairable.Although a great cloud of black smoke hung over the airfield after the attack none of the Spitfires were badly damaged. Only F/O Jeffrey Quill (the Supermarine test pilot attached to 65 Squadron for a while) managed to take off during the attack. He recalled in 1992:

‘I remember Hart in 65 Squadron, but lost touch with him after I left the squadron. He was a nice chap, and I was sad to see that he was killed in 1944. Nevertheless he had an adventurous and distinguished career’.

For some reason Hart did not fly during the Adler Tag operation, on the 13th, (this could be due to his regular aircraft suffering damage from the previous days attack) but he was up the next day flying Spitfire R6618 from 1150 to 1300, when the squadron claimed 2 kills and two probables.

Kesselring launched two main attacks during the day, the first wave showed up on the Dover Chain High Radar to be massing in the Pas-de-Calais area. Keith Park ordered up forty two aircraft from 32, 65, 610 and 615 Squadrons who met up with three Gruppen of Handrick’s JG26 Messerschmitts who were escorting eighty Ju87’s of Keil’s II/St.G1 and von Brauchitsch’s IV/LG1.

The resulting dog-fights involved over 200 aircraft wheeling around the skies over Dover. By the end of the day the Luftwaffe suffered 27 losses to the RAF’s 11. 15th August would become known in the Luftwaffe history as ‘Black Thursday’ with 75 aircraft being shot down (although recorded in the daily newspapers at the time as 144 ), against the RAF loss of only 17 pilots (16 wounded). Hart was on readiness all day but only flew for a test flight at 6am.

On Friday 16th August the first raids began around midday with airfields at West Malling, Tangmere, Westhampnett and Manston being attacked. German Intelligence calculated that the RAF had just 300 serviceable aircraft available, whereas there were in fact 570 Spitfires and Hurricanes, along with another 102 Defiants, Gladiators and Blenheims at its disposal.

Hart took off at 1240 in R6618 but landed ten minutes later. He was in the air again by 1255 for a further forty five minutes with 64, 266, 32 and 111 Squadrons to meet with 150 enemy aircraft head on that had crossed the coast near Dover. The Luftwaffe lost 45 aircraft and their crews by the end of the day, and F/Lt. James Nicholson had earned the Victoria Cross for a heroic action over Southampton.

Monday 19th August was a cloudy day, and only one large attack was made by a hundred Me109’s of Osterkamp’s Jafu 2, between midday and 1300, with a loss of only six aircraft. Hart flew Spitfire R6618 on one sortie between 1630 and 1720.

The next day Tuesday 20th proved more eventful for P/O Hart flying his usual aircraft R6618. The Luftwaffe made several reconnaissance flights in order to see what damage had been inflicted on the airfields. At about 1430 a formation of twenty-seven Dornier 17’s of KG3 escorted by about thirty Me109’s from 1/JG51 were reported flying up the Thames Estuary towards London. Within eight minutes more than 40 fighters from six squadrons had been scrambled. F/Lt. Gerry Saunders led the six Spitfires of 65 Squadron from Rochford to engage with the enemy aircraft, destroying two 109’s and probably destroying another, along with a Do17. During these combats Hart’s Spitfire received direct hits into its engine, forcing him down unhurt over Havengore Island Foulness, at about 1530, the aircraft becoming a write-off. Whilst these engagements were taking place, Winston Churchill was making his famous speech to Parliament:

‘The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’.

Hart was up again the next day at 7am in a new aircraft, Spitfire R6987, for a short test flight lasting fifteen minutes in the rain.

He was then given two days leave, and would be back in the air on Friday 23rd at 10am in R6987 completing two sorties, the ORB declaring ‘nothing of importance was reported’. One of the Poles in 65 Squadron, P/O Boleslaw Drobinski, recalled in 1992:

‘I met Kenny Hart in 65 East India Squadron when I joined it in August at RAF Hornchurch. He was a very lively fellow, and full of good humour and friendly. I liked him as a friend and a fellow pilot. He seemed always to have a smile on his face’.

Saturday 24th August was sunny in the South, which prompted heavy raids on 11 Group area. Manston was attacked, destroying buildings and telephone lines and leaving unexploded bombs on the runway. There were also raids on Hornchurch, North Weald, Dover and Portsmouth. Hart was in the air by 0845 and would complete six sorties by 8pm.

Keith Park ordered that all of his squadrons should get airborne to engage with the large enemy formations. It was this day in particular that showed the vulnerability of the ‘Big Wing’ theory, when Park requested help from Leigh-Mallory’s 12 Group aircraft. Only F/Lt. Brian Lane of 19 Squadron was able to be of any help, claiming three enemy aircraft destroyed.

A large formation of a 100+ enemy aircraft were encountered around 3.30pm at 22,000ft by 65 Squadron over Dover. Ken Hart claimed a Me110 as probably destroyed, whilst flying Spitfire R6764, his short combat report giving details:

‘Whilst on patrol at 18,000ft over the Estuary, the squadron sighted e/a. I was flying as Green 3 and in the dog-fight that ensued; I attacked a Me 110 from behind and above. I opened fire from 200yds, the e/a half-rolled and fell away, apparently out of control with heavy black smoke pouring from the aircraft. I did not follow as there were other e/a nearby’.

(A Me110 from Aufklarunges Gruppe Ob.d.L was shot down over Sheerness crashing into the sea with Lt. Hofer and two NCO’s recorded as missing on this day, W/Cdr. Beamish from 151 Squadron claimed this casualty at 1600.)

On Sunday 25th August 65 Squadron returned from Rochford to Hornchurch, this being the only flying they did that day.

The next day at 1100 150+ hostile aircraft were tracked on their way to bomb Biggin Hill and Kenley airfields. They were intercepted and scattered by six squadrons. At 1440 the eleven Spitfires of 65 Squadron were scrambled to intercept 100+ aircraft in the Thames Estuary on their way to bomb Hornchurch and North Weald. They were engaged at 20,000ft where three enemy aircraft were claimed as destroyed with two probables and one damaged with no losses to the squadron.

This would be the last big sortie that Hart would undertake during the Battle of Britain. On the 27th Fighter Command finally decided to ‘rest’ 65 Squadron for the next two months by sending them off the front line to RAF Turnhouse (7 miles west of Edinburgh), the following three days were spent flying the aircraft via Church Fenton. Hart is shown in the squadron ORB for 17th October flying a short patrol in Spitfire X4233 from 0720 to 0830.

By November 65 Squadron had moved back down south to RAF Tangmere, and on 5th November Hart claimed a share in the destruction of a He111 over London, but this does not feature in the official claims and casualties list.

Although the Battle of Britain was officially over, the raids by the Luftwaffe did not stop, and the squadrons of 11 and 12 Groups were still kept busy over the Channel. In March 1941 Hart was posted as a Flying officer to 59 OTU to instruct, moving soon afterwards to 55 OTU and then in July to 60 OTU.

On 13th November he was posted to the Middle East joining 250 Squadron flying Curtiss Tomahawks in Egypt, their motto reading ‘Close to the Sun ’ . The squadron was on the offensive, fighting intensively during the advance to Tobruk with bomber escorts and fighter sweeps, although the Tomahawks were also suffering from various engine troubles. On 21st November whilst on patrol, Hart suffered damage to his aircraft by ack-ack fire. He was forced to land at Landing Ground 132 and was officially posted ‘missing’ by the squadron.

He returned the next day, after some hasty repairs to his aircraft. On 4th December he was back in the thick of combat claiming a Mc200 as destroyed SE of Tobruk, (by blowing out its cockpit according to his combat report !) along with damaging a Me110.

Three days later on the 7th, he claimed a share in damaging the engine of a Ju88. On 11th December Hart claimed the destruction of a Me109 and damaging another, along with a share in a Ju88 over Gazala. For these actions, along with his previous combats during the Battle of France and Britain he was finally recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross (gazetted 20th January 1942), the citation reading:

This officer has displayed great courage and skill in operational duties. In December 1941 during a patrol his squadron intercepted a force of 24 enemy bombers escorted by 27 fighters. In the ensuing engagement F/O Hart shot down two aircraft and several times prevented attacks on his fellow pilots. He has destroyed at least eight enemy aircraft.

On 7th January 1942 Hart damaged an Italian Savoia Marchetti 79 bomber and on the 22nd had a quarter share in the destruction of a Me110 just west of Marsa Brega, whilst escorting 10 Blenhem aircraft. This enemy aircraft was from 2(H) 14 with all the crew being captured and made POW’s.

On 26th January 1942, having completed a ‘tour’, Hart was posted to Rear HQ Desert Air Force, then joining 71 OTU in the Sudan as a Flight Lieutenant Instructor in February. He was posted to 94 Squadron on 10th August 1942 but returned to 71 OTU on 20th September.

On 10th February 1944, he was posted to 18 Squadron, flying Boston light bombers. Throughout 1944 he completed over 33 ground attack sorties, destroying airfields and a variety of motor transport over Italy and into Southern France. He was quite rightly promoted to Squadron Leader.

On 28th December 1944 whilst flying Boston BZ557 on a night intruder/armed recce of Villafranca aerodrome, his luck ran out. S/Ldr. Hart and his crew of F/Sgt. Bluston (Navigator), F/O J Woods ( Wireless Operator), and Air Gunner WO RJ Frizzel (RNZAF) were hit by flak, the aircraft seen to be enveloped in fire when it crashed with no survivors.

Ken Hart was just 23 years of age, and is remembered with honour in a collective grave (No 3, Row E12) with his crew at Coriano Ridge War Cemetery near Riccione, Italy.

 

Copyright Simon Muggleton 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above cemetery images courtesy of The War Graves Photographic Project
www.twgpp.org

 

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