Irving Farmer "Hap" Kennedy was born in Cumberland, Ontario on Feb. 4, 1922. He grew up with two younger brothers and a sister. They all had a happy childhood in the dirty thirties, their parents were careful with money and they didn't go without food or the necessities. In the summers they nearly lived in the Ottawa River, "river-rats" Hap called themselves. Near their home the river was nearly 2000 feet across; Hap swam it when he was 12, a considerable accomplishment for that age. They roamed the hills and woods in general loving nature and being carefree. They skated and played hockey on the Ottawa River in winter.
As a child he read Billy Bishop's book, Winged Warfare, of his fighter combat experiences over France in WWI. He was convinced that this was to be his profession.
The war started when he was only 17 and in his final year of high school in Ottawa, but he joined up with the RCAF right away. Being under age he had to wait until he was 18 and enlisted on Oct. 21, 1940. His father encouraged him despite, or perhaps because, he was a veteran of the "Great War".
|He did his basic flight training in Canada at No.2 ITS (5 January to 7 February 1941), No.8 EFTS (7 February to 29 March 1941), and No.10 SFTS (10 April to 4 July 1941). Throughout flying training his desire to be a fighter pilot increased, although it was likely that he would be selected for some other aircraft, possibly bombers. The final selection wasn't made until the pilots finished their advanced flight training and were assessed on their abilities. He arrived as a Sergeant Pilot in the UK on 16 August 1941. Hap's abilities must have been obvious for he was sent to fly Hawker Hurricane fighters at No.55 Operational Training Unit.|
|In Sept. 1941 he was posted to an old squadron, No. 263 RAF, flying a new aircraft, the Westland Whirlwind. The entire squadron, men and aircraft, were reformed after the entire squadron went down with HMS Glorious on June 18, 1940 on the way back from the disastrous Norwegian campaign. When Hap joined them they were located at bases in the west country; Charmy Down, Colerne, Angle, Fairwood Common, Portreath, and Warmwell. He flew well and was promoted to Flight Sergeant in Jan. 1942 and was commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant in March 1942.|
|The Whirlwind was designed as a twin-engined fighter armed with four 20-mm cannons in the nose. It was a "hot ride" being light and powered by two engines, however, it was not quite agile enough to fight alone against the Bf-109F Messerschmitts that they met guarding France.|
|This meant that it was allocated to a ground-support role, at which it would likely have excelled, had there been an army to support in France. Unfortunately, there was not so they were reduced to flying cover for convoys coming through the English Channel and occasionally dipping into France to shoot up what they could find. These occasional forays, code-named "rhubarbs" were highly dangerous as the Germans had plenty of light and medium FLAK guns spread around France. They would put a 20-mm gun that could reach 6,000 ft at important cross-roads; at more important installations they would add 37-mm cannons capable of much longer ranges and for coastal protection and really important facilities they added the feared 88s (88-mm cannons) capable of ranges of nearly several miles with a rapid fire. Emplaced machine guns of 7.7 and 12.7 mm were all over, ready to take a shot at a British pilot foolish enough to come close. Low level flight over France was not a way to promote longevity in fighter pilots, and despite their heavy armament, many of the Whirlwinds and their pilots were downed and killed. In hindsight the rhubarbs were a terrible waste of allied fighter pilots, giving back little in return.|
|Hap Kennedy was of the opinion that they should have all been sent to fight Rommel's incursions in North Africa. They would have been greatly welcomed in that theatre, although the loss rate would have likely been higher.|
|One day while flying with 263 squadron he was watching a Spitfire alongside that was providing cover for their flight. He thought "That's what I want to fly and get into a scrap with Me-109s". He knew then that he wanted to continue the fight in that most graceful of fighter aircraft. He requested a transfer to a Spitfire squadron, several times, until he finally got what he wanted. In June 1942, after nine months in Whirlwinds, he was posted to a newly formed Canadian unit No. 421 "Red Indian" Squadron, RCAF flying Spitfire Vs. However, he was still in the west country, Exeter, Fairwood Common, Kenley, etc. and they were still flying largely convoy patrols. There were a few interesting sweeps over France and these helped to develop his sense of survival. He spent five months with 421 Squadron but he really wanted to get to grips with the Germans, so he volunteered for the closest active theater, Malta.|
|He arrived in Malta to join No 249 Squadron RAF in October 1942, just after the Germans had given up trying to bomb the tiny island into submission. Field Marshall Rommel had convinced Hitler that he could take Egypt without the Luftwaffe having to silence Malta. However, he was wrong. The island lay across the vital shipping route from Italy to Tripoli, his main supply base. This was very faulty logic for the British resupplied Malta furiously with fighters, first with Hurricanes and finally with Spitfire VCs so that they could hold their own in the skies against the German Bf-109Fs and the Italian Maachi 202s. A steady trickle of food, fuel, ammunition, aircraft and men got through the combined German and Italian efforts so that Malta held on. With the respite from German bombing the British resupply program caught up and there was a steady, and adequate supply of aircraft and pilots. Spitfires for aerial protection, Wellington bombers and Beaufighters for naval interdiction, as well as submarines, destroyers, cruisers and battleships to take on the Italian fleet.|
Air Vice Marshall Park, in charge of Malta, had previously sent a message to London requesting only experienced pilots. There was no time for learning in Malta, he had told them. But Fighter Command couldn't find enough fellows with experience, and had to ship out young nineteen-and twenty-year-olds who hadn't yet seen an aircraft with crosses on the wings.
|No. 249's job was to interdict Axis supplies going to North Africa, to harass the Germans and Italians in Sicily, to protect Malta from attack, and to provide aerial protection to whatever British forces in the area requested their assistance. This included providing air cover for sea rescue launches and aircraft looking for Allied airmen lost in the Mediterranean.|
In November Operation Torch, the U.S. and British landings at Oran and Algiers was about to commence. Kennedy and other pilots were collected and shipped to Gibraltar in whatever ships could be found as a convoy. U-boat activity was likely to be high but a sudden storm prevented them from finding the convoy. In Gibraltar they were given Spitfires to fly to Algiers and Bone to resupply the RAF squadrons with new aircraft. They were then returned to Malta to continue the fight from there.
Spitfire VCs of 249 Squadron over Malta
His first aerial victory came in early Feb. 1943 when he and another pilot attacked a Ju-52 transport and shot it down near Licata. "With 249 Squadron, I quickly learned that with a proper quarter-attack the gun-sight was deadly accurate. I found that I could attack a Junkers 88 and set one engine on fire very quickly, although I must acknowledge that their return fire was very accurate." This he and the others of 249 Squadron did at least three times over Sicily and the ocean.
In early March, three Spitfires of 1435 Squadron had been shot down near Comiso, Sicily. No. 229 Squadron headed out to provide air cover for a Sea Rescue launch. Then a flight from 249 was detailed to relieve those from 229, Kennedy was part of the relief flight.
"At 1005 hours, I was Tiger Red Three of 249's section of four Spits airborne to relieve 229. Just as we were taking over from Steve's section, flying north at 7,000 feet, ten miles off the coast, I saw a twin-engined aircraft far below us, outlined clearly against the blue sea.
"Tiger Red One. Red Three here. Aircraft ten o'clock way down on the sea proceeding north. Looks like a Junkers 88. Over."
"Tiger Red Three. Red One here. I got it. Attacking now."
Pilot Officer Oliver went down on the German aircraft in a standard rear-quarter attack at good speed, firing, then breaking down and away in order to present as little target as possible to the rear-firing gunner. Although we were near the Sicilian coast and the Junkers was only three minutes from land, there was no possibility of the Luftwaffe pilot escaping our height advantage. But as we had learned with Ju88s, the rear gunner's fire was effective and dangerous.
"Tiger Red Section. Red One. Be careful fellows. Make it fast. The gunner is accurate."
Red Two, Sergeant Stark, went in after his leader and was met by a hail of fire coming up from the 88 before he got within range. Nevertheless, he bored in and fired at the Junkers before breaking down, away and up again. Up again to get some height to bale out.
"My engine's had it. Tiger Red Two baling out." Stark's message was short.
I was next in, and thought that an unconventional attack might be best against this difficult gunner. The Junkers was not right on the water, but about 800 feet above it. I dove down to sea level, dead behind the Junkers with a good deal of throttle, depending on my excessive speed to offset the disadvantage of breaking upwards after the attack. When I pulled up from sea level at exactly 400 mph with the Junkers overhead, I had a perfect view of its belly, and took a very short but clear shot at the starboard engine. It immediately exploded in fire. Then I was climbing vertically and pulled back to roll off the top. In spite of my speed, the Junker's gunner punched a few holes in my tail, but no harm was done. Now the Junkers was going down, one crew member baling out, but too late, hitting the water with a partially opened parachute. I saw Red Four going in near the doomed aircraft, to be met by a hail of fire from the very determined gunner, still firing just seconds before he died.
Steve's section watched our scrap and continued to escort the motor launch until the Junkers went in, returning to Malta quite short of fuel. We continued the escort. The launch stopped to pick up Sgt. Stark, and then we all went home.
He was awarded a quarter victory in shooting down the Ju-88, a half victory on March 22, 1943 and another third on April 16. Shared victories were awarded when other members of the flight also got in shots on the aircraft. Again in April he and Squadron Leader J.J. Lynch caught and destroyed three Ju-52 transports off the coast of Sicily. He was awarded two victories for that days work.
The day after the attack on the Ju88 near Sicily he and three buddies went on leave to Tripoli. It had been wrenched from the Germans only five weeks before and was in an incredibly rough condition. However, it was better than Malta. After four days they were getting bored and hitched a ride all the way to Cairo. After their allotted time they were to return to Malta but found that all of the outbound aircraft were full with troops. Late that night, in a nightclub, they hatched a plan to "borrow" some American Kittyhawk fighters and ferry then back to Tripoli. Such are plans thought up in nightclubs.
They knew nothing about a Kittyhawk fighter and had to find an American to explain the basics of engine starting and getting the undercarriage up. The next morning they casually strolled into the compound at Helwan airbase and fired up four of the American fighters. The groundcrew didn't say anything, afterall the three Canadians and one Brit were officers. They got off and got the wheels up and headed to El Alamein following the coast. Kennedy was impressed with the massive destruction following the battles that had raged before Cairo. It actually inspired him to know that the Allies were finally getting their own back.
|They landed near El Adem and spent the night. Next day they were off again except one of his buddies couldn't get his wheels up and headed back to land. The others proceeded west along the coast past Marble Arch that Mussolini had set up to inaugurate the Italian Empire's new colonies in North Africa. It was blowing a great sandstorm but two of them got down okay. "Frithy" the Brit destroyed his aircraft after hitting a sand-filled 45-gallon drum. He caught a ride in a Hudson that was resupplying bases along the coast. Kennedy and the remaining Canadian flew to near Tripoli and left the purloined Kittyhawks and caught a ride with a Baltimore light bomber turned into a transport going to Tripoli. They were wandering the streets waiting for a flight to Malta when their two buddies showed up.|
"How's it going guys?" asked Steve, as nonchalant as ever.
"You and your damn schemes!" said Frith. "This is absolutely the first, last and only time that I'll go on leave with bloody Canadians! By God that's true!"
Kennedy and Steve Randall on Malta
Back in Malta, as part of the effort to restrict supplies to the Tunisian battlefields, they were detailed to attack Sicilian airfields, installations and vehicle convoys with bombs andstrafingg. This cost them a lot of pilots for the ground fire was heavy and accurate. As well, taking the fight to the Germans cost them aircraft and men for the Germans became expert at hit-and-run fights, diving out of the sun to pick off one or two Spitfires and head on down with superior speed. The Mediterranean Sea killed as many Allied aircrew as did the Germans, for many aircraft were only damaged in this kind of attack, but they still had to get home to Malta.
His flight of 249 Squadron was detailed to provide air cover for a destroyer between Malta and Sicily, one of two that had entered the area to interdict Italian shipping. They arrived just in time, spotting a Ju88 bomber making an approach on the destroyer. The Spitfire Vs were low over the water and the Ju88 had a 1000 feet of altitude on them. It would be a dicey attack, as the Junkers had nearly the same maximum speed at sea level as the Spit V.
The pilot of the Ju88 saw the Spitfires and turned smartly toward Sicily which was visible about 15 miles away.
Three of us attacked. Pilot Officer Oliver saw his fire hitting home. I was second in, pulling up with full throttle, no time to gain speed, attacking from low starboard to port.
A few good bursts and the Junkers was on fire. That had not been difficult; my problem now was my lack of speed in getting out of there. I was a fair target and the rear gunner let me have it. My windscreen was suddenly completely covered with oil as I broke down and away from the Junkers toward the sea. I didn't go too low because I could see nothingexceptt through the side. I pulled away, then up to 1500 feet, prepared to bale out if necessary. But my oil pressure needle never moved. Through the side perspex, I saw the Junkers 88 pilot moving smartly to put the burning aircraft down on the water, his quick action the only hope for his crew.
Still my oil pressure and temperature remained constant! It appeared that I had sufficient oil to continue flying, and that I was not suffering any further loss.
A Spitfire is small, and the cockpit is snug. I found that by slowing down, loosening the harness, opening the canopy, and carefully reaching around with my left glove tight to the curve of the perspex to prevent the slipstream from pulling my arm rearward, I was able to wipe the oil off the windscreen, and obtain moderately good vision ahead.
After an hour, 229 Squadron relieved us, right on schedule. We flew home at 2000 feet in case I had to bale out.
There were two, nice, clean holes, entry and exit, through the oil tank about halfway down. I had lost half my oil, but the Merlin engine hadn't missed a beat.
By March, 1943 he was leading flights of four.
The morning of April 22nd, he and the Squadron CO, John Lynch took off on a daring, long-range raid up the east coast of Sicily, across the Straits of Messina, then down onto the sea again north of Sicily heading west towards Palermo. Only two aircraft would go, carrying 90 gallon drop tanks under their fuselages. They were airborne at 0610 hours flying "on the deck" maintaining strict radio silence. Opposite Riposto Kennedy spotted an enemy aircraft also flying on the water. He had only a moment to decide whether to break radio silence to alert his CO or to fore-go the chance at attacking the enemy. He decided to break radio silence:
"Tiger Green One. Green Two here. Aircraft eleven o'clock ahead, same level, proceeding south. Over"
After a pause, Johnnie came on. "Green Two, I don't see it."
"Green One. Aircraft is now nine o'clock. Might be a Junkers 52." It was a few miles away.
Another pause and the C.O. came back. "I can't find it, Green Two."
We were going in opposite directions and whatever it was, it was now at seven o'clock and required drastic action. I pulled around hard to port and said, "Green One, I'm going back after him. I'll catch him before we lose him," and I opened up the throttle.
It was not long until I caught up with the transport aircraft which proved to be a Ju 52, oblivious to our presence. As Green One was still a long way back, I gave the Junkers a quick burst which set the port engine on fire. It crashed into the sea at once. Then I turned back north, the C.O. also turned, and we continued on our course without a word. I could not understand why he had taken so long to react, but felt justified in my attack.
Shortly after he spotted three specks in the sky and watched them for minute. They were constant and so had to be aircraft. He again hailed the C.O.:
"Tiger Green One. Green Two here. There are three small aircraft, possibly 109s, twelve o'clock deck level. I don't know if they're approaching or going away. They're several miles away. Over."
"Green Two, keep your eye on them. I don't see them yet. Over."
"Roger, Green One."
We kept on the same course and speed for perhaps three minutes more, although it seemed longer, by which time it was obvious that the three aircraft were going away from us, and that we were only very slowly gaining on them.
Green One. Green Two here. Those three aircraft are still dead ahead and going the other way. We'll have to open up. Over"
"O.K. Green Two. Lead me to them."
Now that was better! We'd give the old Spitfire Vs a ride. Enough of this loafing. I opened up to nine pounds of boost. We still had lots of gas: still running on our drop tanks in fact. Now we were catching up a bit, and with that came a surprise. They were not 109s. I could see an engine in each wing. They had been so far away that they had looked like small aircraft, but now I saw they were heavier.
"Green One. The three aircraft dead ahead are twin-engined. I'm opening up a little more. We must catch up more quickly. Over."
"O.K. Green Two," came the reply from the C.O., but still he lagged a thousand yards behind me, making no move to lead the way.
It finally occurred to Kennedy that his C.O. couldn't see the transport aircraft looming ahead of them. He was myopic but refused to tell anyone as he would be immediately grounded.
I caught up to the three transports flying in open formation about two hundred feet above the water. Now I could see that hey had a third engine on the nose like Junkers 52s. I moved in on the port quarter of the nearest aircraft at good speed, but for a second I noticed the mid-upper gunner's gun pointing to the sky. Then I saw his head on his chest; he was snoozing. There was no time to think about the gunner, and anyway I wasn't interested in him. My target was the port engine which I hit a good clout, and which promptly caught fire. As I pulled out I thought, "I reckon that woke him up!" The aircraft descended quickly to the sea.
The C.O. was still out of range, but coming in quickly now. I had a belt at the second aircraft, another port engine with profuse black smoke, while Johnnie attacked the third which went down on fire. Then I hesitated. I held off while Johnnie hit the second aircraft another clout before it settled down on the water. I distinctly remember feeling that I should be a little diplomatic here. Besides, I was content. Elated! I was not angry with the transport crews. There was nothing difficult about these clumsy aircraft, but they were enemy aircraft, and I had clobbered some port engines, and they were down in the water.
"Green Two, Green One here. Let's go home."
"Roger Green One."
Malta Control warned them that two full squadrons of Me-109s had been spotted on radar lifting off from Comiso airfield to hunt for them. The C.O.'s beligerant attitude welled up and he took Kennedy down to the sea again and straight across Comiso airfield at "nought feet" to rub in the insult. They returned safely to Krendi airfield in Malta.
"That was a good ride, sir," I said. "A very good ride."
"Yes, it was actually," he replied. "What are you going to claim?"
I recalled his sharing one with me before. And perhaps he would take me again.
"What about sharing even, two each?" I asked.
"Sounds reasonable," he said. He seemed relieved.
We went into Intelligence. I never mentioned the matter of his eyesight. It seemed of less significance on the ground. Besides, it was none of my business. I knew Johnnie, like other Americans who had joined the RAF before Pearl Harbour, was considering transfer to the U.S. Army Air Force. He had served the RAF very well; to fly with him was my privilege.
In June he was loaned to 185 Squadron due to pilot shortages flying a mixture of Spitfire Vs and IXs. They were being re-equipped with Mark IXs to counter the German Me-109Gs and Focke Wulf 190s entering the Mediterranean fight. The Mark IX was a considerable improvement over the Mark V and was not bested by any of the Messerschmitts in the Mediterranean at any altitude, the FW 190s were a different matter. They were fast, tough and agile and a Spitfire pilot had to be confident and know his aircraft to come out on top in a dogfight with a 190 pilot.
They often had to sit in their fighters on "immediate readiness", to counter any Axis raids over the island. This meant sitting in the cockpit in full flying kit, with helmet draped over the gunsight and a mechanic relaxing by the battery cart. It was often scorching hot in the cockpit, yet it would be freezing cold at 20,000 feet so they had to wear a compromise kit. Typically a shirt, Mae West, shorts, flight boots and gloves. On pre-dawn alert the pilots were roused at 0330 for a quick breakfast and a ride to the airfield. There they sat in their aircraft until 1300 hours when the next shift came on. If a call came through they were to be airborne in under a minute.
On June 10th he was on the afternoon shift when a flare went up from the dispersal hut. The mechanic jumped to the battery and Kennedy pulled on his helmet, attached the oxygen, pulled on gloves, turned on the oxygen and primed the engine twice in quick, deft moves. The Merlin engine immediately broke into a roar and the mechanic pulled out the battery cable and gave him the "thumbs up". He went tearing down the strip at full throttle and 3000 RPM. Airborne, gear up, throttle back to let his wingmen catch up and to call in to Control.
"Malta Control. Bullet Red Section airborne." he called as the two wingmen pulled alongside. Normally they flew as two pairs of fighters flying in the German style called "finger four", but they were short of pilots.
"Bullet Red One. Control here, Vector three six zero max climb to angels three zero. Three bandits possibly Me 109s approaching from the north at twenty-eight thousand. Over."
The controller was putting them into an intercept position above the bandits spotted on radar. Air Vice Marshall Park knew the game well, he commanded 11 Group during the Battle of Britain and kept his controllers in fine form. They were guessing three Me 109s, one a photo reconn aircraft and two escorts. They would come in high over Grand Harbour to check on the shipping in preparation for a strike if anything interesting was spotted. The controller vectored them over the Harbour and spotting rounds of anti-aircraft fire alerted them to the 109s.
"Tally ho," I called. "Bullet Red Section. Bandits dead ahead. A little below." We were at 31,000 feet. They were perhaps four miles away and already losing height in a wide sweeping turn to starboard over Grand Harbour.Now they straightened out on a northerly course with their noses down, and I knew they would be exceeding 400 mph. They would be across the senty miles to Sicily in ten minutes. Unless we could do something about it, that is.
I had the throttle open and I rolled over and headed on a course to cut the angle toward the 109s, which had separated a little. I wound on nose-heavy trim so essentrial to keep the aircraft in a high-speed dive. The Spit responded eagerly as I dove more steeply than the 109s, with Red Two and Three no doubt following, although I could not see them. I could see that I was gaiing onthe nearest Me 109. That was something new. We were already half-way to Sicily; that was no problem. We knew from years of experience that the 109 with its slim thirty-two foot wing was initially faster in a dive than we were.
We were down to 5,000 feet and our dive had become quite shallow. I could see the Sicilian coast a few miles ahead. Now I was within range at 300 yards, and I let him have a good squirt. The first strikes were on the port radiator from which white smoke poured, indicating a glycol coolant leak. I knew I had him before the engine broke out in heavy black smoke.
And at that moment a burst of tracer fire went over my starboard wing, quite close to the fusilage. I had lost the third Me 109, presuming it was way ahead.
"Must be behind me," I thought, as I skidded hard to port, then broke around. But there was no 109, only two Spitfires coming toward me. I thought the nearest inexperienced pilot mistook me for the 109. It happened not infrequently. but he was a bit out of range and he missed, and I forgot about it at once in the same way that one forgets about flak that sails harmlessly by the wingtip.
We landed at 1525 hours, having been airborne only 45 minutes. The Intelligence Officer came out to the aircraft to meet me, a very unusual move for that reticent fellow. He waited for me to jump down off the wing."You got a 109," the I.O. said, smiling broadly.
"I believe so," I answered. "It caught fire after I got him in the port radiator. But how did you know?"
"Ops called up. Thought we'd like to know. They picked up the pilot's panic call to Comiso for a flying boat. Engine on fire. He was baling out about ten miles south of Pozzallo. He's in the drink."
"Well that's good," I said, when he finally stopped. "That's where he belongs. In the bloody drink!" I admitted to feeling some satisfaction from the confirmation of the ME 109G, because it was an excellent German aircraft.
He ended up having to share the victory however, his mistaken wingman swore that he had also fired at the 109 and by the British rules was allowed a half share. Much later he found out from aviation historian Chris Shores that the I.O. had divided the victory amongst the three of them. Later that same day they were again scrambled and intercepted a Dornier flying-boat picking up the downed reconn pilot. Control wouldn't allow them to shoot down the flying-boat, but a Maachi 202 that was escorting it was fair game. Kennedy made short work of it for two victories that day.
On June 22 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his excellent record.
This pilot has completed much operational flying, involving bomber escort flights, sweeps and bombing sorties. During an operation in 1943, Flying Officer Kennedy shot down a Junkers 52. A little later he saw many of these aircraft flying almost at sea level. Flying Officer Kennedy immediately attacked one of them, causing it to dive into the water with one engine on fire. This officer, who has destroyed five enemy aircraft, has invariably displayed great keenness.
They didn't know much about it, but July 1943 saw the invasion of Europe with Operation Husky with the Americans, British and Canadians landing in Sicily. They spent the first week of July escorting Liberator, Fortress and Mitchell bombers over important targets in Sicily. The American bombing chased the Luftwaffe out of southern Sicily, so that by the time the convoys hit the beach the Allies had complete aerial supremacy over them. On July 9th while turning home to Malta they could see the 3,000 ships that made up the largest amphibian assault ever made up to then. It was bigger than Torch, the invasion of North Africa the previous year.
They flew twice a day from Malta to Sicily, at first covering the beaches then providing the Army with support as they worked their way northwards. A few days after the landing the Spitfires were operating from Sicilian bases and the strategic bombers moved up to Malta. By the end of July the Spitfires didn't have much to do so a number of squadrons were stood down. All of the pilots who had been in Malta for seven or eight months were to be sent home to Britain for six months of rest. On July 21, 1943 he was mustered out of No. 249 Squadron for the return to England. But he didn't feel the need for a rest, he was in top form and full of enthusiasm for the Italian campaign. He refused to lie down and rest. Borrowing an aircraft he flew over to 324 Mobile Fighter Wing who were to provide close tactical support to the Armies in Italy. Taking the direct approach he went to the Wing Adjutant and got permission to speak to Group Captain Gilroy.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, standing bare-headed in the sun outside his tent. He was accustomed to a lot of problems, and had lots to do, in spite of which he was politely seeing me without hesitation. I didn't want much of his time.
"I've completed a tour in Malta, sir, " I answered, " and now I've been posted back to the U.K. I was wondering if you have any use for a good pilot?"
I surprised myself a little with my audacity, but that was the way the words came out. He may have been a little surprised too, or perhaps "relieved" would be more accurate. This was unusual. Young pilots generally went where they were sent without question.
He broke into a smile. "Well, young lad, I like your spirit!" He was used to making quick decisions. "Yes, we can use you. You may join 72 or Treble-One, whichever you like. Give your particulars to the adjutant, and we'll get in touch with Malta."
A few days later he was flying with No. 111 Squadron out of Pachino, Sicily doing tactical support of the Army. Hi C.O. was a Canadian named George Hill, a Spitfire ace in his own right. Their flying duties didn't change significantly, they were still flying escort for American bombers hitting German strong points where the Allied soldiers were held up. They slept in tents at temporary airstrips bulldozed into olive, fig, walnut, lemon and orange groves. They would sit in the shade under their wings eating fruit until they saw the bombers approaching, then they would scramble to take off and join up with their charges but higher and to one side to intercept 109s (and to stay away from any twitchy-fingered gunner. Green crews were notorious for firing at aircraft they couldn't identify, usually meaning anything other than a bomber). Unfortunately, they couldn't protect them from FLAK. It was still heavy and accurate over some targets and often they watched in fixed fascination as an engine would catch fire, then a wing and the aircraft would leave the group aflame. The Spitfire pilots would automatically count the 'chutes from the crippled bomber, often there were none.
"I recall one evening in the mess tent just before he (Hill) left. We had had a scrap with some Focke Wulfs, and George had got one. With his usual gusto, he had nearly rammed it. He was sitting with a scotch in hand, and a grin on his pug face."You're the second best pilot in the RCAF," he said to me.
"That's very kind of you, George," I replied. "But it's not true."
"Yes, it is," he argued. "You tear into the Huns full throttle. You don't wait to count their bloody 109s and 190s."
"Well, I might be the second boldest," I replied, laughing, "but I'm sure that there are lots of better pilots."
"Nonsence! Audacity and tenacity are what I'm talking about. They're nine-tenths of the fight. Fancy flying isn't worth a damn!" George loved an arguement and he wasn't about to lose this one, although I wasn't disputing his tactics, with which I basically agreed.
"And who's at the top, George?" I asked.
"I am the best, of course," he answered, laughing, and finished his scotch. While this was said in jest, George was so cocky and confident that he, to some degree, believed that he was the best. And he liked my flying because it was quite a bit like his own, although I preferred the quarter attack to his dead astern.
The Sicilian campaign lasted only 38 days, it was over August 17th when the German armies left abruptly one evening and escaped over the Straits of Messina to the mainland. By September Hap and the rest of 111 Squadron were patrolling over the southern tip of Italy waiting for the armies to be regrouped for an invasion of Europe, in Italy. On the 3rd Italy capitulated to the Allies, although the Germans quickly stepped in to continue the war effort on their soil. Field Marshal Kesselring was put in charge of the defence of Italy, his orders were to slow the allies as much as possible until the Germans had beaten the Russians. However, the whole defensive Italian campaign cost a lot of Germans that were desperately needed on the Eastern Front trying to stem the juggernaut of the Russians.
On the 4th Kennedy's flight intercepted some Focke-Wulf 190s carrying bombs and attacked them just as they dove to attack several destroyers. He winged one and chased it a long ways back to Cape Vaticano, Italy, but being in a Spitfire V couldn't catch it until the German throttled back, not knowing there were two Spitfires on his tail. With his faithful wingman guarding his back Hap moved in and blasted the 190 into the sea.
September 9th saw them flying high cover over the beaches at Salerno, south of Naples as the Americans under General Mark Clark invaded Italy proper.
"We arrived at Salerno Beach where the amphibious operation had begun the previous day. I thought it impossible to make any order out of the shambles on the beach of men and equipment, tanks and landing craft, smoke and flashes of guns and shell bursts. I was happy to be at 7,000 feet, unconcerned with the trajectory of the shells from the off shore ships that were bursting a few miles inland from the beach. At that moment, I saw and counted eight Focke-Wulf 190s dive bombing vertically at the south end of the beach, just north of Agripoli."
They attacked the 190s driving them off, except one who was confused. Him they chased back towards Sicily. Kennedy, in a new Spitfire IX came slowly up through the entire pack of Spitfires chasing the lone 190. He cruised up to the lead Spitfire until he saw it was Group Captain Gilroy, who was leading the Squadron that day. He waited a bit then slowly nudged his new steed ahead of the G/C and slowly caught up to the 190. A short burst damaged the German aircraft and the pilot immediately baled out.
"Who shot down that aircraft?" No call sign, but there was no mistaking the Group Captain's voice. Only five words, somewhat sharply, I still recall.
"Blue Three here, sir," I answered, not quite sure of what was coming.
"Bloody good show! Let's go home, chaps."
By September 16th the British 8th Army moved up the coast and joined with the Americans at Salerno. No. 93 Squadron had been hit hard and was seriously short of experienced pilots. G/C Gilroy reorganised it with a shot of new, agressive blood with S/L Gerry Westenra and Kennedy as one of the new Flight Commanders. They still had a mixture of Spitfires, slowly withdrawing the outdated Spitfire V's, but Kennedy received a new Spitfire VIII. It was to have been the ultimate Spitfire, while the IX was a stopgap measure, one so successful that few VIIIs were made.
His first flight leading men of 93 Squadron came close to being his last. He made a call to his men when he spotted three 190s and dove to attack. Unfortunately, none of the flight heard the call or saw his dive and so he was alone. He swept in on the 190s and they turned to escape heading over the Appenines. When he was well isolated they turned on him and the leader engaged him. The 190 was superior in some ways to the Spitfire VIII and the leader used it to the utmost, to his advantage. Kennedy got in some shots, the 190 pilot got in some, but when two more showed up Kennedy decided that the odds were way too much in their favour. He pulled out of the fight and pushed full throttle, none of the 190s followed so he landed at an advanced airstrip in the beach head. He got lunch and fuel and returned to base.
Shortly after the Germans were forced to vacate the Salerno bridgehead, moving north to the next line of prepared defenses. No. 93 Squadron moved to the mainlain to an airstrip near Montecorvino. Their Wing was supporting U.S. General Mark Clark's 5th American Army fighting north of Naples, while 322 Spitfire Wing supported the British 8th Army, including the First Canadian Division, who had crossed the Appenines to the Adriatic side of Italy. A major set of airbases at Foggia came under Allied control and eventually supported a huge number of American bomber squadrons hitting targets all over Europe.
Wet weather hampered their efforts to a degree, but they held their own over the front lines interdicting FW-190 "Jabos", dive bombers and their supporting Bf-109 escorts. By the middle of October they moved to the airstrip at Naples and got into buildings, making their existance much more comfortable. The Allied armies on the other hand were slogging through hard driving rain, thick mud and rapidly rising rivers. Each river was a major obstacle in it's own right, but the Germans contested each one fiercely inflicting heavy casualties. The name of each river, and battle, has been burned into the history of WWII in Italy: Volturno, Moro, and Sangro each have a hateful meaning to those who fought across them. Kesselring had constructed the Gustav Line across Italy behind rivers and centered on Monte Cassino, the site of an ancient monastery and heavily defended by the Germans.
October 12 to 15 the U.S. 5th Army launched their assault across the Volturno River against fierce opposition on the land and in the air. All Spitfire Squadrons flew cover over the river and eventual bridgehead to interdict German bombers and dive-bombers. This meant two or three sorties a day against heavy 109 and 190 opposition.
On October 13th Kennedy engaged a 109 that rolled and dived away from him, however, he ran out of air so that when Kennedy and his wingman caught up to him he had nowhere to go. He didn't survive the low-level bail out, bouncing along the ground before his chute opened. On climbing back up to altitude they were "bounced" by 12 Bf-109s, flying in three groups of four. They must have been inexperienced, for they all followed Kennedy around in a climbing turn to port, which the Spitfire was better at. He called on an open frequency that he had 12 109s over the Volturno River. His old Squadron, 111 was just coming on station and headed toward him, but never made contact. The Germans slowly dived away from the area, so Kennedy followed them discretely at their "low six" position, behind and below them where they were blind. Shortly they throttled back and moved into a tight formation that restricts a pilot's vision and room to manouver. Kennedy couldn't believe his luck and moved in for the kill. He joined the formation behind the "Arse-end Charlie" and fired. His starboard-side cannon jammed and the recoil from his port cannon pulled him left missing the 109 completely. He quickly compensated and slammed cannon shells into the Messerschmitt. Not wanting to push his luck he pulled off and headed home. Looking back he spotted a parachute drifting towards an enemy airbase. He was never given credit for this victory as he could not confirm it.
By October 15th the Americans had broken through the Volturno River defences and headed north towards Monte Cassino up the Liri Valley. But the mountains that surrounded the valley had to be bombed heavily to allow Americans to approach them for an assault. The Allied Spitfire squadrons went back to escorting Flying Fortresses, Baltimores, and Bostons, along with P-40 Kittyhawks and Mustang II dive-bombers. They straffed ground transports when they were able, but this latter occupation was extremely hazardous. The German FLAK was as lethal as ever down low, and obstacles were plentiful at tree-top level. One of Kennedy's wingmen paid with his life to shoot up a few trucks.
By this time Hap Kennedy had been flying continuously in combat for a year and was getting careless. He only took a two-day rest at a resort and returned to the squadron. One day in December a squadron mate complained to the Squadron Leader that he paid no attention at all to heavy flak while leading a flight. When questioned he answered simply that it hadn't bothered him at all. S/L Westenra pointed out in cold logic that it should have bothered him and that he was endangering his flight. He was sent off operational flying for six months. By February, 1944 he was in Greenoch, Scotland having been shipped there from North Africa. He was 22.
He met his younger brother in England who was flying with Bomber Command, and got caught up on the news from home. With little else to do he requested a posting to the Central Gunnery School to teach others how to shoot. By April he was finished and posted to Eastchurch in Kent. For six weeks he taught others the skills they would need on operations, then he got restless and met up with the CO of 410 Squadron RCAF flying Spitfires from southern England. The CO asked for him by name through official channels for when he was finished instructing. On the 6th he was flying an old Hurricane along the south coast when he spotted the Normandy invasion force in the channel. He reported to Fighter Pilot Pool and was promptly sent to Tangmere to join 401 Squadron, 126 Wing.
His first mission back on ops was to escort Mitchell bombers softening up targets inland from the beachhead. Next day they patrolled over a part of the 60 mile beachhead. He was struck by how similar it looked to the Italian invasions, smoke, guns, wrecked machinery and men in battle. As they were part of the Second Tactical Airforce a large part of their job was Army support by patrolling and interdicting any soft targets on the roads, railways and the few remaining bridges into Normandy. For hard targets like tanks they called on rocket and bomb carrying Typhoons, or Bombphoons as the Canadians of 438, 439 and 440 Squadrons called theirs. By the 18th they were flying from temporary strips made of steel netting near Beny-sur-Mer. This allowed them to be over the front within two minutes of take-off.
Part of the concept of Army support was the fighter-bomber, the Jabo to the Germans, so the Spitfires were modified to carry a single 500 lb bomb under the fusilage. The technique in a Spitfire was to approach a target obliquely so that when it was off the wing tip they leader would roll over, push his aircraft's nose down and dive steeply at it. Unfortunately, Spitfires made poor dive-bombers as they didn't have dive brakes and they gained speed so fast in a dive that the pilots had little time to stabilize the aircraft, line up on the target, release the bomb and pull out before he augered into the ground. As usual, the German flak was fierce once the aircraft were in range. It was usually one of the last aircraft in a diving column that was hit as the gunners had time to get their range with the first few aircraft.
There were fewer fighter aircraft than they anticipated, but the Luftwaffe was spread thin between Italy, Russia, Germany and France. Many of the newest FW-190s were allocated to the Defence of the Reich battling American Mustangs, Fortresses and Liberators over their homeland. Even so on the 28th 401 Squadron was jumped by a group of FW-190s diving out of the sun. One of them made a serious mistake and stayed to turn with the Spitfires down low. Kennedy was soon on his tail and blasted him into the trees. With that scrap came a promotion to "A" Flight leader, replacing the previous leader who had been shot down in that days scrap. Leading his first flight as Leader on July 1 the weather was poor and they were patrolling at 500 feet over the beachhead. One of his pilots was hit in the engine and belly landed quickly into a field and ran for a nearby marsh. He was an old hand at this and managed to escape. The sudden dangers of low level flight were ever present, whether it was the German flak, an unexpected hill or the appearance of the enemy, death or crippling damage could come in a blink of an eye.
Sudden crippling damaged is what Kennedy dished out to another German pilot. They were attempting to bomb a bridge and spotted the higher flying 109s. They climbed up to them from underneath and he put numerous rounds into one before the pilot knew he was below him. Kennedy watched the engine conk out then tried to escort the pilot to the front but he crashlanded in a field instead.
Sudden crippling damage was also what took the C/O of 401 out of action. On a low straffing run his engine was severely hit and he put the Spitfire down in a field. He managed to escape the Gestapo and was eventually flown out of France. George Keefer, the Wing Commander Flying recommended Irving Kennedy to replace the CO. It surprised him totally, but he accepted the responsibility. His job was to lead the squadron in the air and to coordinate it on the ground. The Wing CO liased with the Army and developed missions with the Wingco Flying (Keefer) who often flew with one of the three Squadrons. The Engineering Officer lead all of the technical ground crews who kept the aircraft in the air, the Medical Officer looked after their health. The Adjutant took care of routine administrative duties so that ground duties for the S/L were not onerous, especially as their morale was sky high. His most grievous duties were writing letters home to the families of pilots who went missing on ops and attending the occasional funeral of an airman who managed to make it back to their lines before dying.
Throughout July they flew continuously to protect the Army as much as possible and to inflict what damage they could on the Germans. The German Army strongly held the ancient city of Caen, only relinquishing it after a massive bomber raid reduced it to rubble and Canadian and British soldiers lost heavily in attacks on the rubble field. The Americans attacked St. Lô also losing heavily but reducing the Panzer Lehr Division to 14 tanks. The Germans were losing, but their tenacity meant that everyone would pay a steep price for victory.
On July 26, 1944 Irving Kennedy was shot down.
They had been patrolling the front to ensure that the American bombers softening up St Lô were not interfered with. This day they put on 30 gallon drop tanks and went on a long mission to Le Mans, Orléans and Paris looking for enemy aircraft. They climbed out from Beny-sur-Mer over the fighting near St. Lô and headed south for a hundred miles. Nothing was spotted on their tour of the French countryside, although it was pleasant. After lunch they were requested to repeat the flight. They were just south of Paris when a German radar-guided, heavy anti-aircraft battery opened up. The first shell exploded just off of his left wingtip, the second exploded in the engine of his Spitfire and the third just off of his right wingtip.
"I knew my Spitfire was badly hit. I lost power at once, I closed the throttle and looked at the temperature gauge; the needle ominously moved quickly to the right stop. The Spitfire was finished; I would have to get out quickly."
"Get out boss, you're on fire!" It was Blue One or Two, I don't know which, who woke me to action. Flying along-side, they could see the fire coming back from the engine toward the cockpit. There was no time for the formality of a call-sign; the informal greeting was very much to the point."
"I had slowed to a glide at 120 mph. I trimmed the aircraft to fly hands off, no problem. Smoke was coming back when I pulled the canopy jettison; nothing happened. So I slid it open the way we always did before landing, and opened the door on my left, took off my helmet and undid my harness. I checked my parachute ring, stood up and jumped easily out through the door."
"I delayed pulling the rip cord for a few moments. I thought that it might be advantageous to get down quickly. I had no concern about the 'chute. There was only the noise of the wind. Then I pulled it. My momentum stopped with a rude jerk, the parachute billowed overhead, and I was suspended in the blue sky. It was perfectly still. I looked at my watch; it was twenty minutes past four."
He managed to avoid a German patrol as the strong winds that afternoon blew him out of their reach. As soon as he landed in a grain field a French woman joined him and secreted his parachute and lead him to a local farm. He again narrowly avoided the German patrol that had missed him while he was in the air. Hiding in a grain field on his belly he had the last laugh as they tried futilely firing their rifles in the air and shouting, hoping to scare or bluff him out of hiding. Kennedy saw what they were up to and stayed down. Shortly after he was discovered by some French children and lead to another farm. Eventually, despite the heavy German presence in the area south of Paris, he met up with the Maquis. They took a photo of him and told him to stay in a French barn until they returned with a false passport. It took them two weeks, but they returned with a passport in his likeness made up to be Jacques Michel Katchix, a Belgian farm worker. Outfitted with old clothes they pointed him in the direction of the Allied lines and bid him good luck.
He stuck to country roads and headed generally west to meet up with the advancing troops, avoiding at all costs German patrols. Despite precautions the closer he got to the front, and the front to him as it was moving eastwards, he encountered more enemy troops. These didn't give him a second look, they were mostly relieved to be away from the front for a bit as it was becoming a rout. One evening he heard the distinctive rattle of machine guns and knew he was nearly at the front, and the most dangerous part of his escape. He stayed in a big wood and waited for the front to move past him, then he would emerge and find some friendly soldiers.
"About seven-thirty the next morning, I heard a vehicle coming along the road from the west. I moved carefully to the edge of the wood to see it. It stopped not too far from me. It was a Jeep, with two American soldiers. I was not about to let it get away, and walked quickly toward them. I still had my hoe. They watched me carefully, the Jeep motor running. Neither of them moved.""I said "Good-day fellows, It's nice to see you guys."
"Jeez, you speak good English," the one on the right said.
"I should," I replied, "I'm a Canadian."
"What are you doin' here?" he asked.
"I was shot down about a month ago," I answered.
"This is no place to talk," the driver, a sergeant, interrupted.
"Just below that grade there are several pockets of German troops."
He pointed to the south, about five hundred yards away, down to the bottom of a field.
"They're watching us right now," he said. "We'll have to take them out shortly. We'll take you back a mile or two. The Intelligence Officer will want to see you."
"That suits me fine," I replied, climbing into the back of the Jeep. "Do you mind if I bring my hoe?"
There was a faint smile as he wheeled the Jeep around, and we were off.
He was turned over to an Intelligence Officer who took him back to Falaise to an interigation centre for questioning and positive indentification. It took quite a while as the roads were blocked by burnt out vehicles, dead horses and dead German soldiers. It was then that he realized the titanic struggle that had gone on to crush the Wehrmacht at the battle of Falaise Pocket. Roughly 300,000 Germans had escaped from the pocket, but over 200,000 were captured and 50,000 killed.
He met up with 401 Squadron shortly after as they were still near Falaise. The day he was shot down he had been awarded a bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross.
This officer has set a fine example of keenness and devotion to duty. He is a most resolute and skilful fighter and has destroyed eleven enemy aircraft. Flight Lieutenant Kennedy is a fine leader and his services have proved of immense value.
Shortly after that his successor, Charlie Trainor had been shot down and the position of S/L was vacant. That afternoon he was returned to London to clean up and adjust and report to RCAF HQ. Air Marshall Lloyd Breadner interviewed him, still in his "paysan" clothes from France. Kennedy wanted the S/L job back, but first he had backpay and two weeks of leave to take.
He found out that his brother Carleton was posted at an OTU in Yorkshire. He got to the north of England quickly and found that "Tot" had been posted the day before to 434 RCAF Squadron at Croft, nearby. He got over to the airfield late at night and looked in on the mess. Asking for his brother he was kindly informed that he and the entire crew had been buried that day. They crashed for unexplained reasons after their first operational flight over Germany. Kennedy was crushed by the news. It was so unfair.
|He returned to Canada in September of 1944 for a well-earned rest. With the war coming to an end RCAF HQ decided to muster him out early. He was released from service in February 1945. Post-war he went to University and studied medicine and became a doctor. He married, had children and eventually grandchildren. He stills live in Ontario and still flies for enjoyment. He has published his wartime memoirs in "Black Crosses off My Wingtip" (General Store Publishing, Burnstown, 1994).|
Irving Farmer "Hap" Kennedy was an aggressive fighter pilot, one who wouldn't mess around, just get close and hammer the enemy. He didn't have any qualms about shooting down another man's aircraft, and if he killed the pilot, well so much the better. It was a war and the time for nice morals was gone. He also became an adept leader of men in a most hazardous occupation. It is a testimonial to such men that after years of fighting and killing that he turned to medicine for a career, helping people.
That man to man, the world o'er, shall brithers be for a'that.
Irving Kennedy, in front of a Spitfire cockpit. Courtesy of Mr. Kennedy.
Hawker Hurricane, plate 18976. National Air Museum, Ottawa, Canada.
No. 263 Squadron Badge, Crown Copyright, 2003.
Westland Whirlwind, copyright unknown. From British Aircraft Resource Centre.
Profile of the Whirlwind, courtesy of Bob Pearson.
Spitfires in formation, copyright unknown.
No. 421 Squadron badge, Crown Copyright, 2003.
No. 249 Squadron badge, Crown Copyright, 2003.
Photo of 249 Squadron Spitfires courtesy of Mr. Kennedy.
Photo of Kennedy and Steve Randall courtesy of Mr. Kennedy.
Wing Commander C.G. Jefford, MBE RAF. "RAF Squadrons. A Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedants since 1912." Airlife, England. 1993.
Extensive quotes and information from: I.F. Kennedy. "Black Crosses Off My Wingtip". General Store Publishing House, Burnstown, Ontario. 1994. With the author's permission.
Details on his career courtesy of Mr. Hugh Halliday, from the website Airforce Honours and Awards.
I.F. Kennedy. Personal communications, May 27, 2001.
I.F. Kennedy. Personal communications, Nov. 26, 2001.
I.F. Kennedy. Canadian Combat Pilots Profile Collection. 1986.
C. Shores and C. Williams. Aces High. Grub Street, London. 1994.