DAWN PATROL

The Kiwis secure the RAF’s first victor y after the landings

By June 1944, the New Zealand-manned 485 Squadron was based at Selsey, West Sussex, the closest RAF airfield to the Normandy beaches. On D-Day, its Spitfires flew patrols from first light.

Among its pilots was 21-year-old Flying Officer Johnny Houlton, who later said: “Climbing slowly across the Channel, I picked up the single line of ships heading for the beaches, fed by lines of ships sailing from east to west, presenting an awesome impression of power and purpose. Landing craft were heading inshore towards the beaches, but from 10,000ft it was difficult to pick up any detail. I sighted countless sections of patrolling Allied fighters covering the whole area.”

There was initially little sign of the Luftwaffe, but at about 1545hrs, during its third patrol, 485’s pilots spotted Junkers Ju 88s. These were not bombers, but Ju 88C long-range fighters of I/ZG 1. With 222 Squadron providing top cover, the New Zealanders went down as Houlton, flying MK950/OU-X instead of his regular ML407/OU-V, recalled: “In midafternoon, I led ‘Blue’ section during the third patrol of the day. South of Omaha Beach, below a shallow, broken layer of cumulus, I glimpsed a Ju88 above cloud, diving away fast to the south. Climbing at full throttle, I saw the aircraft enter a large, isolated cloud above the main layer, and when it reappeared on the other side, I was closing in rapidly. I adjusted the gyro sight onto the target at 500yds with a deflection angle of 45°, positioned the aiming dot on the right-hand engine and fired a three-second burst.

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