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Thread: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

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    Default ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Hi guys

    I'm endeavouring to find information about the use of a RN Walrus by Flt Lt Russell Digger Aitken during ASR of British and German aircrew during August/September 1940. It is recorded that he recovered 35 airmen, probably some dead, while operating from Gosport. I've identified a few but not many. His crewman may have been Flt Sgt Bagshaw.

    Nothing of use in Gosport ORB.

    Sadly, Aitken's logbook was lost in a house fire in his native New Zealand (in touch with his grandsons).

    Any help whatsoever could prove useful.

    Fingers crossed
    Stay safe
    Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Have you tried refering to Norman Franks' book 'Another Kind of Courage: Stories of the UK-based Walrus Air-Sea Rescue Squadrons' ?
    Andrew

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Quote Originally Posted by cyflyer1 View Post
    Have you tried refering to Norman Franks' book 'Another Kind of Courage: Stories of the UK-based Walrus Air-Sea Rescue Squadrons' ?
    Hi Andrew

    Thanks for the response.

    I was under the impression that the book you mention covers only post 1940 Walrus operations?


    Cheers
    Stay safe
    Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Brian,

    Although I see from the internet you have been researching this story for many years (circa 2015?), you have not provided any indication of the sources you've found or used. That being the case I wonder if you've seen his Wiki entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russel..._(RAF_officer) which appears to suggest he was operating independently (ie with approval but not as part of an operational unit/squadron). If that is the case I suspect it would be unlikely to find a definitive record of his flights or those he saved.

    Quote from Wiki:

    In the early stages of the Battle of Britain, many British fighter pilots who bailed over the English Channel or North Sea drowned or died of exposure before being rescued by lifeboats or launches, if they were located at all. This was a significant concern for the RAF at a time when trained and experienced fighter pilots were vital to Britain's aerial defences. In July, Aitken was stationed at Gosport and observed many aerial engagements over Portsmouth and Southampton that saw aircraft being ditched in the sea. He proposed to his commander that amphibious aircraft be used in a rescue service for downed pilots as a quicker alternative to the launches that he often saw making their way to the downed pilots.[8][9]

    With his initiative approved, Aitken sourced a Supermarine Walrus,[10] a biplane amphibian having a crew of four and which had been in service with the RAF since 1933.[11] He then stationed himself off the Isle of Wight, on the south coast of England. Floating on the sea, he would wait for the dogfights to take place above him before taking off to retrieve any pilots who had ditched or bailed out. He was soon joined by a couple of other pilots, similarly operating Walruses but from the Royal Navy Air Station at Ford. These semi-official air-sea rescue services ended at the end of August, when Gosport and Ford were bombed. By this time, Aitken had been responsible for rescuing at least 35 pilots, both British and German.[8][12] His work helped lead to the development of the Air Sea Rescue Services which operated air-sea rescue squadrons for collecting RAF aircrew who had ditched in the sea.[13]

    Another Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Interestingly Aitkin's initiative receives no recognition whatsoever in the 2007 edition of the RAF Historical Society Journal devoted to the Evolution of the Air/Sea Rescue Organisation (that's actually the title of one presentation rather than the Journal itself). That would support my thinking there is little, if any, official documentation about his exploits.

    Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Quote Originally Posted by Lyffe View Post
    Interestingly Aitkin's initiative receives no recognition whatsoever in the 2007 edition of the RAF Historical Society Journal devoted to the Evolution of the Air/Sea Rescue Organisation (that's actually the title of one presentation rather than the Journal itself). That would support my thinking there is little, if any, official documentation about his exploits.

    Brian
    Thanks, Brian

    I find it difficult to accept that there was not some form of record of the RAF use of a RN Walrus (and its fuel), let alone the recovery of 35 aircrew/or bodies! I appreciate there was a war ongoing, but .....!

    Flt Lt Aitken's gallantry/initiative was recognised only by a MiD. I intend to make some belated amendment within my forthcoming "Battle for the Airfields", hence I would dearly appreciate some further detail.

    Stay safe
    Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    It seems to me that the identification of his parent unit is the key to solving this problem. Will probably turn out that if this result can be achieved, you will learn that this unit's scribe is the last person who should have been appointed to this post. (Probably nobody else volunteered for the job!)

    David D
    Last edited by David Duxbury; 23rd January 2022 at 20:45.

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Thanks, David

    But which Naval records?

    Incidentally, Doug Gow is working with me on this and it is he who is in touch with Russell Aitken's grandsons. I assume that you are an acquaintance.

    Cheers
    Take care
    Brian

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Brian, despite living in New Zealand, am not related to nor an acquaintance of Aitken. Also note I have ditched my original wording in above posting, and substituted a new one, having had serious doubts about whether Gosport was RAF or RN, discovered it was both, but RN only from about postwar onwards! Afraid the new wording is not too helpful either, but best I can come up with under the circumstances.

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    Default Re: ASR Walrus 1940 South Coast

    Brian

    If I read the Wiki link correctly the references to the rescue of at least 35 airmen are based on two publications:

    1. Mitchell, Alan W. (1945). New Zealanders in the Air War. London, United Kingdom: George G. Harrap & Co
    and
    2. Pearson, Simon; Gorman, Ed (2020). Battle of Britain: The Pilots and Planes That Made History. London, United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton

    In the apparent absence any RAF/Admiralty document on the matter I strongly suspect that Pearson has used Mitchell's 1945 account as his reference. There are a number of copies of this available on the internet for between 5 and 12, for example
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/NEW-ZEALAND.../dp/B0007JAMV6

    While I doubt this will include the names you seek it might provide a reference for Mitchell's claim of 35 rescues.

    Please do not misunderstand me, I am not trying to say the 35 rescues never occurred, I am sure some did, but experience has taught me never to accept statements at face value unless there is a prime reference.

    The link to the 2007 RAF Historical Society Journal (my #5) is https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/documen...Journal-40.pdf. By coincidence I happen to know one of the contributors, Wg Cdr Jeff Jefford (page 34), one of the most meticulous of researchers of official records, as anyone who has read his Observers and Navigators & other non-pilot aircrew in the RFC, RNAS and RAF would testify, and even he appears to have no knowledge of this episode.

    My apologies if you've already gone down this road, but you've given us no indication of what sources you have used and I would hate to be going over ground already covered.

    Brian

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