The Roundel, Vol. 4, No. 6, June 1952

There was very little information on the Internet about Louis Paul Émile Piché.

Just before leaving Grave, the squadron lost two pilots under unusual circumstances. Flying Officers L. P. E. Piché and A. J. Horrell set out in an Auster to fly to Antwerp. They arrived there safely, took off again and vanished into the blue. Both pilots had been with the squadron since Gander days.

Not much information for someone who gave so much for his country!

443 group picture Louis Paul Émile Piché

This was the only thing I had found when I started to help Nicole Morley for her search about her uncle Arthur Horrell.

Things have changed a lot since then.

Excerpt from No. 443 (Hornet) Squadron
BY WING COMMANDER F. H. HITCHINS
Air Historian (reference: The Roundel, Vol. 4, No. 6, June 1952)

The aerial preparation for D-Day was now in full course, and the next eight weeks were a very busy period for the pilots and their groundcrews. Between April 13th and June 5th, No. 443 made 487 sorties on 43 offensive operations. Sqn. Ldr. McLeod opened the squadron’s victory book by destroying a DO. 217 near Louvain on April 19th.

Two more were added by Flt. Lts. D. M. Walz and Hugh Russel on the 25th, when a wing formation led by Johnny Johnson caught six F.W. 190s and destroyed all six. Another Focke-Wulf crashed in flames on May 5th, to give Wally McLeod his fifteenth confirmed victory.

Combats with the enemy were the exception, however, in this pre-D-Day period. On most of the fighter sweeps and bomber escorts the only opposition encountered was flak. But the Spitfires were no longer simply fighters to engage the enemy in the air; they had now become fighter-bombers to attack the enemy on the ground as well.

On April 26th, No. 443 Squadron carried out its first divebombing mission against a flying-bomb site south of Dieppe. In the next six weeks there were many such operations against “Noballs” (the V-1 sites), bridges, rail junctions and yards, and radar posts. On most of the attacks the pilots had to run a gauntlet of intense flak and many of the Spits came home peppered with holes.

From Westhampnett the wing moved to Funtington on April 22nd, and thence to Ford three weeks later. Here the final preparations for the invasion were made. When the troops landed on the Norman coast on June 6th, Sqn. Ldr. McLeod’s pilots made four patrols over the beaches between 0620 and 2145 hours.

Again on the 7th they were out four times, destroying one Me. 109 and damaging another over Caen. But the day was marred by the squadron’s first casualty, when Flt. Lt. I. R. MacLennan, D.F.C., was forced down behind the enemy lines by a glycol leak and was taken prisoner.

On June 10th the squadron made its first landing on the beach-head, five pilots putting down on one of the strips that were being hastily prepared, to rearm and refuel between sweeps.

The last operation from Ford was an escort in the late evening of June 14th for Lancasters bombing Le Havre, in the course of which the Spitfires met some enemy bombers and destroyed two Do. 217s.

The next day the wing moved across the Channel to the landing strip at St. Croix-sur-Mer. (It was the first R.C.A.F. formation to begin operations from Normandy.) By day the field was blanketed with clouds of dust, and at night the incessant din of the flak barrage and enemy bombing made sleep almost impossible.

The first day’s operations from B.3 (on June 16th) brought No. 443 two more victories (a pair of Me. 109s) but inflicted the severe blow of four pilots missing from a combat against heavy odds. Sqn. Ldr. J. D. Hall, Flt. Lt. Hugh Russel, and Flying Officer Luis Perez-Gomez (from Mexico) were killed, but the fourth pilot, Flt. Lt. Don Walz, was able to take to his parachute when his Spitfire blew up in the air. Evading German searchers, Walz made contact with the French underground and two months later rejoined his unit. One of the Messerschmitts shot down that day was Sqn. Ldr. McLeod’s seventeenth enemy aircraft destroyed, a record which won him the D.S.O.

In the last days of June the squadron added four more destroyed (including a double scored by McLeod) and three damaged to its total. The figures would probably have been considerably higher had it not been for cloud which frequently prevented the pilots from coming to grips with the enemy. Armed reconnaissances along the Nazi lines of communication in Normandy were now a regular feature of the operational programme in addition to front line patrols and fighter sweeps.

By the middle of July the number of blazing, smoking or damaged vehicles had risen to 99, plus 4 locomotives or trains, 1 barge, and 1 railroad signal house. On July 14th, when the fighter wings in Normandy were reorganized, 144 was broken up and Sqn. Ldr. McLeod’s unit joined 127 Wing at Crepon. At the same time Group Capt. W. R. MacBrien became commanding officer and Wing Cdr. Johnny Johnson wing commander flying for 127 Wing, which included, in addition to No. 443, the Wolf (No. 403), Oshawa (No. 416), and Red Indian (No. 421) Squadrons.

Wally McLeod won his twentieth victory on July 20th when the pilot of an F.W. 190 which he was about to attack baled out before the Spitfire leader could fire a shot. In the same engagement Flt. Lt. J. G. L. Robillard, D.F.M., destroyed another Focke-Wulf. A third F.W. was shot down by Flying Officer G. R. Stephen a few days later, and on the 30th, Sqn. Ldr. McLeod and Flying Officer W. J. Bentley each finished off an Me. 109, while Pilot Officer Rooney Hodgins made damaging strikes on one more.

McLeod’s unusual victory of July 20th was duplicated on August 8th by four of his pilots who gave chase to a lone Me. 109 and, when they were still 1000 yards distant, saw the enemy pilot take to his parachute. Discretion, apparently, was preferable to valour.

In addition to these seven enemy aircraft, No. 443 tallied 20 mechanized enemy transport “flamers”, 21 “smokers”, and 20 (plus a tank) damaged, in the period July 15th to August 13th. Many divebombing attacks were also made on bridges, rail lines and junctions, crossroads, canal locks, and similar targets. The Germans’ flak was increasing in intensity as they sought to protect their vehicles and communications from this incessant strafing. Two pilots were lost on armed recces, either to flak or engine trouble. Flying Officer T. G. Munro was able to bale out safely behind the enemy lines and was captured, but Flying Officer W. J. Bentley went down with his aircraft and was killed.

The week of August 15th to 22nd was highlighted by the holocaust of the Falaise pocket, when the Nazi army, caught in an iron trap, tried to pull out eastwards through a narrow gap that was hammered day and night from the ground and air. From Trun to Orbec the roads and lanes were littered with the wreckage of an army in flight. Sqn. Ldr. McLeod’s pilots counted 104 “flamers”, 124 “smokers”, and 142 damaged M.E.T., as well as 1 tank “smoker” and 5 damaged, as the result of their strafing during this period.

Rain gave the stricken Nazis some relief on the 20th and 21st, and by the time the skies cleared, the retreating forces were drawing out of range of the Spitfires based on the beach-head.

On August 23rd, as a change from the long series of armed recces, Nos. 443 and 421, led by Wing Cdr. Johnny Johnson, made a fighter sweep around Paris. Near Senlis the twenty Spitfire pilots were amazed to see a force of 60 to 80 enemy fighters approaching them head-on. Johnson remarked that the Germans “seemed keen to engage but probably only because they outnumbered the wing by four to one.”

Nevertheless the R.C.A.F. Spitfires came out the victors, destroying twelve of their opponents against a loss of three of their own formation. The wing leader shot down two, Flying Officer G. F. Ockenden accounted for two plus a damaged, and Flt. Lt. Larry Robillard and Flying Officer A. J. Horrell each destroyed one. Pilots of the Red Indian squadron brought down six more. One of the missing pilots was Flying Officer R. W. Dunn of No. 443 Squadron, who was heard to say that he had been hit in the dogfight and would have to bale out. He was later reported a prisoner of war.

Subsequent operations in the last days of August found little sign of the enemy in the air or on the ground. The Battle of Normandy was over, and the pursuit was now pressing eastward beyond the Seine, across the Somme and on through Belgium. Left far in the rear, the fighter wings began to move forward. From Crepon, 127 Wing advanced first to Illiers L’Eveque, near Dreux, where it remained for three quiet, uneventful weeks. The battle lines were still out of range.

On September 21st the pilots flew up to Le Culot, a former Luftwaffe airfield in Belgium, where they arrived in time to participate in the heavy air fighting that followed the Allied airborne assault on Grave, Nijmegen, and Arnhem.

For the next four weeks No. 443’s major activity was patrolling over the Nijmegen area, where the Luftwaffe was endeavouring to destroy the bridges that had fallen into Allied hands.

On September 27th a squadron formation led by Wing Cdr. Johnson intercepted a group of nine Me. 109s over Rees and in a general melee destroyed five, with two more counted as probables. In the dogfight Sqn. Ldr. H. W. McLeod, D.S.O., D.F.C., and Bar, was lost. Over Malta, France, and Belgium, he had shot down 21 enemy aircraft, 8 of them while leading No. 443 Squadron.

Two days later twelve pilots led by Flt. Lt. G. W. A. Troke, D.F.C., engaged a group of more than 60 Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs over the bridges at Nijmegen, and, despite the handicap of numbers and shortage of petrol, won a brilliant success. Troke destroyed two 109’s and damaged another; Flying Officer G. F. Ockenden and Rooney Hodgins also scored a double victory each, while Flying Officer A. J. Horrell crashed an F.W.190, to make the total seven destroyed, plus at least three damaged.

On one of these Nijmegen patrols in September a flak hit forced Flying Officer L. D. Sherwood down behind the enemy lines. His companions, seeing the aircraft crash and burst into flames, held little hope that the pilot could have survived. But Sherwood’s only injury was a broken nose, for, unnoticed by his comrades, he had been able to bale out. Thanks to the Dutch underground, he regained our lines within a month.

It is of interest to note that between September 25th and 29th eight R.C.A.F. Spitfire squadrons in 83 Group of 2nd T.A.F. accounted for a grand total of 97 enemy aircraft destroyed, 3 probably destroyed, and 39 damaged. No. 443’s contribution was 12-2-3; but this period of air fighting was almost the last in its career, for in the next seven months the pilots saw few enemy aircraft in the skies over Germany. Two destroyed and one damaged in air combat was the total for all these weeks of patrolling and hunting. Lacking targets in the air, the pilots went down to the ground to hunt the Luftwaffe on its airfields, and in strafing attacks wrote off at least six aircraft and sent 17 more to the repair shop.

From Le Culot the squadron moved up to Grave in the Netherlands on September 30th. The new airfield, on the banks of the Maas River near Nijmegen, was close to the lines and was frequently bombed by Me. 262s. Some casualties were caused, including two pilots injured by flying fragments; and slit trenches and “twitch hats” became very popular. More serious, however, was heavy rain which made the field unserviceable and forced the wing to fall back to Melsbroek, near Brussels.

Just before leaving Grave, the squadron lost two pilots under unusual circumstances. Flying Officers L. P. E. Piché and A. J. Horrell set out in an Auster to fly to Antwerp. They arrived there safely, took off again and vanished into the blue. Both pilots had been with the squadron since Gander days.

***

Yesterday, L. P. E. Piché’s daughter told me all about October 11, 1944.

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