Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain a time to reflect on the heroism of the “few” whose gallantry played a crucial role in the outcome of the Second World War. Many pilots died in combat during the Battle of Britain and very few of us even know the names of those who died over the skies of Thanet during the Second World War as such events are often passed from word to mouth and memories become jaded.
One such event is the death of Pilot Officer John Allen who is buried at Margate Cemetery after his Spifire crashed into the substation at Omer Avenue, Cliftonville on 24th July 1940. The story is well known in Cliftonville and thanks to John Williams’s aviation historian to the Margate Historical Society I am able to piece together some of the factual history of the events of midday of the 24th July 1940.
On July 24th 1940 Pilot Officer John Allen of No 54 Squadron based at RAF Rochford was flying a Supermarine Spitfire MK1 serial number R6812 when he was engaged in combat breaking up a formation of 40 Bf109’s and 2 Staffelen of Dorniers threatening to attack a convoy of small colliers in the Channel and Thames Estuary .
During combat over Margate his engine was damaged after being hit by fire from a Bf109 of the Luftwaffe unit Jg 26 flown by German ace Adolf Galland. With a damaged engine he attempted to reach RAF Manston but his engine stalled and he was seen making for Foreness in a controlled descent with a dead engine. The engine restarted causing him again to make for Manston . Unfortunatley the engine stopped again and while trying to turn for Foreness he stalled and spun in, crashing into the substation at Omer Avenue, Cliftonville killing 24 year old John Allen.
One of the first people at the scene of thecrash was Colin Cuthbert who had tried in vain with others to try and save John Allen but the flames of the burning aircraft were too intense. John Allen’s funeral later took place at Margate Cemetery where he is buried.
No 54 Squadron assisted by 6 Spitfires from No 65 based at Manston held the Lutwaffe in close engagement for such a long period that the Germans had to break off the attack as low fuel forced them to break off the engagement and return to France in their escape manouvre the Split S and smoking engines.
The Lufwaffe lost 2 Bf106 aircraft on 24th July 1940 over Margate, one Bf109 was shot down at 13:00hrs and forced landed at Northdown , Margate with the pilot seriously injured . The other was shot down over Margate at 13:05 hrs and crashed in Byron Avenue , killing the pilot whose parachute failed to open when he bailed out. The RAF also had Spitfire R6710 damaged over Margate which was able to land with the Pilot H.K.F Matthews receiving just minor injuries. The British shipping loses were 2 minesweeper trawlers.
In the book “The Men of the Battle of Britain” by Kenneth G. Wynn published by Gliddon Books ISBN 0 947893 15 6 Johnny Allen is mentioned.
“On May 21st , 1940 between Dunkirk and Calais, Allen probably destroyed a JU88, 54 squadrons first victory. Two days later he and Alan Deere escorted Squadron Leader J. Leathart, flying a Miles Master to Calais Marck airfield to pick up a commanding officer of No 74 Squadron who was stranded there. 12 Bf109s attacked the Master but were engaged by Allen and Deere who between them shot down 3 and badly damaged 3 more, Allen destroying 1 and damaging 2.”
“On May 25th 1940 his engine was hit by a cannon shell and he bailed out in the channel near a destroyer . He returned to the squadron after three days in a sailor’s uniform carrying a kit bag”
“Allen was awarded the DFC on 11th June 1940 and received it from the King at a ceremony at Hornchurch on June 27th 1940, in company with Deere and Leathart, who were awarded the DFC and DSO respectively”
Pilot Officer John Allen DFC in combat destroyed eight aircraft of which 1 was shared, and had five unconfirmed destroyed.