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The Spitfire Society Interview

Spitfire and Tempest Tales


Bert Harman

Sadly, in March 2007, Spitfire Society Stalwart, Helper, Enthusiast, Newsletter Contributor and Friend, former 33 Sqn. Pilot, Bert Harman, passed away. As a small tribute to him, we are reproducing here two items written by Bert for the 2001 Newsletters.

The first part looks at a mission undertaken by Bert in 1944 flying over Belgium in Spitfire Mk IX PV202. It was with some pride that Bert viewed the fact that PV202 still not only exists but does so in full flying condition. Following a fatal accident in the 90’s the aeroplane, now operated by Historic Flying Limited at Duxford is, understandably, known by its post-war designation of IAC Tr.161.

Tr.161, in its two-seat configuration, is used in a variety of roles and is one of the busiest flying Spitfires in the world. Bert was a great admirer of our late Vice-President Alex Henshaw and was, I know, immensely pleased when in 2006 Alex took to the skies in ‘161 to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first Spitfire flight.

The second fascinating account looks at that fateful day in February 1945 when, following an encounter with enemy ‘109’s, Bert was obliged to put his Hawker Tempest (its mighty Napier-Sabre engine having fallen silent) down in a field behind enemy lines, leading to his capture and being made prisoner of war.

We hope that you will enjoy with us our old chum’s reminiscences.

P.W.  July 2007


A Sortie with 33 Squadron

"In November 1944 I was serving with 33 Squadron, part of 135 Wing in 2nd Tactical Air Force stationed at Maldegem in Belgium. On 25th November, we were given a target to attack – the railway in the region of Ede in Holland, the object being to deny the use of these railways to the enemy who was using them to support his forces in central Holland (and later to assist in the evacuation of these forces). These targets were known as ‘rail interdiction’.

We took off at 14:30 Hrs carrying one 500lb bomb on each aircraft and the target was duly located and attacked. A total of 12 bombs were dropped, but the permanent way seemed to have survived. It subsequently transpired that we may not have attacked the designated target, which was the main line at Ede between Utrecht and Arnhem, but a small branch line at or near Lunteren, which only had a single line.

On the return flight I ran short of Fuel and decided to land at Antwerp, B.70 to take on more. Antwerp at that time was an advanced landing ground held by a servicing party. I landed on the runway and followed a jeep with a ‘Follow Me’ sign – but he took me across the mud to the servicing area.

They had put in about 20 gallons from jerry cans when a V2 landed uncomfortably close by; Antwerp at that time being attacked by V2’s targeting the area around the docks where we were attempting to bring in supplies. I therefore decided it would be advisable to leave so taxied out and took off, arriving back at Maldegem some twenty minutes later. However, on the approach, I noticed that the air pressure was almost zero but, by keeping the flaps up, I had sufficient pressure to use the brakes. On inspection, the flexible pipe from the compressor was found to be leaking.

The ground crew were pleased to get their aircraft back, but not so pleased when they saw the state of it – covered in mud, particularly the undercarriage and inside the wheel wells. I offered to help clean it, but my offer was declined – so I made amends with a few bottles of beer from our Mess."

Flg Officer A (Bert) Harman joined the RAF in August 1942, undergoing flying training at 33 EFTS Caron, 41 SFTS Weyburn, Saskatchewan and 1 OTU Bagotville, Quebec. Returning to the UK in Sept. 1943, following spells at 57 OTU and 3501 GSU, he was posted to 33 Squadron on D Day – 6 June 1944. In December the Squadron re-equipped with the Hawker Tempest V. A period of familiarisation with the aircraft followed and on 21 February 1945 Bert flew EJ868 5R-T from Manston to B77 Gilze-Rejen, Holland, carrying out his first operation in a Tempest four days later:

"On 25th February 1945 we were briefed to carry out a sweep in the Rhine area of Germany. We took off at 07:05 Hrs and shortly afterwards were vectored by Control to intercept some enemy aircraft that were soon sighted – identified them as Bf 109’s and prepared to attack. I switched to main tanks and dropped my wing tanks but, suddenly my engine stopped. I was quite low at about 1000 ft. and, as I looked around for a place to land, a 109 appeared and opened fire. I broke hard left and he clipped my starboard wing but did not continue his attack.

Finding myself very low over rough open country I managed to land by side-slipping into a field with the aircraft sliding through a hedge and ending up on the edge of a pine forest. I had braced myself but the Sutton harness gave way and my nose received a nasty blow from the gun sight and was subsequently found to be fractured. Getting out of the aircraft, I saw that the engine had broken away and was some distance from the fuselage.

I made my way well into the forest and stayed in hiding until nightfall. As soon as it was dark, I set off in heavy rain following a road towards the North West and, although I passed quite a lot of people, they took no notice of me. The road eventually led to a large town which I took to be Munster and just kept on walking in the pitch black and pouring rain. When dawn broke, I was in open country again and had a job to find any cover, eventually coming across a barn to hide in.

The Germans found me, however, at about mid-day and took me to a nearby village where I was locked up in the jail and imprisoned for a couple of weeks. An elderly German and a soldier brought me food twice a day. I was also visited several times by an Interrogation Officer, although he only asked me my name, rank and number. There was also a young German army doctor who spoke excellent English and examined my nose. The doctor said he didn’t think much of Hitler, but I suspected this was a ploy.

I was then collected by two Germans who arrived in a car powered by charcoal! We stopped at another village where an RAF chap was bundled in with me. We were warned not to talk to each other and were driven across the border to a Luftwaffe base at Twente in Holland where I could see both Bf109’s and FW190’s landing and taking off. Here we were joined by about 25 other captured aircrew. The main Luftwaffe interrogation centre was at Oberursel and, although we set off there two days later travelling by horse and cart, train and on foot, we continued the same day to Wetzlar. On that journey we passed through Frankfurt am Main which had obviously sustained heavy bombing and we now found that the Americans had bombed the railway forcing us to cross the bridge in single file before being loaded into cattle trucks and setting off for an unknown destination, moving in fits and starts and being shunted into sidings. Russian POW’s were repairing the line – Mustangs and Thunderbolts flew overhead during the day and we had the attentions of Mosquitos at night – not a very pleasant experience. Our route took us through Wurzberg, Schweinfurt and Bomberg, the last two being totally flattened with hardly any buildings standing and consequently, we were locked in and told to keep quiet as the guards could not guarantee our safety. It took six days to travel to Nurnberg, which had also been badly affected by bombing, and we were marched to a camp some way through the city.

On Wednesday 4th April I was part of a very large column of POW’s who left Nurnberg to march to a camp at Moosberg, almost 60 miles to the South East. We were escorted mainly by quite elderly soldiers and, as we were younger and much fitter, we helped them along carrying their kit and, on occasions, even their rifles! My recollections of this 16 day march are varied. Food was only issued occasionally and we had to forage around the fields to see what we could find. Sometimes we stopped in villages or at farms, on other occasions we slept at the side of the road. Often we marched in very heavy rain. We saw numerous allied aircraft and I know that some prisoners were killed and others injured when P47’s bombed a railway bridge – one day we made a big ‘POW’ sign on the ground from toilet paper and Red Cross tins to let our aircraft know who we were.

We arrived at Moosberg POW camp on Friday 20 April and although the conditions became quite bad we did not have much longer to endure them because, on Sunday 29 April, the camp was liberated by troops from the American 6th Army followed very shortly afterwards by General Patton and his staff! He was mobbed and cheered, especially by the American POW’s, and the Americans soon had the camp organised with supplies – coffee and doughnuts, and later on freshly baked bread! A few days later we were evacuated by trucks to Straubing, by Dakota to an American reception centre at Rheims where we were fed and given cigarettes and chocolate , and then on to Jouvencourt. The last leg of the journey was by RAF Lancasters to Wescott near Oxford – back in the UK on 10 May – whence by train to Cosford where I was de-briefed, kitted out and had a welcome pint of beer! Then home on indefinite leave ……"

You might like to know that signed drawings / pictures of Bert and his aircraft are available from Peter Wesson. You can find further details here:

Spitfire Art

The previous Spitfire Society Interview with Alex Henshaw can be found here:

Alex Henshaw

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