242 (Canadian) Hurricane
squadron RAF under the celebrated
command of Sqn Ldr Douglas RS “Tinlegs” Bader which included
three Fleet Air Arm pilots: Sub Lt RJ Cork RN (Bader’s wingman),
Sub Lt RE Gardner RNVR and Mid PJ Patterson RN
Gardner undertook his ab
initio flying training at Gravesend and was one of the first young pilots
that had been trained by the Royal Navy
and transferred to the RAF, coming under the command of Douglas Bader.
Commander (Sub/Lt. during
the Battle) R E "Jimmy" Gardner, who died aged 84, was one of the Fleet
Air Arm fighter pilots
who took part in the Battle of Britain in 1940. In June, Gardner went to No 7 Operational Training Unit at RAF Hawarden, in North Wales,
for an intensive two-week course in flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. Early in July, he and two other naval pilots, Sub Lt Dickie Cork and Midshipman Peter Patterson
- neither of whom survived the war - joined 242 Squadron RAF, flying Hurricanes under the celebrated Douglas Bader.
Gardner had an early success on July 10 when 242 were patrolling off Lowestoft. Gardner recalled:
"I came out of cloud over
a small convoy of freighters going up the East Coast and there was a Heinkel
111 bombing them.
I was able to latch on to him as he quickly dived back for the Dutch coast having spotted me.
I must admit I had to go full throttle to catch him up. I fired when in range and he went down
halfway between the English and Dutch coasts."
Gardner shared a Dornier
Do17 on August 21 and shot down another on September 7. His best
day was September 18 when he shot down
two Do17’s over the Thames Estuary and was credited with a "probable". As the battle proceeded, 242 settled down to the routine of spending
their nights at Coltishall and days at Duxford. There was a serious shortage of pilots, due to accidents of combat, but plenty of aircraft. Gardner remembered:
"If your aircraft was shot
up and you were OK the mechanics just pulled out another Hurricane and
off you went again.
I had my Bugatti and my Matchless motorcycle with me at Coltishall and took them out whenever I could, enjoying the peace and quiet."
Although the naval pilots
were fully integrated operationally into the RAF they wore naval uniform
and guarded their Navy identities.
Gardner had the flag hoist of Nelson's "England Expects" signal at Trafalgar painted on the side of his Hurricane.
In general, they got on very well with Bader - "He wasn't the
most diplomatic of people" Gardner said. He had very strong opinions and stuck to these no matter who he was talking to,
a senior officer or otherwise. What he said had to go and that was that". In all, 56 Fleet Air Arm pilots flew in the Battle of Britain,
23 of them with the RAF. Nine were killed.
On November 5 1940, Gardner's
Hurricane was damaged in an engagement with several Me109’s and
when he returned to the Navy, joining 807 naval air squadron flying Fairey Fulmars from the carrier ‘Ark Royal’ in the Mediterranean.
In May ‘Ark Royal’ escorted
the Tiger convoy, carrying tanks and Hurricanes through the Mediterra-nean
Gardner made four sorties on May 8, sharing an Italian Savoia SM79 and shooting down two Ju87 Stukas. His Fulmar was badly damaged
but once again he managed to struggle back and crash-land on ‘Ark Royal’. He was awarded the DSC for his service in Tiger.
Gardner's final tally as a fighter pilot was six destroyed, four shared and one "probable".
Richard Exton Gardner, always
known as Jimmy (because his father had the same Christian names) was born
on July 24 1914
and went to Bryanston before joining the family firm of Yardley, cosmetic manufacturers. He learned to fly before the war,
joining the Navy and starting flying training as a leading airman at Gravesend in May 1939. He was commissioned as a Sub Lt RNVR
in September 1939, got his wings at RAF Netheravon in April 1940 and joined 760 naval air squadron at HMS ‘Raven’ Eastleigh.
After ‘Ark Royal’ was sunk
in November 1941, 807 joined the carrier ‘Argos’ for convoy duties in the
In April 1942, Gardner was appointed as an instructor to 760 Squadron, part of the Fleet Fighter School, at HMS ‘Heron’ Yeovilton.
In July 1942, Gardner was CO of 899 squadron flying Fulmars from HMS ‘Greve’ at Dekheila near Alexandria
and operating from Fayid for Canal Zone Defence. Part of the squadron moved to Syria to operate with 260 Wing RAF, re-equipping
with ex-RAF Hurricanes in October. They then flew in the Western Desert until disbanding in February 1943.
Gardner's long experience as a fighter pilot was now much in demand. In May 1943 he was appointed as CO of 736 Squadron,
flying Seafires from Yeovilton at the School of Air Combat, teaching the latest air combat techniques to experienced naval fighter pilots.
In September, 736 moved to
HMS ‘Vulture’ St Merryn, Cornwall, to become the Fighter Combat School
element of the School of Naval Air Warfare.
Gardner remained Chief Fighter Instructor for the School of Naval Warfare until he left the Navy in March 1946
and was appointed OBE for his service there in 1945.
After the war he rejoined Yardley on the board and became chairman until it was taken over by BATS in 1969.
As one of the surviving Battle of Britain pilots, Jimmy Gardner was often asked for his signature on pictures of aerial combat and other memorabilia. He always obliged good-humouredly as his tribute to his friends who did not survive.
He married, in 1945, Jeanne Hose; they had three sons.
Sub Lt Jimmy Gardner's 242 Sqn. Hurricane wearing the flags of Nelson's famous 'England Expects' message
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