Flying Officer Kenneth Reginald ILLOTT
454 RAAF Squadron
Service No. 137398 (RAF)
FLGOFF K.R. Illott - Pilot
FLGOFF N. Jarvis - Navigator & Bomb Aimer
FSGT P.S. Johnson - Wireless Operator & Air Gunner
FSGT R.F. Pickervance - Wirelss Operator & Air Gunner
Mrs. Averil Tarbrooke (nee Illott), Ken's sister wrote to the Association recently, the following is her message which introduces Ken's story written before the war ended.
My brother is Ken Ilott and we recently found these notes (written to address factory workers after he was grounded) written closely in pencil, which had been folded up in a little box since 1945. Unfortunately Ken is now suffering from ill health and cannot fill me in where the notes were in decipherable. He also lost touch with Pickervance. If there is anything else of interest you have about this crew, I would love to know and any thing we can help with, we will. I think he has met up with Norman Jarvis and I would be able to confirm that with Ken's wife.
I found it so exciting to type this out and never should any of us forget what those young men did for us all. Sincerely Averil Tarbrooke (nee Ilott).
Ken’s R.A.F. Memories
I joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 when I was nineteen years old. In three months I was posted to South Africa for training, then to M.E for OTV, and onto my RAAF squadron, 454, in the desert. I stayed there until July 1944 doing coastal Ground Reconnaissance work, then sent to LBH squadron, to Italy where we worked with the Eighth Army until I left the squadron in November. I’ve been back in England for a month now. Perhaps you would like to hear of one or two of my experiences in action.
The most outstanding while on G. R happened last June. We knew that Jerry was assembling a convoy in the Piraeus, but didn’t know where it was heading for or when it was sailing, so for about a week we swept the sea routes from Athens to make sure it wouldn’t slip through our fingers. We had previously been very fortunate in catching his shipping in the Aegean and knew his island garrisons must be short of food and supplies, so this one mustn’t go through. All that week we saw nothing. Then, one morning, our first recce. kite found it - right in the middle of the Aegean. Immediately other aircraft took off to shadow it until a strike force could be assembled to fix it. I and my crew soon had our turn. We had fixed our kite all ready, badgered the cooks for a few sandwiches, emptied our pockets and dressed for the job. The weather was hot and we weren’t expected to fly very high, so all we wore was shirt, slacks, flying boots and gloves. We took off in rather a hurry at noon and set course immediately.
Once across the coast we came down to about 500ft and settled down for a boring hour and a half journey to where the fun was expected. One hundred miles south of Crete and I was down to 50ft to prevent their Radio loc from picking us up. As soon as we sighted the straights between Andikithira and Crete, I went lower still. Then we were in, expecting to see the convoy soon. The weather was lovely, a bright blue sky, not a cloud to be seen, the sea like a millpond with a rather deceiving haze hanging over it. Suddenly we saw the ships! Eleven of any importance and a host of black specks hovering over them. Norman, my navigator instantly gave a message to Johnny the wireless operator for transmission to base. Johnny put aside his novel to key to base all they wanted to know from us for the moment. He had just told me that the message was through, when “Oi! Skipper” from Norman, ”Can you see what I can see? There are three or four kites coming in from the port beam!” Pick in the turret immediately answered and said he’d got his eye on ‘em, OK One 109, one 2/10, two AR96s.
Whilst this enlightening chat was going on, I was pushing forward everything I could lay my hands on. Speed started to creep up, 250…260 knots. I told Johnny to stand by to radio base that we were being attacked by enemy aircraft, if they came any closer. Pick started a commentary on their behaviour. “Closing in, 96s can’t catch up, they’re falling out. The other two 2000 jobs coming in to attack on port quarter. Prepare to turn port.” I told Johnny to send the message and next time I glanced back at him he had got it through and was back to the………
Bullets were whizzing past now, something like (C after B B to R B to L??) sort of thing, I admit tracer can be pretty when one is at the right end of it but then – speed 290, 300.
Pick reported: “210 loosing ground, 109 coming in 1500yds.” We were both only a few feet off the water which helped us as he couldn’t get below us into any blind spots. He’s at 1000yds now. Prepare to turn port, 800yds “turn!”
As I hauled her round in a steep turn, Pick opened up, the “5s” thundered above the roar of the engines. Speed 320. Back into a turn to starboard and the 109 pulled up and away. There was a bit of a smell coming from him, but we could only claim damaged as he disappeared into the haze. A bit later the strike force hit the convoy well and truly. One DD and one VM made port at Candia that night out of eleven ships. We bombed the harbour the next morning and finished the DD. The merchant ship crept out a night or so later only to be sunk just…
We used to also guard convoys in our own thinking time. Anything was called a convoy that was being escorted, being a rowing boat or fifty troop ships.
I remember one day I was sent out to escort one of our cruisers coming from Malta. It was a lovely day when we set out. No sandstorms nor haze. Visibility about 30 miles so although we had about 200 miles of sea to cover before we reached the ship, we thought it would be an easy trip. About 70 miles out to sea, cloud started to come up behind us, and, as cloud does in that region, it built up and in no time until we couldn’t see a bit of ? Then it closed down as well, we had to go above it and trust to instruments to get us to our rendezvous. Huge ominous black clouds were building up ahead and we began to doubt whether this would be the easy trip we were expecting. Then minutes before rendezvous time we were coming down below the cloud it was more or less 500 ft and visibility on the surface was down to about a mile. The cloud ahead was dirty and dark and went right down to the water. I took a chance and stayed on course, and into this lot we went. It was teeming with rain and we could hardly see beyond our wing tips. It got so dark that we had to switch on all the lights in the aircraft. It was cold, especially as we were only wearing shirts, shorts and shoes and stockings. It was wet, rain coming in and soaking us all to the skin, and it looked as if it would be like that for many more miles, so we decided to turn back and wait on the edge of the storm for the ship. Then thunder and lightning started, compass needles spun and did all kinds of crazy things. I only had a gyro to steer by and that has to be corrected every five minutes from the compass!
Eventually we came out of the storm into quieter weather. We didn’t know what the instruments were like, the gyroscopic ones had nearly all been upset by the bumping and buffeting we had received and the magnetism induced by the lightning would almost certainly be affecting the compasses. Anyway we stooged around for another three hours, and still seeing no sign of the cruiser, we set course for home. We used radio bearings to help (taken by us of course!) I think pride in ones equipment keeps up ones trust in it, and we didn’t doubt our own D/F equipment. I didn’t think that the lightening may have affected that as well. But…eventually we sighted land.
We knew it must be somewhere between Alex and Gib, but actually we were very close to home, so our stuff didn’t do too badly against the elements after all! The cruiser, by the way, hadn’t sailed we discovered later, owing to bad weather!
Of course, our work in Italy was entirely different. Here we were very definitely offensive. But at the old job partly, we were defensive, partly inquisitive. Of course we were glad to be working with the 8th army and seeing results of our work... We started with plenty of formation practice for a couple of days and within a week of arriving in Italy we were well and truly in action. It wasn’t individual work as previously, but work where we all had to pull hard together. The squadron would go out twelve at a time, sometimes in a formation of twelve, sometimes in two blocks of six. At first there was a lull in army movements and we cracked off by bombing marshalling yards, stores dumps, petrol and oil storage tanks, bridges, wharfside buildings, roads etc., all those things known as tactical targets which keep enemy troops nearer the front line in short supply.
Then the great day came when we were trusted with our first close support target: that is bombing in the front line. Targets such as enemy strong points, troop concentrations, retreat routes and the things like that. Sometimes out targets would be only about only half a mile in front of our own troops, so our precision bombing had to be good. We were in close contact with the 8th army from the time they opened their last offensive on the Adriatic section in August. We pounded Jerry south of Pesaro and smashed his vaunted Gothic Line, or at least opened it up to allow our boys through. We did nerve raids on it: that is six aircraft going over every 15 or 30 minutes regularly, exactly on time and always the same target. And with two or three squadrons cooperating, a good job could be made of it. As soon as one lot dropped their bombs, they raced home, refuelled, rebombed up and waited their turn for another crack. It must have been really nerve racking just sitting down there and knowing that in so many minutes bombs will be raining down again.
We kept on right through the Gothic Line and on to….? Jerry had about 107,880…..? there and his shooting really was good. Yes, Rimini was warm alright. Jerry would put up a box barrage before we got to the target to try to put us off, but we knew that once the shells had exploded the smoke couldn’t hurt us. So, much to Jerry’s discomfort we just flew straight into it. It gave one an uncomfortable feeling really, and although we hated flak we used to be disappointed if we didn’t have at least one nice piece of shrapnel to show everyone when we landed!
I had a brand new kite when we went to Italy and when I left the squadron I reckon that there were at least a hundred patches and one new wing on her.
The way I bent the wing was like this. We had the target of an oil dump near Florence, about 50 miles behind the enemy lines. We worked out the best way in and out but even so they opened up at us the moment we crossed the front line. They were shooting at us for about 35 minutes. They didn’t ease up all the time we were over enemy territory, shells all around us and between us. One went right through my starboard wing without bursting which was a good thing. We lost two out of twelve that afternoon and back over base, when breaking formation, one of my pals put his wing tip into my starboard engine, smashed in my oil cooler and air intake, smashed in about 10 feet of my wing and when the tips flew off the propeller, one shot through the fuselage under my navigator’s seat, another ricocheted of the top of the fuselage and flew back and jammed my rudder! The only damage the other bloke got was a couple of feet chewed off his wing tip.
I told the crew to stand by to bale out, but then found that I could just hold her on the shelf of my controls left to me. I called for an emergency landing and after a struggle I got my undercarriage down and brought her in and landed her with bags of speed to give me fuller control. Good job I didn’t realise all the damage until I got down or else I should have been scared that she would fall to pieces as soon as I touched down.
I think I have said enough about the Air Force, but it will give you a slight idea anyway of a part of our work, and now I’ve seen you all at work, I’ve got an idea of yours. You know that we, in the Service realise full well how far we could get without you all working in the factories for us. Why we shouldn’t even get started, and I sincerely say this: ”Thank you for your wonderful support in helping us to bring the end one day nearer.”
Back row left to right: Sgt Bob Pickervance (Wireless Operator & Air Gunner), Sgt Peter Johnson (Wireless Operator & Air Gunner)
Front row left to right: F/O Norman Jarvis (Navigator & Bomb Aimer), F/O Ken Ilott (Pilot or ‘driver’)