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A Lucky Escape For An Australian Battle of Britain Pilot

Hurricane Mk1
RAF Serial: V7233
87 Squadron
Pilot: F/O John Cock
Date: 11 August 1940 – 17.20 hrs
Place: The Fleet, Dorset, UK

This recovery was filmed as part of the BBC series Dig 1940 shown on BBC2 and History Channel.

John Cock’s Hurricane had been the subject of several salvage attempts in the 1970s and 80s, notably in 1983 when John flew to the UK from his home in Australia to witness the recovery. Although many small parts were lifted from water of The Fleet, the bulk of the wreck proved too heavy to raise.

TV production company 360 Productions funded an elaborate operation to salvage the remaining wreckage, masterminded by Gareth Jones. The Fleet, the stretch of water between Chesil Beach and mainland Dorset is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its plant, marine and bird life. Special permissions had to be obtained to work in the area and special equipment designed and made for the operation.

Finally a shallow-draft with an excavator on it was launched from the Army base at Chickerell and towed down The Fleet at high tide to be moored precisely over the site.   

Extracts from Battle of Britain Combat Archive, published by Red Kite.

87 Sqn Operations Records Book:

P/O Cock after his second combat suddenly found his cockpit breaking in pieces as the result of an unseen attack. With difficulty he baled out, landed in the sea about 200 yards from the shore and managed to swim ashore where he arrived dressed in a tunic and blue underpants – a somewhat fearsome spectacle

John Cock later recalled:

“My day had started well. A fellow pilot had repaid a long standing debt of £5, a considerable amount in those days.

“With the fiver firmly in my trouser pocket I left Exeter and had little trouble in spotting the bombers. By then there were a total of about 200 of them spread out all over Portland. The first aircraft I shot at was a 109. I gave him several bursts and saw bits come flying off. He was obviously damaged and I doubt that he got very much further.

“I found the Ju88 next and managed to get in behind him. One of my guns had already jammed but I carried on and fired off the rest of my ammunition. One of the wings was well alight but I didn’t see the 88 crash as a line of bullets hit the left hand side of my cockpit. There was a dreadful din. The dash panel disintegrated and the engine began to run a bit rough. A bullet had nicked my left arm and other bits of shrapnel embedded themselves in it.

“The 109 that had hit me dived away and I saw two white bars on it. Later the Squadron Intelligence Officer told me that this was probably Helmut Wick. With my plane fairly badly hit I decided that this was no place to be, so I pulled back the hood and rolled the plane over. I tried to get out, but got stuck on something, so I kicked the stick forward and shot out into space. I grabbed the rip cord and pulled it. When the ’chute opened I was still hanging on to the handle for all I was worth. I put it in my jacket pocket and kept it as a souvenir!

“Floating down I could see and hear the other aircraft whirling around. I felt a bit vulnerable, especially when my parachute cords fell around me. Another Me 109 was shooting at me! Dennis David got onto the 109 and I watched him shoot the aircraft down. The pilot didn’t get out of that one.

“When I hit the water my ’chute began to drag me towards Portland. I thought about hanging on and sailing ashore but I soon realised that the ’chute was taking me the wrong way. I managed to release it and started to swim to the beach, about a quarter of a mile away. My arm was beginning to hurt and the left half of my Mae West had been punctured by the bullet so I floated a bit ‘left wing low’. I had already taken off my boots and considered that losing my trousers would ease the situation a bit. As they floated away I suddenly remembered my fiver in the pocket! I couldn’t quite reach them and I often wondered if anyone ever found my £5.”

Eventually Pilot Officer John Cock reached Chesil Beach to be greeted by some Home Guards armed with shot guns.

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