During World War II, it was not uncommon for airmen to hang up or crash into their aircraft while abandoning them. It is likely that the Luftwaffe “expert” HJ Marseille was killed or rendered unconscious, hitting the tail or fin of his aircraft as he abandoned it. Anyway, he didn’t deploy his parachute and was killed.
“There is a remarkable story of Pilot Officer JE Abbotts, a Canadian who had an almost unbelievably lucky escape,” said Steven Rusling, an aviation expert, on Quora.
As Rusling explains, Abbotts would later be remembered in an article by Stephen M. Fochuk on the Vintage Wings of Canada website.
“My squadron was 403, but I was flying No. 3 with 421 Squadron (short of pilots). After checking out the forts north of Amsterdam, we were sweeping up and down at 30,000 feet.
‘I spotted 2 – ME 109 below. Winco ‘Johnny’ Johnson told me to keep an eye on them; finally he said ‘Go after them’. I rolled out of formation and was just coming through the odd puff of flak when something hit me; lots of oil and smoke. I fired anyway but I was out of range.
“I started towards the North Sea but the engine quit and a 109 rolled over it to attack – I sped off at about 4,000 or 5,000 feet and decided to parachute out.” I turned around and got out but hit the fuselage and was knocked out. When I regained consciousness, the strap of my parachute was around the aerial mast. I was hanging from the right side of the AC, the AC was upright, wings level and in a nice glide. I held on with one hand and tried to rip the parachute off, but I got too close to the ground. I decided it was all over. And I thought ‘I got it’. I fainted. I woke up 3 hours later safe in the arms of – Germans.
So how did he survive? His Spitfire landed on its own. We know what happened from the account (available on the Vintage Wings of Canada website) of a Dutch witness, Mr. Albert Phillipps, who wrote to the Canadian Ministry of National Defense for Air to London .
‘Dear Sir: I hereby let you know that I would be very happy to enter into conversation with a Canadian pilot who landed on one of our bulb fields at Hillegom, Holland on July 29, 1943 […]
“Suddenly, however, a plane came down in a circle with its engine smoking heavily. We noticed immediately when it came out of the humidity that it was a British fighter. The more he went down, the more we were afraid because we didn’t know where he had to go down, because of his circle. You should have seen the workers in the fields, they were also running in a circle. When the plane descended lower, we saw that the pilot was hanging beside the plane near the tail. His parachute was hooked to the small radio mast, behind the airman’s seat. He was lucky, because the plane landed on its own with not too much speed, after flying over the roof of a small house which it had missed by a few centimeters. The airman was dirty and black with sand and mud, and was not seriously injured. I asked what he was, and he said a “Canadian”. Then I had to keep my nasty mouth shut, as the German soldiers told me, who appeared at that time.
When you see the condition of Abbotts Spitfire, you can see how lucky he was.
Photo credit: Vintage Wings of Canada and RCAF403 Squadron