Flying Grisdales – Flight Sergeant Philip T Grisdale RAF

Posted: November 6, 2014 in History, Luftwaffe, RAF
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

After Sergeant Major Levi Grisdale left the army in 1825, having completed twenty-two years of service that had seen him capture Napoleon’s favourite general, fight in thirty-two battles and lead the Prussians onto the field of Waterloo, he eventually settled down back in his home town of Penrith. There he had five children with his second wife Mary Western. Thomas was the fourth of these. He was born in 1841 in Penrith and was to become a clerk in the Postal Service, a decision that would take his family far to the south – to the London suburb of Barnes in Surrey. It was in the nearby suburb of Wandsworth that Thomas’s grandson, Philip Thomas Grisdale, was born in 1917.

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

Spitfire of 72 Squadron Biggin Hill

Philip’s father, Charles Philip Grisdale, had also joined the post office, passed exams, and done well for himself and his family before becoming a successful ‘commercial traveller’. The family lived at 21 Quarry Road in Wandsworth in a solidly middle-class house. It was here that Philip grew up with his twin brother Thomas Grover Grisdale. In 1938, when he was twenty-one, Philip married Averil Bush in Wandsworth. The couple had  one son: Carroll P Grisdale.

Without consulting the RAF records I don’t yet know when exactly Philip joined the RAF, what squadron he was initially posted to and whether or not he fought as a pilot in the Battle of Britain. However I do know he arrived at 72 Squadron on July 26th 1941 from 234 Squadron at RAF Warmwell – flying Spitfires. He had the rank of Flight Sergeant in 72 Squadron, which had just returned to the famous Biggin Hill airbase in Kent. The squadron had been reformed in 1937 and in 1939 Spitfires replaced its aging Gloster Gladiators. It had assisted in the evacuation of Dunkirk and fought in the Battle of Britain.

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

Spitfire in colours of 234 Squadron

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in July 1941

By the autumn of 1941 the RAF had shifted from defending Britain towards ‘offensive sweeps’ over mainland Europe. On the 29 August 1941, 72 Squadron’s Spitfires escorted a formation of Blenheim bombers on a raid to the important railway yards at Hazebrouck, a small town near Dunkirk in the Flemish region of France.

The raid, or ‘Circus’ met stiff resistance from German anti-aircraft fire and engaged a large body of German fighters. And so, it would appear, it was near here at half past eight in the morning that Philip Grisdale had the misfortune to encounter one of the Luftwaffe’s veritable fighter-aces, Oberleutnant Hermann Seegatz, flying a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Hermann was the same age as Philip; he was born on 24 June 1917 in Fuerstengrube in German Silesia (now in Poland). His first air ‘kill’ was during the Battle of Britain when he shot down a Spitfire ‘south west of Dover’ on 7 July 1940. By August 1941 he was with no 4 Squadron of the second group of the 26th Fighter Wing (4.11/JG26) based at Abbeville airfield in northern France. JG26 was commanded by the famous ace Adolf Galland. They were known as either “The Abbeville Boys” or “The Abbeville Kids” by both the British and Americans who flew against them.

Due to the quality of leadership, attention giving to training replacement pilots, and the professionalism shown by these Luftwaffe pilots the Allied pilots came to respect the “Abbeville Boys”. Any yellow nosed Messerschmitt or Focke-Wulf 190… ever seen was reported as being flown by JG26. Bomber crews especially were respectful of them due to their ability to penetrate the fighter screen and shoot them down. JG26 is regarded as having some of the best pilots in the Luftwaffe throughout the War.

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

Douglas Bader with Adolf Galland

Only three weeks before on the 9th of August, RAF ace Captain Douglas Bader had bailed out over St Omer in France. ‘Bader was well known to the Luftwaffe and at the time of his capture had been credited with 22 aerial victories. Galland himself claimed two Spitfires on that date. Galland and JG 26 entertained Bader over the next few days. Owing to the significant stature of the prisoner, Galland permitted Bader, under escort, to sit in the cockpit of a Bf 109. Apparently, despite losing one of his tin legs in the aircraft, Bader, in a semi-serious way, asked if they wouldn’t mind if he took it on a test flight around the airfield. Galland replied that he feared Douglas would attempt to escape and they would have to give chase and shoot at each other again, and declined the request.’

Seegatz already had 14 confirmed victories to his name the day he fought Grisdale in his Spitfire; a total that would eventually reach forty.

Seegatz's ME-109 'Beware Novices!'

Seegatz’s ME-109 ‘Beware Novices!’

Hermann was the ‘Squadron clown’. At one early stage he had the words ‘Beware Novice(s)!’ (‘Achtung Anfaenger!’) emblazoned on his ME-109, either as a warning to his adversaries or more probably as a tongue-in-check reference to himself. (See picture). His personal emblem was a Tyrolean Eagle, which can just be seen in the second picture of him with his Messerschmitt . Maybe Philip Grisdale caught a glimpse of this Eagle of the yellow-nosed ME-109 on that day in 1941, or maybe he never saw Hermann coming. We will never know. But in any case Philip was shot down and died while attempting a forced-landing (see below). The place was Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast. When his squadron returned to Biggin Hill Philip was reported missing in action. Seegatz claimed his 15th air victory, reporting that he had shot down a Spitfire near Nieuwpoort and had seen it crash.

Was this Spitfire definitely Philip’s? We can never be 100% sure, but all the evidence points in that direction and all the ‘experts’ who investigate such things concur that it was. The authoritative JG 26 Luftwaffe Fighter Wing War Diary, Volume 1; Volumes 1939-1942, by  Donald Caldwell, clearly shows that the Spitfire shot down by Seegatz belonged to 72 Squadron, while 72 Squadron’s records indicate that only one of their planes failed to return that day: that of Sergeant P. T. Grisdale.

Tom Docherty in his definitive Swift to Battle: No 72 Fighter Squadron RAF in Action, 1937 – 1942 writes:

On the 29th (August) it was back to Hazebrook marshalling yards as escort to the bombers of Circus No 88. Twelve Spitfires, led by Sqn Ldr Sheen, took part, and as they crossed the coast near Hardelot a large number of Bf109s were sighted. Sqn Ldr Sheen decided that they were a distinct threat to the squadron, and led the Spitfires into a running battle, which stretched into the middle of the Channel. During the fight Sqn Ldr Sheen (W3380) damaged a Bf109, Plt Off Rosser (W3441) destroyed one, Flt Lt Kosinski (W3511) destroyed one Bf109 and possibly destroyed another. On the debit side of the battle Sgt Grisdale (P8713) called up on the R/T informing his squadron mates that he was force-landing in France. Grisdale was killed. Sheen recorded. ‘Circus!? 1 Me109 damaged. Attack on N. France. Sqn versus 250 + 109s. 30 miles inland.’

Philip Thomas Grisdale is buried in Zandwoorde British Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium.

Like many allies airmen shot down during the war maybe Philip had first been buried locally and only later reinterred at Zandwoorde.

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Emblem in Abbeville

Hermann Seegatz with his Tyrolean Eagle ME-109 in Abbeville

What became of fighter-ace Hermann Seegatz? He claimed his next victory only two days later – another Spitfire. Later he was posted to Russia where his victories continued, before returning to Germany to help in the defence of the Fatherland. He became a Captain, then an Adjutant and finally, in 1944, a ‘Group Commander’. On 8 March 1944, Hermann scored his 40th, and last, victory. He shot down an American B-17 Flying Fortress at ‘Luben north of Luchnau’ before being shot down himself, probably by an American fighter. The German records tell us that Hauptmann Seegatz of the First Fighter Wing crashed in his Focke Wulf 190 after an ‘air battle’ with a fighter (‘Absturz nach Luftkampf mit Jaeger’). His aircraft was totally destroyed and he was ‘tot’ – dead.

Hermann Seegatz, Luftwaffe fighter-ace, is buried in Bernburg/Saale Cemetery.

The Grisdale family had gone from Waterloo to WW2, fighting for ‘King and Country’. ‘Hero’ Levi Grisdale had survived to tell his tales, his great grandson Philip had not.

Philip Grisdale, third from left, with 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill shortly before his death.

Philip Grisdale, third from left, with 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill shortly before his death.

I’d like to end with a poem much beloved of pilots everywhere. It’s called High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee, and adorns the wall of my own flying club:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I hope both Philip and Hermann did manage to ‘touch the face of God’.

The Abbeville Boys

The Abbeville Boys

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Erik Mannings says:

    I am the historian for 72 Sqn and have found a photo of Sgt PT Grisdale taken in Aug 1941 at Biggin Hill. I am preparing a short biography of each of the Sqn members at that time and can tell you that he was posted into 72 Sqn from 234 Sqn at Warmwell on 26 Jul 1941. The only other information I have is from the Tom Docherty book but it is possible that I may be able to find some operational sortie records from the Sqn Ops diary when I next view it. If you would like a copy of the photo please contact me at the email below, yours Erik Mannings

  2. Verstraete Jaak says:

    Grisdale was burried south of ypres Britisch Cemetery at ZANDVOORDE between KOMEN (COMMINES) and GELUVELD
    GR.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s