Sunderland T9044, in just nine weeks with 210 Squadron, was flown by many aircrew – joined by the occasional passenger – on operational and non-operational flights. Squadron records only list pilots and officers by name; non-commissioned ranks are not named unless they were pilots.
Pilot: Reginald Baker
A very colourful character, Reggie Baker made headlines following his ‘press on’ attacks on enemy submarines. He flew T9044 on its first and last flights and on three convoy patrols. On 9th November he was captain when T9044 flew into Pembroke Dock following a six hour flight from Oban. It sank three days later.
The book ‘Sopwiths to Sunderlands’ (a history of No 210 Squadron) records in detail Reggie Baker’s hectic and dangerous Sunderland chapter in his all-too-short wartime career.
For Reggie an early encounter with the enemy came soon after the German invasion of Norway and Denmark in April 1940. He was one of the crew of L5798, captained by Acting Flight Lieutenant Guy Van der Kiste, operating as part of a three aircraft detachment at Invergordon. On April 12th they were ordered to check on German troopships in Hardanger Fjord and the squadron history records: ‘The aircraft encountered heavy snowstorms and bad visibility off the Norwegian coast. It also met heavy anti-aircraft fire over Haugesund and the starboard middle petrol tank and hull were pierced’.
‘The search continued and over Garvin more anti-aircraft fire pierced the port middle tank and the tailplane. The troopships were not found and the aircraft returned to base, 400 gallons of petrol being found in the bilges after alighting’.
In later years Guy Van der Kiste recalled that three troopships were located. “There were no self-sealing tanks then. The smallest member of our crew, 19-year-old wireless operator Derek Buley, crawled into the wing and plugged as many holes as he could with chewing gum. The rest of us chewed madly to keep him supplied.
“On our return several bits of spent ammunition were found in the parachute on which I had been sitting. Someone asked the MO, Doc Maycock, what treatment I should have been given if the bullets had gone into my backside. ‘Oh dose him with castor oil and let him blow smoke bubbles’ was the reply!”
Derek Buley’s heroic action led to the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.
Baker – as captain of his own crew – made attacks on suspected submarines on August 29th and September 17th 1940. In the August attack three bombs and a depth charge were dropped on an oil slick and naval vessels joined in the attack. It was assessed that the submarine was sunk but post-war records failed to confirm this. On August 25th Baker and crew were homed on to a lifeboat which contained 40 adults and six children, survivors from the City of Bernares, a 11,000 ton liner which had been sunk by U-48. The vessel had been carrying many children and this prompted headline reports in the press. The survivors were rescued by a destroyer.
On October 17th Baker was in action again, pressing home an attack on a diving U-boat so purposefully that his Sunderland, P9624, was damaged. Having dropped one depth charge he made a second attack and there was a large underwater explosion which damaged the tailplane and rear fuselage of the Sunderland. The U-Boat is thought to have been the infamous U-48 (Bleichrodt). Reggie Baker lived dangerously.
The second full year of the war began with two attacks by 210 Squadron crews – by Van der Kiste on a suspected periscope on the 5th, and by Reggie Baker on a submarine the following day, some 150 miles west Cape Wrath.
This was Baker’s most successful attack, his ‘victim’ often being claimed as the Italian submarine Marcella, but it is almost certain to have been U-105 (Schewe) which was not seriously damaged. The squadron history records: ‘….A U-boat was seen on the surface. An attack with two depth charges was carried out as the U-boat was diving, the first falling 20 yards ahead and the second 60 yards ahead of the swirl. A large air bubble and several globules of oil rose to the surface and when the aircraft left the area the sea was covered for about a mile with oil. After the attack a small Belgian trawler was seen making away from the position at a speed of about 10 knots.’
Reggie Baker was later awarded the first Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), the citation reading: “Since March 1940 he has been employed as captain of aircraft and has carried out his duties with extreme efficiency…..Flying Officer Baker is an indefatigable and courageous pilot and has set a fine example at all times.”
Leaving 210 Squadron in 1941, Reggie Baker eventually moved on to fighter bombers – twin engined Westland Whirlwinds and the potent single engine Hawker Typhoon, winning a Bar to his DFC. He commanded 263 Squadron and by D-Day in June 1944 he was leading a Typhoon Wing and flew many missions over the Normandy battlefields. On 16th June 1944, ten days after D-Day, he was shot down and killed and is buried at Reviers. He was 30-years-old.
In November 1944 it was announced that Wing Commander Ernest Reginald Baker had been posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
A superb website has been compiled on the RAF career of Reggie Baker: http://www.eregbaker.info His story is also told in Steve Darlow’s book Victory Fighters.
- In June 2014 members of the Sunderland Trust team visited Normandy and paid their own special tribute at the grave of Wing Commander Reg Baker.
The book ‘Sopwiths to Sunderlands’ (a history of No 210 Squadron) is written by the Sunderland Trust’s John Evans and is available, price £13.95 plus postage from the Sunderland Trust’s website. Go to www.sunderlandtrust.com