Flight Lieutenant Jean Henri Marie 'Peike' 'Pyker' Offenberg DFC, Belgian no. 42184, RAF no. 82517
Jean Offenberg was born at Laeken, Brussels in Belgium on 3 July 1916.
He joined the Aeronautique Militaire and was a pupil pilot in the 77e Promotion of the Aviation Militaire Belge. He graduated on 1 March 1938, trained as a fighter pilot, and was posted to 4/II/2 at Nivelles in March 1939, equipped with Fairey Firefly biplanes.
During the night of 8/9 September 1939, six Whitleys of 77 Squadron and six from 102 Sqadron took off from England to undertake leaflet dropping operations over Germany. Two Whitleys from 77 Squadron strayed over Belgium on their return. Duty pilots at Nivelles fighter base were alerted when the incursions were first reported, and shortly afterwards Captain Lucien Boussa of the 5e Escadrille of Flight Regiment 2 took off in a Fairey Fox, joined by two Fairey Fireflies of the 4e Escadrille, piloted by Daniel Leroy du Vivier and Marcel Michotte. The trio intercepted one Whitley and Boussa fired a burst in front of its nose in an effort to force it to land. Instead the Whitley's gunner returns fire, hitting Leroy du Vivier’s Firefly obliging him to make a forced landing forthwith at 06:00.
Another Fairey Fox flown by Boussa's No 2, Adjutant Albert Genot with Corporal Roger Alaffe as his gunner, had now also got off the ground and pursued another bomber signalling, its position by radio. A white Verey light was fired at the bomber which replied with a red and continued on its way. Genot drew off and like Boussa fired a burst across the Whitley’s bows. This aircraft too returned fire, hitting the Fox in the tail and rear fuselage and setting it on fire. The crew baled out as the stricken aircraft went down to crash on the estate of Count Gaston d’Oultrement at Nouvelles at 06:00. Genot was wounded in the hand, and Alaffe broke his right shoulder on landing.
It would seem that their opponent was Whitley K8951 (Flight Lieutenant Connell), the crew of which reported shooting down a fighter. The bomber was itself damaged in this encounter and went on to crash-land at Lognes, France, the pilot having suffered a slight head wound (the aircraft was later repaired).
Meanwhile on the ground the news of the interceptions was out and two more pilots (this time from the 4e Escadrille), Alexis Jottard and Sous-Lieutenant Offenberg pulled on flying suits over their pyjamas, taking off in their Fireflies to join in. They soon spotted Whitley DY-J (K8985) flown by Flight Lieutenant W. V. G. Cognan, on its way back from Kiel and Hamburg. They fired a green flare and forced the bomber down to land on their own airfield, where the crew was interned.
The crew was released a short time later but the Whitley was still at the airfield on 10 May and presumed destroyed during the German invasion.
Early in 1940 the unit received Italian-built Fiat CR.42s.
In the early morning on 10 May the IIème Group was ordered to evacuated from Nivelles to Landing Field No 22 at Brustem.
At 06:05 five Fiat CR.42s took off from Brustem to provide cover for the airfield. The second patrol (Sous-Lieutenant Offenberg, 1er Sergent Jean Maes and 1er Sergent Alexis Jottard) attacked Dornier Do 17s and a Bf 109. Offenberg claimed one destroyed Do 17, and fired on one other aircraft, which dived away. One of the aircraft he shot at was a Dornier Do 17 of II/KG77, which was damaged east of Waremme at 06.30 (there are some confusion regarding Offenberg's claims and some sources only credits him with a damaged Do 17). Jean Maes damaged a Dornier Do 17 of II/KG77, near St Trond at 06.30. This claim is not confirmed.
After a few days, the remains of his unit withdrew to Chartres in France. From here he and Sergeant Alexis Jottard flew two Caudron Simouns to Montpelier on 19 June, and then on to Algeria, via Corsica, next day, where they joined the Belgian flying school which had been set up at Oujda. Finding morale low here, they attempted unsuccessfully to obtain an aircraft to fly to Gibraltar, so took a train to Casablanca, where they met a group of Poles and other Belgians, getting away by the cargo-ship Djebel Druse to Gibraltar.
They sail to England on the ship Har Sion in July, reaching Liverpool on 16th.
Offenberg was commissioned in the RAF on 30 July and went to 6 OUT at Sutton Bridge on the same day.
Here he converted to Hurricanes and on 17 August he joined 145 Squadron at Westhampnett together with Jottard.
With the RAF his nickname 'Peike' became degraded to 'Pyker'.
On 1 November he shot down Oberleutnant Hermann Reiff-Erscheidt, Staffelkapitän 1./JG2, who belly-landed his Bf 109E4 (5159) 'White 9' intact near Mapson's Farm, Sidlesham, Sussex, at 16.15. Reiff-Erscheidt was captured unhurt.
At 08.30 on 9 November Flight Lieutenant Bungey and Offenberg intercepted a Ju 88 near the Isle of Wight. This was probably a machine from I/KG51, which was attacked and claimed damaged jointly by the two pilots. The Ju 88 made a crash-landing on returning to Villaroche.
He was appointed 'B' Flight commander in May 1941.
During a patrol between 15:25 and 15:55 on 5 May he claimed a He60 and damaged a second north of Point de Barfleur at 15:35. At the same time he claimed a Bf 109E.
The He60s were aircraft of I/Seenot Gruppe, and one seems to have been lost. The Bf 109 appears to have been credited initially as a probable, but is shown in Offenberg's records as confirmed.
In June he became the first Belgian to receive a DFC.
On 17 June he was posted to 609 Squadron together with Baudouine de Hemptinne where a (unofficial) Belgian flight was forming.
He took part in "Circus 18" on 22 June when 10 Blenheim Mk.IVs of 2 (B) Group bombed Hazebrouck at 15:10. 16 squadrons of fighters escorted them, flying 184 sorties and claiming 29 victories, 5 probables and 7 damaged for the loss of two Spitfires.
609 Squadron took part with nine Spitfires Mk.Vbs, which took off from Biggin Hill at 15:23 as part of the forward-support wing. They encountered Bf 109s over the Channel at 16:00 (Flying Officer Offenberg reported 18 Bf 109s) and made four claims. Flight Lieutenant John Bisdee DFC (Spitfire W3115) claimed a Bf 109F at 20,000 feet inland Dunkirk while Sergeant Thomas Rigler (Spitfire (W3215) claimed three more in the Dunkirk area; one Bf 109F at 20 feet, one Bf 109E at 8000 feet and one Bf 109E at 800 feet. Offenberg claimed a damaged Bf 109E on the deck east off Gravelines at 16:20. Offenberg reported:
”I was number two in Red section. We were circling 3 miles SW of Dunkirk at 20,000’. Red 1 went down in a left hand spiral dive, I followed for a while then I started turning the other side and lost sight of him. I noticed a 109F climbing 4,000 ft. below me. I turned and dived to attack but when I was getting in range I looked behind and saw another E/A behind and below me. He opened fire but his deflection was bad as I broke off to the right, and he did not follow me anymore. I was then about 12000’. I looked to find some Spitfires and as I saw a formation of about 10 black dots over Dunkirk I went in that direction. When approaching I noticed that they were Me.109F. So I turned inland and sighting two Me.109F, about my own height, flying in wide line abreast in the direction of the west, I went to attack the starboard one from astern. When I was about 400 yards behind him, he waggled his wings, turned port and dived. I was watching the other one very carefully but he did not follow me. I dived after the first one, firing short bursts with my cannons at 400 yds range never being able to get closer. The aiming was very difficult owing to the great speed. As he turned inland I abandoned the pursuit and turned north. I was then flying at 1200’. As I was nearing Graveslines I avoided the turn to the right. Suddenly lots of inaccurate tracers came up from the ground. I carried on towards the north, taking avoiding action. Approaching the coast I saw a Me.109E flying very low over the sand-dunes. I went on his tail, overtaking easily and gave him a burst with my M/G as all the cannon shells had been used in the previous encounter.On Spitfire was lost when Pilot Officer F. X. E. de Spirlet was shot down off Dover in “PR-T” at 15:00. The wounded pilot was later rescued from the Channel by a British rescue launch. 609 Squadron retuned to base at 17:12.
I was very low at that moment, as I was keeping behind the Me.109E, rubbing my windscreen which had frozen up, and watching in the corner of my eyes a 109F that was floundering around a bit farther inland. Breaking away to port, I came back in line astern firing another two second burst from 100 to 30 yds. Glycol came out of the radiator of the E/A and spread on my windscreen. I then flew out to sea full throttle at 0 feet, because I had noticed the Me.109F that was inland, coming in my direction. He climbed at about 1000’, keeping behind me. I held my A/C in a gentle turn, to the lft in order to watch him. He then dived on my tail. I left him come to about 300 yds, then I turned sharply to the left.
He tried to follow me, firing his guns but the turn was too steep for him and I could see his wings flapping (high speed stall). I kept on that turn until I faced north and went flat out to the north still at 0 feet. He broke away and went south.
I turned E.N.E., reduced my boost at +8 and then +4, watching my tail carefully. I could still see two 109E’s flying in the same direction, one mile away to my left at about 1200 ft.
I landed at Biggin Hill without a scratch.”
“Circus 37” was flown on 7 July when 4 Stirlings from 3 Group attacked SNCA du Nord at Meaulte, near Albert at 10:00. Nine squadrons of fighters provided escort, flying 95 sorties and claiming two victories and 1 damaged. 74 Squadron claimed one victory and one damaged while losing one Spitfire.
609 Squadron took off at 09:40 from Biggin Hill with twelve Spitfires as part of the escort-cover wing. The raid was uneventful and on the return near the French coast Offenberg saw a ship convoy with a couple of escorting Messerschmitts, low down. Whether these only were decoys is not certain but as Offenberg's section turned in on them more Messerschmitts came down on them off Le Touquet. Sergeant G. Evans (Spitfire W3115) was attacked by two Bf 109s; the first one zoomed past and down, but the second one hit the Spitfire with a burst of cannon, setting the Spitfire's engine on fire. Meantime, Offenberg went after the first Bf 109, following it down in a steep dive until he had to pull up to avoid the water. The German pilot appeared to misjudge his dive, for as Offenberg looked down, he saw a large splash right among the ships. Offenberg’s victory was recorded at 11:30.
Evans was forced to leave his burning Spitfire and came down in the Channel from where he was later rescued by a British rescue launch with splinters in his right leg.
609 Squadron landed at 12:10
It seems that they were engaged by Bf 109s from JG 26, which claimed five Spitfires in the Channel area between 10:00 and 10:58.
He took part in ”Circus 51” on 19 July when 3 Stirlings from 3 Group attacked Lille-Sequedin at 13:20. One bomber was lost during the mission when N6018/LS-C of 15 Squadron was shot down by flak two kilometres south-west of Hoondschoote (two of the crew were taken PoWs while the remaining six perished). 17 squadrons of fighters escorted them, flying 195 sorties and claiming three victories, seven probables and two damaged for the loss of two fighters.
609 Squadron took off from Biggin Hill at 13:10 with 12 Spitfires as part of the target-support wing and Offenberg clamed a probable Bf 109F in the Dunkirk area. This claim is shown as a damaged in Combats and Casualties. The squadron landed back at 15:20.
It seems that the Circus was engaged by Bf 109s from JG 26 and JG 2, which claimed three Spitfires and one Stirling (Oberleutnant Christian Eickhoff of 2./JG 26 south-east of Bergues at 14:25) between 14:15 and 14:35.
In 21 July 1941 he was decorated with the Belgian Croix de Guerre by the Belgian Minister of Defence in the Belgian National Government in London, M. Camille Gutt, at Wellington Barracks.
In the end of July he took command over 'B' Flight when John Bisdee became tour expired and on 30 July he was promoted to Flying Officer.
He claimed a probable on 6 August.
It seems that he took part in “Circus 85” on 27 August when the airfield St Omer/Longeunesse was attacked at 06:45 by four Blenheim Mk.IVs from 139 Squadron. They were escorted by twelve fighter squadrons, flying 140 sorties and claiming six victories and four damaged for the loss of seven or eight Spitfires.
609 Squadron took off 06:24 with twelve Spitfires from Biggin Hill as part of the second echelon target-support wing. At 07:35 Squadron Leader M. P. C. Choron clai,ed a Bf 109F off Gravelines at 6000 feet. During this mission Offenberg claimed a probable Bf 109. This claim is not shown in Combats and Casualties and thus not included in totals for the Circus above. The squadron landed back at 09:20.
It seems that they were engaged by Bf 109s from JG 26, which claimed eight Spitfires in the Channel area between 08:10 and 08:30.
“Circus 88” was flown on 29 August by six Blenheim Mk.IVs of 139 Squadron, which attacked the rail-yards at Hazebrouck at 07:00. The bombers were escorted by 16 squadrons of fighters, which flew 192 sorties and claiming eight victories, two probables and seven damaged.
609 Squadron took off 06:38 with twelve Spitfires from Biggin Hill as part of the target-support wing ‘B’. At 07:30 Pilot Officer F. X. E. de Spirlet claimed a Bf 109F at 5,000 feet in the Gravelines area. During this mission Offenberg claimed a probable Bf 109 in the Hazebrouck area. This claim is not shown in Combats and Casualties and thus not included in totals for the Circus above. The squadron landed back at 08:35.
It seems that they were engaged by Bf 109s from JG 2 and JG 26 which claimed nine Spitfires between 08:26 and 08:40 in the Channel area.
He took part in “Circus 103B” on 27 September when 12 Blenheim Mk.IVs from 2 Group attacked the power station at Bully-les-Mines at 14:00. 14 squadrons provided escort, flying 164 sorties and claiming 14 victories, 10 probables and 13 damaged for the loss of eight Spitfires and one Hurricane.
609 Squadron took off with twelve Spitfires from Biggin Hill at 13:28 as part of the high-cover wing. During the mission, the Squadron made three claims around 14:30. Pilot Officer Yvan Du Monceau (Spitfire P8585) claimed one Bf 109F destroyed 5-8 miles north of Mardyck, Flying Officer G. E. H. Dieu claimed a probably destroyed Bf 109F between Mardyck-Mazingarbe while Flight Lieutenant Offenberg claimed one damaged Bf 109 at 20,000ft five miles north of St Omer at 14:25. Offenberg reported:
“I was Blue 1 in the leading squadron of the High Cover Wing. Ten or fifteen miles south of Mardyck we saw two lots of 109s diving on the escort. Red section went down and then I saw three 109s in line astern on my right and below flying South West. I dived onto their tail and gave a short burst to the rearmost one. First nothing happened and after a few rounds black smoke started pouring from the E/A. He half-rolled and I did the same and then I blacked out and lost everything. I made for the coast and joined with my number two. When crossing the coast at Mardyck we were attacked by one and then two 109s, of which one was later shot down by Blue 2 [Pilot Officer Du Monceau]. We climbed up-sun in the channel to 28,000ft, and watched the bombers come out back at Le Touquet without seeing any E/A.”Offenberg had used 100 rounds of machine-gun ammunition and 24 rounds of cannon ammunition.
“Circus 108B” was flown on 13 October. 36 Spitfire Mk.Vs (12 from 92 Squadron, including Wing Commander Rankin leading the Wing, 12 aircraft from 609 Squadron and 12 aircraft from 72 Squadron) took off from Biggin Hill at 13:24 to rendezvous with 18 Blenheims of 2 Group over Manston at 14,000 feet at 13:50, and act as high cover Wing on a raid on Mazingarbe power station. No clouds were encountered over France but very high haze made upward visibility very good. No smoke trails were seen below 26,000 feet.
On arriving over the rendezvous, the Wing found that the bombers had arrived ten minutes early. They then proceeded on such a wide turn that the English coast was left five minutes later.
The formation set course for Calais, the Biggin Hill Wing flying at 22,000 feet, 24,000 feet and 26,000 feet, the heights having been slightly stepped up as the escort cover wing appeared to be flying rather higher than ordered. When approaching the French coast, the course was changed sharp left and the formation entered France east of Gravelines.
Small formations of Bf 109Fs – mostly in twos and threes – were met over Mazingarbe, but the escort cover wing appeared to deal satisfactorily with these and the Biggin Hill wing didn’t engage. After making a long run-up past the target, the bombers appeared to miss their target. A little accurate flak was suffered at 26,000 feet over the target.
France was left south of Hardelot and course was made toward Dungeness but the bombers suddenly turned off this route and flew north towards Manston. This naturally caused the fighter escort to experience a shortage of petrol.
The camouflage of the bombers blended perfectly with the ground, thus making visual contact difficult.
Squadron Leader Richard Milne (Spitfire W3817) of 92 Squadron had broken away from the Wing owing to a bad oxygen leak and continued into France at a lower level. When south-east of St. Omer at around 14:15, he was attacked by a Bf 109F, which made off when he got round onto its tail. Finding himself alone, he proceeded homewards and was able to attack two Bf 109Es, shooting one down in flames and damaging the other. A little later, he spotted two Bf 109Fs in time to evade their stern attack and swing round quickly. He was able to get in a burst from 70 yards on one, which then emitted smoke and crashed into the other fighter. Pieces flew off and both aircraft went down together, the pilot of one baling out.
609 Squadron claimed one Bf 109E destroyed and two Bf 109Fs damaged, these were singularly encountered on the way back from the target. Red 3 (Sergeant Nash) saw a Bf 109E approaching from the starboard and in front. After a burst from the beam, he turned in behind it and delivered a quarter attack with cannon and machine-guns, which produced flames, which rapidly spread from the engine along the fuselage. Yellow 3 (Flying Officer John Atkinson) saw a Bf 109F, which after shadowing his section for some time dived from behind. After steep left and right turns he fired a 1 second burst (cannon only) as the Bf 109F was diving in front of him and saw its undercarriage drop. This Bf 109F was claimed as damaged at 14:15 in the Marzingarbe-Hardelot area at 20,000 feet. Blue 1 (Flight Lieutenant Offenberg), 10 miles out to sea north-west from Le Touquet , saw ten minutes later a Bf 109F behind and at 20,000 feet and another above. He turned back towards France and fired at the former. His no. 2 (Sergeant Laing) saw strikes but Offenberg didn’t want to claim the Bf 109F as a damaged on this alone. Offenberg reported:
“I was Blue 1. We had followed the show round without incident. When 10 miles off Le Touquet, I saw a 109 F behind and slightly above us turning left, and another 2,000 ft. above him. I turned back towards France and caught up with the former and gave him a one second burst in a three-quarter attack. My No. 2 saw the strikes between the cockpit and the tail. The E/A dived vertically, I followed and gave him another burst from dead astern at 150 yards. I pulled up as I thought the other 109 might have been attacking us.Another pilot from 609 Squadron, Pilot Officer Peter Nash (Spitfire AD202/PR-U) claimed a destroyed Bf 109 20 miles west of Bethune at around 14:15. Pilot Officer Du Monceau, who had joined up with Spitfires from another Squadron was engaged with one of six Bf 109s encountered over Le Touquet but saw no conclusive results. In all, seven pilots of 609 Squadron fired their guns.
Having seen no result, I do not wish to claim this as a damaged, but 11 Group does.”
Whilst on a training flight with a new pilot on 22 January 1942, he was subjected to a mock attack by a pilot of 92 Squadron. The latter's aircraft collided with Offenberg's Spitfire, cutting off the tail, and it crashed vertically into the ground, killing him.
His diary was later edited into a book, Lonely Warrior, by Victor Houart (Souvenir Press, 1956).
Offenberg had claimed 1 biplane victory and a total of 5 and 2 shared victories at the time of his death.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|10/05/40||1||Do 17 (a)||Damaged||Fiat CR.42||near St Trond, Belgium||4/II/2 Aé|
|1||10/05/40||1||Do 17 (b)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.42||near St Trond, Belgium||4/II/2 Aé|
|08/08/40||½||Do 17||Shared damaged||Hurricane Mk.I||35m E Montrose||145 Squadron|
|27/10/40||1||Bf 109E||Probable destroyed||Hurricane Mk.I||5m S Bembridge||145 Squadron|
|2||01/11/40||1||Bf 109E (c)||Destroyed||Hurricane Mk.I||N Selsey||145 Squadron|
|06/11/40||½||Bf 109E (d)||Shared destroyed||Hurricane Mk.I||5m SSE Dun Nose, Isle of Wight||145 Squadron|
|09/11/40||½||Ju 88 (e)||Shared damaged||Hurricane Mk.I||S Isle of Wight||145 Squadron|
|11/11/40||½||He 111 (f)||Shared destroyed||Hurricane Mk.I||off Selsey Bill||145 Squadron|
|05/05/41||15:35||1||He60 (g)||Damaged||Spitfire Mk.IIb||N Point de Barfleur||145 Squadron|
|3||05/05/41||15:35||1||He60 (g)||Destroyed||Spitfire Mk.IIb||N Point de Barfleur||145 Squadron|
|4||05/05/41||15:35||1||Bf 109E (h)||Destroyed||Spitfire Mk.IIb||mid Channel||145 Squadron|
|22/06/41||16:20||1||Bf 109E||Damaged||Spitfire Mk.Vb||W3236||E Gravelines||609 Squadron|
|5||07/07/41||11:30||1||Bf 109F||Destroyed||Spitfire Mk.Vb||W3236||off Le Touquet||609 Squadron|
|19/07/41||13:10-15:20||1||Bf 109 (i)||Probable destroyed||Spitfire Mk.Vb||Dunkirk||609 Squadron|
|06/08/41||1||Bf 109 (j)||Probable destroyed||Spitfire Mk.Vb||609 Squadron|
|27/08/41||07:35-09:20||1||Bf 109||Probable destroyed||Spitfire Mk.Vb||NE France||609 Squadron|
|29/08/41||06:38-08:35||1||Bf 109 (k)||Probable destroyed||Spitfire Mk.Vb||Hazebrouck||609 Squadron|
|27/09/41||14:25||1||Bf 109||Damaged||Spitfire Mk.Vb||W3574||5m N St Omer||609 Squadron|
|13/10/41||14:25||1||Bf 109F (l)||Damaged||Spitfire Mk.Vb||W3574||10m NW Le Touquet||609 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 5 and 2 shared destroyed, 5 probables, 5 and 2 shared damaged.
(a) Dornier Do 17 of II/KG77 damaged east of Waremme at 06.30.
(b) This claim has not been possible to verify.
(c) Bf 109E4 'White 9' of 1 staffel.I/JG2; Oblt Hermann Reiff-Erscheidt POW.
(d) Shared with pilot of 56 Squadron. Probably Obfw Heinrich Klopp of II/JG2, 'Black I' -- also attacked by McDowell of 602 Squadron
(e) Believed to be a Ju 88 of I/KG51 which crash-landed on return to Villaroche.
(f) He 111 of II/KG27, which crashed at Le Havre. Initially shown as a 'Probable' in Combats and Casualties, but in Offenberg's records as confirmed and possibly therefore confirmed by 'Y' Service later.
(g) These were aircraft of I/Seenot Gruppe, and one was lost.
(h) This appears to have been credited initially as a probable, but is shown in Offenberg's records as confirmed.
(i) Shown in Combats and Casualties as damaged.
(j) Not shown in Combats and Casualties.
(k) Not shown in Combats and Casualties.
(l) Probably claimed in combat with Bf 109s from JG 2 and JG 26, which claimed 20 Spitfires and 2 Blenheims with unknown losses during 2 attacks. RAF fighters claimed 6 Bf 109s destroyed and 3 damaged with the loss of 4 Spitfires. No bombers were lost.
Aces High - Christopher Shores, 1994, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Battle of Britain; The Forgotten Months - John Foreman, 1988
Désastre à Schaffen - Christian-Jacques Ehrengardt, 2000, Aéro Journal No. 12
Fighter Pilot's Summer - Paul Richey and Norman Franks, 1993 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-24-1
Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Lonely Warrior - Jean Offenberg (edited by Victor Houart), 1956, Souvenir Press, London
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Men of the Battle of Britain - Kenneth G. Wynn, 1999 CCB Associates, ISBN 1-902074-10-6
The Battle of France Then and Now – Peter D. Cornwell, 2008 After the Battle, ISBN 9-781870-067652
Additional information kindly provided by Ivan Martens and Peter Taghon