Biplane fighter aces


Flight Lieutenant Herbert Horatio Kitchener DFM, RAF nos. 740755 (NCO), 87029 (Officer)

30 August 1914 - 7 July 2010

Herbert Horatio Kitchener was born in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 30 August 1914. It was a few days after the First World War commenced and his patriotic family named him after Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Christian names that young Herbert did not like. He soon accepted the nickname “Kitch”, which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

He was educated at Uckfield Grammar School.

On leaving school he worked as a Local Government Officer between 1930 and 1939, joining the RAFVR at Gravesend in October 1937, transferring to Rochester in 1938. He qualified as a pilot and attended a six week operational training course on Hurricanes at Andover during the spring of 1939.

Called up on 1 September, his first task was to help transfer the training aircraft from Rochester to Belfast, after which he was despatched to the 12 Group Fighter Pool at St Athan.

He was then posted to 605 Squadron as this unit was about to convert from Gladiators to Hurricanes.

He joined 263 Squadron when it formed at Filton in October 1939 and served on both Norwegian expeditions.

At 20:34 on 25 May Pilot Officer P. H. Purdy and Sergeant Kitchener took off and intercepted a big aircraft, which they believed was a Junkers Ju90. The German aircraft was attacking a destroyer near Harstad. Purdy dived from the rear quartee for his first attack, then swung away to approach from dead astern, silencing the rear gunner and setting the aircraft alight. It crashed into a fjord some five miles from the destroyer that had been the target.
This victory was claimed as a shared between Purdy and Kitchener.

At 15:00 on 2 June Flight Lieutenant Alvin Williams and Sergeant Kitchener took off and intercepted twelve He 111s of I/KG26 at 4000 feet to the south of Narvik. Picking the last four bombers, which were flying in line astern, the two fighter pilots made a number of simultaneous beam and astern attacks on the rear Heinkel in the formation, whereupon this aircraft caught fire and force-landed at Bukkevatnet, south of Narvik. This was He 111H-4 “1H+BH” of 1./KG 26 flown by Oberfeldwebel Otto Posser. Posser and his crew (Hans Hatlapa, Bernard Schulte and Franz Henkel) were captured by French troops but later released. The next bomber in line went down in a steep dive after a similar attack, while after seven more firing passes the two leading aircraft of the Schwarm went down in dives, in both cases with both engines apparently out of action. None had actually suffered any serious damage however.
A formation identified as compromising at least six ‘Do 17s’ was then seen, although it seems likely that these were Heinkels of KGr100, which jettisoned their bombs and fled. Continuing their patrol the two Gladiators then encountered a pair of Ju 87Rs of 2./StG1 and made simultaneous attacks on these. One, flown by the Staffelkapitän, Oberleutnant Heinz Böhne, was seen to have its port long-range underwing tank on fire, and this crashed in the mountains. The Germans later recovered the bodies of Böhne and his gunner from the wreckage. Meanwhile Kitchener was after the other, getting a full deflection shot as it crossed his sights. It disappeared into cloud, apparently trailing white smoke from its engine. It was not hard hit however and returned safely to its base. At that moment Williams met another He 111, and attacked from 50 yards astern. The bomber dived beyond the vertical and could not be followed.
After the combat confirmation came rapidly, with reports that three He 111s and a Ju 87 had all crashed near Beisfjord, the two pilots being credited with four destroyed, two unconfirmed and one probable as a result of this series of combats. In fact the only German casualties had been the one He 111 and the one Ju 87.

Kitchener was one of the pilots who travelled back to England with the MV Arandora Star, thus avoiding the loss of HMS Glorious.

He was decorated with the DFM on 6 August for his actions in Norway.
The King of Norway also decorated him with the Norwegian War Cross.

He remained with 263 Squadron and was one of the first pilots to convert to the twin-engined Westland Whirlwind fighter.
He was also commissioned during this time.

A move to Cornwall took place at the end of November, and during the next few months interceptions of Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft were made on a number of occasions, these usually proving difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion due to prevailing bad weather.

At 09:45 on 5 March 1941, he claimed a damaged Ju 88 south-west off Land’s End.

At 17:10 on 11 March 1941 he pursued another Ju 88 in bad weather towards France, gaining hits before it escaped into cloud. Return fire damaged both engines of Whirlwind Mk.I P6985/’J’, the port engine being put out of action. He was escorted back to the Falmouth area by his wingman, but here the starboard engine also gave trouble. About to bale out, he decided instead to try and land at Preddanack airfield, which was under construction at the time. As he approached, the engine cut and he crashed. He was pulled out of the cockpit just before the aircraft exploded, and was taken to hospital with a fractured skull and broken arm.

After treatment for his injuries and recuperation he eventually returned to duty in September 1941.

He then served at East Fortune in the 60 OTU operations room until September 1943.

In September 1942 he had been awarded the Norwegian War Cross.

Late in 1943 he attended a course in flying accident investigation at the Air Ministry and Farnborough before being posted overseas. He joined the Cairo-based Flying Accidents Investigation Branch (Middle East), serving as their representative at HQ Levant Command in Jerusalem until the end of the war.

Kitchener ended the war with 5 shared biplane victories.

After demobilisation in November 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant he returned to Local Government service working in this field until retiring in 1979.
After retirement from the RAF, he received the Air Efficiency Award.

He lived in retirement in Kent. His roots were in Sussex and he was a lifelong member of the County Cricket Club. A keen sailor, he played tennis until late in his life. From childhood he sang in many choirs.

Herbert Kitchener passed away on 7 July 2010.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  25/05/40   ½ Ju90 (a) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   near Harstad 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   ½ He 111 (b) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   Bukkevatnet 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   ½ He 111 (c) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   near Beisfjord 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   ½ He 111 (c) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   near Beisfjord 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   ½ He 111 (c) Shared unconfirmed Gladiator II   near Beisfjord 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   ½ Ju 87 (d) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   near Beisfjord 263 Squadron
  02/06/40   1 Ju 87 (e) Probable Gladiator II   near Beisfjord 263 Squadron
  05/03/41 09:45 1 Ju 88 Damaged Whirlwind I   SW Land’s End 263 Squadron
  11/03/41   1 Ju 88 Damaged Whirlwind I P6985 off Cornwall 263 Squadron

Biplane victories: 5 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 1 shared unconfirmed.
TOTAL: 5 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 1 shared unconfirmed, 2 damaged.
(a) Crashed into a fjord near Harstad after 20:34. The identity of this aircraft is not verified with German sources.
(b) He 111H-4 “1H+BH” of 1./KG 26 shot down. Oberfeldwebel Otto Poser and his crew (Hans Hatlapa, Bernard Schulte and Franz Henkel) became POWs but were later released.
(c) Not confirmed with German sources.
(d) Ju 87R of 2./StG1 shot down. Oberleutnant Heinz Böhne and his gunner were killed.
(e) Not confirmed with German sources.

Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
RAF Fighter Command losses: Volume 1 - Norman L. R. Franks, 1997 Midland Publishing Limited, ISBN 1-85780-055-9
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Much additional information kindly provided by Andrew Thomas
Additional information kindly provided by Birger Larsen and Rune Rautio

Last modified 23 February 2014