Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Wing Commander James Gilbert Sanders DFC, RAF no. 37510

19 June 1914 – August 2002

James Sanders was born in Richmond, Surrey, on 19 June 1914.

He lived in Italy for some years but returned to England to join the RAF on a short service commission in November 1935 when he realised war was coming.

He began his ab initio course on 25 November 1935.
He was promoted to Acting Pilot Officer on 20 January 1936 and was posted to 10 FTS, Ternhill, on 1 February 1936.

He was posted to 111 Squadron on 10 August 1936 and was promoted to Pilot Officer on 25 November 1936.
He was with the unit when it received the RAF’s first Hurricanes in December 1937.

On 25 August 1938, he was promoted to Flying Officer.

On 4 October 1939, he was posted to 615 Squadron at Croydon as ‘B’ Flight Commander.

He led his flight, when 615 Squadron’s Gladiators flew to Merville, France, on 15 November in company with those of 607 Squadron.

At 13:10 on 29 December 1939, Flight Lieutenant Sanders (Gladiator N2308) took off from St. Inglevert for a weather test. Just after take-off and at only 60 meters altitude, he sighted a He 111 flying high at 7,000 meters over Wissand. He climbed up to the He 111 and 6 km south-west of Dover, he attacked it from below at 13:50 by pulling his nose vertically upwards at a distance of 180 meters. He kept his triggers pressed and the He 111 went into a steep dive, which he followed still firing. At 1,000 meters, the Heinkel disappeared into cloud. Sanders had by this time used up all his ammunition and didn’t follow since he didn’t know how the ground below looked and he returned to the airfield.
Sanders was credited with a damaged after this engagement.
This was 615 Squadron’s first encounter with the Luftwaffe.

He was engaged in the initial week’s fighting when the May 1940 ‘Blitz’ commenced.

On 17 May, an early patrol was ordered for the morning and six Hurricanes took off from Moorseele to patrol Charleroi – Wavre. Flight Lieutenant Sanders intercepted a Ju 88 from 7./LG 1 near Wavre at 10:20 and shot it down. His Hurricane seems to have been damaged by return fire since he force-landed near Lille after this combat. However, the Hurricane was repairable.
This was Ju 88 A-1 L1+AR from 7./LG 1, which had taken off from Düsseldorf and crashed at Flines-lez-Raches, 5 km north-east of Douai at 10:15. They had been out to attack the railway station at Douai and the pilot Oberleutnant Ernst Schwarz was captured were badly wounded while the remaining crew (observer Gefreiter Alfred Dudeck, wireless operator Oberfeldwebel Bernhard Hinke and air gunner Gefreiter Georg Salzmann) all were KiA.
Oberleutnant Schwarz was recovered from the aircraft and given emergency treatment by local Doctor Antoine. Two gendarmes took him to hospital in Lille where he died of his injuries on 26 May.

Sanders returned to the UK on 20 May when 615 Squadron withdrew to Kenley.

Sanders was made ‘G’ Flight Commander on 23 May. It was made up of six Gladiators and the flight went immediately to Manston, where it was attached to 604 Squadron for operations over Dunkirk.

The flight returned to Kenley on 30 May and was disbanded.

On 4 June, he was awarded a DFC for three victories during the French campaign in May.
He received this decoration by the King at Kenley on 27 June.

At 08:10 on 22 June, he destroyed a Bf 110 and damaged a second over Rouen.

He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 25 August 1940.

When 615 Squadron was withdrawn to rest at Prestwick on 29 August, he stayed in the south, being attached to 253 Squadron to operate at night.
With this unit, he flew three night sorties (9, 13 and 23 September).

The attachment to 253 Squadron ceased on 28 September and he was then attached to 66 Squadron at Gravesend, to help form 421 Flight. In 421Flight’s ORB, he is listed as one of the Flight’s original pilots.
After a few days he was attached to FIU.

On 14 October he was given command of 422 Flight and attached to FIU at Shoreham, this unit then becoming 96 Squadron at Cranage on 18 December, when he became flight commander.

In January 1941, he was posted to 257 Squadron, but the following month moved to 255 Squadron, which was forming as a night fighter unit with Defiants at Kirton-in-Lindsey.

Unfortunately, during this period, he had on several occasions flown in situations where no unit records were maintained, whilst he failed to keep up his own logbook, so no full record of his claims exists.

By the end of June, Fighter Command listed him as having been credited with 11 day and five night victories, maintaining him on the list produced regularly of pilots in the Command with 12 or more victories throughout the rest of the war.
Although some of these were undoubtedly shared, this is accepted as representing as accurate a total of his successes as it is possible to obtain.

On 23 June 1941, he was posted away to 60 OTU, East Fortune and in September, he became Squadron Leader Flying there.
He had been promoted to Squadron Leader on 1 September 1941.

In June 1942, he was made Wing Commander Flying at 53 OTU Llandow and later at 61 OTU, Rednal.

Spells as Station Commander at Hundson, Zealls and Hutton Cranswick followed, and then he attended the Senior Commander’s Course at Cranwell.

On 1 July 1944, he was promoted to Wing Commander.

Following the Cranwell course, he joined the SHAEF mission to the Netherlands, ending the European war in Brussels.

Sanders ended the war with 1 damaged biplane claim and a total of 16 victories (10 without details).

Later in 1945, after the Japanese surrender, he was posted out to Java, subsequently going to Burma as OC Flying at Mingaladon, Rangoon.

He returned to the UK in 1947 and left the service, spending the rest of his working life in the insurance business, with Crown Life of Canada.

He lived in retirement in South London and passed away in August 2002.

His son is also an RAF pilot.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  29/12/39 13:50 1 He 111 (a) Damaged Gladiator N2308 4m SW Dover 615 Squadron
1 17/05/40 10:20 1 Ju 88 (b) Destroyed Hurricane I   nr Wavre 615 Squadron
2 22/06/40 08:10 1 Bf 110 Destroyed Hurricane I P3487 Rouen 615 Squadron
  22/06/40 08:10 1 Bf 110 Damaged Hurricane I P3487 Rouen 615 Squadron
  30/06/40 11:45 ca 1 Bf 109 E Unconfirmed destroyed Hurricane I P3487 Eyre - Bethune 615 Squadron
  16/08/40 17:10 ca 1 He 111 Damaged Hurricane I P3161 S Brighton 615 Squadron
  16/08/40 17:10 ca 1 He 111 Damaged Hurricane I P3161 S Brighton 615 Squadron
3 18/08/40 13:45 ca 1 He 111 Destroyed Hurricane I P3811/R S Kenley 615 Squadron
4 18/08/40 13:45 ca 1 Ju 88 Destroyed Hurricane I P3811/R N Westerham 615 Squadron
  18/08/40 13:45 ca 1/2 Ju 88 Shared destroyed Hurricane I P3811/R S Sevenoaks 615 Squadron
5 25/08/40 00:30 1 Ju 88 (c) Destroyed Hurricane I V7314/S off Hastings 615 Squadron
  25/08/40 00:07-01:12 1 He 111 Damaged Hurricane I V7314/S Godalming 615 Squadron
6 24/09/40 02:15 1 He 111 Destroyed Hurricane I N2455 nr Chobham att. 253 Squadron
  13/03/41 00:45 1 He 111 (d) Probably destroyed Defiant N1765/C Kirton-in-Lindsey 255 Squadron
  07/04/41 night 1 Ju 88 Damaged Defiant N1617 Brigg 255 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 16 (10 without details) and 1 shared destroyed, 1 unconfirmed destroyed, 1 probable, 6 damaged.
(a) He 111 of Wekusta 26, escaped damaged.
(b) Ju 88 A-1 L1+AR from 7./LG 1 shot down and crew KiA.
(c) Ju 88 of II./KG 51.
(d) Possibly He 111 of III./KG 26, which force-landed at Amiens being damaged by a fighter.

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
Men of the Battle of Britain - Kenneth G. Wynn, 1999 CCB Associates, ISBN 1-902074-10-6
RAF Fighter Command Victory Claims Of World War Two: Part One 1939-1940 - John Foreman, 2003 Red Kite, ISBN 0-9538061-8-9
The Battle of France Then and Now – Peter D. Cornwell, 2008 After the Battle, ISBN 9-781870-067652

Last modified 14 September 2022