Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The "Why" of the Upcoming Big Trip

On January 16, 1945, Phil Tripe was the Commanding Officer of 130 (Punjab) Squadron of the RAF based in Y.32 Ophoven, Belgium near the small community of As, an hour away from Brussels. The Spitfire squadron had been sent there at the end of December 1944, having been based on the continent in Belgium and Holland since September 1944.

Although Dad was with an RAF squadron, he had transferred to the RCAF in December of 1944, probably in preparation for returning to Canada at the end of the war.

The squadron was sent out to strafe German supply trains and trucks that day. I'll let a few accounts of the last day of Dad's war tell the story.

"January 16/45

"It is reported as below in the 125 Wing ORB

"Weather prevented flying before lunch, but around 1400 hours armed recces were started to the Drieborn area as it had been reported that concentrations of German Met had been located. 350 were airborne first being led by the Wing Commander. The promised "fruit" was not located, in fact there was little movement seen over a wide area. Intense flak was experienced and F/Lt Smets was hit and had to bale out inside the enemy lines. 610 were away next, but they got no joy at all. 130 took off third and they ran into a packet of trouble. Intense flak of sorts was thrown at them but despite this the pilots pressed home their attacks on scattered Met and were able to claim a tank damaged and one lorry destroyed and three others damaged, but flak was severe. S/Ldr Tripe was hit and wounded in the right arm. He smartly started for home and then all sorts of things began to happen. He was somewhere near to base when the starboard wing stripped and he realised he would have to bale out. He was severely handicapped by the wound in his arm, but he managed to jettison his hood, and then at 1500 feet he clambered to his feet and let the slipstream pull him out. His "chute" opened O.K. and he landed right next to his favourite "pub" - the "Madaga" at Niel-Pres-d'Asch. He was picked up by the Army and was back at dispersal in a few minutes - in fact before the rest of the squadron had landed. A good show."

And here's how a Reuters story reported the incident -

Canadian Leader of Punjab Squadron Hit
By Denis Martin, The Royal Gazette and Colonist
Hamilton, Bermuda
Monday, February 12, 1945

WITH THE SECOND TACTICAL AIR FORCE BELGIUM, Feb. 11 (Reuter).-The leader of this celebrated “Punjab” Spitfire squadron, wounded by flak after a strafing mission of Germany, thrown out of his cockpit and baling out into the slipstream, managed to drift back into the Allied lines and land on the doorstep of his favourite “pub” (tavern).
He is Squadron Leader P.V.K. Tripe, Distinguished Flying Cross, of 328 James Street, Ottawa, and he is now on his way back to Canada.
The mission had yielded about five motor transport and one tank when Tripe’s aircraft was hit and the mainplane ripped open. Five pieces of shrapnel lodged in his right arm. Tripe nursed the aircraft towards the Allied lines, when a heavy explosion on the starboard side stripped the fuselage and wing. Tripe stood up in the cockpit and let the slipstream whip him into the air as the Spitfire turned into the death roll. Landing by parachute near a wood, Tripe recognised that he was almost on top of a roadhouse only a few miles from the aerodrome. Pilots of the Spitfire wing had held a nightly rendezvous at the inn for some weeks and the patron gave Tripe an enthusiastic reception.
“Nice of you to come so early” he shouted but when he saw that Tripe was wounded he brought out a bottle of his best cognac – not the stuff sold over the bar – and called up an army truck. Tripe has completed over 1,200 flying hours and left for Canada after a brief stay in hospital."

Apparently, it's possible that Dad was hit by US flak.

And so, Bill and I are headed to the Mardaga Inn (see above postcard) to raise a glass and present a poster to that "roadhouse" to remember the last day of Phil Tripe's war. And at the top, there is a postcard of Le Cafe which may very well be where that cognac was downed.

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