In Spring of 1944, the New Forest airfields were teeming with RAF and USAAF fighter bombers in preparation for D-Day. The coastal locations of the local airfields meant the aircraft were within short reach of the Normandy beaches, ready to strike.
As well as the large airfields with concrete runways such as Beaulieu, Holmsley South, and Stoney Cross, there were temporary airfields which made use of farmers’ fields. One of these was RAF Needs Oar Point, located just south of Buckler’s Hard. For just three months in 1944, it became the home for 120 Hawker Typhoons.
The airmen and support crew lived either in tents hidden under trees or were billeted in local cottages and farm buildings.
“There we lived, ate, and slept in a tent. We washed occasionally in a bucket of cold water, with a hole in the ground toilet, and stood in line with a tin plate for dinner. Little did I know that this would be our way of life until the war ended.”Flight Officer J.K. ‘Paddy’ Byrne as told to 197typhoon.org.uk
The two runways at Needs Oar Point were constructed from a simple steel mesh design that sat on the grass, just strong enough to let the Typhoons take off and land without sinking into the mud.
It didn’t always work though.
One pilot of No. 197 Squadron RAF recalled how the leader of a pair of Typhoons took off but brought his tail up too much. With just nine inches of clearance under the Typhoon’s propeller, it caught in the steel runway tracking.
The lead Typhoon flipped over and crashed in a shower of debris. The second aircraft was too close to avoid the wreckage of the lead, and also crashed. Both aircraft broke up with the two pilots killed.
Each and every time one of those Typhoons took off and headed over the Isle of Wight to France, the pilot would never know if he would return to the “fields of green” at Needs Oar Point.
One of those brave airmen was Flight Sergeant Patrick Alexander Taylor, affectionately known to his squadron as “Dumbo” Taylor (pictured below, second from left).
In June of 1944, Taylor was aged just 20. This was the average age of a RAF pilot during the Second World War. Of those killed, the average age was 22. It was a high-risk role.
Three weeks after June’s D-Day invasion, the 197 Squadron were flying missions over France to support the Allied advance.
On the 27th of June 1944, Dumbo Taylor was one of a group of Typhoons tasked with one such mission. It was to be a “low ramrod” operation where they would fly below the level of German radar to make opportunistic attacks.
At 11:45 am, Taylor taxied his Typhoon, MN750/D, into position on the steel mesh runway. Pointing down the field with the Isle of Wight in view, he started his take off procedure, hurtled down the runway, and was quickly airborne.
Seconds after take-off he was flying over the Beaulieu River when it’s believed the Typhoon’s Napier Sabre IIA engine cut out. His Typhoon banked left, and he started to descend over Exbury, rapidly gliding towards Blackfield.
Farm workers working with carts in a field below, reportedly witnessed the Typhoon approaching Blackfield at speed. The Accident Record Card for Typhoon Ib MN750 of 197 Squadron stated how the engine was making little noise and the propellor was turning very slowly.
Another account says Taylor started to take evasive action and deliberately changed course to miss the workers and nearby houses.
Running out of field to land in, Taylor’s Typhoon hit an obstruction (possibly an anti-glider post). It then went through a hedge and hit an oak tree before crashing into the garden of bungalow in Mopley where the aircraft burst into flames. The time was approximately 11:50 am – he had only been in the air for 5 minutes.
The Accident Report Card states how the primary cause of the crash appeared to be a technical failure of the engine and propeller. It also attributed a secondary cause to Taylor, explaining how he probably forgot to lower the flaps for the glide, leading to the excessive speed of the descent.
The Operations Record Book of No.197 Squadron contained the following entry from the 27th of June 1944 at Needs Oar Point airfield.
“Today the good news was received that Cherbourg had fallen, our first major success. In the morning a low-level Ramrod was laid on. The Squadron turned back at the French coast, owing to low cloud. It was learned on returning from the trip that P/O. TAYLOR had crashed soon after taking off and was killed. The result of the crash is not known. P/O. Taylor joined the Squadron about ten months ago as a Sergeant and was later promoted to Flight Sergeant and early in May received his commission. He was a good pilot and was very well liked in the Squadron.”
It’s not certain, but it’s likely Taylor was killed quickly. When the flames were extinguished and his body was recovered, he was still strapped into his seat.
The owner of the bungalow was saved.
The crash had set fire to the roof of the bungalow, with the Typhoon stopping right up against the walls, the propellor gouging at the brickwork. The gouges were filled with concrete when the bungalow was repaired.
Sadly, the Mopley bungalow, which was located between Blackfield and Langley, near Fawley, has since been demolished. The bungalow was called Elmsdene and was on the corner of Mopley Lane and Green Lane.
Patrick Alexander Taylor (aka “Dumbo”), service number 54685, had a total of 313 hours flying, with 134 hours in Typhoons. He is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. He was the son of Major Fred Taylor and Frances Elizabeth Taylor, of Newcastle-on-Tyne.
Thanks to Richard Reeves and the late Alan Brown for providing some specifics of the accident.
The photo used in the header shows Typhoons taking off on a training exercise from RAF Needs Oar Point airfield in May, 1944 and is copyright of the Imperial War Museum.