Today, 5 June 2023, I attended the memorial service for Flight Lieutenant John Saville who was killed during a Typhoon raid on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. This blog tells the story of the two raids that happened and also shares some footage of the memorial service.
Flight Lieutenant John Saville was a Canadian who flew two raids against St Peter Port in Guernsey, in the days preceding D-Day on 6th June 1944. He was a pilot in 439 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, ‘Tiger Squadron’, flying Typhoon 1b aircraft. Often when these raids, and Saville himself, are written about there is only a passing mention of the first raid.
I thought it would be useful to provide some detail on both raids, as well as some photographs to provide the reader with an insight into what they were attacking. Hopefully this will bring to life the events recounted in this blog.
I wasn’t able to find a photograph of John Saville’s aircraft but I was able to find a picture of another aircraft of the same type from his squadron.
What were they attacking and why?
The target that they were attacking was a Freya Radar station in Fort George overlooking Havelet Bay and St Peter Port Harbour.
There was concern that the radar, with a range of 100 miles, would pick up aircraft and ships approaching Normandy for D-Day on 6 June 1944. The map below shows the proximity of the Channel Islands to the Normandy beaches used for D-Day.
Below shows the target area, Fort George in the centre of the picture. Top centre is Castle Cornet along with the emplacement that forms the south side of the harbour.
The Google Maps image below shows how it is today.
A current day view from Fort George looking out over Havelet Bay to Castle Cornet and St Peter Port Harbour.
The first raid on 3rd June 1944
Eight aircraft carrying 500 lb MC bombs with instantaneous nose fusing attacked the radar installation at Saint Peter Port on the eastern coast of the heavily defended Channel Island of Guernsey. The attack was made without a hitch from a south westerly direction at an altitude of 12,500 feet led by Flight Lieutenant Dadson. The squadron half rolled into a dive on the target and succeeded In scoring a large number of hits in the target area.
No bombs were seen to burst outside of the target area. As the aircraft individually half rolled into position, then heavy flak opened up and lateral errors only were all that kept a number of our aircraft from severe damage. The dive was carried out from 12,000 feet to 3000 feet, with the aircraft being followed all the way by both light and heavy flak and finally crossing out at over 500 mph amid a barraged of incendiary bullets.
Miraculously only two of our aircraft suffered minor damage, one flown by Flying Officer Burgess was struck in the radiator and the other flown by Flying Officer Porritt was nicked in the tailplane. All aircraft returned safely operations successful.Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 3rd June 1944. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.
The second raid 5th June 1944
Although the record book recorded the raid on 3rd June as a success photo reconnaissance photographs revealed that the Germans were making repairs to the radar installation. It was decided that a further raid was required to ensure that it was disabled permanently.
This time Saville was leading a flight of eight Typhoons from 439 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, “Tiger Squadron”.
Having received confirmation of the fact that the last raid on the radar installation at saint peter port was 75% complete this squadron set out to finish the job by knocking over the one remaining Freya radar installation in the northeast corner of the target area.
Carrying two nose fused instantaneous 500lb M.C. bombs each the squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Saville attacked the highly defended target in a long dive from 12,000 feet to 4000 feet in an easterly direction. All the bombs appeared to burst on or very near the target itself.
A large disturbance was created in the sea about a mile offshore and at first it was believed to have been bombs. Flight Lieutenant Saville was not seen after the dive and it was later presumed that his aircraft had been hit by intense flag and failed to recover from the dive. The remaining seven aircraft and pilots returned unharmed.Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 5th June 1944. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.
A further report gives more insight into what was observed by another pilot.
On 5.6.44 at 08.20 hours, eight of the 439 Squadron aircraft took off to dive-bomb a Radar installation at Fort George on the Island of Guernsey.
The formation which was led by F/L Saville encountered very heavy flak over and near the target. As F/L Saville went into the target, six bursts of heavy flak were observed in front of him. This officer was seen making an aileron turn to port, which, on pull out, would have brought him out over the Island instead of the sea.
His No. 2 pulled out towards the sea and did not see him again. Shortly after F/L Saville’s No. 2 called him on the R/T twice, but received no reply.
The rest of the Squadron returned to base at 09.20 hours. Subsequently, an A.S.R. search was made in the face of very heavy flak which failed to find any trace of F/L Saville.Circumstantial Report: Can J. 8146, F/L J. W. Saville, 439 Squadron, RCAF missing on Operations. w.e.f. 5.6.44. Typhoon MN210. – The Typhoon Project .Org
At the memorial service on 5th June 2023 an eyewitness account was read out, which had come to light in 1987. The eyewitness had seen the level of anti aircraft fire and was certain that the aircraft had been hit by fire from a flak ship in the harbour.
You will probably have noticed in the operations book extract above that twelve aircraft are noted as having flown that day. This is because four aircraft took off to search for Saville in the hope that he had been able to bail out of his aircraft and was in a dinghy at sea. If that had happened it would have been likely that he would have been captured by the Germans in any case. The aircraft searched in the face of heavy anti aircraft fire but to no avail.
The chance of being able to call in a seaplane or ship to rescue him would have been slim in any case due to the heavy fortifications on the island.
On the 16th June 1944 John Saville’s commanding officer wrote to his mother to report that he was missing in action.
Five weeks after the aircraft crashed the body of a Canadian airman was washed ashore, although it wasn’t able to be positively confirmed that it was the body of John Saville.
As can be seen from the letter below he was officially declared dead in 1952.
Outcome of the raids
Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of those involved in both of the raids, all of the radar equipment remained in working order. As had been feared they detected the incoming invasions ships and aircraft on the evening of 5th/6th June and a message was radioed from the German Naval Signals Headquarters in St Peter Port to Berlin warning of the attack. You can read and see pictures of the Naval Signals Headquarters here.
Discovery of the wreck of Typhoon MN210
In the 1960s what was believed to be aircraft wreckage was found in Havelet Bay. It wasn’t until 1982 that the site was investigated further by local diver Mick Peters and it was established that this was the wreck of Saville’s aircraft. It was subsequently designated as a war grave following identification of personal items which confirmed that Saville had gone down with his aircraft.
John Saville is commemorated on two physical memorials in Guernsey. One at the Castle Emplacement overlooking Havelet Bay and Fort George.
The second memorial is at the airport in Guernsey where his name is inscribed. The airport also has a virtual memorial which you can view online here.
He is also commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey, England.
Annual memorial service
Each year there is a memorial service held in Guernsey at the site of the memorial plaque on the Castle Emplacement in St Peter Port. Provided I am in Guernsey at the time I attend the service. Fortunately I was able to attend today, 5th June 2023.
Below you will find a couple of video clips from the service which I attended today. It was pleasing to see a good turn out for the memorial service despite the chilly easterly wind. Apologies for the wind noise but it was blowing a force 4!
RIP John Walton Saville. Per Ardua Ad Astra.
Thanks to all involved in organising the memorial service and all that attended.
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