Wing Commander Edgar Norman Ryder's Beach 'Landing'

485 Squadron Spitfire W3579, OU-Q, 'Southland II,' after Wing/Co E. N. Ryder made a wheels-up 'landing' on a French beach.
Air Force Museum of New Zealand (Mus961823)

On 31st October, 1941, Nos. 485 and 602 squadrons took off from Kenley at 3.40pm, under the command of their Wing Leader, Edgar Norman Ryder DFC and Bar for Circus 109. They were tasked with providing cover for eight Hurricane fighter/bombers from the Manston Wing, whose target was the Bourbourg Canal, near Dunkirk.

The plan was for the formation to head for France at ‘zero feet’ with 602 Squadron on the starboard side of the Hurricanes and 485 Squadron to port. When the Hurricane leader pulled up for his attack, the escorting Spitfires were to climb on full power, cross the coast and split into sections, patrolling the coastal area on the lookout for German fighters.

Everything was going according to plan until the Hurricanes found themselves heading for a German flak ship. Their leader turned to port to avoid it, forcing 485 Squadron to break formation and leaving Wing Commander Ryder alone and vulnerable over the French coast. Unsurprisingly, he was badly hit by flak but miraculously managed to make a wheels-up forced landing on the beach, where he was taken prisoner. His Spitfire Vb,  W3579, coded OU-Q, “Southland II” had been donated by the people of Invercargill and it’s environs on South Island, New Zealand.

F/L Harold Strang took over and led the Wing home after an uneventful sortie without any fighter opposition.

Ryder’s loss was so unexpected that Fighter Command had to re-appoint one of his predecessors, W/C John Peel, back to his old job at Kenley, cutting short his ‘rest’ from operations. He took over command of the Kenley Wing on 4th November.

EDGAR NORMAN RYDER was born in Risalpur, India in November 1914. He returned to England at the age of 10. From 1931 to 1934, he served with the Royal Fusiliers and then taught mathematics at Tredennick School, Worcester, before joining the RAF on a short service commission in 1936. After completing his training, he joined 41 squadron at Catterick in June 1937.

On 3rd April, 1940, Ryder shot down an He111, but his Spitfire was damaged in the exchange and he had to ditch in the sea. His aircraft was already quite deeply submerged when he managed to free himself from the cockpit. Luckily, he was picked up by a passing trawler, becoming the first pilot to survive ditching a Spitfire. In August, Ryder received the DFC for this feat.

He spent the first half of 1941 commanding 56 squadron at North Weald and was already an ace, with a Bar to his DFC, when he arrived at Kenley to replace John Kent as Wing Leader, in mid-October.  ‘Al’ Deere said he, “couldn’t have wished for a better choice” of leader. 

After his forced landing and capture on 31st October, 1941, Ryder was taken PoW and sent to Stalag Luft III. He was moved to Oflag XX1B in Poland and managed to escape by hiding in the back of a truck, but was recaptured two days later.

Ryder received a Mention in Despatches (gazetted 28th December 1945) for distinguished service whilst a PoW.

After the War, he was made a CBE and in 1959 came third in the Bleriot Daily Mail Air Race between London and Paris, flying a Hawker Hunter.

He retired from the RAF in October 1960 retaining the rank of Group Captain and spent his retirement in America.

Edgar Norman Ryder passed away in 1995.

Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.

Nine Lives by Alan C. Deere
Paddy Finucane and the Kenley Wing by Anthony Cooper.

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