Flying Officer Douglas Russell Manley
On 8th November, 1942, the sun was shining from a clear sky – it can’t have come as any surprise when all pilots were called for a briefing at 10.15am in the Wing Pilots’ Room.
Kenley’s 401 and 402 Squadrons, RCAF, along with a squadron from Northolt, were detailed to provide forward support for 38 B-17 Fortresses of the 301 and 306 Bomber Groups, returning from a ‘trip’ to the Atelier d’Hellemmes locomotive works at Lille, France – the primary target of ‘Circus’ 235.
‘Circus’ offensives were designed to draw the Luftwaffe into combat in circumstances that favoured the Allies. A bombing raid, too large to be ignored, would be accompanied by a huge ‘beehive’ of fighters. In this case, the fighter escort involved squadrons from Hornchurch, North Weald and Biggin Hill, with Kenley and Northolt providing forward support. Rear support came from Tangmere and Debden. In addition, there was a diversionary bombing raid by 15 B-17’s of the 91st Bomber Group, which targeted Drucat airfield at Abbeville.
12 Spitfires of 401 Squadron took off from Kenley at 11.40am, led by Squadron Leader Keith Hodson DFC. Among them was Flying Officer Douglas Russell Manley flying Spitfire IX, BS391, as No.2 to Flight Lieutenant Donald Morrison DFM, in Yellow section.
They set a course for Deal, Kent, and made rendezvous with the Northolt Spitfires as planned, crossing the French coast at 22,000ft over Dunkirk and seeing intense flak from the coastal batteries bursting 2000ft below them. Flying further inland, they met the returning bomber formations and took up the task of covering their withdrawal.
F/Lt. Morrison DFM, spotted 2 Fw190’s below and behind, and led Yellow section down to attack them. Pilot Officer Cosburn, flying as Yellow 3, saw two more FW190’s closing in on Flight Lieutenant N. P. Wood (Yellow 4) so they broke away from their section in a steep turn and swung in behind the Fw190’s – there were now four of the enemy aircraft, but they were out of range. Wood saw one of them go down in flames, and thought it had been shot down by Morrison and Flying Officer Doug Manley (Yellow 1 and 2).
Then Cosburn and Wood saw six aircraft 2000ft above them but as they climbed towards them, the aircraft dived down, passing in front of them – 2 FW190’s chased by 2 Spitfires who in turn, were being pursued by by 2 more FW190’s. One of the Spitfires was hit and went into a spiral dive, trailing smoke. This was thought to be either Morrison or Manley. Cosburn fired a 3 second burst at the FW190’s, but no strikes were observed. As they reached the French coast, the FW190’s turned inland and Cosburn and Wood made for Kenley – both Morrison and Manley failed to return – ‘Don’ Morrison was taken Prisoner of War.
Flying Officer Douglas Russell Manley was born 27th September 1922, in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada. His Father was a London-born barrister, Robert William Manley, who had married Velma Rose Bernard, of Ontario, in June 1915. The couple had two other children besides ‘Doug’ – R. P. Dale Manley, who also joined the RCAF and served in North Africa, and Edith Marion Manley.
Doug finished High School, aged 17, and worked part-time as a clerk and delivery boy during 1940. He also joined the Non-Permanent Active Militia of Canada, serving in “D” Company of The Edmonton Fusiliers. In May 1941, he was working as a gas station attendant in his hometown when he enlisted in the RCAF. He had ‘no definite plans’ for the future but hoped to get a job in commercial flying or stay in the RCAF once the war was over.
Manley’s training commenced at No.4 Initial Training School, Edmonton, in July 1941, where he was noted as being “bright and keen.” He moved on to No.5 Elementary Flying Training School, High River, whose instructors reported “no outstanding faults” in his flying. At No.7 Service Flying Training School, McLeod, Doug came 9th out of 58 in his class, and was awarded his ‘wings’ on 18th December, 1941. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer the following day.
Doug was posted overseas, arrived in the UK on 21st January, 1942, and spent a couple of months in Bournemouth at No.3 Personnel Reception Centre, followed by a month at No.9 Service Flying Training School. From there, he was sent to No.59 Operational Training Unit, at Turnhouse, Edinburgh, on 21st April. Manley was briefly posted to No.132 Squadron, before joining 401 Squadron, RCAF, on 26th August, 1942, at Biggin Hill. He was still with the squadron when they moved to RAF Kenley on 23rd September.
Just before 12.40pm French Time, on 8th November, 1942, witnesses on the Calais – Dunkerque road saw a damaged Spitfire approaching from the east. Civilians thought he was trying to land on a nearby racetrack, but the flak guns opened up on him over Calais and as they concentrated their fire, he was forced to descend. The Spitfire passed under some electrical wires and crashed in the centre of the road at 265 Route De Dunkerque, killing a civilian. The wreck burnt for several hours and the pilot was consumed by the flames. Mme. Bris, of 257 Route De Dunkerque found a Canadian cigarette lighter and a badly burnt pocket watch at the scene.
The Germans buried the pilot in Pihen-Les-Guines cemetery in a grave marked “Hier ruht ein unbekannte Englander pegeschossen (date illegible) be Calais.” All the witnesses to the crash on the Calais – Dunkerque Road agreed that the pilot had blonde hair. This, together with the Canadian lighter, confirmed that it was Doug Manley, during post-war investigations – the only other pilot shot down on the same date in that area had brown hair.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.