Squadron Leader Phillip Leslie Irving Archer DFC
On 17th June 1943, Kenley’s Canadian Wing engaged in an offensive fighter sweep over France, ‘Rodeo’ 231, which turned into a huge, confusing dogfight involving 80-100 FW190s of JG26 and 24 Spitfires.
No.403 squadron’s pilots all made it back to Kenley safely, except F/O Marshall who landed at Redhill because his Spitfire had been damaged in combat.
No.421 squadron were less fortunate, losing Squadron Leader Phillip L. I. Archer DFC, and Flying Officer James E. McNamara in the area of St. Omer, France.
PHILLIP LESLIE IRVING ARCHER was born on the 10th February, 1917, in Bridgetown, Barbados. He was the son of Frederick Leslie Archer (a famous cricketer) and Millicent Beryl Archer, of Belleville, Hastings, Barbados. He had one sister, Margaret Esmee Archer.
Phillip was educated at The Lodge School, in St.John, Barbados, from 1925-1935 and during this time was a member of the 2nd B.V. Cadet Corps. In July 1937, (presumably when he was home from University during the Summer recess), Archer served as a “special recruit” Corporal, when the local volunteer forces were called out to help quell riots on the island. Two rioters were shot dead and three critically injured between the 26th and 27th July; HMS Apollo landed a platoon of marines to restore order on the 28th. During this period there were riots across the Caribbean in response to unemployment and the economic crisis in the colonial economy caused by falling prices for sugar and other agricultural staples. This unrest led to welfare reforms across the British Empire.
Archer left Barbados for Canada in 1936, to study Agricultural Science at Macdonald College, McGill University. He was described as a quietly-spoken, dark-haired youth who specialised in Bacteriology. A month after graduating with a B.S.c., he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, enlisting in Montreal in June 1940. During his training at No.1 Initial Training School, it was noted that he was a, “good type,” and would make, “a good fighter pilot.”
Having earned his wings on 12th December 1940, at Camp Borden, Ontario, he was posted overseas in February 1941, and joined No.92 squadron on the 5th May. He was transferred to No.412 and then No.416 squadron, as “A” Flight Commander, by which time he had started to build up an impressive record in combat. Archer and No.416 Squadron moved from RAF Redhill to Kenley on 1st February, 1943.
On the 9th February 1943, he was awarded the DFC, with the following citation:
“This officer has completed sorties over enemy territory and has destroyed at least four enemy aircraft. On one occasion, although wounded in the leg, Flight Lieutenant Archer flew his badly damaged aircraft back to the base where he executed a skilful landing. He is a most efficient leader.”
On the 13th June, 1943, he was promoted to Squadron Leader and attached to 421 squadron, taking command on the 17th June – the day he was killed in action, flying Spitfire Mk.IX LZ996.
Wing Commander ‘Johnnie’ Johnson led the wing on ‘Rodeo’ 231. Gaining altitude, they left Dover behind and crossed into France at 24,000 ft, over Gravelines. The Controller warned them of enemy aircraft west of Ypres, and they duly spotted thirty plus FW190’s below. Johnson took No.421 Squadron down to attack, with No.403 following as cover. After that first attack, No.421 climbed to reform. Flying Officer Marshall, of No.403 squadron, noted Archer’s Spitfire flying alongside his own, and then saw two FW190’s closing in to attack. He had no time to warn Archer before his own aircraft was hit.
It seems likely that Archer’s Spitfire was hit in the oil tank, which was punctured, spraying oil over the aircraft as Archer attempted a wheels-up landing in a field at Blaringhem. He maintained control of the aircraft until the end, but his lifeless body was slumped over the controls when civilians arrived at the scene, shortly after. Germans arrived some time later and removed Archer’s body for burial at Longuenesse, where his grave was labelled ‘Inconnu’ until identified post-war.
Archer’s final tally was six enemy aircraft destroyed, the final FW190 on the day he died, though later research shows that this may have been a collision.
Phillip was 27 years old when he died.
Parts of Spitfire LX996 were recovered from the crash site in May 1996.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.