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, in the parish of St. Michael, 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.
A report by S/Ldr. Lockett, No.5 Section, No.1 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit, R.A.F., dated 30/8/1946, gives us the clearest idea of Archer’s fate:
Aircraft Type and Serial No:- Unknown type of Fighter.
Place of Crash:- Alquines.
Place of Burial:- St. Omer, in British Souvenir Cemetery at Longuenesse.
Crew:- S/Ldr. P. L. Archer (J.3508) R.C.A.F.
Result of Investigation and Findings:-
- Hearing from the Gendarmerie of Lumbres that they held some personal effects of an RCAF pilot who was killed on the 17.6.43, I went and collected them, investigating the case at the same time. I found that this aircraft was shot down at Alquines B.1/G.95 on the 17.6.43, it crashed in a field where a M. Cucheval was working.
- M.Cucheval states that the aircraft was quickly surrounded by civilians who took the pilots wrist identity placque and ring, that was broken in the crash, and handed them to a Gendarme of the brigade of Lumbres who arrived on the scene at that moment and who kept the articles until I went to collect them.
- The Germans arriving on the scene cleared away the civilians and took the pilot’s body and buried it in the St. Omer British Souvenir Cemetery at Longuenesse, B.1/H.15.
- The Germans gave to the St. Omer town authorities the name:- Archer P. L. R.C.A.F. (Major, U. Flugseugfur, ABGES 17.6.43). as being buried in grave No.136 in the St. Omer British Souvenir Cemetery at Longuenesse, even though a cross marked ‘INCONNU’ was put up by the French cemetery authorities over grave No.136. Up to now the information given by the Germans to the St. Omer town authorities regarding burials of Allied war dead in the Souvenir cemetery have been reasonably reliable and I am certain that grave No.136 contains the body of J.3508, S/Ldr. P. L. Archer R.C.A.F.
- Please find with this report 1 ring (in damaged condition) and 1 identity bracelet with J.3508 P. L. Archer, R.C.A.F., inscribed on it.
- The grave No.136 has been registered in the name of J.3508, P. L. Archer, R.C.A.F.
- Final 3372 action will be taken on confirmation from Air Ministry.
Sgd. S/Ldr Lockett
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. He had flown 76 ‘trips’ over enemy territory, totalling 182.05 operational hours.
Phillip was 27 years old when he died.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.