P.W.E ‘NIP’ HEPPEL
Matted Unframed Ensemble: $39
Silver Framed Ensemble: $70
Gun Metal Framed Ensemble: $70
One of Douglas Bader’s aggressive fighter pilots in the famous Tangmere Wing, Nip Heppell flew with Johnnie Johnson, Cocky Dundas, Ken Holden and Alan Smith, Bader’s trusted wingman. Always in the thick of the airfighting in 1941.
Flying Spitfires with 616 Squadron, Nip Heppell cut his teeth as a young fighter pilot alongside some of the RAF’s most famous aces, engaging daily when weather permitted with Adolf Galland’s ‘Abbeville Boys’ and other Luftwaffe fighter squadrons based in northern France. He later became one of the Spitfire pilot heroes in the defence of Malta.
*** *** ***
P.W.E.‘Nip’ HEPPELL, DFC* Biography:
On my eighteenth birthday, in June 1939, I joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and was posted to my first squadron, 616 (South Yorkshire) AAF, in the autumn of 1940; this weary and sadly depleted unit had been pulled out of the Battle of Britain for a rest and to train new pilots like Johnnie Johnson, Alan Smith and myself. In February of the following year we moved to Tangmere and shortly afterwards Douglas Bader arrived to lead the Tangmere Wing.
Bader’s impact on 616 was truly remarkable. He chose to fly with our Squadron so that when in the spring and summer of 1941 we reached out over North-West Europe, we of 616 – Johnnie, Cocky Dundas, Alan, Jeff West, Buck Casson, Colin Mcfie – always seemed to be in the thick of the fighting. In August, when Bader went missing, 616 was one of the crack units in Fighter Command.
After my period at Tangmere I was posted to 249 Squadron and early in 1942 I took-off my Spitfire from the 400 feet deck of HMS Eagle headed for Malta – an experience I shall long remember! By this time I was a Flight Commander in 249, leading my flight to the beleaguered island – then struggling desperately for its very survival against the Luftwaffe.
The enemy attacked in strength, never less than three times a day. The pattern seldom varied. Stukas and Junkers 88’s escorted by yellow-nosed 109’s carrying out dive-bombing attacks on the airfields at Hal Far, Luqa and Takali, and of course Grand Harbour itself. The number of attacking aircraft varied from forty to over one hundred, and we seldom could opposed them with more than a handful of Spitfires. Because of the huge numbers of Luftwaffe raiders often the few Spitfires we had could enter the fray, fire a few bursts, and depart virtually unnoticed.
On 8th April, 1942, just two of us took off to intercept more than a hundred bombers escorted by a similar number of 109’s. We were in as much danger from our own gunners as from the enemy because they met each incoming raid with a ferocious barrage of AA fire. Leading this pair of Spitfires into the fray, with our gunners banging away at the bombers, I collected a direct hit from ground fire and my Spitfire simply disintegrated. I fell about 7,000 ft. before regaining consciousness.
Having survived I then had a spell as both ferry and test pilot in the Middle-East, returning to Malta at the end of 1942 when I found the situation much changed. The Island was now secure and it was our turn to go on the offensive – fighter sweeps over Sicily and a fair amount of train bashing.
Early in 1943 I baled out off Calanfrana because of a bomb hang-up and landed in the sea where I was soon picked up. In April I was promoted to Squadron Leader to command 229 Squadron, and shortly afterwards was clobbered by the pilot of a Focke-Wulf 190 with a remarkable deflection shot. I was hit in the chest and the backside, but managed to stagger back to Malta where I put my Spitfire down safely and was taken to hospital.
After sick leave in UK I took the opportunity to fly as Johnnie Johnson’s wingman on fighter sweeps over France. Then I was given command of 118 Squadron (Spitfire 9’s) and later re-equipped with Mustang 3’s, in my opinion, the most significant escort fighter of World War II. Its great range enabled it to escort Fortresses and Liberators right across Germany and so establish the vital air superiority which eventually made the Normandy landings possible.
During my RAF career I flew about 50 different types of aircraft including a number of twins when I ferried in Africa. The Spitfire was the finest I first flew the Mark 1 Spit with pump up undercarriage and then Mark 2 (a), (b) and (c); Mark 5 (a), (b) and (c); Mark 6 and 7 high altitude; Mark 9 (a) and (b). A wonderful aircraft on which much praise has justly been lavished. It must be borne in mind that it first flew in 1935 and its limited fuel range was its only embarrassment.
The Mustang Mark 3 with Rolls Royce Packard Merlin was a much later design and much had been learned by more than trebling the fuel capacity, improving the visibility and improving bad weather handling with adjustable flaps giving greater stability.
NIP HEPPELL: RAF: Fighter Command: Military Signature Ensemble @vbader.com