Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Len Adlam

Sgt Len Adlam
Leonard Adlam was born on 26 July 1915, in Kent. He was educated at the County School for Boys in Gillingham. When Adlam completed his education, he spent some time working at a bank and then in the insurance business. He married Phyllis Yeoman in 1934 and on 11 February the following year his daughter Delphine was born.
           In early 1939 Adlam joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve and took his first flight as a passenger in a Tiger Moth on 9 April that same year. He trained at No.16 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School and flew solo on 24 June 1939 in Tiger Moth K4257. Adlam continued his training at No.8 FTS where he was rated as an ‘above average’ pilot.  A month later Adlam was flying Spitfires at No.7 Operational Training Unit, Hawarden. By the end of the course he had notched up a total of 170 flying hours.      
           Adlam’s next posting was to No.11 OTU, where he converted to bomber aircraft. From late July to early September 1940, he flew Wellingtons and on 9th Sergeant Adlam was posted to No.58 Squadron stationed at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire. The Squadron formed part of No.4 Group in Bomber Command and was equipped with Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Mk V aircraft.
           The day following Adlam’s arrival, he was airborne as second pilot in Whitley P4991 on his first offense raid of the war. Piloting the aircraft was Flying Officer Fleming, with Phillips, Haigh and Johnson making up the rest of the crew. The crew set off for Bremen at 2300 hours but due to heavy cloud they were unable to locate any targets and returned to base with a full bomb load at 0630 hours the next morning.
          On 15 September 1940 (Battle of Britain Day), Adlam was second pilot, on a night sortie in Whitley P4991 with Flying Officer Fleming and Sergeants Green, Haigh and Hunter-Muskett. The crew were detailed to raid Hamburg, but the mission became a hair-raising experience when their aircraft iced up and went into a dive from 14,000 feet. Fleming managed to pull out of the dive at 7,000 feet and returned to base, despite losing fabric and sustaining damage to the main-plane.
          Eight days later, in Whitley T4174, Fleming and Adlam were once again deterred from reaching their target (Berlin), due to an unserviceable starboard engine. After only 2 hours and 15 minutes in the air, they returned to base.
          Thus far operations were proving to be frustrating and on the night of 2/3 October, the difficulties would continue for the Squadron. Due to heavy cloud concealing their primary targets, the majority of the Squadron carried out attacks on secondary targets. Fleming and Adlam’s Whitley made two level attacks from 9, 000 feet but witnessed no results.
          On Sunday 20 October 1940, Adlam accompanied Pilot Officer Ernest  Brown in Whitley T4171 for an air test. After a 15 minute local flight, the pilots and crew found the aircraft suitable for the evening’s operation.
          At 1900 hours No.58 Squadron took off from Linton-on-Ouse with orders to bomb the Skoda factory at Pilzen in Czechoslovakia.  Adlam’s Whitley, flown by Pilot Officer Brown, was code lettered ‘GE-O’. Adlam was second pilot, Sergeant Robert Langfield, was the Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, Sergeant Cyril Green was the Observer and Sergeant Marcel Caryll-Tilkin, was the Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner.
          When the crew reached the target they dropped their bombs on the Skoda factory but in return they were hit by enemy flak which presumably caused damage to the Whitley's port engine because Pilot Officer Brown was hit by shrapnel and badly wounded. Brown was unable to continue flying the aircraft so Adlam took over the controls and turned Whitley ‘GE-O’ for home.
          It was a tense flight across the Channel, for home seemed a long way off and the cold dark water below was most unnerving for the crew. After what felt like an eternity the crew eventually crossed the southern coast of England. Adlam continued to limp the Whitley further north but they were low on fuel and soon became lost.
           Strained and exhausted, the Whitley crew continued to work together in finding their way back to safety, but their beaten-up aircraft continued to lose both height and fuel. Although on course for Linton-on-Ouse, the Whitley began to rapidly descend as it approached the Yorkshire Moors until finally the aircraft tragically crashed into a hillside at approximately 0612 hours on the 21 October 1940. The crash was heard by nearby villagers and soon after police, farmers and locals were soon hurrying towards the crash site.
          Tragically Pilot Officer Ernest Brown, Sergeant Leonard Adlam and Sergeant Marcel Caryll-Tilkin were killed. Sergeant Robert Langfield and Sergeant Cyril Green survived, although both were seriously injured. Two days later Sergeant Green died in hospital due to the serious nature of his internal injuries, leaving Sergeant Langfield as the sole survivor of the incident. At the time of the crash Langfield had been in the middle of the aircraft and had bent down to pick something up. He suffered major burns to his face and chest, a leg was smashed to bits and some of his ribs were broken. Despite his horrific injuries Langfield dragged all but one of the crew out of the aircraft and when the rescue party arrived he was found unconscious, holding the hand of the airmen that was trapped inside the burning Whitley.
          The evidence suggested that the aircraft had crashed due to running out of fuel on its return from Czechoslovakia. Even the official Accident Records Card is believed to share this opinion, but a later development uncovered another insight into the crash when a German source stated that Whitley T4171 was claimed by a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88 pilot.
          The Ju 88c pilot was Hauptmann Karl Hulshoff of I/NJG2, who was over the north of England on a specialist intruder mission (one of the first of its kind) when he apparently caught sight of the smoking Whitley of No. 58 Squadron as it attempted to return to base and shot it down. Oddly enough according to the Luftwaffe’s combat records, Hulshoff claimed this aircraft as a ‘Hereford’, intercepted near Dishforth.        
          Due to the uncertainty of events surrounding Whitley T4171’s destruction and the conflicting reports available, it would be a mere assumption to state the exact reason why four men lost their lives as a result of what happened in the early morning hours of 21 October 1940. Whether it was a combination of flak damage, lack of petrol, disorientation and bad weather over the high ground, or if it was the generally accepted opinion that it fell to a Ju 88 night fighter, is yet to be convincingly uncovered.
          Sergeant Leonard Frank Percy Adlam is buried at Ship Lane Cemetery in Farnborough, Hampshire. His headstone is inscribed with the words ‘Through trials to the stars’.
          For the full story click HERE
Right - by David Pritchard, Centre - T4171 wreckage

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