28 May 1944

Spitfire XIV RB175

Coded DW-L

Flying Officer. COLGAN Brian Thomas

610 Squadron Royal Air Force

(County of Chester)



Agrandir le plan

Airfield the Harrowbeer, Devon

SAINT RIEUL. Côtes d'Armor. Sunday, 28th May, 1944 1530 hrs. Crash of Spitfire Mark XIV RB175 coded DW-L and flown by Flying Officer Brian Thomas "Butch" Colgan of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron of the Royal Air Force stationed at RAF Harrowbeer in Devon (southwest England).




A flight of four Spitfire XIVs of 610 Squadron. Flying Officer Brian Thomas Colgan is in one of the Spitfires without visible markings



On the day of 28th May 1944. Flight Lieutenant Madden and Pilot Officer Scaman had taken off at 0550hrs to make a reconnaisance over the Aber-Wrac'h in northern Brittany with an extension above the Narrows of Brest. Everything went without any problems and at 0720 hrs they returned to their base. A second mission was planned by the Commanding Officer for the end of the afternoon. The Squadron's task was described as ''Rhubarb 259''. ( For all RAF squadrons during the 2 nd World War, the Rhubarb code name was used for operations which did not have specific targets). Pilots were to find enemy targets of opportunity and attempt to destroy them. These would include any enemy road or rail convoys, aircraft or gun installations.

Four pilots was selected to take part in the operation. The group was commanded by Squadron Leader Richard Newbery (photo left). Newbery was a highly experienced pilot and Squadron Leader (he remained in that position until 1945) and was later awarded the DFC, (The Distinguished Flying Cross). He was to achieve fame a couple of months later for having destroyed nine V1 flying bombs which had been launched from Northern France by the Germans towards London and the Home Counties. Flight Lieutenant Shepherd was his second in command. They were joined by Flying Officer McKinley (who was killed in July that year aged 23 years when a V1 blew up in front of his aircraft) and Flying Officer Colgan. All were experienced with many flying hours between them, including air combat and ground attacks.

After take off at 1700 hours, the four joined up over the Channel. The crossing to North Brittany was very fast. (The Spitfire Mk XIV had a top speed of 750 km / h). Weather conditions were good and Sqn/Ldr Newbery, gave orders to the other pilots over the radio. 'Take care as the enemy can strike at any moment'. After a loop approach to Brest, the group began to follow the railway towards Rennes. At the same time, they checked the roads to identify any military vehicles. Suddenly, on reaching Landivisiau, white smoke was seen rising into the sky, indicating the presence of a railway train. Immediately, the four British airmen prepared to attack with great caution because the enemy rail convoys were heavily protected, often by Flak guns mounted on railway wagons. Frequently, these were placed at the rear of the train and sometimes on the front behind the locomotive. The four aircraft hit the train firing all their weapons then described a wide loop, while climbing to escape enemy fire. The target was hit and the train stopped in open country.


Sqn/Ldr Newbery signaled the resumption of flight indicating that the goal had been achieved. The flight continued following the railway to Saint-Brieuc and Guingamp. Just after Lamballe, further smoke was seen indicating the presence of a second train en route to Rennes. Squadron Leader Newbery repeated his orders recommending great caution. Here again the train was protected by mobile artillery.

Arrived at a place called ''Le Cas Rouge" of the town of Plestan is a good offense.

Again, they fired all their weapons at the train. A fuel wagon in the middle of the convoy exploded in a giant shower of fire. The Flak wagon at the rear of the train directed his guns at the raiding Spitfires.



Le Flying Officer. COLGAN Brian Thomas



Here is a picture of the type of flak wagon that were used on the railways


Unfortunately, during the attack, Flying Officer Colgan reported that his aircraft was hit by shells. He was uninjured but indicated that he would make an emergency landing. He was too low to bail out. He left the band by making several wing beats (read the testimony of Mr. Pelaine). M. Joseph Hercouet: The plane fell into my field at "Livraudais". It first struck an embankment and then slid for some way on its underside before biting into the ground at the end of the moor. The pilot was not injured and had not bailed out. He was arrested in the town and became a prisoner when he sought to make contact with the Resistance. He asked a lady who unfortunately could not tell him.

I also recall that later that evening we heard planes circling above us, it was almost dark. The German artillery started shooting. We were very scared. Then we heard nothing. The next day we were informed of what had happened.

and began to descend towards the ground. The Spitfire approached a large field, intending to make a normal gear-up landing. Unfortunately it hit a bank and came to an abrupt halt making its first contact with the soil of France in the village of "Livraudais" in St. Rieul. After un-strapping his seat harness and parachute, Flying Officer Colgan climbed out of his cockpit and stepped down from the aircraft. He rapidly crossed towards the entrance of the field and found himself in a tree-lined road. There he met a lady to whom he said; ''Resistance - Resistance''? The lady was a bit surprised but indicated the direction of the village. Unfortunately he was arrested by the Germans early in the evening. Colgan was eventually transferred to the prison camp reserved for airmen in East Prussia (now Poland) Stalag Luft III at Sagan. It was here that many airmen tried to escape in March 24th 1944. Their attempt was disastrous and was recounted in the movie ''The Great Escape''. Colgan was not released until the end of the war in May 1945.



Squadron Leader Richard Newbery's Spitfire coded DW-D



Spitfires Mark 1 delivered to RAF Hooton Park, Cheshire (home of 610 Squadron) in north-west England in 1939



The pilots of 610 Squadron at RAF Acklington in Northumberland in northern England in September 1940 with their Squadron Leader John Ellis



The pilots of 610 Squadron at RAF Hawkinge in Kent in July 1940 during the Battle of Britain




The other three aircraft returned to Harrowbeer and announced the loss of Flying Officer Colgan. The loss to the Squadron of such a valuable pilot was immense but the loss of the aircraft was also problematic as it was the first Spitfire Mk XIV to fall into enemy hands (although eventually, 970 of these aircraft were produced 610 Squadron was the first to receive them). It was clear that Colgan had landed without his aircraft bursting into flames and for this reason it was hoped that the Germans could be prevented from recovering its advanced technology.

Immediately, it was decided to make a special sweep with the aim of finding and destroying the wrecked aircraft. Four Spitfires were made ready. Again, Squadron Leader Newbery took charge with pilots Shepherd and McKinley and Canadian pilot, Flying Officer MacFarlane. Take off was at 2125hrs in the evening and the four aircraft soon arrived in the zone (see testimony of M. Hercouet). Intense flak was experienced, probably from a section of German anti-aircraft guns based at the Hague in Tramain Wood. This section had been positioned to protect the Lamballe to Rennes railway and was hidden in the woods the during the day. The evening was hazy and the four pilots were unable to carry out their mission as night began to fall. The group returned to England. There were no further attempts on the following days.

As always in these situations, the Germans quickly dismantled the aircraft, loaded it into trucks and took it away in the direction of Lamballe.







RAF Spitfire DW-E-of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron


TESTIMONY from M. Roger PELAINE: I was 19 years old. It was a Sunday. I remember it very well. With other young people I was going to a dance on Sunday afternoon at a nearby village. We had arranged some entertainment for the German occupation was very hard for everyone. We lacked everything. It was evident that the Germans felt that things were changing and they were more on-edge. We had to be careful. It was late afternoon and suddenly we heard explosions. It was an attack on a train at a place called ''Le Cas rouge'' in Plestan. From where I was, I saw an aircraft very low in the sky dip its wings several times before diving towards the ground. This aircraft appeared to be in trouble. I also heard the noise of other aircraft. The next day some said it was the English who had come to attack the railway line. One of the wagons in the middle of the train was full of fuel and had exploded. The train included a mobile artillery unit that probably shot down that plane.

Thanks to M. Mayor of Saint Rieul Gesbert. Witnesses at that time M. Roger PELAINE, M. Joseph HERCOUET.








Thanks for assistance to Michael Lewis, Chairman of 610 (County of Chester) Squadron Association in Chester, England. Stephen Fryer, president of the Association for the Memory of the Aerodrome at Harrowbeer, Devon. Jonathan Ives.


J.24092 F/O McFarlane, F.Norman (Canada) ('Mac Mk III') posted from No .2. T.E.U. Tealing to 610 Sqn at Exeter Jan '44. Attached to Rolls-Royce at Derby for engine handling course 14/3/44. Returned to unit 18/3/44. Pictured in a group with other pilots June/July 1944. F/O Lee and F/O McFarlane fired at a diver and slowed it before having to break off on reaching the gun zone. Plots faded on it afterwards, so it was claimed as destroyed (half each). Promoted to F/Lt 30/1/45. Died in Ottawa, Ontario 12/5/2002.

136433 F/O McKinlay, George Mercer, RAFVR ('Mac MkII') Posted to 610 Sqn at Bolt Head from 2 TEU 4/12/43. To Rolls-Royce at Derby for engine handling course 8/5/44. Returned to Sqn 13/5/44. Destroyed first flying bomb shared with F/Lt Shepherd 22/6/44, two more 7/7/44. Killed 12/7/44 (age 23). After destroying a flying bomb, his aircraft (Spitfire XIV RB142 'DW-B') went out of control over Newhaven. Mac managed to avoid a built up area and in doing so lost his life. He lived at 2, Norwood Gardens, Low Fell, Gateshead. Destroyed 4 ½ flying bombs. Son of William and Bessie McKinlay of Gateshead. Commonwealth War Dead Div. 5. Grave 5701. GATESHEAD (SALTWELL) CEMETERY.


Contact: Andrew McKinlay


104447 S/Ldr Shepherd, John Bean DFC ('Shep') was posted to 610 Sqn at Bolt Head in 18/5/44. C/O 610 Sqn Feb '44 to Mar '45. Destroyed first flying bomb 20/6/44. Shared another with F/O McKinlay 22/6/44. Destroyed another 7/7/44 flying from Friston and another 8/7/44. F/Lt Shepherd added a further diver to his score 29/7/44. Accounted for 6 flying bombs in total. Crashed 'DW-C' when engine cut on takeoff 28/8/44. He was awarded DFC 12/12/44.

Jean Michel Martin - Daniel Dahiot - ABSA 39-45, le 19 décembre 2011

Some pictures of Brian Thomas Colgan
Pictures of Michael Colgan, the nephew of Brian