Squadron Leader MacLachlan already has been awarded the DFC with bar. In France he shot down six enemy bombers in four days; over Malta he destroyed two Italian warplanes. He himself was shot down by a Messerschmitt Me-109, a type for which the Hurricane of that day was far too slow. He lost his left arm in that crash, but was flying again within 15 days.
I'm afraid the dangers and hazards of flying on night offensive patrols have been rather exaggerated. Certainly the average intruder pilot is not the cat-eyed, carrot-eating killer that the press sometimes makes him out to be. Most of us are too fond of our mornings in bed to go flying around in the daytime. Personally, sleeping in the sun appeals to me infinitely more than chasing Me-109s at 30,000 feet. Give me a moonlight night and my old Hurricane and you can have our Spitfire and dawn readiness. We've no formation flying to worry about and no bombers to escort. In fact, nothing to do but amuse ourselves once we've crossed the French Coast.
I must admit that those miles of Channel with only one engine bring mixed thoughts, and one can't help listening to every little beat of the old Merlin as the English coast disappears in the darkness. I always get a feeling of relief and excitement as I cross the French coast and turn on the reflector sight, knowing that anything I see then I can take a crack at.
We have to keep our eyes skinned the whole time, and occasionally glance at the compass and clock. As the minutes go by and we approach the Hun aerodrome, we look eagerly for the flarepaths. More often than not we are disappointed. The flare-path is switched off as soon as we arrive and up come the searchlights and flak. But if you're lucky it's easy. The other night I saw the Jerries when I was still some distance away. They were flying round at about 2,000 feet. I chose the nearest and followed him round. He was batting along at about 200 mph, but I soon caught him and got him beautifully lined up in my sights before letting him have it.
The effect of. our four cannon is incredible, after the eight machine guns I have previously been used to. Scarcely had I pressed the button when a cluster of flashes appeared on the bomber and a spurt of dark red flame came from it starboard engine. The whole thing seemed to fold up then and fall out of the sky, burning fiercely. I turned steeply to watch it crash, and as I did so I saw another Hun about a mile away, coming straight for me. In half a minute he was in my sights, and a second later his port fuel tank was blazing. I gave him another short burst for luck and then flew beside him.
A moment before he hit the ground I could see trees and houses lit up by the dark red glow from the burning machine Suddenly there was a terrific sheet of flame, and little bits of burning Heinkel flew in all directions.
I was beginning to enjoy myself by this time and flew straight back to the aerodrome to find another. Unfortunately all the lights had been switched off, an though I circled for some time I found nothing. So I cracked off for home. looked back once and could still see the two bombers burning in the distance, an a few searchlights trying vainly to find me.
Well, when your fuel and ammunition are nearly gone you are faced with the old Channel again. If you've got something, as I had that night, you sometimes feel uneasy; you feel they've got it in for you and that everyone's going to shoot at you. It's a sort of nervous reaction, I suppose. The whole thing seems too easy to be true. Ten to one there's no Hun within shooting distance and the ground defenses are quiet. That makes it all the worse, and I generally weave about till I'm halfway back across the Channel. If you've done nothing, of course, you don't get this feeling so much because you're still looking for something at which to empty your ammunition trains inland and barges and ships on the coast. We've had some of these recently, too.
Out over the Channel you can hear your ground station calling the other aircraft of the squadron and you count the minutes and look eagerly for the coast. Often it seems to take so long coming back that you feel sure the compass is wrong and were it not for the North Star I might not be here today.
At last, in the distance, you see the flashing beacon and soon you are taxying in to your dispersal point. I dread the look of disappointment on my mechanic's face if my guns are unfired.
This article was originally published in the November, 1942, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 5, pp 33, 138.
The original article includes a photo of the author standing next to the nose of his Hurricane: "The loss of his left arm provided MacLachlan with this insigne inspiration."
Photo is not credited.