WW II ACE STORIES



Next cross on board...

George "Buzz" Beurling - The Top Scoring Canadian.

Written by Wilhelm Ratuszynski.

Above - next cross on Beurling's Spitfire board. Finnaly he collected 32 kill signs. In the text - Buerlings photo.


"Six of us broke formation, five Jerries and I".

The bullet ricocheted from a limestone wall- whose latticework dominated the surroundings- narrowly missing lizard's head. It came from a .38 Smith & Wesson, in the hand of a tall, young man. His shabby and dirty clothes showed him to be a soldier. His blond hair and blue eyes revealed a foreigner. The grin on his face indicated that he enjoyed what he was doing. Lizards were abundant and he immediately spotted another one and took a careful aim, ahead of the scurrying reptile. He was visualizing an imaginary point, where combined speeds of the bullet and the lizard should meet. At this distance, a lizard was the size of a fighter aircraft seen from 300 yards. The pistol fired, and target disintegrated, leaving a bloody mess on yellowish stone. The man chuckled, put a gun away and wiped streaks of sweat off his face. Ubiquitous flies buzzed around, emphasizing quietness of the scene. He gulped down some water from a canteen when he heard sirens. They were announcing another air raid over Malta. The man instantly forgot about lizards.

Moments later, the moaning sound of aircraft melded with that of flying flies. Soon the "agh-agh" din of AA guns joined the spectacle. Thanks to his fantastic eyesight, the man could easily follow developments of this gig; a whirling mass of aircraft. He could tell apart the attackers from defenders, and watched the scene with a beaming smile. He said: "goddam screwballs" and spat. One of the aircraft - Macchi 202 - went down in flames, and the man shouted: "burn! burn screwball!" and laughed. Next, there was a parachute open, and pilot hanging on it. The man judged that the wind should carry the shot down pilot in his direction. He quickly grabbed his things and started to run toward him. When he reached the second hillock, he realized that he was too late. Looking down the small valley, he saw several men and women fervently hacking, with all sorts of tools, at the pilot's messy body, still attached to its parachute. Somebody was shouting while a couple of people were retching. The man shook his head, and said: "goddam screwballs". Then, he turned to go back and chuckled again.

* * *

George Frederick Beurling was born in December, 1921 in Verdun, Quebec, in a very firm Brethren Christians family. He never took on smoking nor drinking. He was a loner, a poor student and definitely not a team player. Almost everything associated with his childhood had one common denominator: desire to fly. He manifested this by haunting the nearby Cartierville airport and making airplane models, which he tried to sell to get money for flying lessons. He started to learn how to fly at the age of fourteen. At sixteen he soloed in Gravenhurst, Ontario, where he went after quitting High School.

He attempted to join the Chinese Air Force in a fight with the invading Japanese, but was arrested in USA for illegal entry, and deported back to Canada. Then, he tried to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was promptly rejected, and he always held a grudge against the RCAF for this. But George was like a young stallion in a stable: jumpy, full of energy, thrusting himself toward the action. When the war broke out, he already had many flying hours in his log. This impressed an official at the Finnish Consulate in Montreal, where young Beurling tried to enlist himself as a volunteer for the Finnish Air Force. However, not being 21 years old yet, he needed permission from his father. Papa Beurling refused to grant it.

In spring 1940 the RAF was recruiting experienced pilots in Britain. That spurred Beurling. In May he boarded Swedish ship Valparaiso, loaded with explosives and destined for England. After a few "close calls" in convoy, ship arrived in Galsgow. Once there - within hours - Beurling presented himself at nearest RAF station. He was ecstatic to hear that he more then qualified. All he needed was a proof of age, and he did not have any! Young Canadian received another mighty blow. Frustrated and very angry he boarded another ship and returned, by convoy, to Montreal. With birth certificate stored as a treasure, he return to Scotland in September, again traveling as a seaman. He enlisted in RAF Volunteer Reserve. Full year later, he was recommended for a commission. Beurling turned it down, and was posted to line squadron No. 403, as a Sergeant-Pilot. Four months later, he was transferred to No.41 Squadron, refusing a commission at the same time. On his third mission, a sweep over Calais, Beurling shot down a Fw-190. This happened while he separated himself from his flight, where he flew "tail-end-Charlie".* Two days later he did exactly the same thing. On any given opportunity to jump an enemy aircraft - which he always saw first - he promptly abandoned his formation. Discipline flying was not his style. For this he was scolded, reprimanded and then removed from almost all combat flying. His comrades treated him like a leper. His only solace was flying squadron's liaison Tiger Moth; which he did with a fury. Eventually, he asked for relocation.

On June 7, 1942 he boarded carrier Eagle in Gibraltar, with 32 brand new Spitfires Mk Vc destined for Malta.1 Two days later, Beurling took off from the deck of Eagle for dangerous and long flight over the Mediterranean. He arrived safely at Takali, a dusty piece of airstrip in the middle of the island. As soon as he stopped taxing, group of mechanics unceremoniously pulled him out of precious fighter, immediately starting to refuel it and load its guns. Disoriented, he glanced around and found only dust, ruins, craters and bunch of miserably looking people, with war written all over their faces. Finally, Beurling found his place.

The RAF pilots considered beleaguered island of Malta a damned place. Living conditions and food were very poor. There was short supply of everything, and the British desperately tried to provide Malta with necessities, to help defenders of this strategic island. Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica tried to blast it into oblivion. There were daily bombing raids, and badly outnumbered RAF pilots were fighting heroically. Beurling arrived in the middle of this, and he loved it; especially, since there was very little of a formality among squadrons. The place was made for Beurling. He did fit its historical image perfectly: island standing proudly with the sword in one hand and the cross in other; him flying a Spitfire with blazing guns and the Bible in a pocket. It was there where he finally spread his wings and really fulfilled himself.

He joined Squadron No.249, with S/L Stanley Grant as commanding officer and F/L P.B. "Laddie" Lucas his flight commander. Canadian Robert McNair(who was the other flight commander) did not want Beurling in his flight. He had a very firm, negative opinion about him. Other pilots described him to Lucas:

"...the chap's a loner. Can't be relied on. He will either shoot some down or 'buy it'."

After a straight talk with Beurling, Lucas decided to give him a chance. Later he recalled:

"I felt I was in the presence of a very unusual young man. He didn't give a damn for me. A youngster really, who was champing at the bit to get to it, to get an airplane and have a go."

Beurling was assigned to fly with Lucas' good friend: Raoul Daddo-Langlois. When asked his opinion about Beurling after couple of flights, the latter replied:

"God Almighty, he's quick and he's got the most marvelous eyes but, he's a hell of a chap at being able to keep with us."

After nearly a month on the island, Beurling had almost nothing to show for. In one of the six patrols he flew at that period, he shot down one Bf-109, which got its whole empennage blown off from a single burst of his guns. Since no one saw it crash; he was credited with only a damage.

'Buzz' BeurlingThe big day came on July 6th. Beurling flew in one of the eight Spitfires, intercepting three Cant bombers and thirty Macchi 202's escorting them. Spitfires dived on them from 22,000 feet, with sun in the back. Beurling sprayed one Italian bomber with bullets and went after the fighter, which plunged down trying to escape. Beurling caught up with it at 5,000 feet, and with two short bursts of fire scored a perfect hit. At Takali, he found his Spit full of bullets holes. Since it was his flying day, for next sortie he took off in another aircraft. On his third fly that day - a patrol with three other pilots - he split the formation of two Ju-88 and twenty Bf-109F's. Typically for him, he "yahooed" through the opposition and went after the lonely prey. During this lone-wolf performance, he easily finished one Bf-109. Thus, he achieved a status of an ace. However, he was snubbed by his fellow pilots for individualistic performance, and celebrated alone.

After every successful sortie, Beurling promptly recorded all the data of his victories in his black notebook. He analyzed it and invented a set of formulas and graphs, which involved speed of aircrafts and angles. This served him to become (in opinion of many of his contemporaries) the best "deflection shooter can be." This mathematical calculations, together with lizard-practice-shooting, showed his great devotion to the science of killing. He was a zealot when it came to aircraft's guns, and had stuck to his armourers rather than his squadron mates. Since he did not drink and constantly talked about shooting and killing - occasionally adorning it with the Bible verse - the other pilots withdrew from him. When waiting for combat flying, he always checked all the guns in aircraft designated to him. He was obsessive about it. The same time George was completely unconcerned about his tidiness and exceptionally imprecise in his discipline. He was also very eager to fly missions. Unlike many others, he never complained about having to sit in the cockpit while being in readiness. He seemed to be indifferent to scourging sun and foul smell of cordite, glycol, grease, sometimes even vomit and urine.

Around that time he got his first nickname: "Screwball." In his book Malta, Laddie Lucas recalled: "He possessed a penchant for calling everything and everyone - the Maltese, the Bf-109s, the flies - those goddam screwballs.... His desire to exterminate was first made manifest in a curious way. One morning, we were on readiness at Takali, sitting in our dispersal hut in the southeast corner of the airfield. The remains of a slice of bully-beef which had been left over from breakfast lay on the floor. Flies by the dozen were settling on it ... Beurling pulled up a chair. He sat there, bent over this moving mass of activity, his eyes riveted on it, preparing for the kill. Every few minutes he would slowly lift his foot, taking particular care not to frighten the multitude, pause and - thump! Down would go his flying boot to crush another hundred or so flies to death. Those bright eyes sparkled with delight at the extent of the destruction. Each time he stamped his foot to swell the total destroyed, a satisfied transatlantic voice would be heard to mutter "the goddam screwballs!"

By July 11, Beurling had shot down two Bf-109s, three Macchi 202s, had a probable kill on a 109 and a few other aircraft damaged. On July 14, when flying alone(!) at 30,000 feet, Buerling attacked a group of Me-109s and Macchi 202s. During his dive he was spotted, and enemy aircraft, split its formation, let him go through, and closed after him. Starboard were Macchis, and Beurling turned toward them, trying to avoid Messerschmitts. Somebody got him anyway. He was flying for his life, using all helpful maneuvers. When being riddled with bullets directly from behind, he resorted to certain Spitfire advantage. If jumped from behind, the Spitfire, if its stick pulled too hard - 60 lb.. of torque was exerted on it (40 lb.. of shorter stick in Bf-109) - would enter a violent stall, flick over and spin. The maneuver was so quick and rough, that it proved to be an excellent escape. Another trick he often used was: "an aileron turn where you kick everything (the stick and the rudder) into corner." Aircraft flips over and drops like a rock.

"Screwball" landed at Takali in a shot-up aircraft, with bullet fragments in his heel. Doctor took it out, and Beurling was back in dogfighting business very next morning, littering St.Paul's Bay with two Macchi-202.

Next big day came on July 27. Beurling was part of a interception of the major attack on Malta, involving Ju-88s escorted by Messerschmitts and Macchis. He shot down 25 year old Faliero Gelli, who survived by pancaking his Macchi into a rocky field, and being found by merciful Maltese who did not battered him to bloody pulp, like they often did. Supposedly, Gelli is (he lives in New Jersey) the only man who survived Beurling's attack. After trouncing Gelli, Beurling destroyed another Macchi and one Bf-109. He also got probable second Messerschmitt. Since Takali airstrip was full of bomb craters, Beurling's squadron landed in nearby Luqa. After quick re-arming and refueling, they took off again, this time to meet a party of 20 Bf-109s. George went after separated rotte, and finished both of them. Two days later he victimized yet another German fighter. Thus after nearly two month on the island, his score was 16 destroyed, one probably destroyed, and four damaged.

Then Beurling got very sick. Lack of proper diet, strain of combat and severe case of Dog (form of dysentery) left him barely able to walk and weighting only 125 pounds. During this sickness he was ordered to accept an officer's commission. Sniffing a hero, the press wanted to interview him; and that had to be an officer. This time, he was too weak to protest. Once officer, Beurling moved from a dusty shanty to a charming villa in the hilltop Mdina. From its terrace he could watch the airfield located immediately below and all the drama of bombing and strafing.

On August 8, "Screwball" got shot down by a German, and crash-landed in a field. That was his third crash, and third without a scratch. Next few weeks were uneventful except, of a dramatic arrival of bits of convoy (operation "Pedestal") with desperately needed supplies. Among them was crippled tanker Ohio, and to salute her, Beurling did some stunt flying over Valetta's main street. By the end of August he collected a shared victory over a Ju-88 that had been separated from it's fighter escort.

October 14 was another of his flying days. Fifty fighters and eight bombers were heading toward the island. This time two whole squadrons of Spitfires scrambled. In the melee, Beurling snared one Ju-88 and two Bf-109s. But he forgot about his own tail, while going after his next victim. His Spit got peppered with cannon shells and plunged 16,000 feet down. Wounded in chest, leg and heel again.(he never even met Achilles!) Semiconscious, he managed to escape from burning cockpit and pulled the ripcord. Thus, he barely survived his fourth crash. Next two weeks he spent in hospital. He received another "gong": Distinguished Service Order, and was also told to pack up and get ready to go home for a bond tour. He was extremely agitated by this, since he would do anything for flying. During the farewell party, he said that he would fly even for Germans, rather then be a prisoner or not being able to fly at all.

Falcon of MaltaRick Thristle paint: "Falcon of Malta" - "Buzz" Beurling, his desert camuflaged Spitfire and falcon...

Thus, his carreer at Malta came to a halt, with 27 enemy aircraft shot down. Also worth mentioning is (but can not be document) that, for almost every victory achieved, Beurling lost a wingman - or so is belived - and experienced pilots refused to fly with him. (Many veteran would confirm this. The fact however, is always omitted in every publication I have seen so far.) Later he openly admitted shooting a pilot in the parachute, during his days in Mlata. Annihilation of a Ju-88 crew in a floating dinghy, was also attributed to him.

Around that time the press started to call him "Buzz" and he was eagerly expected in Canada. On his way home, he survived yet another crash. This time it was a Liberator, which was taking him to Gibraltar. Only him, another ex-Malta pilot and one of the passengers survived. In England he was hospitalized for shock and wound infection.

At home he got a really big hero welcome, and media had their go with him. He gave many interviews, and that is where we learn a lot abount Beurling.

"I came right up underneath his tail. I was going faster than he was; about fifty yards behind. I was tending to overshoot. I weaved off to the right, and he looked out to his left. I weaved to the left and he looked out to his right. So, he still didn't know I was there. About this time I closed up to about thirty yards, and I was on his portside coming in at about a fifteen-degree angle. Well, twenty-five to thirty yards in the air looks as if you're right on top of him because there is no background, no perspective there and it looks pretty close. I could see all the details in his face because he turned and looked at me just as I had a bead on him. One of my can shells caught him in the face and blew his head right off. The body slumped and the slipstream caught the neck, the stub of the neck, and the blood streamed down the side of the cockpit. It was a great sight anyway. The red blood down the white fuselage. I must say it gives you a feeling of satisfaction when you actually blow their brains out." Brian Nolan: "Hero"

In another interview he referred to the Italians as "ice-cream merchants", saying:

"The Eyeties are comparatively easy to shoot down. Oh, they're brave enough. In fact, I think the Eyeties have more courage than the Germans, but their tactics aren't so good. They are very good gliders, but they try to do clever acrobatics and looping. But they will stick it even if things are going against them, whereas the Jerries will run."

Beurling became a darling of ruling party and protg of Prime Minister, Mackenzie King. During the tour to help sell the war bonds, he took pleasure of being a star. He also scored a lot - this time with the ladies. In Vancouver, before a large audience - many of whom were RCAF aircrew - Buzz all fired-up, vividly portrayed the moment when one of his fellow pilots burned in crashed Spitfire. He was talking with glee using very inappropriate words. Almost everybody just got-up and left.

After short flirt with sales, Beurling was sent back to England and became an instructor. His reputation proceeded him, and RAF was disinclined to send him to the front. He was desperate to go back to fighting, and constantly requested to be posted to an operational squadron. RAF constantly refused. Finally, in September, 1943 he was transferred to RCAF , and No.403 Squadron,(127Wing) which flew Spitfires IX. His main job there, was to teach young pilots how to shoot. But he also flew missions - and continued to be himself. During one mission over France, thanks to his supervision, he spotted enemy aircraft, peeled off, shot it down and returned to the airfield with the squadron. When he reported one enemy plane destroyed, his commandeur, Hugh Godefroy was stunned. Beurling not only did not inform his flight about the spotted plane, but also abandoned his position, exposing others to greater risk. His gun camera, when checked, showed clearly one Fw-190 exploding in mid-air.

Beurling continued to be rebellious and obstinate. He could not accept his place in a back row, where he wasn't greatly appreciated. Thus, he showed-off. Beurling accepted a promotion to Flight-Lieutenant just because it made him responsible for the squadron's Tiger Moth, and Godefroy became main target of his hostilities. He violated direct orders and using this trainer, he performed a lot of stunt flying. In result he was put under open arrest. Still, there were people willing to put-up with him. In November, "Buzz" got transferred to 412 Squadron, stationing in Biggin Hill. Massive fighter sweeps which the squadron flew, did not "turn his crank" and he continued to play a lone-wolf. In December he got his last (32?) victory; a Fw-190. Then he came up with a plan to form his own circus of long-range Mustangs. Idea was, to gather few desperadoes like himself, go over to the continent, and shoot the living hell out of anything that moves. Although he lobbied quite hard for it, his project did not got any support. Only days before D-Day, Beurling was granted an honorable discharge from RCAF and returned to Canada.

After-the-war Beurling was a very mixed-up guy; unsteady and unconventional; with bizarre and sometimes suspicious behavior. When the news of Jews looking for former fighter-pilots reached him, George went nuts. Although initially wasn't wanted, he got drafted by Israelis to fight for their new, independent state. His way to Palestine led through Italy, as part of the clandestine operation. He sojourned mainly at Urbe Airport in Rome.

There were a few Norduuyn Norseman, which loaded with arms were supposed to be flown to Palestine by volunteer pilots. On May 20th, 1948, Beurling died in one of those Norseman, which crashed at Urbe during a training (?) flight.

Absolutely nothing is clear about this crash. The plane was probably sabotaged. Investigation never really happened. Also, there are few different versions about who died with Beurling in that crush. Sometimes it is American pilot, sometimes British, and one source mentioned three ex-Luftwaffe pilots being in that plane.

* * *

During writing this story, on several occasions, I caught myself speculating what would have happen if:

- "Buzz" was given his own, P-51 flying circus? I answered myself: he would have got many more German planes or died soon in a very vulnerable to ground fire Mustang.
- Beurling had arrived in Malta one year earlier? Well; Muncheberg's men (7/JG26) probably would suffer a loss over the Mediterranean, or "Screwball" would have never become a legend there.
- He did have an opportunity in Middle East? Blood-thirsty Beurling would have downed many Arab planes or, died in some mishap.
- etc.

I finally convinced myself that "Buzz" Beurling - the top scoring Canadian - was truly born to fly fighter planes because he excelled at flying and shooting. Another young man caught in the whirlwind of the war, convinced of fighting for the right cause; going for the glamour of a pilot; dying young. One of those that, no matter how big the ace nor how many like him he killed, did not change the world a bit.


* Tail-end-Charlie was position of the last of four aircraft in line-astern formation. Usually, they were reserved for youngest and less experienced pilots, which were first to go when attack by well-proven schwarme. Tail-end-Charlie had to be constantly alert watching his flight and for enemy aircraft from behind. Thus, he had a lot throttle maneuvering, which resulted in increased fuel consumption. He usually had less of it than others. Line-astern formation flying was later abandoned.

1 There is a fantastic litany of blunders and omissions on part of Air Ministry and Admiralty, in operations designed to supply island of Malta with airplanes, and in their policy toward it as a whole. Maybe one day, somebody will write a full story.


Beurling's personal aircraft in 403 Squadron, September-October 1943 - Spitfire Mk IX 'KH-B' MA585 and emblem of RCAF 408 Sq.

Beurlings Spitfire

Image: Robert Bracken "Spitfire - The Canadians"

 


The killborad of George Frederick BEURLING

Date

E/A

A/C

Serial No.

Location

Squadron

1/5/1942

FW190 (a)

Spitfire Vb

W3383

Channel

41

3/5/1942

“

“

W3636

2-3m off Gris Nez

“

12/6/1942

Bf109 dam. (b)

Spitfire V

BR176, C-25

Malta

249

6/7/1942

2 MC202s

“

BR323, ‘S’

“

“

“

Z1007 dam.

“

“

“

“

“

Bf109 (c)

“

“

“

“

8/7/1942

Bf109

“

BR128, 3-W

“

“

“

Ju88 dam.

“

“

“

“

“

Bf109 dam.

“

“

“

“

10/7/1942

Bf109 (d)

“

BR323, ‘S’

“

“

“

MC202 (e)

“

“

“

“

12/7/1942

MC202 (f)

“

BR565, ‘U’

“

“

“

2 MC202s (g)

“

“

“

“

23/7/1942

Ju88 dam.

“

BR135, ‘Z’

“

“

“

Re2001

“

“

“

“

27/7/1942

2 Mc202s (h)

“

BR301, UF-S

“

“

“

Bf109

“

“

“

“

“

Bf109 dam.

“

“

“

“

“

Bf109

“

“

3m N Grand Harbour

“

“

Bf109 dam.

“

“

“

“

29/7/1942

Bf109 (i)

“

“

8m NE Malta

“

8/8/1942

Bf109

“

EN973, ‘T’

8m from Zonkor Point

“

13/8/1942

1/3 Ju88 (j)

“

EP135, ‘Z’

6m NE Linosa

“

25/9/1942

2 Bf109s

“

EP706, ‘L’

30m NE Zonkor

“

“

Bf109 dam.

“

“

“

“

10/10/1942

2 Bf109s

“

“

Fifla

“

13/10/1942

Ju88 (k)

“

BR173, ‘D’

3m N St. Paul Bay

“

“

2 Bf109s

“

“

“

“

“

Ju88 dam.

“

“

“

“

14/10/1942

Ju88

“

“

SE Zonkor

“

“

2 Bf109s

“

“

“

“

24/9/1943

FW190

Spitfire IX

MA585,KH-B

Poix area

403

30/12/1943

FW190

Spitfire IXb

MH883, VZ-B

7m W Compeigne

412

  1. originally probable
  2. first MC202 of 352 Squadriglia, 20 gruppo CT; Serg. Francesco Pecchiari, killed. Second: actually a Re2001 of 152 Squadriglia, 2 Gruppo CT; Sotto Ten Romano Pagliari killed
  3. a/c of I/JG77; Fw Toni Engels killed
  4. prob. Lt Hans-Jurgen Froiden of Stab/JG53 missing
  5. prob. Serg Magg Francesco Visentini of 378 Squadriglia, 155 Gruppo CT; baled out, wounded and rescued. Lives in New Jersey.
  6. Actually a Re2001 of 358 Squadriglia, 2 Gruppo CT; Ten Carlo Serganti, 358 Squadriglia and Ten Aldo Quarantotti, Gruppo Commander, both killed.
  7. Sreg Magg Falerio Gelli, 378 Squadriglia, 20 Gruppo CT; killed
  8. Serg Marco Gelli, 378 Squadriglia, 155 Gruppo CT, POW; Cap Furio Doglio Niclot, 151 Squadriglia, 20 Gruppo CT, killed.
  9. Uffz Karl-Heinz Witschke of I/JG77 killed in ‘Yellow 2”.
  10. Ju88 of 2(F)/122
  11. Ju88 of II/LG1

Back


2000.03.22, ฉ WW II Ace Stories.