Aviation History

WWII Canadian Pilot Jimmy Abbotts had his parachute hooked on the radio mast while bailing out from his stricken Spitfire. Yet he survived because the Spitfire landed by itself.

In World War II not seldom happened that airmen got hooked up on or struck their aircraft while abandoning them.

In World War II not seldom happened that airmen got hooked up on or struck their aircraft while abandoning them. It is likely that Luftwaffe ‘expert’ H. J. Marseilles was killed or rendered unconscious, striking the tail plane or fin of his aircraft as he abandoned it. In any case he did not deploy his parachute and was killed.

‘There is a remarkable story of Pilot Officer J.E. Abbotts, a Canadian who had an almost unbelievably lucky escape,’ Steven Rusling, an aviation expert, says on Quora.

As Rusling explains Abbotts would later recall in an article by Stephen M. Fochuk appeared on Vintage Wings of Canada website.

‘My Squadron was 403 but I was flying No. 3 with 421 Sqn (short of pilots). After checking the Forts out North of Amsterdam, we were sweeping up and down at 30,000 feet.

‘I spotted 2 – ME 109s below. Winco ‘Johnny’ Johnson told me to keep an eye on them; finally he said ‘Go after them’. I rolled out of the formation and was just coming up nicely through the odd puff of flak when something hit me; lots of oil and smoke. I fired anyway but was out of range.

‘I started towards the North Sea but the engine quit, and a 109 was rolling over above to attack – I spun away to about 4,000 or 5,000 feet and decided to bale out. I rolled over and came out but hit the fuselage and was knocked out. When I regained consciousness, the shoulder strap of my parachute was around the aerial mast. I was hanging on the right-hand side of the a/c, the a/c was right side up, wings level and in a nice glide. I held on with one hand and tried to tear the chute out, but I was getting too close to the ground. I decided that it was all over. And thought ‘I’ve had it’. I passed out. I woke up 3 hours later safe in the arms of – Germans.’

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb – W3257 E-FY – 1941

So how did he survive? His Spitfire landed all by itself. We know what happened from the account (available on Vintage Wings of Canada website) of a Dutch witness, Mr. Albert Phillipps, who wrote to the Canadian Department of National Defence for Air in London.

‘Dear Sir: Herewith I let you know that I would be very pleased to come into conversation with a Canadian pilot who landed on one of our bulb fields in Hillegom, Holland on the 29th of July, 1943 […]

‘Suddenly however a plane came down circling around with its engine heavy smoking. We noticed at once when it came out of the damp that it was a British fighter. The lower it came the more scared we got because we didn’t know where it should come down, because of its circling around. You should have seen the workers in the fields, they were also running a circle. When the plane came lower we saw the pilot was hanging besides the plane near the tail. His parachute was hooked on the little radio mast, behind the aviator’s seat. He was a lucky fellow, because the plane came on the ground all by itself with not too much speed, after flying over the roof of a little house with it missing it by a few inches. The aviator was dirty and black from sand and mud, and injured not severely. I asked what he was, and he said a ‘Canadian’. Then I had to shut my dirty mouth, so as the German soldiers said to me, which showed up by that time.’

When you see the state of Abbotts’ Spitfire you can see how lucky he was.

Photo credit: Vintage Wings of Canada and rcaf403squadron

David OMalley

Dave O'Malley is a manager of Communications and Marketing at Vintage Wings of Canada. Vintage Wings of Canada is an Ottawa-based foundation dedicated to acquiring, maintaining and flying vintage aircraft of historical significance to Canada. All of the foundation aircraft are in flying condition or are presently under rebuilds.

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