On 12 June, 1942, a lone RAF Beaufighter struck a blow against Nazi pride, and gave hope to the oppressed citizens of occupied France. These are the remarkable events of ‘Operation Squabble’, as it was named, and the story of the man who flew that lone aircraft – former president of the RAF Association’s Southgate and Wood Green Branch, Group Captain Ken Gatward.
In the spring of 1942, information began to reach London from sources within occupied-France of German parades taking place along the Champs-Élysées in Paris. This was seemingly done to emphasise German superiority, and remind the Parisians of their place.
Back in London, it was thought that something should be done to combat this arrogance and bolster French morale. Finally, it was decided that a Beaufighter of Coastal Command would take on the task – codenamed Operation Squabble.
The plan was to use cloud cover to penetrate France undetected, fly low-level over Paris, shoot up the parade, take some photos, and drop French Tricolour flags over the Arc de Triomphe before quickly disappearing. A secondary target was set as the Ministere de la Marine in the nearby Place de la Concorde, which had become HQ for the German navy – a suitable victim for the guns of a Coastal Command aircraft.
Having volunteered for the operation, Flight Lieutenant Ken Gatward and his navigator Sergeant George Fern were initially hindered by the weather, having to turn back on numerous occasions due to lack of cloud cover over France. On 12 June 1942, however, the pair were intent on completing their task. Having once again seen clear skies when they reached the French coast, Gatward and Fern decided to press ahead, hoping to avoid the Luftwaffe by flying fast and low; ‘hedge-hopping’, as it was known.