“Archie Winskill was a Grammar School boy, born in 1917 in Penrith and educated locally before joining the RAF volunteer reserve as a ‘weekend pilot’ in 1937. He began the war as a staff pilot at RAF Catfoss before being commissioned as a pilot officer and moving to Spitfire training on September 7th 1940. He said the Spitfire was ‘not too difficult to fly… but a devil to land at night’.
Despite his training being incomplete, he was posted to 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill in October of that year to help replace losses before being transferred to 603 Squadron where he scored his first kill – an Me109 over Dungeness – less than two weeks later. This was quickly followed by a shared He111 and a pair of Fiat CR.42s on the 23rd of November during a rare raid on Britain by the Regia Aeronautica Italiana.
In January of 1941 he was promoted to Flight Commander and transferred to 41 Squadron, where he took place in sorties and bomber escort over France. During one of these bomber raids on the 14th of August, he saved a Blenheim bomber from attack by two Me109’s, shooting down one and driving away the other. However, in the process his plane was hit and set alight, forcing him to bale out over occupied territory.
Fortunately a French farmer immediately ushered him into hiding in a cornfield, before Archie was passed through the French Resistance escape line down through the entirety of France, over the Pyrenees and through Spain to Gibraltar before returning to Britain in early 1942, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). His service record for this period simply reads ‘Evading’.
Archie’s use of the French resistance made him ineligible for further missions over occupied territory as if shot down and captured he may reveal details, so he was posted to 165 Squadron in Scotland as its commanding officer flying air defence missions. He was rapidly promoted to Flight Lieutenant and commanded both 222 and 232 Squadrons before the end of the year, when he and 232 were posted to North Africa to provide air support to the 1st Army in Algeria and Tunisia.
He was shot down again in January 1943, this time off the Tunisian coast, but was rescued by local fishermen and taken to the shore. Here he once again evaded capture, made his way through German lines, and returned to his Squadron. He continued to fly, claiming further kills, before ending his tour and returning to Britain in June 1943, where he was awarded a second DFC. There he returned to RAF Catfoss, this time as first a gunnery instructor and then squadron leader and the commanding officer of the fighting wing of the school.
Archie ended the war by graduating from Army Staff College at Camberly and taking up a post at the Air Ministry. After the war he served in Japan and Belgium, and founded the first wing of the new Gloster Meteor jets. He continued to rise through the ranks, serving as Group Captain Operations RAF Germany and Air Attache to France before retiring in 1968.
After the war he described his experience as “We were all very young, and it was a bit of a sport… We hated the Germans, but we never really hated the other chap in combat flying his 109.
“German pilots were very aggressive and always thought they were right on the top, and they had every reason to.” (David Wade)
British officer served as pilot with 72 and 603 Sqdns, No 11 Group, Fighter Command, RAF in GB, 10/1940-12/1940 including Battle of Britain; served with 41 Sqdn, No 11 Group, Fighter Command, RAF in GB, 1/1941-8/1941; evaded capture in France and escaped to GB, 8/1941-12/1941; commanded 165 Sqdn, No 11 Group, Fighter Command, RAF in GB, 4/1942-8/1942