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A Bitter struggle - The Pappy Dunn Story

 Pappy Dunn

June 6, 1944 has become immortalized as D-Day. For the people of Western Europe, who had endured four years of brutal Nazi occupation, this was a day that had been desperately hoped for and longingly dreamed of. For the allies, it was a turning point. For Hitler, it was the beginning of the end. But for the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought and died to capture these wind-swept shores, it was “The Longest Day”.

Although D-Day itself has enormous significance, this single day should not be thought of in isolation. Instead it should be understood as the first day of the Invasion of Normandy; a bitter struggle that lasted from June 6 until the Allies were able to breakout and advance in July. The events of D-Day paved the way for victory in Europe which happened after eleven more months of harsh fighting.

The Invasion of Normady is often associated with the great men who planned and commanded the operation. Men whose names resound in history: Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley, Tedder and others. But the success of this endeavour – and the ultimate liberation of Europe – is just as much the story of the many individuals who fought there. One of these men was Flight Lieutenant Edmund. S. Dunn, who flew Mustangs and Spitfires with the RCAF’s 430 Squadron. Because Dunn was already in his early thirties in 1944, the younger fighter pilots in the squadron had given him the nickname of “Pappy”.

Vintage Wings is honoured to display “Pappy” Dunn’s log book as well several pictures of the Mustangs and Spitfires that he flew during the war. These priceless artifacts give us a glimpse into the life of this Canadian pilot, and other airmen like him. They help to tell the stories of a generation that defined itself by sacrifice and service; the generation that stood up to aggression, and rolled back the tide of totalitarianism that had engulfed Europe and the Pacific..

Pappy Dunn

Recon fighter pilots constantly risked disaster flying low over enemy-held territory - from flak, small arms fire and of course German fighters. Here “Pappy” Dunn stands next to his Mustang – with a huge, gaping hole in the fin caused by flak - a testament to the dangers. Photo via Tom Dunn

Pappy Dunn

“Pappy” Dunn with a 430 Squadron Spitfire. The Spitfire is an icon for this era; It is an enduring symbol of freedom in the air. The Spitfire is equipped for the reconnaissance work of 430 with a glass covered port to the right of Dunn behind which operated the cameras. Photo via Tom Dunn

The yellowed pages of “Pappy” Dunn’s log book record little more than the essential technical details of his flights: the date, the type of aircraft, the aircraft’s number and the flight time as well as a few terse notes. But throughout these pages, we can begin to imagine what Dunn saw and experienced as he helped to make history.

Dunn was already an experienced pilot, with fourteen hundred hours in his log book when he arrived in England in the spring of 1943 to complete his advanced training on Miles Masters. At No. 41 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Hawarden, Dunn flew Harvards before transitioning to the sleek and powerful Mustang. In the Mustang, he practiced low flying and formation. He perfected the skills necessary to perform tactical reconnaissance (TAC/R), photo reconnaissance (PHOTO/R) and artillery reconnaissance (ARTY/R) in the skies over Europe.

Pappy Dunn

Pappy Dunn

Though not a 430 Squadron photo, this image illustrates how, on the eve of D-Day, Allied ground crew hastily applied “Invasion Stripes” to their participating aircraft. The stripes were designed to assist pilots and ground forces alike to quickly identify friend from foe in the chaos of war. This 411 Squadron Spitfire is being painted at Tangmere, Sussex by LAC Ken Applesby at the fuselage and LAC Stan Rivers on the wing.

In October, 1943, “Pappy” Dunn was posted to 430 Squadron, then based at Odiham. The Mustang Mk I aircraft flown by “Pappy” Dunn and the other members of 430 Squadron were powered by Allison engines. These aircraft were the forerunners to the Merlin-engine equipped, Mustang Mk IV (P-51D), an example of which is in the Vintage Wings of Canada collection.

In January, 1944, “Pappy” Dunn made his first two “operational” flights, across the English Channel to the hostile skies over France. In the following weeks and months there would be many more. As D-Day approached, he flew an increasing number of operations as Allied pressure on the Germans mounted.

The Invasion of Normandy was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Within one month of D-Day, no fewer than one million Allied troops had crossed the English Channel to France. The enormous effort of the invasion is recorded in Dunn’s log book. After D-Day, in slightly over two weeks, he flew no fewer than 19 sorties.

The cryptic notations of “Pappy” Dunn’s log book record only the vital technical details of what took place. “Date: June 29, 1944; Aircraft Type and Number (Registration): Mustang / N; Duty: ARTY-R; Time: 1:25; Remarks: FLAK” These few words provide an incomplete picture of what took place. To understand the “flak” that “Pappy” Dunn mentions on this and scores of other missions, we can read the words of fellow 430 Squadron Mustang pilot, Richard Rohmer. In Patton’s Gap: An Account of the Battle of Normandy 1944, Rohmer describes the experience of a reconnaissance pilot flying through flak:

“Suddenly it was as if the whole world had turned into a formidable display of horrifying fireworks. Every anti-aircraft gun… firing at him. An almost solid wall of white, burning balls were arcing comet-like toward him, enveloping his hurtling aircraft in a checkerboard of exploding light... Petrified and trapped… the pilot had no choice but to press on. He just had to get at least one picture. …the hail of flack was so heavy and close he involuntarily ducked. He pulled his head down inside the cockpit, the goggles on his leather flying helmet almost touching his right hand which clenched the control column. The instrument panel reflected the kaleidoscope of flashes from the anti-aircraft shells exploding all around him.”

Pappy Dunn

This was the grim reality faced by men like “Pappy” Dunn. Nineteen pilots from 430 Squadron were killed in action, three more were killed during training and an additional three became prisoners of war. Many more were wounded. Dunn’s log book entry for July 7, 1944 lists the following remarks for an artillery reconnaissance mission: “Flak, Caen, 10 Holes, 1 Flak in Right Thigh”. The log book also reveals that only two days after being wounded, “Pappy” Dunn was again flying reconnaissance missions over Normandy.

As a testament to their skill and courage, nine 430 Squadron pilots - including “Pappy” Dunn were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation that accompanied Dunn's DFC acknowledged the risks he faced and paid tribute to his steadfast dedication and courage:

Flight Lieutenant Dunn was engaged on operational flying and has participated in numerous low level photographic reconnaissance of heavily defended enemy gun positions, bridges, viaducts and river crossings. This officer has lead his section on many reconnaissance operations and has obtained much valuable information. Both in the air and on the ground Flight Lieutenant Dunn has displayed exceptional keeness for his work and he has never let either enemy opposition or adverse weather deter him from completing his alloted task.

The invasion required an enormous effort and took a bloody toll. It also had enormous rewards. A mere eighteen days after D-Day, Dunn’s log book entry reads: “Date: June 24, 1944; Aircraft Type and Number: Mustang / X253; Duty: TAC-R OPS; Time: 1:15; Remarks: Landed at B2 in France.” For the first time in four long hard years, Canadian fighter pilots had actually landed in France. Again, the log book entry provides only the bare-bones details. Rohmer’s recollections in Patton’s Gap give us an insight into what it was like for these young Canadians to finally arrive in France:

The moment of landing, of touching down in France for the first time, was inspirational. It was the kind of emotion tht those who are fortunate enough to arrive at a truly new frontier must have when they enter its threshold. We were there! Being on French soil at last was also tangible evidence that all of us, Army, Navy and Air Force, had succeed in bringing off at least the initial beachhead conquest. Together we had secured a tenuous foothold inside Fortress Europe and the preserve of the most formidable of Germany’s fighting generals, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Pappy Dunn

The Mustang's laminar-flow wing gave it excellent performance. The early Mk I Mustangs were equipped with an Allison engine and suffered a lack of performance at high altitude. Later versions combined this low drag airframe with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and resulted in one of the war's finest fighter planes. The example shown here is not a 430 Squadron photo recon bird, but a pre-invasion, cannon-equipped variant, the Mk 1A.

Pappy Dunn

“Pappy” Dunn’s log book records the many reconnaissance missions that he flew during June, 1944, to help liberate Caen. The Allies’ original plans called for this strategically important city to be taken on D-Day; but its German occupiers stubbornly held on until July. The Mustangs of 430 Squadron flew over 500 sorties per month in support of the land battle. From late June onwards, they operated from the airfields in France, regularly moving forward to new bases, as the battle advanced.

November, 1944 found “Pappy” Dunn back in England when his Squadron relinquished their aging Mk 1 Mustangs and converted to the Supermarine Spitfire. 430 Squadron used their Spits in the same roles that they had used their Mustangs: tactical reconnaissance and artillery spotting.

In addition to playing a part in the Invasion of Normandy, the entries in “Pappy” Dunn’s log book provide a record of his participation in many other significant battles. He flew photo reconnaissance at Arnhem and artillery reconnaissance at Nijmegen. As the Allies advanced into Germany itself, Dunn flew tactical reconnaissance over Cologne. Scores of missions to other less-know battlefields fill the pages of the log book.

Dunn’s log book reveals that he witnessed the weapons that would define future conflicts. The entry for December 14, 1944 records that he observed the German’s deadly intercontinental ballistic missle: “2 V2 seen” He also tangled with the German’s new jet fighter, the Messerschmitt 262. The log entry for December 18, 1944 states: “2 jets. Shot at one.”

The final, desperate efforts of the Germans are also evidenced in “Pappy” Dunn’s log book. On January 1, 1945 during the closing stages of the Battle of the Bulge, the Luftwaffe launched a major effort, “Operation Bodenplatte” ("Baseplate"), against the Allied air forces. On that date, Dunn’s log book records: “All bases straffed badly during this trip”

Pappy Dunn

Dunn sits precariously on the nose of a 430 Squadron Spitfire late in the war. The Spit stands on a prefabricated metal runway indicating it is at a rough forward air base. Photo via Tom Dunn

The final entries in “Pappy” Dunn’s log book record the triumphant end of the war. On May 2, 1945, he flew a Spitfire from Toulouse to Istres (France). In the remarks he wrote “War in Italy Ceases!!!” One day later, while flying a Mk IX Spitfire over Rome, he happily wrote “Flew over St. Peters”. “Pappy” Dunn spent the last three days of the war in Europe as a passenger in a Dakota. Five flight legs took him from Italy, through France, and finally back to England. He stopped in Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Marseilles, Dijon and Paris; where his log book reads “V.E. Day in Paris!!!!” Finally, “Pappy” Dunn’s long journey through the war-torn skies of Europe – which began in Normandy – was complete.

Pappy Dunn

Ten Mustangs from 430 Squadron overfly the English countryside in tight formation during training leading up to the invasion of Normandy. Photo via C Clarke

Pappy Dunn

Every pilot who survived the war carried with him a recorded history of his personal journey to victory and back home to the arms of his family. Here, in just one of the many yellowed pages of Dunn’s log book we see simple words that tell complex stories of chaos, death and unfathomable bravery. Caen, Argentan, Falais - nothing more needs to be said. Vintage Wings of Canada would like to thank Tom Dunn and family for allowing this personal record of an impersonal war to be displayed for all to see. Thanks above all to Flight Lieutenant Edmund “Pappy” Dunn.

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