Cock, John DFC

John was born in Renmark, South Australia in 1918.

He went to England in 1938 to take up a Sort Service Commission with the RAF. After receiving his wings he was posted to No. 87 Squadron, which was sent to France as a part of the Advanced Air Strike Force. After the start of hostillities, he scored five confimed victories. Back in England, during the Battle of Britain, still with 87 Squadron, he was shot down over Portland Bill on the 11th August 1940, baling out with light injuries. Of interest, his Hurricane V7233 was recovered in the 1980s. 

By October 1940, he had claimed 10 victories, but would not make any more claims during the war because he was sent off to become an instructor. During this time, he was attached to several squadrons in the UK and in Australia. In May 1943, he was posted to No 54 Squadron as a supernumerary Flight Lieutenant.  In Australia, he was posted to No I RAAF Fighter Wing and was attached to 457 Squadron to train pilots in shadow shooting.

Later, he returned to the UK and was posted to 3 Squadron RAF from September to December 1944.

John was released from the RAF in 1948 and returned home to Australia. The photo is assumed to be of John with a group of 87 Squadron pilots.  

His DFC citation was awarded on the 25th October 1940 and was as follows:
“This officer has destroyed seven enemy aircraft. In August, 1940, when in action against a large formation of enemy aircraft, he attacked and destroyed a Junkers 88. During this combat he was attacked from below and his aircraft caught fire. Though wounded, he escaped by parachute and fell into the sea, but saved himself by swimming ashore. Flying Officer Cock has shown magnificent courage and initiative against overwhelming odds.”

With thanks to Simon Parry’s Aviation Archaeology, the following is an edited account of what happened that day:
“At dawn on August 11, 1940 the plotting tables of Fighter Command began once more to record the enemy’s movements over the Channel. A significant number of aircraft began to appear and at 10.05 hours the following forces had been identified:
30 + enemy aircraft thirty miles south of St Catherine’s point.
50 + enemy aircraft fifteen miles north of Cherbourg.
9 + enemy aircraft twenty-six miles northwest of Cherbourg.

609 Squadron’s twelve Spitfires were the first to encounter the enemy, and then 601 and 145 Squadrons joined the combat, but were to lose six aircraft and their pilots in an engagement with what appears to have been a decoy fighter force. The main bomber formation was by now approaching Portland Bill unmolested. Only the eight Hurricanes of 213 Squadron were able to engage the Ju88s of KG54 before their bombs began to fall. Following the bombing, 1 and 152 Squadrons engaged the fighter escort, whilst 238 Squadron went for the Ju88s, followed a few minutes later by the six Hurricanes of 87 Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight: P/O McLure, P/O Cock, F/Sgt Badger, F/O Glyde, F/Lt Jeff and P/O David. In 1983, P/O Dennis David still recalled the awesome sight of this phalanx of planes, the largest formation yet seen over Britain:
‘There didn’t seem much that we could do against this force, but we made to attack the Ju88s as they turned away from Portland.’

Before any of the pilots could make their attack, a group of Bf109s dived through the Hurricanes, breaking their line astern formation. (The account then details the exploits of various pilots, then…)

John Cock’s day had started well. A fellow pilot had repaid a long-standing debt of £5, ‘a considerable amount in those days’ John recalled.
‘With the flyer firmly in my trouser pocket, I left Exeter and had little trouble in spotting the bombers. By then there were a total of about 200 of them spread out all over Portland. The first aircraft I shot at was a 109. I gave him several bursts and saw bits come flying off. He was obviously damaged and I doubt that he got very much further.
‘I found a Ju88 next, and managed to get in behind him. One of my guns had already jammed but I carried on and fired off the rest of my ammunition. One of the wings was well alight, but I didn’t see the 88 crash as a line of bullets hit the left hand side of my cockpit. There was a dreadful din. The dash panel disintegrated and the engine began to run a bit rough. A bullet had nicked my left arm and other bits of shrapnel embedded themselves in it.
‘The 109 that had hit me dived away and I saw two white bars on it. Later the Squadron Intelligence Officer told me that this was probably Helmut Wick. (Web Master: Helmut Wick was a German Luftwaffe ace and the fourth recipient of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak leaves.)

‘With my plane fairly badly hit, I decided that this was no place to be, so I pulled back the hood and rolled the plane over. I tried to get out, but got stuck on something, so I kicked the stick forward and shot out into space. I grabbed the ripcord and pulled it. When the ’chute opened, I was still hanging on to the handle for all I was worth. I put it in my jacket pocket and kept it as a souvenir! “Floating down, I could see and hear the other aircraft whirling around. I felt a bit vulnerable, especially when my parachute cords fell around me. Another Me 109 was shooting at me! Dennis David got onto the 109 and I watched him shoot the aircraft down. The pilot didn’t get out of that one.
‘When I hit the water my parachute began to drag me towards Portland. I thought about hanging on and sailing ashore, but I soon realised that the parachute was taking me the wrong way. I managed to release it and started to swim to the beach, about a quarter of a mile away. My arm was beginning to hurt and the left half of my Mae West had been punctured by the bullet, so I floated a bit ‘left wing low.’ I had already taken off my boots and considered that losing my trousers would ease the situation a bit. As they floated away, I suddenly remembered my fiver in the pocket! I couldn’t quite reach them and I often wondered if anyone ever found my £5.’

Eventually Pilot Officer John Cock reached Chesil Beach to be greeted by some Home Guards armed with shotguns. 87 Squadron’s Operational Record Book records the event thus:
‘He arrived dressed in a tunic and blue underpants – a somewhat fearsome spectacle.’
Not all of ‘B’ Flight was so lucky. The Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Jeff, DFC, did not return. He was last seen in a vertical dive off Portland Harbour.”

At the end of the War, John had had 11 confirmed victories, one being shared, while he was with 87 Squadron. 

Phil Listemann
The Spitfire Association