Fred was born on the 18th September 1919 in Parramatta, New South Wales. Fred, a long term RSL member, is a modest man, but history will record that as a fighter pilot for the RAAF in World War 11, he received two medals for conspicuous bravery, The Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Honour.
He enlisted on the 19th July 1941 and was a member of the UK based 453 Squadron RAAF, and on that historic day back on the 6th June 1944, participated in the greatest invasion known to man – The Normandy Invasion that heralded the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.
Fred was 24 years old at the the time and the following is his account of that day, the day that changed history:
“I was with 453 Squadron and we knew D-Day was coming. We just didn’t know when. For me, D-Day started with a 4:30 am cup of coffee and then briefing at 5:00 am. Then, we were patrolling the beaches at around 2,000 feet (609 metres) and I was leading Blue Section with three others. As we flew over the Channel at dawn, there were ships as far as the eye could see. Halfway across, we were told to patrol Omaha Beach where the Yanks were getting a lot of resistance. There were Allied planes everywhere and you had to keep a good lookout not to collide with another plane.
I saw a destroyer cop a direct hit from a shore battery, and it must have hit the magazine because it blew up and sank. The only action I saw on that first sortie was to chase two Mustangs, thinking they were Me-109s. We returned to base and were told to turn around and take off again in 50 minutes.
The next time we were over Juno Beach. Six Ju-88s dived out of the clouds to drop their bombs on the shipping but we saw a Polish Spitfire Squadron shoot them all down. We returned, refueled and were in the air again by 13:00.
We were over Gold Beach this time. I shot down a barrage balloon that had broken its moorings. We could see the gliders that were mostly broken in half in the fields. Poor buggers. Fields were covered in parachutes. We did another run at 21:00 but my plane had troubles and I had to cut it short.
That was my D-Day. Four sorties, one balloon. We thought we’d be in the greatest battle of all time, but it was a bit of an anti-climax for us. The tough part came later as we moved inland and were subjected to heavy ground fire from the retreating German forces, as we made low level attacks.”
Following D-Day, 453 Squadron was involved in fighter protection patrols, but increasingly their normal employment was in armed reconnaissance missions of squadron strength, directed against enemy road traffic in the immediate rear of the battle area. In other words, the Squadron was free to attack any target which offered. Lorries, troop carriers, staff cars and motor cycles became the standard quarry for low-flying attacks both with bombs and gunfire. There was alos the occasional skirmish with enemy aircraft. On one such patrol on the 12th july, while escorting Mitchells on a bombing raid near Chartres, Fred shot down an FW-190. (Reference from The Battle for Normandy, page 242.)
The photo is of pilots of 453 Squadron probably somewhere in the UK. From left to right, they are: Watson, Unknown, McKinnon, Murray, “Slim” Roberts, Joe Lawrence, Fred Cowpe, Joe Boulton, Allen Harris, “Doc” Walker, Ralph Dutneal, Josh Scott, V. Lancaster, “Stoo,” Hec Aldred, AC Rice, Jack Oliver and Dick Peters.
Then, just two months after D-Day, Fred was shot down in flames and landed in a field. He was badly burned, and British soldiers helped him out of this destroyed Spitfire. Fred was told that he had landed in a minefield, but had luck on his side. Those burns meant one thing, he was going home.
Fred’s DFC Citation reads as follows:
Pilot Officer Cowpe has set a fine example of keenness and courage. In August 1944, his aircraft was damaged by an anti-aircraft shell, which caused a fire in the cockpit, but despite his wounds and severe burns, he flew safely to an airfield and made a successful landing. Pilot Officer Cowpe has destroyed two enemy aircraft and a number of mechanical transports during operational missions. His excellent leadership has been of the greatest value to the squadron.
The awarding of France’s highest military honour, the Legion of Honour, to Fred is the end result of many years of lobbying by the survivors for official recognition of the efforts by Australian servicemen in respect of D-Day.
Fred was discharged on the 3rd August 1945. He lined up for his last flight on the 13th September 2011. He was atrue gentleman, gallent to the end.
The photos are a recent one of Fred and one where he was being visited by the current Commander of his old 453 Squadron, Wing Commander Karl Holzmann.
Paul Carter, David Hamilton and Jack Langley
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association