Squadron Leader Norman Crookes MBE DSO DFC and Two Bars
Born: December 23rd 1920, Chesterfield. Died: April 17th 2012 Age 91.
Outstanding night fighter navigator of the Second World War, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross on three occasions as well as an American DFC
On the night of July 29/30 1944 he and his New Zealander pilot, Bill ‘Jamie’ Jameson, achieved instant celebrity when they shot down four enemy bombers in the space of only 20 minutes – an achievement unequalled by any Allied fighter crew in the north-west European theatre.
They had taken off in their two-man Mosquito from No 488 (NZ) Squadron’s base in Wiltshire and headed for the French coast.
Over Saint-Lo, Crookes picked up a contact on his radar set and homed Jameson on to the target. At 300 yards they saw a Junkers 88 bomber, and two short bursts of cannon fire sent it diving vertically to the ground.
Almost immediately, Crookes picked up a second contact and another Junkers was identified. Despite its desperate manoeuvres to escape, Jameson’s short burst sent it crashing down near Caen. Resuming their patrol, the crew spotted an aircraft flying in and out of cloud. Crookes tracked it on his radar as it dived away until Jameson saw it, closed in at treetop height and shot it down.
The Mosquito then climbed to 5,000ft and Crookes picked up two more contacts. He directed Jameson to the nearest, a Dornier 217. This, too, was shot down.
Jameson and Crookes’s actions that night were hailed throughout the RAF as the finest night fighting patrol of the war, but any satisfaction Jameson felt was tempered by the news that his father had just died, a few weeks earlier, his two brothers had been killed, and his mother being unable to run the family farm alone, he returned to New Zealand two weeks later.
Shortly afterwards it was announced that he had been awarded a DSO, while Crookes received a Bar to the DFC he had been awarded three weeks earlier.
Arthur Norman Crookes was born near Chesterfield on December 23 1920 and educated at New Tupton School and King’s College, London, where took a degree in History.
In July 1941 he joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve, training as a radar navigator before joining No 125 Squadron, where he teamed up with Jameson.
Flying a Beaufighter from an airfield near Bath, they had their first success on the night of July 27/28 1942 during an enemy raid on Swansea and Cardiff.
Crookes picked up a contact on his radar and Jameson closed in on a Heinkel III bomber and shot it down. A week later the two men repeated the performance off Milford Haven when they brought down another Heinkel.
During the blitz on Swansea in February 1943, Jameson and Crookes achieved their final success in a Beaufighter when they shot down a Dornier bomber off the Gower Peninsula.
In January 1944 Jameson and Crookes were transferred to No 488 (NZ) Squadron.
They had to wait for their first success until June 24, when they shot down a Messerschmitt 410 near Bayeux after Crookes had put his pilot in the perfect position astern and Jameson opened fire at 150 yards.
Four nights later they brought down a Junkers 88 over Caen.
The two men had now achieved ‘ace’ status (five victories) and each was awarded a DFC.
After their achievements of July 29/30, the Jameson and Crookes team claimed another Junkers 88, which was attacking the Allied lines near Saint-Lo.
On August 6 they took off on their last patrol before Jameson’s return to New Zealand.
After damaging a Junkers 88, Crookes obtained a second radar contact and homed his pilot astern of another bomber.
Jameson’s fire scored hits and the Junkers caught fire and crashed near Avranches.
It was their 11th success together.
After Jameson’s departure the squadron moved to France, and Crookes teamed up with Ray Jeffs.
Success came immediately when they shot down a Dornier bomber near Rouen on August 18.
They then saw combat in the American sector during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, when they damaged a Junkers 88.
For his service in support of US forces, Crookes was awarded an American DFC.
On April 24 1945 Crookes flew his final patrol, which was over Berlin.
On leaving No 488 at the end of the war he was awarded a second Bar to his DFC for ‘his unfailing devotion to duty’. Ironically, he was declared unfit for peacetime service because he was colour blind, and he returned to civilian life.
Crookes became a schoolteacher in south London, where he formed an Air Training Corps (ATC) squadron.
In 1957 he returned to Chesterfield, teaching first at Clay Cross Boys School before becoming headmaster of William Rhodes Secondary School in 1961, a post he held for 20 years.
During this time he formed another ATC squadron, and he became the training officer for the Derbyshire ATC Wing.
Later he was chairman of the East Midlands Wing. For his services to the ATC he was appointed MBE in 1974.
Crookes was particularly proud of his school’s brass band, which on four occasions during the late 1970s was a winner at the National Festival of Music for Youth.
Crookes maintained his friendship with Jameson until the latter’s death 10 years ago, the two men often visited one another in the decades after the war.
Norman Crookes married, in 1944, Kathleen Elvin, who died in 1987. He is survived by his second wife, Sheila, and by a son and daughter of his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.