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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (5 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_05
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
41168
KEYWORDS
pilots
aircraft
fighter pilots
World War 2
World War II
Second World War
WW2

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In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.

'Interviewer: It was a very powerful engine, the Merlin Engine.

Yes.

Interviewer: Did it ever give you any trouble?

Only in the carburetion of the engine - it had a gravity feed into the carburettors, and therefore, if the nose was pushed down, the engine starved of petrol and cut out. And it left us at a decided disadvantage with the Messerschmitt 109. The 'E' which we came across first of all, '109E' had a petrol injection engine; in fact they all had petrol injection engines, and they could just stick the nose straight down, and the engine kept going, and they could disappear from in front of you. In order to follow them you had to half roll and then turn in the dive to get onto them. And conversely, of course, if you tried to get away from them, there wasn't much point in half rolling away from them, because they were just waiting for you. So, that was perhaps the worst part of them. Against that, they could certainly out-turn the 109E, and perhaps not- They could climb with them until the 109 used what we came to know as the 'Ha Ha Boost' which was, in fact, a water injection into the engine, which sent out a couple of puffs of smoke and this thing disappeared out of sight, at a very rapid rate.

Interviewer: It just shows you there's nothing new because they've introduced this into car engines.

So I believe. Yes, yes.

Interviewer: You mentioned the opposition. What really was it like?

The opposition was, in the main very good, very good indeed. Latterly, there - a number of young, inexperienced pilots, but they were supported by a group of very tough boys altogether, and very good fliers, very good pilots, with very good aircraft - that was the whole point. And, in fact, I think anyone, any pilot would agree that they always had an edge on us, because even when we got our Spit 5s which were better than the 109E, then we were suddenly faced with the 109Fs, which was an up-rated 109. And, a nice aeroplane, it wasn't so sinister looking as the 109E with its sharp corners and angles on it, but it had a great big spinner and rounded wings and it was a nice aircraft altogether.

And then, as time went on, we were confronted by the Focke-Wulf 190, a very efficient aeroplane altogether; BMW engine, and I still tend to accelerate past Calterdons in the Longman - but a very beautiful engine and this plane could outpace the Spitfire, and it could climb very well, it could also dive very quickly. It accelerated tremendously in the dive, and it had an extremely light aileron control. It could spin around on its own axis at a tremendous rate, and while that wasn't a particularly good evasive tactic, it was a very effective way of taking your attention off the main object of the game.

Interviewer: Without a shot being fired.

Without a shot being fired, yes.

Interviewer: And talking about armaments, there was a rumour went round about the, or a discussion and debate, went round the Air Force about the FW 190s' armament, wasn't there.

Yes, well, when they, when they were seen first of all, there was a suggestion that, in fact, it wasn't a new aircraft, it was a Curtiss Mohawk, which was an American plane that the French used, and had perhaps been captured during the Battle of France, and this thing obviously had a few machine guns, and it wasn't very effective at all. And I had a chance to prove that the thing did carry cannons because one of them blew an aileron off very, very effectively. And even then, it seemed hard to convince the powers that be that this wasn't mice or something else; it was in fact a cannon shell that did it.'


John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.

During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)

After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board).

John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.

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Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (5 of 10)

1980s

pilots; aircraft; fighter pilots; World War 2; World War II; Second World War; WW2;

Moray Firth Radio

MFR: Memories of a Spitfire Pilot

In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.<br /> <br /> 'Interviewer: It was a very powerful engine, the Merlin Engine.<br /> <br /> Yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Did it ever give you any trouble?<br /> <br /> Only in the carburetion of the engine - it had a gravity feed into the carburettors, and therefore, if the nose was pushed down, the engine starved of petrol and cut out. And it left us at a decided disadvantage with the Messerschmitt 109. The 'E' which we came across first of all, '109E' had a petrol injection engine; in fact they all had petrol injection engines, and they could just stick the nose straight down, and the engine kept going, and they could disappear from in front of you. In order to follow them you had to half roll and then turn in the dive to get onto them. And conversely, of course, if you tried to get away from them, there wasn't much point in half rolling away from them, because they were just waiting for you. So, that was perhaps the worst part of them. Against that, they could certainly out-turn the 109E, and perhaps not- They could climb with them until the 109 used what we came to know as the 'Ha Ha Boost' which was, in fact, a water injection into the engine, which sent out a couple of puffs of smoke and this thing disappeared out of sight, at a very rapid rate.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: It just shows you there's nothing new because they've introduced this into car engines.<br /> <br /> So I believe. Yes, yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: You mentioned the opposition. What really was it like?<br /> <br /> The opposition was, in the main very good, very good indeed. Latterly, there - a number of young, inexperienced pilots, but they were supported by a group of very tough boys altogether, and very good fliers, very good pilots, with very good aircraft - that was the whole point. And, in fact, I think anyone, any pilot would agree that they always had an edge on us, because even when we got our Spit 5s which were better than the 109E, then we were suddenly faced with the 109Fs, which was an up-rated 109. And, a nice aeroplane, it wasn't so sinister looking as the 109E with its sharp corners and angles on it, but it had a great big spinner and rounded wings and it was a nice aircraft altogether. <br /> <br /> And then, as time went on, we were confronted by the Focke-Wulf 190, a very efficient aeroplane altogether; BMW engine, and I still tend to accelerate past Calterdons in the Longman - but a very beautiful engine and this plane could outpace the Spitfire, and it could climb very well, it could also dive very quickly. It accelerated tremendously in the dive, and it had an extremely light aileron control. It could spin around on its own axis at a tremendous rate, and while that wasn't a particularly good evasive tactic, it was a very effective way of taking your attention off the main object of the game.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Without a shot being fired.<br /> <br /> Without a shot being fired, yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: And talking about armaments, there was a rumour went round about the, or a discussion and debate, went round the Air Force about the FW 190s' armament, wasn't there.<br /> <br /> Yes, well, when they, when they were seen first of all, there was a suggestion that, in fact, it wasn't a new aircraft, it was a Curtiss Mohawk, which was an American plane that the French used, and had perhaps been captured during the Battle of France, and this thing obviously had a few machine guns, and it wasn't very effective at all. And I had a chance to prove that the thing did carry cannons because one of them blew an aileron off very, very effectively. And even then, it seemed hard to convince the powers that be that this wasn't mice or something else; it was in fact a cannon shell that did it.'<br /> <br /> <br /> John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.<br /> <br /> During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)<br /> <br /> After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board). <br /> <br /> John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.