The Sunderland was the first RAF flying boat to be fitted with power-operated gun turrets.
415 Wellington – Clasper Crew. Freddie Dorken - front row right
My cousin Richard served as a regular officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. After the war he persuaded Freddie to join the navy. Fred did this and was soon a Petty Officer 2cd Class involved in damage control work at sea. He served on H.M.C.S. Quebec, the former RN Cruiser Uganda. I met up with him on three occasions that the cruiser visited the UK. We enjoyed several pints of good British beer in real old English pubs that I knew well, sometimes with ship mates. I also dined aboard when the ship docked at Chatham in Kent where I lived for a number of years.
Fred and I corresponded over the years. When Maisie passed away I made up my mind to fly to Canada to visit him. By the time I was ready to make the trip to Canada, Fred passed away. I still regret not seeing him again before he passed.
SWORDFISH VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II
Remembering Warrant Officer Fredrick “Freddie” Dorken
Freddie Dorken was born on 20 June 1922 in Galt, Ontario. At the age of 18, he joined the RCAF and was sent to England to join the war effort. He trained as an air gunner and was first assigned to an RAF Bolton Paul Defiant crew, which flew as a fighter interceptor. He was stationed at RAF Croydon and immediately became involved in the Battle of Britain. While at Croydon he was fortunate to have extended family in close proximity, which he visited on a regular basis. When the Defiant was phased out of the fighter interceptor role, Freddie was moved to Coastal Group where he joined an RAF Short Sunderland crew before being transferred to 415 Squadron.
The Defiant was designed as turret fighter without any forward-firing guns.
Freddie Dorken on promotion to WO Freddie Dorken in flight gear
His Croydon base was attacked with great force on 31 August 1940. The Battle of Britain was in full swing and the German air force was out to destroy the fighter bases of the R.A.F. I witnessed this attack and the air above Croydon was filled with aircraft of both nations. Fighters were battling it out everywhere whilst German bombers flew in very low dropping their loads on the base and the factories beside the base. RAF Croydon lost thirty nine aircraft and fourteen pilots that day and the RAF suffered its greatest one-day loss during the Battle of Britain.
Before my cousin was posted elsewhere he visited whenever he could and on one occasion I went upstairs to talk to him. He was cleaning his hand gun. It was a small neat revolver of what looked like stainless steel construction. I asked him if it was service issue and he said no. He said that he had acquired it for possible self protection, if he was forced to parachute into enemy territory. I was allowed to examine it and then it was put away in his personal gear. I did not mention it ever again.
Freddie was assigned to another RAF unit in 1941. For what seemed a long period, we did not know where Freddie was located. No doubt he would have been fully occupied and finding the time to write letter would have been difficult. He did write to my father from time to time and eventually he wrote to say he had some leave and would be visiting us as soon as possible. He arrived early one evening and to our surprise he had a very attractive girl with him. She wore an R.A.F. uniform and her name was Maisie. Freddie said that they wished to marry and he wondered if my father and mother would witness the ceremony at the local Registry Office. My parents were delighted to oblige and we all celebrated their engagement. They were obviously very happy together and we all took a very strong liking to Maisie. Regrettably we only ever saw them once more together.
On one occasion Fred was flying as a crew member in a Short Sunderland flying boat on Atlantic Ocean reconnaissance looking for submarines. Suddenly, the rear gunner reported a German Dornier bomber flying towards them and that it was carrying something under its fuselage. The something parted from the Dornier and it became obvious that it was some sort of aircraft and flying at high speed in the direction of the Sunderland. The Sunderland pilot took evasive action, partially to get a better look at it and recognized it as one of the new German anti-ship weapons, the Henschel Hs 293 radio controlled flying bomb, but on this occasion the target was not a ship – it was the flying boat! Fred told me that the pilot" threw the big plane around the sky" in an effort to lose the radio controlled weapon, which was being guided by an airman in the German bomber with a joystick device. Every twist and turn was followed by the weapon's controller and it began to seem that it would be only a matter of time before the large flying boat was hit. The Sunderland pilot had managed to gain height whilst evading the weapon and had reached available cloud cover. This cover saved the Sunderland and its crew by making them invisible.
In 1943 Fred was posted to a Canadian torpedo bomber squadron, number 415, which flew from Thorny Island near Portsmouth. He did tell me that this work was nerve wracking for it meant flying just above sea level and straight at the shipping being attacked. This made the work of ship’s gunners pretty straight forward from an aiming point of view. Torpedoes had to be dropped fairly near to the target and getting closer and closer to the guns every time an attack was made was very trying on the nerves of all concerned. His brother, Richard, told me that by the end of the war Fred's nerves were shot and that he could not settle down to civilian life.
In 1942 he joined P/O J.H. Senecal’s Hampden crew where he served as one of two wireless/air gunners. As the Squadron converted to Wellington bombers, he then joined P/O Clasper’s crew. Achieving the rank of WO and completing a full operational tour of 30 missions in May 1944. He returned to Canada and served at No. 10 Air Observer School located at Chatham, NB.
Pilot P/O J.H. Senecal
Nav P/O T. Burtch
WO/AG P/O J. Legan
WO/AG Sgt F.E. Dorken
Pilot P/O H.R. Clasper (RAF)
Pilot F/Sgt H.P. Flynn
Nav P/O D.J. Cartridge (RAF)
WOP/AIR WO A.D. Donald
WOP/AIR WO M.L. Parker
WOP/AIR WO E.R Saunders
WOP/AIR F/Sgt F.E. Dorken
WO Dustin Dorken, a grandson of WO Fred Dorken, contacted the 415 Squadron Association and was eager to share information concerning his grandfather’s record of service. Unfortunately Freddie’s log book has not been located and as a result it is difficult to confirm the number and types of missions he flew with the RAF. However, referring to 415 Operational Record Books it was possible to track his missions as a Swordfish. In addition, an article written by Geoff Ellis concerning Freddie was forwarded by Dustin. As it happens Geoff was a British cousin, who was five years younger than Freddie. As a youngster Geoff met with Freddie on numerous occasions, when the latter frequented his family home whilst stationed in England. The article, which is attached below, provides unique insights of the wartime life of this Canadian veteran.
Following release from the RCAF, Freddie attended trade school in Toronto, Ontario and became a tin-smith. With the onset of the Korean War, he decided to re-enlist but this time he joined the RCN. Following a deployment to the Korean theatre of operations he chose to stay in the Navy as a Shipwright (a modern day Hull Technician). He served 27 years in the Navy, retiring in the early 1970s to Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia.
Dustin Dorken and his grandfather Freddie often shared their birthdays together, as their birth dates were only one day apart. On the occasion of Dustin’s 21st birthday he asked his grandfather how he had spent his 21st birthday. While sitting in the comfort and safety of his Beaver Bank home Freddie told Dustin that the aircraft of which he was the air gunner / wireless operator was returning from a sortie over the English Channel when the rest of the crew started singing "happy birthday to you". At that very moment his turret was shot away from around him and he was left windswept but unscathed! Nothing had hit him in this remarkable event.
Fred Dorken past away in 1994. 415 Squadron arranged to have an honour guard present for his funeral. Freddie’s grave is located at Oakridge Memory Gardens, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
The 415 Squadron Association wishes to thank WO Dustin Dorken for sharing information concerning his grandfather Fred Dorken including the story written by a distant cousin. Should amplifying information concerning Freddie’s record of service be received this remembrance will be updated.
Sergeant Fred "Freddie" Dorken R.C.A.F. / R.A.F.
Written by: Geoff Ellis (Cousin of Fred Dorken)
Edited by: Chris Henneberry
I first met my Canadian cousin in 1940. He had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. One afternoon in the summer of that year, he arrived at our family home. His arrival was unexpected, at least by me, although he may have contacted my father by letter prior to his visit. He looked very smart in his blue air force uniform and he had the most engaging grin on his face. I was so pleased to meet him and I told him that my mother would be home in a little while for she had gone shopping. His uncle Alec, my dad, would be home later. Mum arrived and Freddie met his aunt Violet for the first time. Freddie’s visit was a great success and when my dad got home from work we all learned more of my cousin’s life in Canada and as a member of the RCAF.
It was decided that Freddie would have my bedroom whenever he was able to stay over or even if he just wanted a quiet rest. He was based at RAF Croydon, which was very near to our home. This made it very easy for him to visit when his duty schedule so permitted.
Freddie was flying with a fighter squadron, which flew Bolton Paul Defiant aircraft. The aircraft had two forward firing guns controlled by the pilot and four Browning machine guns in a revolving turret controlled by the Wireless Operator / Air Gunner. The Defiant proved to be poorly adapted for day operations. Designed to carry just two crew members, the aircraft was severely under powered in comparison to the German fighters it faced. The aircraft also had a significant design fault – even though the air gunner had a revolving turret with four .303 machine guns, the turret could not fire directly aft. German pilots soon realized this weakness and it, coupled with the aircraft’s speed deficiency made attacking from the rear or below very easy for them. Fortunately the Defiant was quickly removed from the daytime operations however not before significant losses had been realized. Freddie and all the other Air Gunner / Wireless Operators were glad when the squadron’s aircraft were directed to only fly night ops.
I remember the day that Freddie came to our house with brand new sergeant stripes and Air Gunner badge. He was going to sew them on his uniform but I offered to do it as long as he showed me where they needed to be sewn. To my surprise he allowed me to do the job and after the stripes were on his jacket and his great coat I started to sew on the air gunner wing. Freddie stopped me and said I was to pack the wing with “Rizla” cigarette papers so as to emboss it. This was done and when finished it looked great, standing out proudly on his chest. This was one of the young aircrew ruses. The other was to rub cigarette ash into the stripes to make them look "well established." I was informed that the decision to promote air crew to the rank of sergeant was made so that if they were captured they would have certain rights under the Geneva Convention, which would include reasonable accommodation. I suppose it would also have tended to keep air crews together in captivity.
As the war effort expanded, we saw less of Freddie and when he did turn up he was usually tired and often went to sleep on my bed upstairs. Freddie did not talk about his flying experiences at this time. It was only later, and then only on rare occasions, that he would recall an incident which had happened to him and his crew.
415 Squadron Association