war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




The sad truth behind a dramatic moment as described by an excited Charles Gardner of the BBC, as he gives an almost sports-like commentary to a dogfight above the English Channel near Dover.

In the first week of the official start to the Battle of Britain in early July 1940, the Luftwaffe concentrated its initial efforts in attacking British convoys in the English Channel, whilst at the same time hoping to entice up large formations of RAF fighters and inflict heavy losses upon them. Fortunately No.11 Group of RAF Fighter Command had a wise head leading it in the form of Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, and he knew that now was not the time to commit his squadrons in strength and risk losing precious pilots and aircraft over the sea. The convoys nonetheless required a measure of protection, so therefore only modest numbers of the No.11 Group Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were being sent up to provide air cover.

Intense Luftwaffe attacks upon shipping began on Wednesday 10th July and continued over the following three days where many of the air battles could be witnessed from the well-placed seaside resorts along the south coast of England. Thus to the cliff-tops of Dover did the BBC commentator Charles Gardner visit on the afternoon of Sunday 14th July hoping to witness yet another air battle. At around 15:00 hours with microphone in hand, Gardner looked out from his grandstand view as a small convoy of merchant ships with Royal Navy escorts slowly slipped through the Dover Straits. Suddenly the sky out to sea began to reverberate to the sound of aircraft and within moments Gardner began to record his now famous broadcast:-

The Germans are dive-bombing a convoy out to sea! There are one, two, three, four, five, six, seven German dive-bombers! - Junkers Eighty-Sevens! There’s one going down on its target now - Bomb! No! He missed the ships – it hasn’t hit a single ship. There are about ten ships in the convoy, but he hasn’t hit a single one and - There! You can hear our anti-aircraft going at them now. There are one, two, three, four, five, six - there are about ten German machines dive-bombing the British convoy, which is just out to sea in the Channel.”

Unknown to the BBC man but in accordance with Keith Park’s tactics, there were just three Hurricanes belonging to Red Section of No.615 Squadron patrolling over the convoy. Hardly pausing for breath Gardner rattled on in ever growing excitement and glee!

I can’t see anything. No! - We thought he had got a German one at the top then, but now the British fighters are coming up! Here they come. The Germans are coming in an absolute steep dive, and you can see their bombs actually leave the machines and come into the water. You can hear our guns going like anything now. I am looking round now - I can hear machine gun fire, but I can’t see our Spitfires, they must be somewhere there. Oh! Here’s one coming down!”

From his vantage point and probably like any less-than-well-informed British patriot, Gardner would not have contemplated the RAF taking losses and believed that every RAF fighter was a Spitfire! The three Hurricanes were in fact heavily outnumbered and there were more than just the Junkers Ju 87 ‘Stukas’ to deal with, as deadly Messerschmitt Me109’s from both Jagdgeschwader 3 and 51 were providing escort to the dive-bombers. Watching as the spectacle in the sky continued, Gardner then joyously exclaimed:-

“There’s one going down in flames! Somebody’s hit a German and he’s coming down with a long streak - coming down completely out of control - a long streak of smoke. And now a man’s baled out by parachute! The pilot’s baled out by parachute! He’s a Junkers Eighty-Seven and he’s going slap into the sea. And there he goes - SMASH! A terrific column of water and there was a Junkers Eight-Seven. Only one man got out by parachute, so presumably there was only a crew of one in it!”

The Operational Record Book of No.615 Squadron. recorded the following:- “At 15:00 hours Red section were patrolling convoy near Dover, when convoy was attacked by 40 JU87’s which were escorted by ME109’s. Pilot Officer M.R.MUDIE (Red 3) was shot down, and jumped by parachute…Red 1 and 2 put several bursts into JU87’s but were unable to observe results as they were being attacked.”

For 24 years old Michael Mudie had stood little chance in evading the Schwarms of Me109’s on his tail, and no less than four Jagdflieger claimed a share in the destruction of his Hurricane (L1584 KW-G). These victorious German pilots included Oberfeldwebel Trebing of JG3, Walter Krieger of JG51 along with two of his better-known unit comrades by the names of Oberleutnant Josef Priller and Hauptmann Horst Tietzen.

Unaware of his error in misidentifying the shot down aircraft, Gardner did nevertheless state in his recording that:-

"It’s impossible to tell which are our machines and which are the Germans!”

Keeping his attention upon the battle still on-going he observed:-

"…I am looking out to sea now. I can see the little white dot of a parachute as the German pilot is floating down towards the spot where his machine crashed with such a big fountain of water about two minutes ago!”

Tragically however the ‘German’ under the parachute was in fact a severely wounded Michael Mudie, and after commentating further on the air battle, things quietened down briefly for Gardner to remark:-

“No damage done, except to the Germans, who lost one machine and the German pilot, who is still on the end of his parachute…I can see no boat going out to pick him up, so he’ll probably have a long swim ashore!”

Knowing that Red Section was in trouble, No.615 Squadron had scrambled Yellow, Green and Blue Sections from their forward operating base at Hawkinge and would soon join the battle. Also about to engage with the enemy attackers were Hurricanes from No.151 Squadron and the Spitfires of No.610 Squadron whose ensuing combat would begin to ‘entertain’ Gardner quite considerably!

"Oh, there’s another fight going on, away up now!…There we go again! What? -  Oh! We have just hit a Messerschmitt. Oh, that was beautiful. He’s coming right down…he’s coming down like a rocket now!… You can’t watch these fights very coherently for long. You just see about four twirling machines, you just hear little bursts of machine-gunning, and by the time you’ve picked up the machines they’ve gone! – Hullo, there are one, two, three – and look! There’s a dogfight going on up there…now there’s something coming right down on the tail of another. Here they come – Yes! They are being chased home – and how they are being chased home! There are three Spitfires chasing three Messerschmitts now. Oh boy! Look at them going! Oh! – Look how the Messerschmitts - ! Oh boy! That was really grand! There’s a Spitfire behind the first two. He will get them. Oh yes – oh boy! I’ve never seen anything so good as this. The RAF fighters have really got these boys taped!”

The critically hurt Michael Mudie was eventually picked up from out of the sea by a Royal Navy vessel and hastily transferred to Dover Hospital for treatment. That same evening the BBC broadcast Charles Gardner’s recording, which was later criticised in some quarters as having lacked dignity towards a life and death struggle!

Very sadly, the gallant Michael Mudie succumbed to his wounds the following day. On Thursday18th July Flying Officer Lionel Gaunce and Pilot Officer Cecil Montgomery travelled from RAF Kenley to East Molesey in Surrey, to represent No.615 Sqn. at the funeral of their fallen comrade, where to this day he rests in a well-kept grave respectfully tended to ensure his brave sacrifice is not forgotten.


Further tragedy followed for the Mudie family when Michael's younger brother Arthur, himself a pilot, went missing in Albania on 14th November 1940 when fighting against Italian forces. Flight Lieutenant Arthur Mudie is officially remembered upon the Alamein memorial in Egypt.    

Michael Mudie's grave, by Dean Sumner Michel Robert Mudie is buried at Esher. The words on his gravestone read:

In proud and loving memory of
Pilot Officer
Michael Robert Mudie RAF
Killed in Action at Dover July 14th 1940
Aged 24 Years
Also his Brother
Acting Flgt Lieut
Arthur Frederick Mudie RAF
Killed in Action in Albania Nov 14th 1940
Aged 22 Years
Per Ardua Ad Astra

With thanks to Dean Sumner, who is a volunteer at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum. Article reproduced with permission.

 Stukas, from Wikemedia Commons

A note:

grave before cleaning, by Dean Sumner


Where relatives and friends can no longer care for them. Dean visits and maintains a number of graves belonging to Churchill's "Few".  In 2006 Dean was awarded a "This England" silver cross of St George for this voluntary work. 

This is Michael Mudie's gravestone before it was cleaned.


Copyright 2006 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved