D-Day pilot was nearly shot down by friendly fire after flight over Normandy
PUBLISHED: 19:00 13 April 2017
A former Spitfire pilot from Weston has received the Légion d’Honneur for his role in the liberation of France during World War Two.
John Thorn, aged 92, flew the aircraft in circles over Holland, Belgium and Germany to fool Nazi commanders about where an Allied invasion would take place.
He had joined the RAF in 1941, when he lived in London.
He flew the Spitfire without weapons as part of a deception that British aircraft were scouting key targets for an invasion, and took photographs of the ground below.
Mr Thorn, too, was kept out of the loop, and he only discovered the full extent of the Allies’ plans when he returned from his usual course over Germany on D-Day itself. He went over Normandy as the invasion began.
He said: “I flew right along the French coast, looked down and thought ‘what are all these boats doing?’
“Then the guns started firing, so I had to do a quick flip in the air to go to up to 4,000ft, otherwise I would have been shot down.
“The Americans hadn’t been told there were going to be cliffs there and boats had to be sent back to Britain to retrieve ropes.
“All I could see was mountains of bodies, where the machine guns had killed all the Americans.”
Mr Thorn returned via Portsmouth, where he was fired on by British gunmen.
When he landed back at RAF Tangmere, in Sussex, he discovered there were bullet holes in a line, one starting four inches behind where his back was, all along the plane to where it had taken off the top of the tail.
After the war, Mr Thorn joined the BBC as a commentator for the 1948 Olympics, and spent three months working at Wembley for the Games.
He then worked with sound systems and moved to Weston.
He returns to France every year along with other veterans, and was given the Légion d’Honneur, which is the highest award in France.
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