André CANTILLION, one of the many
In the Belgian Air Force
Born in Wavre on 18th May 1920, André CANTILLION becomes a State's clerk after his studies. A few months later, he is called to the Belgian Army for his military service. But Second World War begins soon and the young man decides to volunteer for the Aéronautique Militaire (the Belgian Air Force). He is accepted and ends his training at Gosselies (near Charleroi) flying obsolete Avro 504 N.
10th May 1940: Germany invades Belgium. Gosselies is bombed and the school has to evacuate to Southern France, later to French Marocco. When France stops the fighting in June, a group of pupils leaves to Great Britain. They land at Cardiff on 5th August 1940. CANTILLION is one of them.
Training in Great-Britain
The Belgian pupils have to wait some weeks before being retrained, first at Odiham (FTS) where they can fly the Miles Master. Then, in May 1941, André CANTILLION joins 5 SFTS of Ternhill, using sometimes the Hurricane.
In August 1941, the Belgian is transffered to 61 OTU (Heston) where he discovers the Spitfire. And, in October, CANTILLION enters in his first front line unit: 74 Squadron based at that time at Llandbedr.
To the PRU
Being a very quiet and peaceful man, André volunteered soon to a non-combat unit and, after a short training at 1486 Target Towing Flight (Valley), he joined on 15th January 1942 1 PRU at Benson. The Belgian will finally fly Spitfire but its unarmed version for photo-recce.
First mission of that type for P/O CANTILLION on 28th February 1942. He must recognize towns and airfields on the Belgian Coast. André was perhaps designed for that flight to give him the opportunity to see his country again...
Six missions will follow: one over Germany, one over Low Countries and four over France/Belgium.
On 13th February 1942, the German warships could escape from Brest. Around 23rd February, "Admiral Scheer", "Prinz Eugen" and a few other German battleships were moored in Norwegian fjords near Trondheim, threatening the Allied convoys traffic supplying USSR. PQ 12 and PQ 13 had been attacked in March 1942. Thus it became vital for the Royal Navy to know exactly the strength of the Kriegsmarine in Norway. 1 PRU will then have to fly special missions (code name: "Chamberlain") over that area. An unusual and terrible job! The recce pilots had to take into account the Flak, the fighters, the weariness (around five hours for each flight!) but the bad weather conditions as well.
André Cantillion in the cockpit of his 1 PRU Spitfire
(Photo Familly Cantillion)
The "Chamberlains": "Never have some many gone so far for so little"...
That motto was written under a photo in CANTILLION's log book. Indeed, those missions were hated by the crews. Losses were high and, after a boring and dangerous flights, the pilots came over the fjords ... to find them empty... They had then to come back... when possible!
On 13th April 1942, the Belgian made his first "Chamberlain". Taking off from Wick, he comes back with photos of Trondheim after a 5h05 flight.
On 18th April, other "Chamberlain". Flying at 3.000 feet, CANTILLION's Spitfire is shaken by the Flak but suffers no damage.
On 26th April, P/O CANTILLION tries to spot a German airfield near Aalesund but must come back without having found it...
In the night 27/28 April, Bomber Command launched a massive attack against the "Tirpitz". The following day, CANTILLION takes off to photograph the results of that bombing. His photos will prove that the big ship was not hit.
On 30th April, when landing at RAF Sumburgh to be supplied before a new "Chamberlain", the Spitfire of the Belgian is damaged when a tire explodes. The mission is then cancelled.
The beginning of May 1942 sees two new "Chamberlains": on 1st (over Trondheim, 5h00 flight) and 2nd (over Bergen, 4h00 flight).
On 8th May, new departure to Trondheim. 150 minutes later, P/O CANTILLION cannot see the target, totally under the cover of clouds.
On 10th May, arriving at Sumburgh, André learns that Coastal Command cancelled his mission. He then comes back at Benson.
Two days later, recce over Trondheim and shipping in Loch Froy. On 16th, André discovers that Lofjord and Aajsfjord are empty. Indeed, a few days before, "Prinz Eugen" left to Kiel being relieved by "Lützow" certainly en route to Norway when the Belgian came over the area.
On 21st, CANTILLION can make photos of the two fjords but, on 25th, weather is so bad that he must come back after 3h25 of flight. Idem on 30th May.
On the last day of May 1942, P/O CANTILLION can finally reach the target and make a picture of "Admiral Hipper" in Lofjord through a hole in the clouds. That time, the German ships remained moored, abandoning QP 12 and PQ 16 to the attacks of the Luftwaffe.
On 11st of June, the Belgian can photograph the "Tirpitz" in Aasfjord. Sixteen days later, another "Chamberlain" must be cancelled. On 28th, new mission over Norway. André suffers in vain as bad weather prevents him to make photos.
When the blue Spitfire of CANTILLION comes back on 6th July, the two fjords (Foelten and Lo) are again empty. Four days before, "Tirpitz", "Hipper" and some other warships left their moorings to gain Alterfjord and join their forces to "Lützow", "Scheer" and six destroyers. Hunted down by all the recce planes of the RAF, the offensive convoy must move two times before intercepting PQ 17.
On 8th July, special recce over Trondheimsleben. 1 PRU's ORB mentions: "No Form Orange or Form white were issued". We read in CANTILLION's log book: "Reconnaissance: special message to pass Trondheimsleben-to Mount Farm- Refuel at Lenchars". It is the last "Chamberlain" for our Belgian.
The last missions.
On 13th July 1942, P/O CANTILLION can fly over targets nearer to base: Dunkirk, Gien, Paris,... In all, four missions until the end of the month.
We can presume that, until 15 August, the young man had a two weeks leave. He must come back at Benson on 16th August and, the following day, he is requested to make a mission over Northern Germany. P/O André CANTILLION takes off in Spitfire AB814 to operate over Wilhelsmhaven, Kiel and Emden. Another Spitfire (BP887) follows him for a reconnaissance mission over Hamburg, Bremen and Bremerhaven. At the end of the day, both pilots will be reported as MIA.
CANTILLION's Spitfire PR IV left on 9h50. Around German 12h00 (=11h00, British time), pilots of III./JG 1 (based at Husum) are alerted. Some FW 190s scramble. Uffz. Heinz BORN can intercept the unarmed Spitfire and shoot it down. AB814 crashes on the beach of the German islet of Süderoog Sand, killing the pilot.
It is BORN's first victory. The young man will too not see the end of the war. On 2nd April 1944, he will be killed in aerial fighting with US fighters near Hamm.
In 1952, CANTILLIOn's body was exhumed from the military cemetery of Hamburg to be transferred in Belgium and buried alongside his parents in Wavre civilian cemetery.