Auction: 14003 - Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals and Militaria
A Fine Second War Fighter Ace's 1942 'Immediate' D.F.C. and '1945' Second Award Bar Group of Eight to Spitfire, Hurricane, Kittyhawk and Tempest Pilot, Squadron Leader R.L. 'Spud' Spurdle, Royal Air Force, Who Flew As Sailor Malan's No 2 During the Height of the Battle of Britain, And Was Forced to Bale Out, 22.10.1940, When His Spitfire Broke Up Mid-Air in Pursuit of an Enemy Fighter. He Accumulated a Score of 10 Destroyed, 2 and 1 Shared Probable, 9 and 2 Shared Damaged, and Countless Ground Targets Over the Western Front and the Pacific. Having Amassed 720 Operational Hours in the Air Fighting Against Both the Germans and the Japanese, Spurdle Decided to Try His Hand On Land. He Was Attached to the 6th Airborne Glider Group for Operation Varsity, and Served for the Remainder of the War, Attached to the 11th Armoured Division, Calling in Fighter-Bombers on 'Cab Rank' Sorties
a) Distinguished Flying Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated '1942', with Second Award Bar, reverse officially dated '1945'
b) 1939-1945 Star, with Battle of Britain Bar
c) Atlantic Star
d) Air Crew Europe Star, with France and Germany bar
e) Pacific Star
f) Defence Medal
g) War Medal, M.I.D. Oak Leaf
h) New Zealand War Service Medal, generally good very fine, mounted court-style for wear, with the following related items:
- No 1 Jacket, complete with medal ribands, N.Z. Wings, and New Zealand shoulder flashes
- R.A.F. Pilot's Flying Log Book (20.8.1940-2.8.1945), replete with additional annotations, photographs, and drawings
- Portrait photograph of recipient in uniform, framed and glazed
- A copy of The Blue Arena, by Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle, and a bound copy of research (lot)
D.F.C. London Gazette 14.8.1942 Acting Flight Lieutenant Robert Lawrence Spurdle (44230) No. 91 Squadron
'This officer is a keen and determined pilot. He has destroyed 5, probably destroyed 4 and damaged several more enemy aircraft. His devotion to duty has set a praiseworthy example.'
The Recommendation states: 'This officer joined 91 Squadron in February 1941, but after three months he was posted to M.S.F.U. He returned to 91 Squadron on 17.2.1942 and became "A" Flight Commander on 11.4.1942.
Between September 1940 and May 1941 he accounted for 4 destroyed, 4 1/2 probably destroyed and 4 1/3 damaged.
In October 1940 he was forced to bale out and landed successfully.
With 91 Squadron he has shown great keenness and has carried out many shipping and weather recces. He has completed 300 operational hours.'
Covering Remarks of Sector Commander: 'Strongly Recommended. This Officer shot down another Me.109 on the 25th July, 1942.'
D.F.C. Second Award Bar London Gazette 26.1.1945 Robert Lawrence Spurdle, D.F.C. (44230), R.A.F., 80 Sqn
The Recommendation states: 'Since being awarded the D.F.C. this officer has carried out 367 sorties. He has destroyed four enemy aircraft and damaged a further six, and in addition to this he has destroyed or damaged a number of ground and sea targets.
S/L Spurdle has always shown a fine offensive spirit and has set a standard that has been exemplary. He has completed a total of 720 operational hours, and has fought both in the Pacific and on the Western fronts. S/L Spurdle has experience of nearly every type of fighter operation, and has shown himself to be an outstandingly courageous and skilful leader.'
Remarks by the Commander of the Wing: 'Since joining the Wing S/Ldr. Spurdle has displayed outstanding keenness to engage the enemy. He is a first class leader with an exceptional operational record, which well merits the award of a bar to the D.F.C.'
Squadron Leader Robert Lawrence Spurdle, D.F.C., born Wanganui, New Zealand, 1918. He was educated at Wanganui Collegiate School before applying for a short service commission in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He reported for ground training at Rongotai in September 1939. Having carried out training at No. 1 EFTS, Taeri and No.1 FTS Wigram Spurdle embarked on the S.S. Rangitata for the UK. He was posted for further training to 7 OTU, Hawarden, 4.8.1940. Whilst learning the basics of the Spitfire Spurdle managed to entertain himself, 'It was a grand day and I was on sector reconnaissance (officially) but for the fun I was hurtling up and down the brown tussock-clad hills of Wales. Low flying, strictly forbidden, is the most marvellous thrill but here there were no houses or roads, so no one to report me. But what's this? A long line of army types in line abreast struggling up a slope. Let's add some realism to the manoeuvres; so around we go, my Spitfire and I, in a tight bank, white contrails peeling back from each wing tip. It was a most satisfactory beat-up, with the 'brown jobs' throwing themselves down enthusiastically each time I roared over.
But back at Hawarden the Wing Commander had me on the mat.
'If you weren't so badly needed I'd have you thrown out! Do you know what you did?'
'Yes sir! Beat up some brow… er, army exercise, sir.'
'Did you, hell! That was Lord… [I have forgotten] grouse shoot you ruined. Now get out of here and don't put a foot wrong again in my command!' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers).
74 Squadron - Sailor Malan's No 2
Having successfully converted to Spitfires Spurdle was posted as a pilot for operational flying to 74 Squadron, Kirton-in-Lindsey, 21.8.1940, 'Wally and I stood before Sailor Malan and gazed at our new CO with deep respect. 'You pilots will be trained hard in the next few weeks. Your life expectancy will be in direct ratio to your ability to learn. Spurdle, you are being put into 'A' Flight - your commander is Flight Lieutenant Freeborn. You, Churches, are in 'B' Flight with Mungo Park. This is a famous squadron and I expect you both to remember it. In the last war Major Mannock won the VC flying for 74. He shot down 73 enemy aircraft. Soon you, too, will have plenty of targets. I'm sure you'll do well!' (ibid)
The squadron was heavily engaged in the Battle of Britain and Spurdle carried out his first patrol on the 28th August. He moved with the squadron to Coltishall and did not have to wait long for his first success, 14.9.1940, 'Patrol [Intercepted HE III], Near Lowestoft (green section), Heinkel IIIK (damaged) shared with F/Lt. Freeborn + Sgt. Kirk. E/A's St'd motor heavily hit + fuselage riddled' (Log Book refers).
He moved with the squadron to Biggin Hill, 15.10.1940, and 'by now had been involved in several air battles. As Malan's No 2, I had seen enough to have the greenness bleached a little - I knew what it was all about. Had shot and been shot at. Had puked my guts out before getting into my Spit and flown almost automatically until the call Tally Ho!' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers).
However none of the above helped Spurdle when he nearly came to an untimely end seven days later during his third scramble of the day, 'two spitfires patrolling at 20,000 feet over the London area sighted two Messerschmitts 109. One of the pilots was a New Zealander. The other, his C.O., was a South African. Each selected a Nazi and dived. As the New Zealander swept down on the yellow-nosed German fighter he felt his aircraft shudder. In a second he saw the right wing of his Spitfire crumple and rip away like tissue paper. A split second later the cockpit hood was shattered by blast.
The New Zealander, as he expressed it afterwards, found himself "shot out" of the Spitfire. The speed at which he was travelling caused his helmet and his sheepskin-lined, zipp-fastened boots to be plucked from his spinning body.
At that height it was icy cold, and divorced so abruptly from his oxygen supply he became semi-conscious. But instinct prompted him to pull the rip cord of his parachute, and he began a leisurely four mile drift to earth.
Dazed, and with his yellow "Mae West" lifebelt scrappled round his head, he could see nothing of the fighting he had left so unceremoniously as he swung backward and forward under his silken umbrella.
A Nazi spotted him, however, and swooped on him, sending a stream of bullets at the helpless New Zealander. The odds were against him landing alive. But the Nazi's hope of killing a "sitter" was squashed abruptly by another New Zealand pilot and British pilot with the D.S.O. and D.F.C. and bar to his name. They circled round the dangling pilot and protected him from the Nazi, although at that time they were not sure whether he was a British or German airman, and eventually the New Zealander landed safely in a ploughed field… The New Zealander, who thus joined the Caterpillar Club, was Pilot Officer R.L. Spurdle, of Wanganui. Pilot Officer E.W.G. Churches (Auckland) was the New Zealander who had unconsciously protected his close friend - they travelled to England in the same ship - and the British airman, who finally chased off after the Nazi, was Pilot Officer H.M. Stephen.' (Newspaper article refers)
Spurdle's aircraft crashed at Hadlow Place near Tonbridge. He was back in the air almost immediately claiming a Bf109 Probable south of Kenley at the end of the month, and a Bf109 destroyed (Oberfeldwebel Fritz Noller) over Maidstone, 2.11.1940. The squadron took every opportunity of action and in November destroyed 26 aircraft, and 12 the following month. Spurdle contributed to this tally on the 14th November with a Ju 87 destroyed and 2 others damaged. His patrol had intercepted at least 30 enemy aircraft over Dover, with his log book recording, 'Junkers 87 (Prob) intercepted over Dover - shot at + damaged two others - blew entire cockpit covers off third + killed rear gunner.' His autobiography offers more insight, 'At last! After weeks of trying and waiting: after dozens of fighter versus fighter interceptions, we caught a large formation of the hated Ju 87s flying in to attack Dover. They were under a cloud layer at about 16,000 feet in tight vics, tier upon tier. About fifty of them and their escort of 109s had stupidly gone above the cloud layer! And with Mungo's 'Tally Ho' we got stuck in.
In a few seconds there were machines all over the sky. Timid Huns broke for home but the leader and many others bored on regardless and these brave men were cut to pieces… Flaming bombers fell out of the grey sky trailing red comet-tails to crash and burn on the Channel's cold waters… The Brownings hammered and pieces flew off to flick past and away. His rear gun stopped firing and stuck up vertically, waving slowly from side to side as the gunner sagged down. I throttled back, went into fine pitch and the Spit slowed… I didn't trust the rear gunner being completely harmless and out of it. Full bore again and around and back in a screaming 'S' turn. This time there was no return fire and I saw my De Wildes winking along the Hun's fuselage and wheel spats. Its motor belched puffs of smoke and the propeller windmilled slowly. It's finished and I dived on to the next one.
Again the rear gunner opened up and again my eight Brownings enveloped the diving Hun. Bits jerked off and I left him to move on to yet a third and pour all my ammunition into it from the rear. There was a shower of fragments and the whole of the enemy's canopy came away. A quick turn and back onto his tail. I could see the pilot, helmet off, bent forward in his cockpit and to keep behind him I lowered my flaps. The Spit heaved up and I forced its nose back down and drew a bead on the stricken plane ahead. Only one gun fired! I was out of ammo! Of all the bloody luck!'
The 'Distractions' of Biggin Hill
Like most young fighter pilots of the time Spurdle chose to wind-down in one of the pubs around Biggin Hill, his preference being The Old Jail Inn, but sometimes there was just no escape, 'One cold night, staggering back to Biggin from the Old Jail, I was caught in a bad raid. The flash and crump of bombs, the falling debris unnerved me. Feeling dreadfully alone and surrounded by empty fields I put my arms around the trunk of an ancient oak. It was alive! Clinging to it, kneeling in the grass, I drew comfort from its great strength.
It had been here when my forebears had set out for New Zealand; it had been here when German Zeppelins had droned over on their way to London in the First World War.
I was suddenly intensely aware of the abominations in the air above, of the insult, of the sheer disgusting invasion of our homeland, and in getting furious, my rage overcame my fear. This night and this wonderful old tree changed my entire outlook and attitude towards the war. Up to this moment war had been a fantastic if scary adventure. Now it became a crusade against the evil things Hitler's Germany had spawned.' (ibid)
On the 5th December Spurdle rounded off 1940 with a Bf109 destroyed over Dymchurch, 'On one occasion Spurdle actually flew in between two 109s which were patrolling about 60 yards apart.
"I had an oily film over my windscreen", he said, "and I didn't realise they were two Huns at first. I gave the one on my right a quick squirt. Then I throttled back and got on the tail of his friend, and he went down after a few short bursts.' (newspaper cutting refers)
A Hangover Helps - Two Destroyed, and One Damaged
With the advent of the New Year the squadron continued on the offensive flying fighter sweeps as often as the weather permitted. Spurdle, during a moment's respite, was briefly attached to No.1 Ferry Pilots Pool, Air Transport Auxiliary. He returned to 74 Squadron at the end of February. Spurdle quickly illustrated on the 4th of March that he had not got 'rusty', despite it being 'the day after my twenty-third birthday and wearing a monumental hangover.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers). He accounted for two Bf109's and one Damaged, as an article that appeared in the Evening Post records:
'It was 4pm on a day this month when a Spitfire squadron took off and in a few minutes were over occupied France hoping that the Luftwaffe would answer the challenge.
For 20 minutes the Spitfires flew up and down, unhindered. Suddenly three Messerchmitt 109s streaked towards the formation. Then seven more came at them from almost straight ahead.
The Pilot Officer [Spurdle] describes what happened:
"I pulled straight up (set his machine into a climb) and opened fire on the leader. The target changed from semi-head-on to full broadside. My fire went straight into the enemy aircraft's belly. Almost instantaneously there was a burst of flame behind the pilot.
My Spitfire stalled, and fell in a spin. I let her spin until I had lost 5000ft in height. Then I climbed again after the enemy formation which had now turned north. They were descending too.
I opened fire again. This time it was on the rearmost aircraft. I got in three bursts. The enemy turned right and half-rolled.
Faint white mist came from under the right wing-root. The remainder interfered and I was forced to break contact.
As I was flying back over the Channel I saw a Me. 109 stalk and shoot at the squadron leader's Spitfire. Then he did a climbing turn to the left. He had not seen me.
I opened fire and closed to point-blank range. He had big black numerals and a bright green nose. The enemy aircraft started to send out clouds of black smoke and flames. It appeared to be out of control and burning fiercely."
On the 24th and the 25th March Spurdle was engaged in Convoy Patrols, making contact with enemy aircraft south-east of Ramsgate on both days. He shared a Ju 88 Probable before claiming a Do. 215 Damaged, 'E/A made a head-on attack - only time for a half sec burst - received bullet in St'd Wing - the first yet' (Log Book refers).
Whilst on patrol on the 6th April, 'F/Lt. Bartley D.F.C. & self attacked Me. 109 on ground & I shot down an Me. 110 (Prob.) which belly landed in field. My machine received 2 cannon shell + 4m/gun hits.' An article that appeared in The Star added the following with regard to Spurdle's contact, 'With a cannon-shell hole through his propeller blade and one of his aileron controls shot away in a fight over Northern France, a Spitfire pilot not only reached home safely, but shot down an Me. 110 on the way.
He had started using clouds as cover, but blind flying was almost impossible.
"I came out of cover and there was an Me. right in front of me going in the same direction," he said.
"I opened fire and the enemy turned left and crash-landed in a big field."
91 Squadron, Hawkinge
Seven days later Spurdle was posted for operational flying to 91 Squadron (Spitfires) at Hawkinge, 'Things had changed from my early days with 74 and it had become an unhappy divided squadron for me. I had never been at ease with Freeborn, but, protected to a degree by the awesome Malan, it had been a rude shock to learn that Sailor was indeed promoted Wing Commander and was to lead the Biggin Wing. So I had put in for a posting to another squadron, choosing 91 as it had been recommended by Malan and sounded exciting. Malan thought its' particular role more suited to my temperament than that of a conventional squadron. The posting came through and Wally and I said goodbye. We'd shared the high honour of flying as Malan's No 2's almost exclusively.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers).
The squadron were tasked with a number of duties including Rhubarbs over the continent, shipping recces into the North Sea and escorting the Air-Sea Rescue Lysanders and Walruses as they went over the Channel to pick up aircrew in dinghies. It was whilst on one of these Lysander escorts that he claimed a Me. 109 Probable, south-east of Margate, 7.5.1941, 'Intercepted in act of shooting down Balloon on Convoy. (Over 1000 rounds into him at 50-100 yds!).'
Spurdle claimed another Me.109 Damaged on the 18th May before ending his tour five days later. He had completed over 180 hours and 173 sorties. Spurdle was posted to the Merchant Ship Fighter Unit at Speke. Whilst at Speke he learned to operate catapult Hurricanes. During his time with the unit Spurdle made two trips to the USA, in the Camships Eastern City and Novelist. He returned to Spitfires and 91 Squadron in February 1942. Spurdle was appointed 'A' Flight Commander in April and was detached at Lympne aerodrome. At the latter, 'we were quartered in the great mansion of the late Sir Phillip Sassoon, Under Secretary of State for Air. It was magnificent - a swimming pool, crushed brick tennis courts and even one extra special loo built like an armchair with a padded velvet seat… As our operational hours crept up and we slowly grew tired, our sense of propriety blurred and our excesses became bizarre. We drank far too much and any excuse for fun would start a party or madcap escapade. Heapo [Johnny Heap] and I developed a dangerous sport.
Donning our heavy sheep-wool and goon-skins and steel hats, we'd position ourselves one at each end of a 50 yard lawn lined with clipped hedges. As the sun set tiny bats would flit along from one end to the other catching moths. We'd try to shoot them. It called for a lot of skill as they jinked about and at the flash of a gun you'd duck your head. Pellets would hiss past or ping off harmlessly. But you couldn't afford to blink in case you missed that red flash!' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
Despite such high-jinx Spurdle flew seventy-four sorties between 5th April-26th May, including on 'the last day we had a panic scramble to search for and find Group Captain 'Batchy' Atcherley who'd got himself shot down in the channel.'
In a change of tactics 'the Jerries were sending over lone weather recce fighters in increasing numbers and it became a mania to catch them. Heapo and I would scramble and be vectored around by GCI (Ground Controlled Interception). We spent hours at it.' Spurdle's Log Book for June is replete with the phrase 'Tried To Trap Hun'.
A Return to Form - Bagging a German Ace
Success returned in July following the recall of the detachment to Hawkinge. Over the course of the 25-26th Spurdle accounted for a Bf109f destroyed, a FW 190 destroyed and another FW 190 damaged. The Blue Arena takes up the story, 'Got one! An Me 109 off Calais. I needed this - he seemed green or lost or stupid. No real fun - just flew up to him and zapped him down into the sea. He baled out too late, his chute not opening fully… 'Knobby' Clarkson had 1500 hours of flying experience as an instructor and I felt rather foolish leading him. Still, he was new to the game and there is only one way to learn air-fighting - the hard way. For days now we had flown as a team and tried to trap the Hun weather recces which came across the Channel every evening... It was hot and hazy and Knobby and I were patrolling off Dungeness, waiting for the sweep squadrons to come back from Dieppe. Our duty was to scout for E/A's hanging around trying to pick off stragglers… Back and forth, necks craning and eyes watering, continually searching the blue above and around us, the blazing heat of the midday sun beat down in great waves through our Perspex hoods and we cursed the sweep and cursed the Huns. The deep purr of the Merlins was almost soporific… Hullo - there were four planes way up against the opaque sky - about 8,000 feet, I guessed. They passed overhead and away to starboard. We were heading east in line abreast, and they west in line astern - only our planes hadn't flown that formation for a year!
The four strange kites circled above us in the same starboard turn. I couldn't make out what they were and we reached about 5,000 feet before I got a clear view.
'Christ! 190's! Tally Ho!'
Knobby slid into line astern… The Huns were now only a few hundred feet above… I could see their squat radials and stiff wings… Clean and fierce-looking, their camouflage bluey-grey with black spinners - Knobby's first real fight… The Hun leader peeled off - over and over he tilted his plane; now he was clearly visible as he hurtled down from above, his No 2 following close on his tail.
'Turning port!' I shouted and heaved 'K' around. The Hun leader flashed past and I got a snap shot at his No 2. Knobby broke to starboard and I saw the second Hun leader with his No 2 pass above and away.
It was easy to see Jerry's game; we were each to be attacked by a Rotte of two and it was just too bad if we made a mistake. I worried for Knobby but he seemed to be doing OK and was already on the tail of his Hun's No 2. My two playmates zoomed up half a mile away in a climbing turn; it is going to be a head-on attack and I laughed to myself. Jerry No 2's aren't supposed to fire, they are merely stooges to watch their leader's tails and tricks and to pick up the idea of the game. A head-on attack! I laughed again. Malan had been my teacher.
Down they came - two black specks streaming thin brown trails to stain the blue behind. I throttled back, drew a bead on the leader and gave a short burst at some 400 yards. I jinked and gave the second 190 a squirt. The guy's a clot, following his leader much too closely. He jinked violently as my guns flamed, but his leader was made of sterner stuff and never wavered as he flashed beneath me.
Before the second Hun began to break to port, I whipped 'K' over on her side and heaved back the stick. 'K' shuddered - it was just above stalling point and, opened up, I roared after the last Hun.
The leader didn't seem in a hurry to turn but his No 2 was in a flap and weaved violently. Below me Knobby raked the second leader with a shrewd burst. I saw a cannon shell explode on the 190's shiny armoured nose and another blow a cloud of fragments from a wing…
My Hun section was turning fast and to avoid over-shooting I chopped the throttle and went into full fine pitch. I could just get a shot at the second Hun. I followed him round, the dot fair on his cockpit, then I tightened the turn… I pressed the gun-button and the machine guns spluttered way out on the wings while the cannons thumped and coughed… Here they came again. I pressed the button and the cannon's thudding drowned the machine gun's splutter. The leading Hun dipped, lifted. Suddenly a white cloud burst down its fuselage; his tail tore off and, dragging, whipped at the end of a tangle of cables. God! Hit his oxygen bottles! Blown his bloody tail off!'
Having driven off the No 2, Spurdle returned to some interesting news at Hawkinge. The pilot of the FW 190 he had destroyed had managed to parachute to safety, having been captured it was ascertained that he was 'Lt. Horst Benno Kruger, Iron X 1st & 2nd Class, Goering's bronze medal and had destroyed 17 Allied A/C. He was Swarme Leader Richthofen Squadron!' (Log Book refers).
On the 28th July Spurdle damaged another FW 190 over Dungeness, and on the 3rd August damaged a Bf 109 south of Dover.
Leading the Squadron for Operation Jubilee
At a Group briefing on the 18th August 1942, at which Spurdle was 91 Squadron's acting CO, the plan for the air element of Operation Jubilee was laid out, "Tomorrow we are launching a big raid on a French port. The plan is to try and seize it and hold it for about twenty-four hours. We then will make an orderly withdrawal. One day the invasion must take place to dislodge the Hun. With this raid we can learn a lot about Hun defences and our tactics for the future.
I suggest you all get a very early night - you'll all be up long before dawn. There will be about ten thousand soldiers and sailors involved and we expect a big German reaction both in the air and on the ground. 91's role will be recces to look out for German naval ships - we expect 'E' boats out in force. You will have to cope with lots of ditched aircrew and defensive patrols covering the withdrawal."
On the 19th, 'at dawn I took off for the vital Cape Gris Nez to Ostende recce and to my surprise (and theirs) flew right over and through a convoy of two 1,500 ton coasters, a large 5,000 ton cargo-ship supported by ten flak ships. There was only one thing to do - I dropped right down to twenty feet off the sea and flew directly through the flotilla. In firing at me, the Huns splattered each other! I got in some heavy bursts at a couple of flak ships, did a 180 degree turn and hared back to base to report. Five hairy trips and the day was over. The worst one was to Le Havre in the afternoon with E/A all over the place. Purely by accident I found an airman in the drink who turned out to be one of ours.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers).
By the end of August Spurdle had completed 400 operational hours, having done 214 sorties with 91 Squadron alone. He was found to be 'operationally tired' and was posted to 116 Squadron at Heston on anti-aircraft co-operation duties. Having completed three tours of operations Spurdle requested to be posted to New Zealand. The request was granted and he set sail for New Zealand (via America) in the Queen Elizabeth on the 4th November 1942. On board 'were several well-known faces and, fetching my log book, I approached the most likely prospect.
'Sir, would you do me the honour of autographing my log book?'
Edward G. Robinson [Hollywood Actor] did much more - he quickly made a cartoon sketch of himself, signed it and handed the book on to Sir Alexander Korda [Film Producer and Director]. Much emboldened I approached Douglas Fairbanks Jnr [Hollywood Actor and decorated Naval Officer] who grudgingly signed.' (ibid)
Having returned to New Zealand Spurdle was tasked with setting up the Camera Gun Assessing School at No 2 Observation Training School, 'Some Harvards, Kittyhawks and Vildebeestes were allocated to our school and we were in business. Not having flown either of the first two aircraft, it was an interesting time for us. The Harvard was delightful being a fully aerobatic rugged machine. We had them fitted with .300 machine guns for air to air, and air to ground gunnery.
The Kittyhawks were something else. They had Allison engines which ran very smoothly. They were sturdy, well-made machines with formidable fire power of six .5 machine guns. They had electric trim tabs and a natty little lock-up compartment to carry personal kit around in. They had the flying characteristics of a brick.' (ibid)
Back In The Thick of It - A New Foe
Spurdle, as an experienced fighter pilot was keen to get back in to the fray, 'I got tired of the Gunnery School. Up in the Pacific at Guadalcanal the first of the RNZAF fighter squadrons was in action against the Japanese. It was galling to be on the sidelines training others to go off to the excitement.
By keeping up a barrage of requests and by being a ruddy nuisance, I was replaced as CFI by Roy Bush, who was made an acting squadron leader for the role I had created and held down as flight lieutenant. My chagrin was cured quickly by being appointed as 'A' Flight commander 16 (F) Squadron, working up at Woodbourne 'drome in the South Island.' (ibid)
In June 1943 Spurdle flew with his Squadron to their base on the New Hebrides Islands, 'It was as hot as hell and we were told to take Atabrin tablets to prevent malaria. These eventually turned our skin a sickly yellow. Here we lived in the airy comfortable 'Dallas' huts supplied by the Americans. Everything was strange - coconut palms, fruit bats, a million Yanks, jeeps and trucks.
On the 21st, I flew my first operational flight for ten months - No 395 - anti-submarine patrol.' (ibid)
He moved with the squadron to Guadalcanal in July and flew in Kittyhawks against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. It was 'at this early stage in Japan's ultimate defeat that I was fortunate enough to participate. From the bloody sophistication of European strife we were now embroiled in a completely different kind of warfare. Where I had flown short sorties of perhaps an hour and a half over some three hundred and seventy odd miles across or along the English Channel, I now regularly flew sorties three times as long and against targets 300 miles distant from our bases.
Where in Europe a downed flier would in all probability be picked up, interrogated and be put in the bag, out here your fate was likely to be decapitation by some bow-legged monkey with a samurai sword. In Europe and the Middle East defeated troops, showing the white flag, were taken prisoner and incarcerated. Here in the steaming jungle the Japanese fought fanatically and had to be virtually exterminated - they didn't quit and surrender even when in a hopeless situation.
There were other nasty hazards - malaria, dengue, yellow jack, yaws, hookworm - a host of diseases. In the jungle spiders and snakes and leeches - in the sea, sharks and stone fish.
But I was back in action and that was all that really counted.' (ibid)
Success In Kittyhawks
The Squadron's role throughout July was primarily as escort to American bomber formations. On the 13th August Spurdle resumed adding to his score a 'Hamp' destroyed and a 'Zero' damaged, 'we did a squadron patrol around Rendova and the Blanche Channel coast-line landing at Segi. We were to operate from this new strip only just completed and now fully operational. Two escort jobs for B24's over Vella La Vella and another to Rekata Bay. One shipping patrol covering seven large troopers and five destroyers. The same day and another scramble! This time over the Wana Wana Lagoon leading Flight Sergeant Pirie as my No 2, and Flight Lieutenant Max De Denne with Flight Sergeant Laurie as his. It was 1450 hours, the fourth flight of the day and feeling a bit blasé, I didn't really expect action. At 1530 hours, and at 21,000 feet, I spotted a gaggle of Zeros and Haps at our height about three miles away. They were looping and rolling around the sky - no formation at all! They looked as if they were on holiday…
Pulling myself together, I 'Tally Hoed' and gave Vega the position number, height and course of the enemy aircraft. It was useless to climb; we had Zeros a thousand feet higher and after the aerobatic display, I just bored straight into the bastards and a dogfight ensued. A Zeke flew directly in front across from port to starboard at about 300 yards range, but I must have missed him not seeing any hits. Turning to port, I attacked another Zeke closing to less than fifty yards and blowing fragments from its starboard wing. Then I saw a Hap slightly below which I was boring in to attack. It half-rolled and I closed diving after it in quick aileron turns. Kittys could dive like falling bricks and I got in about a four second steady burst. Four or five Zeros latched on to me and as their Radial motors loomed a little too large for comfort, it was time to leave. I chased the Hap down to 6,000 feet in a vertical dive throttled back in fine pitch so as not to overshoot. My cockpit misted over, and, pulling out to one side and levelling off, I saw the E/A bury itself in Wana Wana Lagoon.
Another plane crashed about a mile further out. I dived again and at sea level, levelled out and stalked the E/A's still fooling around above as if nothing had happened… I couldn't see my No 2 and hoped like hell his wasn't the other plane that crashed. It was obvious our scrap was over, so I flew to Rendova Island climbing to 4,000 feet… All ended well and we got pretty merry that night on US Navy brandy.' (ibid)
Carrying out anti-shipping patrols between 21st-25th August, Spurdle shared in the destruction of 3 Japanese MTBs, a 300 ton steamer, and the damaging of a motor launch and two barges. Despite this being 'Marvelous sport - the best yet', as recorded in his Log Book, Spurdle wanted aerial combat and this followed on the 26th when he claimed his last victories of the war.
On another close escort mission this time, 'for 27 B24 bombers attacking Kahili air-field with 40 USAAF supporting fighters. Kiwis - three.
'Ma port outer generator's gone blooey - am returning to Cactus,' and a bomber peeled off.
'Having trouble with waist gunner's oxygen' and another went.
Some just turned away without even an excuse. As we neared Bougainville, more and more chickened out until, out of twenty-seven big four-engined bombers, only fifteen remained. In excellent close formation these stalwarts forged on. Of the forty US fighters, only eleven remained.
You could feel the tension mounting as we droned up the Slot climbing to 21,000 feet. To my surprise the bomber leader kept on until about five miles inland when we wheeled around in a great curve and began the bombing run… Flight Sergeant Pirie took the starboard side and I the port with Flight Sergeant Laurie as my No 2.
Flak started to burst amongst us and then I saw Jap fighters coming up in a quarter attack from four o'clock at Pirie. I warned him and at the same time saw a mix of eight or nine Zekes and Haps at ten o'clock at our level. These machines bored in, in a semi head-on attack on the bombers behind us. I fired on the leader seeing a few strikes. At 400 yards, he started to fire and, rolling on his back, continued to fire but at nothing - he was stuffed. Black smoke from both wing-roots poured out and, looking back and below, I saw the thing falling in a ball of flames.
Up above us the B24 gunners were hosing away, their white tracer smoke streaming out in great arcs. Away over to starboard I saw Pirie get a Jap which burst into flames and hurtle down. Sergeant Laurie had somehow gone over to him and now he came back to drive a Zero off my tail. The fight got very confused, the only focal point being the great bombers which released their eggs in long streams to plaster the airfield below. With bombs away, the squadron commander gave his turbo-charge Pratt and Whitney's the gas. His whole squadron began to climb! We couldn't stay with them; our Allison motors wheezing away in the thin air. Steadily the gap between us widened and now the three of us were left to the Jap hornet swarm. Soon we three became separated in the melee. There was only one thing to do and that was put our noses down in screaming dives for the deck.
Ahead of me, I saw a lone Kitty and drew up to it - Noel Pirie… Formating together, Noel and I flew along at fifteen thousand feet below the B24's. Above them several Japs were milling about and suddenly there was a huge white bomb-burst near the bombers. Great streaming tentacles of white smoke hung down from the central cloud. The buggers were trying to bomb the big planes with a new sort of weapon… There was nothing we could do about it and heading towards a patch of smoke on the NE tip of Ganongga Island, we found two small ships on fire. We tickled them up a bit with the last of our ammo…
Back at base more criticism for 'having left the bombers.'
'Left them? Left them? The bastards left us!!'
What a bloody lovely situation.
I was having a miserable time at night with pain from the injuries received on my bale-out from the crippled Spitfire in England. The heat and sweat were making my life hell and continual frustrations of these pitiful bomber escort jobs became more than I could bear.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
Disenchanted with life in this theatre of operations Spurdle requested a return to operations in Europe. He returned to New Zealand before leaving for the UK in December 1943. Travelling via Melbourne, Ceylon, the Suez Canal and Gibraltar he disembarked on the 26th March 1944.
Back To Blighty
Spurdle's attachment to the RNZAF ceased and he joined the newly re-formed 130 Squadron at Lympne, 13th April 1944. Here he was re-united with Spitfires, '130 was a good bunch and, flying as a section-leader, I did six ops before being summoned by Wing Commander 'Hawkeye' Wells [another Kiwi] to Hornchurch for an interview…
'Now, how would you like to join my wing? You'd come in as a flight commander and in line for your own squadron.'
'Wizard! What's the squadron and what are we flying?'
'80 - they're just back from Italy with an excellent record and are being re-equipped with Spitfire 9A's. You'll join them at Sawbridgeworth.' (ibid)
D-Day, And A Day Trip To France
Spurdle was appointed to the squadron in May, and began the routine of bomber escorts, sweeps and armed recces in preparation for the invasion. On the 6th June, 'Then all of a sudden everything changed and we were running to our kites. Glider close escort! As soon as we strapped our Spitfires on, we took off to join a glider 'train' of Albemarles towing Horsa gliders at 6,000 feet. Then a group of giant Stirling night-bombers black and menacing hove in sight lugging huge Hamilcar gliders to join our group.
Below, stretching as far as one could see, were rows of ships of all sizes. Some towed silver barrage balloons which floated in the air like kids' toys. We weaved back and forth riding 'shotgun' for the otherwise almost defenceless 'train'.'
As the invasion of Normandy progressed Spurdle was tasked with numerous fighter sweeps over the beach heads, including on the 12th June when the squadron intelligence officer, 'had advised us that an emergency landing strip had been formed at St Croix sur mer. This I must try out! Sure enough four of us managed to burn up enough fuel to make a landing imperative and down we dropped. Bugger this for a lark! The strip was very short! While the kites were being refuelled, after being pushed under trees and covered with camouflaged netting, the four of us stretched our legs into the village. No money, and liqueurs to be bought!
Hey! There was money in our plastic escape-kits and, breaking the seals, we had 100 francs each. Well, it was for emergencies! At a little estaminet, we bought a queer meal of tinned foods. A passing Tommy told us of a booby-trapped Hun nearby and we viewed the gruesome bloated corpse. Just then in a howling dive came a FW 190 chased by three Spitfires. The ruddy local Bofors guns opened up and through streams of flaming shells the fighters tore. Cannon fire thudded out and the Jerry went down in a ball of fire. It was time to get back home.'
CO 80 Squadron
On the 20th July Spurdle was promoted to the command of 80 Squadron. Based out of West Malling the squadron began to re-equip with the new Tempest aircraft, 'Our Tempests arrived! Brand new; shining in the sun! They seemed huge after our dainty Spitfires. But could they go! We found they cruised at almost 100 mph faster than the Spits, climbed like rockets and dived at incredible speeds. They were magnificent gun platforms and, apart from a slight tendency to swing on take-off, had no real vices. We were delighted… Now we were practising wing and squadron formation flying for our raids across the channel.' (ibid)
On the 10th September Spurdle led his squadron in an attack on Leeuwarden Airfield in Holland, 'We took off, formed up with the 274 Squadron Tempests and flew low across the Channel. Nearing Texel we climbed steeply and crossed the island at about fourteen thousand feet. Below, on our starboard, was the long causeway across the Zuider Zee which 'pointed' almost directly at the big airfield.
With the target in sight 80 peeled down in a screaming dive with each flight of four aircraft almost in line abreast.
'Drop tanks!' and the auxiliary fuel tanks tumbled away. Some heavy flak opened up but far too high and, as our altimeters unwound and we neared four thousand feet, we were doing over four hundred and fifty miles an hour. Light flak started to stream up at us from dozens of positions but, excited in action, we ignored it and rapidly scanned the airfield's perimeter and around hangars and tarmac for E/A.
I saw a twin-engined kite by a hangar and opened fire. There was a brilliant flash in my cockpit! The bloody gun-sight light-bulb had fallen out and swung on its wiring scaring me rigid until I identified what it was. I held the gun button down and steered the dancing cannon stream over the Hun machine.
Perspex shattered, exploding shells winked over its wings and a brown haze enveloped its fuselage. Pulling out of the dive I gave two hangars a good pasting before climbing for the sky.'
Three days later, 'Squadron Leader Wigglesworth, CO of No 3 Squadron, and I flew off together hunting V2 rockets south of the Hague.
We flew along about 400 yards apart in line-abreast at about five hundred feet ignoring the odd bursts of light flak. Suddenly I spotted a huge Meillerwagen V2 transporter under some trees and then the fifty foot needle-pointed rocket standing upright ready for launching.
'Target at 2 o'clock under trees! Break starboard!'
Wigglesworth was quite close to it and turning quickly he opened fire while still banking. I saw his shells flashing on the monster and then a colossal explosion as almost eight tons of liquid oxygen and ethyl alcohol blew. The war head of over a ton exploded and my comrade flew directly into the huge ball of flame - and didn't come out.
Absolutely horrified I flew around the scene of desolation - the huge crater and flattened trees. Odd nameless lumps smoked and fumed on the ground; brush burned, but there was nothing to indicate what had been a Tempest.' (ibid)
Operation Market Garden and the Continent
Despite this experience Spurdle was up looking for more V2's the following day. The hunt for rockets was combined with Spurdle leading armed recces, which resulted in the destruction of numerous types of armed transport including trains. On the 17th September the squadron flew anti-flak operations to cover the Arnhem landings (Operation Market Garden), 'Anti-Flack for Airborne Troops - 4 small armed ships (tug type) dest'd & sunk. Shared with 4 others. Horrible Flack at Wemeldinge. "Blondie" bought it (20m/m) while silencing gun posts with Heapo. Heapo + my Kites hit' (Log Book refers).
The following day Spurdle's Log Book gives, 'Anti-Flack For Gliders - multiple 20m/m Flack post silenced at least 2 bods. Lofty Haw killed. Shot up by 20 m/m Flack while attacking gun posts at Zijpe. MacLachlan attacked and dam'g'd Flack ship in Mustgat and was hit by Flack-ok. Bob Hanney missing.'
On the 29th September Spurdle's squadron moved to Belgium, and then on to Holland, to extend their range. Being not far from the German lines they 'were living pretty rough, having found some abandoned Dutch houses with plenty of straw for bedding. Food, cooked in field kitchens, was shared by all, ground and air-crew - a good thing which brought officers and men together. Our mixed nationality squadron was a joy to belong to - so many different life styles and backgrounds - so much to compare and discuss. Not just beer, sex, football, sex and what was happening back in Whakatara.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
80 Squadron roamed over the German areas behind the lines on armed recce and operational patrols; whilst based on the Continent it destroyed 170 motor vehicles, 13 locomotives, 11 trucks and 37 aircraft. Spurdle, in his Tempest, made a large contribution, 'We started armed patrols to seek out ground targets and on 5th October I found, near Zwolle, a PZ11 tank.
This was for me!
'Railroad aircraft maintain angels four. Black leader and Black two going down.'
My number two slid behind me and down we dived. Half a mile ahead there was a stationary tank with its turret hatch open and, standing in front of it, hands on hips, one of the crew.
He just stood there, legs apart, arms akimbo, looking up at me. He was blown away with the first few shells. One of the explosive projectiles must have entered the open hatch, setting off the tank's ammunition, because there were violent flashes from inside its turret. To our great surprise and delight a series of perfect smoke rings were ejected from the opening to rise and expand in the still air… Soon the tank glowed dull red and we flew off seeking other prey. We got a small truck before going home.
On the 5th, we found a loco in the Zwolle marshalling yards and all had a go… My No 2 and I got two trucks and a trailer and, on finding another train, I made a hash of my attack and screamed over the railway siding seeing dozens of troops dashing for cover… Attacked five giant Tiger tanks discovered on railway flat-cars. Our 20mm shells winked all over them and damaged paint work. However, we reported them in clear over our RT and a squadron of Typhoons were scrambled and rocketed them to destruction.' (ibid)
In the second week of October 1944 Spurdle's squadron joined 122 Wing at Volkel. They continued in the same vein of form, 1.11.1944, 'Weather Recce. 1 train destroyed (Engine blew up). 30/40 tucks dam'g'd. 1-1/2 track truck dest'd (Flamer) - Wonderful time - train + trucks in Utrecht marshalling yards - half track near Deventer - great pillar of smoke.' (Log Book refers)
Throughout November and into December, 'I drove myself harder by leading every sortie against the foe. In the next thirteen flights we attacked and destroyed - or at least heavily damaged - fourteen locos, ninety plus loaded railway trucks, a three-ton truck and trailer, two searchlights and their barrack buildings, two multiple flak posts, a steam tractor and trailer and several assorted motor vehicles. On 8th December, Sortie 555, along with Pilot Officer G. Dopson, Captain O. Ullestad, Flight Lieutenant Johnny Weston (Mex), Flying Officer W. Long and Flying Officer A. McLachlan we strafed Bielefield 'drome, catching Ju 188's on the ground, of which I got two, Johnny Weston hacked down a foolish 109 from a timid gaggle, orbiting their base. As we had already shot up two locos, twenty to thirty rolling-stock and a factory, we were low on ammunition and couldn't risk the 109's, so flew away cursing with frustration.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
It is Safer in the Sky!
Due to poor weather on the 16th December Spurdle went off to find other entertainment, 'I collected Frank Lang, Louis, Gilly and Olaf for two nights in Antwerp - we took our two little Opel Kadets (liberated from Belgian collaborators), and, slithering and spinning the cars in the snow for fun, covered the seventy five odd miles to the city putting up at the Century Hotel.
Next day, with aching heads, we decided to go to the big Rex Theatre just across the road and see the movies.
'Hey! Hold on! I've forgotten my cap! I won't be a minute' and with that I dashed upstairs. On rejoining the others in the foyer we stepped out into the street. There was a fearful crash, glass flew and we were bowled over against shop fronts in a dusty, panting heap. There was a hot blast of air, a heavy rumble and another boom. Our startled faces looked up at the great white finger lanced down from the stratosphere at us. A V2 rocket! The Rex was just a smoking hole in the ground. Bodies lay all around, some still, some crawling or staggering like broken dolls. Bricks, bits of plaster and broken timber strewed the De Keyserlei Avenue and a huge cloud of stinking smoke enveloped a scene like Dante's Inferno.
Picking ourselves up, appalled at what had happened and marvelling at our fantastic good luck, we ran across to see if we could help the survivors. This one rocket killed 567 people, 296 of them being servicemen. Another 291 were wounded, 194 being servicemen. More than 130 buildings were damaged.' (ibid)
"You've Done More Than Your Share"
Spurdle flew his last operational sortie on the 4th January 1945. Group Captain 'Jamie' Jameson called him in, 'Sorry, Spud, you've had Ops. I wanted you for Wing Leader but HQ says you're operationally expired. Hell! You've done over seven hundred hours Ops. You've done more than your share.'
It was good-bye to 80 and my pilots. I put in recommendations for some of the boys to get gongs and said my farewells. It was good-bye to the strongest bond a man can know; the brotherhood of arms.' (ibid)
On the 15th January Spurdle was posted as a Briefing Officer to No 83 G.S.U., Westhampnett.
Operation Varsity - Attached 6th Airborne Glider Group
Spurdle spent nearly two months in this role, before, 'one day the price of this lazy job would have to be paid and, sure enough, here came the collector. A wing commander who called us into an office and after a brief introductory bit of nonsense, asked for volunteers for a special job. By this time we were all so brassed off with our petty chores, we would have volunteered for anything.
'Anything' turned out to be more than we'd bargained for, and cost (as these jobs always do) several lives. We got the impression we were to be radio controllers of aircraft used in airborne landing behind enemy lines (true). We got the distinct impression we'd be floating around in C47's (Dakotas) detailing off gliders etc. by numbers when to go in and land, etc. etc. (false).
Safe enough with dozens of our fighters milling about and shooting up flak posts for us, etc. etc. The etceteras should have warned us.
Beaming cheerfully, his job well done, the Wingco left. A few days later a signal came through; Squadron Leaders Vincent and Spurdle to report to 83 Group Headquarters.
We took an Oxford to Eindhoven, only to find some fool had transposed 83 for 38. We turned around and flew back to England via Volkel, Helmond, Dunsfold, Netheravon, Dunsfold, Brussels, Volkel, Brussels, Northolt… and at the end of this 'odyssey' we had the twitch properly. Now we knew the price - and didn't like it.
We were to be lent to the 1st Airborne Corps based near Rickmansworth and would be trained by them in Army co-operation as to their ground support, using TAF fighters and fighter bombers. We were told that the reason, the real reason, for the failure at Arnhem, was that the crystals used to align the army radio sets with the US Airforce long-range fighter-bombers had been the wrong ones. Air-ground support fire had bogged down. Fighters couldn't be directed onto ground targets to break up Jerry tank and infantry formations. We were told that as the next large-scale air-borne crossing was to be in Montgomery's sector, he had insisted that RAF crew and equipment be used for all air liaison.
This is what we were told. This was what was being organised now and 'Varsity' was the code name for the airborne Rhine crossing. We were to be part of the 6th Airborne Glider Group and would be landed immediately after the parachutists were dropped, in the first wave of gliders. Our job would be to set up radio contact as quickly as possible and direct our aircraft against German resistance. We felt very important, but scared. This would 'really be sumpin'. We were to wear Army uniforms, but with Air Force insignia. No one could mistake us for Majors (the equivalent Army rank) so instead of ordering, we had to ask - this was to prove a damn nuisance to everyone except our own little teams.
My team comprised Flight Lieutenant Dowlin, Sergeant Simpson, LAC Holmes and myself as leader. We were issued with khaki battle dress, parachutists' coveralls, camouflage net scarves, gaiters and huge, heavy, horrible boots. We received the coveted Red Berets and wore them with intense pride.' (ibid)
On the 24th March Spurdle took part in his last operational sortie of the war, his Log Book records the following, 'Airborne Landing over the Rhine. The Big Day. We cross the Rhine in gliders (towed by Stirling) to land with the 6th Airborne Div. as "Contact-Cars" (1 jeep + trailer with radios etc) to handle the Army calls for Air Support. We made a crash-landing, the front wheel collapsed, also one of the main wheels. Mortar fire + machine guns + snipers! It was horrible - NEVER, NEVER again!! Bodies all over the place. We operated for 5/6 days advancing with the Army to near the village of Erle. We were withdrawn on the 29th completely clapped-out. Hoot!!'
The survivors of the RAF crews were flown out and Spurdle was ordered to report in person to Air Vice Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst at Eindhoven. Having made his report to the AOC 2nd TAF, 'It was obvious the war would soon be over… I chanced my luck.
"Sir, I have a request to make; the war's practically over. Can I go on with a ground control unit? Please don't send me back to the UK now that the end is in sight!' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
Broadhurst agreed, and after the loan of a Spitfire and one day's leave back to the UK, Spurdle joined up with the 11th Armoured Division working its way through Germany. Keeping up with the 11th Armoured Division he worked in a radio tank (Comet) controlling 'cab-rank' fighter support, 'more and more I enjoyed the tank life. Our Comet monster rolled along and squashed things most satisfyingly. It could push over quite large trees, demolish brick walls and flatten cars effortlessly… We were often shelled by 88's and we just pulled the lid down and hoped we'd make it to shelter. Shrapnel rattled off the hull, and machine gun and rifle bullets clanged away harmlessly.'
Spurdle reached the River Elbe as the war in Europe ended. On the 18th July 1945 he was posted to the Central Gunnery School at Catfoss, 'It was time to plan my next move - the Japanese were fighting every inch of the way; retreating island by island back to their homeland. I intended to get in at the kill - who was better qualified than I to lead a wing against this old enemy? I had myself posted to the Central Gunnery School at Catfoss to learn how to shoot accurately, something I should have found time for years ago… On the 6th August, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and with it my dreams were gone forever.' (The Blue Arena, Squadron Leader Bob Spurdle refers)
Spurdle transferred back to the RNZAF and set sail for New Zealand in September 1945. The vessel was the Rangitata, the same vessel he had arrived on five years earlier. Spurdle was placed on the Reserve in 1946. He set up his own engineering business in Wanganui, where he built the first surveyed catamaran in New Zealand. He sailed the latter to Japan, and published a book called Into the Rising Sun, on his sailing experiences. He published his autobiography of the war years, The Blue Arena, in 1986.
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