John Hunter "Nine-Gun" Coghlan

John Coghlan  


Distinguished Flying Cross

He was also known as "Slim"
Born in Shanghai, Kiangsu, China on the 7th of Sept 1914
Son of Henry Hunter & Katherine Mary Maud Coghlan
Nephew of Beatrice M. J. Bourchier of Southsea Hampshire

Posted to Parachute Practice Unit, Ringway, 7 Aug. 1940
(now Manchester Airport)
On the night of 17/18 Aug.'40 he took off in Lysander "C" of PPU
to perform a "Special Duties Flight" carrying unidentified passenger
It seems he and the agent were captured and executed
Reported KIA 21 Sept 1940, over a month after his last flight!
Mentioned in Fighter Boys by Patrick Bishop
(published by Harper Perennial) Pages 321 & 322



LONDON GAZETTE  30 July, 1940

Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross

Acting Flight Lieutenant John Hunter COGHLAN (37719). This officer has been a flight commander in his squadron on most of the recent patrols and has led the squadron on some occasions. At all times he has shown the greatest initiative and courage and has personally destroyed at least six enemy aircraft.


The Imperial Services College Register of 1956 shows:

Coghlan, Flg. Off. (Act. Flt. Lt.), John Hunter, DFC., RAF. Lawrence House

Son of Mrs H Coghlan, Southsea
Born 7th September 1914.
"C" House, May 1927 to July, 1933
Prefect. 1st XV 1932. 1st IV 1932
Entered RAF Plt. Off. 3/2./1937
Flg. Off. 3/9/1938
Awarded DFC 29/7/1940
Missing presumed KIA 21st Sept. 1940


LONDON GAZETTE  Feb. 17, 1942

Re: JOHN HUNTER COGHLAN, Deceased. Pursuant to the Trustee Act, 1925.
ALL persons having claims against the estate of John Hunter Coghlan, formerly of 16 Worthing Road, Southsea, Hants, but afterwards of North Weald, Epping, Essex, a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force (who died on the 17th day of August, 1940, and letters of administration (with Will) to whose estate were granted by the Principal Probate Registry on the 14th day of January 1942 to Emma Louisa Lawrie are required to send particulars thereof in writing to the undersigned on or before the 24th day of April 1942 after which date the administratrix will proceed to distribute the assets having regard only to the claims of which she shall then have had notice. — Dated this I2th day of February 1942.


B flight 56 Sq. RAF at N. Weald 3/09/39
B flight of 56 Sq. RAF at N. Weald, 3 September 1939 - Standing - F/O Leonid "Minnie" Eriminsky, F/O Peter Down, F/L Ian Soden, F/O John Coghlan, F/O Peter "Fling" Illingworth & F/O Frank "Tommy" Rose. Seated - F/O Montague Leslie "John" Hulton-Harrop & F/O Eustace "Gus" Holden.

Eric Clayton, Slim's mechanic in 56 Sqn wrote an autobiography in which he mentions
Nine-Gun several times. Here are those mentions:

I arrived at RAF North Weald in August 1939 having completed my technical training at RAF Halton and been posted to 56(F)Squadron.  The squadron was famous through the exploits of Mannock and Ball, both fighter aces of WW1 and holders of the VC, and it had long been based at North Weald which was a sector station and one of the few allweather airfields in 11 Group of Fighter Command, with a macadam runway.  On my arrival, I was assigned to B Flight and made responsible for servicing and maintaining Hurricane US N whose pilot was F/O Slim Coghlan.  He was a short, heavily built man with dark hair brushed straight back and a large moustache.  He was a friendly, amusing and unflappable character; overweight and unfit, he perspired freely and had a prodigious intake of ale.  He ran a long, low Jaguar and had an unmarried partner.  I came to know and respect him.
In the month before the start of WW2, the station had an air of frantic activity from dawn to dusk.  For the pilots, there were numerous training flights and for the groundcrew, the preparation of aircraft for war - painting new identifying letters - U.S.- on both sides of the fuselage,  applying new camouflage, harmonising their eight Browning machine guns after firing practice and so on.  Men and machines moved to a dispersal point on the perimeter of the airfield, away from the main buildings.  We lived in tents and were fed on site.  At first, meals were prepared and served to us by the wives and girl friends of the pilots - including Slim Coghlan's partner.  They slept in a couple of caravans which had been brought in alongside the dispersal point.  Though it doubtless transgressed King's Regulations, it added a certain grace to our basic living conditions which we relished.  It did, however, prove distressing to one of the ladies whose partner did not return from a sortie.
 On the 3rd September, a beautiful sunny morning, all personnel of B Flight gathered, in the open, around a portable radio to hear announce that Britain was at war with Germany.  I think we felt especially vulnerable there and apprehensive; it was fear of the unknown.  However, on the morning of 6th September came the mournful wail of the station siren, marking the first air raid warning of the war.  The squadron was ordered to scramble which it did with speed and efficiency - the product of all that training.  As the twelve Hurricanes climbed away, silence descended on the airfield; we waited for their return.  They returned within the hour and had not fired their guns.  But as B Flight taxied towards us 'at dispersal', we noted that two aircraft were missing.  We soon learned that the squadron had been 'jumped', out of the sun, and two of our Hurricanes shot down.  The pilots were F/O Rose who had managed a wheels-up landing and P/O Hulton-Harrop who, sadly, was killed.  This first war casualty of Fighter Command was a tall, fair-haired and eager 19-year-old who had recently joined the squadron.  By contrast, Tommy Rose was tall, well-built and with dark good looks; a friendly and cheerful person.  He was an experienced pilot and usually flew at number three with F/L Ian Soden our flight commander.  He returned later that day none the worse for his experience.  The episode, now known as the Battle of Barking Creek, became more appalling when, soon after landing, news came through that they had been shot down by Spitfires of 74 Squadron, whose pilots must have been equally horrified.
 The squadron was moved to RAF Martlesham Heath on the 22nd October to patrol the East Coast and for further training.  The first squadron kill was made in November, on a cloudy, misty day, when on a patrol, F/L Soden's flight encountered a Do.18 flying boat.  Soden fired a long burst but it disappeared into cloud; he gave chase, spotted it again.  Another long burst and it appeared to lose height as it finally disappeared into cloud; the score one damaged enemy aircraft.  There was a close relationship between air and groundcrew at North Weald which was less in evidence at Martlesham.  It was the phoney war period when day to day activity seemed to lack urgency and the pilots disappeared to their own quarters after the day’s flying.  Slim Coghlan was an exception to this.  We would often encounter him with his girlfriend in our favoured Ipswich pubs which resulted in beery and jolly evenings.


Just before B Flight departed for France, the experienced and ebullient F/L Slim Coghlan was promoted and transferred to command A Flight following the posting of F/L J.D. Joslin. During our absence, A Flight had been in continuous action over France with Coghlan playing a leading part and credited with the confirmed or probable destruction of five German aircraft. During one of these combats, he had exhausted the ammunition of his eight Browning machine guns, whereupon he had emptied his Smith & Weston pistol, which pilots were required to wear in case of capture, in the general direction of the enemy. Henceforth, he was known as 'nine gun' Coghlan.


The first squadron kill of the battle was credited to Coghlan who shot down a Dornier 17 which had bombed RAF Manston, the first of many attacks on the beleaguered airfield. Thereafter, when flying was possible, 56 was in the air over the Channel, sometimes patrolling without making contact with the enemy but, with increasing frequency, encountering large formations attacking coastal convoys. The squadron was now suffering its first, significant casualties and loss of aircraft; but, it was also taking toll of both enemy fighters and bombers. Groundcrew were busy maintaining the much - flown aircraft and increasingly carrying out rapid repairs to the Hurricanes damaged by machine gun and cannon fire. By the end of the month our pilots had learned a lot about the characteristics of the Luftwaffe aircraft and its aerial fighting tactics.
A lull ensued in early August, during which the indomitable Slim Coghlan was posted, it has been reported, "to RAF Ringway, where work was beginning on the creation of airborne forces". As will be seen later, there is reason to query this report. In any event, the departure of Coghlan was a great loss. His place was taken by F/O Weaver who was transferred from B flight and promoted to F/L.


The station was spared from attack on the 17th August, so we made good progress with the repairs. At the end of the day, I walked to the nearby communication hut to telephone our progress to the squadron at North Weald. I had just completed the call, when a Lysander landed nearby and taxied up to the hut. The engine was switched off and two figures emerged and came towards us. A stocky figure in white flying overalls was followed by a smallish man wearing a brown leather jacket and black beret. It was F/L Coghlan, DFC. and his passenger who was a Frenchman. We were both pleasantly surprised to see each other, for we had had little contact since his transfer to A Flight and none since his posting from 56. He introduced me to his passenger, who said little, and then inevitably the question arose, 'What are you doing here'? From his guarded remarks, it was clear that he was going to drop his passenger into France who, it was equally clear, was an agent. While they had a cup of coffee we chatted pleasantly, then as twilight turned to darkness, he said it was time to go. I walked outside with them, shook hands and wished them 'Good luck'. They took off in the gathering darkness and headed towards France; it was the last I saw of Slim Coghlan; indeed mine was the last friendly face that he saw. For, I later learned that on landing, on this his first clandestine mission, he and the Frenchman were captured and shot. A brutal end to a brave man.


Victories Include :

18 May 1940

19 May 1940
27 May 1940
29 May 1940
3 July 1940
10 July 1940

13 July 1940
one Me109
1/2 He111
one He111
1/3 He111
two Ju88s
1/2 Do17
one Me110
two Me109s
one Ju87
one He113
destroyed &
destroyed [a]
destroyed &
destroyed &
near Mauberge
(unconfirmed) 20M SE of Lille
near Mauberge
near Ostend
10M W Orford Ness (sh w/ D.G. Gorrie)
(10M S of Lydd)
(near Calais)
(he claimed an Me109)

5.83 - 5.33 / 0 / 5  with 1.5 kills unconfirmed

As an "unconfirmed" was reclassified a "probable" in August 1940, this should probably read 4.33 - 3.83 / 1.5 / 5

[a]* Shores does not show this as shared

Stats from Aces High 2nd ed., Aces High vol 2 & 56 Sq. BoB claims list


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Thanks go out to

Gerald Colan-O'Leary who kindly provided me with the photo and much of this information

& Lew Paterson, 56 Sqn. Historian for corrections

On these pages I use Hugh Halliday's extensive research which includes info from numerous sources; newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC); the Google News Archives; the London Gazette Archives and other sources both published and private.

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