Royal Cooper

by Frank Tibbo

Royal Cooper was the first pilot with the RAF 125th Squadron (Newfoundland Squadron) to shoot down a "Flying Bomb."

Londoners called them ‘buzz bombs.’ The Germans were belting buzz bombs at London as fast as they could make them. This, needless to say, resulted in severe loss of lives and property.

The bombs, propelled by a pulse-jet engine, were launched from a ground base well inside of Germany. The V-1 carried 1,870 pounds of high explosives and 130 gallons of fuel. Its wingspan was 17.5 feet, fuselage 22 feet and the length of the stovepipe shaped engine, which was mounted above the fuselage, was 11 feet. Gyroscopes kept the bomb on course after launch. Fighter aircraft accounted for 1,847 of the 3,957 V-1s that were shot down between June 1944 and March 1945. Despite the fact that a lot of them were shot down, enough of them got through to kill 6,139 Britons and wound 17,239. The V-2 was developed later as a more modern version of the V1 and was even more destructive.

The V1s (code name Diver) were hard to spot on radar and harder to shoot down when they were detected. They were smaller than most aircraft and flew at 350 m.p.h. What was just as bad as the loss of life and structural damage caused by the bombs was the debilitating physiological impact on the British. Royal Cooper did his bit to correct that problem by nailing one before it did any damage.

Royal Cooper was a night fighter pilot with the Newfoundland Squadron flying a de Havilland Mosquito 30. The Mosquito was a twin-engine fighter with a two-man crew. On July 29, 1944, he had returned from his patrol and was told that his replacement was unable to take over patrol duties. Cooper volunteered to take a second patrol and shortly after that was vectored by Ground Operations Radar to an unknown target. The Mosquito's navigator, using the aircraft's 20-mile range radar, soon picked up the target, and Cooper increased speed to close in on the suspected vagrant. Very soon, flame could be seen coming from the exhaust, and they knew it had to be a flying bomb headed for Metropolitan London. Cooper fired his guns and watched the sparks fly as the bullets found their mark. The bomb lurched out of control and was lost amid the dark sky and the thick Cumulus clouds.

For the next few minutes, the Mosquito crew wasn't sure if the bomb had been destroyed or if their bullets had only changed its direction. It was pitch dark amid the clouds. The target disappeared on both ground radar and the aircraft radar. Cooper rolled the aircraft around for a look, lost some altitude and looked down at the waters south-east of Beachy Head. Just as he managed to get below the clouds, he and his navigator saw the bomb explode. The bomb had been sent to the bottom of the English Channel where it could do no damage to anyone except a few fish.

Royal Cooper, like so many Newfoundlanders, had gone overseas with the Forestry Unit in 1940. In 1941 he volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was returned to Canada for training. His basic training was in Toronto, followed by elementary training at St. Catharines (Tiger Moths) and advanced training at Brantford, Ontario, where he trained on the twin-engine Avro Anson. He was sent to England to an advanced flying unit in the spring of 1942 for training on other types of aircraft including the Bristol Blenheim. Training on the twin-engine Bristol Beaufighter and Mosquito followed.

At one point in his career, he and seven other pilots and aircraft were sent to India. The route was long and complicated due to restrictions about not flying over Spain, and the aircraft's fuel endurance was critical. A dead magneto grounded him en route. By the time his aircraft was serviceable, he was ordered back to England. A sad note concerning that incident is that only two of the other seven aircraft reached India.

Cooper served at 38 different stations while in the United Kingdom. The majority of his duties while with the RAF consisted of flying a Mosquito fighter on night patrol. Quite often word would come through that the Germans were planning an offensive. It was during these times that "things got quite boring" because he and many other pilots would have to sit in their fighters on the ground for hours waiting for the signal to scramble.

The standing order was "If you're in doubt, don't shoot!" The Germans, somehow, got a serviceable Mitchell bomber and used it to "jam" the British radar. "Jamming" was done by transmitting on the same radio frequency as the radar frequency. This caused distortions on the radar scopes rendering them useless. Cooper was directed to an unknown target one night and upon interception reported that it was a B-25 Mitchell bomber. (Mitchell bombers were used by the Americans and British.) He broke off the interception and reported to Operations Radar. They did not believe that Cooper and his navigator had it right and sent the aircraft back for a second look. Yep! It was still a Mitchell Bomber. No mistake. Remember, it was night. They weren't allowed to use lights, so only the unmistakable silhouette of the Mitchell was visible. Operations said it couldn't be. A third interception was ordered and carried out, again confirming the identification of a Mitchell. No further action was taken. Upon further investigation the next day, it was learned that no Mitchell's from Allied forces were operating that night. Therefore, it was assumed to be a captured aircraft operated by the enemy.

The SCR720 radar used on the Mosquito at one point was so hush hush that the aircraft using it were not permitted to fly over enemy territory for fear of the Germans shooting down an aircraft and getting their hands on the new technology. (This restriction was lifted in August 1944.) The radar was not only very accurate but also indicated the height and the azimuth positions of targets. It could also be used to facilitate bad-weather landings. At the cessation of hostilities, Flying Officer Cooper was transferred to 264 Squadron and shortly after that was sent home.

He said: "Then they forgot about me. I wasn't discharged; and, of course, until you're discharged you're still in the RAF and you continue to get paid. This went on for 15 months, and I figured I'd better give them a call. Well, as soon as I reached them, they advised me to go to Gander immediately to get discharged. Not only that, they wrote and said I had been overpaid and wanted the money back!"

In civilian life, he went on to become the chief pilot for EPA He flew practically everything that EPA had, including helicopters. There's hardly a bay or settlement in Newfoundland and Labrador where he hasn't put an aircraft. He also flew extensively through the high Arctic for Bell telephone.

He was Councillor, Deputy Mayor and Mayor, having served on the first Town Council that was elected on January 8, 1958. He was also elected in 1961, 1965 and 1969. He was a founding member of the North Atlantic Aviation Museum Committee and has done yeoman service for that group.


Contributed by F. Tibbo

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