Squadron Leader Harvey Nelson Sweetman NZ/40992
Born October 10th 1921, Auckland. Died: January 15th 2014, Takapuna, North Shore City. Age 93
Fighter pilot who helped counter the terror of Germany’s V-1 flying bombs
Squadron Leader Harvey Sweetman DFC, who has died aged 93, was one of the most successful fighter pilots against the V-1 flying bomb, accounting for 11 of them during the autumn of 1944.
By June 1944, he had already achieved a number of successes in the air against enemy aircraft when the Germans opened their campaign against London by launching the V-1 rocket-propelled flying bomb. An air defence system of anti-aircraft guns, balloons and fighter aircraft was established over south-east England to combat the “terror weapon”, and a concentrated bombing offensive was mounted against the launching sites.
Sweetman flew the powerful Tempest fighter with No 486 (RNZAF) Squadron, operating from a landing ground at Newchurch near Ashford in Kent. He achieved his first success on June 16 1944 over Hythe. Within three days he had destroyed two more and by mid-July his tally had risen to nine, with one shared with another pilot.
Attacking the flying bomb was a high-risk activity: the V-1 was likely to explode and shed debris in front of the attacking fighter. Sweetman’s penultimate victory was achieved in dramatic fashion. Despite shooting off one of his target’s stubby wings as well as its engine, the V-1 did not explode and reached Hastings before finally crashing. His 11th, and final, V-1 victory came on August 9, after which he was promoted to squadron leader and made CO of No 3 Squadron. He was only 22.
Harvey Nelson Sweetman was born in Matamata, New Zealand, on October 10 1921. He was educated at Matamata District high school, where he became captain of the school’s first cricketing 11 and its swimming champion. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in April 1940. Immediately after completing his training in November 1940 he joined many other young New Zealand pilots and headed for Britain where he trained as a fighter pilot.
In March 1941 he joined No 485 (RNZAF) Squadron as one of its founder members. Flying a Spitfire, on August 29 he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 over Belgium during a bomber escort mission. During the “Channel Dash” by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in mid-February 1942, No 485 provided an escort for a bomber force and Sweetman shared in the destruction of another Bf 109.
A month later he joined the newly formed No 486 (RNZAF) Squadron and soon helped to destroy a German bomber during a night sortie over the Wash. One of the enemy aircraft’s airscrews was salvaged to adorn the squadron’s dispersal hut. Over the next few months Sweetman damaged three enemy aircraft and probably destroyed a fourth. The Auckland Star described him as a “forceful, straight-shooting pilot”.
On April 9 he helped shoot down a Focke-Wulf 190. A week later, his luck nearly ran out when the engine of his Typhoon kept cutting out during a sweep over Le Havre. He nursed the aircraft back over the English Channel, having jettisoned the door and the canopy, ready to bale out. He managed to clear the cliffs at 100ft and crash land in a potato field near Selsey Bill. A month later he was awarded the DFC.
For a six-month rest he joined Hawker Aircraft Company as a test pilot. He returned to No 486 in February 1944 as a flight commander at the time the squadron was re-equipping with the Tempest. He led fighter sweeps over northern France before going into action against the V-1s.
Sweetman was in command of No 3 Squadron when it moved on to the continent to provide bomber escort and ground attack sorties in support of the advancing Allied ground forces. At the end of November he damaged a Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter on the ground.
Sweetman returned to New Zealand in 1946, when he was appointed the chief flying instructor at the RNZAF pilot training school at Ohakea.
Harvey Sweetman’s wife, Gwen, and five sons survive him.
Further details of an incident during the war.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.