Edgar Kain

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Edgar James Kain
Cobber Kain.jpg
Cobber Kain
Born(1918-06-27)27 June 1918
Hastings, New Zealand
Died7 June 1940(1940-06-07) (aged 21)
Échemines, France
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1936–1940
RankFlying officer
Service number39534
UnitNo. 73 Squadron
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsDistinguished Flying Cross

Edgar James Kain, DFC (27 June 1918 – 7 June 1940) was a New Zealand fighter pilot and flying ace who flew in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. He developed an early interest in aviation, and was accepted into the RAF in 1936,[1] he completed his flight training in 1937, joined No. 73 Squadron RAF and flew the Gloster Gladiator and then Hawker Hurricane. On the outbreak of the Second World War he was sent with his squadron to France, part of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF).

Kain began flying operational sorties during the Phoney War and gained his first victory in November 1939. A second followed days later. In March he had claimed his fifth victory and became the first fighter ace[2]—a pilot credited with five or more enemy aircraft destroyed in aerial combat—and the first recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross in the Second World War.[3] During these encounters, his fighter was damaged on more than one occasion and he was wounded in action; the Phoney War ended on 10 May 1940 when the Battle of France and the Low Countries began. Within 17 days, Kain had claimed a further 12 aerial victories, his success so early in the war meant he was to become a household name in Britain.[4]

Deemed to be physically exhausted Kain was ordered to return home on 7 June 1940. Having bid farewell to his squadron, and in a gesture to his comrades, he took off in a Hurricane to perform a series of low-level aerobatics over Échemines airfield. Kain crashed at high speed and was killed instantly. At the time of his death he held the rank of flying officer and was credited with 17 aerial victories against the Luftwaffe.

Early years[edit]

Kain was born in Hastings, New Zealand, the son of Reginald G. Kain and Nellie Maria Keen, he went to Croydon School, Wellington and Christ's College, Christchurch later studying under Professor Von Zedlitz in Wellington. While at school he played rugby, cricket and excelled at athletics. Kain then worked as a clerk in his father's warehousing business. An interest in flying came early, Kain joining the Wellington Aero Club and securing his “A” pilot's licence at Wigram in 1936. After earning a private pilot's licence, he applied for a short-term commission in the RAF on 8 March 1937 as an acting pilot officer,[5] he was then posted to No. 5 Elementary Flying School on 20 March.[6]

After further training at RAF Sealand and RAF Ternhill, he was posted in November 1937 to No. 73 Fighter Squadron, then equipped with the Gloster Gladiator biplane fighter based at RAF Digby. In 1938 took part in the May Empire Air Day bear London, giving aerobatic demonstrations to the public. Later in 1938, the squadron converted to the new monoplane Hawker Hurricane. Kain was promoted to flying officer on 21 July 1939.[7][8]

Second World War[edit]

Phoney War[edit]

Before the start of hostilities, No. 73 Squadron RAF on 24 August 1939 was mobilised as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF). Appointed a section commander Kain flew on 80 fighter and escort operations over Le Havre, Louvres, Rheims, Verdun and other parts of enemy-occupied territory as No. 73 was one of the first units to engage the Luftwaffe.

Four days after war was declared, 73's 16 Hurricane fighters flew across the Channel to France. On 10 September 1939, Kain flew his first operational patrols without making contact with the enemy, his first victory occurred on 8 November 1939 during a defensive patrol. Kain had spotted a Dornier Do 17 from reconnaissance unit 1.(F)/123 above and ahead of him. As the Do 17 began to climb to 27,000 ft with Kain in pursuit, he made two attacks but saw no result. With his Hurricane showing signs of strain, he attacked again and the Dornier dived steeply. Kain followed but pulled out when he saw fabric peeling off his wings; the Dornier crashed into the small village of Lubey northwest of Metz, exploding on impact and killing the crew. A machine gun recovered from that aircraft features as part of the Outbreak 1939 exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.[9]

On 23 November, near Conflans, Kain shot down another Do 17, from 3.(F)/22. Due to bad weather there was little flying in December, January and February but on 1 March 1940, Kain fought an action with two Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, his Hurricane was already damaged when he shot the first Bf 109 down in flames although the second fighter attacked him, stopping the Hurricane's engine with a cannon shell but then flew off, leaving Kain to glide 30 miles from 20,000 feet to reach French territory. When his engine caught fire, Kain prepared to bail out but had to re-enter the cockpit when he realized his parachute strap was not in position. Fortunately the flames went out and Kain glided on to a forced-landing at Metz aerodrome.

In March 1940, Kain was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for a particularly daring action. While flying on operations, he sighted seven enemy Bf 109 fighters above him at 5,000 ft. Immediately giving chase and while pursuing them back towards the German lines, Kain discovered another enemy fighter on his tail. Attacked from behind, and with his own Hurricane fighter badly damaged, he engaged the enemy and shot it down. With his cockpit full of smoke and oil, he managed to bring his Hurricane down behind the Allied lines; the citation for the award referred to "the magnificent fighting spirit Kain displayed in outmanoeuvring his enemy and destroying him."[10]

On 26 March, Kain destroyed a Bf 109 and probably a second of JG 53 but then with his own engine on fire he bailed out, with shell splinters to his left leg, a bullet-grazed left hand and burns to the face.

Kain went on leave to England on 2 April and before he returned, his engagement was announced. Back with the squadron he damaged a Messerschmitt Bf 110 on 23 April. During the Phoney war from September 1939 to March 1940, Kain shot down five aircraft.

Battle of France[edit]

On 10 May 1940, the German forces launched the blitzkrieg through the Low countries and France; in the next 10 days, Kain destroyed five more enemy aircraft including an unusual Do 17 victory on 15 May where the enemy crew (of KG 3) was seen to bale out when Kain had attacked in a head-on pass.[11] and probably destroyed or damaged another five.

On 22 May he was again posted back to England with other pilots but on arrival Kain and another pilot were ordered to immediately report back to 73 Squadron, they were put on administrative duties and Kain did not fly again until 25 May when he destroyed a Do 17 but had to make an emergency landing in his damaged Hurricane. He subsequently destroyed a Henschel Hs 126 on 26 May and another Do 17 on 27 May. Kain continued to fly as his unit retreated from one airfield to the next during the Allied retreat to Dunkirk and on 5 June, he shot down a Bf 109.

Officially credited with the destruction of 16 enemy aircraft and one damaged in fighter engagements, Kain was mentioned in dispatches on 27 February 1940.[12]

Final sortie[edit]

By 6 June 1940, Kain was the RAF's top ace, and he was informed he would be returning to England the next day; the following morning, a group of his squadron mates gathered at the airfield at Échemines to bid him farewell as he took off in his Hurricane to fly to Le Mans to collect his kit. Unexpectedly, Kain began a "beat-up" of the airfield, performing a series of low level aerobatics in Hurricane I L1826. Commencing a series of "flick" rolls, on his third roll, the ace misjudged his altitude and hit the ground heavily in a level attitude. Kain died when he was pitched out of the cockpit, striking the ground 27 m in front of the exploding Hurricane. Kain is buried in Choloy Military Cemetery.[13]

Based on his exploits in the air as well as an engaging, friendly manner, "Cobber" (New Zealand slang for "pal") Kain was treated as a popular hero by the RAF as well as the media.[4]

Kain Place in his home town of Hastings, New Zealand, was named in his honour in 2008.[14] Kain Avenue in Matraville, Sydney, Australia, was also named in his honour.


  1. ^ https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34383/page/2010
  2. ^ Douglas Bader, Fight for the Sky (1974)
  3. ^ https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34820/page/1849
  4. ^ a b Shores 1975, p. 70.
  5. ^ Bowyer 2001, p. 68.
  6. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 68.
  7. ^ https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34660/page/5928
  8. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 69.
  9. ^ Air Force News (PDF). Wellington, NZ: Air Staff. 2012. p. 35. ISSN 1175-2327. Retrieved 16 March 2017.
  10. ^ Kain, Edgar James (1918–40): Fighter pilot.
  11. ^ Bowyer 2001, p. 72.
  12. ^ https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/34795/supplement/1056
  13. ^ Norrie, Don. "Metz, France: Choloy Military Cemetery." Archived 27 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine www.pinetreeline.org, 8 May 2003. Retrieved: 11 March 2009.
  14. ^ "Kain Place". Hastings District Council. Retrieved 22 September 2018.
  • Bowyer, Chaz. Fighter Pilots of the RAF: 1939-1945. London: Pen & Sword Books, 2001. ISBN 0-85052-786-4.
  • Burns, Michael G. Cobber Kain. Auckland, New Zealand: Random Century, 1992. ISBN 0-9583693-2-1.
  • Hess, William N. The Allied Aces of World War II. New York: Arco Publishing Co., 1966.
  • Shores, Christopher. Fighter Aces. London: Hamlyn Publishing, 1975. ISBN 0-600-30230-X.
  • Shores, Christopher and Clive Williams. Aces High. London: Grub Street, 1994. ISBN 1-898697-00-0.
  • Stowers, Richard. Cobber Kain: Kiwi Fighter Ace Extraordinaire. Hamilton, New Zealand: R. Stowers, 2010. ISBN 978-0-473-16609-0.

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