This month’s edition of Flypast pays tribute to one of the country’s finest pilots and a true gentleman – the legendary Neville Duke, fighter ace and test pilot. Ken Ellis and I trace his highly successful career as a fighter pilot in the skies over UK and in the Middle East and as a test pilot with Hawkers. One of the RAF’s top-scoring ‘Aces’ with twenty-seven confirmed victories and awarded the DSO and DFC & 2 Bars, he was one of the RAF’s most highly decorated fighter pilots. After leaving the RAF he became one of the best known test pilots in the world and will always be permanently associated with the beautiful Hawker Hunter and his displays at the Farnborough Air Shows.
In the September issue of Britain at War, I have written an article given the title ‘Holding the Line – At All Costs’. It relates the story of Sergeant Norman Gerrish and his colleagues of No. 2807 Squadron of the RAF Regiment in their epic battle to take and hold the crucial airfield of Meiktila in Burma during the advance of Lieutenant General Sir William Slim’s 14th Army to Rangoon.
Gerrish’s inspirational leadership resulted in the immediate award of the Military Medal for gallantry. The citation highlighted his ‘courage, determination and leadership in holding two companies of the Japanese and for their ultimate defeat’.
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Throughout the RAF’s Centenary year, Flypast magazine is running a series of features commemorating significant activities that reflect the RAF’s illustrious history. In the latest issue is an article I have written on the RAF’s record-breaking long-distance expeditions of the 1920s and 1930s. The article discusses the earliest long-distance flights to India, to West Africa and to South Africa before outlining in detail, the record-breaking attempts by the Fairey Monoplane, which culminated in a non-stop to Walvis Bay, a distance of 5,309 miles. The article concludes with a detailed account of the flight in 1938 of three Wellesleys of the Long Range Development Unit. Two successfully completed the 7,159 miles non-stop flight from Ismailia in Egypt to Darwin in Australia in 48 hours and 5 minutes .
A First Day Cover with six specially commissioned stamps to commemorate the RAF Centenary was issued by the Royal Mail on 20 March 2018 together with a card insert. In addition a special pack of Centenary stamps and four new stamps depicting the Red Arrows was issued. Also produced is a booklet which includes a series of short narratives highlighting major milestones in the RAF’s 100 year history. I was honoured to be invited by the Royal Mail to produce all the written material for the issue.
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This month’s edition of FlyPast has a feature on the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). Included is my article on the numerous attacks mounted by carrier-borne squadrons of the FAA against the German battleship Tirpitz always referred to by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as ‘The Beast’. The article covers the FAA’s intense efforts over a period of time but concentrates on the most significant, Operation Tungsten, mounted on 4 April 1944. This was the most successful attack with numerous hits by the Barracudas carrying a variety of bombs, which put the battleship out of action for a few months.
The latest Spotlight feature in the October issue of Fly Past focuses on the one of World War 2’s unsung workhorses. the Supermarine Walrus, an aircraft designed by R.J. Mitchell. My article, given the title The Sea Shall Not Have Them by the editorial team, concentrates on the great work by two air sea rescue pilots, Tom Fletcher DFC, DFM & Bar who operated in the waters around the south of England, and New Zealander Arnold Divers DFM who made a number of dramatic rescues in the Mediterranean area.
The Spotlight series in the latest edition of Flypast focuses on the Hawker Sea Fury, one of the fastest single piston-engined piston-powered fighters ever built. The feature follows the standard format with accounts of its operational service and I have contributed an article, Fast and Furious, on the men who flew the aircraft, selecting three whose experiences are very different.
- Alan ‘Spiv’ Leahy who earned the DSC for operations over Korea
- Neville Duke who established world speed records en-route to Egypt and Pakistan
- Pete Sheppard who flew many hours as the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Sea Fury pilot