Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Friday Flyby - 12 July

From June of 1940 until June of 1941 the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy's (RN) Fleet Air Arm stood alone against the Axis powers of Germany and Italy. Joined by a number of French, Czech and Polish pilots and with important support from the Commonwealth in the form of the Royal Canadian Air Force and pilots from South Africa, the United Kingdom stayed in the fight.

They fought alone until Hitler's colossal blunder of invading the Soviet Union. Still there was much hard fighting in the West until American aerial strength began to make significant contributions beginning in 1943.

While many contributed to this fight, this post will focus on the top 11 aces, 9 from the RAF, 2 from the RN. Each of these men scored at least 23 kills.

Air Vice Marshal James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson
Royal Air Force
38 Aerial Victories
1915 - 2001
Johnson flew 700 operational sorties engaging enemy aircraft on only 57 occasions. Included in his list of individual victories were 14 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and 20 Focke-Wulf Fw 190s destroyed making him the most successful RAF ace against the Fw 190.

Johnson was initially rejected by the RAF on medical grounds, but after the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, with the need for pilots in RAF Fighter Command being urgent, Johnson was accepted.

Johnson's injury problems, however, had resurfaced during his early training and flying career, resulting in him not participating in the battles in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the Battle of Britain. In 1941 Johnson began flying regularly and took part in the offensive sweeps over occupied Europe from 1941–44. Johnson was involved in heavy aerial fighting during this period. His combat tour included the Battle of Normandy, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. Johnson scored his last victory in September 1944, but he continued to fly combat missions to the last day of the war.

Johnson continued his career in the RAF after the war, and served in the Korean War. Johnson eventually retired in 1966, with the rank of Air Vice Marshal. He died in 2001.


Squadron Leader William "Cherry" Vale
Royal Air Force
30 Aerial Victories

1914 - 1981
Squadron Leader Vale's 20 kills achieved while flying the Hawker Hurricane and his 10 with the Gloster Gladiator made him the second highest scoring Hurricane and second high scoring biplane pilot in the RAF.


Wing Commander Roland Robert Stanford Tuck
Royal Air Force
29 Aerial Victories
1916 - 1987
Tuck joined the RAF in 1935. Tuck first engaged in combat during the Battle of France, over Dunkirk, claiming his first victories. In September 1940 he was promoted to Squadron Leader and commanded a Hawker Hurricane squadron. In 1941-1942, Tuck participated in fighter sweeps over northern France. On 28 January 1942, Tuck was hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced landed in France and was taken prisoner.

Wing Commander John Randall Daniel 'Bob' Braham
Royal Air Force
29 Aerial Victories
1920 - 1974
Wing Commander Braham was one of the most highly decorated airman of the RAF in World War II. He was the top scoring RAF ace flying twin-engined fighters and was fifth among RAF fighter pilots in all theatres of war. He flew the Bristol Beaufighter at first, switching to the DeHavilland Mosquito later on.

Against his wishes Wg Cdr Braham was rested from operations and posted from No 141 Squadron on 1 October 1943. He took a staff course at the Staff College, Camberley from October 1943 until February 1944. He was then posted as 'Wing Commander Night Operations ' at HQ No. 2 Group RAF. Although a Staff Officer at HQ, Braham was able, with persistence, to persuade his AOC, Air Vice Marshal Basil Embry to allow him to 'free-lance' using a Mosquito FBVI loaned from one of the various squadrons in the group. On 12 May Braham's Mosquito was hit by both anti-aircraft fire and fire from a Bf 109 over Denmark. Braham and Gregory bailed out 70 miles from the English coast, being hauled out of the water by Air-Sea Rescue. 

His last operation of the war was a lone daylight 'Ranger' operation over Denmark and north Germany on 25 June 1944. Attacked by two Focke-Wulf Fw 190's of Jagdgeschwader 1 over Denmark, he managed to crash land his crippled plane on a sandstrip by the coast and was captured. One of the German pilots (Robert Spreckles) insisted on meeting him and the two became friends after the war.



Squadron Leader James Harry "Ginger" Lacey
Royal Air Force
28 Aerial Victories
1917 - 1989
Squadron Leader Lacey was one of the top scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilots of the Second World War and was the second highest scoring British RAF fighter pilot of the Battle of Britain, behind P/O Eric Lock of No. 41 Squadron RAF.


Group Captain Frank Reginald "Chota" Carey
Royal Air Force
28 Aerial Victories
1912 - 2004
Group Captain was the second-highest scoring Hawker Hurricane fighter ace of the war. Carey and No. 135 Squadron were diverted to reinforce the severely pressed Allied Air Forces in Burma in December 1941.

Carey had now gained the Indian nickname 'Chota' ('small') because of his size. His last claim was on 25 October 1942 when a Nakajima Ki-43 'Oscar' was a probable victory. He was attacked on take-off from Chittagong by a number of Oscars and after a battle at very low level an Oscar reportedly flew into a hill. His tally against the Japanese is officially at least seven, but with the Allies in full retreat at the time and many records lost, there are numerous others who fought alongside Carey that consider he destroyed many more, possibly taking his tally to over 30.

Carey was taken off operations in late 1942 and then commanded RAF Alipore. He was sent to Air HQ, Bengal, and then in February 1943 formed the 'Air Fighting Training Unit' based at RAF Amarda Road. In November 1944 he was posted to command 73 OTU in Egypt as a Group Captain, receiving the AFC. He ended the war as a wing commander, which he had been promoted to on 6 May 1945.

Squadron Leader Neville Frederick Duke
Royal Air Force
27 Aerial Victories
1922 - 2007
Squadron Leader Duke was the most successful Western Allied ace in the Mediterranean Theatre, and was credited with the destruction of 27 enemy aircraft. After the end of the war, Duke was acknowledged as one of the world's foremost test pilots. In 1953, he became holder of the world air speed record when he flew a Hawker Hunter at 727.63 mph over Littlehampton. He became a well-known celebrity in the Coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II, alongside footballer Stanley Matthews, actor Dirk Bogarde and mountaineer Edmund Hillary.

Flight Lieutenant Eric Stanley Lock
Royal Air Force
26 Aerial Victories
1919 - 1941
Flight Lieutenant Lock joined the RAF in 1939. He completed his training in 1940 and was posted to No. 41 Squadron RAF in time for the Battle of Britain. Lock became the RAF's most successful Allied pilot during the battle, shooting down 21 German aircraft and sharing in the destruction of one.

After the Battle of Britain Lock served on the Channel Front, flying offensive sweeps over France. Lock went on to bring his overall total to 26 aerial victories, one shared destroyed and eight probable in 25 weeks of operational sorties over a one-year period—during which time he was hospitalised for six months. Included in his victory total were 20 German fighter aircraft, 18 of them Messerschmitt Bf 109s. In mid-1941 Lock was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Lock earned the nickname "Sawn Off Lockie", because of his extremely short stature. Within less than six months of becoming one of the most famous RAF pilots in the country, he crash–landed in the English Channel after his Supermarine Spitfire was damaged by ground–fire. Lock was posted missing in action. He was never seen again.

Lieutenant Commander Alfred Jack "Jackie" Sewell
Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm
25 Aerial Victories
????- 1943
‘Jackie' Sewell served as a Sub Lieutenant Fulmar pilot on HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean during 1940-41 usually flying with Leading Aircraftman Denis J. Tribe as his observer.

Late in 1942 he commanded 804 Squadron aboard HMS Dasher from October to July 1943 taking part in the North African landings on 8 November 1942. Subsequently in September 1943, he formed 1837 Squadron on Corsairs in the USA.

On 3 October 1943 while practising formation flying over Yarmouth, Maine, USA, his wingman collided with his aircraft and both crashed to their deaths. Sewell was at the time flying Corsair Mk.I JT190.

Fairey Fulmar

Lieutenant Commander Richard John (Dickie) Cork
Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm
23 Aerial Victories
1917 - 1944
Lieutenant Commander Cork  Cork, though a naval officer, served in the Battle of Britain as the wingman for Douglas Bader in No. 242 Squadron Royal Air Force. In October 1940, he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, which at the insistence of the Admiralty was exchanged for a Distinguished Service Cross.

When he returned to the Fleet Air Arm, Cork served with 880 Naval Air Squadron in the Arctic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean. It was during Operation Pedestal in 1942 that he became the only Royal Navy pilot to shoot down five aircraft in one day, and was the leading naval ace using the Hawker Hurricane. He was given command of the 15th Naval Fighter Wing aboard HMS Victorious before being killed in a flying accident over Ceylon in 1944.

Sea Hurricane

Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader
Royal Air Force
23 Aerial Victories
1910 - 1982
Group Captain Bader joined the RAF in 1928, and was commissioned in 1930. In December 1931, while attempting some aerobatics, he crashed and lost both his legs. Having been on the brink of death, he recovered, retook flight training, passed his check flights and then requested reactivation as a pilot. Although there were no regulations applicable to his situation, he was retired against his will on medical grounds. After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, however, Bader returned to the RAF and was accepted as a pilot. He scored his first victories over Dunkirk during the Battle of France in 1940. He then took part in the Battle of Britain and became a friend and supporter of Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory and his "Big Wing" experiments.

In August 1941, Bader bailed out over German-occupied France and was captured. Soon afterward, he met and befriended Adolf Galland, a prominent German fighter ace. The circumstances surrounding how Bader was shot down in 1941 are controversial. Recent research strongly suggests he was a victim of friendly fire. Despite his disability, Bader made a number of escape attempts and was eventually sent to the POW camp at Colditz Castle. He remained there until April 1945 when the camp was liberated by the First United States Army.

Bader left the RAF permanently in February 1946 and resumed his career in the oil industry. During the 1950s, a book and a film, Reach for the Sky, chronicled his life and RAF career to the end of the Second World War. Bader campaigned for the disabled – for which he was knighted in 1976 – and continued to fly until ill health forced him to stop in 1979. Three years later, at the age of 72, Bader died on 5 September 1982, from a sudden heart attack.

So there you have it, the top British aces of World War II.

Typhoon Over Falaise!


  1. Great post! Could those guys look any more British? And could Captain Bader's story be any more inspiring? Wow!

    1. Good point on the very British look of those pilots. I've seen Yanks in RAF kit and they still look like Yanks.

      Group Captain Bader was quite a guy. I read his book as a kid, I need to re-read that.

      Though the whole Leigh-Mallory thing bothers me. Many American (and British) generals hated Leigh-Mallory's guts. With some reason!

  2. Most excellent, yet again. I'm kinda surprised you didn't mention the Eagle Squadrons when you said the RAF and the RN/FAA "stood alone" in the early days of the war.

    1. I should have mentioned the Americans who joined the RCAF or the RAF. I am surprised myself that I didn't think of them. But the goal here was to highlight the top British aces.

      But I did mention the French, Czechs and Poles. And the Commonwealth types, like Canadians and South Africans. While typing that up I had the nagging suspicion that something was missing. But it does give me another topic for another Friday Flyby, "Yanks in the RCAF/RAF" or something of that nature.

      Jeez, I forgot my own guys!

  3. Bader! If there was anyone who was more helpful in motivating me to fly again, it was him. If he could fly fighters with two prosthetics, how could I not fly Cessnas with just one?

    1. Bader is probably one of the more famous British aces in America. Probably because of his book but probably more likely due to his returning to combat flying after losing both legs. An inspiring man.


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