Remarkable People

ID #5242

Sailor Malan, Ace Battle of Britain Fighter Pilot, Wellington and Kimberley, South Africa.

Adolph ‘Sailor’ Malan was an outstanding pilot and leader in the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain. He commanded the Fighter Command base at Biggin Hill and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for leadership and bravery.

Malan was born in 1910. After a spell at sea, he joined the Royal Air Force and trained to fly in 1936. In 1937 he was promoted Flight Commander of No 74 Squadron. When war was declared it was equipped with spitfires. Malan fought over the beaches of Dunkirk. However the head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, ordered that fighter planes be withdrawn to prevent further loss. During the evacuation, Malan was credited with ten kills, shared-kills or damaged enemy aircraft and in June 1940 was awarded the DFC.

In August 1940 Malan was given command of 74 Squadron. He was highly respected if unorthodox. Traditionally, fighter pilots had been trained to attack in “3 aircraft Vic” formation. Malan introduced a system whereby attacks were done by four fighters in-line. He also ordered that his men should get to within 250m of their target before firing as opposed to the more conventional 400m. This, he believed, gave a greater chance of firing accurately. He also produced his “Ten Commandments” for fighter pilots. During the Battle of Britain, Malan’s success continued, destroying or sharing in the destruction of nine German aircraft. In March 1941, Malan was given command of Biggin Hill fighter base, Britain’s most important fighter base during the war. While at Biggin Hill, he shot down or damaged fifteen Me-109s. He was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Air Commodore Alan Deere, wrote of Malan: “Sailor Malan was the best pilot of the war -- a good tactician, an above average pilot and an excellent shot.”

From August 1941 to November 1943, Malan held a variety of posts and in October 1941 went to the USA to lecture to the US Army Air Corps. In November 1943 he was given command of the 19 Fighter Wing (2nd TAF) and, as commander of 145 Wing, escorted Horsa gliders during D-Day landings.

He left the RAF in 1946 and returned to South Africa. Along with his DFC and Bar and DSO and Bar, he was also awarded the Croix de Guerre from both Belgium and France and the Czech Military Cross. Malan destroyed 27 Luftwaffe planes and damaged or shared another 26. Malan died in September 1963 aged 52. RSASM

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Last update: 2014-03-02 21:56
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.6

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