Remarkable People

ID #5342

Pat Pattle, WW2 Ace Fighter Pilot, Graeme College, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Marmaduke Thomas St. John "Pat" Pattle was an RAF fighter ace. He is sometimes credited as being the highest-scoring British and Commonwealth pilot of WW2. If all claims made for him were in fact correct, his total would be in excess of 51. However, it can be confidently stated that his final score was at least 40. Pattle has been unofficially credited with about 50 victories; in total, 26 victims were Italian; 15 were downed with Gloster Gladiators, the rest with Hawker Hurricanes. He is considered to be the highest-scoring ace on both Gladiator (15 victories) and Hurricane (35 victories) fighters.

Pattle was born in Butterworth on 3 July 1914, the son of English parents who had emigrated to the Union.  He attended Keetmanshoop Secondary School and Victoria Boy's High School which was renamed Graeme College in 1939. On leaving school Pattle joined the SAAF as a cadet but in 1936 transferred to the RAF. He completed his training in the UK and in 1937 joined 80 Squadron, which had been re-equipped with Gloster Gladiator biplanes. In April 1938, he accompanied the unit to Egypt where he became a flight commander in 1939. A gifted flyer and natural marksman, he took infinite pains to improve both talents, doing exercises to improve his distance vision and sharpen his reflexes.

Following the outbreak of war the unit moved up to the Libyan border, where in August 1940, Pattle first saw action. During early battles with the Italians over the desert, he claimed four victories and a probable, although he was shot down on 4 August 1940. He started to walk towards Allied lines and, after two days, was rescued by a detachment from the 11th Hussars, who returned him to Sidi Barrani.

In November 1940 the squadron was transferred to the Balkans to assist the Greek Air Force. Pattle was to enjoy significant success and was awarded the DFC on 11 February 1941. Amazingly, his victories thus far were all with the obsolete Gloster Gladiator. 80 Squadron was re-equipped with the Hawker Hurricane Mk I on 20 February 1941.That day Pattle was leading a group of six No. 80 Squadron Hurricanes that were escorting Blenheims to Berat. Fiat G.50’s were scrambled from Berat but were attacked by the Hurricanes. Pattle selected the leading aircraft as his own target. As he closed, the Fiat pulled away in a steep turn but he managed to hold it in his gunsight until he came into range. It was the first time he had fired the eight guns of the Hurricane, and the "G.50 exploded right before his eyes, disintegrating in hundreds of small flaming pieces", as his biography relates. It was the first of 35 Hurricane victories that Pattle would claim over the next two months.

Pattle received a bar to his DFC on 18 March 1941, for which the citation read: Air Ministry, 18th March, 1941, ROYAL AIR FORCE. The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallantry displayed in flying operations against the enemy: Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross. Flight Lieutenant Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle, D.F.C. (39029), No. 80 Squadron. March 1941, during an engagement over Himara Flight Lieutenant Pattle shot down three enemy fighters. This courageous and skillful fighter pilot has now destroyed at least 23 enemy aircraft.

Pattle later served with 33 Squadron as Commanding officer during March and April 1941. On his first encounter with the Luftwaffe on 6 April 1941, Pattle claimed two victories. Thereafter, details vary as to his score as all records were destroyed. According to a diary kept by one of his ground crew, he claimed eight more victories by 12 April, destroyed two more 109s on the ground and subsequently claimed five more victories on the 14th and six on the 19th.

In late April Pattle was suffering from influenza. His condition worsened to a point where Squadron Leader Edward Jones, acting Wing Commander, ordered him to reduce his flying and to only take off when the air raid alarm was sounded. On his last combat operation, a formation of 12 Hawker Hurricanes, the entire Allied air presence in Greece at the time, participated in a prestige mission over Athens to bolster Greek morale. The formation was attacked in what became known as the Battle of Athens. F/L Roald Dahl records five Hurricanes were downed, with four pilots dying; one of those was Pattle. Still suffering from combat fatigue and influenza, he tried to save one of his pilots when he was shot him down over Eleusis Bay, five miles southwest of Athens.

Pattle is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial at El Alamein together with 3,000 Commonwealth airmen who lost their lives in the Middle East during the Second World War but who have no known grave.

Pattle's final "score" will probably never be known. Existing records up to early April 1941 list Pattle as claiming at least 34 confirmed kills, and many more probables. Aviation historian Christopher Shores claims Pattle's final score as 50 individual and two shared victories. Andrew Thomas reports the same score. Recent research of his 50 claims suggests Pattle's true total could be at least 27–44 kills, making him the highest scoring RAF biplane ace, one of the top Hurricane pilots of the conflict, and possibly the top RAF ace of the war. Pattle is mentioned in Roald Dahl's second autobiography, Going Solo. Dahl flew with him in Greece and calls Pattle "the Second World War's greatest flying ace. Air Marshal Sir Peter Wykeham, recalled: "Pat Pattle was a natural. Some fighter pilots did not last long because they were too kind to their aircraft; others were successful because they caned it half to death. And their victories were accompanied by burst engines, popped rivets, stretched wire and wrinkled wings. But Pat was a sensitive pilot, who somehow he got more from his machine than anyone else, and possibly more than it had to give." PatPattle

Source of Information: see Wikipedia

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Last update: 2014-03-02 21:42
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.9

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