A HELENSBURGH man was a World War Two Royal Air Force flying ace, and then went on to reach high rank after the war.
Bill Pitt-Brown, of Saunton, Havelock Street, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in Burma in May 1943, the American DFC in France in July 1944, and a bar to the British DFC in January 1945, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported.
In the New Year’s Honours List in 1952 he received the Air Force Cross, and in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in June 1960 he was made a Commander of the Order of the Bath.
His extraordinary career began at the RAF College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire, and on January 30 1940 he was promoted from Pilot Officer to Flying Officer.
He was posted to India where he saw service on the North-West Frontier with 31 Squadron flying Wapatis and Valencias.
When the Japanese attacked in the Far East he was posted to command 5 Squadron flying Mohawk fighters in Assam and on the Imphal front, already in the rank of Squadron Leader.
In October 1942 5 Squadron moved to Bengal for patrols over the Arakan area in the monsoon period. On October 7 ten Mohawks led by him escorted Blenheim bombers in an attack on Akyab, and one pilot downed a Japanese Ki-48 ‘Lily”.
Soon afterwards 155 Squadron moved to Alipore, in Calcutta, and on October 30 flew its first offensive sortie. At the same time Squadron Leader Pitt-Brown became the Wing Leader of No.169 Wing.
As a wing leader he was able to carry his initials on his aircraft (pictured below), so WPB adorned the fuselage and the initials PB also appeared on the nose in white.
Fierce action over Arakan came on November 10. First 155 escorted Blenheims to Akyab docks and ran into Ki-43 ‘Oscars’ of the elite 64th Sentai. In the dogfight two Mohawks were lost, but two ‘Oscars’ also fell — 155’s first air combat claims.
Later that day the Blenheims attacked Akyab again, the escort provided by 5’s Mohawks led by wing leader Pitt-Brown. They too encountered ‘Oscars’, and in a confused fight two enemy fighters were destroyed, one by Pitt-Brown.
His radio was not working, so he was unable to control the fight, but seeing a group of ‘Oscars’ at 9000ft he attacked alone, hitting one which was crash-landed at Akyab by its dying pilot.
It had been a successful engagement by the Mohawk wing in the biggest combat of the war between Mohawks and the Japanese Air Force.
In 1943 in Burma he was awarded the DFC for his bravery when taking part in an attack on enemy shipping, when he destroyed one enemy fighter.
Returning to the UK he served on the Armament Wing at the Fighter Leader School at Millfield in 1944, then was given command of 174 Squadron with Typhoons which he led through the Normandy Invasion which began in June of that year.
He was awarded the American DFC in July for bravery on duty over France, and in August he became Wing Leader of 121 Wing.
On September 10, while flying a Typhoon with No.174 ‘Mauritius’ (F) Squadron and tasked to reconnoitre German movements over the West Scheldt, he attacked two large barges, but his aircraft was hit by flak between Lille and Ghent, and he baled out. The Typhoon crashed at 10.50am near Ghent. He was rested in October after more than 100 operational sorties.
In January 1945 he was awarded a bar to his British DFC, and the citation said that this officer had completed his second tour of operational duty during which he had commanded his squadron and led his wing.
It stated: “He has operated continuously from Great Britain and the Continent, having taken a commendable part in the battles in Normandy and the subsequent advance.
“As a squadron commander Wing Commander Pitt-Brown very ably supported his wing leader in the actions at Falaise and Mortain.”
After the war he continued his RAF career, and he was promoted to Wing Commander on July 1 1950.
He became Wing Commander Flying at RAF Horsham St Faith in Norfolk where commanded a squadron of Gloster Meteors, Britain’s first jet fighter.
In 1951 he led one of three Meteor wings on a flypast over Buckingham Palace in honour of the King’s official birthday on June 7.
In the 1952 New Year’s Honours List he was awarded the Air Force Cross, and that month he took up the appointment of Station Commander at RAF Biggin Hill, where he is pictured (above left). He served there until February 1953.
He became an acting Group Captain in 1956, serving at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire.
In June 1961 he left Fighter Command, where he was Group Captain Operations, to go to Washington as Senior Air Staff Officer and principal assistant air attaché to the British Defence Staff as acting Air Commodore. From August 1967 to March 1969 he was the RAF’s Director of Flying Training.
The two colour pictures of him were supplied by Ron Lehman, of Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, who is seen with him in the image below. They were taken aboard a fast catamaran ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg on June 3 1999.
Ron recalls: "I met this wonderful gentleman at the ferry terminal in Portsmouth when we were on our way to Cherbourg each to carry out our respectful duties of remembrance for June 6, the 55th anniversary of D-Day.
"I watched Bill slowly walk down the walkway to the terminal pulling his little wheeled suitcase after I had debarked from my bus from Coshom. I followed with the thought that he probably was a veteran heading over to France for some of the current celebrations.
"As I needed a ticket I asked for directions and was informed of the location, and when I arrived, there was Bill just securing his ducat in his passport briefcase. I asked him if he was a veteran and if so what service he had fought in. He said he had been a pilot flying Typhoon fighters in Normandy.
"Two days before I had just visited Hendon in London and had my photo taken in front of the last remaining Typhoon, but had taken a copy of that plane from the book 'Typhoon and Tempest' before leaving Canada to make sure that I found that beautiful aircraft when I arrived at Hendon.
"I had a file in my old army knapsack bag with that photo in it, and I took it out and showed it to Bill. He kind of smiled a knowing smile and from that moment on we were friends.
"He bought me a coffee and we chatted for the next four hours there and on the fast ferry to Cherbourg.
"He asked me to come to Villiers Bocage on the 6th for a dedication at the Typhoon Memorial but I had some very serious plans for that day and the next three weeks of doing battlefield tours and Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries across France, Belguim, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany.
"I still wish I had gone to be with him because I really liked him and the many stories he entrusted me with. He was a real genuine down-to-earth hero, but not once during our many conversations did he ever brag about his exploits, never.
"Bill, who was living in London, and I exchanged some letters and Christmas cards for a few years and one year I never got his card and never heard anything from anyone about Bill's whereabouts, and so assumed he had passed away."
Ron later added to the story of Bill Pitt-Brown with a tale set in Normandy, near Villers Bocage, site of a former airfield, in mid to late June 1944, which Bill shared with him on the ferry to Cherbourg on June 3 1999.
Ron writes . . .
Living quarters for pilots and Erks were tents because it afforded quick movement when the Typhoon Squadron needed to move because the Allied armies were moving quickly into France, making everything supporting the squadron very portable.
Supplies for the fighting forces including Sherman tanks were being brought in from the beach area to storage areas and the tanks were being lined up in a field adjacent to the tent area the pilots were using for quarters.
One night, sometime after midnight, one of the tanks exploded and burned, and investigation the next morning found nothing that told authorities what had caused the explosion. However, this became the norm every night —one tank exploding and burning with no apparent reason for the damage. This included the last few nights when two tanks went up, bringing the total to seventeen.
By now the Brass were wanting an answer after almost two weeks. On the last morning a sharp eyed private saw something suspicious near a thicket and upon close inspection found a well camouflaged cover over a 'spider hidey hole' and a Hitler Jugend teenager with food, water, and a large cache of magnetic timed mines which he was putting on the bottom of the tanks, setting the timers and crawling back to his hiding spot to await the next night to repeat his demolition of tanks.
He was very careful to cover his tracks making it very hard to find where he was hiding.
Naturally these goings-on upset everyone on the base, and Bill told me he was having trouble getting some 'shut-eye' every night. After they dragged the youth from his hiding spot one Sergeant wanted to shoot him, but an officer stopped that because "he's a POW now".
Bill said that he was only about sixteen years old, dirty and tired looking, but had that determined look of a Hitler Youth on his face. It was Bill's first look at the enemy and he knew with inexperienced soldiers like that we would win the war.
Bill also told me that his wife worked at Bletchley Park during the war but never broke her silence or the vow of secrecy before she died. He was very proud of her and still took no credit for his service on the front lines of flying fighter aircraft.
He went to the Far East as a Spitfire pilot after his service in Europe was no longer needed as that theatre of war was winding down. He participated in many air battles with Japanese fighter aircraft until V-J Day.