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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.


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14.05.1940 No 1 Squadron Hurricane I P2546 F/O. Clisby D.F.C.

Operation: Patrol

Date: 14th May 1940 (Tuesday)

Unit: No.1 Squadron RAF

Type: Hurricane I

Serial. P2546

Code: No known

Location: South West of Rethel, France

Pilot: Flying Officer Leslie Redford Clisby D.F.C. 40043 R.A.F. Age 25. Killed

REASON FOR LOSS:

This aircraft was shot down in combat South West of Rethel, France.

It is worth mentioning that the day before on the 13.05.40 F/O. Clisby's Hurricane I, serial number L1694 was damaged in landing in order to 'secure' the crew of a He111. He landed near the bomber and chased the crew on foot! This happened S.W. of Vouzieres at 06.40 hrs and the aircraft had to be abandoned. Leslie Clisby was Australia's first ace with 18 victories.

Born on 29th June 1914 at McLaren Vale, South Australia, second of four children of native-born parents Albert Edward Clisby, carpenter, and his wife Mabel Eliza, née Chapman. The Clisbys were a music-loving, Methodist family. Educated at Nailsworth Junior Technical School, Les attended night-classes in engineering at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, Adelaide; earnest and thorough, he gained reasonable results. In 1935 he enlisted as a mechanic in the Royal Australian Air Force and was soon accepted for flying training at Point Cook, Victoria. A good sportsman, he was 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, slim in build, with light-brown hair.

Convinced that his aircraft was out of control while practising formation flying on 24th April 1936, Clisby parachuted safely. His plane was destroyed. A court of inquiry attributed the mishap to his inexperience. Graduating in 1937, he was one of twenty-five pilots immediately sent to England. On 26th August he was granted a five-year commission in the Royal Air Force. Clisby was posted to No.1 Squadron, based at Tangmere, Sussex. There he gained a thorough knowledge of the workings of a fighter unit as part of a larger air force; he also enjoyed the sporting and social life open to an officer in the R.A.F. He informed his family that he had become engaged to a young woman in Adelaide, though he had not seen her since leaving home.

The squadron was equipped with new Hawker Hurricanes, armed with eight .303-inch (7.70 mm) machine-guns; its commanding officer, Squadron Leader Patrick Halahan, defied regulations and ordered the guns to be sighted so that the eight streams of bullets converged at 250 yards (228.6 m), increasing their effectiveness. Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 and five days later No.1 Squadron flew to Le Havre, France. During the 'phoney war' in Western Europe, the airmen engaged in a series of small clashes with the Luftwaffe and endured the harsh winter of 1939-40. Well trained and confident, Clisby wrote reassuring letters to his parents.

On 1 April 1940 he experienced his first aerial conflict and more action followed that month. The German blitzkrieg began on 10 May. Outnumbered, the R.A.F. and French squadrons were rapidly overwhelmed, although the modification to the guns of No.1 Squadron's aircraft ensured that its pilots had considerable success. Clisby flew each day and was credited with destroying fourteen enemy aeroplanes; the number may have been twenty, but insufficient records survived for the true figure to be known. In one exploit he shot down a German bomber, landed beside it in a field and captured its crew at pistol-point. The squadron diarist quipped: 'He wanted their autographs!'

To maintain his national identity, Flying Officer Clisby wore a R.A.A.F. uniform on operations and was Australia's first fighter ace of World War II. On the 14th May 1940 he was killed in combat with Bf109's South West of Rethel, France near Reims. Clisby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while listed as missing.

F/O. Robert Lorimer on left (1) and F/O. Leslie Clisby, No 1 Squadron taken in France 1940 (archives)

No 1 Squadron in France scramble, (thought to be for the benefit of a film crew) F/O. Robert Lorimer is second from the left with F/O. Leslie Clisby bringing up the rear.

F/O. Robert Lorimer was also lost on this same operation, although he has no 'known' grave.

Burial detail:

Initially he was buried in the local communal cemetery - reinterred after end of hostilities as described below.

F/O. Leslie Redford Clisby D.F.C. Choloy War Cemetery. 2. G. 8. Son of Albert E. Clisby and Mabel E. Clisby, of North Walkerville, South Australia.

With thanks to the following for information supplied, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Peter Cornwell - 'Battle of France Then and Now', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses' Vol. 1,

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives and Fred Paradie - Paradie Archive (both on this site), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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Last Modified: 27 December 2015, 13:30