Lieutenant Richard Alexander Fleischmann-Allen D.S.C. and Bar
Born: August 21st 1921. Died: January 29th 2014 Age 92.
Lieutenant ‘Flash’ Allen was a fighter pilot who saved British wartime convoys in the Bay of Biscay and en route to Murmansk
Lieutenant Allen, helped to save two wartime convoys from U-boat attack and was twice decorated for gallantry.
In November 1943 Allen joined 842 Naval Air Squadron in the escort carrier Fencer, one of the so-called “Woolworth carriers’ built in the United States and supplied under Lend-Lease ; she was armed with Swordfish torpedo-bombers and Wildcat fighters to act as convoy escorts.
On December 1 Allen was on deck in the cockpit of his Grumman Wildcat fighter JV427, part of the protection of convoy OS60 bound from Liverpool to Gibraltar, when he was launched to investigate a suspicious radar contact in the Bay of Biscay.
As he broke through the clouds above the convoy he found a Condor, a long-range, four-engined German reconnaissance plane.
Allen later recalled: ‘We managed to intercept and destroy it, but I think they must all have been asleep as return fire was pretty erratic.
They were certainly not expecting fighter aircraft so far from land!’
The fight was over in just nine minutes.
On his first pass Allen saw the Condor burst into flames, and he followed as it circled down and fell into the sea.
He saw two men get into a dinghy before he returned to Fencer.
The Condor was being used to direct U-boats to attack the convoy, and as a result of Allen’s action none of the ships was lost.
He was awarded a DSC, the citation stating that ‘without (Allen’s) high degree of skill the enemy would certainly have got away’.
He then settled down to the ‘occasional strafing of U-boats which had the temerity to surface’.
In October the next year Allen went to 813 NAS, joining another escort carrier, Campania.
Late in the short Arctic day on February 6 1945, Allen was in his Wildcat as part of the escort for convoy JW64 en route to Murmansk.
A contact was detected on Campania’s radar at 28 miles, and he was scrambled to intercept.
He had to fly 150 miles before he sighted his prey, a twin-engined Junkers 88 bomber.
As the enemy aircraft descended into a cloud layer at 1,000ft, Allen fired several bursts and saw it fall, trailing smoke, into the sea. But his satisfaction was tainted by the loss of his wing man, Robert Smyth, who was brought down by return fire: ‘We had flown together for the last two years, and it was a very sad moment for me.’ By this point Allen was short of fuel, and he had only a vague idea of where the carrier was. It was dark when he saw her lights, and he had only a few minutes of fuel in reserve.
Allen surmised that the Junkers had already radioed the convoy’s position, because from then on it was continually harassed by enemy air attack: ‘Time and time again we were scrambled to intercept.
For the naval pilots, flying became more hazardous the further north they sailed, with heavy snow, severe gales and only three hours of daylight. Nevertheless, none of the convoy’s 28 merchant ships was lost.
For the return convoy, RA64, Campania embarked the Russian Admiral Levchenko and his staff, who were travelling to Rosyth to man the battleship Royal Sovereign, which Britain had given to the Soviet Union.
On this voyage the air attacks alternated with hurricane-force winds, and one night, Allen recalled, Campania hove to in 80 knot winds and rolled 45 degrees each way in mountainous seas.
The most hazardous moments for Allen, however, came when he was returning to the convoy after flying fighter patrols: the ships he had been protecting were very apt to open fire on any approaching aircraft without bothering to distinguish whether they were twin-engined, hostile bombers or (like his aircraft) friendly single-engine fighters.
For his Arctic patrols he was awarded a Bar to his DSC.
The son of an engineer, he was born Richard Alexander Fleischmann-Allen (he later dropped Fleischmann from his surname, but a corruption of it survived in his Fleet Air Arm nickname ‘Flash’ on August 21 1921. Brought up in Devon’s Exe valley, he was educated at Bramdean school in Exeter and the University College of the South-West (now Exeter University), abandoning his studies to volunteer for the Fleet Air Arm.
Learning to fly at Grosse Isle, Michigan, Allen came close to giving up before he had even started: ‘It was my very first flight, and my instructor, who was a crop-duster by profession, proceeded to show me a few finer points of the art by flying at zero feet down the length of a field and then pulling up sharply at the end to miss trees by inches. It was, he said, to make sure the dust got right up to the hedge.’
His training continued in the sunnier climes of US Navy bases in Florida, on Stearman biplanes, Harvards, Kingfishers and Brewster Buffaloes, and he was promoted to sub-lieutenant on his return to Britain.
At the Navy’s Operational Fighter Training Unit, newly opened at Yeovilton, Somerset, he flew Fairy Fulmar and Grumman Wildcat fighters, and at Haldon he practised air-to-air gunnery.
Allen joined 1832 Naval Air Squadron at Eglinton, Northern Ireland, in 1943, making his first deck-landings on the training carrier Argus in the Clyde.
After his two years’ service with carriers, during which he flew 251 hours and made 64 deck-landings, he finished his naval aviation career as an instructor at No 1 Naval Air Fighter School, Yeovilton.
Post-war, Allen resumed his university studies and qualified as a civil engineer before emigrating to Australia as a ‘£10 Pom’.
During his career as a surveyor he worked on projects in Australia, Africa and South America.
‘Flash’ Allen retired to Exton, Devon, and enjoyed sailing his boat in the Exe estuary and around the south coast of Britain.
He married, in 1960, Shirley Fairclough, who survives him with their three children.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard of the Spixworthonian Language School.