Squadron Leader Frederick Anthony Owen Gaze D.F.C. + 2 Bars
Born February 3 1920, Melbourne, Australia. Died July 29 2013. Age 93.
Squadron Leader Tony Gaze, was a Second World War Spitfire fighter ace and later became a highly successful motor racing driver.
Left: Gaze in a 1951 Holden 48-215 with Lex Davison and Stan Jones competed in the 1953 Monte Carlo Rally
The archetypal dashing fighter pilot, Gaze shot down at least 11 enemy aircraft; escaped from enemy occupied France with the aid of the French Resistance; and was three times awarded the DFC – one of only 47 men in the Second World War to be so honoured. He also became, in the latter days of the war, the first Australian to shoot down a German jet before becoming the first Australian to fly the RAF’s first jet fighter, the Meteor, in combat.
After the war he also claimed a number of other ‘firsts’. he was the first Australian to compete in a World Championship Grand Prix, and in 1956 was only denied victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix by Stirling Moss. Not content with jet aircraft and racing cars, in 1960 he became the first Australian to compete in the World Gliding Championships.
Flying ran in the blood: his father was a Royal Australian Air Force instructor who had served as a pilot in the First World War, during which time he met his wife Freda, a Royal Flying Corps driver. (see Aircrew Remembered notes)
Tony was educated at Geelong Grammar School, and was a student at Queens College, Cambridge, when war broke out in September 1939. After completing his training on Spitfires he joined No 610 Squadron at Westhampnett, near Goodwood, in March 1941. His younger brother, Scott, also joined a Spitfire squadron at the same time but was killed two weeks later just after his 19th birthday. (see Aircrew Remembered notes)
No 610 was one of three squadrons that formed the Tangmere Wing – led by the legless ace Douglas Bader – and included other fighter greats, including ‘Johnny’ Johnson, ‘Cocky’ Dundas and Denis Crowley-Milling. Under the aggressive leadership of Bader, the wing flew over northern France to engage the Luftwaffe. Gaze achieved his first success on June 26 when he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109. During July he accounted for two others, shared in the destruction of another and probably destroyed two more. These successes resulted in the award of the first of his three DFCs.
After a rest period as an instructor he returned to operations as a flight commander with No 616 Squadron where his old friend ‘Johnny’ Johnson was the other flight commander. The squadron flew high-altitude Spitfires and Gaze achieved several more successes. On August 19 1942, during the ill-fated Dieppe operation, he shot down an enemy aircraft and was awarded a second DFC for his ‘great skill and fine fighting spirit’. He was then appointed to command No 64 Squadron equipped with the new Spitfire Mark IX.
On September 26 he led a wing of Spitfires to give cover to a USAAF bombing raid over Morlaix. One of the three squadrons was No 133, an ‘Eagle’ squadron manned by American pilots. Due to exceptionally high winds, which had not been forecast, the formation became scattered and the Eagles lost all but one of their 12 aircraft, some mistaking the Brest Peninsula for the coast of Devon. Gaze was blamed and removed from his command, returning to No 616 as a flight commander; an official inquiry later concluded that the weather and inexperienced pilots were the principal causes.
During 1943 he continued to fly Spitfires and on August 17 shot down a Focke Wulf 190 and damaged three others. After transferring to No 66 Squadron, flying from Kenley in Surrey, he claimed another FW 190 on September 4, his eighth confirmed victim, whilst escorting RAF bombers on a raid to Amiens. Moments later he was engaged in a fierce dog fight by the German ace Gerhard Vogt; the pair had been locked in battle for 10 minutes when Gaze’s engine was hit and he was forced to land 20 miles west of Dieppe. Despite suffering facial wounds he avoided capture and was picked up by members of a French Resistance organisation.
Over the next few weeks he was sheltered in safe houses before joining other evaders and being escorted to the foothills of the Pyrenees. On the evening of October 10 guides led his party into the mountains. After a difficult climb avoiding German patrols they reached the Andorran town of Ordino. They remained there for three days before embarking on an arduous walk into Spain to get clear of the border. They eventually reached Barcelona before being taken to Madrid and on to Gibraltar. Gaze flew back to England less than two months after being shot down.
He did not return to operations until after the D-Day landings, when he was appointed a flight commander on 610 Squadron, equipped with the powerful Griffin-engined Spitfire. On August 5 he shot down a V-1 flying bomb over Kent. Then, towards the end of the year, the squadron was transferred to Holland, where on January 1 1945 he shot down a FW 190.
On February 14, Gaze and his wingman were on patrol over Nijmegen when he sighted three of the new Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters. He dived down and opened fire on one at 300 yards, hitting its starboard engine. As it pulled up he fired again and it plummeted through cloud before hitting the ground and exploding.
By the end of April he had added to his score by sharing in the destruction of a jet bomber, shooting down a transport aircraft and destroying another FW 190. He then rejoined his old squadron, No 616, the only Allied jet squadron during the war, flying ground-strafing missions.
He remained with the squadron and flew in various victory parades including giving “a superb solo show” during the celebrations in Copenhagen before a crowd of more than 100,000. He was awarded a second bar to his DFC.
He stayed in the RAF for two more years, flying the Meteor jet and as a test pilot before returning to Australia, where he joined No 21 Squadron, Citizen Air Force.
In wartime, Gaze had enjoyed high-speed laps of RAF Westhampnett’s asphalt-surfaced perimeter road with his fellow pilot, the future racing driver Squadron Leader ‘Dickie’ Stoop. In 1946 he asked landowner Freddie March, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon: ‘When are we going to have a sports car race on Westhampnett?’
The question quickly led to the transformation of the airfield into a racing circuit, and 18 months later, on September 18 1948, Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit staged its inaugural, and Britain’s first post-war, motor race meeting (in which a young Stirling Moss won the 500cc F3 event).
On demobilisation Gaze returned to Australia with a pre-war Alta sports car in which he successfully campaigned at Melbourne’s Rob Roy hillclimb. While there he was visited by Kay Wakefield, widow of the English racing driver Johnny Wakefield. In 1949 they married and returned to Britain to settle at Kay’s family estate at Ross-on-Wye. From there Gaze served briefly with No 600 Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, again flying Meteors.
Soon, however, Gaze had turned his attention full time to motor racing, and in 1951 competed in several European events, initially in a Formula 2 Alta, and then a F2 HWM-Alta. In 1952 he entered the World Championship, at the time for F2 cars, making his debut in the Belgium GP, in which he finished 15th, he retired from both the British and German GPs and failed to qualify in the Italian, but finished sixth at Goodwood’s Easter Meeting. That year he also entered a Jaguar XK120 in several sports car events, and a Maserati 8CM in Formula Libre races. In January 1953 he briefly switched disciplines, racing in the Monte Carlo Rally with co-drivers Lex Davison and Stan Jones. They drove a 1951 Holden 48-215 (the Australian marque’s first model, in its competition debut) finishing 64th of 400 entrants. By 1954 Gaze was back in the HWM-Alta, competing in New Zealand and finishing third in the country’s Grand Prix and second in the celebrated Lady Wigram trophy.
He went on to compete in non-championship European races in a Ferrari 500/625 F2 car before taking in many 1954/55 winter events in Australia and New Zealand, in the latter’s international GP he took third place. On his return to England he established the Kangaroo Stable, the first Australian international motor racing team, equipped with three of the Aston Martin DB3S, the car in which the future triple World Champion Jack Brabham would find fame.
That year, however, a disastrous crash at the Le Mans 24 Hours claimed more than 80 lives, and the ensuing dearth of sports car racing resulted in the Kangaroo Stable’s disbandment. Gaze’s personal best finish was second, with David McKay, in the Hyeres 12 Hours. Thereafter he returned to single-seaters, taking second in his Ferrari 500/750S to Stirling Moss’s winning Maserati 250F in the 1956 New Zealand GP – by the end his was the only car on the same lap as the incomparable Moss.
After 1956 Gaze switched from motor racing to a new passion of gliding with the Bristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club, representing Australia in the 1960 World Gliding Championship, held that year in Germany.
Following Kay’s death in 1976, he returned to Australia and the following year he married Diana Davison, widow of the Australian racing driver Lex (who died in 1965 after suffering a heart attack and crashing at Sandown International Raceway).
Together the couple ran Paragon Shoes, the Davison family business, and became well known in the historic motor racing world. In 2005 – the year before Gaze was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) – they were special guests of Lord March at the ‘Revival’ motor racing meeting at Goodwood, which in 1998 was reopened for annual historic racing meets and events that featured Second World War-era aircraft. Tony and Diana Gaze returned to Goodwood for the 2010 Revival, which marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Tony Gaze’s wife predeceased him in 2012. His three stepsons all became racing drivers.
Aircrew Remembered notes:
P/O. 60097 R.A.F.V.R. Irvine Scott Owen Gaze was killed on the 23rd March 1941 serving with 610 Squadron in a flying accident. Buried at Portfeld Cemetery, Sussex. Some reports are that it was an operational flight whilst chasing two Ju88’s he flew into the South Downs in the bad weather.
His father was Sq/Ldr. Irvine Owen Gaze of the R.A.A.F. and married to Freda. Prior to his R.A.F service his father was a member of Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic expeditions. Just prior to war end he was shot down and captured by the Germans. But after questioning him and found out he was part of these expeditions he was wined and dined by his captors, before spending the last few days of the war in a P.o.W. camp. He died in 1988, in Australia.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.