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Group Captain John Musgrave

Group Captain John Musgrave D.S.O.
 Born: June 22nd 1918, Kensington. Died: April 4th 2011 Age 92.

Group Captain John Musgrave, was awarded a D.S.O. after successfully completing 70 operations in the Far East and in the Mediterranean theatres, many of them on an American-built Liberator bomber that some of his fellow pilots considered to be cursed.


Musgrave had already completed more than 30 combat sorties in the North African and Burma campaigns when he arrived in September 1944 at Amendola, on the Foggia Plain in southern Italy, as flight commander of No 178 Squadron.
The Liberator was the commander’s long-range bombing asset, and 178 Squadron was actively engaged in aiding the advance of the Red Army by cutting railways and destroying marshalling yards.

Musgrave attacked heavily defended targets across the Balkan peninsular and in northern Italy. 


Among many other operations, he mined the river Danube, in a hazardous night flight at very low level, to deny the German forces their main resupply route for eastern Europe and Greece; he also dropped supplies to Yugoslav Partisans.


Such efforts were particularly well respected among fellow pilots because Musgrave insisted on flying a Liberator which had developed a reputation within the squadron as a rogue aircraft, and which many were reluctant to fly because of its regular mechanical failures.

His final operation was on March 22 1945, bombing the marshalling yards at Villach in Austria. It was a difficult target in a deep valley between very high mountains, and Musgrave flew in by moonlight at 9,000ft, delivering an accurate attack despite seeing the Liberator following behind him blow up after being hit by a bomb from an aircraft flying above.

In May 1945 he was awarded a D.S.O.

The son of a member of the Royal Flying Corps, John Raymond Musgrave was born in Kensington on June 22 1918. He went to school in north Wales, then joined his father’s light engineering firm in Chester.

In 1939 he joined the Territorial Army and was commissioned into the 5th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Early the next year he was posted to a regular Army unit which was already serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France. He took part in some very heavy fighting and was evacuated from Dunkirk.

Coastal defence duties in Yorkshire held little appeal, and in November 1941 he took advantage of a scheme allowing Army officers to transfer to the R.A.F. to train as pilots.

After completing his training he started flying the B-24 Liberator with No 159 Squadron, which was preparing to deploy to the Middle East to supplement the R.A.F.‘s modest bomber force against Rommel’s Panzers.

A day after arriving in Egypt on June 26 1942, Musgrave flew his first operation, bombing a tactical target behind enemy lines.
There followed a succession of night operations to pound Tobruk harbour and airfield, and the occasional 10-hour sortie against Benghazi.
By September the situation in North Africa had stabilised, and No 159 headed for India.

In November Musgrave flew on the squadron’s first operation, an attack on Mingaladon airfield.

This was followed by numerous attacks on Rangoon and the ports of southern Burma.

By the spring of 1943 he had completed his tour of operations and he became an instructor on the Liberator training unit in India.
By the end of the war Musgrave was one of the R.A.F.‘s most experienced pilots on the Liberator, an aircraft he described as “my first love”.

He remained in the R.A.F. after the war and was granted a permanent commission, filling a number of flying and staff appointments with bomber and transport units.

He served on the staff of Nato in Norfolk, Virginia, and in 1961 spent three years at the headquarters of R.A.F. Germany.

From 1966 to 1968 he was air attaché at the British embassy in Caracas.

After a final appointment at the headquarters of Training Command, he retired from the R.A.F. in 1970.

After settling in East Anglia, Musgrave worked for Craigmyles, a firm of fund-raising consultants, successfully tackling a number of assignments for various charities in England and Scotland.

John Musgrave, who died on April 4, married, in 1949, Joanne Folwell, a WAAF officer. She died in 2004, and their daughter survives him.


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.

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 • Last Modified: 08 August 2014, 13:38