Wing Commander Alan "Red" Owen. D.F.C. and Bar. D.F.M. A.F.C.
Wing Commander Alan “Red” Owen. D.F.C. and Bar. D.F.M. A.F.C.
Born: July 8th 1922. Chelsea. Died: February 13th 2010. Age 87.
One of the RAF’s most successful night fighter pilots of the Second World War, when he was credited with destroying a minimum of 15 enemy aircraft.
Owen and his radar operator, Vic McAllister, joined No 85 Squadron, equipped with Mosquitos, in August 1944. By that time they had already established a reputation as an outstanding team during operations in North Africa and Italy.
In the months after the D-Day landings and the Allied advance into France, No 85’s role was to undertake bomber support operations over Germany. The Mosquito night fighter crews mingled with the RAF bomber streams seeking out enemy night fighters attempting to attack the bombers. They also flew “intruder missions” to strike enemy aircraft as they took off and landed at their airfields.
During a brief period in the summer of 1944, the squadron was also employed on patrols over Kent intercepting V-1 flying bombs. On August 5 that year Owen brought down a V-1, before resuming night operations.
On the night of September 17/18, he destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 110 night fighters, and by the end of the year he had accounted for seven more aircraft, including a Focke-Wulf 190 over Hamburg, in addition to destroying aircraft on the ground.
When patrolling south of Frankfurt on December 22, Owen engaged a Junkers Ju 88 and shot it down. Seven minutes later his operator made contact with another night fighter; Owen closed in and destroyed it. Before the patrol was over there was a third contact, and after a 15-minute chase, during which his target took violent evasive action, Owen finally managed to get in a cannon burst; the Bf 110 went into a vertical dive and crashed.
For their work with No 85 Squadron, both Owen and McAllister were awarded DFCs and within two months each had received a Bar. The citation commented on their “exceptional skill” and described them as “fearless and devoted members of aircraft crew”.
One of eight children, Alan Joseph Owen was born in Chelsea on July 8 1922 and educated at St Mary’s Church of England School, Merton Park, and at Wimbledon Technical College, where he trained as a technical draughtsman before joining an engineering firm at Cheam, in Surrey.
In January 1941 he followed two of his brothers into the RAF and trained as a pilot, his shock of red hair attracting the nickname “Ginger”, later adapted to “Red”.
At first Owen was selected to fly Beaufighters, and it was then that he teamed up with McAllister. They were to remain together throughout their operational flying appointments to become one of the RAF’s most successful night fighter crews.
The two sergeants joined No 600 Squadron, and in November 1942 moved with the squadron to North Africa. On the night of December 21/22 they gained No 600’s first success in that theatre when they shot down a Heinkel III bomber near Algiers.
Return fire from the enemy bomber damaged the Beaufighter’s undercarriage, and Owen crash-landed at his base. As it slid across the airfield, the Beaufighter collided with a Spitfire, a concrete mixer and a fuel tanker – all of which some wag added to their tally on the squadron score board – before finally smashing into a wall. The aircraft was completely wrecked.
A few weeks later Owen accounted for another Heinkel as well as an Italian four-engine bomber, which he intercepted at 20,000ft north of Bone, in Algeria. Both he and McAllister were awarded DFMs.
Subsequently, operating over Sicily, the crew shot down three more aircraft and damaged two others before returning to England in November 1943 to be instructors.
After his successes over Germany, Owen remained with No 85 until June 1946, initially as a flight commander and later – at the age of only 23 – as the CO. He left the RAF for civilian life but could not settle, and in July 1947 rejoined as a flight lieutenant.
Owen was sent to No 13 Squadron in Egypt, flying Mosquitos on aerial mapping photographic work. In 1950 he returned to England to develop radar interception tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment.
After flying night fighters in Germany, he converted to the Meteor jet fighter and assumed command in Malta of No 39 Squadron, which later moved to Cyprus in case it was required for operations during the Suez crisis; in the event, it did not see action.
After a period at the School of Land/Air Warfare at Old Sarum, working as air liaison officer with the Army’s Southern Command, Owen returned to the night fighter role in April 1962, taking command of No 23 Squadron.
This was in the early days of in-flight refuelling, and in October he led three of the squadron’s Javelins on a non-stop flight from Britain to Aden, setting a Fighter Command record of eight hours 50 minutes.
Two months later the squadron extended its range when Owen led 12 Javelins from RAF Coltishall, in Norfolk, to Singapore and back using in-flight refuelling and staging through the RAF’s bases in Cyprus, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. In January 1964 he was awarded an AFC.
From October 1964 until his retirement from the service in July 1969, Owen served in the fighter operations division at the Ministry of Defence before being posted to a Sector Operations appointment near Jever in Germany.
This was during the Cold War, when it was a primary function of the RAF to monitor the incursions and activities of Warsaw Pact aircraft and to maintain the integrity of Nato airspace.
Following his retirement from the RAF, Owen worked for the British Aircraft Co-operation Commission in Saudi Arabia for two years.
In 1974 he was appointed road safety officer for East Sussex county council. After promotion to county road safety officer, he transferred to a similar position with Kent county council before retiring in 1984.
For much of his life Owen enjoyed a vigorous game of squash, later choosing golf as his principal sporting pastime.
“Red” Owen died on February 13. He married, in 1945, Rita Drew, who survives him with their two sons and four daughters.
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.