W/Cdr. Douglas 'Duggie' Oxby DSO DFC DFM (Bar)
Born on the 10th July 1920 at Cardiff, Wales. Died 10th April 2009 at Toronto, Canada. Age 88.
As written by his son, Richard (with details added by webmaster):
Doug Oxby enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940 and served over three operational years until the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. He served with 68, 89 and 219 Squadrons as a nightfighter navigator. He flew Blenheims, Beaufighters and Mosquitoes in his time - and had the distinction of becoming the top scoring nightfighter navigator of all Allied forces in the Second World War with twenty-two confirmed victories. This was a remarkable achievement for the french polisher's boy from Cardiff.
Doug began his career as a Leading Aircraftsman (ground radar mechanic) but soon volunteered for re-training as an aircrew radar operator, known at the time simply as 'Observer' for reasons of secrecy. Once qualified he was assigned to 68 Squadron at High Ercall Shropshire.
Doug's first successful combat was on 1st November 1941 when he assisted his Aussie pilot 24 year old, Fl/Lt. Mervyn Charles Shipard DFC AUS/402256 RAAF (1) intercept and destroy a bomb laden Heinkel III headed for Liverpool. The stricken aircraft crashed into farmland near Llangefni on Anglesey.
Later on Doug and Ship deliberately sought out more opportunities together to become involved in the thick of the action. Early in 1942 they volunteered for active service together in the Mediterranean and the Western Desert. As a consequence they quickly increased their tally of night victories with 89 squadron in the defence of Malta. This was in spite of enemy bombs dropping all around them and re-cratering their already potholed runways.
Following a period of enforced 'rest' in the UK by 1943 Doug was paired up with 28 year old, W/Cdr. Wilfrith Peter Green 39518 RAF (2) who was the CO of 219 squadron.
Peter Green's usual navigator was Grimmy (3) - but he had been sent on rest. Meanwhile W/Cdr Green recognised young Douggie Oxby as someone with considerable potential as a nightfighter 'nav/rad' and decided to take him on. It seems Douggie's reputation was making him sought after amongst more senior pilots. He was on his way to becoming one of the most successful navigators in the night fighting business.
Shortly after pairing up together the Oxby/Green partnership produced results - with the destruction of three Ju87 Stuka dive bombers confirmed in just one night patrol. These aircraft were attempting to bomb the bridges over the Waal near the town of Nijmegen in Holland. Had the Luftwaffe been allowed to succeed in this mission their actions could have held up the Allied advance. This fact was not lost on the Luftwaffe. Research conducted recently in the German archives shows somehow enemy intelligence had acquired the names of the successful Oxby/Green nightfighter team..
Dougie Oxby at this time was still a young slightly built lad, keen on football, with a twinkling almost roguish eye and a keen wit that seemed almost just about to bubble over. In the air however his exuberant commentary was very effective in directing his pilots to their elusive prey in the darkness. Doug's style over the intercom always remained a fluent and unflurried stream of directions 'steady steady, starboard five, throttle up and climb a touch'. When asked whether they had ever had much trouble with the notoriously slow Stuka Ju87's Douggie admitted Peter Green had been forced to drop both flap and landing gear just to stay behind the lumbering old dive bombers. Even then it was difficult not to overshoot. It was a dicey game they were playing. The recoil from opening fire with four cannon at 100 knots airspeed might reduce their own speed by as much as 18 knots - enough to bring them dangerously close to a stall. It paid to keep some altitude in hand.
Doug mentioned to me in one of our taped sessions - almost as an afterthought - that despite the difficulties that night they might have accounted for a fourth Stuka had Peter not been blinded and forced to turn away. The enemy observer had fired off a dazzling cluster of phosphorus recognition flares right in their faces.
In his time Doug flew with quite a variety of pilots. He saw considerable activity over Tobruk following the battles between Montgomery's desert rats and Rommel's Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. Whilst on Malta he served as aircrew with 89 squadron's small detachment of Beaufighter Mk I's. This aircraft was a perfect flying platform for its fearsome armament which included four 20mm cannon and eight wing mounted .303 machine guns. The punch from this monster could make short work of any enemy unfortunate enough to come within range of their devastating firepower. The Beaufighter's cannon were described by one pilot as being 'like hell's own hammers crashing upon some huge aerial anvil'. Suffice to say their cannon deafened our own crews - as well as silencing the enemy. On several occasions watching through the choking cordite fumes which quickly filled the fuselage - young Oxby would be horrified (but also secretly pleased) to see yet another enemy aircraft disintegrate in front of them.
One time an enemy Junkers 88 just ahead exploded in a fireball - engulfing their own aircraft too. Now ablaze themselves Shipard saved the day - and their lives with some quick thinking. He put the Beau into a steep dive which quickly extinguished the 'flaming bonfire'. Merv wasn't too worried (or so he said at the time) because - 'it was just cheap 'n nasty German petrol'.
At about this time Doug received his first DFM by selflessly giving up his oxygen supply to his pilot at 22000ft - knowing there was very little available left to him personally. Typically Douggie made little of the episode and modestly denied his heroism. The truth was he had shown considerable courage on many occasions in life threatening circumstances. There were often times he freely admitted to having been scared witless. One night Ship's airspeed indicator became u/s - the result of ice building-up in the wing pitot tube. Sensing the aircraft was flying too slowly and nearing a stall Ship pushed the stick forward to lower the nose and gain airspeed - but still the knots indicated on the IAS dial remained static. Shipard pushed the control column further forward. The Beau responded dutifully and promptly entered a 'bunt' (a loop) before obliging Ship further by entering an uncontrollable inverted flat spin. Meanwhile Oxby was being thrown about helplessly in the fuselage like a rag doll in a washing machine. He was terrified and not for the first time. In the end Ship lost around 20,000ft of altitude before finally managing to regain control. Oxby had already been ordered to bail out. But somehow Doug had unintentionally caught his rip cord on an obstruction - causing his parachute to deploy whilst still inside the aircraft. Having struggled for several minutes now he was completely exhausted - and quite unable to effect an escape. Effectively trapped he lay back in the parachute silk - and prepared to meet his maker...
In all, Merv and Doug walked away from no less than seven crashes - any one of which could easily have killed them. Several crashes resulted in the destruction of their aircraft. But they always seemed able to walk away from the wreckage - and the authorities in charge didn't seem to mind - so long as their tally of German aircraft remained greater than their losses of rather expensive Beaufighters. Whilst serving in the defence of Malta the squadron were re-equipped with new radar equipment.
Doug explained 'Back then we were so short of juice that every operator was considered to be operational after just one twenty minute practice'. Other crews spent weeks struggling with their unfamiliar equipment before becoming proficient. So it was surprising to find this crew seemed able to produce positive results after such a short practice period.
Douggie laughed 'We did four sorties from Luqa the same night' he said. Asked what luck he had had Doug replied 'One destroyed and one probable - both Heinkels. The probable was one of those annoying blighters that wouldn't burn. We chased it down from twelve to one thousand feet, and used all our ammo on it too'. It did not seem to strike him as anything of an achievement to get two visuals and combats straight off the reel with completely strange equipment. There was only a vague regret they hadn't properly fixed the probable.
Doug went to fly with W/Cdr. Peter Green to pile up the record score for any of the Allied night fighter navigators. He produced thirty-six visuals on enemy aircraft in total which resulted in twenty-six combats. Of these twenty-two of the enemy were definitely destroyed and two more were damaged.
For the record Doug's tally compares rather well with his better known contemporaries. 'Cat's Eyes' John Cunningham for example (famed for improving his eyesight with the consumption of orange coloured root vegetables) scored only twenty-one enemy aircraft destroyed. Doug hated carrots!
22 Enemy aircraft destroyed - 2 probable - 3 damaged!
One of the aircraft Peter Green and Doug destroyed was shot down while the pair were only on one egg whisk - the other engine having failed during the chase. Another time whilst close astern of another Ju88 over München-Gladbach there had been no response at all from the cannon when Peter tried to open fire. Doug commented dryly 'Leaves one with rather a naked feeling, doesn't it ?'
After the war's end Doug was granted a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force and his decorations included a Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Distinguished Flying Medal and Bar. He served in a variety of appointments including air defence operations at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe at Versailles, France; directing Staff at the Joint Services Staff College, UK and Assistant Air Advisor on the staff of the British High Commissioner in Ottawa, Canada from 1962-1966. Doug retired for the RAF in 1969 and emigrated to Canada where he served as a civil servant in the Ontario Ministry of Health in Toronto until 1984.
Doug was a family man and a good father, husband and grandfather. He was married for forty happy years to his beloved wife Margaret before she passed away. That was almost three years ago now. How time flies. Doug was also the sort of man who would help anyone who had a problem. He was a gentle soul. He was stupidly generous at times. But he was always concerned to be a good friend to the people he knew. Loyalty was important to him. I knew him to be a good cook. A man with varied interests. He liked watching sport. He also liked a beer or two while listening to his classical music. You know folks - in many ways my father was really was quite an ordinary bloke. He was an unassuming bespectacled grandfather. If you passed him walking down the street, or bumped into him in the supermarket you would scarcely think there was anything special about the old fella. But different he was. My Dad led an extraordinary life. A charmed life. He touched many people.
I will conclude with a short passage from my father's unpublished memoirs... He said toward the end:
'They say one should never look back, but sixty-odd years after these wartime events, it is difficult not recall those times without a sense of pride, perhaps tinged with a little sadness. I know many of the airfields, and places I once knew have long since gone, like the people who once worked and flew from them. In memory however, if not in fact - these places remain unchanged in my memory. Takali remains much the same. I made my pilgrimage back to Malta just last year.
And Anglesey remains much the same too. Anglesey in particular retains something I find difficult to describe. It’s still a desolate wind-blown place, despite its modern fast jets, and the RAF’s fighter pilot training programme. If you ever visit Valley in Wales, you might see a farmer busy with his tractor on the land bordering the runways, overlooked by the observation tower built after the war’s end. And when I think about Valley, down the longest corridors of memory, I can still faintly hear Binwood calling us ‘Hello, Razzle 44….’ My old friend Shipard, and his Australian accent is just as it was years ago, coming through loud and clear. I can hear the GCI too, ‘This is Binwood, Razzle 44, you are clear for take off.’ Once again a young man, almost a lifetime away, I join Ship and the Beaufighter again just for a few moments, as we rumble down the concrete runway. Ever faster over the weeds now growing unchecked between cracks in the runway’s slabs, and suddenly the rattle and roll stops, and were soaring skywards, powerfully surging upwards into a darkening sky.
Later, I wander again through the adjutant’s office and into the orderly room. They haven’t changed either. Each contributes its share of atmosphere, and I can smell it. Its’ like returning to my grandmother’s home. Then I’m out in the open, striding past hangers out toward the runway, where the old dispersal hut once stood. There is no trace of it now. The place is silent and brooding, like the charred wrecks of the aircraft that were destroyed. Like those Lundy Island Heinkels. Standing there, I can hear Crombie, Leathard, Ship, and Peter. My old friends whispering around me. They make me shiver, and I take a step back, and look up toward the sun. The splintered shafts of light dazzle, and force this observer to consider less painful parts of the sky. Just once in a while, I take the time to look back across the years, and remember...
Far away, and just for a moment, I am transported. Once again separated by time and space. I hear what sounds to me like the distant rumbling thunder of cannon fire - followed by the growl of Hercules engines. Perhaps it’s the ghost from my Nightfighter past echoing down the years.'
(1) Fl/Lt. Mervyn Charles Shipard DFC and bar. AUS/402256 RAAF continued in service but returned to Australia where he lived with his wife Marjorie Esmond, at 476 Parkinson Street, Albury, New South Wales. Joined Australian National Airways Pty Ltd prior to joining Quntas in 1957. Piloting Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, Lockheed L-188 Electra and finally the Boeing 707 (see below). He then in 1973 became Boeing 707 flight simulator instructor. Retired in June 1979. Sadly he passed away on the 01st March 2003.
(2) W/Cdr. Wifrith Peter Green DSO. DFC. 39518 RAF was killed on an air test on the 01st March 1945. See Mosquito MM706 for further details.
(3) P/O. Arthur Reginald Grimstone DFM 195380 RAFVR was later killed on the 14th March 1945. Flying as navigator on 85 Squadron Mosquito MV541 VY-B when they were hit by Unites States anti-aircraft fire. The pilot, Fl/Lt. Ian Alexander Dobie 101046 RAFVR managed to bale out. Buried at Choloy War Cemetery. Grave 2.G.6.
Medals L-R: Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Flying Medal and bar, 1939-1945 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star and North Africa bar, War Medal, Malta George Cross 50th anniversary medal.
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