Wing Commander Bob Doe
Wing Commander Bob Doe
Born: March 10th 1920, Reigate. Died: February 21st 2010 Age: 89
Wing Commander Bob Doe, who died on February 21 aged 89, was the joint-third most successful fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, credited with 14 victories and two shared.
Yet Doe had struggled to become a pilot, barely passing the necessary exams to gain his wings. He lacked confidence, was poor at aerobatics and disliked flying upside down – not an auspicious beginning for a fighter pilot.
On August 15 1940 – dubbed Adler Tag (Eagle Day) by Hermann Goering, the day he claimed he would destroy Fighter Command – the 20-year-old Doe was on standby with his Spitfire as part of No 234 Squadron at Middle Wallop, Hampshire, waiting for his first scramble. Years later he recalled: “I knew I was going to be killed. I was the worst pilot on the squadron.“When the scramble bell rang, Doe was filled with dread but he took off – the fear of being thought a coward was more powerful than the fear of death.
One hour later Doe landed to find that four of his colleagues had failed to return; but he had shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters south of Swanage. The next day he destroyed a Bf 109 fighter and damaged a bomber; and two days after that he accounted for another Bf 109.
The Battle intensified, and Doe’s outstanding memory was to be of continued tiredness, which produced the ability to sleep anytime and anywhere.
By the end of August he had destroyed five aircraft. On September 4 his squadron intercepted a large force of Bf 110s over the south coast near Chichester.
Doe shot down three and the following day accounted for a Bf 109 over Kent. More successes followed, including shooting down a Heinkel bomber. But by September 7, just three weeks after it had arrived at Middle Wallop, the squadron’s 15 pilots had been reduced to just three.
Doe was rested for a short period before joining No 238 Squadron as a flight commander, this time flying the Hurricane. On September 30 he claimed another Heinkel bomber after a head-on attack, but by this time the Luftwaffe was sending most bombers over at night and the intensity of the day fighting reduced.
He shot down a Bf 110 on October 1 and seven days later claimed his final victory on what turned out to be the last major daylight bombing raid of the Battle, when he shot down a Junkers 88 bomber near Portland.
At the beginning of October Doe learnt that he had been awarded a DFC “for his outstanding dash and an eagerness to engage the enemy at close quarters”. This “dash” almost proved his undoing a few days later. As he cleared some cloud his aircraft was hit repeatedly and he was badly wounded in the leg, lower back and arm. He bailed out and landed in a sewage drainage pit on Brownsea Island. It was his last action during the Battle.
In just eight weeks he had risen from being his squadron’s junior pilot to a flight commander with at least 14 victories. A few weeks later he was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
The son of a head gardener, Robert Francis Thomas Doe was born at Reigate on March 10 1920. A shy, sickly boy, he left school at 14 to work as an office boy at the News of the World. He was one of the first young men to apply to the RAFVR and started to train as a pilot at a civilian flying school. He gained a short service commission in the RAF in March 1939.
After recovering from his wounds, Doe rejoined No 238 in December 1940. On January 3 1941 his aircraft suffered an engine failure on a night sortie and he made a forced landing. His restraining harness broke and he smashed his face into the gunsight. One eyeball had fallen out, his jaw was broken and his nose almost severed; he also broke his arm.
After 22 operations at East Grinstead Hospital he earned his place as a member of the Guinea Pig Club (for patients of novel surgical techniques), (1) and he was able to resume operational flying within four months of his crash. A series of training posts followed at a fighter school, and in October 1943 he volunteered for service in India.
Two months later he formed No 10 Squadron, Indian Air Force, at Risalpur in the North-West Frontier Province, the last Indian Air Force squadron to be formed during the war. He arrived to find 27 pilots, most of them Indian, about 1,400 men and 16 Hurricanes. The rest was up to him.
Left – Bob (courtesy Andy Saunders)
They flew Hurricane
IICs, known as “Hurri-bombers”, armed with four 20mm cannon and two 500lb bombs. Doe worked his squadron hard, and once it was declared operational it moved to Burma to fly ground support missions in support of the Fourteenth Army’s operations in the Arakan and the Kaladan Valley. After a particularly successful raid led by Doe in support of an amphibious landing, No 10 received a commendation from the commander of the Arakan Group.
Doe’s Indian squadron flew intensively, attacking ground targets that were sometimes just a few hundred yards ahead of friendly troops, as General Slim began his southern advance into Burma and towards Rangoon. In April 1945 Doe left the squadron to attend the staff college at Quetta. For his service with the Indian Air Force he was awarded a DSO for his “inspiring leadership and unconquerable spirit and great devotion to duty”. At the end of the war he was given the job of running the air display for Indian Victory Week.
Doe remained in the RAF and, after appointments with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, was sent to Egypt in May 1950 to command No 32 Squadron, equipped with Vampire jet fighters. He had never flown a jet before, so on his way to the squadron he managed to stop off at a maintenance unit and borrow a Vampire for a few hours to familiarise himself. By the time he left in May 1953, No 32 had built up a reputation for esprit de corps envied by all the other RAF and Army units on the base.
He returned to Britain to join the Fighter Gunnery Wing as a senior instructor. A series of staff appointments followed, including two years with the Chiefs of Staff Secretariat. This placed him in the corridors of power, and the boy who had left school at 14 had to learn how to write minutes which would be scrutinised and reworded by secretaries and read by the chiefs. Doe found this job to be the most difficult and challenging appointment of his career. In April 1966 he opted for premature retirement.
Doe settled in Tunbridge Wells, where he joined a family-owned garage business before moving on to Rusthall, Kent, to establish his own very successful garage and contract hire and self-drive car company. He took a passionate interest in his garden and three greenhouses, and in his large family.
Much-admired but always modest, Doe never considered himself a hero, saying that he had been “just doing my duty”. But he did write about his wartime experiences in Bob Doe, Fighter Pilot, published in 1991. (2)
Bob Doe is survived by his third wife, Betty, and by five children and three stepchildren.
(1) Aircrew Remembered have since been advised that he did not receive treatment at East Grinstead Hospital and neither was he a member of the Guinea Pig Club (649 members) He was treated by the leading pioneer plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies, but at Park Prewett Hospital in Basingstoke, Hampshire. This was a former mental hospital taken over by the Emergency Medical Service in 1939. The Maxillofacial Unit run by Sir Harold Gillies was situated in the former private wing of this hospital named Rooksdown House.
Update 24th April 2017: We have since been advised by his daughter, Helen Doe, that he was in fact, a member of the Guinea Pig Club Helen has had discussions with Professor Meikle and with the Guinea Pig Club themselves. Helen holds her father’s Club insignia and it appears that he was added to the club post war by McIndoe. Her father always spoke of being a member of “The Club.“
(2) The publication “Bob Doe Fighter Pilot” was first published in 1991 and not 1989. This has since been republished with new information by Helen in 2015. Available in Hardcover, 288 pages and published by Amberley Publishing. ISBN 978-1445646114. We hope to be in a position to place a further page in his honour with the assistance of Helen.
We acknowledge the information supplied by Professor Murray M. Meikle for this further information. Also to Helen Doe who contacted us in April 2017.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.