Sqd Ldr Joe Blyth: Outstanding Jet Fighter Pilot
April 1 1925 - March 29 2012
Squadron Leader Joe Blyth, who has died aged 86, was an outstanding RAF fighter pilot decorated five times for his post-war service, which included operations in Korea, Suez, Aden and Oman.
Blyth was an experienced instructor on the Meteor jet fighter when he left for Korea in March 1951 as one of four RAF pilots selected to assist No 77 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force to convert from the piston-engine Mustang to the Meteor. Although not authorised to fly on operations, Blyth managed to persuade his Australian CO to allow him to go on a few sorties — in the event he completed more than 100.
No 77 was operating from Busan, and Blyth was soon in action. On March 20 a colleague was forced to crash-land during a ground attack mission, and Blyth remained overhead as a helicopter attempted a rescue. As he strafed advancing Chinese troops his Mustang was hit by small arms fire, but he continued to give cover until the rescue was completed.
Blyth had flown 25 sorties, strafing and rocketing trucks and artillery pieces, when the first Meteor arrived, and he spent the next few weeks training the Australian pilots. With that task complete in September, he volunteered to remain with No 77, embarking on an intensive period of operations in the jet fighter.
In addition to attacking supply dumps, vehicle parks and trains , he also escorted USAF heavy bombers when MiG-15 fighters, often flown by Soviet pilots, were encountered. In air-to-air combat the MiG was superior, but Blyth engaged them on numerous occasions. On October 24 he damaged one and, a week later, fired on another that was engaging his leader. Smoke poured from the MiG, which broke away.
On November 17 Blyth led a fighter sweep, his 105th and final operation over Korea. Shortly after returning to Britain he was awarded a DFC ; the United States government awarded him the Air Medal.
Colin Ian Blyth, known throughout his life as “Joe”, was born on April 1 1925 in Maidstone and was educated at the local County School. Aged only 15, in 1940 he volunteered for aircrew duties in the RAF, having “stolen” his older sister’s national insurance number, allowing him to claim that he was 18. He was accepted and started his training as a wireless operator/air gunner in November 1940, and in December the next year he joined No 161 (Special Duties) Squadron, flying operations to drop agents and supplies into occupied Europe.
On the night of September 24 1942, Blyth’s Whitley crash-landed in the Ardennes. Some of the crew were captured but Blyth was able to head south on foot, en route being helped by French farmers. In Lyons he was picked up by the local escape line and moved to a “safe house” in Marseilles. From there he was taken with other evaders to Canet Plage, near Perpignan. After a nerve-racking wait on the beach, the party was transferred to the Polish-manned felucca Seawolf, and arrived safely in Gibraltar two days later.
After recovering in England, Blyth left for South Africa to train as a pilot. He was assessed as above average and became a flying instructor. In 1946-47 he instructed pilots on piston-engine aircraft before converting to jets and joining No 203 Advanced Flying School to train fighter pilots. A dynamic personality, Blyth proved an innovative leader and pilot, and was awarded an AFC.
On his return from Korea, Blyth was appointed flight commander of No 63 Squadron, flying Meteors from Waterbeach, near Cambridge. His combat experience, “press-on” attitude and professionalism ensured that the squadron was one of the most efficient in Fighter Command. At the end of his tour in August 1954 he was awarded a Bar to his AFC and left for the Middle East.
When Blyth joined No 32 Squadron as a flight commander, the unit had just been equipped with the Venom fighter bomber and was stationed at Kabrit in the Canal Zone before moving to Shaibah in Iraq. After 18 months Blyth left for an appointment at the headquarters in Cyprus, but he had been there only six months when the Suez crisis erupted. No 8 Squadron, also equipped with Venoms, arrived from Habbaniya (Iraq) but without its CO, who had left at short notice. As Blyth entered the operations centre his group captain spotted him and shouted: “Do you want 8, Joe?” Blyth took command that same afternoon.
Operations began at dawn on November 1 1956 as three Venom squadrons headed for the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) airfields. Blyth took No 8 to Abu Sueir and Fayid, strafing lines of MiG fighters; leading the formation, he accounted for five of the 11 destroyed. Later that morning he led a second strike, this time against his old airfield at Kabrit — where he “put a few rounds through my old office”. In the afternoon he took off again at the head of another section for another assault on Kabrit.
The next day Blyth was again leading his squadron against the EAF airfields . On one sortie he attacked a vehicle and tank park; on another , late in the day, he carried out an armed reconnaissance over Ismailia. In the first two days No 8 destroyed at least 43 aircraft on the ground.
Blyth continued to be in the thick of the action. In preparation for the airborne assault, he led a rocket strike against gun emplacements and flew armed reconnaissance sorties to identify targets. At dawn on November 6, No 8 joined the other two Venom squadrons, each aircraft armed with eight rockets, to attack the defence boom at Port Fouad in anticipation of the seaborne landings. The following day a ceasefire stopped all further operational flying.
The squadron returned to its base at Khormaksar in Aden, and Blyth was soon involved in operations against rebel strongholds. In the aftermath of Suez, trouble in central Oman flared up in July 1957. No 8 was ordered to Sharjah, and within days Blyth was leading strikes against rebel positions in the Jebel Akhdar region. Operating in support of land forces, the Venoms attacked fortifications with rockets, and Blyth led his squadron with great dash and efficiency until returning to Britain in December that year. One of his junior pilots (who would later become an air chief marshal) observed: “He was an amazing CO. If I learnt anything about leadership, it came from Joe Blyth.”
For his services in the Middle East, Blyth was awarded a Bar to his DFC, making him one of the most decorated post-war RAF officers. He spent four years as a staff officer before retiring from the RAF on his 38th birthday.
Blyth then spent 21 years as personal pilot of the banker Loel Guinness. He kept his flying licence until late in his life, and prided himself in never having to wear spectacles — something he attributed to daily eye exercises.
He had an impressive singing voice, and once auditioned for the Black and White Minstrels; his voice was judged to be up to the task, but he was let down by his dancing.
In recent years he had lived in Acapulco, in Mexico.
Joe Blyth married first, in 1957 (dissolved 1970), Maureen Parker. He is survived by his second wife, Della, four sons and a daughter of his first marriage, and two daughters of his second.
Squadron Leader Joe Blyth, born April 1 1925, died March 29 2012
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.