Grp Cpt Allan Wright DFC & Bar AFC: Spitfire Ace
February 12 1920 - September 16 2015
Group Captain Allan Wright, who has died aged 95, was a veteran of the Battle of France in 1940 and one of the last three surviving Battle of Britain ace fighter pilots.
As the opening phase of the Battle of Britain commenced in July 1940, Wright and his colleagues of No 92 Squadron were resting in South Wales following their fierce activity covering the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of northern France. Nevertheless, Wright shared in the destruction of a German bomber over Gloucestershire and on August 29 achieved a rare success for a Spitfire pilot when he engaged a Heinkel III bomber over Bristol at night and shot it down.
On September 9 No 92 was sent to Biggin Hill, at the height of the battle, to intercept the large formations of enemy bombers attacking London. Within two days Wright achieved success when he destroyed another Heinkel bomber and probably one of the escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. In the space of the next 20 days, as the battle reached its climax, he was credited with knocking out four more enemy aircraft, sharing in the destruction of a fifth, probably destroying a further two and damaging four.
On September 30 he engaged some Bf 109 fighters near Brighton and shot one down. His Spitfire was damaged and he had to make a forced landing. He was slightly wounded in this engagement and this signalled the end of his involvement in the battle. A month later he was awarded the DFC for “displaying great determination and skill”.
The son of Air Commodore A C Wright, a Royal Flying Corps pilot and regular RAF officer, Allan Richard Wright was born at Teignmouth, Devon, on February 12 1920 and educated at St Edmund’s College. He was awarded a cadetship to the RAF College, Cranwell, where he gained a commendation before graduating as a pilot in October 1939.
Wright joined No 92 Squadron as it was re-equipping with the Spitfire. Flying from Northolt, the squadron was soon in action over Dunkirk. Wright flew his first patrol on May 23, when he destroyed a Messerschmitt Bf 110, possibly brought down another and damaged a third. His successes were tempered by the loss of his closest friend from his time at Cranwell. Many years later he commented: “We were just 22 years old and I was overwhelmed by shock and disbelief. The whole episode seemed a dream.” The squadron’s commanding officer, Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, was also shot down on this day. Later, as “Big X”, Bushell masterminded the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III, but he was murdered by the Gestapo after being recaptured.
Wright flew six more patrols over the Dunkirk area, being engaged and firing his guns every time, and was credited with shooting down an enemy fighter and possibly destroying a bomber.
After recovering from wounds sustained in the closing phase of the Battle of Britain, Wright returned to No 92 and, in December, shot down a Bf 109.
He saw considerable action over northern France during the spring and summer of 1941. Fighter Command had gone on the offensive, seeking combat, and Wright gained further success. Flying the Spitfire Mk V on sweeps and bomber escort operations, he was frequently engaged by Bf 109s and he destroyed one, shared in the destruction of another and probably took care of two more.
On one occasion his Spitfire was badly damaged but he managed to cross the Channel back to England to make an emergency landing. He was rested in July after a year of constant combat and was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Wright then trained fighter pilots before becoming the chief instructor at the newly formed Pilot Gunnery Instructor’s School. He later undertook a tour of the United States to discuss gunnery and fighter tactics. On his return he trained as a night fighter pilot before becoming the flight commander on No 29 Squadron flying the Beaufighter. On April 3 1943 he shot down a Junkers 88 bomber and damaged a second, his final success of the war.
As a 23-year-old wing commander, he took command of the Air Fighting Development Unit, his service recognised by the award of the AFC. In early 1945 he left for Egypt to command the fighter wing of a bombing and gunnery school.
He remained in the RAF and held a number of fighter-related appointments including four years at the Air Ministry responsible for air defence planning. After converting to jet fighters he became wing commander, flying at Waterbeach near Cambridge with Hunter and Javelin squadrons under his command.
After two years in the Far East and a further two at HQ, Fighter Command, he was appointed to command the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station (BMEWS) – the famous 'Giant Golf Balls' – situated on the Yorkshire Moors at Fylingdales, near Whitby.
This was the final site of three – the others operated by the USAF at Thule in Greenland and Clear in Alaska – to provide early warning of a ballistic missile attack.
Fylingdales became fully operational during Wright’s period of command. He retired from the RAF in February 1967.
He moved to North Devon where he spent the next 10 years developing a smallholding and renovating a cottage.
He was an excellent and meticulous carpenter and woodworker.
He married his wife Barbara in June 1942 and she and their two sons and two daughters survive him.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.