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OBITUARY

Grp. Cpt. Allan Wright DFC & Bar AFC

12 February 1920 - 16 September 2015

Award-winning RAF ace recognised for his death-defying sorties during the Battle of Britain

Fleeing two Me 109s, he dived so hard to 7,000ft that he blacked out

Anne Keleny The Independent 26 October 2015

The seat of his Spitfire Mark I had as yet no armour plating, and he still wore the white pilot’s overalls and leather helmet of peacetime – but the black smoke and crowded beach below showed Allan Wright, on his first operational mission, on 23 May 1940 over Dunkirk, that the war was phoney no more.

L-R: Allan Wright : Peter Raoul Eyles (?) : Bob Holland: 92 Sqd 1940

His Spit was one of 12 that faced the might of the Luftwaffe for the first time: large formations mainly of Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, one group of 30 or more, and another of about 20, accompanying Ju87 and Ju88 bombers.

Wright, snugly fitted beneath his 3ft wide cockpit hood and behind the melodious and powerful 1000hp Merlin engine, was not long out of his teens – nor was his Squadron, No 92, yet the legend it soon would be. That day, nevertheless, he would both score his first “kill”, a Bf 110, and mourn his best friend’s death.

He had already taken part in the squadron’s first dogfight – several Spitfires against unnumbered Me 109s that morning over Cap Gris Nez – and had given a long burst on the Spitfire’s eight wing-mounted Browning machine guns.

By evening, after two sorties, he was credited with one enemy aircraft brought down, one possibly downed, and another damaged. Only then did he discover that a fellow pilot, Pat Learmond, also his closest friend, was among four of the squadron’s men, including its commanding officer, who had been lost, shot down.

“I was overcome,” Wright recalled. “I wept in a way that I never had before or have since.”

Among the earliest of the many duels in the sky that he would fight over the ensuing five years of war, in which he emerged as one of Britain’s greatest flying aces, was one on 2 June as the Dunkirk evacuation neared its close.

“Down we both went,” he wrote of himself and his adversary, an Me 109 pilot, “each coaxing as much speed as we could out of our aircraft... it became almost impossible to get the sight steady on the target again... As the range closed, I fired several times. I got the sight on again once more, and with the last of my ammunition, his engine caught fire, and his dive steepened…”

Wright, too, was hurtling earthwards: “I was going much too fast to be able to manoeuvre… I closed the throttle, and was now heaving back on the stick with all my strength to drag the aircraft up and around.” He made one of the sharp turns for which the Spitfire would become celebrated, and shook the enemy off. But with victory came a price: “There was an almighty bang in my cockpit”. He thought his aircraft was breaking up, but it was a shell detonating against the outer skin. On landing, he also counted 16 bullet-holes.

The squadron was soon embroiled in the Battle of Britain, and on 9 September Wright was badly shot up off Brighton, but again managed to land in one piece, his engine spluttering.

The following Sunday, 15 September, Wright was “spotter” out over the coast at 26,000ft, his every report of approaching enemy formations commanding the attention of the Prime Minister, as Churchill had chosen that day to visit 11 Group HQ at Uxbridge, the underground centre of operations.

In the very hours when Churchill was musing: “The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite,” before going back to his Chequers country house and an afternoon snooze, Wright was fleeing two Me 109s on his tail. He fired at them, then dived so hard from 28,000ft to 7,000ft that he blacked out, and only just woke up in time to save himself.

These were also the months when 92 Sqn, based at Biggin Hill in Kent, would spend evenings drinking at the White Hart pub in the nearby village of Brasted. Wright, a quieter character than many of his fellow aces of the squadron, would sometimes join the others, sometimes stay away.

Just after taking over command on 27 September of the squadron’s “B” flight, he had another narrow escape, nursing his Spitfire home on the 30th with half the rudder and elevator shot off, and landing safely at Shoreham despite a badly wounded leg: “When I took my boot off, it was half-filled with blood,” he recalled. In hospital for two months, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in October.

He fought on through 1941, and in July received a Bar to his DFC, with the recommendation listing nine victories.

In 1942, Wright married Barbara Harcourt, a friend of the family with whom he had been billeted while on flying duties. They would have two sons and two daughters.

There followed instructor, headquarters, and refresher postings, and a trip to the US to teach gunnery to the US Air Force, before he returned to operational flying in March 1943, joining 29 Squadron as “A” flight commander. He scored a night victory in April, and in September 1944 was awarded the Air Force Cross.

By the war’s end he had destroyed 11 enemy aircraft, shared in the destruction of three more, scored two “possibles”, five “probables”, and damaged seven.

He went on to command the British base at El Ballah in Egypt, and had Air Ministry jobs before returning in 1950 as a lecturer to Cranwell, where as a teenager in 1938 he had won a Prize Cadetship. He returned to Plans at the Ministry of Aviation, then was Group Captain, Far East Air Force. He retired in 1967, taking over a 10-acre arable smallholding in Devon, the county of his birth.

One of four children of Air Commodore and later Acting Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Wright, AFC, he was educated at St Edmund’s College, Hertfordshire. His elder brother, Mandeville, known as Claude, also a pilot, was killed over France early in the Second World War.

Wright was thought to be one of the last three Battle of Britain aces still living. Of those illustrious colleagues – together with Wright’s wife and children – Geoffrey Wellum and Tom Neil survive him.

Allan Richard Wright, fighter pilot: born Teignmouth, Devon 12 February 1920; married Barbara Harcourt (two sons, two daughters); DFC 1940 and Bar 1941, AFC 1944; died Bradworthy, Devon 16 September 2015.

Reproduced from The Independent with permission

SY 2020-11-28


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