He was, of course, the first-rate fighter leader, aggressive to the extent of being ruthless, yet inside him was a private worry which he confided to me - that his eyesight was deteriorating and might not last the war. He lived with the fear that at some point the medics might discover his defect and take him off ops. For Robert McNair, in the middle of World War II, that would have been worse than the end.
You won’t find this story anywhere in a book about Spitfire pilots who flew off H.M.S. Eagle during WWII.
Bruce McNair just wrote this after I posted my article about H.M.S. Eagle. It tells a lot about his father.
It has been said before but it is right to comment here that HMS Eagle brought a group of dedicated pilots to Malta that, with the unflagging support of maintenance crews, ground support and the Maltese civilians putting their shoulders to the grindstone, won the war in the Med. They knew the odds when they embarked on the Eagle.
Dad was very fond of Malta and continued to buy Maltese Sweepstakes tickets from the same guy he met during the seige, for decades after the war.
He paid a final visit to his old haunts the year before he died and was quite content he done so.
This is why I write this blog and let others share what memories they have.
The talk around the barracks and the messes was all of volunteering for overseas. In mid-December given the opportunity to volunteer for service in the Near, Middle and Far East, all pilots submitted their names. At this time the situation on Malta was becoming grim. The tiny island was a major thorn-in-the-side of the Germans as it lay astride the resupply routes from Italy and Sicily to North Afica. Malta was the perfect location to stage interception raids on Axis ships trying to reinforce General Rommel in Cyrenaica. The Luftwaffe were committed to crushing the RAF and their means of living on Malta with the eventual aim of invading the island. The RAF brass wanted pilots with either experience or a proven ability to destroy the enemy. McNair, amongst others, was chosen to go to Malta. They were shipped out on a long-range Short Sutherland flying boat.
Click here to visit the Webpage where more if found about Canadian Aces.
I know very little about H.M.S. Eagle. I knew it was a Royal Navy aircraft carrier.
After I saw this in Buck McNair’s logbook…
H.M.S. Eagle will never be the same.
On May 11th, 1942 a random group of pilots from various squadrons in the United Kingdom set out from West Kirby, England to Gourock, Scotland where we embarked on the freighter “Empire Conrad”, destination unknown. Accompanying us were 31 Spitfire Mk Vc,s in crates tucked in the bowels of the ship. From Gourock, we had a stopover at Holyhead and Milford Haven before crossing the Bay of Biscay.
As pilots, our forte was “the wild blue yonder” and the thought of a sea journey, of being torpedoed and ending up in the depths of the ocean was not comforting. However Gibralter was our next port of call and we arrived there after an uneventful trip. The aircraft were off loaded, assembled, test flown and hoisted aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle.
H.M.S. Eagle will never be the same.
At 13.15 hours on 11 Aug, 1942, HMS Eagle (94) (Capt L.D. Mackintosh, RN) was hit by four torpedoes from U-73, while escorting the convoy WS-21S (Operation Pedestal) to Malta. She sank 70 miles south of Cape Salinas, Majorca, Balearic Islands. Two officers and 158 ratings were lost. The commander and 926 survivors were picked up by HMS Laforey (G 99) (Capt R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lookout (G 32) (LtCdr A.G. Forman, RN) and the tug HMS Jaunty (W 30).
Bonjour Pierre, hello John,
Back home now. Checked logbook. Dad has no entry for 9 May 1942. He flew a Spit he marked as ” 177″ from HMS Eagle to Malta on 18 May. I attach (in my techo-challenged way) a copy of my working copy of the relevant page for your records. If you would like a scanned shot of the original page let me know; I just need to warm up my antique Canon scanner.
Click on the image to zoom in.
I did not know Buck McNair flew off an aircraft carrier. I have to know more. And yes Bruce I would like a scanned image from your antique Canon if possible.
Meantime I will be reading Pat Murphy’s account of Spitfires taking off HMS Eagle.
Spitfires on USS Wasp
Pat Murphy has been contributing to this blog about 403 Squadron.
Last night he sent me this picture of Charles Charlesworth who flew with 443 Squadron.
In a sense this post belongs here and I will reblog it later on my other blog about the 443.
Pat is a subscriber to this blog and he saw the post about Chuck Charlesworth.
He wrote this message…
Pierre really enjoying your recent postings and it’s always nice to see the Smith Brothers story again. Here is a picture that Art Sager gave me in 2004 of Charles Charlesworth at the far left, Art in the middle and Lloyd Hunt sitting on a jeep. It was taken in March 1945. Those are the only details I have.
Pat is the contributor who wrote the story about the Smith brothers.
He had more to say.
Art also gave me a 443 Squadron group photo probably taken around the same time. We never got around to identifying all those Spitfire pilots but you can see Art second from left, Charlesworth far right and Jim O’Toole is in the bottom row second from right without the hat.
Pat had even more in store…
Jim lives in Nanaimo and recently celebrated his 90 birthday at the Vancouver Island Military Museum with his family in attendance, Stocky Edwards came down from Comox to say a few words and it was a fun time to see these two Spitfire pilots together. Stocky was the Wing Commander for the last few months of the War.
Jim on the left
I’ve also included a picture of Jim O’Toole in his Spitfire.
All 3.9 megs of it!
I was so beautiful that I could not resist sprucing it up a little.
We have a copy of Jim’s log book in the museum and it makes for interesting reading.
Keep up the good work
This is not work.
This is a passion!
Bruce McNair added this comment after he sent this picture of his father with fellow pilots.
Glad you liked the photo. Rod was a lanky 6’5″ and Dad a stocky 5’11″. They were a good team. In the photo, on the left front is Arthur Bishop, son of Billy. Arthur is a bit of a legend himself. You will see his signature on the silver tray a photograph of which I sent you. I was in touch with Arthur up until he died. He was a fiesty, undefeated fighter to the end. On the far right, front, is Chuck Charlesworth, who remained friends with Dad and Rod after the conflict was over.
Four pilots are now positively identified.
Rod Smith and Buck McNair
And now Arthur Bishop, the son of the legendary Billy Bishop.
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