Laddie Lucas - Biography
At 24 I was a working journalist with Lord Beaverbrook’s Express Newspapers in Fleet Street when World War II broke out. After training in Canada in 1940, I served my apprenticeship with Fighter Command’s 66 Squadron in 1941 before being posted, early 1942, to Malta. I was later given command of 249, often claimed to be the Royal Air Force’s top-scoring fighter squadron, at the height of the island battle.
Command of a squadron in battle is the ultimate privilege the Sevice can bestow on a fighter pilot. And when that squadron happened to be 249 in Malta, with its wonderful mix of Commonwealth pilots, this recipient was doubly blessed. I was lucky to take over 249 from Stan Grant, an outstandingly professional fighter leader, in Malta’s crisis days in 1942. He made us all feel we were a pace or two ahead of the rest and that nothing but our best would do. No succeeding CO could have asked for more.
I well recall one incident in the intense fighting. The Squadron, brilliantly controlled from the ground by Group Captain Woodhall, was perfectly positioned to meet an incoming raid of three Italian Cant bombers, closely attended by the Luftwaffe’s 70 plus Me 109 escort. With height and sun on its side, the Squadron cut clean through the fighter screen to send all three bombers plunging earthwards. It was a model interception.
George (‘Screwball’) Beurling, 249’s talented Canadian, watched the action from the ground. “Boss,” he said to me just after we had landed, “I couldn’t fault that one.” It was the ultimate accolade from such a respected fighter pilot.
After a spell on the C-in-C’s staff at Fighter Command, I was appointed, in 1943, to command, first, 616, the South Yorkshire Auxiliary Squadron, and then, later, the fighter wing at Coltishall.
My recollection of Coltishall, is of our clipped-wing, cropped-blower Spitfire Vs, flying interminable sorties across 120 miles of turbulent North Sea, interspersed with close escorts for the USAAF’s medium bombers to targets in Northern France. I can still see, as if it was yesterday, Johnnie Johnson and his Kenley Wing of Canadians, with their coveted Spitfire IXBs, high up above us, picking off the FW 190’s and Me 109’s as they began their passes at the succulent bait way down below. Johnnie’s wing leading in the summer and autumn of 1943 was a wonderfully effective and aggressive affair.
At the end of a second period on the staff, I was told by Leigh Mallory, the Allied Air Commander, that, at 29, I was “too old for a third tour on fighters”. “Very well, sir,” I countered, ” then how about a chance with 2 Group’s Mosquitos?”
So, for the last six months of the war in Europe, as a Wing Commander, I took charge of 613’s Mosquitos at Cambrai/Epinoy for the low-level daylight bombing attacks and night interdiction missions flown in support of the advancing Allied armies.
During WWII I flew five different marks of Spitfire, the Hurricane II and the Mosquito VI. The Spitfire VB was my favourite combat aircraft in the circumstances of the Malta battle in the spring and early summer of 1942.
The island fighting was generally between the Spitfire VB (and VC) on the one hand and the Luftwaffe’s Me 109F (and G) and the Regia Aeronautical Macchi 202 (and 205) on the other.
Against such opposition the Spitfire VB was well able, in experienced hands, to contain the heavy numerical superiority of the enemy. Its composite qualities of manoeuvrability, performance, armament and stability as a gun platform gave it an edge over the Me 109F in individual combat. Moreover, it imbued the pilots with a faith and a confidence which did much to sustain morale in those rugged days.
In the peace that followed, after a spell as a Member of Parliament and in business, I now devote my time to writing books on my wartime experiences in aviation, collaborating with Johnnie Johnson. This has included “Flying Colours”, a biography on Douglas Bader – a great personal friend: His wife and mine are sisters!