Wing Commander Bob Doe
had struggled to become a pilot, barely passing the necessary exams to
gain his wings. He lacked confidence, was poor at aerobatics and
disliked flying upside down.... not an auspicious beginning for a
fighter pilot . . . 'I knew I was going to be killed. I was the worst
pilot on the squadron.' When the scramble bell rang, Doe was filled
with dread but he took off . . .[when he returned] he had shot down two
Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters . . ."
years ago, PBS Boston produced a 220 minute long show entitled "Finest
Hour", about the Battle of Britain. Of the many interviewed, none
outshone Bob Doe. In his soft, lilting, voice, he sounded like
your favourite uncle, recalling a particularly interesting summer of
his youth. He seemed almost embarrassed about his having somehow gotten
involved in the Battle at all. It was all an accident, really. He
hadn't been any good at flying, really. Or at shooting. But he had been
lucky. And of course it was understood: They couldn't let that fellow
Commander Bob Doe, who died on February 21 aged 89, was the joint-third
most successful fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain, credited with
14 victories and two shared.
Published: 7:28PM GMT 22 Feb 2010
Doe had struggled to become a pilot, barely passing the necessary exams
to gain his wings. He lacked confidence, was poor at aerobatics and
disliked flying upside down – not an auspicious beginning for a fighter
August 15 1940 – dubbed Adler Tag (Eagle Day) by Hermann Goering, the
day he claimed he would destroy Fighter Command – the 20-year-old Doe
was on standby with his Spitfire as part of No 234 Squadron at Middle
Wallop, Hampshire, waiting for his first scramble. Years later he
recalled: "I knew I was going to be killed. I was the worst pilot on
the scramble bell rang, Doe was filled with dread but he took off; the
fear of being thought a coward was more powerful than the fear of death.
hour later Doe landed to find that four of his colleagues had failed to
return; but he had shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters south of
Swanage. The next day he destroyed a Bf 109 fighter and damaged a
bomber; and two days after that he accounted for another Bf 109.
Battle intensified, and Doe's outstanding memory was to be of continued
tiredness, which produced the ability to sleep anytime and anywhere.
the end of August he had destroyed five aircraft. On September 4 his
squadron intercepted a large force of Bf 110s over the south coast near
shot down three and the following day accounted for a Bf 109 over Kent.
More successes followed, including shooting down a Heinkel bomber. But
by September 7, just three weeks after it had arrived at Middle Wallop,
the squadron's 15 pilots had been reduced to just three.
was rested for a short period before joining No 238 Squadron as a
flight commander, this time flying the Hurricane. On September 30 he
claimed another Heinkel bomber after a head-on attack, but by this time
the Luftwaffe was sending most bombers over at night and the intensity
of the day fighting reduced.
shot down a Bf 110 on October 1 and seven days later claimed his final
victory on what turned out to be the last major daylight bombing raid
of the Battle, when he shot down a Junkers 88 bomber near Portland.
the beginning of October Doe learnt that he had been awarded a DFC "for
his outstanding dash and an eagerness to engage the enemy at close
quarters". This "dash" almost proved his undoing a few days later. As
he cleared some cloud his aircraft was hit repeatedly and he was badly
wounded in the leg, lower back and arm. He bailed out and landed in a
sewage drainage pit on Brownsea Island. It was his last action during
just eight weeks he had risen from being his squadron's junior pilot to
a flight commander with at least 14 victories. A few weeks later he was
awarded a Bar to his DFC.
son of a head gardener, Robert Francis Thomas Doe was born at Reigate
on March 10 1920. A shy, sickly boy, he left school at 14 to work as an
office boy at the News of the World. He was one of the first young men
to apply to the RAFVR and started to train as a pilot at a civilian
flying school. He gained a short service commission in the RAF in March
recovering from his wounds, Doe rejoined No 238 in December 1940. On
January 3 1941 his aircraft suffered an engine failure on a night
sortie and he made a forced landing. His restraining harness broke and
he smashed his face into the gunsight. One eyeball had fallen out, his
jaw was broken and his nose almost severed; he also broke his arm.
22 operations at East Grinstead Hospital he earned his place as a
member of the Guinea Pig Club (for patients of novel surgical
techniques), and he was able to resume operational flying within four
months of his crash. A series of training posts followed at a fighter
school, and in October 1943 he volunteered for service in India.
months later he formed No 10 Squadron, Indian Air Force, at Risalpur in
the North-West Frontier Province, the last Indian Air Force squadron to
be formed during the war. He arrived to find 27 pilots, most of them
Indian, about 1,400 men and 16 Hurricanes. The rest was up to him.
flew Hurricane IICs, known as "Hurri-bombers", armed with four 20mm
cannon and two 500lb bombs. Doe worked his squadron hard, and once it
was declared operational it moved to Burma to fly ground support
missions in support of the Fourteenth Army's operations in the Arakan
and the Kaladan Valley. After a particularly successful raid led by Doe
in support of an amphibious landing, No 10 received a commendation from
the commander of the Arakan Group.
Indian squadron flew intensively, attacking ground targets that were
sometimes just a few hundred yards ahead of friendly troops, as General
Slim began his southern advance into Burma and towards Rangoon. In
April 1945 Doe left the squadron to attend the staff college at Quetta.
For his service with the Indian Air Force he was awarded a DSO for his
"inspiring leadership and unconquerable spirit and great devotion to
duty". At the end of the war he was given the job of running the air
display for Indian Victory Week.
remained in the RAF and, after appointments with the Royal Auxiliary
Air Force, was sent to Egypt in May 1950 to command No 32 Squadron,
equipped with Vampire jet fighters. He had never flown a jet before, so
on his way to the squadron he managed to stop off at a maintenance unit
and borrow a Vampire for a few hours to familiarise himself. By the
time he left in May 1953, No 32 had built up a reputation for esprit de
corps envied by all the other RAF and Army units on the base.
returned to Britain to join the Fighter Gunnery Wing as a senior
instructor. A series of staff appointments followed, including two
years with the Chiefs of Staff Secretariat. This placed him in the
corridors of power, and the boy who had left school at 14 had to learn
how to write minutes which would be scrutinised and reworded by
secretaries and read by the chiefs. Doe found this job to be the most
difficult and challenging appointment of his career. In April 1966 he
opted for premature retirement.
settled in Tunbridge Wells, where he joined a family-owned garage
business before moving on to Rusthall, Kent, to establish his own very
successful garage and contract hire and self-drive car company. He took
a passionate interest in his garden and three greenhouses, and in his
but always modest, Doe never considered himself a hero, saying that he
had been "just doing my duty". But he did write about his wartime
experiences in Bob Doe, Fighter Pilot, published in 1989.
Bob Doe is survived by his third wife, Betty, and by five children and three stepchildren.
I had the privilege of meeting Bob in 2007. Having read a brief entry by
him in the book 'Forgotten voices of WW2' (concerning the basics of air
fighting), I asked him to explain the techniques he used that made him
an ace. He happily & clearly outlined his approach: it seemed being
able to get away when being pursued was as important as anything else.
He avoided turning or climbing when being shot at, preferring to dive
straight down initially (the reasoning being the faster his Spit was
travelling, the harder it would be to hit). He came across as an
intelligent, affable & (even at the age of 87) self-confident man.
He & his comrades were a credit to this country & they will not
be forgotten. Obit Comment by John Jay
Page copyright 2010 Robert Bogash. All Rights Reserved
Content Copyright Daily Telegraph 2010
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