Wednesday, November 24, 2010

W/Cdr Robert F.T Doe, DSO, DFC* 1920-2010

One of the Battle of Britain’s top scoring pilots, Bob Doe became an ace (five kills) in his first week of air fighting, which coincided with the Luftwaffe onslaught of mid-August, 1940, Goering’s vaunted Adlerangriff (Eagle attack) that was to have swept the RAF from the skies. Doe was one of the few RAF pilots to score combat victories in both the Spitfire and Hurricane during the Battle, switching to the latter — slower and less manoeuvrable — fighter with 238 Squadron, when his original squadron, No 234, had lost most of its pilots and was posted to Cornwall for a rest.
Strangely, perhaps, Doe regarded himself as a timorous individual with no gifts as a pilot. His superiors disagreed and his record, 15 combat victories (14 kills and two shared) speaks for itself. Reticent he might have been on the ground, but once in the air Doe was imbued with that desire to be at grips with the enemy that is the hallmark of the finest fighting troops.
Having survived the Battle of Britain and serious injuries in a crash in 1941, he was posted to the Far East, leading ground attack operations in support of Slim’s 14th Army in difficult conditions over the jungles of Burma. His skill and leadership earned him a DSO to add to the two DFCs he had won in 1940.
Robert Francis Thomas Doe was born in Reigate, Surrey, in 1920. At 15 he left school to work as a messenger boy at the News of the World. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in March 1938 and in January 1939 was accepted for a short service commission. On his own admission he was rated merely “average” and only just won his wings. All this was to change in the heat of battle.
Posted to 234 (Spitfire) Squadron he was pitchforked into action on August 15, 1940, and maintained an extraordinary tempo of combat over the next two months. On that day his first victory was a shared one, over a Messerschmitt 110 twin-engined fighter off the Dorset coast, and soon after he shot down a second. The fighting over the following weeks was unrelenting. On August 16 he shot down a Messerschmitt 109 and a Dornier Do18 flying boat. Two days later he downed a second Me109 and damaged another. A shared Ju88, on August 21, made him an ace in just six days of fighting.
The attack on 11 Group’s airfields in the last week of August took the battle into a crucial phase for the RAF as packed bomber formations and fighter escorts repeatedly fought through the air defences. Doe’s next six victims were Me109s — on September 4 he shot down three in a single sortie. But the attrition was frightful. In a few days No 234 had all but ceased to exist. On September 7 Doe flew his last sortie with it, shooting down an He111 over London. After that, with only three of its pilots remaining the squadron was sent to Cornwall to rest and rebuild.
Doe’s respite was brief. Posted as a flight commander to 238 (Hurricane) squadron, he was back in action by the end of the month, and had three more combat victories by the time the battle began to die down in October.
On October 10 he was shot down in the Luftwaffe’s last big daytime sortie and baled out of his Hurricane with severe wounds to his leg and shoulder. He was awarded the DFC on October 23, and a Bar on November 26. He rejoined his squadron in December, but on January 3, 1941, his aircraft suffered engine failure during an attempted night interception. He managed a forced landing, but his harness broke with the impact and his head was smashed against his gun sight. He suffered severe facial injuries and broke his arm.
Lengthy surgery involving 22 operations was done by the brilliant New Zealand-born plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies. Astonishingly, Doe resumed flying in May 1941, and joined 66 Squadron as a flight commander. After front- line and training appointments, in August 1943 he was posted to India and tasked with forming and training 10 Squadron, Indian Air Force. With their “Hurribombers” — Hurricanes armed with four 20mm cannon and carrying two 500lb bombs — No10 supported the 14th Army campaign that drove the Japanese out of India and pursued it south through Burma. Air power was decisive in the fighting, and 10 Squadron’s precision air strikes played an important role. The citation for Doe’s DSO, gazetted in October 1945, commended his “unconquerable spirit”.
At the end of the war Doe gained a permanent commission and after a period training the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, was in 1950 given command of 32 (Vampire) Squadron in Egypt after a few hours in the cockpit to familiarise himself with jets. In his two years in command he raised it to a level of efficiency envied by other units in the theatre.
Subsequent appointments included the Fighter Gunnery Wing at Leconfield, the Joint Planning Staff and Senior Personnel Staff Officer at Flying Training Command after which he opted for retirement in 1966. Settling in Kent, he set up a garage and car hire company.