24-11-2010 – 01-01-1970
Sale 1008, Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals & Militaria
Spink sold D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar Group Awarded to Battle of Britain Hero Wing Commander R.F.T. ‘Bob’ Doe, Royal Air Force
On November 2010 Spink sold the important D.S.O., ‘1940’ D.F.C. and Bar Group of Nine awarded to Wing Commander R.F.T. ‘Bob’ Doe, of the Royal Air Force. Wing Commander Doe was the third most successful Fighter Pilot of the Battle of Britain, who, with 14 victories, was also one of the few to achieve recognition flying both Spitfires and Hurricanes. The lot was estimated to fetch £130,000-160,000. It sold for £185,000.
Herewith is Doe’s incredible tale of heroism…
Wing Commander Robert Francis Thomas Doe, D.S.O., D.F.C. was born in Reigate on the 10th March, 1920, and educated at Leatherhead School. 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 volunteer for the RAF Volunteer Reserve and started to train as a pilot at Hanworth Flying School. He gained a short service commission in the RAF in March 1939 and completed his training as a pilot at RAF Little Rissington.
Doe had struggled to become a pilot, barely passing the necessary exams to gain his wings. He was under-confident, poor at aerobatics and did not like flying upside down – not an auspicious beginning for a potential fighter pilot. He joined No. 234 Squadron flying Spitfires from RAF St Eval in Cornwall. During the early phases of the Battle of Britain he flew convoy patrols: ‘Heinkel Hunting – Hun dropped six bombs on our convoy, chased him again, lost in cloud… Heinkel baiting – Light patrols pretty bloody – out of R/T touch – sighted Hun 10,000 feet below.’ (the recipient’s Log book refers).
The Battle of Britain – Warming-up: Intercepted 200+ Bandits
On August 14, 1940, as the intensity of air fighting in the Battle increased, his Squadron was ordered to RAF Middle Wallop in Hampshire. The following day, dubbed Adler Tag (Eagle Day) by Hermann Goering, and the day he claimed he would destroy Fighter Command, Doe was on standby with his Spitfire waiting for his first scramble. Years later in a TV broadcast he confessed, ‘I knew I was going to be killed. I was the worst pilot on the Squadron’. When the scramble bell rang, twenty-year old Doe was filled with dread but he took off. He believed that worse than the fear of death was the fear of being thought a coward.
His formation intercepted a force of 100 enemy fighter bombers escorted by at least 100 fighters. One hour later Doe landed to find that four of his colleagues had failed to return but he had succeeded in shooting down two Messerschmitt Bf 110s south of Swanage. Before this fight he had only fired his guns once before and that was during training. ‘Got my first two Huns, one Jaguar and one ME 110, with one 5-sec burst and one 10-sec burst’. The following day, he destroyed one Bf 109 fighter over the Isle of Wight whilst flying at 25,000 feet, and he also shot down a Dornier 18 flying-boat: ‘Intercepted 100 ME 109’s…dogfight, shot one 109 down from 25,000 feet, four 2-sec bursts; I followed it down and saw a DO 18 flying-boat. Knocked its engines out, bullet through my spinner, two 3-sec bursts.’ Two days later he accounted for another Bf 109, which was shooting up balloons at Southampton: ‘…got one into the sea, five 2-sec bursts, and ran out of ammo on his pal’.
As the Battle intensified, Doe’s most vivid memory of this period was of continued tiredness, which produced the ability to sleep anytime and anywhere. By the end of August, he had destroyed at least five aircraft. ‘Met a solitary Hun over Winchester, shot him down, two 7-sec bursts – every occupant had at least 5 bullet holes in his helmet; received 1 bullet through main spar of my aircraft; Intercepted 50 ME 109’s over Isle of Wight, one 25-sec burst; my engine cut after hitting a Hun’s slip-steam; chased Huns back to French Coast and shot one down over Guernsey with 140 bullets.’
…Shot Down Two, Met One Other on Way Back…Met Lots of Huns Over London
On the 4th September, No. 234 Squadron intercepted a large force of Bf 110s over the south coast near Chichester. Doe shot down three of the escorting Bf 109s and the following day he accounted for another over the Isle of Sheppey. ‘London Blitz started – met 50 unescorted ME 110’s over Brighton, shot down two, two 25-sec bursts, met one other on way back over Littlehampton chased by Hurricanes, got him first shot, one 3-sec burst, but had to share him with Hurribirds. Met lots of Huns over London. Had to chase one 109 all the way back to France before I got him; three 2-sec bursts’. On the 6th he destroyed another Bf 109 and attacked three Dornier bombers scoring hits and damaging each of them before they escaped. ‘Met 14 DO 17’s escorted by one 109 on my own, two 1-sec bursts, the 109 never saw what hit him, neither did the three Dornier rear-gunners, things got a bit hot after that and I had to land quickly.’ A Heinkel III bomber fell to his guns near Beachy Head on the 7th ‘Scrap – 350 bombers over London; Big bunch of bombers managed to get around Charlie with two dirty dives and then a 109 ran into my sights and left a piece of wing behind him.’ By now, just three weeks after arriving at Middle Wallop, only three of the original pilots remained on the Squadron. In the space of four days he had shot down five enemy fighters, one bomber, and he had damaged three more bombers.
6 Against 200+ Over Southampton
Doe was rested for a short period before joining No. 238 Squadron as a flight commander, this time flying the Hurricane. On the 30th September he claimed another Heinkel bomber after a head-on attack but the intensity of the day fighting reduced as the Luftwaffe began sending most bombers over at night. ‘Did a head-on attack on 70 HE 111s and managed to get one, three 6-sec bursts, received a bullet through my prop which split it from end to end, the old kite still brought me back.’ However, on the 1st October he shot down a Bf 110 near Southampton: ‘Six of us met 100 109’s, 100 ME 110’s and two Condors – 2 Condors damaged – carried out a vertical attack, got a 110 as I broke away, three 4-sec bursts, received one bullet in my wing.’ Seven days later he 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 last big raid of the blitz, shot away complete tail unit of an 88, three 3-sec bursts, received 11 bullets in the machine including 1 in the engine.’
Last Action During the Battle – ’50 109’s On My Own’
At the beginning of October Doe learnt that he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, ‘for his outstanding dash and an eagerness to engage the enemy at close quarters’. This dash almost proved his undoing a few days later on the 10th October. 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 in Poole Harbour. It was his last action during the Battle: ‘Shot down, four wounds also caterpillar; ran into 50 109’s on my own and got rather the worst of it.’ In just eight weeks he had risen from being his Squadron’s junior pilot to be a flight commander. A few weeks later he was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C.
Doe was acknowledged to be the joint third most successful fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain credited with 14 victories, and two shared. He was also one of the few pilots to achieve ‘kills’ during the Battle flying both the Spitfire and the Hurricane.
‘Glad of a Rest’
After recovering from his wounds, Doe rejoined No. 238 on the 23rd December. On the 3rd January, 1941 he took off on a night patrol and headed out over the English Channel at 25,000 feet. He was over the sea and above cloud when his aircraft suffered an engine failure. He headed for the nearest airfield on the Hampshire coast where he carried out a skilful force-landing. However, his restraining harness broke and he smashed his face into the gunsight. One eye was dislocated, his jaw was broken and his nose was almost severed. He also broke his arm. Plastic surgery followed and after 22 operations at East Grinstead Hospital he earned his place as a member of the Guinea Pig Club. After four months he was able to resume operational flying with No. 66 Squadron at Perranporth. On the 18th May he flew to London where he received his D.F.C. and Bar at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. On 1st June he intercepted a lone Junkers Ju 88 of the Cornish coast and he damaged it: ‘Met a solitary 88 about a 100 miles out in the Atlantic and put a 1-sec burst into him.’
His Squadron was tasked to escort bomber formations attacking targets in northern France and on the 24th July he escorted 130 heavy bombers attacking Brest. Over the next few weeks he flew a number of fighter sweeps over the Brest Peninsula. In October he was sent as an instructor to a fighter training unit. He commented in his log book ‘glad of a rest’. After a brief spell flying Mustangs he volunteered in October 1943 for service in India and on the 25th he sailed in the S.S. Strathmore arriving in Bombay four weeks later.
A Change of Scenery – India and Burma
Having arrived in India, Doe was tasked with forming 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 twenty-seven pilots, most of them Indian, about 1,400 men, and sixteen Hurricanes. The rest was up to him. Flying Hurricanes IIC’s, known as ‘Hurri-bombers’, the aircraft were armed with four 20mm cannon and two 500lb bombs. Doe worked his Squadron hard and once it was declared operational, it moved to Burma at the end of December 1944 to fly ground support missions in support of the 14th 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.
As General Slim began his southern advance into Burma and towards Rangoon, Doe’s Indian Squadron flew at intensive rates from airfields in Assam attacking ground targets with bombs and cannons, sometimes just a few hundred yards ahead of friendly troops. His Squadron provided close air support for the 81st West African Division in the Kaladan Valley bombing supply routes, troop concentrations and river traffic.
Towards the end of January 1945, No. 10 (Indian) moved forward to an airfield in Burma and Doe led his Squadron against Japanese headquarters and stores dumps, usually in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire. Finally, in April 1945 his Squadron was taken out of the front line for a rest period and Doe left to attend the Staff College at Quetta. For his services with the Indian Air Force he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his ‘inspiring leadership and unconquerable spirit and great devotion to duty’. At the end of the war he was tasked to run the air display for Indian Victory Week in Delhi and on the 15th September, the anniversary of the Battle of Britain, he led the parade through Bombay and read the lesson in Bombay Cathedral.
In early October, Doe was invited to meet the Viceroy of India and the Vicereine at Viceregal Lodge where he was invested with the D.S.O. He commented later, ‘It was far more impressive and regal than the Buckingham Palace Investiture’.
Doe remained in India for a few months and worked in the Commander-in-Chief’s Secretariat. One of his jobs was to try and sell surplus Spitfires to the Afghan Air Force and he made a number of visits to Kabul. In September 1946 he returned to England when he decided to remain in the RAF. After a series of appointments with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force he was sent to Egypt in May 1950 to command No. 32 Squadron. The Squadron was 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.
Doe returned to the UK to join the Fighter Gunnery Wing as a senior instructor where he flew most of the jet fighters in service with the RAF including the supersonic Hunter which arrived shortly before he departed on his next posting. 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 scrutinized and re-worded by secretaries and read by the military chiefs. He prepared contingency plans to protect British interests in the Middle East, which included implementing one such plan when Iraq threatened to invade Kuwait in July 1961. Doe found this appointment to be the most frustrating and challenging of his career and he decided, in April 1966, to take early retirement.
Wing Commander Doe died at home in Sussex on the 21st February, 2010. Much admired and modest to the end, he never considered himself a hero, simply asking to be remembered for what he did.