Blackadder: The flying hero of Tangmere

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William Francis Blackadder, always known in the RAF as Francis, was born on 23 January 1913 and was educated in Edinburgh before going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, in 1931 to read Modern Languages and History.

In 1936 he joined the Moor Line owned by Runciman & Company, a shipping company based in Newcastle upon Tyne and the same year joined No 607 (County of Durham) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron as a pilot officer attending his first summer camp at RAF Tangmere.

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The squadron was flying Hawker Harts and Demons and later converted to Gloster Gladiators.

Blackadder was a fine rugby player and was a member of the first Scottish team to beat England at Twickenham in March 1938.

He was promoted to flight lieutenant in September 1939 at the outbreak of war and on 15 November, Blackadder with No 607, flew his Gladiator to Merville near Lille, France, as part of the British Advanced Air Striking Force.

By the end of April, the squadron had converted to the Hawker Hurricane and on 11 May, the day after start of the German Blitzkrieg, Blackadder shared in the destruction of a Heinkel He 111 bomber and claimed another destroyed.

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Seven days later he claimed a Dornier Do 17 bomber destroyed but his Hurricane was hit by return fire and he had to make an emergency landing near Denais.

The squadron suffered heavy losses in the fighting and was withdrawn back to England on 20 May.

On 4 June, Blackadder was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The citation for the award read: “This officer shot down three enemy aircraft and led his patrols with judgement and excellent offensive spirit.

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“In particular he carried out singly several extremely important reconnaissances of bridges and roads at a time when other means of obtaining news were not effective. His reports were very valuable to the Army.”

At the start of the Battle of Britain, No 607 Squadron was based in the North of England, at Usworth, near Sunderland.

On 14 August, Blackadder damaged two He 111s and next day destroyed another near Seaham, County Durham.

On 7 September, No 607 was ordered to RAF Tangmere where two days later Blackadder shared in the destruction of a Do 17 bomber. On the 13th he damaged a Junkers Ju 88 bomber and on 26 September he shot down a He 111 and a Bf 110 fighter.

On 2 October only five of the remaining seven Hurricanes in the squadron returned to Tangmere after enemy action over the Needles.

Blackadder wrote in his logbook, ‘Ju 88 destroyed but lucky to escape’.

Eight days later the squadron was relieved and left Tangmere for Turnhouse, now Edinburgh Airport.

In November, Blackadder left No 607 to serve as a sector controller at Turnhouse, later carrying out the same job at Usworth, Ouston, County Durham and Prestwick, Scotland before taking command in June 1941 of No 245 (Hurricane) Squadron at Aldergrove, Northern Ireland.

Later staff positions during the war included Wing Commander Tactics at HQ Fighter Command in May 1943 and a transfer later in the year to HQ Allied Expeditionary Air Forces to assist in the planning for D-Day.

His final wartime posting was to command the Air Fighting Development Unit at RAF Wittering.

In January, 1945, he was awarded the OBE.

After the war he rejoined No 607 Auxiliary Air Force Squadron, flying Spitfires until he resigned his commission in 1950.

He returned to the shipping industry and rose to become Vice Chairman of the Anchor Line.

William Francis Blackadder DSO OBE died in November 1997.

This article, written by David Coxon, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum’s curator, is the 27th in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information on the Museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found on our website: www.tangmere-museum.org.uk.

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