seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


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Birth of Flying Ace Thomas Falcon Hazell

thomas-falcon-hazellThomas Falcon Hazell, fighter pilot with the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force during World War I, is born in Roundstone, County Galway, on August 7, 1892. Hazell scores 43 victories in 1917–1918 making him the fifth most successful British “flying ace” of the war, the third most successful Irish-born pilot behind Edward Mannock and George McElroy, and the only pilot to survive the war from both groups.

Upon the outbreak of the war in August 1914, Hazell volunteers for service as a private with the South Irish Horse. On October 10 he is commissioned as second lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. As part of the 49th Brigade in the 16th (Irish) Division, the 7th Inniskillings are initially based at Tipperary, where Hazell is promoted to lieutenant on June 4, 1915. The regiment lands in France in February 1916.

Soon afterwards Hazell transfers to the Royal Flying Corps. In April and May he is assigned to No. 5 Reserve Squadron, based at Castle Bromwich. He is appointed a flying officer on June 5, and survives a severe crash before completing his training. He eventually joins No. 1 Squadron on the Western Front. Flying Nieuport 17 Scouts, he shoots down 20 enemy aircraft between March and August 1917, being appointed a flight commander with the acting rank of captain on May 25, and is awarded the Military Cross on July 26.

After serving as an instructor at the Central Flying School in 1918, he takes command of “A” Flight, No. 24 Squadron, flying the S.E.5a. On August 22, 1918, Hazell shoots down an observation balloon despite its escort of seven Fokker D.VIIs. The escort is led by German ace Ernst Udet, who attacks and riddles Hazell’s petrol tank, propeller, and two longerons with bullets. In spite of this Hazell fights his way back, eyes full of petrol, and lands safely. Udet thinks he has forced the British pilot to crash and actually claims him as his 60th victory. Hazell finishes the war with 43 confirmed kills, the top British surviving ace of the war (excluding Dominion airmen). Hazell is twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On June 11, 1927, he returns to the RAF Depot at Uxbridge and is placed on the retired list on July 20, 1927 at his own request.

In 1944, at the age of 52, Hazell becomes the commander of “D” Company, 24th (Tettenhall) Battalion, South Staffordshire Home Guard during the later part of World War II.

Hazell dies in Newport, County Mayo, on September 4, 1946, and is buried at the Burrishoole Church of Ireland Cemetery there. In 2014 his grave, which had been largely forgotten and neglected, is restored, repaired, and re-dedicated in a ceremony on August 4, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the declaration of World War I.