Air Commodore Paddy Forsythe D.F.C. C.B.E.
Air Commodore Paddy Forsythe D.F.C. C.B.E.
Born: July 10th 1920, Belfast. Died: August 29th 2009 Age: 89
Air Commodore Paddy Forsythe, who has died aged 89, was decorated as a Lancaster bomber pilot during the Second World War and ended his long career as the RAF’s Director of Public Relations.
Left: Forsythe (standing, centre) with his crew and their Lancaster (Further photographs added to this article – see below)
Forsythe flew during the harsh winter of 1945 against targets deep inside Germany to provide support for the Soviet armies advancing from the east. Targets at Stettin and at Chemnitz were at the extreme range of the Lancaster.
For the raid on Dresden on the night of February 13/14 Forsythe was in the air for almost 11 hours. It was a raid which has been the subject of much debate, but Forsythe recalled: “We were clearly briefed to go for the marshalling yards. We were supporting the Russians, and there was no question of taking out everybody.”
His aircraft was often “coned” by searchlights, and on these occasions he was forced to corkscrew to escape the attention of the anti-aircraft batteries. Once a shell smashed straight through the nose of his bomber, killing the bomb aimer, but Forsythe managed to nurse his crippled aircraft home and make a safe landing.
On a daylight raid over Hamburg, he saw for the first time the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter. Two attacked his formation, and within seconds they had shot down two bombers and made their escape before the escorting fighters could intercept them. After the war Forsythe remarked: “God knows what would have happened if Germany had been able to build enough of those to have a real go at us.”
As the war in Europe was drawing to a close, Operation Manna was launched, to drop food to the starving population in German-occupied western Holland. Most of Bomber Command’s aircraft were used to drop supplies from low level, and in a single week they delivered more than 6,500 tons of food.
Forsythe flew on a number of these missions, dropping his supplies from 250ft while hoping that the German gunners would honour the truce that had been negotiated. By the end of the war he had flown 32 bombing operations and was awarded a DFC.
He reserved particular praise for his ground crew – “They never ceased to amaze me with their tremendous spirit and co-operation” – and at the end of the war he flew them in his Lancaster over Germany to see the targets he had attacked.
James Roy Forsythe, always known as Paddy, was born in Belfast on July 10 1920 and educated at the city’s Methodist College and at Queen’s University, where he was a member of the University Air Squadron until he was enlisted into the RAF in September 1941.
He went to America to train as a pilot under the Arnold Scheme, a bilateral arrangement established by General “Hap” Arnold of the United States Army Air Corps which trained thousands of RAF pilots at airfields in the south-east of the United States. After gaining his wings, Forsythe was assessed as above average and remained with the scheme as a pilot instructor.
Anxious to see combat, he returned to Britain in early 1944 to train as a bomber pilot before joining No 625 Squadron in December 1944, flying Lancasters from Kelstern airfield near Lincoln.
After the war Forsythe flew with Transport Command’s Lancastrian Flight carrying mail between England and New Zealand. He attended the Empire Central Flying School, became an instructor, and in 1955 took command of Aberdeen University Air Squadron.
In 1958 he was appointed to command No 16 Squadron, flying Canberra strike aircraft from RAF Laarbruch in Germany. He was a popular CO who insisted on total professionalism at work, but he was content to turn a blind eye to some of the antics of his young aircrew when they were off duty.
After attending the first RAF air warfare course, he remained on the staff of the College of Air Warfare to lead the operational studies team before spending six months as the head of the RAF aid mission to India following the Chinese invasion (the Indian Air Force had a large force of Canberra bombers at the time).
On promotion to group captain in June 1963, he took command of No 6 Flying Training School, based at Acklington in Northumberland, where his approachable manner and personal interest in the development of individual student pilots was a feature of his years in command. For his services he was appointed CBE.
Forsythe had a spell with the Air Plans Division of the MoD, and in 1968 left for Singapore to take charge of public relations at a sensitive time, as Britain was beginning a major withdrawal of its forces from the Far East. He returned home to be the RAF’s director of recruiting.
His final appointment was as Director of Public Relations at the MoD, a post that had much potential for mishaps. But Forsythe’s steadiness, his friendly and witty manner, ensured that he established an excellent rapport with his contacts in the press.
After the introduction into service of a series of new-generation jet combat aircraft, he co-ordinated a major drive to present the roles of the RAF to a wider public, often using the medium of the national newspapers’ new colour supplements.
Forsythe’s abiding passion was rugby, and he made an immense contribution to the RAF Rugby Union. A very useful player himself, he worked hard to develop youth rugby and became an active committee member in the 1960s.
He was the chairman of RAF rugby from 1971 to 1974, a time when the team still maintained a first-class fixture list. He was later elected a life vice-president. He also gave many years of devoted service to London Irish, and served as its president during the final years of the club’s amateur status.
After retiring from the RAF in November 1975, Forsythe became chief executive of a charitable trust building housing blocks for students in London. He was also for many years a trustee of the Friends of the Royal Brompton Hospital.
Paddy Forsythe, who died on August 29, will be remembered for his interest in people, his warm personality and a delightful sense of humour.
He married his first wife, Barbara, in 1946. She died in 1983, and six years later he married his second wife, Wayne, a New Zealander. She survives him with two sons and two daughters from his first marriage.
Stefan Youngs (webmasters brother) is a friend of the family and following this obituary they contacted us to include the following photographs.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.