Wing Commander Ken Mackenzie D.F.C.
Wing Commander Ken Mackenzie D.F.C.
Born: June 6th 1916, Belfast. Died: June 4th 2009 Age: 92
Wing Commander Ken Mackenzie, who has died aged 92, was a fighter pilot who destroyed at least seven enemy fighters during the Battle of Britain, one of them by ramming it after he had run out of ammunition, for which he earned a DFC less than three weeks after joining his squadron. Later, as a POW, he was involved in numerous escape attempts.
Mackenzie arrived on No 501 Squadron early in October 1940. Within days he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 and damaged a second. On October 7, he shared in the destruction of another over London docks and then pursued yet one more, which he attacked. He registered hits on the enemy fighter before running out of ammunition. As the enemy aircraft turned for France and started to descend, Mackenzie closed on it. Determined not to let it escape, he positioned his Hurricane on the enemy’s port side with his starboard wing over its tailplane. He then slammed his wing tip on the Bf 109’s tail which snapped off sending it diving into the sea.
This violent and unorthodox manoeuvre immediately severed the outer part of his Hurricane’s wing. Fortunately it was a clean break and Mackenzie retained some control. Although pursued by two more Bf 109s and sustaining damage to his engine from enemy fire, he managed to clear the cliffs near Folkestone and belly land in a field. The force of the impact threw him against the gunsight and he lost four teeth. For this daring feat and his earlier successes that week, he was awarded a DFC “for his skill and gallantry”.
Kenneth William Mackenzie was born in Belfast on June 6 1916 and educated at the Methodist College. He started an apprenticeship with Harland & Wolff and studied for an engineering degree at Queen’s University. When he was just 16 he gained his A pilot’s licence at the North of Ireland Aero Club and joined the RAFVR as an airman pilot in 1939.
After recovering from his crash landing, Mackenzie saw more intense action over Kent. During the morning of October 25 he shot down a Bf 109 and shared in the destruction of a second. During the afternoon, his wingman collided with him during an interception and he was forced to bail out. He was immediately back in action and accounted for three more enemy fighters before the end of the month.
In June 1941 Mackenzie joined No 247 Squadron as a flight commander. Based in Cornwall, the squadron’s Hurricanes were used as night fighters and Mackenzie achieved its first success on July 6 when he shot down a Junkers 88 bomber, which crashed in the sea off Falmouth. Three months later he repeated this feat when he sent a Heinkel bomber crashing into the sea off Land’s End.
In the autumn of 1941, No 247 went on the offensive over France. On September 29 Mackenzie set off to attack the airfield at Lannion in Brittany. His aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and, as his engine failed, he ditched in the sea. He managed to scramble into his dinghy, paddle ashore and hide but he was discovered by a German patrol and taken captive.
On his way to a POW camp, Mackenzie gave his guard the slip on a crowded Paris railway station but was soon recaptured. At Oflag VIB at Warburg, northern Germany, which was predominantly an army camp, escape attempts were a major industry and Mackenzie joined the tunnelling team. Working 24 hours a day, they reached the perimeter wire but flooding prevented further work until the spring. On resuming in April 1942, Mackenzie was fortunate not to be buried alive when a ton of clay fell from the roof – he just managed to scramble clear. With rumours that the POWs were to be transferred to another camp, the prisoners decided to risk breaking open the tunnel early. As the first prisoner crawled from the tunnel exit, a guard spotted him.
Undaunted, Mackenzie and a colleague decided to build a “blitz” tunnel from a ditch close to the perimeter fence. A diversion was set up and the two men reached the ditch unseen. Hiding under blankets, they waited for nightfall when they planned to dig a shallow tunnel under the wire.
As night fell a guard was seen taking a close interest in the area so another diversion was created and the two men were recalled into the compound. A few weeks later, Mackenzie was transferred to Stalag Luft III at Sagan.
Over a long period of time he feigned madness and developed a severe stammer for the purpose.
He was eventually repatriated to England in October 1944. For the rest of his RAF career he was known as Mad Mac.
On his return he became an instructor on fighters, when he was assessed as exceptional, and over the next few years he filled a number of flying appointments at fighter training schools. In July 1951 he was promoted to command the Meteor fighter wing at Stradishall in Suffolk, where he was also the chief instructor.
Mackenzie, who never lost the stammer he cultivated as a POW, was an irascible character and always led from the front. It was his habit to fly every morning before the routine meteorological briefing for all the other pilots.
After one of these flights, he attended a brief when the young forecaster stated that the cloud base was low, to which Mackenzie shouted out: “C-c-c-cock!” He was awarded the AFC at the end of his tour. He later served in the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf.
In 1965 he was serving in Kenya when Ian Smith declared UDI in Southern Rhodesia. The following year, the RAF mounted a major airlift of fuel into Zambia and Mackenzie served in the hastily-created headquarters in Lusaka where he remained for three months.
This led to an invitation to join the newly-independent Zambian Air Force as the deputy commander, a post he held until April 1970. He then ran Air Kenya in Nairobi as managing director until his retirement in 1973 when he moved to Cyprus.
In the 1960s Mackenzie became much involved in motorsport, racing sports cars with some success, culminating in the 1963 Tourists’ Trophy Race at Goodwood. He returned to England in 2000 and was a strong supporter of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, rarely missing any of the annual reunions. His autobiography, Hurricane Combat, the Nine Lives of a Fighter Pilot was published in 1987.
Ken Mackenzie died on June 4. His marriage to Molly Bennis in 1946 ended in divorce in 1967. His second wife died and he married, thirdly, Margaret, in 1979. She survives him with a daughter from his first marriage.
Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.