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Warrant Officer Tom McLean D.F.M. D.F.C.

Warrant Officer Tom McLean D.F.M. D.F.C.
Born: January 22nd 1922, Piasley, Scotland. Died: July 20th 2011. Age 88.

During an attack on Mannheim on the night of December 6 1942, McLean was the rear gunner of a Halifax of No 102 Squadron.

A Junkers Ju 88 night fighter opened fire on his aircraft from 600 yards, wounding McLean in the left hand. With the mid-upper gunner, he returned fire and, after a five-second burst, the port engine and wing of the fighter burst into flames and it dived earthward.

Almost immediately, two more fighters moved in for a coordinated attack.

Both gunners opened fire again, destroying one of the enemy aircraft and forcing the other to break away.

The Halifax pressed on to the target to deliver its attack, and on its return both gunners were awarded immediate D.F.M’s.

Aged 18 he joined the R.A.F. and trained as a ground gunner; his knowledge of machine guns proved of great benefit when he volunteered for the air gunner’s role.

He took a deep interest in accurate sighting, range estimation and deflection shooting and throughout his long career worked closely with the pilots and gunners in his crew to devise evasion tactics, which they practised assiduously on training flights. This attention to detail resulted in numerous successes in air-to-air engagements.

On his first operational sortie with No 102, in August 1942, McLean shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 . Two months after the raid on Mannheim, his aircraft was returning from Lorient when it came under attack from two night fighters. The pilot began evasive manoeuvres under the direction of McLean, who then shot down one of the enemy, claiming the second as a ‘probable’. Intelligence later received from France confirmed that the second aircraft had been destroyed.

After completing 30 operations McLean was rested and spent some months as an instructor before joining a Coastal Command air-sea rescue squadron. But, frustrated at the lack of action, he volunteered to join No 617 Squadron, under Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire.

On March 15 1944 McLean’s Lancaster was returning from Metz in France when it came under sustained attack from two night fighters.

McLean was wounded but he opened fire and the enemy aircraft burst into flames under the combined fire of the two gunners.

The second aircraft then closed in and the Lancaster was badly damaged.

McLean’s fire hit the night fighter, which also crashed to the ground.

The tracer fire during these combats attracted a Messerschmitt Bf 109, but the two gunners beat off the attack.

After a spell in hospital, McLean returned to his squadron and flew on the operations leading up to D-Day.

Finally, after completing 51 operations, he was rested and awarded a D.F.C.

McLean briefly tried civilian life at the end of the war, but in 1946 decided to rejoin the R.A.F.

He served as an instructor at the Central Gunnery School before re-mustering as a photographic interpreter and serving at Ballykelly in Northern Ireland.

In 1955 he retired and worked for a number of years as a barber before moving to Middlesbrough, where he undertook caretaker duties, continuing to work until the age of 80.

He was an accomplished landscape and seascape artist and a keen photographer.

In his younger days he had been a proficient boxer, representing the R.A.F. at the sport.

After his first marriage was dissolved, he married, in 1981, Kay Thompson.

He is survived by both his wives, four children from his first marriage, a daughter from his second and by two stepchildren.


Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 01 January 2014, 00:00