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Thread: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

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    Default Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    So I have been struggling with a puzzle over the possibility that a gentleman who served on 78 Sqn as a commissioned WAG in 1940/41, returned to the Squadron as a pilot in 1943 and was killed in action.

    The challenge that I have is for the 1940/41 tour I only have surname, initials and rank, at that stage of the war the Squadron didn't show service numbers. I have checked the Air Force List and have only found two officers that fit. One of which I have eliminated as he is in the Equipment Branch.

    What is the possibility that the RAF system would allow an experienced Gunnery Leader to retrain as a pilot? Secondly how likely is it that he would return to his old Squadron?

    The details I have are:

    1940/41 FO R T Hunter, completed Gunnery Leader Course at the Central Gunnery School

    The AFL shows two R T Hunters in late 1940 early 1941; Ralph Taylor Hunter, commissioned from WO as 44621, in the Equipment Branch and the second as Richard Theobald Hunter 79562. This gentleman matches the 1943 casualty of FLt R T Hunter, who was KIA 06/09/43 as captain of EY-Z JD475 lost on ops to Mannheim.

    Any thoughts welcomed

    Daz

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    According to the entry in "Bomber Command Losses", Flt Lt Hunter was 42 years old at the time of his death - so he would presumably have been a pre-war entrant.

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    The training part is possible - no experience of a return to squadron.

    I know of an AC Air Gunner on Sunderlands 1939, instead of being automatically made up to Sgt (June 1940) he was recommended for Commission, became commissioned AG on the squadron, applied and was accepted for pilot training in l941/42 - usual 1 year for Canada pilot training, UK (P)AFU, OTU - but then went instructor Beam Flying route instead of operational flying.

    Ross
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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    Thank you both for your comments. I have come across this once before, but it was at the end of the war. The gentleman in this case was a Canadian, who completed his tour of ops as an Air Gunner from mid 1944 to early 1945. He then returned to Canada and was commissioned and requested to undergo pilot training. He was mid way through his training when the war ended. When I discussed it with him, he said he thought he was only put on the training because he was back in Canada and they had no other work for him as an Air Gunner.

    I thought the Hunter case odd, given that it was earlier in the war.

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    Bob Horsley was another case. Did most of a tour in 50 Squadron as w/op air gunner and won DFC for his part in crash when Leslie Manser won VC. Evaded capture and returned to UK by Comet escape line. Retrained as pilot and allowed to fly over Belgium and France post 1944 when these countries had been liberated. Did a further 12 operations as pilot in 617 Squadron. See https://dambustersblog.com/2019/06/2...on-the-lutzow/
    http://dambustersblog.com
    http://www.breakingthedams.com

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    Daz, I know that 311 Sq has been a special case of a little bit more autonomous unit but there were several cases of Air Gunners, Wireless Operator and Navigator of those who finished tour with BC in 1941-1942 who were posted to pilot training. Very few of them ended up with Czechoslovak fighter squadrons and most of them returned back to 311 Sq to flew Wellington/Liberators with CC.
    But with the RAF member returning back to his original unit seems to me very unlikely.
    It seems to me also very unlikely to put someone into pilot trainig without his agreement - there were always more of those who wanted to be pilots than places in pilots schools.
    In early WW2 years it was possible that an airmen of another trade after the tour was allowed to pilot training even being to old (over 30 for example) but later it was simply impossible and only young lads were accepted.

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    Perhaps one of the best known 'Gunner to Pilot' is RC Rivaz who at one time was in Leonard Cheshire's crew.
    Later in the war he retrained as a pilot even though he was in his 30's,he survived the war but was tragically killed as a passenger in a Liberator accident in 1945.
    Post War the RAF even had a period of retraining SEG'S as pilots (Signallers/Engineers/Gunners) - one of whom wrote a few autobios (Pat Cunningham - Apprentice to Pilot et al)

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    A couple of others off the top of my head would be -
    John Derry who started out as a W Op/AG before retraining as a pilot.

    Also Les Leetham IIRC started out as an Airframe Fitter,then Flight Engineer and eventually retrained as a pilot but too late to fly ops.
    He later joined Auster at Rearsby as a Fitter/Part Time Test Pilot,eventually writing a fascinating little book called 'Rearsby Recalled'.

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    Default Re: Retraining from Wireless Operator Air Gunner to Pilot

    Thanks to everyone for their posts. I'm now fairly certain that this is one and the same man and that he came back to 78 Squadron for a tour as a pilot. I will send off to the RAF for his service records which should prove it one way or another.

    Best regards

    Daz

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