BLYTH, Colin Ian, Flight Lieutenant (199075) – No. 6 Flying Training School, Tern Hill – Air Force Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 2 January 1950. The recommendation states:
‘During his two years at No. 6 Flying Training School, Flight Lieutenant Blyth has shown outstanding qualities as a Flying Instructor. Throughout, a period of extensive re-organization and expansion on the unit he has worked extremely hard and well, and has inspired his fellow instructors and the cadets by his example. He is always keen to get into the air, is an excellent pilot, and particularly specializes in bad weather flying, a practice at which he is expert. Owing to the shortage of instructors he has many times, by his own wish, remained on flying duty for periods far in excess of what is normally required. The example Flight Lieutenant Blyth has set by his keenness to fly in the difficult conditions and the quality of his instructional work are outstanding’.
BLYTH, Colin Ian, Flight Lieutenant (199075), AFC – No. 77 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 30 May 1953.
‘In recognition of gallant and distinguished service in Korea’.
BLYTH, Colin Ian, Squadron Leader, DFC, AFC (199075) – Bar to Air Force Cross – awarded as per Gazette dated 1 January 1955.
BLYTH, Colin Ian, Squadron Leader (199075) – Oman – Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 10 June 1958. Info from Spink catalogue, 25 July 2013.
‘In recognition of gallantry and devotion to duty in air operations in Aden and Oman.’
BLYTH, Colin Ian, Flight Lieutenant, DFC, AFC (199075) – American Air Medal – awarded as per London Gazette, 30 October, 1953. “In recognition of valuable services rendered during operations in Korea.” American citation states:
‘Flight Lieutenant Collin I. Blyth performed acts of meritorious service while participating in sustained operations in support of United Nations activities in Korea. Flight Lieutenant Blyth participated in thirty operational flights during the period 2 March 1951 to 22 August 1951; in the course of these operations dive bombing, rocketing and strafing runs were made from dangerously low altitudes, destroying and damaging enemy installations and equipment. Through his ability, initiative and courage, Flight Lieutenant Blyth has brought great credit upon himself and the Royal Air Force’.
Squadron Leader Colin Ian Blyth, DFC, AFC (1925-2012), known throughout his life as Joe, was born in Maidstone and was educated at the local County School. He volunteered for aircrew duties in the RAF in 1940. He was 15 years old but had ‘stolen’ his sister’s national insurance number allowing him to claim he was 18. He was accepted and started his training as a wireless operator/air gunner in November 1940.
Second War – SOE
In December 1940, Blyth joined No. 161 (Special Duties) Squadron and flew operations to drop agents and supplies into occupied Europe. On the night of 24th September, 1942, his Whitley V Z9131 MA-Q piloted by Pilot Officer D.C. Boothby, ‘T/O Tempsford, crashed near Sevigny-Waleppe (Ardennes), 23 km West Northwest of Rethel, France’ (Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War, refers). Of the crew of seven, one was killed, three were taken POW and three (including Blyth) evaded capture.
He headed south on foot and was helped by farmers. In Lyon, he was picked up by the local escape line and moved to a ‘safe house’ in Marseille where he came under the control of the Pat O’Leary Line. He assumed the false identity of one Gaston Emile Vanbach, a salesman from Toulouse. On 12th October, he was taken by French Resistance couriers with 32 other evaders to Canet Plage near Perpignan. After a nerve=wracking ‘wait’ on the beach, the party was transferred to the Polish-manned SOE felucca Seawolf, arriving in Gibraltar two days later. Shortly afterwards, he returned to England.
More detail is offered by Blyth’s Evader Report, jointly given with Pilot Officer Reed, ‘We came down together about 0130 hrs on 25th Sept. near Rheims. We were both uninjured. We hid our parachutes in a hedge and began walking S.E. We walked for two days, sleeping by day in the woods and walking at night. During this time, we did not get any help from French people.
When we got to the river Aisne we spoke to a farmer. We convinced him we were English and he took us to the mayor of the village who gave us food and civilian clothes and put us on a minor road to Rheims, warning us of the position of German A.A. units.
After a time, we left the road and went southwards across country, bearing slightly East. Two days later, after we had crossed a battle field, we reached St. Martin-Le-Hereux where a farmer and his wife, whom we had met in the fields, gave us food and shelter for the night.
Next morning, after supplying us with a Michelin map of the district, they put us on a bus for Chalons-Sur-Marne and gave us train times for Dijon. We went to Dijon by train (30 Sep.) and walked through the Cote D’Or for about 24 hours. As Sgt. Blyth’s feet gave out, we went to the largest farm house in a village, where we got a meal and were put on a bus for Beaune. From there, we walked towards the West side of Chalon-Sur-Saone. We crossed the Line of Demarcation without a guide three miles west of the town on 2nd October.
We had slept the previous night beside a charcoal-burners’ fire and in the morning the charcoal-burners gave us some advice about crossing the Line. Once across the Line, we walked to Varenne-Le-Grand where we spent a day at a café. On 6th October, we went by train to Lyons and Marseille. We went to the docks to try to get a boat, but the docks were too well guarded. We then got in touch with the organization’.
Of the three evaders from the Whitley crew – Boothby and Reed were recommended for the M.C. whilst Blyth was recommended for the M.M. Both Boothby and Blyth were awarded with the D.F.C. whilst Blyth was to miss out this time around. After a period of recuperation, he served the following year at 1 Squadron, 2 ITW, Selwyn College, Cambridge and at No. 16 E.F.T.S., Burnastone, Derby. Blyth left for South Africa to train as a pilot. He was assessed as above average and became a flying instructor. After returning to the UK in January 1946, he spent two years instructing pilots on piston-engine aircraft at No. 6. F.T.S. Tern Hill before converting to jets and joining No. 203 Advanced Flying School to train fighter pilots. A dynamic personality and innovative leader and pilot, he was awarded the AFC.
Korea – Fighter Pilot
Blyth was an experienced instructor on the Meteor jet fighter when he left for Korea in March 1951. Four RAF pilots had been selected to assist No. 77 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force to convert from the piston-engine Mustang to the Meteor. Although not authorized to fly on operations, Blyth managed to persuade his Australian CO to allow him to participate in a few sorties – in the event he completed over 100.
His enthusiasm to get ‘into the mix’ is illustrated by a verse from a popular song about fighter pilots in Korea taken from the Fleet Air Arm Songbook:
Now one newcomer’s keen to fly,
It’s Flight Lieutenant Joey Blyth,
Two hundred hours a month he’d try,
It’s foolish but it’s fun.’
Mustangs to Meteors, With Three MiGs Along the Way.
No. 77 was operating from Pusan in South Korea and Blyth was soon in action. On March 20th, a colleague was forced to crash land during a ground attack mission and Blyth remained overhead as a helicopter attempted a rescue. As he strafed Chinese troops advancing on the scene, his Mustang was hit by small arms fire but he continued to give cover until the rescue was completed.
During 24 days in March, Blyth flew twenty-eight sorties strafing and rocketing trucks and artillery pieces in addition to flying close escort sorties for photographic reconnaissance aircraft. With the arrival of the First Meteors, he spent the next few weeks training the Australian pilots. With the task complete in September, he volunteered to remain with No. 77 and embarked on an intensive period of operations in the jet fighter.
In addition to attacking supply dumps, vehicle parks and trains with rockets and cannons, he also escorted USAF heavy bombers when MiG 15 fighters, often flown by Russian pilots, were encountered. On 5th September, Blyth was leading a formation of eight Meteors escorting two USAF photographic reconnaissance aircraft when 24 MiGs attacked and a fierce combat ensued. Some of the Meteors were damaged and Blyth managed to fire on one of the MiGs when he saw smoke coming from one of them. In air-to-air combat, the MiG was superior but Blyth did not allow this to deter him and he engaged them on numerous occasions.
Blyth’s skill and aggressive spirit attracted the attention of Air Vice-Marshal Bouchier, the AOC of the Air Component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, who strongly recommended that Blyth should be allowed to stay longer with 77 Squadron.
On 24th October, Blyth was escorting USAF B-29 bombers when MiGs attacked the force. He dived after a lone enemy aircraft that was on the tail of his leader and opened fire damaging the MiG, which broke off the engagement. A week later, he fired on another that was engaging his leader. Smoke poured from the MiG, which dived away.
On 17th November, Blyth led a fighter sweep, his 105th and final operation over Korea. Shortly after returning to the UK, he was awarded the D.F.C. The latter had been granted on the recommendation of the Governor General of Australia in conjunction with the AOC. Royal Australian Air Force Overseas. The US government awarded Blyth the Air Medal which was presented to him by Brigadier General Sterling, U.S. Air Attaché to the United Kingdom.
On his return from Korea, he was appointed flight commander of No. 63 Squadron flying Meteors from Waterbeach near Cambridge. His combat experience, press-on attitude and professionalism ensured that the squadron was one of the most efficient in Fighter Command. At the end of his tour in August 1954, he was awarded a Bar to his A.F.C. A congratulatory letter from Wing Commander K.C.M. Giddings gives the following on Blyth’s time at Waterbeach: ‘My very sincerest congratulations on the bar to you’re A.F.C. I was fairly confident that you would get one in view of your exceptional record at Waterbeach but one can never be sure so that it was very gratifying to find that it really did come through. I cannot imagine anyone deserving the honour more and I doubt if any other flight commander in Fighter Command has for many years achieved the number of flying hours that you piled in here. Flying hours are only one thing and quite apart from that, you would have deserved recognition for the class press-on spirit that you imbued in “A” Flight, and, indeed, in the whole squadron.’
The Suez Crisis – A brush With MiGs Again
Blyth joined No. 32 Squadron as a flight commander in the Middle East. The unit had just been equipped with the Venom fighter bomber and moved to Kabrit in the Canal Zone before moving to Shaibah in Iraq. After eighteen months, he left for an appointment in the headquarters in Cyprus. He had been there six months when the Suez Crisis erupted. No. 8 Squadron, also equipped with Venoms, arrived from Habbaniya (Iraq) but without a CO – he had left at short notice. As Blyth entered the operations centre, his group captain spotted him and shouted, ‘Do you want 8 Joe?’ He took command that afternoon.
Operations commenced at dawn on November 1st, 1956 and three Venom squadrons headed for the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) airfields. Blyth took No. 8 to Abu Sueir and Fayid and strafed lines of MiG fighters. Leading the formation, he accounted for five of the eleven destroyed. He led a second strike later in the morning, this time against his old airfield at Kabrit where ‘he put a few rounds through his old office’. Late in the afternoon he took off again at the head of another section to re-attack Kabrit.
The following day, Blyth was again leading his squadron against the EAF airfields when more aircraft were destroyed. On a second sortie, he attacked a vehicle and tank park and on a third, late in the day, he carried out an armed reconnaissance over Ismailia. In the first two days, No. 8 destroyed at least 43 aircraft on the ground.
Over the next three days, Blyth continued to be in the thick of the action. In preparation for the airborne assault, he led a rocket strike against gun emplacements and flew armed reconnaissance sorties to identify targets. At dawn on November 6th, No. 8 joined the other two Venom squadrons, each aircraft armed with eight rockets, to attack the defence boom at Port Fouad in anticipation of the seaborne landings. The following day, a ceasefire stopped all further operational flying.
Venoms in Oman
The squadron returned to its base at Khormaksar in Aden and Blyth was soon involved in operations against rebel strongholds. In the aftermath of the Suez episode, the festering troubles in central Oman flared up in July 1957 and the Sultan requested British assistance. Blyth was in command of No. 8 Squadron, equipped with the Venom fighter-bomber based in Aden when he was ordered to deploy to Sharjah in the Persian Gulf on the 20th.
Within days, he was leading strikes against rebel positions in the Jebel Akhdar region. The Venoms were armed with four 20mm cannons and could fire eight rockets each with a 60lb warhead. On the 24th, he led his squadron on rocket-firing sorties against the forts at Izki, Nizwa and Tanuf and the operations were repeated the following day.
No. 8 continued to attack fortifications with rockets and to support an advance on the rebel area when Air Contact Teams accompanying the troops directed the Venom pilots. On 6th August snipers lodged in a large fortified building held up the advance. Blyth and his pilots destroyed it with rockets. As a final act in this phase of operations, the two forts at Sait and Ghum were destroyed by rocket fire.
After a lull in operations, Blyth was back in action in November attacking rebel posts. He led his squadron with great dash and efficiency.
In December 1957, it was time for Blyth to return to the UK. One of his junior pilots described him as a ‘brilliant CO’. Another, who would later become an air chief marshal, has commented, ‘He was an amazing CO. If I learnt anything about Leadership, it came from Joe Blyth’.
For his service in Aden and Oman, and undoubtedly, Suez, Blyth was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. making him one of the most decorated post war RAF officers. He spent four years as a staff officer before retiring from the RAF on his 38th birthday.
For twenty-one years, he was the personal pilot of the banker Loel Guinness and he kept his flying licence until late in his life. He prided himself in never wearing spectacles, something he attributed to daily eye exercises. In later life, he lived in Acapulco, Mexico.