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Privacy Statement The Airmen’s Stories – F/Lt. P M Brothers
Air Commodore (Flight Lieutenant during the Battle) Peter Brothers, who has died aged 91, flew throughout the Battle of Britain and was one of the RAF’s most distinguished fighter pilots, credited with destroying at least 16 enemy aircraft.
Brothers was a flight commander on No 32 Squadron and had been blooded in May 1940 during the hectic, and often chaotic, fighting during the Battle of France, when he downed two enemy fighters.
As the Battle of Britain opened in July 1940, the squadron was operating Hurricanes from Biggin Hill and was soon involved in furious fighting. Flying three, sometimes four, times a day, Brothers shot down seven fighters and a bomber over Kent before the end of August. On one occasion he returned home after a particularly difficult day to learn from his wife that a bomb splinter had come through an open window and shattered the mirror as she was applying her make-up. Years later he observed: “It was then that I decided the war had become personal.”
Leading his flight of eight aircraft during one patrol, he encountered around 100 enemy bombers. He dived to attack them, but before he could open fire he was engaged by a number of Messerschmitt fighters. Despite being heavily outnumbered he was able to break away and close on a bomber, which he shot down. Later in the day, on a second sortie, he shot down a fighter. In order to relax as he was returning from combat, Brothers would open the cockpit canopy and light up a cigarette. After a particularly exhausting day in late August, he woke the following morning to discover that a line of bomb craters crossed the officers’ mess lawn a few yards from his bedroom and that there were many spent anti-aircraft shells scattered around the base. He had heard nothing.
By the end of August No 32 was reduced to eight pilots and was rested. Brothers was sent as a flight commander to No 257 Squadron, which had also suffered heavy losses and where morale was very low. Between them, Brothers and the new CO, Squadron Leader Bob Stanford-Tuck, helped to restore the confidence of the inexperienced pilots. When he and his wingman jointly destroyed a bomber Brothers would not claim the victory for himself but insist that it was the work of his inexperienced colleague. On September 15, the climax of the battle, Brothers shot down two bombers over London. Two days earlier he had been awarded a DFC.
Peter Malam Brothers was born at Prestwich on September 30 1917 and educated at North Manchester School, a branch of Manchester Grammar School. When he was 16, and still at school, he learnt to fly at the Lancashire Aero Club and gained his civil pilot’s “A” licence. He joined the RAF in 1936, trained as a pilot and joined No 32 Squadron at the end of the year to fly Gauntlet biplane fighters. He was to remain with the squadron for four years.
After the Battle of Britain, Brothers trained as a flying instructor and on promotion to squadron leader formed and commanded No 457 (RAAF) Squadron, flying Spitfires. On March 26 1942 he shot down a Messerschmitt Me109, and a month later probably downed another enemy fighter. In June he was given command of No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron, leading it during the ill-fated Dieppe raid in August. His pilots destroyed five enemy aircraft and he himself claimed a fighter. One of his pilots was forced to bail out over the sea, and Brothers orbited his dinghy until rescue arrived.
By now Brothers had been identified as one of the RAF’s outstanding fighter pilots, and he was promoted to wing commander to lead the Tangmere Wing of three Spitfire squadrons. He took them on sweeps deep into France as the RAF took the offensive to the Luftwaffe. During one of these operations, on January 26 1943, he shot down a Focke Wulf 190. In June he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and rested from operations.
In 1944 Brothers took command of the Exeter Wing, leading his six squadrons on attacks against transportation targets and enemy airfields on the Brest peninsula and in Normandy. Heavily involved in the lead-up to the Allied invasion in June 1944, his squadrons operated in support of the beachhead.
On August 7 he achieved his sixteenth and final success when he shot down a Focke Wulf 190 over the river Loire. Later he wrote of this period: “With great excitement we participated in the invasion of Europe, sweeping over the beaches and deep into France, top dogs now, hammering the enemy in the air and on the ground.” He was awarded a DSO for his “courage and brilliant leadership”.
After taking a staff course in the United States, Brothers served at the Central Fighter Establishment. Despite his outstanding war record, he was not offered a permanent commission in the peacetime RAF, and in 1947 he left to join the Colonial Service. Two years as a district officer in Kenya, however, convinced him that this was not the life he wanted, and in 1949 he rejoined the RAF. To his surprise, Brothers was posted to command a Lincoln bomber squadron, No 57. He flew operations during the Malayan Emergency, his being the first bomber squadron to participate in the campaign.
After attending the Staff College and serving at the headquarters of Fighter Command, he was appointed wing commander (Flying) at Marham in Norfolk, where he flew the Valiant V-bomber. As a group captain he served in the plans division at Shape headquarters in Paris. On promotion to air commodore he commanded the headquarters of the Military Air Traffic Organisation.
In 1968 Brothers embarked on a five-year appointment as the RAF’s director of public relations. This job was particularly demanding, and involved guiding and advising defence correspondents during the Cold War, when national security was paramount. His success in winning the respect of the press and other media was due in part to his war record; but he was also an outstanding communicator, and his fine sense of humour, often directed at himself, helped him negotiate many difficult situations.
In 1964 he was appointed CBE. After leaving the RAF in 1973, he formed Peter Brothers Consultants, finally retiring in 1986. Brothers was made a Freeman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 1966 and was a member of its technical committee and of its court. He was elected Master of the Guild in 1973-74. He gave great support to the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, being appointed its deputy chairman in 1993 and taking over as chairman 10 years later. Brothers quickly brought his delightful sense of fun to the running of the association and led by example, attending a multitude of Battle of Britain commemorative events.
He was a great supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and campaigned for the monument on the Thames Embankment. He was also patron of the Spitfire Association of Australia and president of his local branch of the Air Crew Association at Hungerford, Berkshire. When it was announced that RAF Bentley Priory, Fighter Command’s headquarters during the Battle of Britain, was to close in 2008, he strongly supported the campaign to save the historic building, insisting: “This is our [the RAF’s] home, as HMS Victory is for the Navy.”
An inveterate cigar smoker and a connoisseur of malt whisky, Brothers was a keen golfer, sailor and fisherman, and a great raconteur.
Pete Brothers died on December 18. He married, in 1939, Annette Wilson, who died in 2005. Their two daughters survive him.
Courtesy of the Daily Telegraph 2008