The Bob Doe Tribute Spitfire

Bob Doe

"We do not want to be remembered as heroes, we ask only to be remembered for what we did ... that's all". Wing Commander  Robert "Bob" Doe 234 & 238 Squadrons RAF Fighter Command

Robert Francis Thomas "Bob" Doe, DSO, DFC & Bar, born 10th March 1920 died 21st February 2010, aged 89, was a British fighter pilot and flying ace. He flew with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, was hailed as the third highest scoring ace in the Battle, and was seconded to the Indian Air Force during the Burma campaign.

Robert Francis Thomas Doe was born in Reigate, Surrey, on 10th March 1920. Bob was the son of a gardener, and left school at an early age with no qualifications, but had a passion for flying, and with the help of a senior officer who recognised his qualities, Bob joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) in March 1938. Here, in his spare time from his job as an office boy for the News of the World, he learnt to fly, and made his first solo flight on 16th June 1938.

The still relatively new the RAF distinguished itself from the other two services as the technical force that required educational qualifications from its recruits at all levels, certainly for officers. Men joining from the RAFVR were normally taken on as sergeant pilots. Ginger Lacey, another great ace, served as a sergeant pilot, despite his excellent educational background as a chemist. Just 10 per cent of RAFVR recruits joined as officers, yet Bob did just that.

After applying for a short service commission, he joined the Royal Air Force in January 1939. Trained with 15 E&RFTS (Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School) at RAF Redhill in Surrey and combat training with 6 Flying Training School at RAF Little Rissington.

Bob was posted on 6th November 1939 to No. 234 Squadron, a Spitfire Squadron at RAF Leconfield. He served with No. 234 squadron for most of the Battle of Britain. The 20 year old was on standby with his Spitfire at Middle Wallop, Hampshire, waiting for his first scramble. Years later he recalled: "I knew I was going to be killed. I was the worst pilot on the squadron. When the scramble bell rang, I was filled with dread but I took off; the fear of being thought a coward was more powerful than the fear of death".

One hour later he landed to find that four of his colleagues had failed to return; and that he had shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters south of Swanage. The next day he destroyed a Bf 109 fighter and damaged a bomber; two days after that he accounted for another Bf 109.

He became an ace in 4 days (5 kills or more). On 27th September 1940 Bob was posted to No. 238 Squadron, flying Hurricanes, claiming his first victory for the squadron on 30th September, at the end of the Battle of Britain which lasted for three and a half months, he had 14 kills, 2 shared, 1 probable and 5 damaged, thus making him a double ace. Bob only ever rated himself as an “average" flier. Many years later he was asked what drove him on. He replied: “I was fighting for me mum – I didn’t want them over here."

In just eight weeks he had risen from being his squadron's junior pilot to a flight commander.

On 10th October, in combat over Warmwell, Dorset with some Bf 109s at 1200hrs, his plane was critically damaged and he was wounded in the leg and shoulder. Bob baled out, landing on Brownsea Island while his Hawker Hurricane crashed near Corfe Castle viaduct on what is now part of the Swanage Railway. Admitted to Poole Hospital on 22nd October 1940, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and received a Bar a month later on 26th November. Bob rejoined No. 238 Squadron in December 1940.

In January 1941, while flying a night sortie, the oil in the oil cooler of his aircraft froze. As a result of his engine seizing he landed heavily at Warmwell on the snow covered runway, breaking his harness and smashing his face against the reflector sight, almost severing his nose and breaking his arm. Doe was taken to Park Prewett Hospital where he underwent 22 operations by pioneering New Zealand plastic surgeon Harold Gillies. Post war he was invited to join the Guinea Pig Club.

On 15th May 1941 he was posted as a Flight Commander to No. 66 Squadron and then joined No. 130 Squadron on 18th August. The series of operations in a two month period and the need to bring through fresh pilots who could be trained by experienced hands, meant Bob's career as a front line fighter pilot was over for the time being. On 22nd October 1941 he was posted to 57 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) as an instructor. On 9th June 1943 he went to the Fighter Leaders School at RAF Milfield and then joined No. 118 Squadron at RAF Coltishall in July. In August 1943 he joined No. 613 Squadron.

In October 1943 Bob was posted to Burma as the activities on the Western Front changed from defence to attack in preparation for Operation Overlord and the invasion of Normandy; while in the East, the Japanese Army was still advancing on key British Empire assets, including India.

In December 1943 he was tasked with forming No. 10 Squadron of the Indian Air Force, commanding it throughout the Burma Campaign until April 1945 when he joined the Indian Army Staff College in Quetta and then from August the planning staff at Delhi. On 2nd October 1945, he received the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership of 10 Squadron.

At the end of hostilities, Bob returned to England and remained in the RAF post war, he held several staff positions. He commanded No. 32 squadron in Egypt in 1952. In 1955, he was promoted to wing commander. He had come a long way since leaving school with no qualifications to become a highly decorated war hero, with a senior rank in the RAF. Bob eventually retired on 1st April 1966.

After his retirement, he opened a garage business. He also wrote his autobiography, Bob sadly died on 21st February 2010, aged 89, and is survived by his daughter Dr Helen Doe, who has graciously agreed that we can use Bobs name. 

Fighter Pilot by Helen Doe

A great book about Bob by his daughter Helen, fabulous read about a true hero