Canadian tribute Spitfire

Group Captain Robert Wendell "Buck" McNair 

Group Captain Robert Wendell "Buck" McNair DSO, DFC & Two Bars (15th May 1919 – 15th January 1971) was a Royal Canadian Air Force( RCAF) flying ace of the Second World War, with 16 or 16.5 victories and five probables.

He was born in Springfield, Nova Scotia, the son of a railroad engineer. The family moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan, during the Great Depression. He graduated from high school in North Battleford in 1937 and went to work as a ground wireless (radio) operator for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Natural Resources.

After war broke out in 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in June 1940 and attended training schools No. 1 ITS in Toronto, No. 7 EFTS in Windsor and No. 31 SFTS in Kingston. He graduated as a pilot on 24 March 1941 and was posted to No. 411 Squadron RCAF at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, England, in June 1941

His first encounter with the enemy came on 27th September 1941, while escorting Bristol Blenheim bombers in a Spitfire on a raid against the railroad yards in Amiens and a power plant near Mazingarble. He managed to get behind and damage a Messerschmitt Bf 109, but was attacked by another 109 before he could finish the job and had to break off. His first victory came on 13th October over Boulogne; he downed one 109 and damaged another, though he himself was shot down and had to parachute into the English Channel.

With Malta undergoing heavy Axis aerial attacks and in danger of invasion, the Allies sent reinforcements numerous times between 1940 and 1942. On 2nd March 1942, McNair piloted one of 17 Spitfires launched from the British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle to the beleaguered island. As a member of No. 249 Squadron RAF, he was frequently engaged in combat in the skies above Malta. He shot down a 109 on 19th March, a Junkers Ju 88 on 26th March, a 109 on 20th April and a Ju 88 on 22nd April, making him an ace. He increased his tally by three 109s, on 22nd May, 25th May and 10th June, before being recalled to England for a leave. He was promoted first to flying officer, then to flight lieutenant sometime during this period.

Rejoining 411 Squadron, he participated in the disastrous Dieppe Raid. On 19th August, he was credited with a probable kill of a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and with damaging another. He was then sent home to Canada for six months rest and war bond drives.

Declining command of a training school, he was assigned briefly to lead No. 416 Squadron RCAF, before being given command of No. 421 Squadron RCAF. On 10th July 1943, his Spitfire had engine trouble and burst into flames on the way home from a mission. He managed to parachute into the water, but his eyesight was permanently damaged, so he had to get closer to the enemy than before to compensate. He kept his handicap to himself, leading others to believe that he was being excessively reckless. Nonetheless, that year he brought down four Fw 190s (20th June, 24th June, 6th September and 3rd October) and an equal number of Bf 109s (6th July, 10th July, 31st August and 3rd September), bringing his final tally to 16 or 16.5 confirmed kills.

In 1944, he was promoted to wing commander of 126 Wing, RAF Second Tactical Air Force at RAF Biggin Hill, which meant he no longer flew combat missions. After six months, he was reassigned from operational to administrative duties.

He was promoted to group captain in 1956 and posted to No. 4 Fighter Wing in CFB Baden-Soellingen. In 1964, he was made Deputy-Commander of NORAD's Duluth sector. He later joined the Canadian Joint Staff office at the High Commission in London.

He died of leukaemia aged 51, on 15th January 1971, and is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey, England.