Roald Dahl is a name that is more often associated with Oompa Loompas and giant peaches than aerial combat but during World War II it was all hands on deck and Roald Dahl was no exception. So this month in A Writer’s Tale we delve into the world of Roald Dahl-Fighter Ace.
In 1939 Dahl was working for Shell Oil in what is now Tanzania. When war looked to be inevitable Dahl enlisted himself in military service. After a brief stint as a Lieutenant in the King’s African Rifles Dahl signed up for the Royal Air Force attending flight school in Kenya and Iraq before being assigned to the No. 80 Squadron RAF who, believe it or not, were still flying biplanes.
In 1940 Dahl was ordered to fly his biplane, a Gloster Gladiator, to the squadron’s forward air strip in the west of Egypt. This is where his tale begins to sound like a Hollywood war epic. The coordinates Dahl was given were incorrect and instead of arriving at his assigned base he ended up lost over the dessert somewhere between the Italian and Allied forces. Dahl was forced to make an emergency nighttime landing. The terrain proved to be too rocky for a landing and the plane crashed. Dahl suffered a fractured skull, a broken nose, and was temporarily blinded. Still he managed to pull himself out of the fiery wreckage, blindly rolling around on the ground to put out his trousers which had been set ablaze. Eventually he was rescued, fell in love with his nurse (which ended badly), and regained his sight. This incident would be the basis for Dahl’s first short story “A Piece of Cake” and Dahl would have persistent headaches that would last him the rest of his life.
Freshly returned to duty and equipped with a brand new Hawker Hurricane Dahl saw his first air battle in Greece on April 15 1941 attacking six Junker Ju-88’s on a bombing run and getting one confirmed kill. Dahl picked up his seconded confirmed kill the very next day.
Later that same week on April 20 Dahl participated in the Battle of Athens. The last fifteen of the RAF’s Hurricanes in Greece were attacked by over a hundred Luftwaffe aircraft. In a protracted dog-fight the valiant British pilots downed twenty-two German aircraft while losing five of their own number including Marmaduke “Pat” Pattle widely considered to be the most successful Allied pilot of the war. Due to the chaos of the battle it is unsure even know who shot down who but Dahl’s survival alone should speak to his prowess as a flying Ace.
With the imminent fall of Greece, Dahl was transferred to Egypt where he flew sorties every day for four straight weeks picking up another two confirmed kills in the process. By now however Dahl’s headaches had gotten so bad that he was experiencing blackouts. As a result Dahl was invalided out of the RAF and eventually would go on to work for British Security Coordination or as it’s more commonly known MI-6. But that is a tale for another day. For now I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into one of the greatest children’s of all time in A Writer’s Tale: Roald Dahl- Fighter Ace.