Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Wing Commander Thomas William 'Jock' Gillen, RAF no. 70245

Blue section of 'B' Flight, 152 Squadron in 1939.
Pilot Officer Richard Winter, Flight Lieutenant F. M. Thomas and Flying Officer Gillen.
Image kindly via Robert Rooker (152 Hyderabad Squadron).

Gillen joined the RAF in May 1937. He was promoted to Action Pilot Officer of Reserve of Air Force Officers on 9 August 1937 and went for a course to 8 FTS, Montrose on 21 August, after which he returned to reserve.

On 31 May 1938 he was promoted to Pilot Officer of Reserve of Air Force Officers.

He was called up on 2 September 1939 as a Pilot Officer and completed his training.

In November 1939 Gillen served with 152 Squadron.

On 28 November 1939 Blue section of 'B' Flight, 152 Squadron was detached from Turnhouse to Sumburgh for fighter defence of Shetland and the anchorages there. The pilots were Flight Lieutenant F. M. Thomas (OC), Pilot Officer 'Jock' Gillen and Pilot Officer Richard Winter.

On 30 November he was promoted to Flying Officer.

In December Gillen became temporary Flight Commander until Flight Lieutenant G. F. Chater arrived later in the month.

On 18 December 'B' Flight became designated as Fighter Flight Shetlands and thus part of Coastal Command ("parented" by the HQ 100 Wing based on the SS Manela anchored in Sullom Voe).
The strength of the unit was three Gladiators and two as spares.

Before midday on 1 January 1940, two He 111s attacked Sullom Voe. Gillen and Pilot Officer Richard Winter were scrambled. One of the He 111s were credited to Gillen whilst the guns of HMS Coventry downed the second. The crew of the second He 111 was captured. The German aircraft was from Stab/KG 26.

On 5 January the unit became re-designated as Fighter Flight, RAF Sumburgh (effectively the Station Flight?) and on the next day more pilots in shape of Pilot Officers Neville Doughty and Fanny Francis together with Sergeant Arthur Makins arrived.

Gillen had a long fight with a Ju 88 five miles north of Sullom on 18 April. He reported that the rear gunner was killed and that the port engine was set on fire. The enemy aircraft was last seen low losing height. This claim is either claimed as a destroyed or as a probable.

At 14:30 on 5 June he intercepted a Do 17 eight miles north of Lerwick at 7,000 feet. He reported that the rear gunner was killed was put out of action and that one engine was set on fire. The enemy aircraft was last seen dive vertically into the sea. Due to bad weather Gillen force-landed at Scatsta near Sullom Voe.
This loss however has not been possible to connect with any known Luftwaffe loss. However, a Hudson ( S N7255) of 233 Squadron, flown by Flying Officer James Dunn (RAF no. 39508) was posted missing on a patrol in this area on the same date and it is possible that this may have been a tragic blue on blue.

On 21 July the unit left Sumburgh for Roborough to form the nucleus of 247 Squadron, which formed on 1 August.

He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 30 November 1940 and Squadron Leader on 1 December 1941.

Gillen ended the war with 2 biplane victories.

He was released from the service in 1948 as a Wing Commander.

'Jock' Gillen passed away in 1969.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  01/01/40 a.m. 1 He 111 (a) Destroyed Gladiator   Sullom Voe Shetland Fighter Flight
  18/04/40 1 Ju 88 Probable (b) Gladiator   5m N Sullom Shetland Fighter Flight
1 05/06/40 1 Do 17 Destroyed Gladiator   8m N Lerwick Shetland Fighter Flight

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Stab/KG 26.
(b) Claimed as a destroyed or as a probable.

Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Gladiator - Andrew Thomas, 2003 Battle of Britain, Key Publishing Ltd, Stamford
Gloster Gladiator Aces - Andrew Thomas, 2002 Osprey Publishing, London, ISBN 1-84176-289-X
Men of the Battle of Britain - Kenneth G. Wynn, 1999 CCB Associates, ISBN 1-902074-10-6
Much additional information kindly provided by Andrew Thomas.

Last modified 26 January 2024