Commander Charles Lindsay 'KP' Keighly-Peach DSO, RN
6 April 1902 – 1995
Born on 6 April 1902, the son of Admiral G. W. Keighly-Peach DSO, RN, Charles attended the Naval Colleges at Osborne and Dartmouth, graduating as a Midshipman in 1919.
He was promoted Sub Lieutenant in 1922 and Lieutenant in 1924.
On 27 April 1925, he was granted a temporary commission as a Flying Officer on attachment for four years’ duty with the RAF (gazetted on 12 May 1925). He then learned to fly, attending 'A' Fighter Training Flight at Leuchars, December 1925-December 1926, qualifying in Fairey Flycatchers. He was then attached to the RAF for two months, flying Woodcocks with 3 Squadron. He then served at HMS Columbine, a destroyer base at Port Edgar, Firth of Forth before in 1927 joining 402 Flight of the Fleet Air Arm, based on Hal Far, Malta and HMS Eagle, back on Flycatchers.
In mid-1929, he transferred to 406 Flight at Donibristle, but in July went to Lee-on-Solent to serve with Submarine M-2 where he flew the vessel's Parnall Peto aircraft. He then spent two years on HMS Centaur, flying a spotter Fairey IIIF from the catapult.
On 14 August 1930, he ceased to be attached to the RAF on return to Naval duty.
In September 1931, he moved to 408 Flight flying Nimrods.
On 24 October 1932, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
408 Flight together with 409 Flight became 802 Squadron in April 1933. Here he flew Flycatchers and Nimrods, mainly from the deck of HMS Glorious.
On 3 January 1934, he relinquished his temporary commission in the RAF on return to Naval duty.
A break from flying saw him as Lieutenant Commander on the staff of Rear Admiral (Destroyers), in 1935 and then aboard the cruiser HMS London in 1937-39.
He was promoted Commander in 1938 and later he commanded 711 Flight operating Walrus amphibians from HMS Sussex.
From March 1939-March 1940, he commanded RNAS Lee-on-Solent, but in June 1940 went aboard HMS Eagle as Commander (F) in the Mediterranean. This carrier had no fighters, but he arranged for four Sea Gladiators to be collected from Malta on the outbreak of war with Italy, training two Swordfish pilots (Lieutenants Keith and Massy) to fly these with him. This trio provided the early fighter defence of the Mediterranean Fleet until the arrival of HMS Illustrious.
Frequently in the air, the flight claimed eight aircraft shot down, or probably so, Keighly-Peach being involved in at least five of these.
After the naval battle off the coast of Calabria, the British ships retreating towards Alexandria was discovered by a reconnoitring Italian flying-boat early in the morning on 11 July.
Immediately IIa Squadra Aerea sent out Sicilian based SM 79s from the 30o, 34o and 41o Stormo and Z.506Bs from the 35o Stormo at Brindisi. These attacked from 10:30 to 16:45 in ten separate waves for a total of eighty-one bombers releasing a total of 175 250-kg and 186 100-kg bombs. One SM 79 of the 195a Squadriglia, 90o Gruppo, 30o Stormo, claimed hits on a carrier.
The Italian bombers reported interceptions by Fairey Fulmars together with Gladiators, but the defenders were in fact only HMS Eagle's tiny handful of Sea Gladiators, flown by Swordfish pilots. Keighly-Peach in N5517 (‘6-A’) and Lieutenant (A) Kenneth Keith in N5513 (the latter pilot a Canadian from Calgary) had been on patrol for about twenty minutes at 13,000 feet, when at 14:15 they spotted a flight of five SM 79s approaching 2,000 feet below. Keighly-Peach attacked the aircraft on the left of the formation while Keith went for one on the right, both fighters diving vertically from above. Keighly-Peach made three dives, firing from 300 yards to 50 yards. The bomber dropped back and below the formation, emitting black smoke from the port wing. This soon turned to flames and the aircraft span into the sea, the crew being seen to bale out although they were never found. Return fire hit the Sea Gladiator, one bullet passing through the lower wing longeron to the starboard of the cockpit, going through the diagonal strut immediately above, and then braking up, one fragment entering Keighly-Peach’s thigh (it was finally recovered in 1976 when the old wound began to fester). Keith reported hits on his target, but did not see any result before anti-aircraft fire from the Fleet forced the fighters to break away.
The Sea Gladiators had clashed with sixteen SM 79s from the Sicilian 30o Stormo, composing the seventh wave of attackers, which reported being attacked by enemy fighters over the fleet at 13:30 and claimed four shot down in exchange for the loss of a SM 79 of the 194a Squadriglia, 90o Gruppo flown by Sottotenente Ciro Floreani and his crew (Sergente Maggiore Massimo Boldi, Primo Aviere Armiere Raffaele Corbia, Primo Aviere Montatore Timo Ranzi, Aviere Scelto Motorista Salvo Bacchilega), which all perished when the bomber crashed after having been shot down by Keighly-Peach.
Libyan based aircraft also attacked the British ships and twelve aircraft of the 33o Stormo attacked at 14:35. The aircraft flown by Colonnello Giuseppe Leonardi (CO 33o Stormo) was shot down reportedly by AA fire. It appears that its crew was discovered the day after by a Z.501 of the 186a Squadriglia RM from Augusta piloted by Sergente Mario Spada. Spada tried to land near the wreck of the SM 79 but he failed and the flying boat sank causing his death. Maresciallo marconista Antonio Piva, part of the SM 79 crew tried to reach the men of the Cant to help them but in doing so he drowned. The surviving airmen were later rescued by a Z.506 flying-boat of the 506a Squadriglia RM from Syracuse. It seems that Leonardi was (at least temporarily) replaced by Colonnello Attilio Biseo as the CO of the 33o Stormo. Two times “Atlantico”, Biseo was one of the most famous record breakers from the thirties.
At 18:10 twelve aircraft of the 15o Stormo attacked the ships.
No hits were recorded on any of the British ships during the day.
The skirmishes over the Mediterranean Fleet continued during the next two days and on 13 July the fleet again was shadowed and six raids followed. Four raids were flown by a total of 20 S.81s from the Aegean-based 39o Stormo. SM 79s from the 34o and 41o Gruppi made two attacks at 12:15 and 16:05 respectively.
HMS Eagle's Sea Gladiator Flight was up three times. Commander Keighly-Peach in N5517 making first contact at 07:50 when he reported sighting a lone SM 79 ahead of the fleet. Making three diving attacks from out of the sun, he reported that flames issued from the port wing and the aircraft span into the sea, none of the crew being seen to bale out. This was possibly a Savoia Marchetti S.75 of 604a Squadriglia T that had been employed temporarily as a reconnaissance aircraft and which was lost during the day. The aircraft coded I-TUFO and with the individual number 604-3 was piloted by Sergente Mario Ballan and Sergente Giuliano Giuliani. Aboard the aircraft was also Tenente di Vascello and Osservatore Giuseppe Ghidini of the Lero based 145a Squadriglia R.M. (an officer of the Navy part of the crew to better spot enemy ships).
At 11:15, to the south of Crete, Keighly-Peach (N5517) and Lieutenant (A) Kenneth Keith (N5513), saw three Savoias - identified again as SM 79s - 5,000 feet below, approaching from the direction of Rhodes. Keith attacked first, firing on the left-hand aircraft, and this was then attacked by Keighly-Peach, who made three more attacks on the same bomber, which fell into the sea in flames. Two men baled out, one being picked up by HMS Hereward. Keith attacked the other two without obvious result. Keighly-Peach’s and Keith’s claim was almost surely an wrongly identified S.81 since at 11:20 five S.81s from the 39o Stormo attacked and a machine of the 200a Squadriglia, 92o Gruppo, flown by Sottotenente Enrico Carapezza, was shot down by enemy fighters, although defending gunners in the bombers claimed one fighter shot down.
Finally, at 14:50, Keith (again in N5513) saw five SM 79s at 8,000 feet, making a beam attack followed by a stern chase on one. This finally caught fire, turned on its back and spun into the sea, no one being seen to bale out. This claim was probably made against a group of three SM 79s of the 15o Stormo, which attacked at 14:30 as the only raid of the Va Squadra Area for the day. These Italian pilots were the only who reported being attacked by fighters (apart from the 39o Stormo at 11:20) and they claimed two shot down by their return fire for no losses. It seems that they shot down a Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF of 30 Squadron (K7181) that was patrolling over the fleet together with two colleagues. The three Blenheims reported that at 14:43 they discovered a formation of three SM 79s at 13,000 feet. One Blenheim was left to guard over the fleet while the other two attacked, claiming that the fire from the leader, Flying Officer Le Dieu (Blenheim K7177), silenced the rear gunner of the Italian leader while the combined fire of the two Blenheims hit the number three of the Savoias, which was seen to dive away with smoke pouring from the starboard engine but was not seen to crash. One of the Blenheims was lost. The crew of the Blenheim fighter (22-year old Pilot Officer Derryk Austin Lea (RAF no. 41432) and 20-year-old Sergeant Christopher Frederick Burt (RAF no. 539698)) perished. According to the pilot in the third Blenheim, Flight Lieutenant Alfred Bocking, Pilot Officer Lea was seen to bale out successfully but so great was the submarine menace that the convoy just sailed past him. Credit for the shot down Blenheim went to Aviere scelto Armiere Ornani of the 20a Squadriglia, 46o Gruppo.
During the last two days of bombing, even if no direct hits were achieved, the British ships were badly shaken by several near misses that caused splinter damage on many ships (including HMS Eagle and the destroyer HMS Vampire) and killed some sailors aboard the cruiser HMS Liverpool. In particular, on 12 July, HMS Warspite sustained damage from a near miss from an estimated 50kg bomb, which burst abreast of the flying deck on the starboard side and minor damage to structure was again caused by splinters. Back at Alexandria, the ship required two days of dock for permanent repairs.
During the morning on 17 August, the Mediterranean Fleet was out for a raid in support of the Army. The battleships HMS Warspite, HMS Ramilles and HMS Malaya, supported by the cruiser HMS Kent and three flotillas of destroyers bombarded Bardia harbour and Fort Capuzzo, starting at 06:45 and continuing for 22 minutes. As the vessels headed back towards Alexandria a series of bombing attacks were launched against them by the Regia Aeronautica.
The RAF and the FAA provided escort for the fleet. HMS Eagle's Fighter Flight of three Sea Gladiators had been flown to Sidi Barrani airfield in Libya, and from here patrolled over the Fleet. 'B' and 'C' Flights of 80 Squadron provided air support with flights of four Gladiators over the ships from dawn to dusk. ‘A’ Flight of 112 Squadron was positioned at Z Landing Ground (Matruh West) while ‘C’ Flight of 112 Squadron was based at Y LG about 18 kilometres further west and they also took part in the covering missions.
The attacks on the Royal Navy began when, at 10:40 five SM 79s were seen at 12,000 feet, heading in from the north-east. Over the fleet there were, on standing patrol, at least the Gladiators of ‘A’ Flight 112 Squadron (probably six of them), the three Sea Gladiators of HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight and a single Hurricane from ‘A’ Flight 80 Squadron flown by Flying Officer John Lapsley (P2641). They intercepted the Italian bombers and altogether claimed six of them; one by Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab, one by Pilot Officer Peter Wickham, (both from 112 Squadron) and three by Lapsley. Two Sea Gladiators flown by Lieutenant (A) Kenneth Keith (N5513) and Lieutenant Anthony Young (N5567) attacked several formations. Young attacked one in company with a 112 Squadron Gladiator flown by an unknown pilot. Keith joined the attack and the port wing of the bomber burst into flames, two members of the crew bailing out before the Savoia crashed into the sea. Commander Keighly-Peach (N5517) became separated, and realizing the futility of chasing the fleeing bombers alone, headed back over the Fleet in time to see to more formations attacking (totally 25 SM 79s were counted). He made three attacks on one bomber, seeing numerous pieces fall off and it went into a shallow dive. One man baled out, but as the aircraft lost height rapidly, it disappeared into cloud. He attacked another twice but without result.
The Italians lost four bombers and claimed seven Gladiators shot down in return (it seems that all the seven claims were submitted by the gunners aboard the Savoia bombers, two of them by 10o Stormo gunners). In fact only the Gladiator of Pilot Officer Richard Acworth was seriously damaged when he attacked an SM 79s, but although wounded himself Acworth was able to fly back to base where he crash-landed and the aircraft was written-off.
In 1942, Joseph Fraser remembered:
“During August, the Squadron’s C.O. Slim Somerville was still non-operational, recovering from extensive burns which he had received getting out of a Gladiator on fire while practicing aerobatics at Helwan. The Flights were commanded by F/Lt C. H. Fry and Algy Schwab, the latter had just been posted in Wally Williams place as O.C. “A” Flight. A number of patrols were carried out during August between Sollum and Mersa Matruh and a couple more victories were credited to the Squadron. F/O Acworth was badly injured by shrapnel in the leg during a dog-fight off Sidi Barrani but he managed to get his aircraft back to Gerawla, landing downwind and finishing up at the opening of the medical tent. The medical officer was infuriated at this demonstration, until he realized Acky was unable to get out of the cockpit and that it had saved him carrying Acky some hundreds of yards. A dozen or more splinters were taken out of Acky’s leg, two weeks sick leave in Alex. and he was back in the cockpit again.”John Lapsley told a newspaper about this combat:
“I arrived just as five S 79’s had dropped their bombs, all well astern of the fleet, and were making off. One immediately went down in flames – evidently hit by anti-aircraft fire from the battleships. I picked on the leader and gave him about eight short bursts. He fell away, obviously in difficulties. Actually he landed his aircraft in our lines – there were six hundred bullet holes in it [probably ’56-9’ flown by Tenente Lauchard of the 56a Squadriglia].Italian units participating in the attack were the 10o Stormo with ten aircraft and the 15o and the 33o Stormi with another 16 aircraft. The Italians arrived over the target in consecutive waves. There is a lack of details of the attack of the 15o and the 33o Stormi but they suffered no losses even if it seems that the bombers from the 15o Stormo were intercepted by the British fighters. Primo Aviere Antonio Trevigni of the 53a Squadriglia, 47o Gruppo, although seriously wounded in both legs, kept firing against them until his aircraft was able to escape, claiming two victories in the process. Trevigni was awarded with a Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare but was never able to recover and finally died in an Italian hospital on 23 October 1942.
Then I picked on another and had just got a second burst into him he went up in flames. I was about one hundred yards away and the planes were much too close for comfort so I swerved away just as the crew of the S 79 ‘baled out’.
The third remaining S 79 by this time was quite close to the coast and he was diving like mad for a cloud. I gave him three or four long bursts, and with one engine smoking he disappeared. I think he went into ‘the drink’.
These Italian aircraft seem to be built of ply-wood. At any rate you have to dodge the pieces that come flying back at you when you fire your guns.
There didn’t seem to be much more doing, so I came home. Even then I had some ammunition left.”
The Mediterranean Fleet put out to sea again on 22 August to support a new convoy and to look for the Italian Fleet.
On 31 August, Commander Keighly-Peach (Gladiator N5517) was scrambled from HMS Eagle together with Lieutenant (A) R. H. H. L. Oliphant (a member of HMS Eagle's Air Staff flying Gladiator N5567), to intercept a 'shadower'. They found a Z.506B at 6,000 feet flying in the direction of Kythera Island. Keighly-Peach continues:
"Again off Crete I came across a Cant Z.506B - I think the crew must have been asleep as I was offered no opposition and felt almost committing murder - it was to easy. The Cant ditched off the coast off Crete and I saw the crew descending via parachutes and they must have landed close enough to land to be able to swim ashore."It is possible that this combat was witnessed by Telegraphist/Air Gunner “Ginger” Tyler of 813 FAA Squadron, who recalled on an unknown date:
“…On the following morning I went off with my usual pilot and observer, Leatham and Grieve. As we climbed through a thin layer of early morning haze, there, right on our starboard beam, about three miles aways was a huge Cant reconnaissance seaplane. Pointing out the target to the observer, I immediately rattled off a brief sighting report on the radio. This completed, I stood up an readied my gun for possible action. We were heading at top speed for the Cant, but within what appeared to be just a few seconds, one of Eagle’s Gladiators streaked by and immediately tore into action. The Italians didn’t know what hit them, and soon they were spiralling down into the sea trailing a great black plume of smoke.Three ‘shadowers’ of Regia Aeronautica were lost this date: a Z.506B of the 287a Squadriglia from Elmas, Sardinia (Sottotenente Antonio Di Trapani, Tenente di Vascello and Osservatore Ugo Simonazzi all KIA), a Z.501 of the 188a Squadriglia from Elmas (Tenente Giovanni Riosa, Tenente di Vascello and Osservatore Alfredo Manfroi KIA) and a Z.501 of the 148a Squadriglia (Observer Tenente di Vascello and Osservatore Corrado Silvestri). It seems that the first two fell victim to Skuas from HMS Ark Royal and the sections commanded by Lieutenant Spurway and Lieutenant Bruen. It is however possible that the third was the victim of Keighly-Peach and was misidentified as a Z.506 but it is necessary to note that the 148a Squadriglia was based in central Italy and usually operated in the Tirreno Sea, not in the Aegean area.
Keighly-Peach had done it again, and hopefully the shadower had been downed before he had time to signal our position back to his base. But it was wishful thinking on our part, for, from about eleven o’clock in the forenoon until about six in the evening the fleet was subjected to ten more bombing attacks, again without suffering any damage or casualties.”
On 11 September 1940, he was awarded the DSO.
On 17 December 1940, he paid a flying visit in his Sea Gladiator (N5517) to the Swordfish unit temporarily based at Fuka. Before returning to base, he carried out a strafing attack on an Italian-occupied aerodrome, spraying a line of CR.42s before making good his escape.
He also undertook trials with the first Brewster Buffaloes to be received by the FAA, ashore at Abu Sueir in Egypt.
On 3 April 1941, as the carrier withdrew from the area via the Suez Canal and Red Sea, he led attacks by the ship's Swordfish (813 and 824 Squadrons), which were temporarily based at Port Sudan, on Italian destroyers from Eritrea, attempting to attack the British port. Know destroyers taking part in this desperate raid were Nazario Sauro (sunk), Cesare Battisti (beached and abandoned on the Arabian coast), Daniele Manin (abandoned), Pantera (sunk) and Tigre (sunk). Vincenzo Orsini survived these attacks since it had run aground on a sandbank as it left Massawa harbour.
Joined by RAF bombers, the aircrews were successful in thwarting this attack and sinking or damaging all but one of the destroyers (Vincenzo Orsini, which had run aground on a sandbank as it left Massawa harbor).
Vincenzo Orsini was attacked by 813 Squadron the next day and scuttled by its crew.
Back in the UK he became Naval Assistant (Air) to the 2nd Sea Lord from 1941-43 were he helped ensure that future commanders of aircraft carriers were aircrew officers, this policy taking effect late in the war. He was promoted Captain during 1943. In 1944 he commanded HMS Heron, the Naval Fighter School at RNAS Yeovilton until 1945.
Keighly-Peach ended the war with 3 victories, all of the claimed while flying Sea Gladiator N5517.
He then commanded HMS Sultan - the land base at Changi, Singapore, until 1947, when he went aboard HMS Troubridge to command the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean as Captain (D). In 1949 he became Directing Captain at the Senior Officers' War Course, RN, until 1951, when he was made Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Air) on loan to the Royal Canadian Navy from 1951-53, when he retired.
Charles Keighly-Peach died in early 1995 after a long illness.
His son flew Sea Furies with 807 Squadron aboard HMS Thesus during the Korean war, becoming the third generation of Keighly-Peaches to be awarded a DSO.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||11/07/40||1||S.79 (a)||Destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N5517||HMS Eagle|
|2||13/07/40||07:50||1||S.79 (b)||Destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N5517||S Crete||HMS Eagle|
|13/07/40||11:15||½||S.79 (c)||Shared destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N5517||S Crete||HMS Eagle|
|17/08/40||10:40-||1||S.79 (d)||Probable||Sea Gladiator||N5517||near Alexandria||HMS Eagle|
|3||31/08/40||1||Z.506B (e)||Destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N5517||off Crete||HMS Eagle|
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Dust Clouds in the Middle East - Christopher Shores, 1996 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-37-X
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over the sands: Part One - Michel Lavigne and James F. Edwards, 2003 Lavigne Aviation Publications, Victoriaville, ISBN 2-9806879-2-8
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
The London Gazette
Additional information kindly provided by Mark E. Horan and Ludovico Slongo.