Biplane fighter aces


Lieutenant Anthony John Guy ‘Tony’ Lydekker DSC, RN

‘Tony’ Lydekker was born in 1914.

He was a qualified fighter pilot and had been serving as the Armament Officer on the Air Staff of HMS Furious since the recommissioning of the ship in 1939, and did so throughout 1940. Every RN carrier had an Armament Officer (the big ones had a staff of two), and without exception they were all qualified pilots.

He took part in the first expedition to Norway, which was a quick failure.

The second expedition got away when HMS Glorious and HMS Furious sailed from Britain at 20.30 on 14 May with an escort of four destroyers. En route one of the original 263 pilots, Pilot Officer Wyatt-Smith, suffered considerably from shrapnel wounds in his legs, which he had received during the evacuation from Andalsnes in Delius, and his place was taken by Lydekker, who volunteered. It was felt that Lydekker could be spared on HMS Furious and this was accepted.

263 Squadron flew off HMS Furious on 21 May to land at Bardufoss.

At 13:00 on 26 May three Gladiators flown by Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull, Pilot Officer Jack Falkson and Lieutenant Lydekker were detached to Bodø to provide cover for troops retreating northwards in the face of the German advance. En route they were engaged in an inconclusive combat with one of the KGr 100 Heinkels on its way to Bardufoss. When they landed on their new airfield their aircraft all stuck fast in the mud. They managed to get the Gladiators to drier ground, where they began refuelling from four-gallon tins. This arduous task was by no means complete when a He 111 of 1(F)/122 was seen overhead, and all three leapt into their cockpits to take off.
Lydekker got off safely, but the mud clung to the wheels of the two following Gladiators, and while Hull just managed to get into the air, Falkson crashed in N5908. Lydekker’s aircraft had not yet been refuelled however, and he had little petrol left so Hull ordered him to land again and went after the Heinkel single-handed, finding it at only 600 feet and delivering three attacks. The bomber turned south, streaming smoke from the fuselage and engines. The Heinkel had been critically hit, and Leutnant Ulrich Meyer crash-landed the burning aircraft south of Mo. Here he and his crew were rescued by German troops.
Meanwhile Hull had broken away to attack a Ju 52/3m, which he just had spotted. He rapidly disposed of this second opponent, an aircraft of 1/KGzbV 106. The crew managed to bale out of the blazing aircraft (Ju 52/3m WNr. 5636), which crashed at Storfjellet, Saltdal, at 16:15.
Still with ammunition left, he chased a second He 111 without success, and then attacked two more Ju 52/3ms from 1/KGzbV 106. One escaped in cloud, but the other went flaming down after six men had baled out. Eight more paratroops of I/FJR1 were killed in the crash. While he thought the other transport had got away, it was in fact also hard hit, and was already on fire. The pilot managed to reach German-held territory, where he force-landed. Crew and paratroops aboard all got out safely, but the aircraft burnt out completely. One Ju 52/3m was ‘BA+KH’ of 1/KGbzV 106, which crashed at Ekornes, Evensdal, at 16:30 while the second was “White 2” (WNr. 6713) from the same unit, which crashed at Kvassteinheia, Saltdal, between 16:30-16:40.
Meantime Hull had engaged yet another He 111, and drove this off, like the first with smoke pouring from it. Down now to only one nose gun still operating, he returned to Bodø where he found that during his absence wooden snow-boards had been laid over the worst of the soft patches. Although he claimed only two definite and one probable victories, he had in fact shot down no less than four aircraft in one combat.

At 08:00 in the morning on 27 May things started to heating up when 11 Ju 87Rs from I/STG 1, escorted by three Bf 110s from I/ZG 76, appeared over Bodø and began dive-bombing radio masts at Bodøsjøen, only 800 yards from the landing ground. Lieutenant Lydekker took off at once, but Caesar Hull and a fitter were forced to leave his Gladiator (N5635) for a few minutes and shelter from the bombing. With the initial attack over they managed to get the fighter started and Hull took off, at once catching Feldwebel Kurt Zube's Stuka at the bottom of its dive. He caused it to fall in a gentle dive into the sea, where two Bf 110s circled the wreckage. Zube and his gunner were picked up safely by German troops.
As Hull completed his attack, another Ju 87 went past and shot up his aircraft, smashing the windscreen. At the same moment he was attacked from behind by one of the escorts, flown by Leutnant Helmut Lent, and the Gladiator was hard hit. Hull managed to get back to the airfield at 200 feet, but was then attacked again by the Bf 110 and crashed at Bodøhalvøya, wounded in the head and knee. N5635 has been identified by serial number found on the wreckage. Lent logged his victory at 08:20 (Helmut Lent shot down another 263 Squadron Gladiator on 2 June when Pilot Officer J. L. Wilkie in N5914 was killed east of Rombaksfjorden).
Lydekker meanwhile was being attacked by most of the remaining Luftwaffe aircraft, his aircraft being badly shot up and himself wounded in the neck and shoulders. Unable to land at Bodø as three Stukas were circling overhead, he set course for Bardufoss at low level, where he eventually landed with his Gladiator a complete write-off. A second claim for a Gladiator was put in by Oberleutnant Jäger, shared with his gunner Stabsing. Thönes, and timed at 08:25, but this was not confirmed. Watchers on the ground at Bodø reported that the Gladiators had shot down at least three aircraft, Hull and Lydekker each having got at least one apiece. This was not in fact the case, for only one Ju 87 had been lost.
To see a copy of his combat report from 26 and 27 May follow this link: C. B. Hull Combat report (kindly provided by Ernie Burton).

He was evacuated to the UK.

After recovering from his injuries he returned to his duty as the Armament Officer on the Air Staff of HMS Furious.

Later in the war he served as a member of the Air Staff of HMS Avenger.
On 15 November 1942 this ship was torpedoed and sunk by U-155 off Gibraltar. Most of the crew on the ship went missing and presumed killed, Lydekker being one of these (together with Lieutenant (A) Patrick Wilfred Villiers Massy).

At the time of his death Lydekker was credited with 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 27/05/40 1 Ju 87 (a) Destroyed Gladiator   Bodø area 263 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Ju 872 from I/StG 1. Confirmed from the ground but not confirmed with German sources.

Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Additional information kindly provided by Mark E. Horan, Birger Larsen and Steve Mallinson

Last modified 30 August 2003