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Wing Commander Billy Drake, in 1943. The US Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to him is partly visible, pinned to Drake's chest in the lower right corner of the picture.
|Birth name||William Drake|
20 December 1917|
|Died||28 August 2011
Teignmouth, Devon, England
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1936–1963|
|Commands held||No. 421 (Reconnaissance) Flight RAF
No. 128 Squadron RAF
No. 112 Squadron RAF
No. 20 Wing RAF
|Awards||Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)
Group Captain Billy Drake DSO DFC* (20 December 1917 – 28 August 2011) was a British air ace. He scored 20 enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed, six probable and nine damaged with the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War. Drake flew Hawker Hurricanes, Supermarine Spitfires and Curtiss P-40s (Tomahawks/Kittyhawks), with squadrons based in France, England, West Africa, North Africa and Malta. He was the top-scoring RAF P-40 pilot and the second-highest-scoring British Commonwealth P-40 pilot, behind Clive Caldwell.
Following the outbreak of war, the squadron was sent to France. On 20 April 1940, during the Battle of France, Drake scored his first kill, a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Subsequent victories over France included a Dornier Do 17 and Heinkel He 111. While attacking another Dornier, Drake was shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 and wounded with shell splinters in the foot, ending his participation in the campaign.
On 20 June 1940, Drake was posted as a flying instructor to No. 6 Operational Training Unit, at RAF Sutton Bridge. He returned to operational duty, with No. 213 Squadron RAF, on 2 October 1940 at RAF Tangmere. Three weeks later, he was appointed commander of No. 421 (Reconnaissance) Flight RAF (later part of No. 91 Squadron RAF) on Spitfires, flying specialised low-level reconnaissance patrols over the Channel and the French coast. He claimed a further two kills and two probables (all Do 17s and Ju 88s). Drake was awarded the DFC on 7 January 1941.
In December 1941, Drake was posted to West Africa to form and command No. 128 Squadron RAF at Hastings, Sierra Leone, flying Mark II Hurricanes. Soon afterwards, he shot down a Vichy French Glenn Martin 167F bomber, near Freetown.
In April 1942, Drake was posted to Air HQ Middle East, and at the end of May he succeeded Caldwell as commander of No. 112 Squadron, flying P-40s, from RAF Gambut, Egypt. On 1 September 1942, a day in which the Desert Air Force suffered heavy losses, Drake shot down two Junkers Ju 87s.
After being promoted to Wing Commander in January 1943, Drake briefly assumed a staff job in Cairo, before becoming commander of the Krendi Wing at RAF Krendi on Malta, flying Spitfires. In July 1943, he made his last claim of the war, a Macchi MC.202 of 4 Stormo, Regia Aeronautica, over Sicily.
In November 1943, Drake returned to England and commanded No. 20 Wing RAF, operating Hawker Typhoons with the Second Tactical Air Force. He was later sent on liaison duties to Fort Leavenworth in the United States. On 22 October 1943, he was awarded the American Distinguished Flying Cross. Drake later served as deputy station commander at RAF Biggin Hill, and finished the war as a staff officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
Upon retirement, Drake spent 20 years in the Algarve coastal area of Portugal, where he managed properties and ran a bar. In recent years, he lived in Teignmouth, Devon. He was twice married and is survived by two sons from his first marriage.
He was credited with 24.5 aerial kills — another pilot was given half of one kill — and he reportedly destroyed a dozen more enemy planes parked on the ground
He died on 28 August 2011.
- Drake, Billy & Shores, Christopher. (2002). Fighter Leader: The Autobiography of Group Captain B. Drake DSO, DFC and Bar, US DFC. London: Grub Street Publishing. ISBN 978-1-90230-497-7
- Thomas, Andrew. (2005). Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Aces of the RAF and Commonwealth. Oxford, England: Osprey Publications. ISBN 978-1-84176-083-4