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Archie McKellar

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Archibald Ashmore McKellar
Archie McKellar by Cuthbert Orde.jpg
Archie McKellar in October 1940
Born(1912-04-10)10 April 1912
Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died1 November 1940(1940-11-01) (aged 28)
Adisham, Kent, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1936–1940
RankSquadron Leader
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
Mentioned in Despatches

Archibald Ashmore McKellar,[1] DSO, DFC & Bar (10 April 1912 – 1 November 1940) was a flying ace of the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War.

McKellar grew up and joined the family business in his native Scotland, but in 1936, aged 24, he joined the RAF and began pilot training. He completed his training in 1938 and was assigned to No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron RAF, an Auxiliary Unit. In 1939 he converted to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter. He experienced his first combat with No. 602 Squadron, credited with two victories soon after the outbreak of war in 1939 against German bombers attacking Royal Navy ships and installations over northern Britain during the "Phoney War" period. McKellar's first victory earned him the distinction of being the first pilot to shoot down a German aircraft over the British Isles during the war.

A year later, he gained fame in 1940 during the Battle of Britain as a part of, and later squadron leader of, No. 605 Squadron RAF, equipped with the Hawker Hurricane fighter. The Auxiliary Unit was moved to southern England and participated in the large air battles. McKellar's combat career proved to be very brief, lasting just over a year. He claimed all but two of his victories within the last two and a half months of his life; 15 August – 1 November 1940. On 7 October 1940 he shot down five Messerschmitt Bf 109s, thus becoming an ace in a day; one of only 24 Allied aces to achieve the feat. At the time of his last mission he had claimed 21 aerial victories and another two shared destroyed against enemy aircraft. Included in this total of 21 air victories are 11 Bf 109s.[2][3] McKellar, along with Ronald Hamlyn and Brian Carbury, were the only British pilots to achieve the feat of "Ace in a Day" during the Battle of Britain.[4][5][6][7]

On 1 November 1940—one day after the official end of the Battle of Britain—he was killed in action. He took off and engaged a formation of German fighters, one of which he possibly shot down for his 22nd—albeit uncredited—and final victory. McKellar was then shot down himself.[3]

Early life[edit]

Archibald Ashmore ("Archie") McKellar was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, on the 10 April 1912, the son of John and Margaret McKellar, of Bearsden, Dunbartonshire, and was then educated at Shawlands Academy in the Southside of Glasgow. Upon leaving school he joined a local stockbroker's firm. This did not suit McKellar, who preferred an open–air life style. Keen to leave, but unsure of what direction to take in life, he joined his father's general contractor and construction business as a plasterer.[8] He spent five years as an apprentice plasterer. During this time he was given no special privileges despite being the boss' son.[1]

McKellar was also a keen fitness enthusiast and, despite his short stature, built up a great physical strength. Though he enjoyed wine and smoked the occasional pipe or cigar he kept in peak physical shape until his death. Even at the height of the Battle of Britain he was always clean shaven and immaculately dressed.[1] McKellar's spare time was used reading about sport and First World War fighter pilots. His interest in the flying personalities of the past spurred him to take up flying. He joined at his own expense the Scottish Flying Club,[8] which had been founded in 1927; it leased and managed Renfrew Airport from 1933 until it was requisitioned during the Second World War.[9] McKellar quickly acquired a pilot's licence. By the time he began his military career, McKellar was a very experienced pilot, and he soon began earning relatively quick promotions.[8]

Joining the AAF and RAF[edit]

His flying skills earned him the attention of Lord Clydesdale, Commanding Officer of No. 602 Squadron AAF. Clydesdale invited McKellar to join the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) and was soon commissioned into the RAF as a pilot officer on 8 November 1936, joining No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron RAF. McKellar's comrades affectionately nicknamed him "Shrimp" owing to his short, 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m), stature.[10] McKellar stayed with the Squadron and on 8 May 1938 was promoted to flying officer.

Based at RAF Abbotsinch near Paisley, the squadron operated the Hawker Hind light bomber. The members of squadron—both pilots and ground staff—were reservists and completed their service on a part-time basis, in the evenings, weekends and an annual two–week summer camp. With the approach of war, the squadron converted to a fighter role and re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire. It mobilised on the outbreak of war at RAF Grangemouth on 6 October 1939 and then to RAF Drem a month later, charged with defending Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth.[11][12]

Upon completing training McKellar was deemed to have exceptional eyesight which earned him a reputation as a good marksman in air-to-air combat. Yet, paradoxically, when shooting with his rifle he was a well below average shot—a trait he shared with some other successful pilots. MacKellar was a keen sportsman. He believed physical fitness was a critical attribute in aerial combat; fitness, he believed, would ensure that the mind and body were always at their peak of alertness, and enable a pilot to react swiftly within a fluid battle situation.[13]

McKellar was also considered a capable leader in combat. Aggressive and instinctive, his fighting spirit was an inspiration to his squadron but according to one biographer, he was highly strung, vociferous and blunt with members of his unit. Nevertheless, his directness and socially confident nature singled him out for command. His dedication to his job as a fighter pilot and leader led him to refuse any leave from his Squadron while the Battle of Britain lasted. Invariably McKellar led from the front of his unit.[14] He spent a large proportion of his time with his squadron practising combat tactics. While intensely loyal to anyone he considered a friend, McKellar's attitude to others outside the squadron was either of utmost friendliness or utter dislike. He is said to have tended to see everything and everyone in black and white.[15]

Second World War[edit]

602 Squadron[edit]

On 16 October 1939, the Luftwaffe made its first attack on target in Great Britain. I./Kampfgeschwader 30 (KG 30—Bomber Wing 30) targeted Royal Navy ships in the Firth of Forth. The target was HMS Hood. However, she was in dry dock and the cruiser HMS Southampton and destroyer HMS Mohawk were attacked.[16] Though none of the bombs that struck exploded Mohawk's commander was killed. Spitfires from 603 Squadron joined 602 Squadron, The Queen's "City of Glasgow" Squadron, in intercepting the raid. During one attack, the cockpit canopy of Hauptmann Helmut Pohl's Junkers Ju 88 released itself. Pohl was an experienced test pilot and Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of KG 30. He had helped develop the Ju 88 and had taken part in the Polish Campaign. Pohl tried to fly northwards to take an observation position, but the aircraft was hit by the fire of Spitfires piloted by George Pinkerton and McKellar. The Ju 88 crashed into the sea, Pohl being the only survivor of his crew. The victory was credited to McKellar. Thus, McKellar is officially credited with the downing the first enemy aircraft to fall in British waters during the war.[11][17][18][19][20]

Following the 16 October success, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Hugh Dowding sent word to 602 Squadron; "Well done, first blood to the auxiliaries."[21][22] This area around Firth of Forth became nicknamed "suicide alley" by Luftwaffe pilots.[23]

On 28 October 1939 McKellar intercepted a Heinkel He 111H-2 of Stab./Kampfgeschwader 26 (KG 26—Bomber Wing 26), code 1H+JA piloted by Unteroffizier Lehmkuhl. Acting on the advice of his navigator Leutnant Niehoff, he dropped down towards cloud layers. The cover, however, quickly dispersed. Their gunners were killed, Lehmkul was hit in the back by machine gun fire and was wounded while Niehoff suffered a fractured spine during the crash-landing.[24] Debate continues as to which squadron or pilot was the victor. Post–war sources credit the victory to McKellar.[25] It was also the War's first German aircraft shot down onto British soil.[26]

605 Squadron[edit]

In early 1940, 605 Squadron moved to RAF Drem, as they converted to Hurricanes. McKellar was transferred to No. 605 and promoted to flight lieutenant, assuming the responsibilities of a flight leader on 21 June 1940.[11][27] McKellar imposed strict discipline, both in standard of dress on the ground and in tactical discipline in the air. Despite his strict methods McKellar was held in high regard. His popularity arose from his desire to help mould his unit into a well-disciplined fighting team.[11]

On 15 August 1940 No. 605 intercepted a German raid against Tyneside mounted by He 111s based in Norway with Luftflotte 5 (Air Fleet 5). McKellar was credited with three He 111s destroyed during the encounter. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and was gazetted on 13 September 1940 and made reference to the "outstanding leadership and courage" displayed by Mckellar.[28][29]

Hawker Hurricane I R4118 of No 605 Squadron, flown by Bob Foster, McKellar's Squadron comrade who also flew on McKellar's last mission.[30]

On 7 September 1940, No. 605 moved on rotation to Croydon Aerodrome under the command of Squadron Leader Walter Churchill. McKellar scored a further four victories in a single mission on 9 September.[31] McKellar attacked with the sun at his back with his Squadron, save for one Section which was left to provide top cover against Bf 109s. The attack was made head-on to break up the German bomber formation which consisted of a large mass of He 111s.[32] He destroyed three He 111s with a single, 12–second burst. The first He 111 exploded. It damaged a second which rolled over and dived down into the ground. McKellar then moved his fire to a third. Its port wing snapped off.[31] He then destroyed a Bf 109 in the afternoon giving him a fourth success.[1]

McKellar took over from Squadron Leader Churchill on the 11 September. He achieved a further three victories 15 September. The raids were made in large formation leading the fighting that day to be christened the Battle of Britain Day. McKellar led 605 into combat twice on that date claiming two Bf 109s and a Do 17. That night, at an hour past midnight, 16 September, he claimed another He 111 shot down. A Medal bar to the DFC followed which cited his "excellent fighting spirit ... particularly brilliant tactician, and his led his Squadron with skill and resource".[33]

On 3 October McKellar became one of the select few pilots of Fighter Command to sit for one of Cuthbert Orde's charcoal portraits. On 7 October his score rose by five victories, all Bf 109s—becoming an Ace in a day. McKellar explained three of the five victories in the combat that day in his combat report;

I attacked the Number One and saw a bomb being dropped from this machine. I fired and pieces fell off his wing and dense white smoke and vapour came from him and he went into a violent outside spin. In my mirror I could see another '109 coming to attack me and therefore turned sharply right and found myself behind another '109. I opened fire and saw my De Wilde (explosive ammunition) hitting his machine. It burst into flames and went down inverted east of Biggin Hill. As I again had a '109 on my tail I spiralled down to 15,000 feet and by this time there appeared to be '109s straggling all over the sky. I followed one, pulled my boost control and made up on him. I gave him a burst from dead astern and at once his radiator appeared to be hit as dense white vapour came back at me and my windscreen fogged up. This speedily cleared and I gave him another burst and this machine burst into flames and fell into a wood with a quarry near it, west of Maidstone.[34]

Thirteen days later, on 20 October 1940, McKellar brought down another Bf 109. Its pilot, Feldwebel Adolf Iburg from 9. Staffel Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54), was slightly wounded in action. Iburg managed to force–land near New Romney and was captured. The victory was credited to him in a post-war account, but there is no official accreditation of the Iburg victory to McKellar by the RAF, though he was credited with another Bf 109 victory on that date.[35][36]


By 1 November 1940 McKellar had claimed 21 victories. Taking a section of No. 605 that included Flight Lieutenant Bob Foster, up to meet a flight of Bf 109 Jabos (Bf 109s equipped with bombs). The section climbed to high altitude to meet the enemy aircraft. In the ensuing battle it is believed McKellar was shot down by II./Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27—Fighter Wing 27) Hauptmann (Captain) Wolfgang Lippert.[2][37] McKellar's Hurricane MkI (V6879) crashed at the side of Woodlands Manor near Adisham, Kent at 18:20hrs.[38]

On 8 November 1940 his actions brought a final award—the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[39] His DSO was gazetted posthumously on 26 November 1940 and again cited both 'outstanding courage and determination' in leading his squadron.[40] Further recognition came in a Mention in Despatches gazetted on 31 December 1940.[41]

On 16 January 1941 Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, visited Glasgow to deliver the eulogy;

Not long ago I visited a fighter squadron which was taking part during the dark days in the battle of this island. That squadron lost its leader in an air fight—and they felt the loss. He had been wounded in combat and had been withdrawn from service. I found in his place, taking to the air with daring resolve, proving himself a leader amongst leaders, a young Scot. His name was Archie McKellar. He had come from the City of Glasgow Squadron to lift up this squadron in its dark hour and to carry it on to fresh victories and achievement by his spirit. It was quite apparent to me that he had the whole squadron with him. He was regarded with the greatest admiration and affection by his officers. I will never forget the impression he made upon me when I saw him.[14]

As McKellar died outside the Air Ministry "nominal" dates for the Battle of Britain (10 July—31 October 1940), he is not listed on the Battle of Britain roll of honour at The RAF Chapel, Westminster Abbey. McKellar is buried at New Eastwood Cemetery, Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, by Glasgow.[42][43] McKellar Close in Bushey is named in his honour, one of a number of streets in the area named after Battle of Britain pilots.

photograph of headstone

List of victories[edit]

Historian Alfred Price credited McKellar with 17 air victories, three shared destroyed, five probably destroyed and three damaged.[44] Historians Christopher Shores and Clive Williams credit him with 21 air victories, three probably destroyed and three damaged as does E.C.R Baker.[3][36] In his last combat they credit him with a possible 22nd victory, since a Bf 109 crashed in the area of his last combat and no RAF pilot made a claim. John Foreman credits him with at least 17 victories and acknowledges the unclaimed Bf 109 that crashed on 1 November 1940 near to McKellar might have been his last victory.[45] Chaz Bowyer, another prolific historian and writer on RAF personnel credits McKellar with at least 20 victories.[14]

During the period he flew Hurricane P3308, McKellar scored 13 victories and shared one more destroyed, four probable and one damaged, between 15 August and 7 October 1940. Thus earned the distinction of being the Hurricane with the highest number of kills during the Battle of Britain. It was later handed over to a Czech unit, No. 312 Squadron RAF on 4 January 1941 and written off in an accident on 30 April 1941.[46]


Citations and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Bowyer 1984, p. 90.
  2. ^ a b Holmes 1998, p. 106.
  3. ^ a b c Shores and Williams 1966, p. 226.
  4. ^ Holmes 2007, p. 43.
  5. ^ Price 1997, p. 94.
  6. ^ Shores 1985, p. 49.
  7. ^ Shores, Foreman & Ehrengardt 1992, p. 364.
  8. ^ a b c Baker 1962, p. 133.
  9. ^ McCloskey 2009, pp. 14–15.
  10. ^ Ayling 2005, p. 97.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Bowyer 1984, p. 91.
  12. ^ Gazette & 34355.
  13. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 94.
  14. ^ a b c Bowyer 1984, p. 95.
  15. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 92.
  16. ^ de Zeng, Stanket & Creek 2007, p. 116.
  17. ^ a b Mason 1973, pp. 309–310.
  18. ^ a b Hooton 1994, p. 212.
  19. ^ a b de Zeng, Stanket & Creek 2007, p. 119.
  20. ^ a b Bishop 2004, pp. 113–114.
  21. ^ McRoberts 1986, p. 117.
  22. ^ Johnstone 1982, p. 77.
  23. ^ Johnstone 1982, p. 78.
  24. ^ Mackay 2003, pp. 44–45.
  25. ^ Shores and Williams 1966, p. 225.
  26. ^ de Zeng, Stanket & Creek 2007, p. 79.
  27. ^ Gazette & 34876.
  28. ^ a b Gazette & 34945.
  29. ^ Baker 1962, p. 134.
  30. ^ Vacher 2005, pp. 1–160.
  31. ^ a b Baker 1962, pp. 135–136.
  32. ^ Bowyer 1984, p. 89.
  33. ^ Baker 1962, p. 135.
  34. ^ Holmes 1998, p. 105.
  35. ^ Weal 2001, pp. 33–34.
  36. ^ a b c Baker 1962, p. 136.
  37. ^ Foreman 1988, pp. 21–22.
  38. ^ Foreman 1988, p. 24.
  39. ^ Baker 1984, p. 95.
  40. ^ a b Gazette & 35001.
  41. ^ Gazette & 35029.
  42. ^ Graves of World War II personalities
  43. ^ Archie McKellar at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  44. ^ Price 1996, p. 32.
  45. ^ a b Foreman 2003, p. 291.
  46. ^ Holmes 1998, p. 128.
  47. ^ Mackay 2003, p. 44.
  48. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 144.
  49. ^ Mason 1969, p. 262.
  50. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 216.
  51. ^ James & Cox 2000, pp. 246–247.
  52. ^ Mason 1969, pp. 375–376.
  53. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 236.
  54. ^ a b c d Mason 1969, p. 395.
  55. ^ Bungay 2000, p. 326.
  56. ^ Price 1990, p. 72.
  57. ^ Price 1990, pp. 81–82.
  58. ^ a b Mason 1969, p. 393.
  59. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 238.
  60. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 272.
  61. ^ Aircrew Remembrance Society
  62. ^ Mason 1969, p. 437.
  63. ^ Weal 2003, p. 39.
  64. ^ Mason 1969, p. 454.
  65. ^ Foreman 2003, p. 285.
  66. ^ Mason 1969, p. 462.


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  • "No. 34355". The London Gazette. 29 December 1936. p. 8442.
  • "No. 34876". The London Gazette. 18 June 1940. p. 3711.
  • "No. 34945". The London Gazette. 13 September 1940. p. 5487.
  • "No. 35001". The London Gazette. 26 November 1940. p. 6753.
  • "No. 35029". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1940. p. 34.

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