Tom Gleave

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Group Captain Thomas Percy (Tom) Gleave CBE (6 September 1908 – June 1993) was a British fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain. He was shot down in his Hurricane the summer of 1940 and grievously burned. He was one of the first patients treated by Sir Archibald McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, and became the first and only Chief Guinea Pig. [1]

Battle of Britain air campaign waged by the German Air Force during WWII

The Battle of Britain was a military campaign of the Second World War, in which the Royal Air Force (RAF) defended the United Kingdom (UK) against large-scale attacks by Nazi Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. It has been described as the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces. The British officially recognise the battle's duration as being from 10 July until 31 October 1940, which overlaps the period of large-scale night attacks known as The Blitz, that lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. German historians do not accept this subdivision and regard the battle as a single campaign lasting from July 1940 to June 1941, including the Blitz.

Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft family

The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft of the 1930s–40s that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. for service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was overshadowed in the public consciousness by the Supermarine Spitfire's role during Battle of Britain in 1940, but the Hurricane actually inflicted 60 percent of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe in the engagement, and it went on to fight in all the major theatres of the Second World War.

Sir Archibald Hector McIndoe CBE FRCS was a pioneering New Zealand plastic surgeon who worked for the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He greatly improved the treatment and rehabilitation of badly burned aircrew.



Gleave was educated at Westminster High School and Liverpool Collegiate School. He joined the Sefton Tanning Company in 1924 and began flying, earning a private pilot's license in 1928. In 1930 he was commissioned into the RAF where he excelled; by 1933 he was a member of the RAF aerobatic team. After a period as a flying instructor he joined RAF Bomber Command on 1 January 1939.

RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAFs bomber forces from 1936 to 1968

RAF Bomber Command controlled the RAF's bomber forces from 1936 to 1968. Along with the United States Army Air Forces, it played the central role in the strategic bombing of Germany in World War II. From 1942 onward, the British bombing campaign against Germany became less restrictive and increasingly targeted industrial sites and the civilian manpower base essential for German war production. In total 364,514 operational sorties were flown, 1,030,500 tons of bombs were dropped and 8,325 aircraft lost in action. Bomber Command crews also suffered a high casualty rate: 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, a 44.4% death rate. A further 8,403 men were wounded in action, and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

At the outbreak of war Gleave requested a return to RAF Fighter Command, which was granted. By June 1940 he was in command of 253 Squadron, flying Hurricanes. Command was handed to Squadron Leader H Starr in August 1940, but Gleave resumed command when Starr was shot down on 31 August. Gleave's tally by the time he was shot down was five Messerschmitt 109s (in a single day) and one Junkers 88.

RAF Fighter Command

RAF Fighter Command was one of the commands of the Royal Air Force. It was formed in 1936 to allow more specialised control of fighter aircraft. It served throughout the Second World War. It earned great fame during the Battle of Britain in 1940, when the Few held off the Luftwaffe attack on Britain. The Command continued until 17 November 1943, when it was disbanded and the RAF fighter force was split into two categories; defence and attack. The defensive force became Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) and the offensive force became the RAF Second Tactical Air Force. Air Defence of Great Britain was renamed back to Fighter Command in October 1944 and continued to provide defensive patrols around Great Britain. It was disbanded for the second time in 1968, when it was subsumed into the new Strike Command.

No. 253 Squadron RAF

No. 253 (Hyderabad) Squadron was a flying squadron of the Royal Air Force between 1918 and the late 1950s.

Gleave was shot down on his first sortie after restoration of his command, on 31 August 1940, and badly burned. Initially treated at Orpington Hospital, he regained consciousness underneath a bed during an air raid. His wife was called to his bedside and asked the heavily bandaged Gleave "what on earth have you been doing with yourself?" "I had a row with a German" was his characteristically laconic reply, and this became the title of the book he wrote under the pseudonym 'RAF Casualty', published in 1941.

Orpington Hospital Hospital in England, United Kingdom

Orpington Hospital is an acute general hospital in Orpington, London. It is managed by the King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

He was transferred to East Grinstead where McIndoe reconstructed his nose. He recovered sufficiently to be returned to non-flying duties and briefly commanded RAF Northolt before taking over RAF Manston, from where he dispatched the six Fairey Swordfish of 825 Squadron in their attempt to sink the Scharnhorst , Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen . He was then seconded to the planning group for what became Operation Overlord and promoted to Group Captain. He served as Eisenhower's Head of Air Plans at SHAEF from 1 October 1944 to 15 July 1945 and was then Senior Air Staff Officer, RAF Delegation to France, from 1945 to 1947.

RAF Northolt Royal Air Force station in Hillingdon, West London, England

RAF Northolt is a Royal Air Force station in South Ruislip, 2 nautical miles from Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon, west London. Approximately 6 mi (10 km) north of London Heathrow Airport, the station also handles a large number of private civil flights. Northolt has one runway in operation, spanning 1,687 m × 46 m, with a grooved asphalt surface.

RAF Manston RAF station in the north-east of Kent

RAF Manston was an RAF station in the north-east of Kent, at grid reference TR334663 on the Isle of Thanet from 1916 until 1996. The site was split between a commercial airport Kent International Airport (KIA), since closed, and a continuing military use by the Defence Fire Training and Development Centre (DFTDC), following on from a long-standing training facility for RAF firefighters at the Manston base. In March 2017, RAF Manston became the HQ for the 3rd battalion Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (PWRR).

Fairey Swordfish carrier-based torpedo bomber family

The Fairey Swordfish was a biplane torpedo bomber designed by the Fairey Aviation Company. Originating in the early 1930s, the Swordfish, nicknamed "Stringbag", was operated by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, in addition to having been equipped by the Royal Air Force (RAF) alongside multiple overseas operators, including the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Royal Netherlands Navy. It was initially operated primarily as a fleet attack aircraft; during its later years, the Swordfish became increasingly used as an anti-submarine and training platform. The type was in frontline service throughout the Second World War, but it was already considered obsolete at the outbreak of the conflict in 1939.

He was finally invalided out of the RAF in 1953, and returned to East Grinstead for further reconstructive surgery. He then joined the Historical Section of the Cabinet Office where he remained for the next thirty years, being elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and becoming Air Historian and deputy chairman to the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.

Royal Historical Society historical society based in London, England

The Royal Historical Society is a learned society of the United Kingdom which advances scholarly studies of history.

As a prominent member of the Guinea Pig Club, Gleave is discussed in numerous books about McIndoe's work, including Faces from the Fire and McIndoe's Army, and he wrote a monograph I had a Row with a German on his experiences. He was interviewed for the 2002 drama documentary The Guinea Pig Club and is discussed in most histories of the Guinea Pigs. He is credited as a technical and tactical advisor for the 1969 film Battle of Britain .

Awards and honours

Twice mentioned in dispatches, Gleave was appointed a CBE for his work on Overlord, and the American Legion of Honor (later converted to the Bronze Star). He was awarded the French Légion d'honneur and Croix de Guerre and the wings of the Polish and French air forces.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

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  1. Andrew, D. R. (1994). "The Guinea Pig Club". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 65 (5): 428–433. PMID   8024526.