Flight Lieutenant Patrick Terrance O'Leary
On 27th February 1943, Flight Lieutenant Patrick Terrance O’Leary, of 403 squadron, Kenley, was shot down by FW190’s during a fierce dogfight, on an operation to escort bombers attacking an armed ship in the Dunkirk area.
After returning to base, nine members of 402 and 403 squadrons returned to the area to search for their comrade. Heartbreakingly, S/L Malloy (402sq) and F/Lt Magwood (403sq) thought they caught sight of something yellow that resembled a Mae West, just beneath the surface of the water, in the same area where oil and the tail wheel of an aircraft had been seen. Although a rescue boat was sent to that position, O’Leary was never found and the Spitfires returned to Kenley having searched in vain.
FLIGHT LIEUTENANT PATRICK TERRANCE O’LEARY was born 17th March, 1920, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His parents, Michael Daniel O’Leary, a marine engineer, and Ethel Anne O’Leary (nee. Skerry) were Catholic. Patrick had a brother James, (who later served in England with the No.1 Canadian Engineers reinforcement unit) and a younger sister, Margaret.
Patrick was in his second year studying for a BSc in Science and Engineering at St. Mary’s College, Halifax, when he enlisted in the RCAF, at the beginning of 1939. He learnt to fly at Halifax Aero Club over the Summer and received his Pilot’s Flying Badge at Camp Borden on 3rd October, 1939. After further training, O’Leary took an Instructor’s course at the end of 1940, where he was assessed as a “keen, steady type, who should make a good instructor with experience.”
On 1st May, 1941, he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, but wasn’t sent overseas until early 1942, arriving at No.52 Operational Training Unit, Aston Down on 10th March 1942. Two months later he was posted to 403 squadron, at Southend. O’Leary was promoted to Flight Commander on 13th June, 1942, at Martlesham Heath and from there the squadron went to Catterick, before arriving at Kenley, at the end of January 1943. His Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader L. S. Ford, held him in high regard and recommended him for accelerated promotion, reporting that O’Leary was a, “competent Flight Commander,” who would make a “good squadron commander with more operational experience.”
Unfortunately, this was not to be. On the 27th February, 403 was covering the withdrawal of bombers from the Dunkirk area. They were returning home after an uneventful sortie, when 25 FW190’s came up on them from astern. It was unusual for them to venture so far across the Channel, and S/L Ford decided to keep on heading for home because the Spitfires were running short of fuel. Surprisingly, the 190’s attacked. Hugh Godefroy, flying No.3 behind O’Leary, called a ‘break’, but the young Flight Lieutenant was slow to respond and was shot down by the leading FW190, who immediately turned and led his formation flat out for home, as O’Leary and his aircraft plummeted into the Channel.
Squadron Leader Ford and Pilot Officer Gimbel both claimed FW190’s destroyed in return, sharing the honour of claiming the Kenley Wing’s 500th victory.
Like so many others, Patrick O’Leary, having no known grave, is commemorated at the Runnymede Memorial, panel 172.
Blue skies F/Lt O’Leary..Rest in Peace and thank you Sir.