Pilot Officer Claude Weaver III, DFC, DFM and Bar
On 28th January 1944, P/O Claude Weaver DFM, an American flying with 403 squadron, RCAF, was reported as missing after a fighter sortie, bringing to a close a short, but eventful flying career and leaving Kenley’s Canadian Wing bereft of a pilot who W/C Godefroy described as not knowing the meaning of the word ‘fear’.. Weaver was the youngest Allied Ace of WW2, with twelve aerial victories, 1 shared and 3 probables…
Here’s the entry from the Squadron Operations Record Book…
“It was 9/10ths high cloud in the morning, which scattered out for the remainder of the day. Four of our pilots went on a ‘Ranger’ this afternoon with one of them, F/L Goldberg, unable to take off from Manston due to an unserviceable aircraft. The remaining three swept the Lille-Amiens area and were bounced by 12 plus FW 190s. F/O Foster damaged one FW 190 and both F/O Foster and F/L Thornton’s aircraft were hit. P/O Weaver, DFM, is reported as missing after this operation. There were 16 non-operational sorties flown today on local flying, sector recco and for experience on Spitfires for our new pilots. One flight was on readiness today until dusk.”
P/O CLAUDE WEAVER III, DFC, DFM and Bar, was born in Oklahoma City, USA, on 18th August, 1923, the son of Claude and Retha Weaver. His Grandfather was a Congressman for the State of Oklahoma. Claude dropped out of High School in February 1941 and managed to enlist in the RCAF at 17 years old, on his second attempt, after a hard fought battle with his parents.
During his training, he gained a reputation as a good student, but a bit of a smart alec! However, W/C K. L. B. Hodson (who later served at Kenley) prophetically wrote, “Very young. Has a schoolboy complex. But lots of courage.”
Having completed his flying training in October, Weaver arrived in the UK, on the 14th November, 1941, spent a month or so at Cranwell and then went to No.56 OTU, leaving in April 1942 to join 412 squadron briefly, as a Sergeant. A posting to Malta followed in July, and he flew from HMS Eagle on the 15th, joining 185 squadron on the Island, and entered the fray almost immediately, making his first claim two days later and adding five more by the 24th. On two occasions he brought down two Bf109s in a single sortie. Later in the month he flew night fighter/bomber sorties over Sicily and was shot down and crash landed for the first time on 31st July. Unsurprisingly, Weaver was awarded the DFM in August.
Further successes followed, until on 9th September, Claude was shot down by an MC202, flown by Ten. Paolo Damiani, during a sweep of the Sicilian coast. He crash landed on the beach at Scoglitti and was taken POW. Weaver spent the next year in Campo 21 at Chieti and Campo 49 (Fontanellato). He made two unsuccessful attempts to escape, the first of which was discovered and led to Weaver being brutally beaten. His third attempt was successful, and, despite an injured ankle, he and Lt. Colonel Harold Rideout were able to make their way 300 miles through the German lines to meet the advancing Allied Armies.
Weaver returned to Malta, and was sent back to the UK, where he was commissioned and posted to 403 squadron.
W/C Hugh Godefroy has left us with a vivid description of Weaver’s arrival at Kenley, in late October, 1943…
“Having heard of the treatment he had endured at the hands of the Italians, I fully expected to meet a very subdued character. When he presented himself at my office, I found myself faced with a tall, blond, keen-looking fellow in his early twenties. He had a neatly trimmed moustache, bright eyes, and his uniform, buttons and shoes were in impeccable order. The only sign of past Military experience was the DFM ribbon below his wings.”
Godefroy sent Weaver off to get checked out on a Spitfire IX and familiarise himself with the local area, but was shocked to hear that Weaver’s Spitfire had returned with the spinner missing from it’s prop – obviously blown off by a cannon shell! Claude hadn’t taken long to get the lay of the land and had decided to pop over to France for ‘a little strafing’. Godefroy threatened to turf him out of the squadron, but was inwardly delighted with his keenness.
Weaver claimed a BF109 on the 30th December and a FW190 on the 21st January, but his recklessness continued to worry his Wing Commander..
He was shot down for the final time on the 28th January, 1944, flying Spitfire MA642, on a ‘Ranger’ to the Amiens area. His victor, Feldwebel Gerhard Vogt, of 6/Jg26, watched as Weaver’s parachute got caught on the tailplane and he was dragged to the ground. Amazingly, he was not killed on impact, but was discovered about 10 yards from the wreckage of his aircraft, by a Madame Truffier, who stayed with the fatally injured pilot, when the Germans took him to the main hospital at Albert (5/N36) where he passed away a few hours later. The award of a DFC was gazetted in March 1944.
Rest in peace, Sir and thank you for your service.
Claude’s brother Cpl David Overton Weaver, served as a Paramarine, Naval Air Operations, US Marine Corps, and was also killed in action on Iwo Jima, in March 1945. He has no known grave.
Aces High by Christopher Shores and Clive Williams