Pilot Officer (Pilot) Allister McClean Skinner
On 17th January, 1943, No.402 Squadron, RCAF, paid a terrible price when they headed across the Channel on a fighter sweep, (Rodeo 151), with No.401 and No.412 squadrons – three pilots missing, among them Pilot Officer Allister McClean Skinner.
In return Kenley’s Canadian Wing damaged five locomotives, destroyed 1 FW190, probably destroyed another and probably damaged five more.
Allister McClean Skinner was born in Stellarton, Nova Scotia on 4th October, 1918, the seventh of the nine children who survived infancy born to Sinclair McClean Skinner (a retired railway engineer) and Christine Isabel Skinner (nee. Patterson).
Allister was educated at Stellarton Public School and High School, before attending New Glasgow High School for one year. From 1937 to 1940, he worked as an apprentice machinist for Canadian National Railways Shops, at Moncton, New Brunswick. Prior to enlisting in the RCAF, on 21st October, 1940, Allister’s only military experience was with the cadets when he was at High School. However, like most new recruits, his heart was set on becoming a pilot and his education, “good physique” and “pleasant” manner secured him a place at No.1 Initial Training School, Toronto, in February 1941. He commenced flying training at No.11 Elementary Flying Training School, Cap De La Madelaine, the following month and went to No.9 Service Flying Training School on 16th May.
On 10th August, 1941, Skinner was promoted to Sergeant and posted overseas to England. He left Canada on 15th September and arrived towards the end of the month. After a couple of weeks at No.3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth, he went to No.55 Operational Training Unit to complete his training and was then posted to his first and only squadron, No.402, on 9th December. He actually arrived on the 16th, according to his diary, and joined “B” Flight.
402 was based at RAF Warmwell equipped with Hawker Hurricane “Hurri-bombers.” Command of the squadron had just passed to Flight Lieutenant R. E. Morrow and Pilot Officer Norman H. Bretz had taken charge of “B” Flight. Skinner took his first practice flight on 22nd December – circuits of the airfield. Over the next few days, he made local familiarisation flights, getting to know the area, followed by a practice flight with a 500lb bomb load on 27th.
In January, he practiced local formation flying and occasional air-to-air and air-to-ground firing. On the 7th, he “pranged “P” wingtip,” (BE419) on a local formation practice, but it doesn’t appear to have been serious enough to be mentioned in the operations book. By the end of the month, cloud flying, practice bombing and squadron formation flying had been added to his training.
7 days leave, in early February, was followed by more practice flying. On 26th, he made a heavy cross-wind landing, damaging his aircraft (BE478, coded “O”). Although he escaped unhurt, he was “nearly posted away from sqn” according to his diary.
In early March, 402 squadron went to Colerne to convert to Spitfire Vb’s and on 2nd April, Skinner made his first operational flight from Fairwood Common, in Spitfire Vb BL983 – a convoy patrol with F/Sgt. Brown. 3 days later he was posted to No.52 Operational Training Unit, Aston Down, for a refresher course and was promoted to Flight Sergeant the following day. Having completed his course, he re-joined 402, on 22nd April, and took part in three scrambles from Ibsley and a couple more convoy patrols before the squadron made the move to RAF Kenley, on 14th May.
On 29th May, Skinner and 11 other Spitfires from 402 joined the Kenley Wing for two large, but uneventful, fighter sweeps over France (Rodeo 56 and 57). From this point onwards, he was flying regular operations with the squadron.
On 19th June, the squadron diary records that, “F/Sgt. Skinner landed on soft ground at the end of the runway resulting in very slight damage to the a/c and no injury to himself.” As mild as this incident sounds, Skinner berated himself in his diary: ” I pranged McGee’s kite ‘D’ [BM272] today. Soggy ground went up on nose. Damn poor show. Boy, do I get my luck in bunches.” Then, to cap it all, on the 22nd: “Ken Bird hit my kite, ‘J'” – F/Sgt’s Bird and Harmer both crashed on take-off for a ‘Rodeo’ fighter sweep and hit a third aircraft.
At the beginning of August, 1942, the squadron was re-equipped with Spitfire Mk.IX’s and went to Martlesham Heath for air-firing practice, returning to Kenley on the 13th.
Skinner was, by now, an old hand, and was appointed to a commission as a Pilot Officer on 12th October. By the time his luck ran out in January, 1943, he had taken part in more than 60 operational sorties.
At 2.15pm on 17th January, 1943, 402 Squadron took off from Kenley on Rodeo 151, a low-level attack in communication lines in France, by 24 Spitfire IX’s of 401 and 402 Squadrons, plus the 15 Spitfire Vb’s of 412 Squadron. They crossed into France, west of Dieppe, led by Wing Commander Fee DFC, with Sunstrum flying as his No.2 on Red Section, and Pilot Officer Allister Skinner as Red 4, flying Spitfire IX, BS130. Sections splitting off from the main formation to attack ground targets were covered by the Wing Commander’s section. They had been over France for 15 minutes when enemy fighters were sighted. W/C Fee’s section turned to meet 9 FW190’s head-on and a dogfight developed which eventually involved 20 FW190’s. Red 3 and 4 broke away out of melee and Red 3 destroyed 1 FW190 but then found Red 4, F/O Skinner was not with him. Red 3 (P/O Johnston) was the only aircraft from that section to survive the engagement, because he became separated from the squadron and turned back to Kenley. Red 1 – Wing Commander Fee, DFC and Bar, Red 2 – Flying Officer Sunstrum and Red 4 – Pilot Officer Skinner were all killed in action.
Allister McClean Skinner was 25 years old when he was killed in action.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.