Best Allied Ace of WWII? – Pat Pattle South Africa’s Most Successful Pilot

 
Pattle (left), while serving with No. 33 Squadron RAF, in 1941 with the squadron's adjutant, George Rumsey
Pattle (left), while serving with No. 33 Squadron RAF, in 1941 with the squadron's adjutant, George Rumsey
 
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Pat Pattle was a heroic South African pilot back in WWII, with little prominence in history. Quite surprising really, when you learn that he had the highest amount of victories credited to his name throughout all of the fighter pilots for the allied forces.

This account is, however, an unofficial accolade due to the loss of his diaries and logs. Officially speaking, it is certain that he had in excess of 40 victories in the air, and the actual number factoring in the unofficial sources due to lack of logs and diaries, could be as high as 60 using semi-official records from other military personnel attached to the same squadron as Pat Pattle during the war.

No. 33 Squadron: Pattle, (6th from right), in Greece, circa 1941. Timber Woods (9th from the right).
No. 33 Squadron: Pattle, (6th from right), in Greece, circa 1941. Timber Woods (9th from the right).

Born in Butterworth, in what is known today as the Eastern Cape, South Africa, this surprisingly under-appreciated pilot was born to South African parents with English origins. With his father, Sgt.-Major Cecil William John Pattle, having a military background, it’s unsurprising that Pat Pattle decided to join the RAF in one respect.

In another, with such high levels of nationalism in South Africa at the time, like many other South Africans that decided to fight for the British, he may well have been subjected to prejudice and discrimination while at home. Pat’s grandfather, Thomas Marmaduke Pattle, was an English Captain of the Royal Horse Artillery who resigned his commission and searched for greener pastures in South Africa in 1875.

A crashed Fiat CR.42, North Africa circa 1940/41. Pattle claimed 14 of these aircraft—more than any other type.
A crashed Fiat CR.42, North Africa circa 1940/41. Pattle claimed 14 of these aircraft—more than any other type.

Before finding his love of aviation, Pat Pattle was looking into mining engineering. It’s unsurprising that Pat was looking into a highly academic field prior to joining the RAF as he had a high level of academic aptitude.

After finding such a great love for aviation, Pat Pattle decided to join the RAF on a Short Service Commission in 1936. After achieving exceptional results in the pilot training programs, he was qualified and air-ready by the spring of 1937.

Pattle (sixth from the right, resting on his left elbow), with 33 Squadron c. 1941.
Pattle (sixth from the right, resting on his left elbow), with 33 Squadron c. 1941.

In 1938, his first attachment was to N°80 squadron based in Egypt at the time and he remained there during the outbreak of war in 1939.

In 1940, it was time for Pattle to get involved and put his skills to the test against the Axis air forces; namely the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian air force. This period is where he gained his first victories. He made a name for himself by gaining 4 victories that same year, 1940. In what one might consider a stroke of bad luck he was shot down once himself but survived.

A JG 77 Bf 109: believed to be Pattle’s 47th victim. Unteroffizier Fritz Borchert was captured.
A JG 77 Bf 109: believed to be Pattle’s 47th victim. Unteroffizier Fritz Borchert was captured.

After the Italian Invasion, also in November of 1940, Pat Pattle was then posted to Greece. Further operations granted him another 20 successes in the sky. In 1941, there was Nazi intervention from the Luftwaffe, giving Pattle a new enemy to test his mettle against.

The following 2 weeks of combat operations against the Germans was where Pattle earned most of his career victories, including multiple 5s in one day, qualifying him for the accolade of ‘Ace in a Day’. On the 19th April of 1941, he achieved 6 victories in a single day, a rare feat in WWII.

A pair of Bf 110. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-360-2095-23 / Wanderer, W. / CC-BY-SA 3.0
A pair of Bf 110. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-360-2095-23 / Wanderer, W. / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Read another story from us: RAF Pilot Leads Rebellion for Independence in Zimbabwe

The next day, the 20th April 1941, would be a sad day for the Allied air forces. By this point, Pattle had achieved more victories than any other allied pilot. It was on this day that Pattle decided to take off against orders to lend aid to another pilot. Pattle scrambled to help combat the Bf-110 heavy fighters.

This fight is where he was last seen. It is believed that Pattle was involved in the dogfight that managed to save the other pilot before being killed himself, crashing into the ocean. A tragic end to a heroic South African fighter pilot.

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