The Airmen's Stories - P/O E W Wootten
Air Commodore (Pilot Officer during the Battle) Ernest ‘Bertie’ Wootten, who has died aged 80, fought in the Battle of Britain, won a DFC and Bar, and was a fighter leader in the North African and Italian campaigns.
As a young pre-war short-service commission officer Wootten had gained his nickname "Bertie", after Wodehouse' s character Bertie Wooster - rather more because he came from Worcester than for Woosterish tendencies, though he was a snappy dresser.
From the outbreak of war in 1939, Wootten, freshly commissioned as a pilot officer, was employed ferrying reinforcement Hawker Hurricane fighters to and from RAF units in France. The aircraft being ferried were often unarmed. Once he was surprised by an enemy fighter out of the sun over the Channel. Bullets ripped through his helmet, but he escaped unharmed. This early lesson "beware the Hun in the sun" helped him to survive the intense fighting of the Battle of Britain.
In August 1940, Wootten was posted to No 24, a Spitfire squadron at Warmwell in Fighter Command's south-west England sector controlled from Middle Wallop. He was immediately involved in continuous fighting, being scrambled daily and repeatedly, chiefly in the defence of Portland naval base.
In these circumstances pilots were unable to follow set mess meal times. But Warmwell also accommodated the Central Gunnery School of the RAF and the station commander was a stickler for the discipline of routine. Wootten and his fellow pilots, flying four or five sorties a day, were incensed to land and find dining room doors locked outside routine times. So they cooked bacon and eggs on a primus stove alongside their Spitfires on the airfield.
In March 1941 Wootten was appointed a flight commander in 234. He destroyed three Me109 fighters south-west of Portland and over Cherbourg. By the end of war he had a bag of at least 11 enemy aircraft, if unconfirmed victories were included.
Ernest Waite Wootten was born at Aberbeeg, Monmouthshire, on November 5 1918. The family moved to Worcester shortly after. From Malvern preparatory school, the boy went to King's School, Worcester. There he was inspired by the exploits of Amy Johnson and after a joyride when Sir Alan Cobham's flying circus visited Malvern he knew he wanted to become a pilot.
But in 1936, on the insistence of his engineer father, he was first apprenticed in 1936 to C A Parsons at Newcastle upon Tyne. In this period he saved the life of a friend who could not swim when their canvas canoe capsized half a mile off the Northumbrian coast.
In 1938 Wootten was granted a short-service RAF commission. After his long spell of operations with 234 Squadron, he was rested in November 1941. He went on to command No 2 Delivery Flight at Colerne, moving in the New Year of 1942 to HQ 10 Group as Squadron Leader Tactics.
In June Wootten returned to operations, in command of No 118, a Spitfire squadron, at Ibsley, a satellite of Middle Wallop. He shared in the destruction of an E-boat at sea and led the squadron over northern France during an intensive period of bomber escort and fighter sweep operations.
Wootten also resumed a practice he had started while with 234 of giving a private aerobatic display over his parents' house at Malvern. Once or twice, with a bull terrier on his lap, he landed on a local sports ground though on paper it was too small for the Spitfire.
In this period Wootten also flew aerobatic sequences for ‘The First of the Few, the film about RJ Mitchell's creation of the Spitfire. Asked by the director if he could not do better after a low pass out of a loop, Wootten let enthusiasm overtake discretion. Director and camera-man jumped for their lives and a camera was lost along with footage of some very hairy flying.
In April 1943 Wootten received command of the Coltishall fighter wing. In the New Year of 1944 he was posted to HQ Mediterranean Allied Air Forces at Algiers as Wing Commander Tactics. In March he became supernumerary to the leader of No 244 Wing, Desert Air Force, at Caserta near Naples. In July he received command of No 322 Wing, which was preparing in Corsica for the invasion of southern France.
During the Italian campaign while he was strafing enemy troops Wootten's aircraft was hit and its engine failed. He managed to make a forced landing in a field just behind British lines. Misjudging the length of the field he went through a hedge and shot between two lorries in convoy. "Bloody road hog!" exclaimed one of the drivers. "Next time you're going to do that sound your bloody horn."
In August, Wootten led his wing to Frejus in the south of France, moving north to join Allied forces of the Normandy invasion. In October he returned to Italy as commander of No 324 Wing, Desert Air Force. In the New Year of 1945 he was posted to Washington as a liaison officer. In August he was appointed Wing Commander flying at RAF Dorval, Montreal.
Home again after a year Wootten commanded No 245, a Gloster Meteor jet fighter squadron at Horsham St Faith, Norfolk, where he formed a jet aerobatics team, a forerunner of the Red Arrows.
Wootten was awarded an AFC.
He now settled into a peacetime career as a station commander and staff officer. Then, in 1959, he was made military attache in Venezuela.
Finding that this involved responsibility for Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Honduras, Haiti, Panama and Ecuador, he requested a personal aircraft. Somewhat to his surprise he was provided with a Dove.
Wootten was piloting the Dove home with his wife aboard when he had to make a forced landing in Greenland. Breaking clouds, he put down on the only 400 yd beach for hundreds of miles - a combination of luck, sang froid and airmanship.
Not always the most diplomatic of officers when confronted by incompetence above or below him, Wootten made a success of his diplomatic appointments. His presence at a party could be recognised from afar by a laugh which he had difficulty in controlling when unleashing funny stories.
Wootten retired in 1973 and joined Hawker Siddeley, contributing to its export sales. He retired from this career in 1987.
Wootten was mentioned in despatches and awarded the DFC in 1941; he won a Bar to it in 1943. He was appointed CBE in 1969.
Wootten married Ann Wharton in 1946. They had a son and a daughter.