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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. M L ff Beytagh


Michael Leo ffrench Beytagh was born in Shanghai in 1916, the son of a prosperous Irish businessman. When his parents separated Beytagh, his brother and sister were put in the care of Miss Esylt Newbery, who eventually became their guardian.

He is known to have attended Monkton Combe Junior School from 1926-27 but his schooldays were very unsettled. Beytagh was adopted at age 13 by Mr Morton, a wealthy American and taken to the US. They did not get on and after a few years he returned to Miss Newbery. Beytagh took a job in Maidstone to learn insurance law and run a small office. After a few months he disappeared and Miss Newbery never saw him again.

Beytagh joined the RAF on a short service commission in June 1936 and after completing his training at 8 FTS Montrose he joined 23 Squadron at Wittering on 24th April 1937.

He married Molly Joan O'Hara in late 1939 in Paddington, London.

He was posted to 73 Squadron at Church Fenton on 24th July 1940. He claimed a Me109 probably destroyed on 6th September, a Me110 destroyed the next day and another damaged on 11th September.

In November 1940 73 Squadron sailed for the Middle East in the carrier HMS 'Furious'. It flew off to Takoradi and then in stages flew overland to Heliopolis. In December the pilots of 73 were attached to 274 Squadron in the Western Desert.

In early January 1941 the squadron began to operate on its own account from Sidi Heneish. On the 5th Beytagh destroyed a CR42 near Tobruk and on 5th April he destroyed a Ju87.



In Takoradi for a rest, Beytagh and four other pilots were ordered to fly a Blenheim and two Hurricanes to Freetown on 21st June 1941. Compelled by bad weather to make a forced-landing in the jungle they were unable to take off again and they walked 72 miles in two days and three nights, eventually arriving at the Firestone Rubber Plantation, 35 miles from Monrovia, Liberia.

Beytagh returned to the UK in November 1941 and was posted to 55 OTU Annan, as CFI. On 2nd October 1942 he took command of 602 Squadron at Skeabrae, stationed there for the defence of Scapa Flow.

In January 1943 602 flew south to Perranporth for a more active role. On 19th August Beytagh damaged a Fw190 over Amiens/Glissy airfield. He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 1st October 1943) the citation stating that he had destroyed five enemy aircraft.

Beytagh was posted in October 1943 to the Air Ministry in the Directorate of Air Transport Policy. Early in 1945 he went to Staff College and then returned to the Air Ministry as Deputy Director Plans, as a Wing Commander.

His portrait was made by Cuthbert Orde (below).



Beytagh left the RAF on 10th January 1946 and in April went to Uganda as an Administrative Officer in the Colonial Service.

He returned to Britain in 1948 for a Colonial Officers' Course at Jesus College, Cambridge. In March 1949 he was posted to Pemba, an island off the East African coast, north of Zanzibar as District Commissioner.

In 1950 he was recalled to Zanzibar proper. Stationed again at Pemba, Beytagh died there on 12th August 1952 aged 36 from a cerebral thrombosis. At his own request he was buried at sea off Pemba, his funeral procession being attended by about a thousand people.


Additional research courtesy of ‘Shoulder the Sky’ by Gil Thomas (1959).


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