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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. D Fopp


Desmond Fopp was born on 13th March 1920 at Cudlee Creek, near Adelaide, South Australia. His mother was English and his father a first-generation Australian of Prussian extraction who had fought with the Australian Army.

He was educated at St. Peters College in Adelaide. His father died in 1936 and Fopp was brought by his mother back to England to live in Bristol. He joined the RAFVR in November 1938 and was called up at the outbreak of war. He completed his flying training at 2 FTS Brize Norton, converted to Hurricanes at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge and joined 17 Squadron at Debden on 24th May 1940.

The squadron was sent briefly to Le Mans to cover the withdrawl of the BEF. Before retreating to Dinard the pilots found some abandoned motorcycles and raced them around the famous motor circuit. In late June they flew back to Debden via Jersey.



On 12th July Fopp shared in the destruction of a He111. On 3rd September he expended all his ammunition damaging a Do17 but was then shot down in Hurricane P3672 by Me110's. He baled out, badly burned, and came down at Presseys Farm, Hutton, Essex. His aircraft crashed and burned out at Handleys Farm, Ingrave.

Fopp was in hospital for three months, his first posting on recovery was as a staff pilot at 3 School of General Reconnaissance, Blackpool. He then rejoined 17 Squadron at Elgin in July 1941. Commissioned on 3rd November 1941, Fopp went to 132 Squadron, operating Spitfires at Peterhead.

He was appointed Flight Commander in May 1942 and flew on many Rhubarb sorties, claiming a Fw190 destroyed. He had arranged for his Spitfire V to be cleaned and polished to coax some extra speed from it.

At the end of his tour with 132 Fopp was Mentioned in Dispatches (gazetted 1st January 1943). He then spent three months as a fighter tactics liaison officer with the 8th and 9th US Army Air Forces based in East Anglia.

In May 1944 he went to CFS Upavon for a flying instructors course and was posted to AFU Wrexham, operating twin-engine Oxfords.

On 26th July 1944 his Oxford was involved in a mid-air collision at night over Cheshire. Immediately taking control from the student, Fopp managed to land the badly damaged aircraft safely. The aircraft had lost most of the tail assembly and Fopp was awarded an immediate AFC (gazetted 29th September 1944).

He remained as a flying instructor in the postwar RAF until 1950 when he left for a short period to instruct as a civilian on Mosquito and Hornet aircraft for the Royal Navy. Rejoining the RAF in 1951, he was posted to 611 Squadron where he managed the conversion of its pilots from Spitfires to the Meteor jet fighter. He served in Cyprus during the EOKA terror campaign and flew many patrols searching for gun-running ships.

In 1955 he returned to England and retrained on helicopters, helping to establish the search and rescue techniques used by the Sycamore. On 25th June 1956 he was piloting Sycamore HR14 on a winching practice off North Coates. The rotor gearbox failed but he was able to bring it down on a sandbar in shallow water with no casualties.

In the 1960s Fopp flew helicopter operations over Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation before returning to assist with the development of the Wessex helicopter. He retired from the RAF on 13th March 1975 but continued his connection with helicopters as a civilian air traffic controller with the Army Air Corps at Netheravon.

Fopp died on 8th August 2005. His son was recently director of the RAF Museum at Hendon.

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