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The Airmen's Stories - S/Ldr. T P Gleave


Thomas Percy Gleave was born on 8th September 1908 and educated at Westminster High School and Liverpool Collegiate School. He joined the Sefton Tanning Company in 1924.

A founder-member of the Liverpool and Merseyside Flying Club at Hooton, Gleave made his first flight in 1927. He began training in early 1929, gaining his 'A' Licence on 6th July.

Later that year Gleave went to Canada, worked for a tanning company in Acton, Ontario and flew at the Toronto Flying Club.

He returned to the UK in 1930 and joined the RAF in September on a short service commission. Gleave was posted to 5 FTS Sealand on 27th September and after completing his training, where he was graded 'exceptional', joined No. 1 Squadron at Tangmere on 1st September 1931.





In an attempt to be the first man to fly to Ceylon, Gleave left Lympne on 11th October 1933 in a Spartan, G-AAMH. Four days later he was forced down in a down-draught in the mountains east of Kutahya in Anatolia, Turkey. He made a forced-landing in a tree, on the side of a ravine, not far from Sarbona Pinar and had to abandon his attempt.

From February 1934 Gleave was at CFS Upavon on an instructors course. He was posted to the staff of 5 FTS Sealand on 13th May and went on loan to the Oxford University Air Squadron for a period soon afterwards. He was granted a permanent commission on 1st June 1936.

On 17th December 1936 Gleave was appointed as Flying Instructor to 502 (Ulster) Special Reserve Squadron at Aldergrove. He converted the squadron to Auxiliary Air Force status and was reposted as Adjutant and Chief Flying Instructor.

On 1st January 1939 Gleave joined the Air Staff at Bomber Command and carried out liaison duties at HQ Fighter Command Operations Room at Stanmore. On 3rd September he was posted for full-time service there as Bomber Liaison Officer.

On 2nd June 1940 Gleave was posted to 253 Squadron at Kirton-in-Lindsey and he took command on the 9th. He was posted away on 9th August and relinquished his command on the 10th but he was allowed to stay with the squadron until called upon by the AOC 14 Group.

On 30th August Gleave claimed five Me109's destroyed but was credited with one destroyed and four probables. The following morning S/Ldr. HM Starr, CO of 253, was shot down and killed. Command of 253 reverted to Gleave once more but he himself was shot down in Hurricane P3115 at about 1pm during a massive attack on Biggin Hill by a German bomber force. He baled out, grievously burned, and was admitted to Orpington Hospital.

Gleave later went to Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead where he underwent plastic surgery by Archie (later Sir Archibald) Mclndoe and his brilliant colleague, Percy Jayes. On 20th July 1941 the Guinea Pig Club was formed at Queen Victoria Hospital, with Mclndoe as President and Gleave as Vice-President and a Founder Member.

In August 1941 he was given a temporary non-operational flying category and on the 19th he began flying again, with a grafted face and limbs, less than twelve months after being burned. He became operational again in October.

Gleave took command of RAF Manston on 5th October 1941 and was there when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made their Channel Dash on 12th February 1942. Aircraft took off from Manston to attack the battleships. After the action Gleave recommended Lt-Cdr Eugene Esmonde for a posthumous VC and other awards for the five survivors of the Swordfish attack. All were granted.

Gleave went to RAF Staff College on 13th April 1942 and returned to Manston on 10th July, in time for the Dieppe operation, for which Manston was a main refuelling and re-arming base.

Before leaving Manston in September 1942 Gleave campaigned for a long, wide runway of concrete or tarmac to save crippled and short-of-fuel bombers which, having struggled across the Channel, were unable to reach their bases. It was duly built.

On 9th September 1942 Gleave was promoted to Group Captain and posted to the Special Planning Staff at Norfolk House, St. James Square, London. He was made Group Captain Air Plans for the Allied Expeditionary Air Force under Leigh-Mallory in November 1943.

With Colonel Phillips Melville of the USAAF as co-operator, Gleave wrote the overall Overlord Air Plan. For his outstanding work he was made a CBE and awarded the US Legion of Merit, later changed to the Bronze Star because of protocol difficulties. In the wake of the invasion Gleave moved across to France.

On 1st October 1944 he was made Head of Air Plans under Eisenhower at Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Force. He returned to East Grinstead in mid-July 1945 for further plastic surgery and in September became SASO to the RAF Delegation to France.

Gleave returned to the UK in early November 1947 and went to Reserve Command, later Home Command, where he held various staff appointments. In February 1952 he joined the directing staff at RAF College Bracknell. After further plastic surgery, Gleave was invalided out of the RAF on 14th November 1953.

He joined the Historical Section in the Cabinet Office, as a member of the Mediterranean and Middle East team, engaged on official histories of the 1939-1945 war.

On 31st March 1974 Gleave ceased to be a full-time Official Historian and became a consultant to the Cabinet Office. He continued as Vice-President of the Guinea Pig Club, with the title of Chief Guinea Pig.

In addition to his other awards, Gleave received two Mentions in Dispatches, the Legion d'Honneur (Fr), the C de G (Fr), was made an honorary pilot of L'Armee de l'Air and the Polish Air Force and was also honoured by the Government of Belgium.

Post-war research has shown that all five Me109's that were claimed by Gleave on 30th August 1940 were doubtlessly destroyed and that on the 31st he also destroyed a Ju88, which crashed at Provins in France, and another 'possible' Ju88 crashed at Chateaudun.

For many years Cleave was Historian of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, continuing until the time of his death in 1993. He made a major contribution to the research into who was entitled to the Battle of Britain Clasp.

He died in June 1993.




There is a related print (below) 'Moment in Time' by the noted aviation artist Geoff Nutkins, details here

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