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The Airmen's Stories - F/O P McD Hartas

 

Peter McDonnell Hartas, of Hove, Sussex was born in early 1920 and joined the RAF on a short service commission in October 1938. P/O Hartas was serving with 4 Ferry Pilot Pool in early 1940 and was posted to 7 OTU Hawarden on the 3rd September 1940.

After converting to Spitfires he was posted to 616 Squadron on the 16th September and then moved to 603 Squadron at Hornchurch on the 24th. He claimed a Me109 destroyed on the 2nd October 1940.

 

Above image courtesy of Ian Hartas.

 

Hartas joined 421 Flight when it formed at RAF Gravesend on 8th October 1940. The Flight moved to West Malling on 31st October 1940 and then to Biggin Hill on 6th November 1940.

On 15th November the Flight moved to Hawkinge which offered a better jumping-off point for Channel patrols. Hartas claimed a Me109 destroyed on 1st December 1940 and shared a probable Do17 with Sgt. DH Forrest on 18th December.

On the 11th January 1941 421 Flight was expanded to full Squadron strength and was re-numbered as 91 (Nigeria) Squadron.

Hartas was killed on 10th February 1941 when his Spitfire P7888 flew into the ground at Capel-Le-Ferne, near Folkestone in very poor visibility.

He had been married 5 days earlier to Jean Helen Chapman.

Hartas was 21 years old and is buried in Folkestone New Cemetery, Hawkinge.

 

 

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His younger brother Dennis was born on 27th April 1924.

He joined the RAF towards the end of the Second World War, having already flown with the Oxford University Air Squadron.

He completed his training in Canada, being rated as exceptional. As the opportunity for active service was then slight he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm where he just managed to see action.

With the war over, his father found him a job working for Shell, where his new boss was the famous wartime ace Douglas Bader. Not by nature suited to office life, he was soon airborne again with British European Airways, flying Vanguards and later Tridents.

 

 

Joining the Tiger Club in 1957, he made aviation history by crossing the Channel on 11th August 1963 with Allanah Campbell standing on the wing of his Tiger Moth (below). The route was Lympne - Berck-sur-Mer.

 

 

Hartas was twice British air racing champion and won the King’s Cup in 1964.

He flew in, and led, many aerobatic displays, including 'Tied Together' exhibitions that required not only great skill but complete trust and confidence between the pilots. He led a fly-past of nine Tiger Moths to mark the 1965 memorial service to Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. It was Hartas's decision to go ahead, despite the appalling weather conditions of that day - the nine aircraft suddenly appearing out of the mist.

As an innovator of 'Crazy Flying', Hartas was one of its most spectacular performers. He also made an unpublicised solo flight under Clifton Suspension Bridge. This was a momentary lapse on the part of someone who did not normally indulge in flamboyant showmanship and was actively concerned with air safety.

Many of the guidelines he drafted as the Tiger Club’s first safety officer have been adopted by the Civil Aviation Authority.

In retirement Hartas continued to play an active role in the Tiger Club and in the Air Training Corps where he encouraged an interest in flying among the young.

In temperament he was irascible, modest and more at ease in the cockpit of an aeroplane than at social gatherings. But his friends knew him as kind and intensely loyal, with an impish sense of humour which stayed with him, even in his last three years of illness.

Hartas died on 27th March 1994 and at his request was buried close to Peter at Hawkinge.

 


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