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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. A A O'Leary


Arthur Alexander O'Leary of Mitcham, Surrey was born in Hastings on 4th January 1921. He was educated at St Joseph's, Eastbourne and the Central School, Carshalton. In 1938 he enlisted in the Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company (Territorial Army) at Hackbridge.

After being mobilised during the Munich crisis in September 1938, O'Leary joined the RAF on 4th January 1939. At the outbreak of war he was training as an air gunner with 217 Squadron, a general reconnaissance unit at St Eval. O'Leary served in the AASF in France as a ground radio operator. After the French collapse, he returned to England and volunteered for aircrew duties of a secret nature.




O'Leary completed a short AI course at Yatesbury, after which he joined 604 Squadron at Gravesend in early July 1940.

In an engagement at night on 20th December O'Leary baled out after his aircraft was hit by return fire.

Wounded in the leg, he was admitted to hospital.

On the night of 1st May 1941 O'Leary was in a Beaufighter captained by F/O IKS Joll. Closing in on an enemy aircraft, they were hit by return fire and O'Leary was wounded in five places. With the R/T and intercom out of action, Joll needed homing aids to get back to base. Although very seriously wounded, O'Leary crawled forward and homed the Beaufighter back to Middle Wallop on the AI beacon, using the emergency intercom code on the aircraft hooter. For this action he was awarded the DFM (gazetted 30th May 1941).

On 6th October 1941 89 Squadron was formed at Colerne. O'Leary and P/O NE Reeves joined it at Portreath on 1st December. The squadron flew to Egypt via Gibraltar and Malta for night interception duties. Six crews, Reeves and O'Leary included, flew in four aircraft to Malta on 22nd June 1942 to form 'C' Flight. Operating from Ta Kali on night defence of Malta and its approaches, Reeves and O'Leary destroyed Ju88's on the nights of July 2nd/3rd, 5/6th, 17/18th and 30/31st and destroyed a Cant Z1007 on August 14th/15th.

The team flew in one of four Beaufighters on 6th September 1942, acting as top cover for Beauforts on a shipping strike. Reeves and O'Leary destroyed a Ju88. They carried out intruder operations on Castelvetra aerodrome on 17th and 19th September, dropping bombs and strafing ground targets. The detachment to Malta ceased on 23rd September and the crews returned to Egypt.

During the night of 30th/31st December, Reeves and O'Leary damaged a He111, on 8th/9th January 1943 they destroyed a He111, on 21st/22nd February destroyed a Ju88 and damaged another and on the 26/27th they destroyed another Ju88. O'Leary, now a Warrant Officer, was awarded the DFC (gazetted 16th February 1943) and a Bar (gazetted 14th May 1943).

O'Leary and Reeves returned to the UK in May 1943 and instructed at 62 OTU Ouston. They returned to operations on 2nd February 1944, joining 239 Squadron at West Raynham and engaging in Bomber Support duties over France and Germany. They destroyed a Do217 on 11th/12th April and Me110's on the 27/28th, 27th/28th May and 4th/5th July.

Commissioned in April 1944, O'Leary, one of the most successful Navigator/Radio operators in the RAF, was awarded a Second Bar to the DFC (gazetted 14th November 1944) at the end of his tour with 239 Squadron. He was posted to a GCA Development Unit on 29th November 1944.

Released from the RAF in 1946 as a Flying Officer, O'Leary later emigrated to New Zealand. He worked for many years as a Housing Officer at Massey University.

He died in Palmerston North on 21st April 1987.



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