The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. E C Wolfe
Edward Chatham Wolfe was born in Hong Kong on 11th June 1911 and was the son of the Honourable EDC Wolfe, Inspector General of the Royal Hong Kong Police and Chief Officer of the Territory’s Fire Brigade. After being educated back in the UK, at Grange School, Folkestone and Tonbridge School in Kent, he became an apprentice with Merryweather and Sons (Fire-Engineers) at Greenwich, London between 1929 and 1932. This was followed by a spell in the head office as a salesman and later as a fire prevention officer.
On 13th August 1927 at the age of 16 Wolfe had taken a ten minute joy-ride flight in a Vickers Virginia over Andover, this was to change his life as he became dedicated to flying for the rest of it. His next joy-ride was on 6th June 1930 in a De Haviland Moth for thirty minutes over Heston and Farnham Royal which included some aerobatics by the pilot Mr Bryan. He completed a similar thirty minute trip on 9th August 1932 over Hanworth with Mr EJ Gregson as the pilot, who ‘pointed out places of interest’ to the young passenger, according to Wolfe’s logbook entry.
On 4th March 1935, Edward Wolfe joined Class ‘F’ of the RAF Voluntary Reserve as an Airman under/training pilot, flying and training at No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School at Hatfield in Hertfordshire. He took his first ‘RAF Flight’ (logbook) lasting thirty minutes in De Haviland Moth G-AAEO on 10th March with Mr KW Hole as the pilot; Wolfe was promoted to a Sergeant on 18th March. On 12th April he completed four successful take-offs and landings in the same aircraft with Mr HS Smith as the trainer.
Twelve days later flying the same aircraft he did a number of ‘circuits and bumps’, this time with Mr AM Carroll as his tutor. On 8th May he completed an hours flying in the same aircraft over the Hatfield area. On 6th October Wolfe completed another hours flying practice over Redhill and Maidstone in a Magister, G-AAVV , with Mr EJ Gregson as his tutor.
Edward Wolfe took up a short service commission with the RAF in January 1936 and was sent to 4 Elementary Flying Training School at Brough on 23rd February as an acting Pilot Officer to complete his ab-initio training. He was granted his Civil Pilot A-licence (No. 9179) on 5th March 1936, moving to No. 1 RAF Depot Uxbridge on 23rd March for a short induction course.
Wolfe was then posted to 9 Flying Training School at Thornaby on 4th April, gaining his RAF ‘wings’ on 30th July 1936. He joined 64 Squadron at Martlesham Heath on 11th October 1936, flying the Hawker Demon aircraft, attended the Officers Parachute Course at Manston, Kent on 23rd August and was promoted to Pilot Officer on 27th January 1937.
Wolfe became the ‘B Flight’ Commander of 64 Squadron in May 1938, was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant on 20th May and appointed as the Adjutant in December 1938. During this time he also attended athletics meetings at RAF Loughborough, winning many cups and medals for running and football.
The squadron was re-equipped with Blenheim Mk 1s for night- fighting in September 1939 and on 23rd October Wolfe was posted to 219 Squadron at Catterick, Yorkshire as ‘B’ Flight Commander.
The squadron had been reformed under 13 Group on 4th October 1939 under Squadron Leader RLR ‘Batchy’ Atcherley, and was one of six squadrons operating the Blenheim Mk. 1 for night-fighting duties. Wolfe flew the usual patrols investigating ‘X Raids’ (unidentified aircraft), often spotting enemy aircraft but with no engagements recorded. He transferred to ‘A Flight’ in May 1940, as a senior flight commander, still without any claims being made.
Above: Wolfe in front of a 219 Sqdn Blenheim at Catterick 1940
Wolfe was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 3rd September 1940, and posted on 13th September to Command 141 Squadron at Turnhouse under 11 Group. The squadron was equipped with Defiant aircraft and Wolfe had orders to turn it into a night-fighting squadron following its poor showing in the day fighter role. Wolfe teamed up with Sergeant Alfred Ashcroft as his regular gunner, a partnership that would last for the next two years. Wolfe was made an Acting Squadron Leader on 6th October 1940.
In April 1941 the squadron moved to Ayr in Scotland under 13 Group, a flight also operating from Acklington. Wolfe reverted to Flight Commander when the command was upgraded to Wing Commander Rank.
On the night of 6/7th May 1941, Wolfe and Ashcroft were on patrol in a Defiant Mk. 1 at 12,000ft over Clydebank when they spotted an enemy aircraft 2000ft below them. Wolfe promptly dived down into the attack, his combat report recording the following:
I dived at full throttle slightly in front and below the enemy aircraft and came up on his starboard forward quarter where my gunner, Sgt Ashcroft, opened fire at less than 20yds range. Strikes were observed and the E/A turned sharply towards us. I climbed over him, dived underneath and took up the same position as before. A second burst was fired after which the enemy’s starboard engine and cockpit were seen to be on fire, and he turned on all his navigation lights. At the same time he turned towards me again and I repeated my former manoeuvre, the gunner gave him a third burst. Twice again he took the same evasive action and I repeated my manoeuvre with the gunner giving him a forth and fifth burst. After the fourth burst there were two blinding flashes in his cockpit. After the fifth burst I left the attack as we were nearing cloud tops, and through a rift in the cloud layer watched the E/A crash to the ground where it blew up.
(Post war information shows this aircraft to be a Ju88A-5 (0662) M2+CK from 2/KuFlGr 106 that was shot down at 0200hrs, crashing and exploding at Newlands, Lennoxtown, Stirlingshire. Hptmn G Hansmann (StaffelKapitan) and Oblt W Coenen (Pilot) were killed whilst Oberfw E Langanki and Fw W Muller baled out and were made PoWs).
Wolfe was recommended for an immediate DFC by the new commanding officer at Ayr, which was approved by Air Marshal Sholto Douglas on 14th May 1941. The recommendation stating:
On the night of 6/7th May 1941, S/Ldr Wolfe was on patrol over Glasgow when he sighted an enemy aircraft. He immediately closed to the attack while ordering his air-gunner to withhold fire until they were within 20yds of their objective.
His courage and determination in closing with the enemy to such short-range enabled him to remain ‘in formation’ while the enemy carried out evasive action, thus bringing his combat to a successful conclusion. The enemy aircraft still carrying a full load of bombs crashed to the ground and burst into flames. This officer has completed 174 hours night-flying since the outbreak of war during which time he has carried out no less than 40 operational flights by night. Since assuming command of 141 Squadron in September 1940 he has always shown great determination, skill and courage and his leadership has undoubtedly imbued his pilots with the same characteristics.
Ashcroft was commissioned in November 1941 and on 1st December Wolfe was made a Temporary Squadron Leader, attending a course on Beam Approach at Watchfield on 16th January 1942. By this time the squadron had been re-equipped with Beaufighters Mk.1F, Wolfe having flown Defiants for over 179hrs.
On 27th March 1942 he was promoted to acting Wing Commander taking command of 456 (RAAF) Squadron at Valley flying Beaufighter Mk.IIs in a night-fighting role, taking Ashcroft with him as his Air-Gunner. Although primarily a night-fighter unit, the squadron also supplemented the day fighters on convoy patrols.
On 16th June 1942 Wolfe attended a course on engines at the Rolls Royce Works at Derby.
During the early hours of 30th July, Wolfe and Ashcroft were flying a Beaufighter VIf (X8251) on night patrol when they shot down a He111 from KG40, as it returned from a bombing raid on Birmingham. This aircraft eventually crashed onto Pwllhei Beach on the Llyn Peninsula, Wales.
Wolfe attended another engine course, on 31st August 1942, this time at the Bristol Works in Bristol.
The squadron were given Mosquitos in December 1942, but Wolfe only flew these for 51 hours as his partnership with Ashcroft had ended by 1st February 1943. Wolfe was sent to the 8th War Staff Course at RAF Staff College, Gerrards Cross, with Ashcroft being posted to 29 Squadron and promoted to Pilot Officer, being rewarded with the DFC whilst attached to this squadron in February 1944.
Wolfe was then posted during May 1943 to 62 OTU Ouston as the Chief Flying Instructor.
On 10th August 1943, Wolfe was sent to Orlando, Florida for a short course at the American Air Force Staff College, being followed by six weeks at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he gained a Diploma.
On his return to the UK in November 1943, Wolfe was appointed Operations Staff Officer at HQ 85 Group, TAF at Uxbridge, moving to HQ 13 Group at RAF Inverness as Operations Staff Officer and Training Staff Officer on 18th May 1944.
On 1st July 1944, Wolfe was promoted to Temporary Wing Commander and attended an Aviation Medicine Course at Farnborough on 31st July. In May 1945 Wolfe went to RAF HQ 88 Group, Norway, for Staff work, receiving a Mention in Dispatches on 8th June whilst flying with 132 Wing, part of 13 Group.
On 17th November 1945, Wolfe was awarded the Norwegian Liberation Cross by King Haakon VII of Norway for his services in 88 Group.
Edward Wolfe was released from the RAF on 17th December 1945 as a Wing Commander, having flown thirty six different types of aircraft and amassing 2018 flying hours, 459 of those on night flying.
He renewed his civil ‘A’ Licence 9179 on 14th January 1946 and joined Airwork Ltd (Overseas Division) of Hounslow, Middlesex flying passengers to Nice, transferring for an attachment with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company at Abadan in September of that same year.
He flew a total of 341 hours in a De Haviland Rapide all over Iran delivering freight and passengers, eventually becoming its most senior pilot.
On 22nd April 1947 he renewed his ‘B’ type civil licence in Iran, and on 4th November 1948 Wolfe was elected as a full member of ‘The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire’.
On 6th September 1951, Wolfe returned to the UK as a result of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq nationalising the British-owned oil industry, known worldwide as ‘The Abadan Crisis’.
Wolfe gained his commercial pilots licence on 2nd May 1952, and on 5th June he joined the Iraq Petroleum Company at Kirkuk flying De Haviland Dove aircraft, again delivering freight and passengers all over the country.
On 11th April 1963 Wolfe took his last flight with the company in the De Haviland Dove G-AKJP from Baghdad to Kirkuk, retiring from flying altogether, having flown a total of 11,375 hours in both military and civil aircraft.
Edward Wolfe died on 19th April 1994 and is buried in Mayfield, Sussex..
This biography was compiled using Wing Commander Wolfe’s flying log-books, papers and extracts from ‘Men of the Battle of Britain’ by Ken Wynn.
©Simon Muggleton February 2009.
He is commemorated by a plaque at Tonbridge School (below).