The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. J Pipa
Joseph Pipa was born on 13th October 1915 at Lukov in the district of Holesov, Czechoslovakia, he attended the local schools in Moravia from 1927 until 1933 and went on to the lower Technical College for three years studying English, French and Engineering.
He was apprenticed to the Bata Shoe Company until 1937 when
he was called up to the Elementary Flying School at Olomouc, later transferring to the Fighter Pilot School in Prague during 1938 and then being posted to a fighter squadron.
When Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia on 15th March 1939 Pipa, like many others, escaped in May to fight in Poland. In order to hide his true identity he joined the Union of Polish Railwaymen and was given an identity document that showed he lived and worked at Koscierzyna in Pomerania.
When Poland was eventually overrun by the Germans Pipa escaped once more, this time via Rumania to France, arriving on the 30th July 1939. He, like many other Czech pilots, signed on for 5 years in the French Foreign Legion, the only option then available, being sent to Sidi bel Abbes in Algeria for training. When war was declared, Pipa was seconded to the l’Armee de l’Air and posted to Chartes to join Groupe de Chasse 1/1. He was promoted to Sergeant on the 2nd October 1939 and then to Captain on the 11th November.
On the 8th March 1940, Pipa was posted to the front line where on the 15th May he shared in the destruction of a Do17 and the probable destruction of a Do215 whilst flying a Potez fighter aircraft.
When France capitulated Pipa left on the 23rd June, escaping via Oran. He reached Casablanca by train and then by small boat via Morocco to Gibraltar. From here he sailed in a convoy via the Suez Canal and South Africa, arriving at Liverpool on the 12th July 1940.
On the 25th July he enlisted in the RAFVR at Cosford as an AC2, was promoted to Sergeant by the 18th September, earning his RAF wings and being given the service number 787510.
On the 21st September he transferred to 6 OTU Sutton Bridge, where he trained and converted to Hurricanes, and was then posted to the famous 43 Fighting Cocks Squadron at Usworth on the 4th October 1940.
By this time the Battle of Britain was coming to a close and the squadron remained in the north of England, engaged in day and night patrols, formations and convoy patrols. Pipa was with ‘A’ Flight and took part in eight combats with the enemy during this time. A pilot since 1937 he had naturally accumulated considerable more skill and cunning than his younger contemporaries and it was no odd chance that his commanding officer, S/Ldr. Tom Dalton-Morgan DSO OBE DFC*, chose him to fly as his number two.
He would later remark in his autobiography Tommy Leader - ‘Whenever we flew over Usworth returning from a sortie we would fly abreast and the wing of Joe’s Hurricane would just touch my wing. Pipa flew so close he would often leave traces of paint on my aircraft and one day I found a very small dent on my wing tip where we had touched’.
On the 7th October he was awarded the Czech Medal for Gallantry for his previous service with the French Air Force, this also was the first day he flew with the squadron operationally.
On the 10th October probably due to his inexperience on Hurricanes he was involved in an accident whilst flying L2143. Landing in a high wind, Pipa bounced back to a height of 20ft, stalled and landed on one wheel, collapsing the undercarriage. This was only his sixth Hurricane landing.
On the 28th October 1940 he was awarded the Czech Military Cross and promoted to Temporary Flight Sergeant. On 19th April 1941 the squadron was re-equipped with Mark 2 Hurricanes armed with twelve machine guns, which involved more training in flight formations as well as convoy patrols.
Many new pilots had been posted to 43 squadron direct from OTUs at this time and were grateful to pilots like Pipa sharing their experiences with them of combat both in France and the Battle of Britain. Because of his high number of flying hours and combat experience, Pipa was retained with 43 Squadron for nearly two years. Between the 5th and 6th May, Pipa completed 14 patrols during which time the Luftwaffe bombed the Firth of Forth. The next night, Glasgow was bombed, and Pipa had completed 11 patrols.
On 29th May Pipa was one of 15 pilots from the squadron who took off from Prestwick to reinforce the air sector on the return of the Fleet from operations in the Atlantic against the battleship ‘Bismarck’.
On 24th July S/Ldr. Dalton-Morgan was flying on a patrol with P/O Bourne between the Firth of Forth and St. Abbots Head when they spotted a lone Ju88 below them crossing the coast. S/Ldr. Dalton-Morgan attacked it, diving from 3000ft and opened fire when it was within range causing its undercarriage to fall down along with other damage to the aircraft. Unfortunately during this manoeuvre the engine of his Hurricane stopped, forcing him to make a landing on the sea whilst leaving the kill to P/O Bourne.
Another section led by Pipa then appeared on the scene, again S/Ldr. Dalton-Morgan makes reference to this in his autobiography:- ‘The section was led by my own No 2, Joe Pipa, a sure sign that all would be well. He flew low over me and threw out another life jacket that I collected and tied to my own. He then flew low and slow over me again and pointed in an Easterly direction where he could see two men in another dinghy, the crew of the downed Ju88 !'.
Dalton-Morgan spent the night and most of the following morning in his dinghy, when around midday he saw the familiar sight of Joe Pipa overhead, again pointing in an easterly direction, this time towards some smoke on the horizon. Whilst Pipa continued to circle overhead, another aircraft went towards the smoke and directed the destroyer HMS Ludlow towards Dalton-Morgan’s dinghy. The ship was en route to join a convoy bound for the USA, and signalled to a nearby fishing boat to collect the wounded pilot and take him to the Naval Hospital at Kingent. The Luftwaffe Ju88 was later identified as coming from D2 of 1(F)120, all the crew recorded as killed or missing.
On 4th October 1941 the squadron moved to Acklington in order that the experienced pilots (Pipa being one of those) could work up operational tactics with No. 1460 Flight, an experimental unit equipped with Turbinlite Havocs. It proved to be a failure but 43 Squadron gained some valuable night fighting experience. Two days before Christmas 1941 Pipa received congratulations from the AOC 13 Group and was awarded a bar to his Military Cross, as well as being promoted to Flight Sergeant.
This bar was awarded for an action on the 14th November when Pipa was leading Blue Section on an
operational patrol over the North Sea, 10 miles east of Blyth.
An Australian pilot, Sgt. CGS Williams (Blue 2), had ditched in the sea in Hurricane Z2968 after the engine failed. He was seen by Pipa to be without his ‘K’ type dinghy and, although the weather conditions were bad, Pipa continued to orbit the position of his number 2 and obtained a fix for the Air Sea Rescue.
In the cramped space of his cockpit, Sgt. Pipa removed his Sutton harness and parachute, extracted his own dinghy, inflated it and dropped it within fifty yards of the pilot in the sea, who was then rescued some forty minutes later suffering from severe shock with wounds to his leg and left eye. Pipa made no mention of this exploit on landing, the full facts only coming to light when other members of the squadron visited Sgt. Williams in the Thomas Knight Hospital and he related the events to them.
On 9th December, whilst on patrol over Blyth with F/Lt. May (Flight Commander) Pipa shared in the destruction of a Ju88 reconnaissance bomber at 7500ft. The enemy aircraft tried to take evasive action flying in and out of clouds, giving return fire from its dorsal and central guns, but after six stern attacks, was seen on fire to crash into the sea.
On 7th March 1942, Pipa was promoted to Warrant Officer (in reserve), and on the 25th April was flying as No 2 to S/Ldr. Le Roi du Vivier (known as Dan) when they shared in the destruction of a Ju88 off Acklington. The aircraft was seen to crash into the sea on fire and explode, one of the crew escaping by his parachute, whilst three others were found with parachutes still burning on the water. (S/Ldr. Dalton-Morgan by this time had left the squadron being posted to HQ 13 Group and recommending Pipa to S/Ldr. du Vivier.)
Two days later he was posted to 81 Squadron, then stationed at Hornchurch. He began flying Spitfire Vbs with Blue section, and was engaged on further North Sea Patrols and combats. On 9th May he was vectored onto a Ju88 in the Newcastle area with F/Sgt. Reed, but after chasing it 30 miles out to sea they lost sight of it.
On 19th May he was posted to 313 Squadron at Fairlop, again flying Spitfire Vbs, engaged on convoy patrols, escorts and Rodeos. On one of these ‘Rodeos’ to the St. Omer area in early June, his section was attacked at 26000 feet by 15 Me109s and Fw190s. Again, on another escort to bomb Lannion Airfield, the section was attacked on the way home by 10 Fw190s at 7000 feet.
He was again posted, on 31st August, this time to 312 Squadron and given the rank of Temporary Warrant Officer. Previously the squadron was flying escort to daylight raids on the French coast, but by the spring of 1942 it returned to the offensive with Hurribomber escorts and then a full round of sweeps, Ramrods and Rhubarbs. This was a busy time for the squadron and Pipa was fully engaged, being involved in 15 convoy escorts in the Channel and 10 escort protection duties for bombers, as well as many ‘scrambles’, Rodeos and Rhubarbs, attacking trains.
During one of the many pre-dawn scambles from Bolthead, in the summer of 1942, Pipa ran into some sheep that had drifted onto the runway and were not seen in the dark. His undercarriage was torn off and his tail unit twisted upwards, but the Spitfire remained controllable, landing safely at nearby Exeter. On another occasion Pipa scrambled with Sgt. Tony Liskutin (later Squadron Leader DFC AFC, the author of ‘Challenge in the Air ‘) from Bolthead, to intercept four Focke Wulfs in the Torbay area. With their engines at full boost, a speed of 330 mph was obtained by the Spitfires, but they were to make no impact on the enemy, even though they both sprayed the Focke Wulfs with cannon fire and saw black smoke emitted. By this time they were both over the Cherbourg peninsula and drawing fire from the coastal batteries, eventually the two of them made the wise decision to pull away from the attack and head for home.
On 1st August Pipa was promoted substantially to Warrant Officer and took part in the Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) on 19th August 1942. This was escorting Hurribombers, who bombed the armed merchant ships as well as attacking E-Boats that were in the area. He claimed a Do217 as being damaged and emptied the remaining cannon ammunition into an E-Boat, sinking it.
During this period he had many engagements with the enemy, often sustaining damage to his aircraft, and on one occasion in September this resulted in a wheels-up landing.
He was recognised again for his actions by being awarded a bar to his Czech Medal for Gallantry, which was personally given to him by the Czech AVM Janousek when he visited the squadron, with AVM Orleba and General Viest, on 26th September 1942. By the end of his attachment to 312 Squadron, in November 1942, Pipa had been engaged continually on fighter duties since 1939 and this took its toll on him. He was deemed unfit for flying duties and posted to RAF Church Stanton and rested.
He was declared operationally fit for flying duties on 1st February 1943, promoted to Pilot Officer, given the official officer number of 145101, and posted to 313 Squadron on the 4th. The squadron were then engaged on convoy patrols and offensive ops with Ramrods and Rhubarbs.
He was awarded a 2nd bar to his Medal for Gallantry on 5th May 1943, and on June 10th, a Croix de Guerre, for his previous actions during the Battle for France with the L’Armee de L’Air.
By this time the squadron had moved to Scotland to continue North Sea convoy patrols and high altitude patrols against photo-recconnaisance aircraft using Spitfire VI’s.
On 23rd June Pipa got married in St. Stephens by Saltash Church, Cornwall, to a British subject, Marie Lilian Jago, (a professional dancer, who later gave birth to a son, Anthony Joseph, on 18th July 1944).
He was promoted to Flying Officer on 3rd August 1943, whilst the squadron was moved back to the south of England. Here, they were to continue Ramrod patrols, escorting Mitchell and Ventura aircraft in bombing attacks on French ports, along with giving cover to Whirlwinds attacking tactical targets.
Again, Pipa was in the forefront of these sorties, always engaging any Me109s and Fw190s.
On the run up to D-Day the squadron was engaged on escorting strikes on the V1 sites (Noball) around the Pas de Calais.
On 12th May 1944 Pipa was attached to the 84th Group Support Unit for two months, returning to 310 Squadron on 2nd July 1944, who then were engaged on Anti-Diver patrols (V1s) and the defence of the UK, along with escorting Marauders and Mitchells bombing the V1 sites.
On 9th July Pipa was flying a Mk. IX Spitfire NH692 in the area of Folkestone, Kent when he shot down a V1 which was seen to crash 5 miles out into the Channel. Pipa only stayed with 310 Squadron for nine days being then posted to 312 Squadron where he remained until the end of the war.
Spitfire IXs had arrived in January 1944 and these were modified for bombing whilst the squadron was engaged in bombing Noball sites. After D-Day, its main tasks were patrolling the beachhead and on Ranger sorties. By July 312 had reverted to the Air Defence of Great Britain along with bomber escort work and Roadsteads to Europe.
Pipa was awarded the Czech Memorial War Medal on 7th August 1944.
By September 1944 the squadron was on the offensive, flying 687 operational hours of armed recces and Ramrods, bombing oil plants and attacking Big Ben sites (V2s).
On 13th September Pipa was returning from a Big Ben attack when he saw a Mustang shot down into the sea.
He circled and threw out his dingy to the downed pilot but succeeded only in wrapping the dinghy around his tailplane but managed to send out a ‘Mayday’ call. The pilot was found and rescued by a Walrus aircraft from Coastal Command. Pipa however, with the handicap of the dinghy, managed to get the Spitfire back home, notwithstanding that longitudinal control was virtually nil and the aircraft cavorting like a porpoise. This was the third occasion he had performed this particular feat of throwing out his dinghy to rescue a downed pilot in the sea. Although he was congratulated by the CO he did not gain any official recognition, as he did for the similar action he performed in 1942.
During the Arnhem landings in September, 312 Squadron were also active in escorting the gliders, and Pipa was flying all day.
He was awarded the British 39/43 campaign star on 31st December 1944.
Activity increased from March 1945, whilst escorting Lancasters that were bombing many German industrial targets, U-Boat and E-Boat pens. By 1st February 1945 he was the Flight Commander of 'A' Flight, and promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 7th March. On 11th and 12th March Pipa flew as escort with the famous 1000 bomber raids to Essen and Dortmund.
He was awarded the 3rd bar to his Military Cross on 22nd March and a 4th bar on 9th April.
By 19th April 1945 the squadron had flown its last operation on a Ramrod patrol to Heligoland, in which Pipa took his last flight. He had completed four operational tours amounting to over 700 hours flying fighter aircraft, and although gaining a chestful of Czech medals, was never awarded any British decoration for his time with the RAF.
On 9th August 1945 he was one of a formation of 36 Spitfires flown by Czech pilots back to Czechoslovakia to become part of the renewed Czech Air Force under the Ministry of National Defence. They were stationed near Prague for two months and then moved to South Bohemia. On 6th March 1946 Pipa was awarded the Czech Medal of Merit 1st Class before being released from active service on 6th May 1946.
In July 1946 he returned to England, having gained British Citizenship, and was employed in various jobs, one of these being a pilot for LEC (Fridge manufacturers, in Bognor Regis, West Sussex), delivering spares and ferrying around the owner, Charles Purley. He flew the sedate company Auster aircraft at a steady 80 knots; often flying to Bembridge on the Isle of Wight to collect spares from the subsidiary firm sited there, a world away from his hectic fighter pilot days in the same area.
On 24th July 1951 he rejoined the RAF on a short service, seven year term of engagement and was sent to Hendon. He attained the rank of Flying Officer in the General Duties Branch and on 7th August was sent on a one months Flying Refresher Course for single engine aircraft and then onto the Aircrew Allocation Unit. On 8th October he was with the 3513 Fighter Control Unit, rejoining Course 22 of the Flying Training School from 5th November until 4th January 1952. From here he was posted to 1689 Flight at Aston Down for one month before joining No. 2 Ferry Pool ferrying various aircraft around the UK and on the Continent.
On 28th March 1952 he was sent to Cosford to attend the 68th Assistant Physical Fitness Course for Officers until 23rd April. He was then posted to 187 Squadron at Aston Down, having been reformed from No. 2 Home Ferry Unit, and continued to ferry aircraft around the UK and Germany, and also troop carrying using Ansons, Valettas, and Dakotas.
On 14th November 1955 his flying expertise was finally recognised by him converting to jets and spending his final three years service with the RAF as a test pilot with the 20th and 33rd Maintenance Unit at Wroughton, near Swindon. He was flying and testing Gloster Javelins and Hawker Hunters, also flying Canberra’s, and was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on 18th May 1956.
He transferred to the reserve on 24th July 1958, finally relinquishing his commission on 24th July 1962, retaining the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He moved his family to 36, Newport Street, Swindon on becoming a ‘civvie’.
Joseph Pipa could not be far away from his love of flying and became interested in gliding, joining the Swindon Gliding Club in 1963 operating from South Marston (Vickers Airfield).With his flying experience he was able to be used as the air-tow tug pilot, flying an Auster aircraft.
After leaving the RAF, along with his wife he became the owner of a boutique in Newport Street; Swindon named Jago’s (after his wife’s maiden name) living at 3 Croft Road, Swindon. They had another son Henry (later to become a deep sea diver in Cornwall) and a daughter Julia, with three grandchildren, Amanda, Sarah, and Michelle.
He died of heart failure on 2nd January 1977 at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon, and was cremated on 6th January at Kingsdown Crematorium, Swindon, his ashes being scattered over South Marston airfield.
He has no known memorial.