History of War

CORSAIRS AND KAMIKAZES

The Pacific War of 1941-45 is often perceived as an extremely bloody and almost exclusive clash between the forces of the United States and Imperial Japan. Nevertheless, the Americans were extensively supported by other Allied powers including China, the Netherlands and, perhaps most visibly, Britain and her Dominions.

The latter’s most significant contribution in this huge military theatre was the formation of the British Pacific Fleet. One of the largest fleets ever assembled by the Royal Navy, the BPF numbered over 200 different vessels that did not just include those from the RN but also ships from the Australian, Canadian and New Zealand navies.

Although the BPF was dwarfed by the USA’s newfound naval might, it was spearheaded by the six carriers of 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron. This alone consisted of more than 250 aircraft, which were supported by over 10,000 sailors and aircrew. Two units of the Fleet Air Arm, 1841 and 1842 Squadrons manned one of the carriers, HMS Formidable. Flying with 1842 was a young Corsair pilot called Keith Quilter.

Quilter had already attacked the German battleship Tirpitz before his squadron joined the BPF and he saw extensive action at the Battle of Okinawa and over mainland Japan. Now aged 97, Quilter reveals a dramatic, but almost forgotten war in the air where British pilots lived under the constant threat of the Japanese “divine wind” – the dreaded kamikazes.

Joining the Fleet Air Arm

Born in 1922, Quilter had an early interest in aviation and formed a ‘Skybird’ club for young aircraft modellers, “Skybird was the trade name for model kits that you could buy before the war. They encouraged their modellers to form clubs so some of my schoolmates used to meet up in the conservatory of my parents’ house. I even acquired half of a four-blade propeller from a WWI F.E.2b, which we stood on a table. My mum also used to take me to the Hendon air display so I was interested in aeroplanes from when I was very young.”

Quilter subsequently joined the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School in Hatfield, Hertfordshire to train as an aeronautical engineer. The violence of war hit home when the school was bombed on 3 October 1940, “I had a narrow escape. A Junkers Ju 88 flew across the aerodrome and skip-bombed. The klaxon horns went off and I made a dash for it outside. As I ran, I could see this Ju 88 halfway across the field at about 50 feet. I more or less fell down the steps into the shelter and as I sat down the bombs exploded.”

The raid killed 21 people and injured 70, most of whom were boys and young men. Quilter was exempt from military service because of his aeronautical training but

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