Obituary: Wing Commander Douglas Oxby: wartime night fighter navigator

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  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    In night fighting, where the rapport between pilot and radar operator in darkness and poor visibility is fundamental to success, the navigator/ radar operator is a vital component of any sortie, and is regarded as such in terms of the credit he receives for any “kill” his pilot may make. It is he who identifies a potential target on his radar, stalks it and guides his pilot into visual range so that he can open fire.

    During a combat career that lasted, with one rest from operations, from the autumn of 1941 until the spring of 1945 — an extremely long one in the relentless conditions of wartime — Douglas Oxby was responsible for 22 successful interceptions, making him the RAF’s top-scoring radar operator of the Second World War. These combat victories were achieved first in Beaufighters with the Australian pilot Flight Lieutenant Mervyn Shipard, then in Mosquitoes as “nav/rad” to Wing Commander Peter Green.

    In that time his remarkable tally of decorations included two Distinguished Flying Medals (he had begun flying as a sergeant) a Distinguished Flying Cross and a Distinguished Service Order. His more than three years of air fighting took him from North Wales, to the Mediterranean and North Africa and back again to operations supporting the North West Europe campaign over the Netherlands and Germany.

    Douglas Alfred Oxby was born in Cardiff in 1920 and educated at Canton High School there. He worked as a barrister’s clerk before enlisting in the RAF in 1940. After training he was teamed up, as a non-commissioned officer, with the Australian pilot Flight Lieutenant Mervyn Shipard, and in August 1941 the pair were posted to 68 Squadron, operating Beaufighters. They gained their first combat victory in November of that year when they intercepted a Heinkel He111 bomber (bound for Liverpool) over Anglesey and shot it down near Llangefni.

    They were next posted to 89 Squadron, operating first out of Egypt and then, as a detachment of the squadron, sent to join in the desperate air defence of Malta, where they were in the thick of the action. From July 1942, a particularly intense month, they often took off to intercept the enemy with bombs falling on their airfield all around them. In this month and during the resumption of the enemy’s air offensive in October that year they accounted for about eight Axis aircraft, mainly Ju88s and He111s.

    With Rommel’s forces advancing towards the Egyptian frontier they took part in the defence of Tobruk, and then, in January 1943, after Montgomery’s victory at El Alamein, they took severe toll of the Luftwaffe’s aircraft as the German forces retreated westwards towards Tunisia. In June 1943 they were brought back home and “rested” in Britain where Oxby, by now commissioned, was posted to a training unit. A disappointed Shipard was posted home to Australia to a training unit and did not see further combat, so he obtained his discharge and made a career for himself as a civil airline pilot.

    In August 1944 Oxby was posted to 219 Squadron (Mosquitoes) commanded by Peter Green, fresh himself from a busy summer intercepting V1 “buzz bombs”. Green and Oxby now embarked on a period of remarkable success as the RAF’s night fighters grappled with the enemy’s tactical bombers and fighters over the battlefields of northwest Europe.

    Their most spectacular achievement was the destruction of three Ju87s in a single sortie over Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and they continued to take a toll both of this type and the Ju88. Once feared as the “Stuka” by the Polish, French and British armies to which its presence had been the bane in the early battles of the war, the Ju87 had by this time been exposed as a lumbering anachronism.

    Indeed, as Oxby later recalled, Green’s main problem, as his navigator vectored him into a position to open fire on the Stuka, was to prevent the Mosquito from stalling as he opened up from astern with four 20mm cannon at an airspeed as low as 100 knots. At that speed the pilot had to deploy maximum flap and lower his landing gear simply to create the drag to maintain such a slow speed.

    The pair continued on operations as the Allied armies approached the German frontier and their last two combat victories, over a Ju88 and Ju87, were in February 1945 in the vicinity of the Rhineland town of Mönchengladbach. Green, alas, did not survive to see the end of the war. He was killed when a Mosquito in which he was making a test flight, to try to establish the cause of the problem other pilots had experienced in flying it, crashed near Amiens in March.

    After the war Oxby was granted a permanent commission and rose to the rank of wing commander. After appointments that included directing staff of the Joint Services Staff College and assistant air adviser, British High Commission, Ottawa, he retired from the RAF in 1969. Thereafter he made his home in Canada where he was a civil servant in the Ministry of Health in Ontario until 1984.

    His second wife, Margaret, died in 2007. He is survived by the son of his first marriage, in 1943, to Jean Little, which was dissolved.

    Wing Commander Douglas Oxby, DSO, DFC, DFM and Bar, wartime night fighter navigator, was born on July 10, 1920. He died on April 10, 2009, aged 88

     

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