Jack Simpson was a founding member of Probus in 1993. Born on 23 May 1920 he died on 30 August 2019 – aged 99 years,
Jack was a native of Enniskillen. He was the youngest wartime wing commander in the RAF. He had several close calls in the Second World War, including his participation in the first and possibly only naval victory won by the US Army tank corps.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his participation in a successful attack under fire on a surfaced U-boat (U-595) on 14 November 1942 in the Mediterranean, close to the coast of Algeria, with three other Hudson aircraft of 500 Squadron. The U-boat ran aground.
When the crew swam ashore they were taken into custody by a US Army tank unit. A US Intelligence report commented ‘the case of U-595 is particularly interesting as it is probably the first naval victory won by the US Army tank corps in this or any other war’.
According to the US report, the 20mm anti-aircraft gun on the bridge was manned by a rating while officers sought shelter behind the cowling of the conning tower. The captain let go a steady barrage of advice at the gunner, who finally, in exasperation, shouted “if you’re so damned brave come out here and help me with the ammunition.”
Notwithstanding the captain, the gunner appears to have done a reasonable job as following the attack Jack Simpson landed with about 20 bullet holes in his Hudson aircraft and what he referred to as a ‘slight nick’ on his shoulder.
Despite this and other dangerous missions his most serious injuries occurred on 12 December 1944 when dropping propaganda leaflets about a Churchill speech over Athens while piloting a Wellington bomber.
A rifle bullet fired from the ground penetrated the aircraft passing through his right arm and lung. A compass shattered, spraying shrapnel into his body. Despite heavy bleeding he managed to land the aircraft safely with no ill effects to his crew. However, he was carried from the aircraft and was hospitalized for over two months in Greece and Italy.
On 22 August 1941, during a night take-off from St Eval Cornwall in a Hudson with a full bomb load he was half way down the runway when he realized that had no airspeed or altimeter readings – something of a handicap when attempting to land or take off.
He dropped his bombs in the sea; circled the base to use fuel and waited until dawn. Without instruments he made a safe, if little bumpy, landing. It transpired that the airspeed and altimeter had been incorrectly wired.
Jack was fulsome in his praise of ground crew during the War – aside from the individual responsible for that error.
A month later, on 29 September, following a flight he was diverted from his based at St Eval due to fog. Short of fuel he had to belly land the Hudson in a field with a raised undercarriage. All crew walked away but the aircraft was a write-off.
But bad weather may have contributed to his survival too. On 11 February 1942 the German battleship Scharnhorst and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, along with escorts and Luftwaffe cover, broke a British blockade to make a dash from Brest to sail up the English Channel to Germany – known as Operation Cererbus. Jack’s squadron of Hudson aircraft was on standby to attack the battle fleet. But bad weather, or failure to locate the target in time resulted in his squadron being stood down.
Jack was educated at Belfast Model School and Belfast Royal Academy. He joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve at the age of 18. He was not politically motivated but did have a strong ambition to fly. He became a squadron leader and on 23 April 1945 was promoted to wing commander at the age of 24 – one fo the youngest to be appointed to this rank with responsibility for 100 air crew and supporting ground staff.
He lost hus substantive rank of wing commander after the War and was reassigned to the rank of flight lieutenant. He retired from the RAF in 1946 as a consequence retaining the rank of wing commander in retiredment. Despite his war record he did not receive a pension as he had not served sufficient years; relying instead on a small disability pension.
Following his retirement from the RAF he worked in Dublin for Avery Scales before establishing an office equipment business and then an employment agency. He later became Secretary-General of the Irish Business Equipment Trade Association and continued in this role into his 70’s.
He served as Chairman of the RAF Benevolent Association and Chairman and Vice President of the RAF Association in the Republic of Ireland Branch. During this time he introduced Battle of Britain ace Douglas Badar to President deValera.
He was awarded an OBE in the 2002 Christmas Honours List for his charitable services to Irish and UK ex-service men.