Desmond (Des or Dizzy) FOPP AFC, MID

FOPP, Desmond

Service Numbers: 742588, 742588
Enlisted: 1 November 1938
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: Unspecified British Units
Born: Cudlee Creek, Adelaide Hills - South Australia, Australia, 13 March 1920
Home Town: Cudlee Creek, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Schooling: St Peters Collegiate School, Adelaide, South Australia
Occupation: Professional Royal Air Force Officer
Died: Natural Causes, United Kingdom, 8 August 2005, aged 85 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
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Non Warlike Service

1 Nov 1938: Enlisted Royal Air Force (WW2), SN 742588, Unspecified British Units

World War 2 Service

24 May 1940: Involvement Royal Air Force (WW2), Sergeant, SN 742588, Unspecified British Units, Air War NW Europe 1939-45
3 Nov 1941: Promoted Royal Air Force (WW2), Pilot Officer, Unspecified British Units
21 Jul 1943: Promoted Royal Air Force (WW2), Flight Lieutenant, Unspecified British Units
26 Jul 1944: Honoured Air Force Cross, Empire Air Training Scheme, Night Flying collision with a student pilot at the controls. Fopp regained control and landed the badly damaged Airspeed Oxford

Non Warlike Service

1 Sep 1965: Promoted Royal Air Force (WW2), Squadron Leader, Unspecified British Units

Awarded Air Force Cross

In July, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Fopp was acting as instructor during a night flying test, when his aircraft collided with another aircraft, tearing away the whole of the starboard elevator and about one-third of the starboard tail' plane. In addition, the port tail plane was damaged and all but one foot of the port elevator torn away.

The aircraft' became uncontrollable. Assuming command, Flight Lieutenant Fopp made preparations to abandon the aircraft but by careful piloting was able to regain control and fly it back to the airfield. He lowered the wheels and made preparations for landing but the aircraft went out of control again. With great skill and presence of mind, he raised the flaps and, regaining some degree of control, effected a landing, at the same time succeeding in preventing a blockage of the runway. It was then found' that the tail wheel had also been ripped away in the collision. Throughout the whole incident, this officer showed the greatest coolness and skill and his action was entirely responsible for the safe landing of the aircraft and its occupants."

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Biography contributed by Steve Larkins

Desmond Fopp, AFC (1920-2005)

One of 30 Australians who flew in the Battle of Britain, Desmond Fopp was born on 13th March 1920 at Cudlee Creek, near Adelaide, South Australia. His mother was English and his father a first-generation Australian of Prussian extraction, other members of whim formed a large community in South Australia.  Richard 'Dick' Fopp, an accountant and orchardist, and his brothers had fought with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in WW1.

Desmond was educated at St. Peters College in Adelaide. His father died in 1934 and Fopp was taken by his mother back to England, from whence she came, to live in Bristol. He joined the RAFVR in November 1938 and was called up at the outbreak of war. He completed his flying training at 2 FTS Brize Norton, converted to Hurricanes at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge and joined 17 Squadron at Debden on 24th May 1940 as a Sergeant pilot.

The squadron was sent briefly to Le Mans to cover the withdrawl of the BEF. Before retreating to Dinard, the pilots found some abandoned motorcycles and raced them around the famous motor circuit. In late June they flew back to Debden via Jersey.

On 12th July Fopp shared in the destruction of a He111. On 3rd September he was scrambled in a flight of three Spitfires;

We were scrambled late and did not get to sufficient altitude to achieve a favourable attacking position from above, with the result that we had to attack head-on at about 20,000 feet, and hope to break up the large formation of Do 17s, with guns blazing which did separate them considerably.
“I had just put a Dornier’s engine out and he was smoking badly when I saw three Me 110s coming in behind me in line astern, all I heard was a thump and the next second I was sitting in a ball of fire.” 

He parachuted from his burning plane, but not before he was badly burned.  I therefore left fairly hurriedly by parachute and arrived at Brentwood still smouldering. In fact the harness of my parachute was still burning on arrival. I was immediately set upon by the local farmer and had a bit of a job convincing him that I was British due to my burnt closes—however a few choice bits of language convinced him!

Fopp was in hospital for three months, for the first month of which he was blind and swathed in bandages.  Showing incredible fortitude and resilience, Fopp recovered and returned to operations 12 months later.  His first posting on recovery was as a staff pilot at 3 School of General Reconnaissance, Blackpool. He then rejoined 17 Squadron at Elgin in July 1941.

Commissioned on 3rd November 1941, Fopp went to 132 Squadron, operating Spitfires at Peterhead, as a Pilot Officer and later Flying Officer.  He was appointed Flight Commander in May 1942 and flew on many 'Rhubarb' sorties (Raids over France), exceptionally dangerous missions where the aim was to fly low level, shooting at anything that moved, disrupting communications and drawing the Luftwaffe into action. During this period he claimed an Fw190 destroyed. He had arranged for his Spitfire V to be cleaned and polished to coax some extra speed from it. 

In describing one of his attacks on a German train, a fellow pilot once said that Fopp ‘was a bloody crazy Australian, but he obliterated that train!" At the end of his tour with 132 Squadron, Fopp was Mentioned in Dispatches (gazetted 1st January 1943). He then spent three months as a fighter tactics liaison officer with the 8th and 9th US Army Air Forces based in East Anglia.

In May 1944 he went to CFS Upavon for a flying instructors course and was posted to AFU Wrexham, operating twin-engine Oxfords.

On 26th July 1944 his Oxford was involved in a mid-air collision at night over Cheshire. Immediately taking control from the student, Fopp managed to land the badly damaged aircraft safely. The aircraft had lost most of the tail assembly and Fopp was awarded an immediate AFC (gazetted 29th September 1944).

He remained as a flying instructor in the postwar RAF until 1950 when he left for a short period to instruct as a civilian on Mosquito and Hornet aircraft for the Royal Navy. Rejoining the RAF in 1951, he was posted to 611 Squadron where he managed the conversion of its pilots from Spitfires to the Meteor jet fighter. He served in Cyprus during the EOKA terror campaign and flew many patrols searching for gun-running ships.

In 1955 he returned to England and retrained on helicopters, helping to establish the search and rescue techniques used by the Sycamore. On 25th June 1956 he was piloting Sycamore HR14 on a winching practice off North Coates. The rotor gearbox failed but he was able to bring it down on a sandbar in shallow water with no casualties.

In the 1960s Fopp flew helicopter operations over Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation before returning to assist with the development of the Wessex helicopter. He retired from the RAF on 13th March 1975 but continued his connection with helicopters as a civilian air traffic controller with the Army Air Corps at Netheravon.

Despite serving in the RAF, Fopp held true to his Australian heritage and remained an Australian passport-holder all his life. He was a passionate supporter of cricket and took great delight whenever the Australians won the Ashes.

Desmond Fopp died on 8th August 2005 recognised as Australia’s last surviving Battle of Britain veteran. His son was recently director of the RAF Museum at Hendon.

The basis of this biography courtesy of the Battle of Britain Monument London - edited to add additional information Aug 2020