Wing Commander Gordon Clegg, who has died aged 97, accounted for four enemy bombers over Alexandria and Cairo before himself flying long-range bombing operations in south-east Asia.
On the night of July 6/7, 1942, Clegg and his observer (Sergeant Taylor) were ordered to patrol over Cairo in their Beaufighter. A radar site had picked up an unidentified contact and Clegg climbed to intercept. A short burst from his cannons set the enemy aircraft on fire. Moments later it exploded. Shortly after, Taylor registered another contact and homed the Beaufighter to a position astern of an enemy bomber. Clegg opened fire and severely damaged the aircraft, which rapidly lost height trailing smoke. Post-war research indicates that it failed to return to its base.
The following day Clegg was invited to a local radio station to give an account of his success. This event attracted considerable press interest back in England with a headline in the Manchester Evening News proclaiming: “Manchester man’s brilliance. Night fighter guards Cairo.” A contrasting report appeared in the local paper in Highgate, where his mother lived. It noted that she had received a telegram from her son which read: “I am not doing very much.”
Charles Gordon Clegg was born on Christmas Eve 1915 at Tarporley in Cheshire and educated at Uppingham School. He learnt to fly privately and worked briefly at the Bristol Aircraft Company before joining the RAF in September 1937.
After a short spell on a bomber squadron Clegg returned to Bristol as an instructor at an elementary flying school. Bored with life there he responded to an appeal to serve in night fighter squadrons. In 1941 he joined No 29 Squadron based at West Malling in Kent. He was on patrol in the south of England when his Beaufighter was involved in a friendly fire incident. Clegg narrowly avoided being hit by a bullet but his radio operator was badly wounded and subsequently had his leg amputated.
In March 1942 Clegg was posted to the Middle East as a flight commander on No 46 Squadron, based at Edku, near Alexandria. Flying from airfields in Crete and Greece, German bombers made sporadic attacks over the Canal Zone. On the night of June 15/16, Clegg shot a raider down north of Alexandria, the squadron’s first success since arriving in Egypt. Two weeks later he probably destroyed another.
There was considerable activity on the night of July 3 and Clegg and another squadron pilot each claimed a Junkers 88.
In February 1943 Clegg led a detachment of four Beaufighters to India. The Viceroy, Lord Wavell, had complained about the lack of air defences for Calcutta, which had been badly bombed by the Japanese. During the two nights following Clegg’s arrival, his colleagues shot down three bombers, an incident which proved decisive in preventing further Japanese raids .
Three months later Clegg converted to bombers and began flying the Liberator with No 159 Squadron operating from Digri near Calcutta. The American-built bomber could operate at extreme range (some sorties were in excess of 18 hours) allowing it to reach targets in southern Burma and Siam.
Clegg was appointed a flight commander and flew long-range bombing and mining operations throughout 1943. On at least two occasions he made the long return flight from Burma on three engines after being engaged by heavy anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters in the target area. After 30 operations, he was rested in the spring of 1944 and awarded the DSO.
After a staff tour in New Delhi and command of the Liberator Refresher Flying Unit at Kolar near Bangalore, Clegg left the RAF in 1946.
A good deal of Clegg’s life remained something of a mystery to his family. Apart from a wine magazine publishing venture, very little was known of his business, professional or indeed his social life.
Moyra Perrin, with whom he shared much of his life, died in 1999.
Wing Commander Gordon Clegg DSO, born December 24 1915, died September 18 2013