Alan Deere


Alan Christopher Deere is possibly New Zealand’s most famous fighter pilot of the Second World War. He was also one of the luckiest, surviving several near-death experiences to become one of the outstanding pilots of the Battle of Britain.

Born in Auckland on 12 December 1917, Deere was working as a law clerk in Whanganui when he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1937. After completing flight training he was posted to No. 54 Squadron along with Colin Gray, who would go on to become New Zealand’s top fighter ace of the war.

Deere’s first taste of combat came in mid-May 1940 when his squadron was assigned to cover the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk. In the course of one week he destroyed six Luftwaffe (German air force) planes and was shot down himself – returning to base 19 hours later after hitching a ride on a boat across the English Channel. For his efforts during the Battle of France Deere was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), which was presented to him by King George VI in June 1940.

During the Battle of Britain Deere’s squadron was part of Keith Park’s famous No. 11 Group, which bore the brunt of the German aerial assault against London and southeast England. Between July and September 1940 Deere shot down eight more planes, earning another DFC (Bar) in the process.

Deere survived several brushes with death during the campaign. The first was on 9 July 1940 when his squadron was scrambled to intercept an enemy formation near Dover. They discovered a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters escorting a seaplane, which had been sent to undertake pre-invasion surveys of the English coast. Deere’s section immediately engaged the fighter escort and the New Zealander quickly sent a Bf 109 down in flames. He was manoeuvring to attack another fighter when a German plane suddenly headed straight for him. Locked in a deadly game of chicken, neither pilot gave way and their aircraft collided. The engine of Deere’s Spitfire was severely damaged. Unable to bail out and with his cockpit filling with smoke, he managed to head inland and crash land – his Spitfire came to rest in the middle of a corn field before bursting into flames. Deere was able to smash his way out and walk away with minor cuts and burns. Remarkably, he was back on patrol the next day.

A few weeks later Deere was shot down again. He had pursued a Bf 109 across the English Channel and shot it down near Calais when he was attacked by five German fighters. Outnumbered, Deere was able to evade his pursuers long enough to reach the English coast but was forced to bail out of his bullet-ridden Spitfire. Describing this incident, Deere said:

Bullets seemed to come from everywhere and pieces flew off my aircraft. Never did it take so long to cross the Channel. Then my Spitfire burst into flames, so I undid my straps and eased the stick back to gain height before bailing out. Turned my machine on its back and pushed the stick hard forward. I shot out a few feet but somehow became caught up. Although I twisted and turned I could not free myself. The nose of my aircraft had now dropped and was pointing at the ground which was rushing up at an alarming rate. Then suddenly I was blown along the side of the fuselage and was clear. A hurried snatch at the rip cord and, with a jolt, the parachute opened.

As Luftwaffe raids over England intensified in late August 1940 Deere, along with fellow New Zealanders Colin Gray and John Gibson, quickly established himself as an outstanding fighter pilot. Perhaps more importantly, his luck continued to hold.

On 28 August 1940 Deere was forced to bail out over the Kent countryside, landing in the middle of a fully laden plum tree – much to the annoyance of the local farmer. Three days later No. 54 Squadron’s airfield at Hornchurch was bombed just as Deere was preparing to take off. Shrapnel tore off a wing and the propeller of his Spitfire, flipping the aircraft over and sending it sliding along the airfield upside down. Deere was dragged out by another pilot, who promptly collapsed and had to be carried to safety by the New Zealander.

Rested in December 1940, Deere had a spell as an Operations Room Controller before returning to operational duty in May 1941 with No. 602 Squadron. Based in Scotland, Deere was one of the pilots scrambled on 10 May 1941 to investigate reports of a lone German plane flying toward Glasgow. He did not make contact with the aircraft, which later made a forced landing on the outskirts of the city. It was discovered later that the pilot was deputy Nazi Party leader Rudolf Hess.

In January 1942 Deere embarked on a short tour of the United States to teach fighter tactics to American pilots. He was back in action three months later, taking command of a Canadian spitfire squadron before being posted to staff duties at the headquarters of No. 13 Group. In February 1943 he was appointed Wing Leader at the Royal Air Force Station at Biggin Hill. He led 121 sorties over the next six months and earned the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). He went on to command the Free French fighter wing through D-Day and the liberation of France before returning to staff duty in England.

Deere finished the war as New Zealand’s second-highest-scoring air ace – behind Colin Gray – with 22 confirmed victories, 10 probable victories and 18 damaged. He was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in May 1945 and went on have a prestigious post-war career, including service as Aide-de-camp to Queen Elizabeth II in 1962.

Alan Deere died on 21 September 1995 at the age of 77. Fittingly, his ashes were scattered over the River Thames from a Spitfire.

By Gareth Phipps

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John Chambers

Posted: 26 Sep 2016



I don't suppose I ever knew the correct from-to dates, but he was the much-revered Station Commander of RAF North Weald in 1951/52 when I joined No 72 Squadron (Meteor 8 day-fighters).

North Weald, just outside Epping on the northern edge of London, had been a key Battle of Britain airfield and Wg Cdr Deere's time as Station Commander was a very notable one for us all. Among the 'notable events' of his time as CO, was the Queen's Coronation in 1953 when more Heads of State and Heads of Government were assembled than had ever happened before. 72, as North Weald's resident regular squadron, was designated as the duty <daylight guard squadron> over London from an hour before dawn until an hour after dusk on that day. At the time it was a very important thing.