Commander R ‘Mike’ Crosley DSC RN: They Gave me a Seafire (via ArmouredCarriers.com)
‘Commander Mike Crosley was a Fleet Air Arm ace and later a test pilot.
Among the operations in which he took part was Harpoon, when a convoy ferried supplies and new aircraft to the relief of the besieged island of Malta in the summer of 1942. Crosley flew one of four Sea Hurricanes allocated for air defence of the carrier Eagle.
On June 12 he was on alert on the deck of Eagle. After two hours strapped in his cockpit, he was expecting to stand down when he heard the klaxon sound. Within a few moments he was airborne, being directed by radar to an enemy aircraft; and when his flight leader turned back with engine trouble, Crosley decided to pursue the enemy alone.
He closed until the wingspan of the three-engined Italian bomber filled his gunsight, then pressed the trigger. At that moment he noted sparks coming from the underside of the bomber – it was the enemy returning fire. Then smoke burst from the Italian’s engines and its wingtip came dangerously close as it dived towards the sea.
Crosley followed, determined to finish it off; but as he emerged from the cloud he saw the bomber floating on the water with a yellow life raft beside it.
He later wrote: “[I] touched the trigger, but realised I was doing something wrong. I would like to think that I might have made friends with those seven aircrew who were picked up by a British destroyer.”
The next day Crosley shot down a twin-engined German fighter-bomber. He wove in and out of the German’s slipstream, and when the target filled his gunsight he fired one long burst which hit the aircraft’s wing, “sparking like firecrackers”.
On the third day Crosley was again involved in aerial combat and believed he shot down two aircraft: after detailed analysis he was credited with a possible and a probable, and was praised for helping to break up an air attack on the fleet.
On August 11 Eagle was torpedoed, and Crosley had just minutes in which to grab his life jacket from the aircrews’ briefing room before she rolled over and sank. He quickly joined 800 Naval Air Squadron, flying from the escort carrier Biter during Operation Torch, the Allied landings in North Africa. On November 8 he shot down two Vichy French fighters in a dogfight over the airfield of La Senia, near Oran. He was awarded his first DSC.
Crosley was next appointed senior pilot of 804 NAS in the escort carrier Dasher, a ship which he thought was not only ill-fated but also ill-managed. Dasher – a converted merchant ship – began to break up while she was escorting an Arctic convoy, and Crosley was not surprised to learn that she had blown up after there had been a fire on board.
He was then selected to pass on his experience to new fighter pilots at HMS Dipper, near Yeovilton, where he flew the Royal Navy’s version of the Spitfire, known as the Seafire.
By D-Day Crosley had joined 886 Naval Air Squadron, flying Seafires from Lee-on-the-Solent. His role was to direct the fire of the heavy ships which were bombarding the German defences. On the second day of the Allied landings he shot down a German Bf109, which crashed 15 miles south-west of Caen, and two days later damaged an Fw190 which he chased in a dogfight through the skies over Normandy.
He spent the weeks after D-Day flying two, or even three, sorties a day before being appointed to command 880 Naval Air Squadron; this was based in Orkney as part of 30 Naval Air Wing, which embarked in the fleet carrier Implacable and carried out a series of attacks on German shipping in the fjords of Norway. By the time the war ended 880 Squadron and Implacable were prosecuting the war in the Pacific, striking at the Japanese mainland. Crosley was mentioned in despatches, and in August 1945 received a Bar to his DSC.
Robert Michael Crosley was born on February 24 1920, the son of the tenor Lovat Crosley; the Crosley family had once owned Sunningdale Park, in Berkshire. His mother deserted the family, and Mike’s early childhood was unsettled until he was rescued from a series of foster homes by his grandmother. He was educated at Pilgrims’ School, Winchester, and King Edward VII School in Southampton, and finally enjoyed some stability after his father married one of his leading ladies, Rose Hignell, and established a plant nursery on the banks of the Hamble.
Mike Crosley was a Metropolitan Police constable (a reserved occupation) when war broke out, but volunteered on the day of the Fleet Air Arm strike on Taranto, November 11 1940.
After the war Crosley joined No 6 Empire Test Pilots’ Course, and left the Navy to test Short’s flying boats under development in Belfast. On the outbreak of the Korean War he rejoined the Navy, helping to train new pilots and flying 75 missions over Korea from the carrier Ocean.
He wrote pilots’ notes for a range of aircraft, which he flew to their limits, and was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air. In 1954-55 he was commanding officer of 813 Squadron, flying the Wyvern from the new Eagle.
In 1958 Crosley was promoted commander and returned to test flying at Boscombe Down, making the first deck landings of the Buccaneer low-level bomber.
He retired in 1970, aged 50, trained to be a schoolmaster and went on to teach physics at Bramdean prep school, Exeter, and at Upper Chine Girls’ School on the Isle of Wight.
Having built his first boat (a canoe) when he was 15, Crosley later constructed three Flying 15s – all called If – which he sailed against the Duke of Edinburgh and Uffa Fox. He also built a 27ft sloop, Seafire, which had to be extracted from his garden on the Isle of Wight by a crane. Crosley also made much of his own furniture, travelling far and wide to find rare veneers.
Crosley logged 2,818 flying hours in 147 different types of aircraft and made 415 deck landings. Throughout the war he kept extensive diaries, on which he based two books: They Gave Me a Seafire (1986) and In Harm’s Way (1995). Together they form a history of the wartime expansion of the FAA and a vade mecum for test pilots.
Mike Crosley died on June 20. He was thrice married, lastly, in 1969, to Joan Eglen, who survives him with his five children.’ (Obituary courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
“234: Commander R Michael CROSLEY DSC* RNVR & RN for SEAFIRES and the FLEET AIR ARM: served, after being in London’s METROPOLITAN POLICE – including the BLITZ – he saw the BATTLE of BRITAIN DAY Battle of Sunday 15Sep40 over the Capital. Elsewhere another SOUTHAMPTON POLICEMAN recalls the role of the WARTIME POLICE, but Mike reminds us that 501 ex-METROPOLITAN POLICE were KILLED on voluntary ACTIVE SERVICE, and 202 gained gallantry awards; 105 POLICE were killed in LONDON, 11 from his C DIVISION. Michael was born on 24Feb20 and his RN Service started on 21 Course at HMS ST VINCENT on the actual day of the TARANTO RAID, 11Nov40…
…then 24 EFTS at Luton and on to Netheravon (meeting there Freddie MILLS, the future Boxing Champion); after Padstow and Yeovilton, with only land deck landing but no sea deck landing experience, he was sent off on ARGUS on a RUSSIAN CONVOY. During his FLEET AIR ARM service as a NAVAL PILOT, he shot down two aircraft, one a CANT and a Ju-88 off EAGLE in a SEA HURRICANE on MALTA CONVOYS, being on both Operation HARPOON and Operation PEDESTAL SINKING (surviving EAGLE’s SINKING on 11Aug42: 160 lost). Took part on BITER, 14Oct42 for the “TORCH” D-DAY, Sun8Nov42, NORTH AFRICAN landings (destroys two DW 520s, awarded DSC – this was the first time they flew wide “battle” formation); 800, 804, 3 WING at LEE-on-SOLENT for D-DAY BOMBARDMENT SPOTTING (MiD), then as CO to 880 SQN at HATSTON; on ARCTIC CONVOY in FURIOUS with 813(F), before embarking in IMPLACABLE firstly for NORWAY, then to the PACIFIC. Representing the role of SEAFIRES in the PACIFIC FLEET on RAMRODS, COMBAT AIR PATROLS above the fleet, and on those FINAL STRIKES on JAPAN, off IMPLACABLE, such as his own. Strafing CHOSHI and the RAIDS on TOKUSHIMA, MINATO, SUSUKA and MATSUSHIMA (Bar to DSC) . Mike recalls also the peacetime CARRIER’S first role, with his returning on INDEFATIGABLE which was bringing the FAR EAST PRISONERS OF WAR back to UK, a mission that those on board would not forget, adding to an anti-climactic UK welcome home. 801 & 802 on OCEAN & SEA FURIES for the KOREAN WAR, then OC 813 WYVERNS (ALBION & EAGLE) post-war and much TEST FLYING up to the BUCCANEER completed Cdr R Mike CROSLEY’s flying career, described fully in his two books. “They gave me a Seafire” and “Up in Harm’s way”, which frequently have more welcome, deeper analysis than normally found in most autobiographical books. (ARP)”