Townsend joined the Royal Air Force in 1933 and after graduating from RAF Cranwell was commissioned a pilot officer in 1935. His first posting was No. 1 Squadron at Tangmere where he flew a Hawker Fury and in 1936 was transferred to Singapore where he joined No. 36 Squadron and flew the Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bomber. Upon being promoted to flying officer in 1937, he returned to Tangmere where he joined No. 43 Squadron and shortly after the beginning of WWII he was promoted to flight lieutenant.
Flying out of RAF Acklington Townsend was blooded in February 1940 when he and two other pilots flying Hurricanes shot down a Heinkel 111 near Whitby. His score of claimed and confirmed continued and in April he was awarded the DFC.
“Flight Lieutenant Peter Wooldridge Townsend (33178) In April 1940, whilst on patrol over the North Sea, Flight Lieutenant Townsend intercepted and attacked an enemy aircraft at dusk and after a running fight shot it down. This is the third success obtained by this pilot and in each instance he has displayed qualities of leadership, skill and determination of the highest order, with little regard for his own safety.”
Townsend serving throughout the Battle of Britain as commanding officer of No. 85 Squadron of Hawker Hurricanes. In July he ditched his aircraft in the sea after forcing down a Dornier at Arras. His exploits continued until he was shot down over Tonbridge and although wounded continued to command from the ground while recovering. In September he was awarded a bar to his DFC for his “unflagging zeal and leadership” in battle and for personally shooting down four aircraft.
By early 1941 Townsend had shot down at least 11 enemy aircraft, became an acting Wing Commander and was awarded the DSO for his “outstanding powers of leadership and organisation… and skill in air combat”.
Between December 1941 and January 1943 he was confirmed in the temporary rank of wing commander, appointed commanding officer of RAF Drem in Scotland, appointed commander of No. 611 Squadron of Spitfires, was leader of No. 605 Squadron of night fighters and appointed commanding officer of RAF West Malling in Kent.
In 1944 he was appointed temporary equerry to King George VI, which soon became permanent. He was promoted to permanent Wing Commander in 1949 and became Group Captain at the beginning of 1953.
His later life was spent writing books including one about the Battle of Britain (Duel of Eagles) and a biography of George VI.” David Wade