Robert Stanford-Tuck, considered by many World War II students as the greatest Spitfire pilot of all time, died Tuesday at his home in the seaside village of Sandwich Bay in England’s picturesque county of Kent.
The man officially credited with downing 30 planes and who may have shot down half a dozen more was 70. His two sons did not announce a cause of death.
Although he flew in battle for only three years before being shot down and captured in 1942, the lean, mustachioed Stanford-Tuck was considered by his Messerschmitt pilot foes as the unchallenged ace of the Royal Air Force.
Short Flying Time
Although Stanford-Tuck was tied for second at war’s end in total number of kills, he flew for a briefer period than Group Capt. J. E. Johnson, who had 38 kills to his credit, and it was Stanford-Tuck’s name that became famous in Britain and at Luftwaffe bases throughout Europe. When the Germans finally caught the legendary wing commander they gave him a lavish dinner before putting him in a cell.
“Such was his reputation with the Luftwaffe that after crash-landing near Boulogne he was given a slap-up dinner by the great German fighter ace Adolf Galland, then a lieutenant colonel,” author Edward Bishop wrote in a tribute to the flier in the Daily Telegraph.
Before his capture, Stanford-Tuck flew cover during the May, 1940, evacuation of British forces from the beaches of Dunkirk in France, and also fought in the Battle of Britain, the four-month air war over southern England in 1940.
Parachuted to Safety
He parachuted to safety four times before being captured and spending the next three years as a prisoner in eastern Germany. As Soviet troops approached in the closing days of the war in 1945, Stanford-Tuck talked a fellow prisoner into taking his place in his cot during roll call while he buried himself in some straw.
He escaped and joined the Soviet forces on their march to Berlin.
Meantime, Galland had also been captured, and Stanford-Tuck was chosen to interrogate him.
“It wasn’t much of an interrogation,” Stanford-Tuck recalled in 1979 when the two men came to Los Angeles to commemorate a display of World War II art at the Donald Douglas Museum at Santa Monica Airport.
“Mostly we just fed him cigars and wine and, you know, just talked.”
After the war, Stanford-Tuck became a mushroom farmer but continued to shoot--mainly grouse.
Both he and Galland were expert shots and often hunted together.
“But we only shoot game now--wild game,” Stanford-Tuck said in 1979. “Not men.”