Lieutenant-Commander 'Fairy' Filmer dies at Age 91, July 15, 2007
From Telegraph Newspaper. UK.
Lieutenant Commander "Fairy" Filmer, who has died aged 91, helped to sink a German cruiser in a dive-bombing attack; spent five years as a German prisoner-of-war; and later was a master of merchant ships in the South Seas.
Diving at 60 degrees from 12,000ft as part of a force of 16 Blackbird Skuas with 800 and 803 naval air squadrons on April 10 1940, he hit the German light cruiser Königsberg with a 500lb bomb, which was one of three which caught the ship in Bergen harbour, and sank her. It was, Filmer recalled, "the first time in the history of aviation that a major warship was sunk by air attack in wartime"; he was mentioned in dispatches for his daring and resource in the conduct of hazardous and successful operations.
Between April 12 and 26 Filmer flew five more sorties against German shipping and the Luftwaffe from Hatston in the Orkneys and the carrier Glorious. On the last of these he broke away from his flight of three Skuas to attack three Heinkel 111s, shooting down one but being caught by a burst of fire.
Blinded by spraying petrol and with his cockpit full of smoke, he ditched his aircraft in a fjord, but his torpedo air gunner, Petty Officer Ken Baldwin, was killed. Filmer was ever afterwards haunted by the thought that had he waited for his flight to follow, Baldwin might never have been killed.
With Norwegian help he salvaged his aircraft, and was evacuated to Tromsø in the cruiser Glasgow with King Haakon and the Norwegian gold reserves before taking a short period of survivor's leave and rejoining 803 squadron with a replacement aircraft.
His memory of meeting the Norwegian king made Filmer all the more determined when, on June 13, he was a section leader of 803, which flew from the carrier Ark Royal to make an ill-fated attack on German ships.
"As we neared Trondheim I was stunned to see the battlecruiser Scharnhorst was surrounded by a heavy cruiser and four destroyers," he remembered. "It was painfully evident that the firepower from the six naval ships, plus the land batteries, was going to be immense. The tracer bullets commenced rising well before we were within striking distance".
Despite the heavy flak Filmer completed his attack, but was jumped by two Me 110 fighters. Outgunned and out-manoeuvred, he ditched his aircraft to save his wounded observer, Midshipman Tony McKee, landing wheels-up on the fjord where they were picked up by Norwegians in a small boat. En route to hospital Filmer and McKee planned their escape to Sweden, but they were taken prisoner and flown to Germany.
Cecil Howard Filmer, known as "Fairy", was born in South Africa in 1916, and in 1931 he joined the South African training ship General Botha. He was runner-up to the King's Gold Medallist for his term and appointed midshipman, RNR. After three years' apprenticeship with Houlder Brothers, a UK firm, he passed his 2nd mate's certificate and was sent to the destroyer Foresight.
He then transferred to permanent service, serving as a sub-lieutenant in the battleships Resolution and Ramillies. Aged 21, he was appointed navigator of the destroyer Grenade in the Mediterranean, and volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot, obtaining his wings in 1938.
Filmer spent five years as a prisoner of war, beginning in Dulag Luft, and delighted in making repeated escape attempts. Once he and five others jumped at night from a train travelling at about 25 mph, but were recaptured the next day. Another time he hid in the false bottom of a box filled with empty food tins and was carried out to a rubbish dump. While the guard was distracted, he slithered out and hid in a hut until darkness fell and walked away from the camp using the lights behind him as a navigation aid. After 10 days he reached the Danish border, where he was caught again.
He helped with the tunnel at Stalag Luft III for the Great Escape of April 1944, which led to 50 of the airmen who got away, including his Norwegian friend Halldor Espelid, being shot on Hitler's orders. Finally, with several thousand other PoWs, Filmer marched hundreds of miles, in freezing conditions, from southeast of Berlin to the port of Lübeck in order to avoid the advancing Russians. He was mentioned in dispatches for his good services while a prisoner of war.
After the war Filmer flew again with the Royal Navy but retired in 1958, returning to his first love, the merchant navy, and within 12 months he was master of a ship belonging to the King of Tonga.
Once, south of New Caledonia, his ship broke down, and being unwilling to be adrift in the hurricane season, Filmer made sails out of deck awnings and sailed 350 miles at four knots to a rendezvous with an Australian rescue tug. He continued for a further 16 years, based at Fiji, and sailing between Tahiti, Rarotonga, Honolulu and the Gilbert Islands, before retiring aged 69 to Durban.
"Fairy" Filmer, who died on July 15, never married. "Just as well," he said. "A wife would not have seen much of me over the years.