By Allan Williams
Last updated 2011-06-06
The RAF's most valuable pilot
Wing Commander Adrian Warburton, DSO and Bar, DFC and Two Bars, DFC (USA), was one of the most decorated pilots of World War Two. Lord Tedder, Marshall of the RAF, even described him as 'the most valuable pilot in the RAF'. Strangely, 'Warby' had been considered a below-average pilot while he was with 22 Squadron of Coastal Command, but after he was transferred to Malta, he developed a very considerable reputation for his photographic reconnaissance work at Taranto, Sicily and North Africa.
Although considered a law unto himself, uncontrollable and unpredictable, the fact that he always got his photographs, coupled with his skill, bravery and hard work, caused Warby's unconventional behaviour to be overlooked. With his girlfriend Christina, he became part of Malta's legend, a symbol of the island's resistance to the Axis powers. This photograph of Warby, taken in 1943 on the wing of a P-38 Lightning aeroplane, shows his typically unconventional dress.
After contributing greatly to the success of the Allied landings on Sicily in 1943, for which he was personally thanked by General Alexander, Warby commanded 336 Photo Reconnaissance Wing in North Africa. Then, following a serious car accident, he returned to the UK and began a liaison job with the US Photo Reconnaissance Groups - thanks to his friendship with Elliott Roosevelt, son of the US president.
Even though he had been grounded due to his injuries from the car accident, on 12 April 1944 Warby took off in a Lockheed F-5B (a variant of the P-38 Lightning) - he never returned from this flight, and there was no clue as to what had happened to him. By the time of his disappearance, however, he had flown over 350 operational photographic reconnaissance sorties.
After many years the site where he had crashed his plane was discovered, and after this, in May 2003, a military funeral was finally held for this legendary pilot.
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