Captain George C Baldwin
(1921-2005), painted by Ralph Gillies-Cole 1980-1981.
The original hangs in the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.
From the Daily Telegraph of 17th December 2005
George Clifton Baldwin was
born on January 17 1921. After Sleaford and Hitchin Grammar Schools, he
joined the Navy to fly in 1939,
after the Inskip report had given control of the Fleet Air Arm back to the Royal Navy. He was sent to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich,
from where he traveled daily to Gravesend for flying lessons in Tiger Moth biplanes. He was awarded his wings in January 1940 and,
after deck landings practice in the carrier Argus off Hyeres in southern France, joined 801 Naval Air Squadron.
Captain George Baldwin, who has died aged 84, was a wartime hero and post-war pioneer of naval aviation.
Aged 21, in July 1942, Baldwin
become senior pilot of 807, the first naval air squadron to be equipped
with the unproven Seafire.
In October 1943 he took over the squadron, and when it was incorporated with three other squadrons the next year he took command
of the 4th Naval Fighter Wing.
The Seafire was a delicate
aircraft, which suffered more through accidents than from enemy action
- its undercarriage was prone to collapse,
or it would pitch forward and bend its propeller. In Baldwin's hands, however, it became a first-class fighter and Army support aircraft.
Flying from the fleet carrier
Furious during the Allied landings in North Africa, Baldwin was involved
in a vicious dogfight
with two Vichy French Dewoitine 520 fighters, and made the first air-to-air kill by a Seafire. 807 squadron Seafires shot down
two more Dw 520s and destroyed 20 aircraft on the ground.
In September 1943 Baldwin
embarked in the small escort carrier Battler as part of Force V under the
under the command of Admiral Philip Vian.
Force V was meant to cover the landings at Salerno on September 9 for a few days until major airfields were captured inland;
but the Germans resisted strongly, and when the American General Mark Clark signalled that "air conditions were critical".
Vian replied: "My carriers will stay here if we have to row back."
To make his aircraft fly
faster, Baldwin waxed the wings with furniture polish, removed the exhaust
manifolds, and had shipwrights
saw nine inches off the propeller blades. By September 12 he was operating from an improvised airstrip cut into a tomato field at Paestum;
it was within range of the enemy's guns, and he had to use flints to open the cowling for maintenance. Eventually, only 30 out of the 180
Seafires in Force V were serviceable, but on September 16 the Germans began to withdraw. In October Baldwin took command of 807 Squadron
and sent his less experienced pilots to practise dive-bombing against the retreating Germans.
In August 1944 his wing took
part in Operation Dragoon, the landings in southern France between St Raphael
Baldwin continued in command when 807 merged into the 4th Fighter Wing during Operations Outing, Cablegram and Contempt
against German forces in the Greek islands, and he was awarded a bar to the DSC he had won in 1941.
His wing was rested in Egypt
before re-embarking in the carriers Hunter and Stalker to join the East
He witnessed the Japanese surrender of Singapore, and by November 1945 he had reluctantly disbanded
one of the Navy's finest and most experienced flying formations.
During the Norway Campaign,
Baldwin's squadron embarked in the carrier Ark Royal, and he flew the Skua
the invading German forces. Baldwin continued operations against the Germans from Sumburgh and then, during the Blitzkrieg
against the Low Countries and France, from RAF Detling. He was promoted to acting sub-lieutenant in July 1940 and awarded his first DSC the following year.
In late 1945, after five
years' continuous flying operations, Baldwin accepted a permanent commission
in the Navy,
retaining his rank of acting lieutenant commander. In 1946-47 he qualified as an Empire Test Pilot before being appointed
to the Carrier Trials Unit in 1948, and, a year later, to the Central Flying School. In 1952 he commanded 800 Squadron,
where he introduced the Navy's first operational jet fighter, the Supermarine Attacker, embarking in the carrier Eagle.
In the same year he undertook the first trials of the British-designed angled-flight deck onboard the USN carrier Antietam,
and on June 19 1958, flying a USN Crusader, became one of the first British pilots to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight.
In 1958 Baldwin began a series
of successful staff appointments in Washington and at the Admiralty, and
a number of courses
including the Nato Senior Officers' Nuclear Weapons Course at Oberammergau, the Civil Defence Staff College at Sunningdale,
and the Imperial Defence College in London. Between these appointments he commanded the naval air stations
at Lossiemouth (1961-63) and Yeovilton (1966-68).
As Director of Naval Air
Warfare at the Ministry of Defence (1964-66), Baldwin strongly advocated
a new generation of large carriers
for the Navy and vigorously fought the Navy's corner with the Defence Secretary, Denis Healey. Baldwin was not selected for promotion to admiral,
and retired in 1968; he was appointed CBE. During his flying career he had flown 75 types of aircraft from single-engined biplanes to large jets.
Baldwin was a member of the
Press Council (1973-78) and of the Press Council Appointments Commission
from 1978 to 1990.
He was one of the founders of the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association (FAAOA), and wrote many letters to The Daily Telegraph
arguing for the Sea Harrier to be acquired for the Navy's through-deck cruisers.
He accepted the slight when
he was not invited, as chairman of the FAAOA, to the launch of the new
carrier Invincible at Barrow-in-Furness in 1976;
nonetheless, he drove to stand in the rain with the shipbuilders and the public, amongst whom he detected pride when the new carrier went down the slip.
George Baldwin died on November 11 2005. He married, in 1947, Hasle Mary McMahon, with whom he established a well-known toy shop in Chichester.
Edited April 2017:
Hasle baldwin died in 2014, leaving their three sons - Clive J Baldwin, Rodney J S Baldwin and Mark J Baldwin.
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