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Air Commodore J H Chaplin (36053)


John Hugh                    b: 18 Jun 1911                      r: 3 Mar 1960                     d: 16 Jul 2002

DSO – 30 Jun 1942, DFC – 20 Feb 1940, AFC (G) – 29 Dec 1942, BA.  

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

Plt Off: 3 Mar 1936 [3 Jun 1934], Fg Off: 3 Sep 1936 [3 Dec 1935], Flt Lt: 3 Sep 1938 [3 Dec 1937], Sqn Ldr: 1 Jun 1939, (T) Wg Cdr: 1 Jun 1941, Act Gp Capt: 25 Aug 1943?, Wg Cdr (WS): 25 Feb 1944, Wg Cdr: 1 Oct 1946, Gp Capt: 1 Jan 1951, Act A/Cdre: 16 Nov 1958, A/Cdre: Retained.

 3 Mar 1936:           Granted a Permanent Commission in the rank of Pilot Officer.

 3 Mar 1936:           U/T Pilot, No 5 FTS.

xx xxx xxxx:             Attended Flying Boat Pilots Course.?

 4 Jun 1937:             Pilot, No 201 Sqn. 

20 Feb 1938:           Test pilot, M.A.E.E.

xx xxx 1939:             Officer Commanding, Anti-Magnetic Mine Unit/ No 1 GRU

xx Jun 1941:             Officer Commanding RAF Gaza.

21 Oct 1941:           Officer Commanding, No 38 Sqn. (Wellington Ic/VIII)  

Mar - Apr 1942:      Recuperating

xx Jun 1942:            Officer Commanding, No 38 Sqn. 

13 Jun 1942:            Attended Course No 7, Middle East Staff School, Haifa.

 7 Nov 1942:            Air Staff, HQ No 201 (Naval Co-operation) Group.

xx Jun 1943:              Officer Commanding, No 247 Wing.

xx Dec 1943:            Officer Commanding, RAF Oban.

xx Oct 1944:             Toured US Staff Colleges

xx xxx xxxx:              Directing Staff, Army Staff College, Camberley

xx xxx 1948:             Operations Staff, RAF Wunstorf

xx xx 1949:               Officer Commanding RAF Abingdon.

19 Apr 1951:            Officer Commanding, RAF Gutersloh.

xx xxx 1953:             Officer Commanding, RAF Wahn   

xx xxx 1955:             Air Staff, Directorate of Air Transport?

20 Nov 1956:            Air Adviser to UK High Commissioner to India.  

Born in Cambridge, his father was killed in the Great War, when he was six.  After attending Eastbourne College, he read Theology and English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and following graduation, he undertook a motoring tour of the United States.  Returning to Britain, he went back to Cambridge to study law as a  post-graduate student and the following year he joined the solicitors, Slaughter and May.  However, after visiting Germany, he decided war was inevitable and joined the RAF in 1936.  Graduating from No 5 FTS at Sealand, he converted to flying boats and was posted to No 201 Squadron at Calshot, which was then equipped with London Is.  The following year he was posted to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe.

At the beginning of the war the Germans began to use one of their early secret weapons, the Magnetic Mine.  Once the Royal Navy had discovered its secrets, it was possible to develop counter measures.  One of the first was to equip a Wellington with a large diameter electro-magnet and to fly it low over the sea to detonate these mines.  Once the principle had been devised, Chaplin was place din command of the unit tasked to operate these aircraft.  The first anti-mining mission was flown with Squadron Leader 'Bruin' Purvis piloting and Chaplin manning the generator in the rear.  On 13 January 1940, a mine exploded under the aircraft, blowing out a hatch, which rendered Chaplin unconscious and this was by no means the only incident during these operations. 

Wellington DWI, the type flown by John Chaplin to counter the menace of the magnetic mines.

Once other methods had been devised of protecting shipping from these mines, his unit was sent to the Middle East to help clear the Suez Canal.  He assumed command of RAF Gaza in Palestine in June 1941 and was now responsible for training 2,000 Greek airmen, but in October he returned to operations in command of No 38 Squadron flying Wellingtons in the bomber role from Shallufa in Egypt.  During his time with the squadron, he converted it to the torpedo dropping role.  On the night of 9/10 March 1942, whilst on a positioning flight, his aircraft (Wellington IC - Z9099, 'C') was attacked by Bf 109s over the Western Desert,  he managed to make a safe forced landing but he was wounded and his second pilot was killed when he was thrown from the aircraft. Another member of the crew was also killed during the landing but fortunately despite carrying two torpedoes, the aircraft did not explode.  Crawling from the wreck, he and the other members of the crew set ff to walk back to the Allied lines, eventually being met by British soldiers in a Jeep, almost being shot, as result of being suspected of being German, until he was able to convince the soldiers of his real nationality.

Following recuperation, he briefly returned to No 38 Squadron and on 3/4 June 1942, he led an attack on a 30,000 ton freighter and despite heavy resistance, his force of seven Wellingtons sank the vessel.  Ten days later he left to attend the RAF Staff College at Haifa.  Successfully completing the staff course, he was posted to HQ No 201 Group in Alexandria, where he remained until June 1943, when he was given command of No 247 Wing at Benghazi.  In December he returned to the UK and assumed command of RAF Oban in Scotland. With the D-Day landings over, he was sent to the USA in October 1944 to visit the various Military Staff Colleges and on his return he joined the directing staff of the Army Staff College at Camberley in Surrey.

On leaving the Staff College, he joined Transport Command, in time to take part in the Berlin Airlift by supervising operations from RAF Wunsdorf as well as flying aircraft intro Berlin itself.  The following year he took command of RAF Abingdon and then in 1951, RAF Gutersloh.  Command of RAF Wahn followed in 1953 and in 1955, he returned to the Air Ministry, again in the field of transport.  His final appointment was as Air Adviser to Malcolm Macdonald, High Commissioner in New Delhi.  Prior to retirement from the RAF, he joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as an Information Officer.  In 1969 he became First Secretary in the FCO's Cultural Relations Department. He retired from this post in 1971 but immediately rejoined as a disestablished officer, working in the FCO Library and Records Department until 1990, when he retiredagain at the age of 79.

Citation for the award of the Distinguished Service Order

“Wing Commander John Hugh CHAPLIN, D.F.C. (36053), No.38 Squadron.

One night in June, 1942, Wing Commander Chaplin led a force of 7 aircraft to attack a large enemy vessel escorted by 3 destroyers.  Despite the most intense fire from all the vessels he pressed home the attack from point blank range.  The ship was hit and later reports confirmed that it had been sunk.  Wing Commander Chaplin has led a considerable number of  attacks against enemy shipping in the Mediterranean and has set a  magnificent example by his courage, enthusiasm arid fine leadership.”

(London Gazette – 30 June 1942)

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