Imagine you are an RAF torpedo pilot in World War Two, sent on missions so dangerous that you're later likened to the Kamikaze. Suicide wasn't a recognised part of the objective for British airmen, yet some pilots felt they had accepted certain death just by climbing into their cockpits. There were times in 1942 when Arthur Aldridge felt like this. At the age of 19, this courageous young man had quit his studies at Oxford to volunteer for the RAF. He flew his Bristol Beaufort like there was no tomorrow - a realistic assumption, after seeing his best friend die in flames at the end of 1941.
Aldridge was awarded a DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) for his bravery on the same strike on a German cargo ship during which he lost a wing tip by flying too close to the deck. He was equally lucky to survive his squadron's chaotic torpedo attack on the giants of Hitler's maritime fleet during the notorious Channel Dash, which saw 40 RAF planes shot down. As 1942 wore on, and the stress became intolerable, Aldridge and his Cockney gunner Bill Carroll held their nerve, and 'Arty' was awarded a Bar to his DFC for sinking two enemy ships off Malta and rescuing a fellow pilot while wounded, as his own Beaufort took four shells. Malta was saved by the skin of its teeth, Rommel denied vital supplies in North Africa, and the course of the war was turned. Aldridge was still only 21 years old. Now both 91, but firm friends as ever, Aldridge and Carroll are two of the last torpedo airmen who deserve their place in history alongside our heroic Spitfire pilots. Their story vividly captures the comradeship that existed between men pushed by war to their very limit.
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