Squadron Leader Tony Gaze

Squadron Leader F.A.O Tony Gaze OAM DFC and 2 Bars is a very distinguished, although largely unsung Australian, who was not only an Ace Fighter Pilot flying Spitfires throughout World War II, but who also was a well known and successful racing driver in the U.K, Europe and Australia in the years following the war.

Frederick Anthony Owen “Tony” Gaze was born on the 3rd February 1920 in Melbourne to Irvin and Freda Gaze. Irvin and Freda had both served in the First World War (1914-1918), Irvin as a pilot with 48Squadron Royal Flying Corps flying Bristol Fighters over the Western Front, and Freda as a driver with the Royal Flying Corps in England.

Wartime Spitfire Pilot.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Tony who was then already in England as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, immediately joined the Royal Air Force to train as a pilot. His younger brother Scott also became an RAF Spitfire pilot, but unfortunately he was killed on the 23rd March 1941 two months after his 19th birthday having been with his Squadron for only two weeks.

Tony graduated from No.5 Service Flying Training School on the 8th January, 1941 with just under 122 hours flying time recorded in his Pilot’s Log Book. After a short period with 57 Operational Training Unit at RAF Hawarden, he was posted to 610 [Spitfire] Squadron at RAF Westhampnett, which was then one of the squadrons comprising the Tangmere Fighter Wing. Tony flew Spitfires almost exclusively for the rest of the war, sometimes flying alongside such legendary Fighter Ace’s as Johnnie Johnson and Douglas Bader.

RAF Westhampnett is situated in West Sussex, England on land owned by the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon for over 300 years. The land for the airfield was donated by the family to assist the war effort. When not flying, Tony and fellow pilots enjoyed racing their sports cars around the perimeter track of the airfield, and indeed after the war, Tony suggested to ‘Freddie’ March, the then incumbent Duke, that Westhampnett could fill the void left by the closure of Brooklands to become the premier motor racing circuit, at that time, in southern England.  It is better known today as ‘Goodwood’.

Tony won his first Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for shooting down 2 Messerschmitt 109’s, while flying a Spitfire IIB, DW-G, with 610 Squadron during a dog fight on the 10th July 1941.

In June 1942 Tony was posted to 616 Squadron in Northamptonshire, as Flight Commander ‘B’ Flight, at the same time that the famous ‘Johnnie’ Johnson was commanding ‘A’ Flight. At that time the squadron was equipped with the high altitude Spitfire Mk.VI, which had been developed to counter enemy high altitude bombers and reconnaissance planes. Tony flew with 616 Squadron until the 29th August 1942, by which time he had 4 enemy planes destroyed and one probable.

Tony was subsequently promoted to Squadron Leader and became Commanding Officer of 64 Squadron RAF.

Shortly afterwards when leading a Wing of Spitfires over the Bay of Biscay that included Spitfires from the American Eagle Squadron RAF, an unfortunate incident occurred that afterwards weighed heavily in Tony’s mind for some time. Due mainly to bad weather and incorrect meteorological forecasting prior to take off, a number of the Eagle Squadron aircraft were subsequently lost, owing to some pilots mistaking the port of Brest in France for Plymouth [on the Devonshire coast of England].This resulted in the loss of several valuable pilots and aircraft either shot down or crashing having run out of fuel.  The remainder of the Wing comprising Tony’s 64 Squadron aircraft and a Canadian Squadron reached English shores safely although 3 of the Canadian Spitfires did fail to return. The Inquiry that followed concluded that this unfortunate event was the result of many contributing factors, especially the weather and the inexperience of some pilots. Such are the fortunes of war.”

After serving briefly with 453 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force based at Hornchurch, Tony was then posted to 66 Squadron at RAF Kenley as commander of ‘A’ flight.  On the morning of the 4th September 1943, flying Spitfire Mk V, LZ-A, with 66 Squadron, on fighter escort duty for Boston bombers raiding Amiens, a dogfight took place with enemy Focke Wulf 190’s. After shooting down one FW190, Tony was chased by other FW190’s from the German Squadron, Staffel JG26.  In the ensuing fight, Tony damaged another FW 190 and being then pursued by a further six FW190’s, he requested help from the rest of the Squadron while at the same time trying to  turn and face these enemy fighters. Unfortunately his aircraft was critically damaged by enemy fire and he was forced to crash land at speed with the Spitfire’s wheels still up, near the town of Le Treport in enemy occupied France.  Gerhard Vogt of II/JG26 Staffel, [who by the time he was killed in 1945 Vogt had been credited with 48 victories and was a recipient of the Knight’s Cross], claimed the victory.

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Having been shot down, and with nasty head and facial wounds Tony found himself in enemy occupied France facing capture by the Germans and internment as a prisoner of war. Fortunately he was instead picked up by the local French Resistance and then embarked on a dangerous and difficult journey being smuggled through occupied France and over the Pyrenees into Spain. Once there he managed to gain entry into the British Consulate at Barcelona, and was once again a free man. From there he was transferred to Gibralter and thence flown back to England in a RAF Dakota. By the time he was safely back in England, Tony had been away 2 days short of 8 weeks.

Following a short period of rest and recuperation and some other postings, Tony then re-joined 610 Squadron flying Spitfires from bases in England and later in Belgium, Holland and Germany as the Allied invasion of Europe progressed. Interestingly, Tony was also credited with becoming the first allied airman to land back on European soil (St Croix-Sur-Mer, France) after D-Day on the 10th June, 1944.

On the Saint Valentines day 1945, while flying Spitfire XIV DW-F, Tony became the first Australian pilot to shoot down a German Messerschmitt Me262 jet. Here follows Tony’s Combat Report for that day, the 14th February 1945:-

“On 14/2/45 I was leading Wavey Black section of two aircraft on standing patrol over NIJMEGEN. At about 1630 hours I sighted an Arado 234 pulling up from attacking the CLEVE area. I dropped my tank and attempted to intercept but despite the fact that I cut the corner it pulled away easily at 7,000 ft. After this we continually chased Arados over this area. I fired at two without result. At about 1700 hours when it was apparent that the jets were diving down through the cloud which was from 9 – 11,000 ft. I climbed up through it, leaving Black 2 below, hoping to warn him when they dived. Then I did an orbit at 13,000 ft. to clear off the ice on the windscreen and sighted 3 M.E. 262?s in Vic formation passing below me at cloud top level. I dived down behind them and closed in, crossing behind the formation and attacked the port aircraft which was lagging slightly. I could not see my sight properly as we were flying straight into the sun, but fired from dead astern, at a range of 350 yards, hitting it in the starboard jet with the second burst; at which the other 2 aircraft immediately dived into cloud. It pulled up slowly and turned to starboard and I fired obtaining more strikes on fuselage and jet which caught fire. The enemy rolled over on to its back and dived through cloud. I turned 180 and dived after it, calling on the R/T to warn my no.2; on breaking cloud I saw an aircraft hit the ground and explode about a mile ahead of me, at E.9859. I claim this M.E.262 destroyed. Black 2 also witnessed this explosion.

The Messerschmitt ME262A-2 of I./KG51 was flown by Fw. Rudolf Hoffmann (500642 9K + CL).

Later Tony transferred to 41 Squadron where he had another 4 victories which included another record when he shot down a German ARADO Ar234 jet.  His combat report from the 12th April, 1945 reads:-

“I was leading Red section of four aircraft on a patrol DELMONHORST – VERDEN. At about 1700 hours Red 2 sighted an aircraft which I identified as an ARADO 234 and chased, managing to drop my tank. The E/A which was flying South turned North and I cut the corner closing to 800 yds. I opened fire and got strikes on fuselage and starboard wing. I continued firing closing slowly and more strikes were followed by the starboard jet catching fire. I closed to 100 yds and broke away as the E/A flicked inverted after some wild jinking. It spun violently down flicking one way and then another and I last saw it disappear in the haze inverted at about 1,000 ft. Red 3 saw it recover at 300 ft and finished it off.  I claim one ARADO 234 destroyed shared with F/Lt D. V. Rake.”

Being later posted to 616 Squadron RAF, Tony became the first Australian fighter pilot to fly the new Meteor III jet operationally.  During the last days of the war and just prior to the Unconditional German Surrender, Tony flew his Meteor to a stretch of autobahn where it was known Me 262’s were parked, and landed there to meet with the German pilots. After looking over each other’s aircraft, Tony flew back to his base having declined an invitation from the German pilots to attend a party being held that night.

Tony Gaze finished the war a double-Ace with 11 destroys and 3 shared, including an Me262 and Arado 234, 4 probables and one V1. He was the first Australian to destroy an enemy jet in combat and the first Australian to fly a jet in combat. He has the rare distinction of being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times (DFC with 2 bars) which only 48 people have received in its history.

Post-War Career as a Racing Driver.

After the war in 1948 Freddie March [The Earl of Richmond] opened the ‘Goodwood’ circuit with an event organised by the Junior Car Club of Great Britain.  Freddie had acted upon Tony’s suggestion of some two years before, that the perimeter tracks of RAF Westhampnett would make an ideal motor racing circuit. The track of the ex RAF Fighter Station, opened its gates on the 18th September 1948 to host Britain’s very first post-war motor race meeting at a permanent venue with the young Stirling Moss taking out the 500cc race (Formula 3), while P. de F. C. Pycroft won the main race of the day.

In 1949 Tony married Catherine (Kay) Wakefield who was the widow of British racing driver and fighter pilot Johnny Wakefield, who had died in a crash during wartime service.  They resided at Caradoc Court, an English country estate at Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, on the English-Welsh border.

Tony Gaze returned to Australia in the late 1940’s to race a pre-war Alta at various venues around the country. He then returned to Britain to race one of Geoffrey Taylor’s Alta F2 cars in 1951.  In 1952 he bought a HWM-Alta and competed in the Belgian, British and German Grand Prix and become the first Australian to take part in the official Grand Prix circuit.

Tony standing beside Alberto Ascari [left] at the driver briefing prior to the 1952 Belgium Grand Prix

Tony took part in the 1954 and 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix’s at Ardmore in his Ferrari 500 (the ex-Ascari car now housed at Donnington museum). In the 1955 New Zealand Grand Prix, he came in third, behind Peter Whitehead and Prince Bira.  That same year saw Tony launch the ‘Kangaroo Stable’, which was the first Australian International race team.  The stable consisted of three Aston Martin DB3S cars and included such drivers as David McKay, Les Cosh, Tom Sulman, Dick Cobden and Tony Gaze.  Jack Brabham made his international racing debut as a member of this august group. However due to an unrelated incident at the Le Mans circuit in France, Sports Car racing became less popular, so after only one year the Kangaroo Stable was disbanded and instead Tony concentrated on racing ‘open wheeler’ cars. In 1956 Tony ran second to Stirling Moss in the New Zealand Grand Prix.

Later, and after a chance conversation with Prince Bira in New Zealand, Tony decided to take up the sport of Gliding, and he went on to represent Australia in the World Gliding Championship held in Germany in 1960. Tony retired from competitive sports after the passing of his first wife Kay, and he later married long time friend Diana Davision, widow of Australia’s larger than life racing legend Lex Davison. Lex had won the Australian Grand Prix four times, and had won his class at the 1960 Armstrong 500 at Bathurst. He also won the 1961 Aintree GP in England as well as competing in the 1961 24 hours Le Mans with Bib Stilwell in an Aston Martin DB4GT Zagato. In 1965 Lex suffered a heart attack while at the wheel, causing him to fatally crash into the Dunlop Bridge during practice for the International 100 race at Sandown International Raceway in Victoria.

After Lex’s passing, Diana managed and ran the Davison family business, Paragon Shoes. Diana was also an accomplished racing driver in her own right, often competing at race meetings and hill-climbs in her Alfa or MGTC. After her racing days, Diana was much involved in charity work, co-founding ‘The Buoyancy Foundation’, which was the first drug counselling service to be established in Victoria. She was also an Honorary Life Member of the National Gallery of Victoria Women’s Association.

Tony and Diana were for years one of the most well known and respected couples in the historic motor racing community. Sadly Diana Gaze passed away at home with Tony and her family by her side on Sunday 5th August 2012. As has already been stated in her Obituary she led a distinguished and active life and will be greatly missed by her family and all who knew her.

Their grand children Alex and Will Davison proudly carry on the family tradition, with their successful V8 Supercar Racing careers.

In January 2006 Tony was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), in recognition of his outstanding achievements and service to the Commonwealth. His extraordinary life both as an Ace RAF Fighter Pilot in WWII, and later as a successful Grand Prix Racing Driver, indeed mark him as a most remarkable and outstanding Australian.


Squadron Leader F.A.O. [Tony] Gaze, OAM, DFC and 2 Bars.

Tony passed away peacefully in the early hours of Monday morning the 29th July, 2013 at Geelong, Victoria. He was 93 years old.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the Gaze and Davison families.

Australia has lost an exceptional man, the likes of which come along but rarely.[/teaser]

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