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Group Captain Adolph “Sailor” Malan

Group Captain Adolph “Sailor” Malan


DSO and Bar, DFC, Legion d’Honneur Croix de Guerre (Fr) Croix de Guerre (Be), Military Cross (Cz) (March 24 1910 - September 17 1963).

Adolph Malan was born in Cape Province, South Africa and in 1924 joined the Merchant Marine. This early career was to earn him the epithet “Sailor” amongst his fellow pilots.

Malan joined the RAF in 1935 and joined 74 Squadron at Hornchurch in December 1936. At the time war was declared in 1939, Malan was a Pilot Officer and commanded 74 Squadron’s A Flight. Within hours of World War II Malan’s A flight were involved in the unfortunate Battle of Barking Creek, during which two Hurricanes of 56 squadron were shot down in a friendly fire incident, killing one of the pilots Montague Hulton-Harrop.

Following the fierce air battles over Dunkirk, Malan was awarded the DFC on June 28th 1940. The award ceremony took place at RAF Hornchurch and his DFC was presented to Malan, Robert Stanford Tuck, James Leatheart, Alan Deere and Jonny Allen, by King George VI.

Malan went on to command 74 Squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain . It was during the Battle of Britain that Malan abandoned some of the RAF’s outmoded doctrines including flying in a Vic formation of three aircraft in favour of the German Schwarm or Finger Four formation with a Tail end Charlie to cover the flight. Malan also developed his top ten Air Fighting rules at this time. Rules that still hold true to this day:

1) Wait until you see the whites of their eyes then fire short bursts when your sight is on them
2) Whilst shooting concentrate on nothing else and keep steady
3) Always keep a sharp look out
4) Height gives you the initiative
5) Always turn to face an attack
6) Make decisions promptly. Better to act quickly even f it is not the best tactic
7) Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in a combat area.
8) When diving to attack always leave some of your formation above to act as top cover.
9) Initiative, Aggression, Discipline and Team Work!
10) Get in quick, hit hard, get out!

Malan was a strict disciplinarian but honed 74 Squadron into a superb air fighting unit during his tenure as its commander. At the end of the Battle of Britain Malan was himself a leading ace with 27 confirmed victories and a share in seven others with another three probable and two unconfirmed victories and at least a further sixteen damaged.

In early 1941 Malan was promoted to Wing Commander and given command of the fighter wing at Biggin Hill from where he commanded offensive sweeps over France. Later in 1941 he was promoted to Group Captain and became Biggin Hill’s Commander. In 1943 he went on to command the 19th fighter Wing before being given command of the 145th “Free French” Fighter Wing in 1944.

Malan retired from the RAF in 1946 and returned to his native South Africa where he became a leading figure in opposing the implementation of Apartheid rule by South Africa’s National Party.



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