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AIRCDRE Peter Malam Brothers


Squadron/s457 SQN
Rank On Discharge/Death Air Commodore (AIRCDRE)
Date of Birth30 Sep 1917
Date of Death18 Dec 2008
Contributing Author/sThe Spitfire Association

Peter Malam Brothers was born at Prestwich on September 30 1917 and educated at North Manchester School, a branch of Manchester Grammar School. When he was 16, and still at school, he learnt to fly at the Lancashire Aero Club and gained his civil pilot's "A" licence. He joined the RAF in 1936, trained as a pilot and joined No 32 Squadron at the end of the year to fly Gauntlet biplane fighters.

Pete Brothers flew throughout the Battle of Britain and was one of the RAF's most distinguished fighter pilots, credited with destroying at least 16 enemy aircraft.

He was 'B' Flight flight commander in No 32 Squadron and had been blooded in May 1940 during the hectic, and often chaotic, fighting during the Battle of France, when he downed two enemy fighters in the final days of the Blitzkrieg.

As the Battle of Britain opened in July 1940, the squadron was operating Hurricanes from Biggin Hill and was soon involved in furious fighting. Flying three, sometimes four, times a day, Brothers shot down seven fighters and a bomber over Kent before the end of August, going on to achieve 'acedom' with 12 aerial victories during the Battle of Britain.

On one occasion he returned home after a particularly difficult day to learn from his wife that a bomb splinter had come through an open window and shattered the mirror as she was applying her make-up. Years later he observed: "It was then that I decided the war had become personal."

Leading his flight of eight aircraft during one patrol, he encountered around 100 enemy bombers. He dived to attack them, but before he could open fire he was engaged by a number of Messerschmitt fighters. Despite being heavily outnumbered he was able to break away and close on a bomber, which he shot down. Later in the day, on a second sortie, he shot down a fighter.

In order to relax as he was returning from combat, Pete would open the cockpit canopy and light up a cigarette. After a particularly exhausting day in late August, he woke the following morning to discover that a line of bomb craters crossed the officers' mess lawn a few yards from his bedroom and that there were many spent anti-aircraft shells scattered around the base. He had heard nothing.

By the end of August No 32 Squadron was reduced to eight pilots and was rested. Pete was sent to No 257 Squadron as a flight commander. It had also suffered heavy losses and morale was very low.

Pete flew in the great air battles over France and Dunkirk. During the Battle of Britain he flew with Squadron Leader Bob Stanford Tuck at 257 Squadron. Between them they helped to restore the confidence of the inexperienced pilots. When he and his wingman jointly destroyed a bomber Pete would not claim the victory for himself but insist that it was the work of his inexperienced colleague. On September 15, two days after he had been awarded a DFC, at the climax of the battle, Pete shot down two bombers over London.

After the Battle of Britain, he trained as a flying instructor and on promotion to Squadron Leader, formed and commanded No 457 (RAAF) Squadron in mid-1941, flying Spitfires in the Kenley Wing. On March 26 1942 he shot down a Messerschmitt BF 109, and a month later probably downed another enemy fighter. In June, when 457 Squadron returned to Australia he was given command of No 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron , leading it during the ill-fated Dieppe raid in August. His pilots destroyed five enemy aircraft and he himself claimed a fighter. One of his pilots was forced to bail out over the sea, and Pete orbited his dinghy until rescue arrived.

By now he had been identified as one of the RAF's outstanding fighter pilots, and was promoted to Wing Commander to lead the Tangmere Wing of three Spitfire squadrons. He took them on sweeps deep into France as the RAF took the offensive to the Luftwaffe. During one of these operations, on January 26 1943, he shot down a Focke Wulf 190 and in June he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and rested from operations.

In 1944 Pete took command of the Exeter Wing and then the Culmhead Wing, ideally placed to support the coming invasion of Normandy. He lead his six squadrons on attacks against transportation targets and enemy airfields on the Brest Peninsula and in Normandy. Heavily involved in the lead-up to the Allied invasion in June 1944, his squadrons operated in support of the beachhead. Then the Culmhead Spitfire Wing flew constant armed "Rhubarb" attacks in support of the invasion from D-Day - June 6 1944 - till the first improvised strips were established in France a few weeks following the invasion.

On August 7 he achieved his sixteenth and final success when he shot down a Focke Wulf 190 over the River Loire. Later he wrote of this period:

"With great excitement we participated in the invasion of Europe, sweeping over the beaches and deep into France, top dogs now, hammering the enemy in the air and on the ground."

He was awarded a DSO for his "courage and brilliant leadership" , and after taking a staff course in the United States, he served at the Central Fighter Establishment. Despite his outstanding war record, he was not offered a permanent commission in the peacetime RAF, and so in 1947 he left to join the Colonial Service.

Only two years as a district officer in Kenya, however, convinced him that this was not the life he wanted, and in 1949 he rejoined the RAF.

To his surprise, Pete was posted to command a Lincoln bomber squadron, No 57. He flew operations during the Malayan Emergency, his being the first bomber squadron to participate in the campaign.

After attending the Staff College and serving at the headquarters of Fighter Command, he was appointed wing commander (flying) at Marham in Norfolk, where he flew the Valiant V-bomber. As a group captain he served in the plans division at Shape headquarters in Paris. On promotion to air commodore he commanded the headquarters of the Military Air Traffic Organisation.

In 1968 Brothers embarked on a five-year appointment as the RAF's director of public relations. This job was particularly demanding, and involved guiding and advising defence correspondents during the Cold War, when national security was paramount.

His success in winning the respect of the press and other media was due in part to his war record; but he was also an outstanding communicator, and his fine sense of humour, often directed at himself, helped him negotiate many difficult situations.

In 1964 he was appointed CBE. After leaving the RAF in 1973, he formed Peter Brothers Consultants, finally retiring in 1986.

Brothers was made a Freeman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators in 1966 and was a member of its technical committee and of its court. He was elected Master of the Guild in 1973-74. He gave great support to the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, being appointed its deputy chairman in 1993 and taking over as chairman 10 years later. Brothers quickly brought his delightful sense of fun to the running of the association and led by example, attending a multitude of Battle of Britain commemorative events.

He was a great supporter of the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and campaigned for the monument on the Thames Embankment. He was also patron of the Spitfire Association of Australia and president of his local branch of the Air Crew Association at Hungerford, Berkshire. When it was announced that RAF Bentley Priory, Fighter Command's headquarters during the Battle of Britain, was to close in 2008, he strongly supported the campaign to save the historic building, insisting: "This is our [the RAF's] home, as HMS Victory is for the Navy."

An inveterate cigar smoker and a connoisseur of malt whisky, Brothers was a keen golfer, sailor and fisherman, and a great raconteur.

Pete Brothers died on December 18 2008. He married, in 1939, Annette Wilson, who died in 2005. Their two daughters survived him.

Back From Normandy Mk IX Spitfires of 126 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Pete Brothers, race back to RAF Culmhead after a low-level attack on enemy transport in Normandy, June 1944 [Artwork of Nicolas Trudgian]

Three of The Few photographed at Memorial Day 2006(left to right), Wing Commander Bob Foster, DFC, AE, Air Commodore "Pete" Brothers, CBE, DSO, DFC and Squadron Leader "Bam" Bamberger, DFC, AE. Sadly "Pete" and "Bam" both died in 2008.

Learn more about the squadron/s in which Peter served.

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