Alexander Pentland: Wikis


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  • after engaging ten German fighters single-handed on 16 August 1917, Alexander Pentland (pictured) found that four bullets had penetrated his flying suit without injuring him?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland
5 August 1894 – 4 November 1983 (aged 89)
Informal portrait of man in light-coloured military uniform with wide-brimmed hat, crouching on one knee
Squadron Leader Pentland in New Guinea, c. 1943
Nickname "Jerry"
Place of birth Maitland, New South Wales
Place of death Collaroy, New South Wales
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Australia Commonwealth of Australia
Service/branch Australian Imperial Force
Royal Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1915–1918
Rank Squadron Leader
Unit 12th Light Horse (1915–16)
No. 19 Squadron RFC (1916–17)
No. 87 Squadron RAF (1918)
Commands held No. 1 Rescue and Communication Flight (1942–43)
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Military Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Force Cross
Other work Businessman, pilot, instructor

Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland MC, DFC, AFC (5 August 1884 – c. 4 November 1983) was an Australian fighter ace in World War I. Born in Maitland, New South Wales, he commenced service as a Lighthorseman with the Australian Imperial Force in 1915, and saw action at Gallipoli. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps the following year, attaining the rank of Captain. Credited with twenty-three aerial victories, Pentland became the fifth highest-scoring Australian ace of the war, after Robert Little, Roderic Dallas, Harry Cobby and Elwyn King. He was awarded the Military Cross in January 1918 for "Conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty" on a mission attacking an aerodrome behind enemy lines, and the Distinguished Flying Cross that August for engaging four hostile aircraft single-handedly.

Pentland served in the fledgling Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and later the Royal Air Force, during the 1920s before going into business, where his ventures including commercial flying around the goldfields of New Guinea, aircraft design and manufacture, flight instruction, and charter work. In the early 1930s, he was employed as a pilot with Australian National Airways, and also spent time as a dairy farmer. Soon after the outbreak of World War II, he re-enlisted in the RAAF, attaining the rank of Squadron Leader and commanding rescue and communications units in the South West Pacific. Perhaps the oldest operational pilot in the wartime RAAF, Pentland was responsible for rescuing a number of airmen, soldiers and civilians, and earned the Air Force Cross for his "outstanding courage, initiative and skill". He became a trader in New Guinea when the war ended in 1945, and later a coffee planter. Retiring in 1959, he died in 1983 at the age of eighty-nine.


Early life

Of Irish ancestry, Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland (nicknamed "Jerry") was born in Maitland, New South Wales on 5 August 1894.[1][2] Educated at the King's School, Sydney, and Brighton Grammar, Melbourne, he went on to study dairy farming at Hawkesbury Agricultural College, and later worked as a jackaroo.[2][3] His father, also named Alexander, was a physician who joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War I and served as a Major in the Australian Army Medical Corps.[3][4]

World War I

Pentland enlisted as a private in the AIF on 5 March 1915, sailing for Egypt with the 12th Light Horse Regiment aboard HMAT A29 Suevic on 13 June.[1][4] He fought at Gallipoli as a machine gunner before being evacuated to England in December, suffering from typhoid fever.[5][6] Determined to leave the trenches behind after recovering, he volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps and was discharged from the AIF on 21 February 1916 to take up his commission as a temporary Second Lieutenant.[7][4] After completing pilot training, he was posted to France in June, flying B.E.2s with No. 16 Squadron. Though the slow and vulnerable B.E.2 was considered "Fokker fodder" by its crews, Pentland and his observer quickly managed to score the former's first aerial victory, bringing down a German Eindecker over Habourdin on 9 June.[1][8] He was then posted to No. 29 Squadron and was converting to DH.2s when he broke his leg playing rugby. After recovering, he instructed at London Colney until June 1917, when he joined No. 19 Squadron, flying SPAD S.VIIs. This would become Pentland's favourite type due to its strength and manouverablilty, even though it had to 'flown' constantly and was unforgiving at low speed.[5][8]

Military biplane parked on airfield
SPAD S.VII of the Royal Flying Corps

On 20 July, soon after arriving at his new unit, Pentland achieved his first victory in the SPAD when he shared in the destruction of an Albatros two-seater. He followed this up with a solo "kill" on 12 August.[8] Four days later, after stopping an enemy convey in its tracks by crippling its lead vehicle with machine-gun fire, he reportedly engaged ten Albatros fighters single-handedly; by the time he had driven them off, four bullets had penetrated his leather flying suit without injuring him, while his plane had absorbed so much punishment that it had to be scrapped when he got back to base.[5][8] After sharing another Albatros two-seater on 20 August, Pentland led a raid on Marcke aerodrome, home of Baron Von Richtofen's Jasta 11, on 26 August. On the way, he helped bring down a DFW C.V, then achieved complete surprise at the airfield, which he and his flight proceeded to shoot up. On the return journey, he strafed an enemy train until his guns jammed and then, having managed to clear them, engaged two more German scouts. His part in the raid earned him the Military Cross, which was promulgated in The London Gazette on 9 January 1918, reading:[8][9]

T./2nd Lt. Alexander Augustus Norman Pentland, Gen. List and R.F.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On a recent occasion he flew to an aerodrome fifteen miles behind the enemy lines, descended to within twenty feet of the ground, and fired into eight hostile machines. On his return journey he attacked a train with considerable effect from a low altitude. He has in addition brought down several enemy machines, and has always set a splendid example of fearlessness and devotion to duty in attacking enemy balloons and troops on the ground.

Portrait of moustachioed man in military uniform with pilot's wings on chest
Captain Pentland, 1918

Credited with one more victory during August, and another four the following month, Pentland's score stood at ten when he was injured on 26 September after an artillary shell struck his SPAD and forced him to crash land. Following his recovery, he again spent time instructing before being posted back to a front-line unit, this time No. 87 Squadron, operating Sopwith Dolphins.[5][8] Appointed commander of 'B' Flight, he frequently acted as a "lone wolf", actively seeking dogfights with enemy aircraft. Transferred along with the rest of the RFC to the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF) in April 1918, Pentland went on to achieve thirteen victories with No. 87 Squadron. His aggressive tactics saw him dubbed the "Wild Australian" by colleagues and earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross,[5][10] gazetted on 3 August:[11]

Lt. (T./Capt.) Alexander Augustus Norman Pentland, M.C.

A gallant flight commander, who in the last three months has destroyed two enemy machines and driven down four out of control. Recently, whilst on special patrol, he, single-handed, attacked four enemy aeroplanes; having driven down one out of control, he engaged the leader, damaged his engine, and compelled him to glide to his lines. One of the remaining machines followed the leader, but he attacked the other and drove it down in a steep dive.

On 25 August, Pentland attacked and destroyed two German planes, a DFW two-seater and Fokker D.VII, before himself being shot down and wounded in the foot.[1] These would be his last victories of the war; his grand total of twenty-three included eleven destroyed, one of which was shared, and twelve out of control, three of them shared.[10][12]

Between the wars

Pentland relinquished his RAF commission and returned to Australia at the end of the war, earning money by giving joyrides to paying customers in an Avro 504K. Looking for a more secure future, he joined the newly established Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in August 1921, following an interview with Wing Commander Stanley Goble, a wartime acquaintance through the RAF. Ranked Flight Lieutenant, Pentland was put in charge of the RAAF's complement of S.E.5 fighters at Point Cook, Victoria, part of the 'Imperial Gift' recently donated by Great Britain.[5][13] Though the fledgling Air Force had the air of a flying club, where everyone knew everyone else, tensions sometimes arose between those who had served with British forces during war, and those who had belonged to the Australian Flying Corps (AFC); the former considered that they were discriminated against when it came to filling senior positions, and came the day Pentland and fellow ex-RAF member Hippolyte De La Rue threw an "uppity" AFC man into a mess fireplace.[14] Deciding that his RAAF career was not progressing, Pentland applied for a short-service commission as a Flying Officer with the RAF in 1923, which was granted as of 23 April.[15][16] He journeyed to Britain with new wife Madge, whom he had married just before departing Australia; they had one daughter, Carleen, the following year.[15] Pentland completed the course at Central Flying School, Uphavon and became an instructor there, gaining promotion to Flight Lieutenant before leaving active service with the RAF on 20 July 1926 and returning to Australia.[17][18]

Single-engined biplane on floats, parked on the water with two boys in foreground
One of the DH.60 Moths operated by Jerry Pentland between the wars, c. 1929

In 1927, Pentland formed Mandated Territory Airways with entrepreneur Albert Royal to fly freight to and from the gold fields of New Guinea. The pair bought a DH.60 Moth biplane, which Pentland ferried to the firm's base at Lae in February 1928.[19] The business prospered in the short term, to the extent that the partners took on another Moth and more pilots. By the end of the year, however, Pentland was suffering from malaria and had to abandon the venture, selling one of the planes to Guinea Airways and returning to Australia with the other.[20] After recovering in the new year, he embarked on a series of new enterprises, including aircraft manufacture, a flying school, and charter work. In February 1929, he formed the General Aircraft Company with Royal and another partner to produce an Australian-designed aeroplane, the Genairco, of which eight were eventually sold. With the Moth from Mandated Territory Airways, he established Pentland's Flying School at Mascot. He also flew charters with a Moth owned by The Sun newspaper, using the same aircraft that September to compete in the East-West Air Race from Sydney to Perth, as part of the celebrations for the Western Australia Centenary.[21] Lack of patronage led to Pentland folding his businesses and taking a job the following year as a pilot with Australian National Airways (ANA), a new airline founded by Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm.[5][22] By 1932, ANA was in trouble as well, and Pentland left to set up as a dairy farmer on a property he bought at Singleton. Within two years, drought forced him to sell the land and he returned to earning his living as a pilot, instructing at aero clubs in Queensland and New South Wales.[23]

World War II and later life

Caucasian man in light-coloured military uniform seated outside tent and being served tea by two indigenous men in light-coloured shorts and loincloth
Squadron Leader Pentland in New Guinea, August 1943

Pentland rejoined the RAAF on 17 June 1940 to serve in World War II. Initially posted to elementary flying schools as an instructor, he was appointed Commanding Officer of No. 1 Communication Flight, New Guinea, in June 1942.[6] The official history of Australia in the war described this as the RAAF's "most unusual operational unit", asserting that its "strange assortment of light aircraft was as varied and as appropriate to its task as was the flying record of its commander...".[24] Operating Moths and DH.84 Dragons, among other types, Pentland was responsible for the rescue of seven downed US airmen the same month he assumed command, and later civilians and Australian soldiers fleeing from the Japanese invasion of Rabaul. He also organised aerial surveys around Daru and Milne Bay, developing new bases and emergency airfields at locales such as Bena Bena, Abau, Kulpi, and Port Moresby.[6][24] In November 1943 he took command of No. 3 Communication Unit, followed by No. 8 Communication Unit in February 1944.[6] His service earned him the Air Force Cross, the citation being promulgated on 22 February 1946 and concluding:[6][25]

Squadron Leader PENTLAND has, at all times, displayed outstanding courage, initiative and skill, and these qualities, together with his excellent knowledge of New Guinea and its climatic conditions, have made his services invaluable, not only to the R.A.A.F., but to the U.S. Army Air Forces and the New Guinea Forces as well.

With the end of hostilities in the Pacific, Pentland was discharged from the RAAF on 2 November 1945.[6] He took the opportunity to purchase surplus military equipment in New Guinea and established himself as a trader in Finschhafen, later expanding to Lae and Wau. In 1948, he went into business as a coffee planter in Goroka. Prospering in this venture, he contributed to development of the region by building the town's original constant-flowing water supply and encouraging other businesses to set up there. In 1959, he sold his interests and retired with Madge to their seaside home in Bayview, New South Wales.[5][26] Madge Pentland died in 1982, and Jerry eighteen months later at the War Veterans Home in Collaroy. Survived by daughter Carleen, his funeral was held on 7 November 1983.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Newton, Australian Air Aces, pp. 52–53
  2. ^ a b c "Veteran of Western Front dogfights". The Sydney Morning Herald: p. 14. 8 November 1983. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.  
  3. ^ a b Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, p. 13
  4. ^ a b c Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley Pentland at The AIF Project. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Garrison, Australian Fighter Aces, p. 98
  6. ^ a b c d e f REL38029.003 at Australian War Memorial. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  7. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 15–17
  8. ^ a b c d e f Guttman, SPAD VII Aces of World War 1, pp. 42–45
  9. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30466, p. 635, 9 January 1918. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  10. ^ a b Franks, Dolphin and Snipe Aces of World War 1, pp. 53–54
  11. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30827, p. 9202, 3 August 1918. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  12. ^ Shores, British and Empire Aces of World War 1, p. 83
  13. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 62–70
  14. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, p. 73
  15. ^ a b Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 73–77
  16. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30466, p. 3150, 1 May 1923. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  17. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 77–78
  18. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33184, p. 4802, 20 July 1926. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  19. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 82–83
  20. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, p. 86
  21. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 87–96
  22. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 96–97
  23. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 102–103
  24. ^ a b Gillison, Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942, p. 634
  25. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37479, p. 1076, 22 February 1946. Retrieved on 10 January 2010.
  26. ^ Schaedel, Australian Air Ace, pp. 153–157




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