|Born||1 Feb 1917|
|Died||30 May 1989|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseOne of the RAF's most famous fighter pilots of the Second World War, James Harry "Ginger" Lacey was born at Wetherby, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom on the 1st of February 1917. He was educated at King James Grammar School at Knaresborough and on leaving school, at the age of sixteen trained as a dispenser. In 1937 he enlisted into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) where he undertook basic flying training at weekends and during summer camps at Scone in Perthshire where he was assessed by his tutors as being "above average". In 1938 he completed an Instructors course and subsequently became a flying instructor with the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club which presented him with invaluable flying experience.
ww2dbaseSergeant Lacey was called up at the outbreak of war and in May 1940 with No. 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron (an Auxiliary Air Force unit) went to France with the Advanced Air Striking Force. Bombed on the ground several times, Lacey nevertheless successfully downed five enemy aircraft over Dunkirk and on the 9th of June was almost drowned after making a forced landing in a bog. No. 501 Squadron remained in France following the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk and then moved, on 19 June, to Jersey in the Channel Islands where their Hurricane fighters covered the evacuation from Cherbourg, France. After this they returned to England to be based at Gravesend. For his achievements during the Battle of France Sergeant Lacey received a Mentioned in Despatches and the French Croix de Guerre.
ww2dbaseLacey remained with No. 501 until mid-1941, flying Hurricane fighters throughout the Battle of Britain. Of all the pilots who flew Spitfire and Hurricane fighters in the Battle of Britain, about a quarter were non-commissioned ranks (nearly all of them sergeants) and of these NCO pilots, about two fifths were Volunteer Reserve men like Lacey. During the battle Lacey was shot down twice (on the 12th and again on the 13th of August).
ww2dbaseOn the 30th of August, Lacey was badly shot up over the Thames estuary. Considering that he had sufficient altitude to glide as far as land, when he reached the Isle of Sheppey he decided to try and get all the way home in a shallow glide. As he neared Gravesend he pumped his undercarriage down and did the same for his flaps. With engine lifeless he made a perfect landing and rolled to a stop immediately in front of a camera crew who had filmed the whole landing. Lacey's pride at having brought his shattered Hurricane home safely would soon be shattered by the Engineering Officer who, surveying the eighty seven bullet holes in the plane, tartly commended "Why the hell didn't you bail out?... I'd have got a new aircraft tomorrow morning! Now I've got to set to work and mend it."
ww2dbaseOn the 13th September 1940 Lacey was the pilot who was scrambled to intercept a Heinkel He 111 raider that had bombed Buckingham Palace. On this occasion he was deliberately sent above totally unbroken cloud in the knowledge that he would need to bale out after engaging the enemy bomber (which he successfully managed to shoot down).
ww2dbaseHis score of "kills" was increased by eighteen during the Battle of Britain (15 scored during July-September and three more in October) easily eclipsing Frantisek's seventeen but being eclipsed himself by Eric Lock's twenty-two plus eight probables achieved between August and November. Badly shaken by the strain of continuous combat, Lacey pleaded with his Commanding Officer for a rest. The commanding officer whilst sympathetic was quite adamant that until he got replacements Lacey could not be spared from the squadron, but was happy to recommend Lacey for a commission which was bestowed in January 1941, at the same time as No. 501 Squadron converted to the Supermarine Spitfire Mk II fighter. He became a flight commander in June, after which he enjoyed a second run of successes, downing four more enemy aircraft and damaging another.
ww2dbaseIn August 1941 Lacey was posted as an instructor to No. 57 OTU at Hawarden in Wales, United Kingdom, after which he returned to Fighter Command with No. 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron based at RAF Kenley in southern England. There he added to his score with two Fw 190 aircraft damaged in combat (on 24 March and 25 April). In May 1942 he was posted to HQ No. 81 Group as a Tactics Instructor and in September, he was transferred to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) where he was involved in testing rocket projectiles and cannons for anti-tank use. Finally, in November 1942 he was attached to the Special Attack Instructor's School as their Chief Instructor.
ww2dbaseIn March 1943 Lacey was posted to India to join No. 20 Squadron as it converted from Lysander to Hurricane aircraft. This was a short-lived posting, and in July he joined, as an instructor, a unit which was converting Blenheim equipped squadrons to Hurricanes and later, Hurricane squadrons into Thunderbolt dive bombers. In November 1944 he joined No. 155 Squadron, but was immediately moved to take command of No. 17 Squadron, where he scored his 28th and final victory - a Japanese Ki-43 "Oscar" aircraft. This was his first aerial victory since 1941, and was scored in a Spitfire Mk VIII fighter. It took his final tally to 28 destroyed, five probables and nine damaged, which put him seventh on the list of RAF's top scoring aces of World War II.
ww2dbaseNo. 17 Squadron's intended participation in the planned invasion of Malaya was forestalled by the Japanese surrender, although Lacey did gain one more distinction - that of being the first Spitfire pilot to fly over Japan on 30 April 1946. Ginger Lacey finally returned to the United Kingdom in May 1946, where he was awarded a permanent commission as a substantive Flight Lieutenant. He briefly flew Vampire aircraft from RAF Odiham in southern England before being placed on ground duties.
ww2dbaseGinger Lacey retired from the RAF, as a Squadron Leader, in March 1967, having spent the last years of his career as a fighter controller. He ran an air freight business after leaving the RAF, and also flew as an instructor with a civilian flying club.
ww2dbaseCancer claimed Lacey on 30 May 1989, aged 72.
World Aircraft Information Files (Bright Star Publishing)
Len Deighton, Fighter - The True Story of the Battle of Britain (Treiad/Panther Books , 1979)
Last Major Revision: Jul 2012
James Lacey Timeline
|1 Feb 1917||James Lacey was born in Wetherby, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom.|
|10 May 1940||James Lacey was relocated with the No. 501 Squadron RAF to Bétheniville, Marne, France.|
|13 May 1940||James Lacey shot down a German He 111 bomber, a Bf 109 fighter, and a Bf 110 fighter over Sedan, Ardennes, France.|
|27 May 1940||James Lacey shot down two German He 111 bombers.|
|9 Jun 1940||James Lacey was forced to crash land into a swamp in France, which near drowning him.|
|19 Jun 1940||James Lacey was relocated to the island of Jersey in the English Channel together with the No. 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron RAF.|
|20 Jul 1940||James Lacey shot down his first enemy aircraft during the Battle of Britain, a Bf 109E fighter of German Jagdgeschwader 27 wing.|
|12 Aug 1940||James Lacey was shot down over Britain.|
|13 Aug 1940||James Lacey was shot down by a German He 111 aircraft over Britain.|
|15 Aug 1940||James Lacey damaged a German Do 17 aircraft over Britain.|
|16 Aug 1940||James Lacey claimed a probable kill on a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|23 Aug 1940||James Lacey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.|
|24 Aug 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Ju 88 aircraft and a Do 17 bomber over Britain.|
|29 Aug 1940||James Lacey shot down a Bf 109 fighter of German Jagdgeschwader 3 wing over Britain.|
|30 Aug 1940||After shooting down a German He 111 bomber and damaged a Bf 110 fighter over the Thames estuary in southern England, United Kingdom, James Lacey's Hurricane fighter was badly damaged, but he was able to successfully glide the aircraft and crash land the aircraft at Gravesend to the north.|
|31 Aug 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|2 Sep 1940||James Lacey shot down two German Bf 109 fighters and a Do 17 aircraft over Britain.|
|5 Sep 1940||James Lacey shot down two German Bf 109 fighters over Britain.|
|13 Sep 1940||James Lacey pursued the He 111 bombers of German Kampfgeschwader 55 wing which had bombed the Buckingham Palace in London, England, United Kingdom and shot down one of them. After the attack, he had to bail out of his Hurricane fighter due to battle damage.|
|15 Sep 1940||James Lacey shot down a German He 111 bomber and three Bf 109 fighters over Britain.|
|17 Sep 1940||James Lacey was shot down over Ashford, England, United Kingdom by Bf 109 fighters.|
|27 Sep 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|30 Sep 1940||James Lacey damaged a German Ju 88 aircraft over Britain.|
|7 Oct 1940||James Lacey claimed a probable kill on a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|12 Oct 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|26 Oct 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter over Britain.|
|30 Oct 1940||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter and damaged another over Britain.|
|26 Nov 1940||James Lacey was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Medal.|
|24 Mar 1941||James Lacey, flying a Spitfire fighter, damaged a German Fw 190 aircraft.|
|25 Apr 1941||James Lacey, flying a Spitfire fighter, damaged a German Fw 190 aircraft.|
|10 Jul 1941||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter.|
|14 Jul 1941||James Lacey shot down a German Bf 109 fighter.|
|17 Jul 1941||James Lacey shot down a German He 59 seaplane.|
|24 Jul 1941||James Lacey engaged two German Bf 109 fighters and claimed kills on both of them after the two German aircraft collided in mid-air during the dogfight.|
|19 Feb 1945||James Lacey scored his final kill of his career as he shot down a Japanese Ki-43 aircraft, bringing his confirmed kills count to 28.|
|30 Apr 1946||James Lacey became the first Spitfire fighter pilot to fly over Japan.|
|5 Mar 1967||James Lacey retired from the Royal Air Force at the rank of squadron leader.|
|30 May 1989||James Lacey passed away at Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom.|
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945