Wing Commander David Cox
(Filed: 05/02/2004)

Wing Commander David Cox, who has died aged 83, was a young sergeant pilot flying Spitfires with the Bader Wing when he received a "rocket" from the legless wing commander after shooting down a German fighter

Early in September 1940, Cox shot down a Messerschmitt 109 over Maidstone. His own Spitfire was badly damaged during the dogfight, and he just managed to limp home to Duxford. Cox recalled that Douglas Bader, who was waiting for him, "told me that my aircraft was a bloody mess, and when I pointed out that I had got a Messerschmitt, he told me that a one-for-one ratio was not so f****** good."

Cox had joined No 19 Squadron at Duxford in May 1940, and he shared in the destruction of an Me 110 fighter on August 19 while still wearing his pyjamas - he had been scrambled just as he was getting out of bed. A few days later he claimed another German fighter over Colchester. After his brush with Bader, he probably shot down a Dornier bomber before destroying another German fighter on September 15, his final success in the Battle of Britain.

On this occasion, he had become detached from his squadron, and joined up with what he thought were six Hurricanes. In fact they were Messerschmitts. As he tried to disengage, he shot down one of the enemy fighters before escaping.

Cox's part in the Battle ended on September 30, when German fighters jumped his formation. He went to the aid of a comrade, but both were shot down, and Cox was forced to bale out over Kent. With fragments of cannon shell in his leg, he spent the next three months recovering in hospital. During the Battle, his squadron was part of 12 Group's "Big Wing", led by Bader. Bader's tactic of joining up three squadrons to attack German bomber formations was controversial at the time, and has aroused strong emotion ever since. Cox, who flew on many such sorties, always felt that "while the theory might have been good, in practice it did not work".

David George Samuel Richardson Cox was born on April 18 1920 at Southsea, Hampshire, and was educated at Bournemouth Collegiate School. Determined to be a fighter pilot, he volunteered for service with the RAF but was rejected on medical grounds. This spurred him to develop his strength, and he was finally accepted for service with the RAF Volunteer Reserve. He learned to fly in the evenings and during weekends at what is now Gatwick Airport. After being mobilised in September 1939, he completed his pilot training before being posted to No 19 Squadron as a sergeant pilot. Within weeks, he was fighting in the Battle of Britain.

Having recovered from his wounds, Cox returned to action in early 1941. He took part in the first big fighter sweeps over northern France, when the RAF used the same tactics as those employed by the Germans a year earlier to lure their adversaries into battle. During one engagement, on June 17, Cox destroyed an Me 109 near St Omer, but his Spitfire was seriously damaged. Returning across the English Channel with his engine failing, he lost height, and just managed to reach Dungeness, crash-landing on the beach.

After a rest period as an instructor, during which time he was commissioned, Cox was posted in May 1942 to No 72 Squadron as it left for Algeria to support Operation Torch, the Allied landings in north-west Africa. Cox proved to be one of the most successful fighter pilots in the campaign, flying 134 operational sorties in a five-month period. After destroying three aircraft, and probably two others, he was awarded the DFC for his "inspiring leadership".

Promoted to flight commander, Cox achieved further successes and, by the end of his tour of duty in April 1943, he had been credited with eight aircraft destroyed and one shared, and had probably destroyed a further six in addition to damaging five others. The citation for the Bar to his DFC drew attention to his "outstanding leadership, which has been responsible for a large part of the successes achieved by his squadron". Cox returned to England and served at Fighter Command before assuming command of No 222 Squadron equipped with Spitfire IX aircraft. Flying patrols over the Normandy beach-head, he damaged a Focke-Wulf 190. For his work over this period, the French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

A car crash shortly afterwards interrupted his operational career, but he returned in January 1945 to command No 1 Squadron, flying Spitfires on long-range bomber escort sorties. Cox was promoted to wing commander in April 1945, when he left for Burma. He became Wing Commander (Flying) of No 909 Wing, with two Spitfire squadrons operating in support of the 14th Army's advance to Rangoon, and remained in command until the last day of the war against Japan. After returning to England, he retired from the RAF in March 1946.

Cox became a trainee manager with the wholesale division of Macfisheries at Fleetwood, before transferring to Grimsby in 1950 as depot manager. In 1961 he became controller of eight depots around the country, and in 1967 he transferred to the retail division, becoming chief buyer of fresh and frozen fish to 350 retail units. He retired in 1980.

Cox retained his connections with the RAF, serving as chairman of two Air Training Corps Squadrons in Lincolnshire and as president of the Grimsby branch of the RAF Association. He was an honorary member of the Officers' Mess at RAF Binbrook, near Grimsby, and always yearned to fly in the station's supersonic Lightning fighter. Eventually he wrote to the Chief of the Air Staff, pointing out that the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was approaching; and, at the age of 60, and on the day the RAF celebrated the anniversary, Cox flew in a two-seat Lightning. Two years later he flew his final sortie in a fighter, having been invited to appear on the television show Jim'll Fix It to meet a wartime colleague. As a result of this, he flew from Manston, Kent, to Goodwood in a two-seat Spitfire flown by the late Nick Grace.

Cox was a keen walker with a particular love for the Lake District. In later years he enjoyed tending his garden. He died on January 20.

David Cox married, in 1939, Pat Thornhill, who survives him with their two sons and a daughter.