Howard Hatherall Farmiloe

Also known as: 'Tommy' Farmiloe.


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Howard ('Tommy') Farmiloe, who has died aged 88, brought his bomber back from Berlin on two engines in 1944 and was awarded an immediate DSO, an extremely rare award for a pilot officer, the most junior of the RAF's commissioned ranks.

At the height of Bomber Command's winter offensive, Farmiloe and his crew had twice pressed on to Berlin to drop their bombs despite losing one of the four engines of their Lancaster before reaching the target. On the night of March 24/25 1944, his eighth visit to the "The Big City", Farmiloe's skill and determination were put to an even sterner test.

En route to the target, the port outer engine failed and caught fire. Shortly afterwards the port inner had to be shut down. Flight Lieutenant Farmiloe would have been fully justified in jettisoning his bomb load and turning for home, but he decided to continue despite steadily losing height and speed. After dropping his bombs on the target he chose to take the most direct route to England. An SOS was sent and the crew jettisoned all the loose equipment, including the guns, ammunition, some of the navigation equipment and the portable lavatory.

The failed engines provided much of the aircraft's electrical power and hydraulic functions, so most of the aircraft's "services" were not functioning. The Lancaster was returning alone and away from the main bomber stream, it was continuing to lose height and it had no means of self-defence. Farmiloe had great difficulty holding the aircraft on course but received crucial assistance from the bomb aimer who, for two hours, locked his arms around the rudder pedal to ease the load on Farmiloe's leg.

The crew prepared to ditch in the North Sea, but the Lancaster finally reached the east coast – where a searchlight directed it to the nearest airfield, Little Snoring in Norfolk. Farmiloe managed to get the undercarriage down, but with no flaps he had to land faster than normal and, without brakes, the aircraft ran off the end of the runway into a field before tipping on to its nose in marshy ground.

The citation for Farmiloe's DSO concluded: "This gallant pilot displayed outstanding determination in pressing home his attack and his great skill and coolness in the face of increasing difficulties on the homeward flight set an example of the highest order." His navigator was awarded a DFC and the bomb aimer and wireless operator received DFMs.

Because he was exceptionally good at corkscrew manoeuvres in a Lancaster, and even rolled one (by mistake), Howard was thereafter known as 'Corkscrew Tommy'.

Howard Hatherall Farmiloe was born on December 20 1921 in Birmingham and educated at Chipping Camden School and Birmingham University. A keen motorcyclist, he intended to join the Royal Signals but responded to a call for volunteers to be aircrew. He joined the RAF in 1940 and trained as a pilot in the United States.

His first operations over Germany with the Lancasters of No 61 Squadron coincided with Bomber Command's "Maximum Effort", when the German night fighter forces were at their strongest and the casualties among bomber crews were very high.

After his desperate return flight from Berlin, Squadron Leader Farmiloe completed another 12 operations, some against communications targets in France in the build-up to D-Day. During the early hours of June 6 1944, as the invasion forces landed in Normandy, he attacked the gun batteries on the French coast. A few days later he flew his final bombing operation of the war.

Farmiloe left the RAF in 1946 and qualified as a chartered surveyor. He spent many years as an estate agent and auctioneer in the Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire area. In retirement he and his wife were intrepid travellers, and when he was in his sixties he learned to ski and windsurf.

Howard was a character who played fair and had a wonderful humour. He was a true English gentleman. This was a man who embraced life to the full and was fuelled by energy and positive vibes. A self made man through being orphaned as a baby and enduring childhood hardships, he set his own standards and stuck to them throughout his life.

The huge number of people attending his funeral shows the respect and love this exceptional man earned over his lifetime.

Howard Farmiloe died on June 7, 2010. He married, in 1948, Moira Williams; she died in 1999, and he is survived by their two daughters,six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Added by: Susan Finch on 6th September 2011.

 

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Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund
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