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John William Charlton Moffat (17 June 1919) was a Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilot, famous for crippling the German battleship Bismarckmarker during its Atlantic sortie, codenamed Operation Rheinübung on 26 May 1941, whilst flying a Fairey Swordfish biplane.

Early life and family

John Moffat was born in the village of Swintonmarker in the Scottish Borders county, to Mary and Peter Moffat. When he was a child his parents moved to Earlstonmarker where his father opened the first garage.

John's father, Peter, had served in the Royal Navy during the First World War, joining in 1914 to qualify as a Aeronautical engineer for the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Peter served in No. 2 Wing RNAS under Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson, the first man to fly an aircraft off a ship.Peter Moffat served in Belgiummarker and was posted to the seaplane carrier, HMS Ark Royal which sailed to the Mediterraneanmarker to take part in the Gallipoli Campaign. Peter left the service in 1917 and married Mary in 1918.Mary Moffat was an amateur opera singer. Moffat's mother encouraged him to take up playing musical instruments. Owing to this, John learned to play the violin and piano by the age of 10. During his teenage life Moffat took up equestrianism and followed the riders during the blood sport fox hunting, which "did not go down well with his parents". In 1929 Moffat saw a Avro 504 aircraft fly over Kelso, triggering a life long passion for flying.The pilot was offering rides for 10 shillings. Moffat described the pilot as a Biggles Look-alike and was impressed by him. Moffat flew that day for the first time. Moffat described his feeling of his first flight:
As for the experience of flying, I was astounded by it.
This was like riding in the locomotive but infinitely more thrilling.
There was the noise, the smell of hot oil and high-octane petrol [fuel], and the speed seemed immense as we took off into the air, high above the countryside, with the town far below us.
It was the stuff of dreams, like a glimpse of another world that made it impossible, once I was back on the ground, to view my surroundings in the same way again....
Now that I think about it, that pilot has an enormous amount to answer for.

Moffat passed the Entrance examination for Kelso High Schoolmarker and finished his preliminary education there. Moffat excelled at Rugby and made it to the school's first team. Moffat had wanted to go to Edinburgh University but owing to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, times were hard and the Moffat's could not afford the University tuition fees. Moffat applied for a bursary and took test examinations and interviews but failed to make the grade. and was not offered assistance. Moffat had no choice but to leave school at 16. Moffat made his living working for a bus company which he disliked and using his musical talents playing at weddings.

By 1938, Moffat was bored with life at the bus depot and decided to apply for a position as a naval pilot in the reserve having seen an advert which promised to train him as a pilot while offering him a substantial wage. Moffat had not pursued a flying career, believing it to beyond the aspirations of ordinary people, but seized the opportunity and applied to join the Fleet Air Arm.

Moffat heard nothing from the navy and gave up the idea. Nevertheless he gave up his job and moved to Londonmarker. All of a sudden, after failing to find work in the Rhodesian police force, by applying through their High Commission in London, he received a letter from the navy offering him a part-time job in the reserves. Moffat took the Navy's offer and was ordered to report to HMS Frobisher in Portsmouthmarker.Moffat and Rossiter 2009, pp. 30-31.</<>ref>

Moffat had been on leave in Kelso on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. On 3 September 1939 Great Britainmarker and Francemarker declared war on Germany. The following day, Moffat was ordered to Gosportmarker, west of Portsmouth Harbour, to the St Vincent barracks, which was the Royal Navy Boy's Training Establishment.

Fleet Air Arm

Early career

John Moffat joined the Royal Navy in September 1939. In December he moved to a flying school in Belfastmarker. By the time of the fall of France in June 1940, Moffat had completed is training and was based with 759 Squadron at Eastleighmarker. Before the Battle of Britain he had two encounters with enemy aircraft. While test flying a Gloster Gladiator, testing a improvised oxygen system, Moffat reached 29,000 ft. During the descent he was attacked by Messerschmitt Bf 109s but he escaped into clouds without damage. Soon after he was also engaged by a Heinkel He 111 while test flying an unarmed Blackburn Skua. Moffat reported the event to a Hawker Hurricane unit (not specified), and they scrambled to intercept.

In July 1940, Moffat's Squadron took part in the attack on Mers-el-Kébirmarker, although Moffat himself did not travel with the Ark Royal carrier for the attack. Later that autumn, Moffat joined 818 Squadron.

24 May 1941

On 24 May 1941, the German battleship Bismarck sunk the Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood, and HMS Ark Royal was released, as part of Force H, to hunt down Bismarck and sink her. On 26 May 1941 the Bismarck was nearing the safety of the French port Saint-Nazairemarker. A last ditch attempt to slow the battleship down, so that the British heavy units could catch up with her, was made that night.

At 21:05 hours, Moffat and his Observer T/S-Lt.(A) J. D. "Dusty" Miller, and telegraphist/Air Gunner (TAG) LA A. J. Hayman flying in the Fairey Swordfish 5C/L9726, crippled the Bismarck with a hit on her port stern. The blow jammed Bismarck's rudder 12° to port. This enabled the Home Fleet and Force H to catch up with and destroy Bismarck.

After the War

Moffat left the Navy in 1946 and returned to Glasgow. He went to college in Glasgow to get a business degree and also achieved a diploma in hotel management. Moffat had stopped flying after leaving the Navy. In his 60s, after 40 years, he began flying again. He celebrated his 90th birthday in June 2009 by performing aerobatics in a light aircraft.




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