Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mike Cooper Slipper DFC 1921-2004

Thomas Paul Michael Cooper-Slipper was born in 1921 at Kinver, Staffordshire. Educated at King Edward VI School, Stourbridge, he joined the RAF on a short-service commission straight from school, in 1938. In July 1939 he went to 74 Squadron, which was still flying the biplane Gladiator, but shortly after war began he was sent to 11 Group Pool to convert to Hurricanes.

In late December he joined 605 Squadron, equipped with Hurricanes. On May 10, 1940, the Blitzkrieg burst on the Western Front and very soon the British Expeditionary Force was recoiling towards the Channel Coast. On May 21 the squadron was rushed from its base at Wick, in the far north of Scotland, to Hawkinge in Kent, to provide air cover for the BEF’s retreat to Dunkirk.

On the squadron’s first patrol, at dawn on the following day, Cooper-Slipper and another pilot of his flight attacked and shot down a Heinkel He111 bomber. Three days later he shot down a Ju87 Stuka and on the day after that, a Ju88.

Such bald statistics give little idea of the immense strain on the thinly-stretched RAF squadrons, sent to do battle over France. These aerial combats, against tremendous odds, fought high above the troops on the ground who had little idea of the RAF’s costly exertions on their behalf, resulted in heavy casualties for No 605.

Within a week the squadron had lost half its pilots and was sent north to Drem, on the Firth of Forth, supposedly to rest. There, on August 15, the heaviest Luftwaffe assault of the Battle of Britain, it was engaged in repelling attacks against Tyneside, launched from German air bases in Denmark and Norway.

On September 7 it was brought south again, this time to Croydon. From the next day onwards, it was involved in intense action as the Battle of Britain approached its climax. Over the next few days Cooper-Slipper had a number of combat victories over both enemy fighters and bombers.

One of the most extraordinary of these was on September 15, the culmination of the daylight air fighting over Britain. Attacking a formation of bombers over Kent, Cooper-Slipper had his controls shot away by their return fire and had also run out of ammunition. In desperation he rammed a Dornier Do17 amidships and sent it crashing down into a field. In the collision his own aircraft had suffered fatal damage and he baled out, suffering only minor injury in the process, and came down on farmland near Marden.

His last combat of the Battle of Britain was on September 27, when he damaged an Me109. Thereafter he was rested from operations and in November was awarded the DFC.

In 1941 came postings as a flight commander to 96 Squadron at Cranage, Cheshire, where it was involved in the defence of Liverpool, and to 74 Squadron at Acklington, Northumberland. Then, in November 1941 he joined 135 Squadron which was intended for Burma.

Before it could get there the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and were advancing on Singapore. Cooper-Slipper and several of its pilots were retained in Singapore to join 232 Squadron, which was woefully under strength since its pilots were, in the confusion of the time, only arriving in the island in dribs and drabs. Its aircraft were the first Hurricanes to see action against the renowned Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, and they gave a good account of themselves.

On January 22, 1942, Cooper-Slipper shot down two Mitsubishi G3M bombers (the type that had sunk the Prince of Wales and Repulse). Over the next few days he claimed three more G3Ms.

As Singapore fell, Cooper-Slipper escaped with the few remaining aircraft to Palembang in Sumatra. But Japanese forces very soon afterwards arrived here too, parachute troops descending on the island on February 16, 1942, the day after the fall of Singapore. Cooper-Slipper managed to slip away by night to Batavia (Jakarta) in Java. There he was seriously injured by a bomb blast, but was fortunate not to fall into the hands of the enemy. He was evacuated to Ceylon by the last hospital ship to leave Java. From there he was sent to hospital in Poona.

Recuperating from his wounds there, and in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, he was later posted to the Middle East as chief test pilot at RAF Aboukir, in Egypt. There, as commanding officer of the Special Performance Spitfire Flight, he took part in the development of the famous Battle of Britain interceptor for the different requirements of high-altitude photo reconnaissance and low-level tactical recce sorties. This development flying involved plenty of contact with the enemy’s reconnaissance aircraft — Ju88s and Ju188s. Cooper-Slipper carried out many interceptions at well above 30,000ft, the most remarkable being an interception of a Ju188, which he attacked and inflicted damage on at 44,100ft.

Returning to England after this appointment, Cooper-Slipper ended his war as chief test pilot at RAF Lichfield.

He retired from the RAF in 1946 and in the following year emigrated to Canada. There, in 1948, he joined Avro Canada at Malton, Ontario, as an engine fitter. But it was not long before he was appointed the first test pilot to be hired by the company after the war. There, among the aircraft he tested was the CF100 Canuck, Canada’s home-grown jet fighter, which was to become the mainstay of the RCAF’s all-weather interceptor force for ten years. In this testing he was joined from 1952 by another emigrant from the UK, the Polish Battle of Britain pilot, Jan Zurakowski, who died this year (obituary February 24).

When Avro’s jet engine division was hived off to form Orenda engines, in 1955 Cooper-Slipper became its chief test and development pilot. As such he became the only pilot to test the Orenda Iroquois engine which was destined as the power plant for the advanced twin-engined Mach2 CF105 Arrow fighter. The flight testing of the engine was done in a specially modified B47 bomber lent by the USAF. But the engine was destined not to see service in the CF105. When the prototype made its maiden flight (piloted by Zurakowski) in 1958 the Orenda was not yet ready, and the Arrow took to the air powered by American Pratt and Whitney engines. Thereafter the Canadian Government cancelled the aircraft before subsequent Orenda-engined prototypes could be tested.

After 1959 Cooper-Slipper turned to another career, in aircraft sales, for companies including de Havilland and Field Aviation. In 1972 he joined the Ontario Ministry of Industry and Trade, and travelled widely promoting Canadian-built aircraft throughout the world. He was instrumental in the creation of the Ontario Aviation Consortium.