The Only War We've Got

British Buffalo ace: Colin Pinckney

When I was researching the story of the Flying Tigers in Burma, I was much taken with one of the British Buffalo pilots, D.J.C. (Colin) Pinckney. Now Santiago Flores brings up evidence that Pinckney was one of the very few British Commonwealth pilots credited with making "ace" while flying the Brewster Buffalo.

Pinckney was born in Hungerford, Berkshire, and attended Eton College and Cambridge University, where he joined the University Air Squadron. He became part of the RAF Volunteer Reserve in December 1938 and was called to active service when Britain declared war on Germany the following September.

Flying a Spitfire IIA for RAF 603 Squadron, he claimed his first victory on August 29, 1940, against a Bf-109E. He was shot down and suffered burns in the same engagement, but was soon in action again. In October and November he was credited with another Bf-109E and an Italian CR-42 shot down, along with several probables.

In December 1940, he was posted to Singapore, serving first with RAF 243 Squadron and then with 67 Squadron, which in March 1941 was being refitted with the Brewster Buffalo. He moved with the squadron to Rangoon, serving as commander of "A" flight, which was otherwise made up almost entirely of New Zealand pilots. "The squadron is doing well," he wrote his parents in January 1942, "though we don't get the publicity given to the Americans"--meaning the AVG Flying Tiger squadrons that were rotated through Rangoon.

On January 23, 1942, at the age of twenty-three, Pinckney was shot down and killed. In Aces High (1990), British aviation writer Christopher Shores credited him with a Japanese transport destroyed on the ground on January 14, during a strafe of Mesoht airfield in Thailand. In the text, he adds: "The award of a DFC was subsequently gazetted on 8 May 1942, the citation crediting him with four victories."

Now, thanks to Santiago Flores I find that Mr. Shores has written Volume 2 of Aces High, subtitled A Further Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Air Forces in WWII (Grub Street, London, 1999; ISBN 1-898697). Citing a 1984 book by J. Helsdon Thomas, a 67 Squadron mechanic, Shores now believes that Pinckney shot down a Nakajima Ki-27 "Nate" on December 23, 1941, and that before he himself was shot down and killed on January 23 he accounted for three more of the fixed-gear Japanese fighters. If so, his total of confirmed victories should be seven air-to-air kills, plus three probables and one plane destroyed on the ground.

(Allied pilots claimed numerous Ki-27 kills on January 23, though only a few are confirmed in Japanese records. Still, overclaiming was the rule and not the exception in that campaign and most other WWII engagements, and there's no reason to believe that Pinckney's claims are any more inflated than the next man's.)

Whether or not you regard him as a true Buffalo ace--his air-to-air victories in the Buffalo actually come to four--Colin Pinckney does seem to have a secure claim to membership in an equally exclusive club. Like Gil Bright of the AVG Flying Tigers, he is one of a very few Allied pilots credited with shooting down aircraft of all three Axis powers--German, Italian, and Japanese.

Thank you, Santiago, for bringing this information to light.

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