George Beurling
George Beurling
George Frederick "Buzz" Beurling DSO, DFC, DFM & Bar, RCAF, was the most successful Canadian fighter pilot of the Second World War. Beurling was recognized as "Canada's most famous hero of Second World War", as "The Falcon of Malta" and the "Knight of Malta", having shot down 27 Axis aircraft in just 14 days over the besieged Mediterranean island. Before the war ended his total climbed to either 31 or 31 1/3.
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  • 1948
    Age 26
    In 1948, Beurling was recruited to fly P-51 Mustangs for the Israeli Air Force.
    More Details Hide Details En route, after a test flight, Beurling fatally crashed his Noorduyn Norseman transport aircraft while landing at Aeroporto dell'Urbe in Rome. It was his 10th crash. Suspicion at the time of the accident centred on possible sabotage, a theory which never was proven. "The initial report, while it identified the crew as Beurling and Leonard Cohen (another Malta RAF pilot), acknowledged that the bodies were burned beyond recognition." The funeral in Rome lacked only one element: Beurling's widow, family and personal friends were not in attendance. On a small brass plate over the lid of the coffin these words were written "Colonel Georgio Beurling". Beurling's coffin was kept for three months in a warehouse in the Verano Monumental Cemetery, as nobody had claimed the body. Then his widow, Diana Whittall Gardner, had him buried in the Protestant Cemetery behind the Cestia Pyramid, between the graves of Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. In November 1950, two and half years after his death, Beurling's casket arrived at Haifa Airport. His coffin, draped with the blue and white Israeli flag, was laid in a nearby air force base, where an honour guard of young airmen mounted a silent watch. During the long funeral in the streets of Haifa, Israeli Air Force aircraft paid homage to Beurling. At last, he was re-interred in the military cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel. The grave is marked, as are the others in Israel Defense Forces cemeteries, with only name, serial number and rank: for Beurling that of segen, lieutenant.
  • 1945
    Age 23
    Beurling's marriage ended in March 1945, but he was not formally divorced.
    More Details Hide Details He survived the war only to find himself unable to adjust to civilian life.
  • 1944
    Age 22
    Beurling returned to Canada in April 1944.
    More Details Hide Details He was given an honourable discharge in October and, despite an attempt to join the United States Army Air Forces, his wartime flying was over. He ended his career as a squadron leader with 31 and one shared official kills, nine claimed damaged, along with a DSO, DFC and a DFM and bar.
  • 1943
    Age 21
    On 1 September 1943, Beurling transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force, and was posted to an operational squadron, 403 (a return to his first squadron) at Kenley, flying the new Spitfire IX.
    More Details Hide Details Shooting down an Fw 190 of JG 2 in September, but unhappy with flying sweeps, Beurling requested command of a flight of North American P-51 Mustangs in order to carry out deep penetration, free-roaming raids into Germany. His request was turned down. Disciplinary problems annoyed his commander, but Beurling was promoted to flight lieutenant. However, his stunting of a de Havilland Tiger Moth at zero feet over his airfield eventually led to his Wing Commander, Hugh Godefroy, threatening him with a court martial. Subsequently, Beurling was transferred to 126 Wing HQ and then to 412 Squadron. At 412 Squadron, Beurling again came into conflict with his commander for stunting and his lack of teamwork, leading to his eventual grounding. He claimed his last kill on 30 December, shooting down and wounding Uzz. Wyrich of 5 Staffel, JG 26 flying an FW 190, when the squadron was covering returning American bombers near Compi├Ęgne, France.
    On 27 May 1943, he was posted to the Central Gunnery School at RAF Sutton Bridge.
    More Details Hide Details On 8 June, during a mock dogfight, Beurling was forced to bail out of Spitfire II P7913 when the engine caught fire after being accidentally hit. It is alleged that whilst stationed at RAF Sutton Bridge he actually flew under the Crosskeys Bridge that crosses the Nene, which still stands today having been built 1897.
    He completed his promotional work in mid-1943 and also met his future wife, Diana Whittall in Vancouver.
    More Details Hide Details Returning to Britain, Beurling was posted as a gunnery instructor to 61 OTU.
    He was promoted to war substantive Flying Officer (on probation) on 30 January 1943.
    More Details Hide Details He did not enjoy the war bond campaign. Also, he often said things that embarrassed the RCAF, such as that he enjoyed killing people. The leg wound Beurling had received over Malta, combined with his poor general health, returned him to hospital for several weeks.
  • 1941
    Age 19
    Beurling flew his first (uneventful) combat mission, flying the Supermarine Spitfire, on Christmas Day 1941.
    More Details Hide Details He remained with 403 for nearly four months, escorting bombers and flying fighter sweeps across the English Channel. A couple of times, his formation was jumped by German fighters, but he never managed to get off an effective shot while with 403. By late spring, a decision was made to include only RCAF personnel in RCAF squadrons. Beurling, who was Canadian but an RAF pilot, joined 41 Squadron in Sussex. His first two missions with his new squadron were uneventful, but on the third, a sweep over Calais on 1 May, five Focke-Wulf Fw 190s jumped the section. Beurling, who was the "tail end Charlie", the last of the formation, became separated from his flight and his Spitfire suffered a number of serious hits that put half of his guns out of action. Nevertheless, he managed to fire a short burst at an FW 190; the German fighter exploded in mid air. Two days later, as usual for a newcomer, he was assigned again to the number four position. He spotted a lone FW 190, and broke from the flight to pursue it. He claimed the German fighter as destroyed over Cap Gris Nez. On this occasion, Beurling was reprimanded for attacking a target without permission, and became unpopular with his superiors and fellow pilots.
    Having survived one or two aerial misdemeanours, Beurling reached the Operational Training Unit at RAF Hawarden in September 1941.
    More Details Hide Details Beurling demonstrated considerable skill in training. In Hawarden, he came under the influence of the great Ginger Lacey, whose score at the time stood at 27. Lacey later commented about Beurling: "There are not two ways about it, he was a wonderful pilot and an even better shot." These two factors, coupled with exceptional eyesight, were the keys to Beurling's later success. But they did not come without effort. At Hawarden, he immersed himself in gunnery, estimation of range, deflection, bullet trail and bullet drop, imprinting them into his subconscious until they were automatic. For him, flying and shooting became one single action. In the middle of December, he was posted as a Sergeant Pilot to RCAF 403 Squadron, which had just moved to North Weald, Essex.
  • 1940
    Age 18
    In September 1940, after he had survived the return trip, the RAF accepted him as a pilot.
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    Beurling joined the Royal Air Force in September 1940.
    More Details Hide Details With the outbreak of war, Beurling tried to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, but his lack of academic qualifications led to his rejection. He then tried to join the Finnish Air Force (which was fighting the Soviets in the Winter War), but could not get his parents' permission. Instead, Beurling sailed across the Atlantic on a convoy, landing in Glasgow, intending to enlist in the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, he had forgotten his birth certificate and had to return to Canada.
  • 1933
    Age 11
    Born in Verdun (now part of Montreal), Quebec, Beurling first took the controls of an aircraft in 1933 and was flying solo by 1938.
    More Details Hide Details He left school to work for an air freight company in Gravenhurst, Ontario, and soon gained a commercial license.
  • 1921
    Born on December 6, 1921.
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