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Ian Ponsford

Ian Ponsford was a Spitfire pilot who took part in battles over Germany in 1945 and took on four Fw190s on a single day.
 
Although he did not gain his initiation to air fighting until March 1945 — largely because his superlative flying skills were commandeered as an instructor in the US — Ian Ponsford had a quite remarkable combat career in the two months that remained from then until the end of the war.

In the last-ditch stand of the Luftwaffe in North West Europe he had a total of seven combat victories, six solo and two shared.

This tally was the more remarkable in that it was achieved exclusively against single-seat fighters. Indeed most of his opponents, in a burst of intense air fighting that took him from the industrial Ruhr in the west to the wooded country of eastern Mecklen-burg, were the formidable Focke-Wulf Fw190.

In his last sortie, on April 30, 1945, Ponsford shot down two of these single-handed and had a half share in a further two. At the end of the war he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Ian Reginald Ponsford was born in 1922 at Little Shelford, near Cambridge, and educated at Abbotsholm School. He was about to go up to Cambridge in the autumn of 1939, but when war broke out decided to defer this so as to be able to be available for the war effort when he should be old enough.

After a year spent variously working on the land and teaching languages at his old school in place of an Austrian master who had been interned, he was called up into the RAF in 1941.

After basic training he was sent along with other British pilots to the US, where he got his wings. Then, since he had demonstrated exceptional flying skill, he was retained at Yuma Air Force Base in Arizona as an instructor. This, and the fact that as war drew on there was actually a surplus of qualified fighter pilots, meant that a posting to a front-line squadron was not quick in coming.

Back in England he actually took an RAF Regiment commando course, but at last the opportunity arose, and in January 1945 he was posted as a flight commander to 130 Squadron, then based in Belgium as part of 2nd Tactical Air Force. From there it operated the high-performance Spitfire Mk XIV whose top speed of 450mph and superlative manoeuvrability were to prove a match even for the excellent Fw190D.

Nevertheless, the collision of such evenly matched opponents was to make for some surprisingly fierce air combat in the skies over Germany, even at this late stage in the war, when the Luftwaffe, harried from base to base as the German Army retreated, might have been thought to be well beyond its last gasp.

No 130 was also involved in ground attacks on enemy troop concentrations and transport, and Ponsford was responsible for the destruction of lorries, locomotives and a number of tugs and barges. In a low-level attack on a rail marshalling yard he and his fellow pilots blew up a complete ammunition train. As he climbed away to 500feet, he recalled, a pair of railway wagon wheels came soaring up past him, blasted aloft with the force of the explosion.

His first combat successes were on March 13, when, some ten miles east of Hamm, he shot down an Fw190 and damaged another. On April 19 another Fw190 fell to his guns over the Baltic port of Wismar.

The following day he encountered his first Fw190D, the final marque of this remarkable German aircraft. Indeed, he was to fight no fewer than three of them that day, in a hectic running battle in the skies over Oranienburg, northwest of Berlin. The first he shot down, the second he claimed as “probable”, and the third as a “damaged”.

Five days later he fought his only Messerschmitt Me109, which he shot down over Rechlin, and that same day he encountered an Fw190, which he damaged with a burst from his cannon. This remarkable month of action was brought to an end on April 30 when he did battle with four Fw190s. By that time, with litle more than three weeks of the war in Europe left, his squadron had more or less run out of opponents.

The citation for his DFC, gazetted in 1945, described him with (understated) justice as “a most resolute fighter”.

After being demobbed he studied law, qualifying as a solicitor in 1949, and becoming senior partner in a London firm in 1975. In retirement he continued as a consultant.

He had continued to fly. In 1949 he joined 604 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and over the next few years flew Spitfires, Vampires and Meteors, until the squadron was disbanded in 1958. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1957. He also flew privately, visiting his favourite French vineyards with his wife and children in four-seat light aircraft.

He is survived by his wife Cynthia, and by a son and daughter.

 

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