Piggy Boyle's Military Career by Michael Schoeman

Lt.Col. Brian John Lister “Piggy” BOYLE, DFC. 5 ½-0-0.                           P102647V

Brian Boyle was one of the leading SAAF fighter aces of the East African Campaign and was the first SAAF fighter pilot to win the DFC. He was born on 24.1.17 at East London, Cape. Educated at Selborn College, EL, he played rugby for the school and rowed for the first College Four. After six months in the Cadet Company, he joined the SA Military College as a PF cadet. He gained his wings was commissioned in the SAAF in 4.38. He then qualified as a flying instructor at CFS. He was a polo and tennis player and also partook in swimming. As a 2/Lt he was in 6 Sqdn at the outbreak of war. En route while flying down in his Hurricane I on deployment to Cape Town, he was delayed at Beaufort West.

He joined 1 Sqdn in 2.40 and was with it “up North” in Eritrea from 7.40, flying the Gladiator II biplane fighter. He was promoted to Captain in 8.40 and to flight commander. On the 27th September he was detached with Lt Pare to Atbara to guard the rail junction there, but they had to endure 12 standstorms in 14 days. They had to remove and strip their guns each time. Their were no armourers there. He then led a Gladiator detachment to Port Sudan to cover the arrival of troop convoys. A few days later he led another detachment to Azaza, near Gedaref. Ammunition had to be obtained and the pilots had to belt it themselves, seating the rounds carefully. They also had to strip and clean the guns themselves. This would sometimes continue until 03h00 with a dawn patrol to be flown a few hours later.

Boyle patroled Azaza-Gallabat on 4.10.40 in Gladiator N5852 with two others. Three CR.42s were seen in line astern and 152m above. In the fight that followed, Boyle sent one down out of control trailing smoke from the fuselage. He claimed a “damaged” but it was confirmed by ground troops at Metemma. On 18.10.40 in “Glad”  N5830, he flew with Lt Pare and 2/Lt Duncan to attack Barentu airfield in reply to an Italian attack on the RAF at Gedaref. Approaching through rain squalls and thunder activity they caught and destroyed  3 CR42s about to take off. They then strafed a S.79 and 5 Ca133s on the ground. On 1.11.40 with Lts Pare he attacked a Ca.133 which had already been worked over by Lt Duncan. It dived into the ground. They then strafed a convoy of lorries west of Chiga in the face of intense small arms fire. Patrolling the frontier at Metemma on 4.11.40 in Gladiator N5852 with two others, he hit a Fiat in a skirmish with CR42s.  

Next day he led a detachment to an advanced LG, “Heston”,  to cover the Indian attack on Gallabat on the morrow. It was raining when they arrived and this kept up all night. Next morning (6th) he considered the quagmire that the ALG had become by morning as unsafe to fly from. But when news came through that a lone Gladiator was being engaged by eight enemy fighters over Gallabat, he set off alone. Slithering and sliding and throwing up sheets of mud, Gladiator N5852 became airborne. He arrived too late, seeing Major van Schalwyk (who had flown directly from Azaza) going down in flames. Then he was fighting for his own life against the eight Fiat CR.42s of 412a Squadriglia. He was wounded in the hands and legs. Oil and smoke poured into the cockpit from various hits. His cloathing became oil soaked. He kept up the fight until his engine gave in and he only just managed to reach the British lines near Gallabat. He crashed amidst stones and trees. Indian troops brought him in and he was taken by ambulance to Wadi Seidna were he was hospitalized for some weeks. One of the Indians who had rescued him was J.N. Chaudhuri, later a General and the Indian Army Chief of Staff. (A colourful but inaccurste account of his being shot down is in “SAAF at War” and resembles that reported by Ross Theron when he was shot down in 1941 in North Africa, as told by Vivian Voss!) The award of the DFC was gazetted on 7.1.41, 1 Sqdn’s first decoration. Boyle returned to “ops” in 1.41. He took over “B” Flight during the month. He ferried up a Hurricane to the Port Sudan detachment and subsequently took part in a scramble. He then returned to the main battle front. Flying a Hurricane he led three Gladiators on an offensive patrol of the Keru area on 23rd. They ran into Savoias which only Boyle could hope to catch. He managed one attack before they escaped. Later, he flew to Atbara to lead two more Hurricanes in on the long leg from Port Sudan.  

On 27th January, 1941, back in a Gladiator (N5815) he led five other pilots to strafe Gura airfield where an estimated nine S.79s, seven S.81 and three Ca.133s were destroyed or damaged. Having used up most of their ammunition they had to get out fast when four CR.42s were spotted above. He led a Gladiator patrol on the afternoon of 29th which had a skirmish with CR.42s.

Taking off in Gladiator N5824 at 11h45 on 3rd February with four other Gladiator pilots,  they strafed five Ca.133s on a LG south of Azozo and set all on fire, their bombs detonating. Then with three others he damaged a S.81 on Azozo. CR.42s had meanwhile scrambled from there and were challenged by the Gladiators. Boyle shot one CR42 down south of Gondar. He passed the Fiat at close hand, seeing the pilot clearly as he tried to bale out before crashing into mountains. This was apparently the 7-victory Italian ace Enzo Omiccioli, who was posthumously awarded his country’s highest decoration for valour, the Medaglio d’Oro. After a reconnaissance of the area they returned, Boyle landing on a flat tyre.

On 4th February, 1941, in Hurricane V7711, led Lt Pare to intercept a twin-engined aircraft approaching Asmara in the glare of noon. (See Pare.) They had already damaged it when they realised that it was a 14 Sqdn, RAF, Blenheim IV (T2115). It crashed on landing at Port Sudan (the crew apparently uninjured). To add to the embarrasment, the pilot (F/O MacKenzie) was well known to the Squadron’s pilots. (Air Commodre Slatter of the RAF, “tongue in cheek, picked me out for only getting in seven hits,” Boyle later recalled.)  

Later, at 12h45, he and Major Wilmot were bounced by CR.42s but rapidly turned the tables, each slightly damaging a CR.42 over Asmara. Boyle’s opponent evaded by steep turns before diving away. Although he had seen his fire enter the EA, he made no claim.

During an offensive patrol to Asmara on 10th in Hurricane I V7711 he led his section after CR.42s into cloud. Emerging above he saw one which he dived on from the quarter. It rolled way but Boyle made several attacks from abeam and astern, setting it on fire. The pilot baled out.

In V7711 again on his third “op” of the day, he was one of five Hurricanes patrolling Asmara again on 13th when they intercepted four CR.42s which were 300m higher, just before 13h00. They climbed towards the Fiats between the clouds. The Fiats attempted to evaded their attacks by using cloud cover. Maj Wilmot fired at and hit a CR.42 (actually the last CR.32 available in Eritrea) that spiralled into cloud with a stopped engine and streaming black smoke. He chased after it and came out to see it under attack by Boyle. He had got behind it. Flames started in the cockpit and the Italian pilot baled out. He later died of his wounds (qv Wilmot).

On 15.2.41, in Hurricane V7711 yet again, he led three others on an escort to a Wellesley on a PR to Gura. They engaged three CR.42, Boyle firing at one without result. He then flew an offensive patrol to Gura with Lt Theron. They found three CR.42 headed for Massawa at low level. Boyle caught up with one and shot it down. The Fiat crash landed and the pilot was seen to crawl out and limp away.

After escorting Wellesleys to Gura on 16.2.41,  Major Wilmot led Boyle and three other pilots down to strafe and destroyed two S.79s. Taking off after 10h00 to escort Wellesleys on 19th  to bomb Asmara, he (in V7711) and four others then strafed the airfield, destroying two CR.42s, three S.79s and two Ca.133s

Together with Maj Wilmot and five other Hurricane pilots, he strafed Massawa airfield on 21st in the face of a terrific barrage of AA fire, destroying six Ca.133s and a CR.42.

On 23rd with five others he strafed Makale airfield, destroying five S.79s and three CR.32s and damaging three S.79s. While strafing Decamere and Asmara airfields on 9 March his Hurricane, V7711, was damaged by AA fire. It was repaired. Two days later, again in V7711, he strafed a S.79 on the ground and and then joined two other pilots in starfing a petrol dump and a train.

On 16th he led a patrol at 14h00 to intercept four CR.42s reported over Keren. He did not find them. On 20th the wing of of his Hurricane, V7711, was slightly damaged by three 412 Sqda CR42s that bounced him and Lt Hewitson over Keren. He was claimed as “shot down” by the ever fanciful Italians. (The scores, always against the SAAF in East or North Africa, reported by Italians who later worked with the British as co-Belingerents, were quite remarkable.) On 29.3.41 he was rested, being picked up, with other pilots, by a SAAF Ju.52 for RTU.

He became an instructor until 2.44. He was a popular CFI at 62 AS. Boyle went “up North” again. He arrived in Italy to join 7 Wing and was posted to 4 Sqdn on Spitfire Vs. It was doing mainly fighter-bomber work, and he saw no useage of his superb air fighting skills again. He became CO of 4 in 4.44. He flew intensively and ended his tour in 7.44 when he was posted to MORU “ops” staff.

He had 1,479 flying hours by then. He went RTU and was OC of 4 AS in 1945. He later served with 64 AS. Boyle remained in the SAAF post war  Years later there was an unexpected sequal to the action on 6.11.40 when he had tried to go the rescue of Maj van Schalkwyk despie overwheling odds and had been shot down himself. At a banquet in London General JN Chaudhuri, Chief of the Indian Army General Staff, inquired of a surprised SADF officer how his old friend “Piggy” Boyle was! As a major Chaudhuri had, under fire, saved Piggy while he was attempting to evade after being shot down.

He retired from the SAAF as a Brigadier and ran a road haulage firm. He died early in 1993.

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