Tony Iveson: Second World War pilot who served in the Battle of Britain in a Spitfire and helped sink the 'Tirpitz' in a Lancaster

 

Tony Iveson flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain and later the Lancaster Bomber, in which he was part of the group which sank Hitler's flagship, the Tirpitz. Serving as a flying instructor for two years after the Battle of Britain, he then flew many missions over Germany as a member of the 617 Squadron – the "Dambusters". His love affair with the Lancaster continued for the rest of his life and he flew the last remaining Lancaster at the age of 89. He then wrote Lancaster – the Biography (2008) with Brian Milton in 2009. But nothing in his life became him more than the memorial for which he campaigned tirelessly in his final years for his comrades in Bomber Command, around 55,500 of whom gave their lives to keep Hitler from these shores.

Born in Yorkshire, Thomas Clifford Iveson had dreamed of flying from his early teens and joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1938. During the Battle of Britain he was a sergeant pilot on Spitfire fighters with 616 Squadron and survived ditching his Spitfire into the sea on 16 September 1940. He was then sent to Rhodesia to train young pilots.

After training in Lancasters he joined 617 Squadron in July 1944 and became a squadron leader with Bomber Command in October of that year. His achievements included keeping his severely damaged bomber airborne in January 1945 and landing it in Shetland after half the crew had bailed out, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in March 1945.

But the highlight was the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz, which Churchill had made his priority, in the Norwegian fjords. At the 2012 Oldie Soho Literary Festival he told a riveted audience about the events which culminated, after a few attempts had been aborted because of bad weather, on 12 November 1944. "The day dawned bright and clear", he said. "We realised the conditions were perfect for what we needed to do. We also realised that they were equally perfect for the German fighters who would be scrambled to pursue us."

The Tirpitz was not so much sunk – the water was not deep enough – as overturned. The bombs created a hole in the hull through which several German sailors were able to escape with their lives. Iveson was relieved at that and remained in touch with some of the survivors.

Immediately after the war Iveson was seconded to BOAC, flying converted bombers to the Far East. He left the RAF the following year, but later joined a field squadron of the RAF Regiment in the RAAF and commanded a light anti–aircraft squadron before the force was disbanded in 1957.

On civvy street Iveson had a long career in television and public relations. He was involved in the production of early programmes for Granada, and undertook PR work for some of the country's leading companies, including Littlewood's Pools. It was Iveson who handled the publicity in 1961 when Viv Nicholson won £152,319 (nearly £3 million in today's money) and promised to "spend, spend, spend"; Iveson was unable to prevent her from doing just that and spending the lot in less than five years.

He was the perfect gentleman in both conduct and appearance, and it was not easy to upset him. But one thing was guaranteed to, although he never raised his voice. At the Oldie night in Soho there was a member of the audience who had clearly taken a front row seat to specifically in order to protest about the bombing of places like Dresden, and complain that the bombing of dams, which caused widespread flooding, should not have happened.

Iveson had no time for what he called "self-appointed armchair historians" who criticised operations in which he saw close friends die. "Total war – and that is what we were forced into – is a brutal business, a total breakdown of civilisation, where you fight terror with terror or die," he once told me. "After the Battle of Britain and the Blitz, in which 43,000 civilians were killed and many more injured, Bomber Command began taking the air war from over the rooftops of London and other British cities into the skies over Germany.

"It was the only British force which could inflict war on the enemy heartland ... between Dunkirk and Normandy and keep it there until the end in 1945. By driving the enemy air force on to the defensive, by forcing him to build fighters instead of bombers, London and other cities were spared from further devastation. The Luftwaffe, equipped with bombers, would have rendered the South Coast preparation areas untenable, leading to the invasion of Europe being postponed or abandoned."

This was the spirit which made him go into battle in his nineties for what was to be his final triumph: to see the completion of the Bomber Command Memorial opposite the RAF Club at Hyde Park corner. The bravest of the brave received neither a campaign medal nor a knighthood, but were it not for Tony Iveson and Bomber Command I might not be here to be writing this, and I am very proud to have known him.

Thomas Clifford Iveson, RAF pilot and flying instructor: born Yorkshire 11 September 1919; married 1941 Christine Green (marriage dissolved; three daughters, and one son deceased), married secondly (died 1995); partner to Mary Kimpton; died 5 November 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk