Hobbymaster 1/48th scale HA8607 Hawker Hurricane I SD-F, Sgt. Ldr James “Ginger” Lacey, No. 501 Sqn., Gravesend, Sept 1940. Buy now online at Flying Tigers.
The Hawker Hurricane was the first British single-engine fighter and the first single wing aircraft with retractable landing gear as well as an enclosed cockpit and 8 machine guns. The Hurricane went into operational service in December 1937 with the RAF 111 Squadron. The Hurricane is usually over looked as a major player in the BoB because of the Spitfire but 80% of the 1,792 German aircraft shot down were because of the Hurricane. There were 14,533 Hurricanes produced in all variants.
When WWII began James Harry “Ginger” Lacey was a member of the RAF 501 Squadron and served in France until Dunkirk when the British were forced out by the Germans. During the Battle of Britain from July 10, 1940 until October 31 1940 Lacey scored 18 victories while flying his Hawker Hurricane. By the end of 1940 Ginger had a total of 23.5 victories making him the second highest scorer slightly behind Hurricane pilot Sammy Allard of the 85 Squadron. Lacey’s final total was 28 destroyed and 9 damaged.
Squadron Leader James Harry “Ginger” Lacey DFM & Bar (1st February 1917 – 30th May 1989) was one of the top scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilots of the Second World War and was the second highest scoring RAF fighter pilot of the Battle of Britain, behind Pilot Officer Eric Lock of No. 41 Squadron RAF. Lacey was credited with 28 enemy aircraft destroyed, five probables and nine damaged.
Lacey left King James Grammar School, Knaresborough in 1933 continuing his education at Leeds Technical College. After four years as an apprentice pharmacist, he joined the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) in January 1937 as a trainee pilot at Perth, Scotland. In 1938, he then took an instructor’s course, becoming an instructor at the Yorkshire Flying School, accumulating 1,000 hours of flight time before the war. Called up at the outbreak of war, he joined No. 501 Squadron RAF.
On 10th May 1940, the Squadron moved to Bétheniville in France where Lacey experienced his first combat. On the afternoon of 13th May over Sedan, he destroyed a Heinkel He 111 of KG 53 and an escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109 on one sortie, followed by a Messerschmitt Bf 110 later in the afternoon. He claimed two more He 111s on 27th May, before the squadron was withdrawn to England on 19th June, having claimed nearly 60 victories. On 9th June, his aircraft was damaged in combat and he crash landed and almost drowned in a swamp. During his operational duties in France, he was awarded the French Croix de guerre.
Flying throughout the Battle of Britain with No. 501 based at Gravesend or Croydon, Lacey became one of the highest scoring pilots of the battle. His first kill of the battle was on 20th July 1940, when he shot down a Bf 109E of Jagdgeschwader 27. He then claimed a destroyed Ju 87 and a “probable” Ju 87 on 12th August along with a damaged Bf 110 and damaged Do 17 on 15th August, a probable Bf 109 on 16th August. He destroyed a Ju 88, damaged a Dornier Do 17 on 24th August and shot down a Bf 109 of Jagdgeschwader 3 on 29th August. He bailed out unharmed after being hit by return fire from a Heinkel He 111 on 13th August.
On 23rd August 1940, Lacey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after the destruction of 6 enemy aircraft.
On 30th August 1940, during combat over the Thames Estuary, Lacey shot down a He 111 and damaged a Bf 110 before his Hurricane was badly hit from enemy fire. His engine stopped and he decided to glide the stricken aircraft back to the airfield at Gravesend instead of bailing out into the Estuary.
A highly successful August was completed when he destroyed a Bf 109 on 31st August.
On 2nd September 1940, Lacey shot down two Bf 109s and damaged a Do 17. He then shot down another two Bf 109s on 5th September. During a heavy raid on 13th September, he engaged a formation of Kampfgeschwader 55 He 111s over London where he shot down one of the bombers that had just bombed Buckingham Palace. He then bailed out of his aircraft, sustaining slight injuries, as he could not find his airfield in the worsening visibility.
Returning to the action shortly thereafter, he shot down a He 111, three Bf 109s and damaged another on 15thSeptember 1940, one of the heaviest days of fighting during the whole battle, which later became known as “Battle of Britain Day”. During the battle he attacked a formation of 12 Bf 109s, shooting down two before the other had noticed before escaping into cloud.
Two days later on 17th September, he was shot down over Ashford, Kent during a dogfight with Bf 109s and bailed out without injury. On 27th September, he destroyed a Bf 109 and damaged a Junkers Ju 88 on 30th September. During October he claimed a probable Bf 109 on 7th October, shot down a Bf 109 on 12th October, another on 26th October and on 30th October, he destroyed a Bf 109 before damaging another.
During the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain, Lacey had been shot down or forced to land due to combat no less than nine times. On 26th November 1940, with 23 claims (18 made during the Battle of Britain) Lacey received a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Medal for his continued outstanding courage and bravery during the Battle of Britain. The citation in the London Gazette stated:
“Awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Flying Medal. 740042 Sergeant James Harry LACEY, D.F.M., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 501 Squadron. Sergeant Lacey has shown consistent efficiency and great courage. He has led his section on many occasions and his splendid qualities as a fighter pilot have enabled him to destroy at least 19 enemy aircraft”.
His final award for outstanding service during 1940 was a Mention in Dispatches announced on 1st January 1941. Lacey was commissioned a pilot officer (on probation) on 25th January 1941 (seniority from 15th January) and promoted to acting flight lieutenant in June. On 10th July 1941, as “A” flight commander, he shot down a Bf 109 and damaged another a few days later on 14th July. On 17th July, he claimed a Heinkel He 59 seaplane shot down and on 24th July, two Bf 109s (by causing them to collide). He was posted away from combat operations during August 1941, serving as a flight instructor with 57 Operational Training Unit. He was promoted to war substantive flying officer on 22nd September.
During March 1942, Lacey joined No. 602 Squadron, based at Kenley flying the Spitfire Mk V and by 24th March had claimed a Fw 190 as damaged. He damaged another Fw 190 on 25th April 1942 before a posting to 81 Group as a tactics officer. Promoted to war substantive flight lieutenant on 27th August, in November he was posted as Chief Instructor at the No. 1 Special Attack Instructors School, Milfield.
In March 1943, Lacey was posted to No. 20 Squadron, Kaylan in India before joining 1572 Gunnery Flight in July of the same year to convert from Blenheims to Hurricanes and then to Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. He stayed in India, being posted to command 155 Squadron flying the Spitfire VIII in November 1944 and then as CO No. 17 Squadron later that month. While based in India, Lacey claimed his last aircraft on 19th February 1945, shooting down a Japanese Army Air Force Nakajima Ki 43 “Oscar” with only nine 20mm cannon rounds.
“Ginger” Lacey was one of the few RAF pilots on operational duties on both the opening and closing day of the war. His final tally was 28 confirmed, four probables and nine damaged.
After the war was over, Lacey went to Japan with No. 17 Squadron, becoming the first Spitfire pilot to fly over Japan on 30th April 1946. He returned to the UK in May 1946. He received a permanent commission in the rank of flight lieutenant on 8th December 1948 (seniority from 1st September 1945), and retired from the RAF on 5th March 1967 as a flight lieutenant; he retained the rank of squadron leader.
After retirement, Lacey ran an air freight business and instructed at a flight school near Bridlington, UK.
Ginger” Lacey died on 30th May 1989 at the age of 72. In September 2001, a plaque was unveiled at Priory Church, Bridlington, Yorkshire in memory of the fighter pilot and ace.
There was/is also a plaque at the location of the house Lacey grew up in, on the old site of Nidd Vale Motors, Sandbeck Lane, Wetherby, sadly the house where he was raised was knocked down a few years ago.