One of Britain’s greatest fighter pilots from WWII, credited with 30 “kills”, and known as “Lucky Tuck” for his uncanny escapes from danger. Awarded the D.S.O., D.F.C. and Two Bars.
Roland Robert Stanford Tuck was born in England in 1916. Educated at St. Dunstan’s College, Catford, he became a proficient boxer, gymnast and swimmer, and was a member of the prize winning rifle shooting team. At fourteen, thanks to the efforts of his parents’ housekeeper, he could speak and write fluent Russian.
In 1932 he joined the Merchant Navy and sailed with the refrigerator ship Marconi. He gained further practice in marksmanship killing sharks with a Lee Enfield .303 rifle, and in learning the art of knife throwing from the bo’s’un. In 1935 at the age of 19 he left the Merchant Navy to join the R.A.F.
The R.A.F.’s great war ace got off to a bad start. The ability to fly seemed to evade him. With far more hours of training than most of his classmates, Bob Tuck was still an unsafe and unskilled pilot. During the actual flight of his final test, Tuck was hung-over and sure of failing. This triggered a “don’t care” attitude that apparently allowed him to relax enough to fly properly for the first time.
After finally being allowed to fly solo, Tuck’s flying improved dramatically – enough to allow him to perform illegal and highly dangerous stunts such as flying under bridges. Bob Tuck only ended his highly risky and spectacular mode of flying after wrecking his plane and nearly ending his life on January 18, 1938. In formation at 3,000 feet, the plane in front of Tuck’s banked across in front of him. Collision was inevitable. Injured in a ruined aircraft, Tuck only just managed to get out of the machine in time. He cut his face open – on parachuting to earth he realised he could reach through his cheek to remove a fragment of tooth – and was left with a scar and a limp; and a greatly changed attitude. The pilot to blame for the accident, Sergeant Geoffrey Gaskell, was killed instantly in the aircrafts’ collision.
In 1938 Tuck was trained in the Supermarine Spitfire – the plane that was to remain his favourite. Shortly into WWII he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in command of 92 (F) Squadron. He saw his first aerial combat with this squadron over Dunkirk on 23 May 1940 – and brought down three enemy Messerschmitts that day.
Bob Tuck remained with 92 Squadron through the first half of the Battle of Britain, and was then posted to command No. 257 Squadron – flying Hurricanes instead of the Spitfire. 257 had been suffering heavy casualties, and was desperately low on morale and equipment. Tuck brought them back into line, and the squadron began to make an acceptable dent in enemy numbers again.
Halfway through 1941 Tuck was given command of a Fighter wing – handing over command of 257 “Burma” Squadron to his best friend, Peter “Cowboy” Blatchford. A short while after Bob was sent to America to train fighter pilots there…while there, Rita Hayworth taught him to jive.
In December 1941, after a few months in America, Tuck returned to England – this time to command of a five squadron wing. Only a month later he was shot down and captured over France. On the long trip to a German P.O.W. camp he met the German air ace Adolf Galland – who was to become General commanding the entire German fighter forces. The two were cordial at the time – after the war they were to become great friends.
Tuck ended up in the infamous Sagan – planning the Great Escape with old friend Roger Bushell. Another old and very famous friend – Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader joined them in Sagan for a while, but was moved out by the Germans. Tuck himself was moved out with 18 others suspected of escapist activities. This saved his life – he would have gone on the great escape with Roger Bushell, would have been recaptured with him, and certainly been shot, as Bushell was.
In 1945 Tuck and a Polish pilot, Zbishek Kustrzynski, escaped and went on the run. Sheltered by various Russians, and at one time an English escapee, Joseph Dickinson, Tuck and Zbishek eventually made their way back to England. Tuck returned to duty, and continued flying for a few years before retiring from the R.A.F. in 1949. He had an official “bag” of 29 planes destroyed – a total raised to 30 in the 1980s when a Messerschmitt pulled up from the ocean floor was confirmed as one of Tuck’s “probables”.
Tuck married his longtime sweetheart Joyce within a week of returning to England after escaping from Germany. As far as I can discover, he had two sons, and liked to grow mushrooms in his retirement. He died in 1987 at the age of 70.
“Fly For Your Life” by Larry Forrester, 1956. Biography of R. R. Stanford Tuck