Adolf Gysbert “Sailor” Malan was one of the great fighter pilots of WWII. He finished the war with 32 “kills” to his name, and was awarded the D.F.C.; the D.S.O. and two bars; and various decorations from allied countries.
Malan was born in Cape Province, South Africa in 1910. He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 15 – hence the nickname “Sailor” that was promptly bestowed upon him when he joined the R.A.F. in 1935.
Sailor’s entry into the R.A.F. was in response to the huge expansion of that body in preparation for war with Germany. He completed his pilot training, and was posted to no. 74 Fighter Squadron in December 1936.
74 Squadron was known as “Tiger” Squadron as its badge was a tiger’s face with the squadron motto: “I fear no man”. The squadron’s impressive fighting record may have added to the nickname. In 1939 Sailor reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant – having climbed through the ranks - still with 74 Squadron. He was awarded the D.F.C. in June 1940, and less than two months later was commanding the squadron. Three days later, in one day’s work, the squadron brought down 38 enemy aircraft. Malan’s D.S.O. was awarded in December that year.
Sailor reached the impressive total of 32 enemy aircraft destroyed, with two probables – beating his long-time friend and fellow air ace Robert Stanford Tuck by two “kills”.
"Sailor" was awarded the following decorations by Allied Governments:
The Belgian Croix de Guerre
The Czecho-Slovakian Military Cross
The French Legion of Honour
The French Croix de Guerre
Malan retired from the R.A.F. in 1946 and returned to South Africa, where he led a protest group of ex-servicemen in a protest group known as the “Torch Commando” – opposing the National Party’s move to abolish the coloured vote. Sailor died in 1963 from Parkinson’s Disease.
Sailor Malan developed 10 rules for fighter combat – rules that are still taught today:
- Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of one to two seconds only when your sights are definitely "ON"
- Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of your body: have both hands on the stick: concentrate on your ring sight.
- Always keep a sharp lookout. "Keep your finger out".
- Height gives you the initiative.
- Always turn and face the attack.
- Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.
- Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.
- When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as a top guard.
- Initiative, aggression, air discipline, and teamwork are words that mean something in Air Fighting.
- Go in quickly – Punch hard - Get out!
Considering Sailor’s impressive “kill” record, and the fact that he survived the war, one can only assume that the rules worked. Malan was immortalised by biographer Norman Franks in the book “Sky Tiger; the Story of Sailor Malan”.