Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Roll of Honour: Paddy Coote

Wing Commander P. B. Coote
211 Sqn. Royal Air Force
Killed in action, 13 April 1941, Macedonia. Aged 31.

Patric, better known as Paddy was born in Eton on 7 January 1910, one of five sons of Commander Bernard Trotter Coote OBE, RN and Mrs. Grace Coote (nee Robinson). His brothers were all Old Wokingians.

At Woking County School Paddy and his four brothers (Denis, Henry, Roderic and Philip) all excelled at sport. At the school sports day in the summer of 1923 Paddy won the Junior championship having come first in the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards, hurdles, high jump, long jump and throwing the cricket ball. He first played for the school cricket team aged 13.

After leaving school and passing the boy mechanic exams for the RAF in 1923 Paddy joined the RAF in September 1926 as an aircraft apprentice. Three years later he gained a cadetship to the RAF College at Cranwell in Lincolnshire. In July 1930 he justified his selection by winning the Sword of Honour, beating classmate Douglas Bader (of ‘Reach For The Sky’ fame) in what became a two horse race. He was then posted to a fighter squadron.

His love of sport continued after joining the RAF where he was awarded colours in hockey, athletics, boxing and rugby. He was also RAF squash champion. The pinnacle of his sporting career came when he was chosen to represent Ireland in their four nations match against Scotland in April 1933. He played at centre in the 8-6 defeat at Lansdowne Road, Dublin.

In September 1931 Paddy was accepted for the flying instructors course which he passed Category A1. He returned to Cranwell as an instructor until 1933 when he was transferred to the staff at the Central Flying School at Upavon in Wiltshire. In December 1934 Paddy was appointed adjutant to a bomber squadron.

On 1 June 1935 he married Muriel Elsmie, daughter of Major General Alexander Elsmie and they set up home in Chobham. They were to have two daughters. Anne born in 1937 and Brigid born in 1939.

Paddy was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in January 1936 and in October 1936 he resumed flying duties and was posted to the Middle East as an instructor. In February 1938 he was seconded to the British Military Mission in Egypt and in October of that year was promoted to Squadron Leader. In December 1940 he was again promoted to Wing Commander of British Air Forces, Greece.

In early 1941 there was a very real threat of a German invasion of Greece. The Greeks adopted a soft approach and the RAF were only permitted to operate from Albania. Paddy was sent to 211 Squadron in Paramythia, a well hidden airfield 3,000 feet up in the mountains with only tented accommodation for the crews. He arrived on 19 February to establish an Advanced Operations Wing at the base. In spite of the spartan conditions the airfield was considered important enough to attract visits from Anthony Eden and Field Marshall Wavell (Commander Middle East forces) in February. Peter, the young exiled King of Yugoslavia was also based there at the time.

Tented accommodation at Paramythia
(Copyright RJ Dudman)

On 28 February Paddy was piloting a single seat Gloster Gladiator, the bi-plane was rapidly being rendered obsolete by the development of mono-planes yet Paddy was able to confirm his only kill of the war. He shot down another bi-plane, an Italian Fiat CR42a near the Tepelene coast in southern Albania.

On 13 April 211 Squadron undertook two raids during the morning on vehicles and troop concentrations in the Florina area near the northern Greek border under escort from Hurricanes (no resistance was encountered). 

At 1500 the unit was briefed to send six more bombers to the area. No Hurricanes were available as escort. Paddy Coote decided to go on the raid as observer to ‘have a look’ at the progress of the German advance. The formation was led by Squadron Leader Irvine, the commanding officer.

At 1605 the Blenheims approached Lake Prespa on the border of modern day Macedonia, Albania and Greece some 40 miles short of the target area. They were spotted by three Messerschmitt Bf108e’s of 6/JG27 based at Gazala in Libya. The fighters closed rapidly on the three rear Blenheims and immediately opened fire. In just four minutes all six Blenheims were shot down. The fate of the aircraft and their crews is as follows:

L8449 - Crashed near the village of Karia.
Shot down by Hauptman Hans-Joachim Gerlach.
    Flt. Lt. Alan Godfrey - Bailed out and escaped to Greece. Killed in flying accident in 1946.
    Sgt. James O’Neill - KIA.
    Sgt. Jack Wainhouse - KIA. Aged 21.

L8664 (or L8604?) - Crashed near the village of Karia.
Shot down by Unteroffizier Fritz Gromotka.*
    F/O Charles Thompson DFC - KIA.
    P/O Peter Hogarth - KIA. Aged 26.
    Flt. Sgt. Wilfred Arscott - KIA. Aged 38.

L1539 - Crashed near the SW shore of Lake Prespa.
Shot down by Feldwebel Herbert Krenz.
    Flt. Sgt. Arthur James - Bailed out but was shot down and killed two days later. Aged 22.
    Sgt. Andrew Bryce - KIA. Aged 24.
    Sgt. Arthur Waring - KIA. Aged 24.

L1434 - Ditched near SE shore of Lake Prespa.**
Shot down by Hauptman Hans-Joachim Gerlach.
    Flt. Lt. Lindsay Buchanan DFC - Died next day in hospital. Aged 24 from New Zealand.
    S/L Leslie Cryer DFC - Died next day in hospital.
    Sgt. George Pattison DFM - KIA. Aged 26.

L8478 - Crashed near the village of Vigla.
    S/L Anthony Irvine MID - KIA. Aged 27. Old Etonian.
    P/O Gerald Davies - KIA. Aged 24.
    P/O Arthur Geary DFC - KIA.

L4819 - Crashed near the village of Trigonon.
Shot down by Unteroffizier Fritz Gromotka.
    F/O Richard V. Herbert*** - Bailed out but the aircraft was too low. KIA. Aged 21.
    W/C ‘Paddy’ Coote - KIA. Aged 31.
    Flt. Sgt. William N. Young - KIA.

Luftwaffe ace Felix Gromotka

*The first of 29 WW2 kills attributed to Fritz Gromotka.
**The remains of L1434 were recovered in 1993 and can now be seen in the Greek Air Force Museum in Athens.
*** Both Richard Herberts brothers were killed on active service.
Paddy Coote is buried in Phaleron War Cemetery, near Athens, Greece (grave 4.C.19). He is also remembered on the Woking County Grammar School roll of honour located in Christ Church, Woking and Woodham war memorial.

Last updated 20 December 2009

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Woking County School Magazine
London Gazette
Aviation Safety Network
The Fight At Odds by Dennis Richards

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