Battle of Britain profile: Flying Officer Peter Lochnan

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Biography / September 12, 2013

The pilots of the Battle of Britain are honoured for their efforts in turning aside the German onslaught designed to prepare the British for a German invasion.  Royal Canadian Air Force pilots such as Gordon McGregor, Ernie McNab and Dal Russel are rightfully respected for their roles; however, there were many others who fought, and died, whose names are not as well-known and whose stories are equally interesting.  Flying Officer Peter Lochnan is one of these pilots.

In June 1939, 25- year-old Peter William Lochnan of Ottawa was accepted into the RCAF, receiving a commission in the RCAF Auxiliary as was the practice at the time.  His career path was unusual from the beginning in that he was sent to the Aero Club of British Columbia to learn to fly. He was one of the few RCAF officers who participated in a program that was a precursor to part of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

He then learned combat flying at Camp Borden, Ontario, and in June 1940 was sent to No. 112 Squadron before being deployed to the United Kingdom.  Flying Westland Lysanders, the squadron participated in army cooperation exercises in preparation for defensive measures against an expected invasion of England. On August 19, Lochnan was one of three pilots from the squadron selected to learn to fly the Hurricane and to fight with No.1 (RCAF) Squadron, which was about to participate in the Battle of Britain.  

Within days of arriving at No. 1 Squadron, Lochnan was credited with two damaged bombers on September 9.  On the 15th he attacked a Heinkel 111 at very close range and, after forcing it to land at West Malling, he landed beside it and “assisted” the German aircrew out of the aircraft. On September 27, he shared in the kill of a Messerschmidt ME-110, landing his damaged Hurricane at Gatwick, where the German pilot had crashed.  His last victory was against a ME-109 on October 7.  By the time the squadron was pulled from duties in the battle for some rest on October 10, Lochnan had flown on an almost daily basis, sometimes two or three sorties a day with most lasting more than an hour.    

In February 1941, Lochnan was posted to 400 Squadron where he was involved in the squadron’s training with and for the British and Canadian armies. Flying Lysanders was a lot slower than the Hurricanes Lochnan had flown in the Battle of Britain; however, the squadron looked forward to the faster Curtiss Tomahawks that they were about to receive.

On May 10, Lochnan and two other 400 Squadron pilots were sent to two Royal Air Force squadrons to perform sea rescue work. Lochnan went to 225 Squadron at Pembray, Wales, just as the first Tomahawks arrived at 400 Squadron.  On May21, word was received at Pembray that a Tiger Moth with two RAF officers onboard had gone down at the mouth of the Severn River. The weather was not suitable for flying, with low cloud and lots of fog.  After receiving a briefing, Lochnan made the decision to attempt a search. With an RAF air gunner in the rear seat, he had just taken off when he clipped a tree at the top of a nearby hill. The Lysander crashed and burned.  Lochnan was pulled from the wreckage, only to die later that day.

Flying Officer Peter Lochnan was an agile fighter pilot, with a strong sense of duty.  He did not have to fly on the rescue mission on which he was to be killed.  But, as with so many other pilots, the call to help a fellow aviator trumped caution.  Lochnan was one of more than 50 Canadian Battle of Britain pilots who lost their lives during the war, over one-third of the pilots who served. 

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