Gleed, Ian Richard “Widge”, born 03-07-1916 in Finchley, north London to Seymour Richard Gleed and his wife Florence, born Hair, Gleed. His father, a doctor, had served as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, and his sister Daphne was also involved in medicine. He studied at Epsom College and was an avid sailor. Gleed told friends that after the war, he planned to buy a sailboat and sail to the South Seas. an avid sailor. After learning to fly as a civilian, Gleed was granted a RAF commission in 1936. He completed training on Christmas Day 1936 and was posted to No 46 Squadron, flying the Gloster Gauntlet II, a biplane fighter. Gleed was promoted to flying officer on 09-10-1938. His RAF nickname, “Widge,” is said to be short for “Wizard Midget” for Gleed’s short stature and his habit of using “wizard” as an adjective. At the onset of war in September 1939, he was transferred to No 266 Squadron as a flight commander. 266 Squadron RFC is the squadron in which Captain James Bigglesworth serves in the Biggles stories that are set in the First World War. The squadron took deliveries of Spitfires in January. In February 1940, a Spitfire Gleed was flying broke up in the air. Gleed was injured while falling out of the plane but regained consciousness soon enough to pull his parachute.
Gleed regained his full flying status on 14-05-1940, when he was posted to No 87 Squadron, a Hurricane squadron. 87 was stationed in France, and had suffered significant casualties during the first week of the Battle of France. About Gleed’s arrival in France, British RAF pilot Roland Beamont said the following:
Gleed was one of our replacement pilots and he came out from the UK to tell us exactly how to run the war – all 5ft 6ins of him! He was immediately as good as his word and tore into the enemy on every conceivable occasion with apparent delight and entire lack of concern. His spirit was exactly what was needed to bolster up the somewhat stunned survivors of the week following 10 May. That is not to say that 87 Squadron’s morale was not extremely high, but The Widge somehow managed to raise it further.
Roland Beamont survived the war and died 19-11-2001, aged 81, in Hampshire.
Gleed’s first victories came on 18 May, when he claimed two Bf 110 destroyed. The following day, he claimed one Bf 109 destroyed and an additional probable, two Do 17 bombers, and a shared He 111 bomber destroyed. Two 601 Sqn Spitfire Vb over Djerba Island in early 1943, led by Wing Commander Gleed in his personal Spitfire marked IR-G This is the basis of the claim that Gleed was the fastest RAF pilot to make ace, in only two days. 87 Squadron was evacuated back to Britain on 22 May.
During the Battle of Britain, 87 Squadron was part of No 10 Group, based at Church Fenton and later Exeter. At one point, converting to Spitfires was considered but abandoned after Beamont and Gleed were able to easily defeat a Spitfire pilot in a dogfight with their Hurricanes. During the air raids of The Blitz, 87 Squadron was assigned night fighter duties defending Bristol. Despite the limitations of using searchlights to direct the Hurricanes to enemy aircraft, Gleed scored two victories at night. In December 1940 Gleed was promoted to squadron leader and took command of 87 Squadron at RAF Charmy Down. At the time, John Strachey was serving as 87 Squadron’s adjutant. He wrote the forward to Gleed’s memoir, Arise to Conquer.
Reunion of Battle of Britain pilots with Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding in September 1942. Gleed is third from left .
A year later (November 1941, at the age of 25) Gleed was promoted to wing commander and was appointed wing leader at RAF Middle Wallop and later RAF Ibsley. (A wing leader is responsible for flying operations of three to five squadrons, but has no authority over administrative matters.) At Ibsley, he directed the operations of No 118 , No 234 and No 501 Squadrons, which made fighter sweeps across the English Channel and conducted bomber escorts. At other times, the Hurricane squadrons would act as fighter-bombers with Spitfires as top cover. During bomber escorts, Gleed advised his pilots to stay with the bombers and not get distracted by chasing enemy fighters. Nevertheless, he was quick to take action when the opportunity presented itself.
In June 1942 he was rested from operations and Christopher Frederick, “Bunny” Currant was promoted to command the Ibsley Wing. Gleed was posted to RAF Bentley Priory, HQ Fighter Command, where he was Wing Commander Tactics and subsequently Wing Commander Operations. Two 601 Sqn Spitfire Vb over Djerba Island in early 1943, led by Wing Commander Gleed in his personal Spitfire marked IR-G. “Bunny” Currant survived the war and died 12-03-2006, aged 94 inTaunton, Somerset
Death and burial ground of Gleed, Ian Richard “Widge”.
However, Gleed was not content sitting behind a desk, and arranged to be posted to an operational command in the Middle East, a more active theater following the Torch landings. In January 1943, he was posted to the Middle East, where he took command of No 244 Wing on 31 January. He claimed his final aerial victory on 17 March. Even after the newer, faster Spitfire IX became available, Gleed insisted on allowing less experienced pilots to fly it, instead flying a lower-performing Spitfire Vb.
244 Wing participated in Operation Flax, a series of fighter sweeps over the Cap Bon area intended to intercept transport aircraft attempting to evacuate Axis personnel from Tunisia to Sicily. Gleed led one such operation on 16-04-1942. The RAF destroyed seven SM.82 fast bombers and a Bf 109, but Gleed and his wingman were killed. Gleed was likely shot down by the high-scoring Luftwaffe ace Oberstleutnant Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert . Reinert had claimed a P-51 Mustang, but it is believed that he misidentified Gleed’s clipped-wing Spitfire Vb. Reinart survived the war and died 05-09-2007, age 88, Bad Pyrmont,
His loss caused the Allies to abandon small-scale fighter sweeps. From that point on missions consisted of three P-40 squadrons covered by one Spitfire squadron.
Gleed’s final “score” was thirteen destroyed, seven probables, four damaged, one destroyed on the ground and one damaged on the ground.
The publisher of Gleed’s memoir was concerned about his “confirmed bachelor” status and encouraged Gleed to invent a fictional fiancée, named Pam. Gleed told his family that he invented her because “readers like a taste of romance.”
A 1978 biography of Gleed by Norman Franks struck one reviewer as leaving “many questions unanswered” especially regarding his personal life: “Neville Duke and Roland Beamont do not, as quoted, provide us with much of a clue to the kind of man Ian Gleed was (other than an exceptionally successful, gallant and determined fighter pilot). Norman Franks tells us of only one close friend—a boy who used to go sailing with Gleed and whose company he seems to have gone to considerable lengths to enjoy, even at the risk of court martial for ‘the employment of aircraft for unauthorised purposes in wartime.'”
In 1997, RAF pilot Christopher Gotch gave an interview on a BBC documentary on LGBT history, “It’s Not Unusual.” He said that he had had a homosexual relationship with Gleed while they were stationed at Middle Wallop in 1942. Gotch recalled that Gleed had approached him and initiated a sexual relationship, at considerable risk as gross indecency was not only a court-martial offence but a crime punishable by jail time. The relationship ended when Gleed was posted to Bentley Priory and then the Middle East. They were never caught, although Gotch describes a close call in which he hid in Gleed’s closet.
Modern sources have described Gleed as gay. and he is buried at Enfidaville War Cemetery Enfidaville, Sousse, Tunisia. Plot V. E. 22.