Tuck, Robert, born 01-07-1916, of Jewish parents at Catford, SE London. After a less-than-stellar school career he left St Dunstan’s College, Catford in 1932 to join the Merchant Navy as a sea cadet before joining the RAF on a short service commission as an acting pilot officer in 1935. Following flying training, Tuck joined 65th Squadron in September 1935 as an acting probationary pilot officer. He became a pilot officer on probation in September 1936 and his pilot officer rank was confirmed in early 1937, which was backdated to December 1936. In September 1938 he was promoted to flying officer and in May 1940, he was posted to 92nd Squadron , based at Croydon, as a Flight Commander flying Spitfires. Tuck led his first combat patrol on 23-05-1940, over Dunkirk, claiming three German fighters shot down. The following day he shot down two German bombers and as aerial fighting intensified over the next two weeks his score rapidly mounted. Tuck was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on June 11 and received it from King Georg VI at RAF Hornchurch on June 28. His combat successes continued into July and August as the Battle of Britain (see Bomber Harris) gathered pace, although he himself was forced to bail out on 18 August. While attacking a formation of Junkers Ju-88s (see Hugo Junkers) over Kent he shot one down and damaged another. However, during the exchange his Spitfire was hit by return fire and he bailed out near Tunbridge Wells. In another incident on 25 August Tuck’s Spitfire was badly damaged during combat with a Dornier Do 17 bomber, (see Claude Dornier)
which he destroyed, 15 miles off the coast. His aircraft had a dead engine but he glided it back to dry land to make a forced landing. On 11 September, during the height of the Battle of Britain, Tuck was promoted to acting Squadron Leader and posted to command the Hawker Hurricane-equipped No. 257 Squadron RAF,
based at RAF Coltishall, his substantive rank had been raised to flight lieutenant on 3 September. He led his squadron into combat through September and continued to claim further victories. His last two official victories of the Battle were on 28 October, where he claimed two “probable” Bf 109s. He received a Bar to his DFC on 25 October. In June 1941 he survived being shot down over the English Channel, being rescued by a Gravesend coal barge. Tuck claimed a total of seven destroyed, four probable’s and two damaged on the Hawker Hurricane. He had an extraordinary piece of ill-fortune when he intercepted a German bomber heading towards Cardiff. He fired at extreme range in poor light, causing it to jettison its bombs in open countryside instead of on the city. The last of its stick of bombs caught one corner of an army training camp and killed one soldier. The soldier was the husband of Tuck’s sister. Having already been the subject of one of Cuthbert Orde’s iconic charcoal drawing portraits in September 1940, he sat for a second picture by Orde – this time a full color oil painting – in 1941. In July, 1941, Tuck was promoted to acting Wing Commander and appointed Wing Leader at RAF Duxford where he led fighter sweeps into northern France. After a brief trip to America with several other RAF Fighter Command pilots to raise awareness of Britain’s war effort, he returned to a posting at RAF Biggin Hill as Wing Leader. It was while flying from Biggin Hill that Tuck’s last mission of the war occurred. On 28-01-1942, while on a low-level fighter sweep “Rhubarb” mission over northern France, his Spitfire was hit by enemy ground-based flak near Boulogne and he was forced to crash land. Captured by the very German troops he had been firing upon as his aircraft was hit, Tuck later recorded that their mood was understandably hostile, and his own survival was certainly in question. However, his noted “Tuck’s luck” came to his rescue when his captors spotted that, by a remarkable chance, one of his 20mm cannon shells had passed precisely down the barrel of an exactly similar sized ground weapon and had exploded therein, peeling open the barrel “like a banana”. The German troops thought this hilarious and such “Good shooting Tommy!” that, in their enthusiasm to slap his back in congratulation, they were actually trampling on the dead bodies of their ex-comrades. Saved for the moment, Tuck then spent the next couple of years in Stalag Luft III at Żagań with the flying ace Douglas Bader
, before making a number of unsuccessful escape attempts from several other prisoner of war camps across Germany and Poland. In company with the Polish pilot Zbigniew Kustrzyński , he finally escaped successfully on 01-02-1945 as his camp was being evacuated westwards from Russian forces advancing into Germany. Kustrzynski died age 84 on 09-09-1998. Tuck’s Russian, learned from his childhood nanny, was now crucial as he spent some time fighting alongside the Russian troops until he managed eventually to find his way to the British Embassy in Moscow. He eventually boarded a ship from Russia to Southampton, England. His squadron leader rank was made permanent in September 1945 and he became a temporary Wing Commander in April 1946. He received his final decoration, the Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States Air Force on 14-06-1946, before he retired from the RAF and active service on 13-05-1949 having had his permanent rank promoted to Wing Commander in July 1947. His final accredited aerial kills numbered 27 and two shared destroyed, one and one shared unconfirmed destroyed, six probable’s and six and one shared damaged. Following retirement Tuck continued flying as a test pilot, including working on the RAF’s long-serving English Electric Canberra, before he found peace and contentment on his mushroom farm in Kent, choosing to shun the publicity enjoyed by some of his better known Battle of Britain comrades.
Tuck eventually developed a close friendship with the German fighter ace pilot General der Flieger, Adolf “Dolfie” Galland Testimony of this friendship is the fact that Tuck was the godfather of Galland’s son Andreas Hubertus, born 07-11-1966.
Death and burial ground of Tuck, Robert Stanford.
He was married and had two sons. The young man who had almost failed at flight school had certainly learned his craft well and, with a little luck, had lived to tell about it. Robert Stanford Tuck died on 05-05-1987 at the age of 70 at his home in the seaside village of Sandwich Bay in England’s picturesque county of Kent. Grave site Sandwich St Clemens Church, Memorial in the nave, buried in churchyard.