Wade, Lance Cleo “Wildcat”, born 18-11-1916 in Broaddus, San Augustine County, Texas, in a small farming community, in 1915. He was the second son of Bill and Susan Wade, who named him L.C. (only after the RAF demanded a forename did he call himself Lance Cleo Wade). After the family moved to a farm near Reklaw, Texas, in 1922 he worked on the family farm and attended the local school. He was unable to join the US Army Aviation Cadet Program due to a lack of a college education. He began flying at age 17, at Tucson, Arizona. In 1934, at age 19, Wade joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Arizona.
He joined the RAF in Canada in December 1940 and trained with No. 52 Operational Training Unit (OTU). Wade was then sent to the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and flew off her deck in a Hawker Hurricane to reinforce the depleted ranks of aircraft on the island of Malta. He was then sent to Egypt as a Hurricane Mk I pilot in September 1941, and was posted to Nr. 33 Squadron under command of Squadron leader Marmaduke Thomas St John Pattle, here on the left, Pattle “Pat” was killed in an air battle , 20-04-1941, age 26, near Piraeus Harbor, off Piraeus.
The squadron’s mission was to provide close air support for Operation Crusader, the British assault launched on 18-11-1941, against the German Afrika Korps, under command of Erwin Rommel. His first kills were two Fiat CR.42s on 18 November. He attained the rank of “ace” on 24-11-1941. On 2 December, his Hurricane was damaged by debris from a bomber that he had just shot down. Wade was forced to land 25 miles behind enemy lines, but evaded capture and returned to British lines on foot. He began flying Hurricane Mk IIs in April 1942, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) . He had 13 victories to September 1942. He spent the next several months back in the US on various RAF projects including evaluating some American fighters at Wright Field. He also sold war bonds, which he disliked. Upon his return to operational duty in the Middle East, Wade reportedly said that this duty was more exhausting than air combat.
He returned to combat as a flight commander in Nr. 145 Squadron with a bar to his DFC, flying Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vs. Promoted to squadron leader, he had a busy 60 days, as by the end of April his score was 21, by then flying Spitfire Mk IXs. His squadron moved to Italy, and as a Spitfire VIII pilot he claimed two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s of Schlachtgeschwader 4 under command of Major Georg Dörffel , on 02-10-1943. His last claims were three Fw 190s (again of SG 4) damaged on 3 November. Georg Dörffel, age 29, was killed in action on 26-05-1944 north-west of Rome, Italy. Dörffel was forced to bail out of his Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8 following an attack on a four-engined bomber formation. He probably struck his head on the tailplane; his parachute failed to open. He was buried in Pomezia, Italy,
During the Italian campaign in the fall of 1943, Wade was photographed with 145 Squadron adjutant Flight Lieutenant Norman Brown (left).
Death and burial ground of Wade, Lance Cleo “Wildcat”.
Wade was promoted to wing commander and joined the staff of the Desert Air Force but was there only briefly, as he was killed in a flying accident on 12-01-1944, age 27, at Foggia, Italy. Missing his old squadron mates, Wade decided to pay them a visit. On 12-01-1944, he flew a twin-engine Auster light bomber from the theater headquarters to No. 145’s base at Foggia, Italy. At the end of his visit, Wade climbed into the Auster and took off again. But as his plane climbed from the runway, it suddenly went into a spin and crashed. Wade was killed instantly.
After the war, one of Wade’s friends visited his family and expressed his belief that Wade’s plane had been sabotaged. Whatever caused the crash may never be known, since some RAF crash records of World War II are still classified.
He was credited with 23 victories (including two shared), one probable and 13 damaged. He is also credited with one destroyed and five damaged on the ground.
Wing Commander Wade is usually listed with 25 victories but official RAF records show that he had 22 solo victories and half each of two more for a total of 23, not counting one probable. Regardless of whether his score is 25, or 23 victories, he is still the leading American fighter ace to serve exclusively in any foreign air force.
Squadron Leader Wade, second from right, with 145 Squadron pilots at Triolo Airfield, Italy.
Since he never transferred to the USAAF, or any other American air service, Wade never had the publicity that other American aces received and thus is more obscure than his peers. On 12-11-2005, he was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in Galveston, TX. Wade, Lance Cleo “Wildcat” is buried at McKnight Cemetery Cushing, Nacogdoches County, Texas, VS.