Sir Michael Beetham, RAF (Ret.) (1923-2015).

Position:In Memoriam - Obituary


Marshal of the RAF Sir Michael Beetham, passed away in October, 2015.

Beetham was eighteen when he volunteered for the RAF and pilot-trained in the U.S. On his return to England, he converted to Lancasters and joined No. 50 Squadron in November 1943, just as the Battle of Berlin began and he flew over the "Big City" no less than ten times. He flew on the disastrous raid to Nuremberg on the night of March 30/31, 1944 when ninety-six bombers failed to return. Such losses had a profound affect on the twenty-year old Beetham.

He went on to survive thirty operations over Germany when the losses were at their highest. An outstanding pilot, he received the DFC for his gallantry and leadership.After a period training bomber crews, he returned to operations and dropped food supplies to the starving Dutch population during April and May 1945.

After the war, he remained in the RAF and served at HQ Bomber Command. In August 1949, he assumed command of No.82 Squadron flying Lancasters on photographic survey and aerial mapping for the Colonial Office in East and West Africa. In 1953 he was at the Air Ministry where the issues of bringing the three V-bombers into service took up much of his time. Five years later he joined the force when he commanded No.214 Squadron operating the Valiant. The squadron was about to embark on air-to-air refuelling trials and Beetham coordinated the programme. On July 9, 1959 he and his crew took off from Marham and headed for South Africa. Refuelling in flight twice, they arrived over Capetown after a flight of 11 hours 28 minutes. A few days later they returned in just over twelve hours. These two non-stop flights broke the speed record for the distance and provided a convincing demonstration of the feasibility and potential of air-to-air refuelling. For his work, Beetham was awarded the AFC.

In 1964, he was sent to Aden to command Khormaksar, then the RAF's largest operational base, operating a wide variety of tactical and transport aircraft, but no bombers. In August 1972, he became Assistant Chief of Staff (Plans and Policy) at SHAPE. He worked under the charismatic and bullish American General Alexander Haig and his work was at the heart of NATO policy making, in particular the nuclear planning aspects.

After a period as the Deputy C-in-C at Strike Command, he left in January 1976 to be the C-in-C of RAF Germany and Commander Second Allied Tactical Air Force. His RAF squadrons were in the midst...

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