WING COMMANDER ROY RALSTON, who died aged 81, was one of the most brilliant low-level bomber pilots of the Second World War. He survived 91 operational bomber sorties including a remarkable run of 21 consecutive attacks on Berlin, which was always heavily defended. He picked up a DFM, DSO and Bar and AFC along the way.
Such was his dedication that, if for some reason he had not dropped his bombs he would seek out an opportune target on the home run from Germany.
On Dec 8 1942, Ralston spotted a train entering a tunnel on the Paris-Soissons line. Racing in over the hedgetops, he lobbed a bomb into the mouth of the tunnel, circled and returned to finish the job by blocking the other end.
Sometimes even Ralston was stunned by the intrepidity of his fellow low-level specialists. He recalled how earlier in 1942, one navigator returned from a raid on U-boat slipways at Flensburg with pieces of chimney-pot on his lap. The pilot reported that as the aircraft hit the chimney he had spotted his flight commander, Flight Lieut. Hughes, even lower. It was the last that was seen of Hughes.
Ralston's reputation grew as he tackled a wide variety of targets with ever-increasing skill. On Nov. 7 1942 he led six Mosquitos at wave top level to attack two large motor vessels entering the Gironde. They succeeded in scoring several hits with 5001b. bombs.
When Ralston received a Bar to his DSO, mention was made of his "high degree of skill, flying far into enemy territory in bad weather and frequently at 50 feet".
Particular tribute was paid to his leadership in April 1943 of a hotly engaged bomber formation against railway targets at Trier and Ehrang. "Undeterred by the fiercest opposition" the citation read, "he invariably pressed home his attacks with great vigour. "
Joseph Roy George Ralston was born at Moss Side, Manchester, on Jan 12 1915 and entered the RAF in 1930 as a 15-year-old apprentice. He was still in shorts when he was issued with a uniform. After passing out he was posted as a metal rigger to No. 54, a Bristol Bullog fighter squadron. In 1937 he moved to13 Squadron.
The next year, after trainmg as a pilot, Sergeant Ralston joined No. 108 Squadron, which had just been equipped with the new Bristol Blenheim light bomber. In the summer of 1940 he moved to No.107, another Blenheim squadron.
By the time he was commissioned, at the end of 1941, Ralston had taken part in numerous daylight attacks on Germany and Occupied Europe, including the bombing of barges that were being prepared in Channel ports to invade Britain. He was awarded the DFM. In May 1942 Ralston joined No. 105, a Mosquito squadron. His exploits with the squadron were recognised with a DSO and Bar.
After a year Ralston was put in charge of training at the Mosquito Training Unit. It was here that he first encountered Ivor Broom, who was to retire as an air marshal and a knight. After being posted to the elite Pathfinder Force, Ralston thought it would be productive to pair Ivor with a navigator named Tommy Broom. Known as the "flying broomsticks", the Brooms were one of the most successful Pathfinder and Light Night Striking Force crews.
"Roy was great as a squadron commander," Sir Ivor Boom recalled. "People would do anything for him. He never uttered an unkind word about anybody."
Tommy Broom remembers that Ralston particularly enjoyed shooting. On one occasion he just missed the station commander at Martham. On another a senior officer counselled him not to shoot a pheasant while walking. "Certainly not," said the bomber ace. "I'm waiting for him to stop." In the midsummer of 1944 Ralston moved from the Mosquito Training Unit to become Wing Commander Training with the Pathfinder Force. He ended the war in command of No. 139, a crack Pathfinder Mosquito squadron, which he took over in March, 1945.
As he led 139 in support of the Allied advance through north-west Europe, Ralston and his crews were most effective in the race to counter Germany's V1 and V2 flying bombs and rockets.
After the war, the RAF was eager to keep the boy who had joined up in shorts, and his name was on the first post-war list for a permanent commission. But his operational career had taken its toll, and at the medical he was told he had tuberculosis. Following treatment, he left the Service and worked as a salesman until establishing a signwriting business in Manchester.