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Sqn Ldr Lewis BRANDON DSO DFC* was a navigator who, with his pilot Wg Cdr James G Benson DSO, DFC*, became one of the most successful of the RAF night fighter crews.
Lewis joined the RAF in January 1941 after nine years in British acting and films. Too old for pilot training and too bulky for an air gunner’s turret, he was trained as navigator. When almost thirty, he joined No. 141 Squadron just as they were phasing out their Defiants for twin-engined Beaufighters on night fighting duties on 1st August, 1941 flying from Acklington and Drem.
Initially he flew with ‘Lofty’ Hamer, who the next year and flying a Beaufighter out of Tangmere at night on September 8th, was killed on a patrol after shooting down a Heinkel, being hit and injured but gallantly ensuring that his later navigator, Flt Sgt Walsh and a non-swimmer, had bailed out safely over land. Lewis was offered a commission and then became partnered with Fg Off James ‘Ben’ Benson, on 15th February, 1942 having their first success at Acklington, a Dornier 217, which crashed four miles east of Blyth. For seven months they both instructed at 54 OTU Charterhall at the same time as Richard Hillary, the badly burned author of bestselling book “The Last Enemy”, had his tragic fatal accident.
Lewis, as some other instructors then, thought Richard Hillary’s injuries really precluded his flying safely on operations (see 58 Lionel Gregory) On 16th February, 1943 they were both posted to Castle Camps and 157 Squadron on Mosquito, shortly before being picked for Intruder training. Their Sqn Cdr was Wg Cdr V J ‘Pop’ Wheeler MC* DFC with three thousand night flying hours after his flying with Imperial Airways. On 23Mar44 by then with a bar to his DFC and as a 46 years old volunteer onto Lancasters, Wg Cdr ‘Pop’ Vashion James Wheeler was killed flying on 207 Squadron over Germany. Together again Ben and Lewis after moving to Bradwell Bay would desrtroy a second Dornier 217. on Mosquito before Lewis had to go to 488 NZ Squadron. Lsater back on 157 Squadron Mosquito aircraft at Swannington with Ben Benson again on Bomber Support operations they would destroy mostly Ju-88 nightfighters over Germany, increasing their score to about ten enemy aircraft.
Lewis Brandon’s book ‘Night Flyer’ in 1961 describes the difficult techniques involved in nightfighter operations and their joint careers on wartime flying.