By September, flying a more advanced Mosquito, the pair were to achieve an astonishing run of success over Germany. It began on September 11 when they shot down an enemy night fighter. A month later they were supporting a Bomber Command raid on Brunswick when two more fell to their guns, from one of which a parachute was deployed.
On the night of November 4 the two men, by now dubbed by the press the “night hawk partners”, took off to provide support for a bombing raid on Bochum. Over the Bonn area Skelton picked up on his radar set a stream of contacts and he directed Burbridge on to them. They soon identified a Junkers 88 night fighter and shot it down. Continuing their patrol, Skelton obtained another contact and after a brief engagement, a second Junkers was destroyed.
The two now joined the homeward-bound bomber stream to protect it from attack. Within minutes they saw an enemy fighter, pursued it and shot it down. This was not the end of their night’s work; they destroyed a fourth.Bill Rawnsley, another night fighter ace, later described this remarkable sortie as “the most extraordinary of all long-range escort patrols ever accomplished”. Both Burbridge and Skelton received a Bar to their DFCs and a few weeks later they were awarded the DSO.
Their success continued and they downed a Messerschmitt Bf 110 over Mannheim on the night of November 21, when return fire damaged their cockpit. Flying in support of RAF bombers attacking targets in Germany, they accounted for four more enemy fighters before the end of the year.
On January 2 1945 the two men took off to support a bombing raid on Ludwigshafen in Bavaria. Skelton gained a contact and Burbridge closed in on a Junkers 88. A short burst sent it crashing to the ground. It was the crew’s 21st and final success.
The following morning, Group Captain “Cats Eyes” Cunningham, their former CO, telephoned his congratulations on their having surpassed his total of 20 to become the most successful British and Commonwealth night fighter partnership of the war.
The crew were gazetted for a Bar to their DSOs and in March they left No 85. Burbridge was later awarded an American DFC.
The son of a Wesleyan preacher, Bransome Arthur Burbridge was born on February 4 1921 in East Dulwich and educated at Alleyne’s Grammar School, Stevenage. He was working in the City of London on the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939.
As a committed Christian and pacifist, he initially registered as a conscientious objector, but he later felt an increasing unease about his position and in September 1940 he joined the RAF. By October 1941 he had completed his training as a night fighter pilot and joined No 85 Squadron, commanded by the Battle of Britain ace, Peter Townsend.
Flying the Havoc, an aircraft not ideally suited to operating as a night fighter, he had to wait until the following June to achieve his first success, when he was credited with probably destroying a German bomber near Ipswich. The squadron re-equipped with the Mosquito in August but further success eluded him and at the end of the year he became an instructor at a night-fighter training unit. In July 1943 he returned to No 85 Squadron, where he teamed up with “Bill” Skelton.
In Skelton Burbridge had found an ideal partner. Both were committed Christians (Skelton was later ordained an Anglican priest) and they made every effort not to aim at the cockpit of their targets in the hope that the crew could escape, as a number of them did. Burbridge claimed that successful night fighting was based on teamwork and he described his navigator as “magnificent”. They maintained a lifelong friendship until Skelton’s death in 2003.
After leaving No 85 in March 1945 Burbridge became the commanding officer of the Night Fighter Leader’s School. In May he was able to take his brother Jarvis, who had served in Bomber Command and recently returned from a PoW camp, for a flight in a Mosquito. He met Major Herget, whom he had shot down a year earlier, and invited him to be a guest speaker at his unit. He took him for a flight in a Mosquito and, before departing, Herget countersigned his host’s flying logbook acknowledging the victory.
Burbridge left the RAF in December 1945 to read History at St Peter’s College, Oxford. He considered entering the Church but in 1948 he joined the staff of Scripture Union (SU), pioneering the work of the Inter-School Christian Fellowship. His goal was to create extra-curricular Christian groups in secondary schools, where young people could meet to encourage one another in their faith.
Burbridge gained the respect of many head teachers who acknowledged the value of SU’s ministry in schools. Christian groups mushroomed as a consequence. A gifted artist and musician, he used creative methods of communication to engage with the youth culture of the 1960s and, under his leadership, SU produced a range of educational resources for young people.
In addition Burbridge developed holiday activities for young people and launched residential courses for sixth formers, in a wide variety of academic disciplines, exploring the relevance of Christian faith to science and arts-based studies.
By the mid-1970s, by which time he had taken up a part-time role with the Oxford Pastorate, an Anglican chaplaincy serving the university, his work took on a global focus. Often travelling with his wife, he continued his ministry to school pupils and students in many countries.
The last phase of Burbridge’s life was deeply affected by worsening dementia, but despite this he taught his family and friends much about living gracefully and patiently with a declining body and mind. After the death of his wife Barbara (née Cooper) in 2012 – they been married since 1949 – he needed specialist care, and to provide the necessary funds his family reluctantly decided to sell his medals. His son commented at the time: “We value him more than the medals.” The money realised allowed Burbridge to live the rest of his life in comfort.
Branse Burbridge is survived by a son and a daughter.” (Obituary courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)