Obituary courtesy of and published by the Telegraph.
Wing Commander Pat Gibbs, who has died aged 92, was awarded a DSO, DFC and Bar during the Second World War, then served as The Daily Telegraph’s fiercely independent film critic for more than 25 years.
Gibbs specialised in torpedo attacks against shipping; the tactics he developed in the Mediterranean against fearsome opposition were subsequently developed for the highly successful Strike Wings that operated from airfields in Britain later in the Second World War.
A highly experienced and decorated maritime attack pilot, Gibbs arrived in Egypt in late 1941. He was utterly dedicated to the airborne torpedo as a weapon against shipping.
Assigned to a headquarters staff job in Cairo, he fought an uphill battle against the powers that be to convince them of his beliefs. In due course, he not only changed tactics but also influenced strategic policy for attacks against convoys.
Gibbs found his desk job immensely frustrating and constantly badgered his superior officers to allow him to return to operations. In April 1942, the only Beaufort anti-shipping squadron in the theatre suffered devastating losses during an attack on an Italian convoy, and Gibbs was sent to No 39 Squadron as a replacement flight commander.
He led his first attack on June 4 when his was the only aircraft in the formation successfully to reach the target. Against heavy anti-aircraft fire he released his torpedo from 50ft and hit the 6,847-ton Italian merchantman Reginaldo Trieste, which sank after the destroyer escorts made a fruitless attempt to tow her to Benghazi.
This first attack was only a prelude to the action ahead for Gibbs and his navigator, John Cresswell, and demonstrated his single-minded and determined approach to attacking the Axis convoys re-supplying Rommel’s armies in North Africa.
Ten days later Gibbs led 12 Beauforts to attack two 35,000-ton Italian battleships. Enemy fighters attacked his formation but Gibbs pressed on with the survivors. As he released his torpedo, his aircraft was badly damaged by fire from an escorting destroyer but he made for Malta, where he made a crash landing.
Gibbs remained on Malta with a detachment from No 39, where he combined his force with the resident, but depleted, squadron. Within days, he led the combined squadron to attack an important convoy of oil tankers heading along the Greek coast towards Libya. Gibbs released his torpedo, despite being hit by anti-aircraft fire, and his target limped into an Italian port.
On July 3 this same convoy made another attempt to re-supply Rommel’s army. Gibbs took off at the head of 12 Beauforts to intercept it but returned after a fruitless six-hour search.
The following day he led eight of the tired crews on another attempt. Four were forced to turn back and two were lost over the target. Gibbs’s aircraft was extensively damaged but he managed to struggle back to Malta to make a crash landing. A few days later it was announced that he had been awarded a Bar to his DFC.
Losses amongst the Beaufort crews were severe and the strain on the survivors was immense, but Gibbs had a determination and professionalism that frightened some of the less experienced crews, although was greatly admired by others.
If a target was missed on one attack, he insisted on another attempt the following day. On August 20 he led a large formation to attack a vital oil tanker. The torpedoes missed but Gibbs returned with nine Beauforts and an escort of Beaufighters.
Destroyers had joined the convoy but Gibbs led his torpedo-carrying aircraft into the attack and the convoy was demolished.
Gibbs drove himself harder than anyone else. More of his crews were lost but he managed to survive despite his aircraft constantly being damaged by the intense anti-aircraft fire he encountered on every attack.
On August 30 the tanker San Andrea set sail from Taranto. Gibbs, at the head of his well-drilled formation, headed to intercept it. Enemy fighters appeared but he led in three aircraft and delivered an accurate torpedo attack.
Once again his aircraft was hit but, as he ordered in the second group of Beauforts, the oil tanker blew up and sank. It was the last attack he made. Mentally and physically exhausted, he was rested and in September it was announced that he had been awarded the DSO for “his exceptional skill and courage”.
One of the RAF’s finest operational leaders on Malta, Laddie Lucas, wrote: “There is not the least doubt that the success of his strike operation had a material effect upon the fortunes of our 8th Army in the desert and the outcome at Alamein; there were few operational efforts in World War II to compare with it.”
The son of a Cardiff shipowner, Reginald Patrick Mahoney Gibbs was born at Penarth on April 2 1915. He was educated at Oundle and in August 1934 won a prize cadetship to the RAF College Cranwell.
He trained as a pilot and won his colours for rugby, squash and tennis. Gibbs specialised in maritime strike and reconnaissance operations and was seconded to the Fleet Air Arm for two years, operating from aircraft carriers flying Swordfish and Sharks.
He became an instructor at the Torpedo Training School at Gosport before joining No 22 Squadron in 1940 as a flight commander flying the new Beaufort torpedo bomber.
For the next year he undertook many daylight attacks against shipping off the Dutch and Norwegian coasts in addition to bombing the Biscay ports. After a year he was promoted to squadron leader and awarded the DFC. He then spent six months as a very bored instructor before volunteering for flying duties in the Mediterranean.
After returning exhausted from Malta in late 1942, Gibbs worked in the Air Ministry but the strain of the intense flying told and he was medically discharged from the RAF in 1944.
By now Gibbs had become interested in the theatre, after seeing and then meeting the actress Muriel Pavlow; this led to his being introduced to W A Darlington, the dramatic critic of The Daily Telegraph, who invited him to review some of the less important productions.
At first he received no byline, adding his initials RPMG to the bottom of notices rarely more than 150 or 250 words long. Despite the limited space he was able to praise Wendy Hiller’s portrayal of a woman of spirit in Ann Veronica and single out the ingenuity in Gooseberry Fool.
When John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger launched the age of the “Angry Young Men” in 1956 Gibbs greeted it as “a work of some power, uncertainly directed”, but suggested that perhaps the hero should have gone to a psychiatrist rather than a dramatist.
In 1960 Gibbs became the paper’s film critic and displayed independent opinions; he showed no interest in cultivating the acquaintance of directors, actors or moguls.
The critic’s task, he believed, was to strive for detachment. He had a clear bias for well-turned work that did not set out to shock. “While it may very enjoyable to take part in an orgy,” he said of Fellini’s Satyricon, “it becomes terribly tedious to watch one.” Psycho, he declared, was a “curious, disappointing piece, which for all its modern setting and psychological background, recalls old-fashioned or Victorian drama by its very absurdity”.
He was so reluctant to introduce a personal touch into his notices that, in his approving review of Battle of Britain, he had to be persuaded to mention at the end that he was “an old RAF man”. Whenever the opportunity arose he escaped from the Monday and Tuesday stints in Soho preview theatres to film festivals all over the world, where the films were usually more varied or intelligent, the weather was better and the food and wine more interesting.
He recorded his wartime experiences in two books, Not Peace, But a Sword, which was published to critical praise in 1943, and Torpedo Leader (1992), which described his time on Malta. It ran to several editions and is being published in a special edition on the island later this year.
He continued to enjoy the theatre and opera. Every Saturday he left his Holland Park house, where he had built all the shelves himself, to drive hard bargains for Staffordshire pottery, silver and furniture at Portobello market.
To bolster his pension he was a shrewd investor on the stock market and part-owner, with an old RAF friend, of a chain of launderettes.
Patrick Gibbs, who died on March 8, is survived by his second wife, Jane Eyre, and a son and daughter.
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