Service Personnel
Air Commodore
E.W. (Bill) Tacon CBE. DSO. LVO. DFC & BAR. AFC & BAR. MBIM.
From early aviation beginnings in Hawkes Bay Bill Tacon went on to become
one of the most decorated pilots in RAF Coastal Command during World War Two.
Post-war he continued on with a distinguished career in the RAF, including the
prestigious appointment as Officer Commanding the King’s Flight.

Born at Napier, he attended St Patrick's in Wellington and was a keen sportsman.
After having first learnt to fly in the evenings at the Hawkes Bay & East Coast Aero Club as part of the
Civil Air Reserve he joined the RNZAF in 1938. In May 1939 he transferred to the RAF and was posted to
No 233 Squadron at Leuchars in Scotland.

233 Squadron converted to Lockheed Hudsons on the outbreak of war.
This heralded the start of Bill Tacon’s outstanding career with Coastal Command and a reputation,
in air force parlance, as a “press on” type.

For the next year and half he was engaged in a mixture of reconnaissance patrols along the
enemy-held coastline, anti-submarine work, escorting naval vessels during the Norwegian campaign,
and bombing airfields. Often this was in the face of enemy fighters, anti-aircraft opposition and adverse
flying conditions. On one occasion his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Norway and he had to
nurse it home for 500 kms over the North Sea. Intercepted by German fighters on nine occasions,
he succeeded in shooting down two of his adversaries. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
in May 1940 and completed his first operational tour in January 1941.

A Coastal Command Hudson
on a recon of the
Norwegian Coast
His next job involved ferrying aircraft across the Atlantic, including the American
Flying Fortress for use by Coastal Command. Back in England he as awarded
Air Force Cross (AFC) after converting two squadrons to operational status on the
Hudson, before going out to Canada to set up a new Operational Training Unit
in Nova Scotia.

From Canada, he returned in 1943 to his native New Zealand on attachment to the
RNZAF where he was given command of No 1 Squadron at Whenuapai.
Two months later he took over No 4 Squadron RNZAF in Fiji,
flying Hudsons and Venturas.

Tacon's most outstanding wartime successes took place in 1944 following his return to Britain early that year.
After converting to Beaufighters he joined 236 Squadron and rapidly began to demonstrate dead-eyed accuracy
with his front guns and rockets. Thereafter he rapidly acquired a reputation for leading large formations
of Beaufighters on extremely aggressive, successful attacks against enemy shipping.

A 236 Squadron Mk X Beaufighter
On June 23 he attacked four R-boats entering Boulogne harbour on the
Channel coast of France. Although his aircraft was badly hit and his navigator killed,
R 79 was sunk, earning Tacon a Bar to the DFC he had won in 1940.

Next came series of long-range raids against enemy shipping along France’s Bay
of Biscay coast between Brest and Bordeaux. In the first of these attacks,
at Les Sables d'Olonne, nine Beaufighters sank a German Jupiter escort ship with
armour-piercing rockets weighing just 25lbs. The second attack was equally successful.
On August 8, he led a Wing of Beaufighters from 2 squadrons on another armed
sweep, working with a British naval squadron. In the shallow Bay of Bourgneuf,
they found four M-class minesweepers. Flak rose to meet them and one Beaufighter
exploded but, as the remaining Beaufighters left, all four vessels were ablaze.

A Strike against enemy shipping by Beaufighters
of Coastal Command
By now virtually all enemy shipping on the Biscay coast had either been sunk or scuttled.
The last two German destroyers on the coast were in the shelter of coastal batteries at Le Verdon harbour,
a place near the limit of the Beaufighter’s range. Bill Tacon led 18 Beaufighters into the attack and the flak
was the most intense the crews had ever experienced. Nevertheless, every Beaufighter followed his leadership
in one of the most dangerous attacks made by a strike wing. Both ships were left shrouded in smoke and flames
after being repeatedly hit by rockets and sank shortly afterwards.
Although none of the Beaufighters was shot down, 15 were damaged (4 severely),
and a long way from home, with darkness ahead. Tacon instructed one of the
crippled aircraft to alight on the sea near a naval force in the vicinity and then
shepherded the other 3 severely damaged aircraft to an advanced base in liberated
France where he supervised their landing. 6 hours after takeoff, with fuel
almost exhausted and their home base closed by fog, Tacon and the remaining
aircraft landed at night on various alternative landing strips on the English South West
coast. He was given command of 236 Squadron the next day and later was
awarded the Distinguish Service Order for this action.

Attack by Coastal Command
Beaufighters on a German
destroyer off Le Verdon
He continued to fly with the same determination until September 12 1944, when he led 40 Beaufighters
against a convoy assembling in Den Helder Harbour in Holland.
Diving down against a hail of fire from the ships and the harbour, his Beaufighter was badly hit in the wing
and fuel tank. Tacon fired his rockets for the last time, before his aircraft was hit in the fuselage.
Ammunition in the cannon boxes caught fire and exploded.
His navigator cried out and Tacon turned round to see him lying dead on the floor.
He began to climb, tugging on the lanyard of his bottom escape hatch, but this remained closed.

As flames licked around him, burning his face and helmet, he almost gave up hope.
When his Beaufighter was hit for the third time, Tacon could see the gun post firing at him and decided to
take the gunners with him. He rolled the Beaufighter on its back and dived straight at the post.
His last recollection was of the airspeed indicator showing 360 knots.
Then there was a violent explosion and he floated through the air, pulling his ripcord just in time.
He landed on the island of Texel, so badly burned around the eyes that he could hardly see, and was soon
taken prisoner by German soldiers, who bundled him roughly aboard a boat which took him to Den Helder.
On arrival, he was surrounded by a group of sailors and was kicked violently before being marched
off to the local jail.

After medical treatment, he was taken to Dulag Luft, near Koblenz, and then to Stalag Luft I near Barth
on the Baltic coast where he was a POW Barracks Commander. He was eventually released by the Russians
and quietly made his way back to England. At the end of 1945 he was given command of a transport squadron
and in 1946 he transferred permanently to the RAF.

Wing Commander Bill Tacon became the first CO of the King's Flight when it was reformed after WW2.
The Flight was equipped with 4 Vickers Viking aircraft.

Vickers Viking
He had eight months to re-build the Flight before all 4 aircraft were heavily used on the tour of the
King and Royal Family through South Africa in 1947. These efforts were recognised by his appointment
as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) for personal services to the Sovereign.

In April 1948 he flew a Viking out to New Zealand to undertake a survey in preparation for the intended
1949 Royal Tour but that was later cancelled because of the King’s illness.
He was later awarded a Bar to his AFC.

Various RAF appointments in Britain and overseas followed until he retired with the rank of
Air Commodore in early 1971. On returning to his native New Zealand he ran the
Intellectually Handicapped Children's Society (IHC0) and later worked as a manager with Air New Zealand.
Bill Tacon died at Auckland in 2003.
His medals are held by the RAF Museum at Hendon.