E.W. (Bill) Tacon
CBE. DSO. LVO. DFC & BAR. AFC
& BAR. MBIM.
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,
prestigious appointment as Officer
Commanding the Kings Flight.
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
No 233 Squadron at Leuchars in Scotland.
converted to Lockheed Hudsons on the outbreak of
This heralded the start of Bill Tacons
outstanding career with Coastal Command and a
in air force parlance, as a press on
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
and bombing airfields. Often this was in the face
of enemy fighters, anti-aircraft opposition and
flying conditions. On one occasion his aircraft
was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Norway and he
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
next job involved ferrying aircraft
across the Atlantic, including the
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
Hudson, before going out to Canada to set
up a new Operational Training Unit
in Nova Scotia.
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
with his front guns and rockets. Thereafter he
rapidly acquired a reputation for leading large
of Beaufighters on extremely aggressive,
successful attacks against enemy shipping.
Squadron Mk X Beaufighter
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
R 79 was sunk, earning Tacon a Bar to the
DFC he had won in 1940.
came series of long-range raids against
enemy shipping along Frances 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
On August 8, he led a Wing of
Beaufighters from 2 squadrons on another
sweep, working with a British naval
squadron. In the shallow Bay of
they found four M-class minesweepers.
Flak rose to meet them and one
exploded but, as the remaining
Beaufighters left, all four vessels were
A Strike against enemy
shipping by Beaufighters
of Coastal Command
By now virtually all enemy
shipping on the Biscay coast had either been sunk
The last two German destroyers on the coast were
in the shelter of coastal batteries at Le Verdon
a place near the limit of the Beaufighters
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
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
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
coast. He was given command of 236
Squadron the next day and later was
awarded the Distinguish Service Order for
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
Diving down against a hail of fire from the ships
and the harbour, his Beaufighter was badly hit in
and fuel tank. Tacon fired his rockets for the
last time, before his aircraft was hit in the
Ammunition in the cannon boxes caught fire and
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.
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
take the gunners with him. He rolled the
Beaufighter on its back and dived straight at the
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
He landed on the island of Texel, so badly burned
around the eyes that he could hardly see, and was
taken prisoner by German soldiers, who bundled
him roughly aboard a boat which took him to Den
On arrival, he was surrounded by a group of
sailors and was kicked violently before being
off to the local jail.
medical treatment, he was taken to Dulag Luft,
near Koblenz, and then to Stalag Luft I near
on the Baltic coast where he was a POW Barracks
Commander. He was eventually released by the
and quietly made his way back to England. At the
end of 1945 he was given command of a transport
and in 1946 he transferred permanently to the
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
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
as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order
(LVO) for personal services to the Sovereign.
April 1948 he flew a Viking out to New Zealand to
undertake a survey in preparation for the
1949 Royal Tour but that was later cancelled
because of the Kings illness.
He was later awarded a Bar to his AFC.
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
Bill Tacon died at Auckland in 2003.
His medals are held by the RAF Museum at Hendon.