Paddy Barthropp DCS was Douglas Bader's wingman. Born in Dublin in 1920, but brought to England after his mother’s death in childbirth, Patrick Peter Colum Barthropp was educated at Ampleforth and began his working life as an engineering apprentice at Rover Cars in Coventry. In 1938 he obtained a shortservice commission in the RAF. He flew Spitfires during the Battle of Britain, and later took part in sorties over occupied France. It was during one of these that he was eventually shot down over northern France in the spring of 1942, and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner.
Great Escape Artist
A redoubtable character — one of the RAF’s most notably insurrectionary spirits — he spent much of his time engineering audacious escapes for himself and others, eventually ending up in Oflag XXIB in Poland. From there, along with other PoWs he was marched out in the bitter winter of 1944-45 on the long trek westwards, away from the advancing Soviet armies. After the war he was granted a permanent commission in the RAF, converted to jets and led the Waterbeach Wing of Gloster Meteors during the 1950s.
During the Battle of Britain the squadron flew coastal patrols and air-sea rescue sorties. But in August, with mounting losses in pilots, Fighter Command appealed for volunteers. Barthropp immediately stepped forward and after passing through an operational training unit, in September he was posted to 602 (Spitfire) Squadron at Westhampnett near Chichester. There it was in the thick of the fighting and Barthropp was soon in action over the South Coast, gaining several shared combat victories.
He was sent to Stalag Luft III at Sagan, in Upper Silesia, where an immediate attempt to escape with a fellow officer did not endear him to the authorities. As a consequence he was sent to the less salubrious environs of Oflag XXIB at Schubin in Poland, a Straflager for persistent escapers. He immediately took up the challenge, organising a breakout through a 30-yard-long tunnel. Of the 32 who got out four were murdered by the Gestapo and two were thought to have drowned trying to cross the Baltic to Sweden in a stolen sailing craft. Barthropp was to make contact with the Polish underground in Warsaw with a view to getting away to Yugoslavia through a partisan escape line. Travelling by night in the bitter cold he was on occasions given harbourage in their barns by friendly Polish peasants. But in the end exhaustion overpowered him and he was captured while asleep in a horsebox in a railway station yard.
He was returned to Oflag XXIB, where at the end of January he was with other inmates assembled for what became known as the “Long March” westwards. In temperatures of 20 degrees below zero, with little food and less water, the sufferings of the PoWs on the march were acute. It is estimated that around 10 per cent of the quarter of a million Allied PoWs who set out from camps all over the Greater Reich perished on their march towards freedom. Barthropp reached Lübeck where he was liberated in May.
He was a stalwart supporter of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association, especially of those members who had become PoWs, for whom he fought to get them the back pay they had not received in captivity.
His marriage in 1948 to Barbara Pal was dissolved. He is survived by his second wife, Betty, whom he married in 1962.
Wing Commander Paddy Barthropp, DFC, AFC, wartime fighter pilot, was born on November 9, 1920. He died on April 16, 2008, aged 87