Sqn Ldr G.E.C Eric Genders AFC DFM 1920-1950
George Eric Clifford Genders, legendary British fighter ace and test pilot. He was a graduate of the Empire Tests Pilots' School and later Commanding Officer of the RAE's Aero Flight. His untimely death in the crash of the tailless DH.108.was a major loss to British Aviation.
George Eric Clifford “Jumbo” Genders, who was born in Doncaster in 1920, enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve in July 1939. Called up two months later, he undertook pilot training and was posted as a Sergeant to No. 245 Squadron in Northern Ireland. But in November 1940 he joined No. 73 Squadron and was embarked on an aircraft carrier for the West Coast of Africa, where, on arrival, he flew one of the Squadron’s Hurricanes over to Egypt. Then, having undertaken further training at No. 70 O.T.U., he was posted to No. 33 Squadron in Greece in early 1941.Genders proved himself to be an exceptional fighter pilot from the start, bringing down a Bf. 109, and damaging another, over Larissa in Greece in mid-April 1941, following a surprise dawn attack on his airfield by elements of II/JG 77. Such was the speed and ferocity of the German strike that the other two pilots of his stand-by Flight were both shot down and killed.
Soon afterwards, during a German raid on shipping in Piraeus, Genders claimed three Ju. 87s, although there appears to be some confusion over the exact date of the engagement - most probably it was 24 April, when three Stukas were reported missing and not claimed by any other pilots. It seems possible, too, that he brought down the Bf. 109 of Hauptmann Franz Lange, Kommandeur of II/JG 77, on his way home from Piraeus.His success continued apace over Crete. On the 3 May 1941, during a 25-strong enemy attack on shipping in Suda Bay, Genders claimed two Ju. 88s shot down and another brace damaged, statistics that won him the accolade of tenth most successful Allied pilot in this theatre of war.
Subsequently evacuated, No. 33 Squadron was reformed in Egypt, and afterwards heavily engaged over the Egyptian-Libyan border area, not least during Operations “Brevity”, “Battleaxe” and “Crusader”. For his own part, Genders shot down two Fiat G50s on 17 June, shared in the destruction of a Savoia SM79 on 22 November and damaged a Ju. 88 on the same date. And in between such combat successes, he flew on numerous ground-strafing sorties, once setting three enemy trucks alight with his very first burst of fire. A well merited D.F.M. was gazetted in April 1942, the same month in that he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.Joining No. 103 Maintenance Unit at Aboukir in May 1942, Genders went on to serve as a test pilot on many aircraft types, a posting that met with his approval.
Among the projects assigned to Genders was a specially modified Spitfire V. The latter was stripped of all extraneous equipment and armed with only two .50-inch machine-guns, in order to reach sufficient altitude to engage the Lufwaffe’s Ju. 86Ps, hitherto unmolested reconnaissance aircraft that had pressurised crew quarters. No such luxury prevailed in Genders’ stripped-down Spitfire, where the temperature sometimes ‘dropped to 67 degrees below zero - 99 degrees of frost!’, or for his fellow pilots, Flying Officer G. W. H. Reynolds, D.F.C. and Pilot Officer Gold, the whole shortly to become known as “The Three Musketeers of Strato” for their gallant deeds ‘ten miles above earth’. Genders fought his first high altitude engagements in late June, damaging Ju. 86Ps on the 26th and 27th of the month, but it was not until 6 September that he was able to share in the actual destruction of such an aircraft.
Having accumulated a fine wartime record as a test pilot out in the Middle East, Genders attended the Empire Test Pilots’ School at Cranfield in January 1946. Subsequently posted as a Squadron Leader to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in May, he continued his good work, and was rewarded with an A.F.C. in the New Year Honours of 1949.
Latterly he was employed in testing the D.H. 108, the swept-wing research aircraft without horizontal tail surfaces and Britain’s first supersonic jet, also known as the “Flying Wing”, in order to assist ongoing research into the development of the Comet airliner.Only three such aircraft were ever built, one claiming the life of Geoffrey de Havilland, son of the famous aircraft manufacturer, when it exploded over the Thames Estuary in September 1946, and the other two, on being released into service, their respective R.A.F. pilots. Tragically, Genders was one of the latter, having got into trouble over Hartley Wintney in Hampshire on 1 May 1950. An eye-witness described how he saw the D.H. 108 ‘whirling head-over-heels and then windmilling, wing-tip over wing-tip ... like a sheet of paper caught in a sharp, unsteady breeze’. Another witness saw Genders bale out at around 200 feet, but ‘instead of falling clear he stopped several feet from the plane, and swung round apparently attached to it’