S/Ldr Richard Vivian Muspratt DFC 1917-2009
He had just emerged with a first-class pass when the war broke out and he enlisted in the RAF, to be commissioned in 1940. After a first posting to 53 (Army Co-operation) Squadron, he was posted in 1941 to 140 Squadron, where he embarked on a series of reconnaissance sorties, mainly taking photographs of French harbours from an altitude of just under 30,000ft.
On one occasion, in May 1942, while photographing the docks at Cherbourg, he was intercepted by a Focke-Wulf Fw190, a fighter that had demonstrated its superiority over the Spitfire when it had first come into action the previous year.
Having obtained his photographs Muspratt put his Spitfire into a steep diving turn which prevented the Fw190 from getting on to his tail at close range. He then used the PR Spitfire’s just superior speed to draw steadily away during a chase that lasted for 30 miles, with the despairing German pilot firing bursts at him from 600 yards astern as he drew away. “Chalk one up to the hare!” he recorded in his log book on landing later that day.
Among Muspratt’s most important sorties were the two that he flew over Dieppe on August 5 and 6, 1942. His large-scale photographs were to be part of a valuable intelligence resource for what nevertheless turned out to be the disastrous Dieppe raid of August 19, which at least demonstrated conclusively that an assault on a heavily defended harbour town could be no blueprint for any serious Allied landings on the German-occupied littoral (and when they eventually came in June 1944 it was over open beaches).
On being rested from operations Muspratt was awarded the DFC for his skill and leadership as a flight commander. The citation noted: “He never hesitates to undertake a difficult operational task himself rather than detail a less experienced pilot.”
In 1943 Air Marshal Sir Ralph Sorley, the controller of research and development, became increasingly concerned by the rising number of fatalities in test flying and a lack of standardisation of flying techniques. The result was the founding of the Empire Test Pilot’s Training School at Boscombe Down for whose No 1 course Muspratt was selected. He was its last survivor.
On passing through the school and being promoted to squadron leader he was invited to join Hawker, then developing a new generation of powerful piston-engined fighters, the Tempest and the Fury (and Sea Fury). Muspratt flew intensive testing flights in these superlative aircraft — the ultimate expression of the piston-engined fighter — with various weapon loads. With its level-flight top speed of 450mph the Tempest was to become highly effective in the role of intercepting V1 rockets, while the Navy’s Sea Fury, flew right through the Korean War where it scored a number of combat victories over the Russian MiG15. It served with the Royal Navy until it was replaced by the turbojet Sea Hawk.
After leaving Hawker in 1948 Muspratt joined the Ferguson tractor company and spent 13 years in Australia, where he greatly boosted the firm’s sales. Back in the UK after 1960, he bought and ran a business at Leamington Spa, Witney Welding and Engineering, which he ran until his final retirement in 1985.