That pilot

John Moffat

You may not have heard of John (‘Jock’) William Charlton Moffat. Not enough people have.

"Jock" – Sub-Lieutenant John William Charlton Moffat, RN, pictured aboard HMS Ark Royal in 1940.
“Jock” – Sub-Lieutenant John William Charlton Moffat, RN,  aboard HMS Ark Royal in 1940.

On May 26th, 1941, Moffat and his crew of Fairey Swordfish 5C, L9726, flying off HMS Ark Royal in appalling weather, launched the torpedo that crippled the mighty Nazi battleship Bismarck.

It was already Britain’s last roll of the dice against Bismarck, and arguably the most pivotal single act of the entire western war. Without it, the battleship would have reached the safety of Luftwaffe air cover and port in Brest – before throwing the weight of her eight 15” guns into the finely balanced Battle of the Atlantic.

Moffat’s lifelong passion for flying was awakened by a 1929 ‘flip round the paddock’ in an Avro 504, courtesy of an English barnstormer. He paid 10 shillings for the epiphany.

And a lifelong passion it really was. Moffat survived World War 2 and would celebrate his 90th birthday – June 22nd, 2009 – by flying loops in his own Piper Colt.

His full quote, recalling that very first flight, is:

“As for the experience of flying, I was astounded by it. This was like riding in a locomotive but infinitely more thrilling. There was the noise, the smell of hot oil and high-octane petrol, and the speed seemed immense as we took off into the air, high above the countryside, with the town far below us. It was the stuff of dreams, like a glimpse of another world that made it impossible, once I was back on the ground, to view my surroundings in the same way again…. Now that I think about it, that pilot has an enormous amount to answer for!”

Indeed, Moffat’s life is a testament to the power of sharing the magic of flight.

You can read more about John Moffat and his attack on Bismarck here
Or, for a fully detailed account of the attacks, see The Story of the Torpedoing of the Bismarck

Quote Source: Lieutenant Commander Moffat, John and Rossiter, Mike. I Sank the Bismarck: Memoirs of a Second World War Navy Pilot. Bantam Press, London. 2009. ISBN 978-0-593-06352-1

2 thoughts on “That pilot

  1. Another great find! I’ve never heard of Moffat, but as soon as I saw the name my mind wandered up toward the San Francisco bay, wondering if the Navy facility called Moffett Field was somehow related. Turns out the airport is named after an Admiral of no apparent relation.

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