H. COLONEL CHARLEY FOX R.C.A.F. ~ ” THE FLYING FOX “
Born 16th February 1920 – Died 18th October 2008
WHO WAS CHARLEY FOX?
Charley Fox was one of the foremost Canadian air aces of the Second World War, who in particular is credited with taking Germany’s most celebrated general, Erwin Rommel, out of the war. It is highly likely that it was one of his attacks which badly injured the field marshal and ended his military career some weeks after D-Day. But such was Fox’s reticence that he did not publicly disclose his involvement in the attack until many years later.
Rommel was badly injured when his staff car crashed after Fox’s attack from his Spitfire. Attacking vehicles on the ground was his specialty, and he and others did much damage to the Nazi war effort in a relatively short but intense combat career which earned him the DFC twice.
Aircraft which he flew were themselves damaged 14 times from enemy ground fire during his 220 operational flights. One of his citations gives us an idea of his effectiveness: “This officer has led his section against a variety of targets, often in the face of intense anti aircraft fire. He has personally destroyed a total of 153 vehicles including trains, troop carriers, oil and gasoline tankers, also many German aircraft on the ground. From early on he showed a marked talent for inflicting accurate destruction with ground attack sorties. He flew against the rocket sites which were launching V1 and V2 rockets at English cities, as well as carrying out photo-reconnaisance and escort duties.”
He joined the RCAF when war broke out, inevitably his nickname “FLYING FOX”. He spent several years as a flight instructor, during which time he had a narrow escape and had to bail out after a mid-air collision with another aircraft. He finally saw action with 412 Squadron as a flight lieutenant, revelling in Spitfires.
It was a month after D-Day that Rommel, known as the Desert Fox, had the misfortune to appear in the gun sight of the Flying Fox. The German general, who had made his reputation with the Afika Corp, was attempting to drive the Allies back into the English Channel.
The incident took place near the French city of Caen after Rommel had visited some of his troops. Brushing aside suggestions from another officer that might be less conspicuous, if he was to avoid main roads and used a jeep, instead he traveled in his large open staff car. Fox’s Squadron, meanwhile, left their Normandy airfield on the hunt for targets of opportunity, which was defined as ‘anything that was moving’. Fox recalled, “I saw this staff coming along between a line of trees on a main road. I did a diving curving attack and started firing at some 300 yards. I saw the bullets hitting the car.” Rommel was wounded but the car went out of control and Rommel was thrown out of the car receiving serious head wounds from a tree. Within months, Rommel died, not from his injuries but by his own hand, as he was involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life.
Besides his 220 combat sorties, Charley and his group flew cover over the D-Day landings, patrolling the area, shooting up anything that moved, supply vehicles, tanks, ground troops, and gun emplacements. They also took part in “Operation Market Garden’, an Allied plan to drop 35,000 paratroops 60 miles behind the German lines and for them to capture many of the bridges that held the key to German supplies and reinforcement. The paratroops were to be supported by a division of allied ground troops that were coming on land. Unfortunately, two major disasters befell the plan. First, many of the paratroops were dropped in the wrong area. Second, the planners totally underestimated the total German strength, some 66,000 trained and experienced troops which put up fierce resistance. Thirdly, because of the fierce resistance, the ground force was delayed in supporting the paratroopers by many days, causing many many casualties, which was caused by the lack of supplies and reinforcements. Of the total Allied force including Canadian, British, American, and Polish forces, a total of 35,000 men, 18,000 were either killed (11,000) or injured.
After the war, Charley joined a shoe manufacturer, Tender Tootsies Ltd until he retired in 1998. He maintained a keen interest in flying, but for many years he did not speak of his wartime experiences. Many factors may have contributed to this. He was shaken, for example, when the Mother of Andy Howden, a childhood friend who was killed in action during the war, approached him and asked, “Why my Andy and not you?” Jim, Charley’s son, said that the question haunted him, so much that when he died, he had started to write a book entitle, ‘Why Not Me?’
For the last decade and a half of his life, he threw himself into giving talks at schools, colleges, and other venues, explaining what he and other Canadian veterans did during the war. His family said that describing his experiences gave him a new purpose in life. “Talking about what he had been through seemed to form an answer in his own mind.” “Maybe the reason he did survive was to share stories and the horror of war and so other Canadians know how much Canadians placed in the war effort.”
Charley was on his way home from an Air Force function, wearing his uniform proudly, when he was struck by another vehicle which drove through a stop sign.