Group Captain Robert Wendell "Buck" McNair, DSO, DFC & Two Bars

DoB: May 15, 1919

DoD: January 15, 1971

Cause of death: Leukemia

Confirmed kills: 16, 5 probable

Awards:

Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct

Queen’s Coronation Medal

Distinguished Flying Cross & Two Bars

Distinguished Service Order

Croix de Guerre

Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur

Sqn. History:

No.1 ITS, Toronto,

No.7 EFTS, Windsor

No.31 SFTS, Kingston (Graduated & winged 24 March 1941).

No.411 RCAF, Lincolnshire, England

No.416 RCAF

No.421 RCAF

Photo of Gp Capt McNair taken Sept 1945

Used with permission from acesofww2.com

Biography

Prior to the war, he was employed as a ground wireless operator to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Natural Resources. Enrolled in the RCAF in June of 1940, in the program for fighter pilots. Received his wings in March of 1941. Remained in the RCAF after the war, as there was a need for experienced senior officers. Soon after his first victory, he was almost shot down, but was able to regain control of his aircraft and bring him back to safety. By November of 1941, McNair was responsible for 50% of the squadron’s victories. McNair had an extremely close call with death, when a two thousand pound bomb undershot a target and instead hit just ahead of the hotel where some RAF pilots were staying. This explosion killed five pilots and an intelligence officer, but McNair and two others managed to survive despite McNair being thrown up twenty-thirty feet in the air, putting him a story higher in the hotel.  After McNair had completed a tour of duty, he was commanded to take over a training school, but endlessly protested until he was sent back to England as a Squadron Leader in 1943. Due to an engine malfunction, on three occasions his aircraft’s engine cut out on him. The first two times he landed without significant damage, but the third time nearly killed him and eventually forced him to give up flying. His aircraft rapidly began losing altitude, the engine shortly after catching fire, causing him to dive into the sea. Fortunately, McNair escaped his aircraft, but with severe facial burns to the extent that his eyes were too swollen to see out of. He was hospitalised for weeks, and while in hospital he was awarded the bar to his DFC, and as soon as his eyes were healed enough to open again, he insisted on returning back to his Wing. The accident caused him to lose the majority of vision in one eye, but he did not report this to the Medical authorities, as he knew that they would ground him. Even with the damage to his eyesight, he proved that he was still a strong pilot by continuing to shoot down enemy aircraft. His inability to see long distances forced him to change his style of attack, now attacking by closing right in on the opposing aircraft before firing. His men knew nothing of his impaired eyesight and instead thought this new method was over aggressive and that McNair was taking unnecessary chances. He was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 1990.

Trivia

  • He was commanded to take over a training school on the prairies, but protested so profusely that in January 1943, he was sent back to England as a Squadron Leader.

  • He took over 416 RCAF Squadron when the Canadian ace S/L Foss Boulton was shot down. He had no sooner settled in when he was transferred to take over 421 Squadron, the "Red Indians".

  • W/C Hugh Godefroy, who commanded Buck in several squadrons, characterized him in his war biography "Lucky 13".

References

McNair, Robert Wendell "Buck". (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.tracesofwar.com/persons/47026/McNair-Robert-Wendell-Buck.htm

Robert Wendell "Buck" McNair World War II Ace. (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.constable.ca/caah/mcnair.html