Reade Franklin Tilley

Reade Tilley

RCAF,   USAAF    Colonel

DFC (UK),  

Born in Clearwater, Florida, 24 March 1918.
Home there.
Graduated from Clearwater High School.
Earned a private pilot's license from the CAA program at St. Petersburg Junior College.
Rejected by the US Air Force for being too tall (6'5").
He enlisted into the RCAF in Hamilton, Ontario, 10 June 1940.
Trained at
No.1 ITS, Toronto,
No.2 EFTS, Ft. William &
No.2 SFTS, Uplands; graduating 25 January 1941.
Went home on leave then back to Canada to await embarkation.
Arrived in the UK, 1 April 1941.
Trained at No.58 OTU Sutton Bridge.
Joined No.121 "Eagle" Squadron in May 1941.
Commissioned in August 1941.
Broke his leg during a bale out on 1 October 1941 (the photo on the left shows him shortly after this incident. The dark object in the lower right corner is the handle of his cane).
Posted to No.601 Squadron in April 1942.
Arrived in Malta on 20 April 1942 via carrier USS Wasp but soon afterwards was posted to No.126 Squadron.
DFC awarded on 20 May 1942.
He left Malta on 16 August 1942.
DFC presented to him on 9 October 1942. (Newspaper article, "A Gallant Boy" on this page, says he got it in London on 5 June which would be impossible if he left Malta in August. Another, also on this page, says he got it from Lord Gort at Malta. Maybe both kinda true. One presentation by Gort at Malta on June 5 and the other, a more formal occasion (ie PR and such), at Buckingham Palace on 9 October. That's my guess anyway).
Transferred to the USAAF on 12 October 1942.
Arrived in Canada, 10 December 1942.
Served as an advisor as well as an instructor for a short time.
Remained in the Air Force after the war and eventually retired with the rank of Colonel.
His hoby was racing cars.
Tony Barton, who wrote of his days on Malta, mentions Reade many times in his story. You can check it out here.

Author, Col. William Charles Anders said of Tilley; "Col. Tilley, who resembled an out-of-training Green Bay Packer fullback, was a warm, gregarious, soft-spoken southerner. A very colorful and highly controversial figure, he was the architect of the Strategic Air Command's information program during the heyday of Gen. Curtis LeMay. A highly skilled and dedicated man, he could charm the wings off a butterfly, or chew the transmission out of an erring subordinate, with equal aplomb. He was irascible, blood-thirsty, unyielding, magnanimous, determined, calculating, and hard-headed. You couldn't help but like him."


Reach "Highs" in Flying Careers

St. Petersburg Times, 25 April, 1940 - Big moments for three Junior college civil aeronautics students came this week when Pauline Hurst had the distinction of being the first girl to solo, and Bob Mills and Reade Tilley, were the first two students to complete the course for civilian pilots. All started ground work early in December under the instruction of Otis Beard. Pauline expects to continue her college work next year. Mills may join the Army, while Tilley, a Clearwater student at the college, has not yet made definite plans. The civilian pilot training course qualifies private pilots to fly anywhere in the United States. When they have a minimum of 200 hours in the air and have executed prescribed maneuvers they are eligible to become commercial filers.



17 June 1940 - Two Pinellas county boys, both of whom recently received private pilot's licenses under the CAA program of St. Petersburg Junior college, have joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, it was learned here yesterday.
The boys, Bruce Beat, St. Petersburg, graduate of Florida Military academy, and Reade Tilley, Clearwater, left here June 1 with George Hall, Crystal Beach, Ont. Can., and joined the Canadian forces June 10 at Hamilton, Ont. Can., They are now stationed at Toronto.



The Evening Independant, 15 July, 1940 - Three of four Pinellas county youths who left last month to enlist in British military service in Canada are now reaching the advanced stages of ground training for the Canadian Royal Air force and within another month are expected to take over the controls of schooling planes, according to a letter received here from one of the youths.
In writing his mother, Mrs. Jessie DeLoach, 107 Sixteenth avenue southeast, Ralph DeLoach, 20-year-old local high school graduate and one of the enlisted youths, stated that he and Bruce Beat, this city, and Reed Tilley, Clearwater, are being rushed through the various phases of aviation training following their acceptance in the air corps at Toronto.
Billy McClelland, this city, did not join the air corps, but has expressed intentions of enlisting in the Scotch Highlander troops, DeLoach wrote. McClelland is now in Hamilton, Ontario.
Beat and Tilley departed for Canada after the close of their classes at the St Petersburg Junior college. DeLoach and McClelland left June 22.


Ex-Junior College Boy Describes Air Training in Canada

1 August, 1940 - Three St. Petersburg boys in the Royal Canadian Air force are undergoing a period of strenuous training as "fighter pilots" and will probably receive commissions as aviation officers, according to a letter sent The Evening Independent by Ralph DeLoach, son of Mrs. Jessie DeLoach, 107 Sixteenth avenue southeast, and former Junior college student.
DeLoach left this city about a month ago for Toronto to Join Bruce Beat and Reade Tilley, Junior college students, who had enrolled earlier in the R.C.A.F. Excerpt from his letter follow:
"Just a few lines to let you know how the three of us, Bruce Beat, Reade Tilley and myself, are faring. We have all been chosen as 'fighter pilots' to fly the most dangerous pursuit ships in Europe today — the 'British Spitfires' and the 'Hawker Hurricanes.'

Powerful Ships
"These ships are powered with 1,000 horsepower and are capable of more than 400 m.p.h. It has been these ships that have been responsible for turning back the German air raids up to the present. They are mounted with eight guns, all converging on one point ahead of the ship.
"The three of us were among about 100 boys chosen from this entire training area. Our course is very strenuous here, our studies are quite difficult and we are being rushed through a two-year course in about six mouths. All of us agree that it is no 'cinch': however we receive every consideration possible and they are especially nice to southern boys. (Can It be our southern accents?)

Sure of Commissions
"It seems that every 'fighter pilot' receives a commission as 'Flying Officer' in the British Air force. The three of us are looking forward to receiving ours later this fall at the completion of our course.
"We expect to receive orders to prepare to leave for either the flying front in England or Egypt about Christmas. Thus far, every available 'fighter pilot' has gone to one of these two places immediately on completion of training.
"Bruce Beat left a week ago for Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he is flying night and day according to his letters. Reade Tilley is here with me (Toronto) and we both expect to leave for Moose Jaw in the near future.

Discipline Strict
"The officers here keep us under the strictest discipline and we are even told what to eat. We have medical exams at frequent intervals. The Junior college course seems like a snap now compared to this. We are up at 6 a.m. and study both in the classroom and on the flying field until 5 p.m. From then until bed time (10:30 p.m.) we have to devote most of the time to study.
"As per your request, will drop you more news of our activities from time to time."


Returns From Visit With Son in RCAF

3 Sept., 1940 - Reade F. Tilley, president of Clearwater Merchants' association, returned yesterday from a trip to Canada and New York. He attended a national jewelers' convention in New York City and visited in Canada with his son, Reade Tilley Jr., a member of the Royal Canadian Air force.


Clearwater Youth To Join British Sky Fighters Soon

4 October, 1940 - Reade Tilley Jr., Clearwater, who learned to fly through the Junior college CAA training courses, will soon be commissioned a fighter pilot in the Canadian air force and sent to England to join the British, according to information received yesterday by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reade Tilley.
Tilley received his private pilot’s license last May and joined the Canadians at Hamilton, Ont, Can., and later transferred to Toronto to receive training as a fighter pilot. According to Canadian records only five out of each 100 men who join the service are commissioned as fighter pilots.


Expects To Be Transferred

31 December 1940 - Reade Tilley jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Reads Tilley of this city, now with the Canadian air force, expects to be transferred to active duty somewhere in Europe early in 1941. Young Tilley,' who may visit his -parents soon, was offered an instructor’s position overseas, but he rejected it in favor of active duty with Britain's aerial forces.




Pilot Guest at Rotary Meeting

CLEARWATER, 14 Feb. 1941 — Reade Tilley Jr., on furlough from the Canadian Royal Flying corps, was greeted yesterday by the Rotary club. The young man attended the meeting as a guest of his father, pioneer Rotarian.
Tilley will leave today for Ottawa from which point he hopes he will be sent to England for active flying duty,
Lon Grider, nine-year-old Cub Scout, addressed the Rotarians on Scouting and in behalf of the Community Fund.
Victor Morgan was in charge of the program.


Clearwater Flier Rejoins Canada’s Royal Air Force
Reade Tilley Jr. Leaves Following Furlough at Home

Clearwater, 14 Feb. 1941 — Reade Tilley Jr., local youth now a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, left for Canada last night after a furlough spent visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reade Tilley Sr., 608 North Osceola Avenue.
Young Tilley, former student at St Petersburg Junior college, spent much of his furlough on a "busman's holiday," flying planes of friends in nearby cities. Yesterday he flew with Francis Whillock and Bill Shurtleff, local fliers.


Tilley Writes From War Front
Clearwater Man Experiences Air Raid in Scotland

Clearwater, 1 April, 1941 — Four letters telling of his war-bound Journey across the Atlantic and describing his first experience of a London air raid have been received here from Reade Tilley Jr., Clearwater youth now stationed with the Royal Canadian Air force near Scapa Flow, Scotland.
Written at different times, the letters were addressed to young Tilley's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reade Tilley Sr., 608 North Osceola Avenue. However, all were received in one mail delivery.
The Tilleys reported that their son "came through the air raid in swell shape and did not seem to be the least bit worried." He wrote that he was stationed "in a quiet little village" near Scapa Flow, which was subjected to heavy air bombardment by Nazi planes early in the current war.
Tilley obtained his first flying instruction in a CAA course at the St. Petersburg Junior college and then tried to enlist in the U.S. army corps. Turned down because of excessive height, he joined the Canadian air force. He was transferred to Europe about a month ago.


Tilley Invited to Join American Eagle Squadron

CLEARWATER, 4 May, 1941 — Reade Tilley Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Reade F. Tilley Sr. of Clearwater, who is now in England fighting with the RAF, has been invited to join the select American Eagle squadron, he wrote in a recent letter to his parents.
"These boys are the roughest, toughest bunch of cloud busters that ever haunted the ozone," he wrote, "and can these boys fly!" Here is the complete text of the letter written in England April 5:

Hi There Folks,
This England is an amazing place; my only objection is the kind of weather served here, which has been bad for several hundred years. The local Chamber of Commerce tells me it will be better along about June, so I await with patience and anticipation.
These English folk are grand people, gentlemen and fighters to the core, but what amazes me is the offhand, dogged, yet impersonal way the Englishman goes about his business. Irrespective of whether he's washing his socks or swapping bullets with a Messerschmitt.
We Americans get a great kick out of this, and, on the other hand, the English boys seem to get a bang out of us; I guess they think we're crazy when we act the least bit enthused.
Together, we are one big happy family, and have a grand time. This is a typical English village, quaint and quite small, with an ivy-covered church and several pubs, both popular institutions.
Today I cabled you; am anxious to know that you are receiving my letters; have not had a word from you folks yet.
Flash! NEWS: I've been invited to join the AMERICAN EAGLE SQUADRON. How about that? These boys are the roughest, toughest bunch of cloud- busters that ever haunted the ozone; stout fellows all; playboys, air line pilots, medical students, a piano salesman, a cowboy and a college professor; a cross section of the good old U.S.A. - Texas, Arkansas, New York, Delaware, Florida and gad, can these boys fly.
You'll see such names as Jones, Stewart, Smith, Wallace go down in the written history of this great scrap; at the moment I buzz merrily about at 300 plus per hour in a Hurricane; how’s that? We are using the Standard Rolls motor of 1100 h.p. and these "limey" crates fly very sweetly. When you give them the gun, do they pack a wallop? It’s my ambition to bring a Rolls-Merlin motor back with me if I can get Eddie Rickenbacker to help me (he’s president of Indianapolis Speedway) get it entered.
Am getting fat; 13 stone 5; which translates into 185 pounds, U.S. lingo. In a few minutes I’ll be ripping about at 5 miles per minute; off now to snag a cup of tea, which is now my favorite beverage. My address is No. 58 OTU, RAF, Sutton Bridge, Holbeach, Lincolnshire — located about half way between London and Hull, right on the east coast.


Clearwater Youth, Fighting With R.A.F., Writes to Parents

Clearwater, 30 June, 1941 — Seventy per cent of the members of the Eagle squadron, made up of American fliers who have volunteered to help fight Great Britain's battle of the air, are southern born, according to Reade F. Tilley Jr., Clearwater youth now serving with the R.A.F. in England.
In a letter written to his parents here, Tilley described the strict physical requirements of flying a Hurricane pursuit plane at a speed of six miles per minute. He declared that most of the pilots in the Eagle squadron had quit drinking hard liquor.
Tilley learned to fly at the St. Petersburg Junior college and joined the R.C.A.F. in Canada. He has been in England about three months.


Nazis Can't Take It
Tilley Jr. Writes Folks at Clearwater

Clearwater, 31 July, 1941 — A letter received this week by Mr. and Mrs. Reade Tilley Sr., from their son, Reade Tilley Jr., member of the R.C.A.F. in England reports that the British have definitely taken the offensive in the air.
Tilley says the Nazi flyers can’t take it and the British have to go over and smoke them out every day. He reports the receipt of American cigarettes, candy bars, and other supplies. "What a treat it would be to have a cup of real coffee after drinking tea for six months," Tilley wrote.


Reade Tilley Is Eagle Squadron Officer Now

26 August 1941 - Reade Tilley Jr., Clearwater youth who learned how to fly with a CAA class at St. Petersburg Junior college, has been appointed a pilot officer in the American Eagle squadron of the RAF in England, he cabled his parents yesterday.
An athletic star at Clearwater high, Tilley joined the Canadian Royal air force several months ago. He was soon sent to England as a fighter pilot.


Tilley Injured In Chute Jump, Cable Reveals

St Petersburg Times - Oct 9. 1941, CLEARWATER — Further information on the injury received Oct. 1 by Pilot Officer Reade F. Tilley Jr. in England was received here yesterday by his father in a cable from the chief of the air staff in Canada.
Tilley, flying with the Third Eagle squadron, attached to the RAF, suffered a leg injury while "bailing out" of his ship in a parachute.
The cable, promising details in a letter to follow, said the injury occurred at Buryon-on- Trent, Nottinghamshire, England, when young Tilley was forced to jump from his plane. The map shows this point to be approximately 50 miles from Kirton Lindsey, home station of the Eagle squadron.
The cable did not mention whether the parachute landing was caused by accident, fog or engagement with the enemy. The accident occurred exactly seven months from the day Tilley arrived in England from Canada; he had been flying for more than 200 days without an accident.


Tilley in Eagle Squadron Sent Against Luftwaffe

15 October 1941 - The American Eagle squadron of the RAF, which numbers 23-year-old Reade F. Tilley Jr. of Clearwater among its members, has gone into action against the Nazi Luftwaffe, it was learned yesterday.
Recent cables from England informed the youth's father, a Clearwater jeweler, that his son had suffered a fractured leg when he was forced to make an emergency parachute jump from his plane. The cables did not give the reason for the jump, but yesterday’s disclosure made it appear highly possible Tilley bailed out as the result of enemy action damaging his plane.
The Second American Eagle squadron has been engaged in "operational duty" for some time, the British air ministry announced yesterday, according to an International News Service dispatch from London.
In the restrained language of the British air arm, "operational duty" means combat flying, and the dispatch indicated the Second Eagle squadron has been engaged chiefly in convoy patrols off the British coast.
Two of Tilley’s fellow pilots already have drawn blood, it was revealed. They are Pilot Officers R. F. Ebner, a Fergus Falls, Minn., boy, and Sgt. J. J. Mooney of Long Island.
Patrolling over a British port, the pair attacked and damaged a Junkers 88 which escaped in the thick clouds but was seen to be losing altitude as it flew off.
Average age of squadron members is 24. The outfit is commanded by a British squadron leader, R. P. R. Powell, holder of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Personnel range from Pilot Officer V. E. Watkins, 32, Fort Pierce, Fla., former flying manager for the California Oil company, to Pilot Officer F. E. Almos, 19, of Sunnyvale, Cal.


Back In Action

CLEARWATER, 11 December 1941 — Reade Tilley Jr., son of a Clearwater jeweler who was flying with the RAF in the American Eagle Squadron until he fractured his leg two months ago, is back in action again, he wrote his parents. He told them he was flying a new Spitfire which had an altitude of six miles.




Tilley Expects To Be Sent To Far East

CLEARWATER, 23 March 1942 — In a letter written 24 days ago in London, Reade F. Tilley Jr. advised his father to sell all his stock and convert his assets into government bonds and cash.
"This war may end suddenly without warning any day," said young Tilley. The young fighter pilot told his father: "I am no longer the blue-eyed boy. I'm now able to take care of myself under any situation, so don’t worry about me. By the time you get this letter I expect to be in the Far East."


Birthday In The Air

10 April 1942 - How would you like to celebrate your birthday chasing Nazi war pilots in a British Hurricane? That’s what Reade Tilley Jr. did March 24 —the day he became 24— the former Clearwater High school athlete wrote his parents in a letter received yesterday. Earlier this week, Mr. and Mrs. Tilley got a cablegram from Reade intimating his departure for the Far East.


Clearwater RAF Pilot Decorated For Valor

25 May 1942 - Towering Reade Tilley Jr., Clearwater RAF fighter pilot who couldn’t join the U.S. Air Corps because he was too tall, has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor in recent air battles over Malta, one of two Americans so honored.
Associated Press dispatches from Cairo, Egypt, yesterday telling of Tilley’s decoration credited the former local Junior college student with destroying four enemy aircraft and almost certainly downing a fifth, although it was not officially claimed.
On three occasions, although he had run out of ammunition, he drove off enemy fighters attempting to shoot British fighters as they landed, the British citation revealed.
Previously he had been credited officially with shooting down (one FW190 probable -jf) an Axis plane in an air battle over the English Channel. His total score to date, five, makes him the first ace of World War II in this area.
His only injury was in October, 1941, and was what he described merely as a sprained ankle but what was later officially announced by the British as a fractured leg. The injury was received when he was forced to bail out of his plane.
Between answering scores of congratulatory phone calls from friends who heard radio broadcasts telling of the RAF flier’s decoration, his parents last night told reporters they were "highly elated" over the honor bestowed on their son.
James "Jimmy" Peck of California was the other American flyer to win a British DFC.

Tilley DFC
P/O Reade Tilley


TILLEY, P/O Reade Franklin (J15011) - Distinguished Flying Cross - No.126 Squadron
Award effective 1 June 1942 as per London Gazette dated 5 June 1942 and
AFRO 916/42 dated 19 June 1942.

This officer is a most determined pilot who has destroyed at least four enemy aircraft. On three occasions, by making feint attacks after having expended all his ammunition, he has successfully driven off enemy fighters which attempted to machine gun our aircraft as they landed. He has displayed great gallantry.


A "Gallant Boy"

London, 7 June 1942 - Reade F. Tilley Jr., the son of a Clearwater jeweler, who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, received the Distinguished Flying Cross in London on Friday for "displaying great gallantry" in action with the British, it has been learned.


Clearwater Ace - Or His Double - In Defense Film

CLEARWATER, 8 July 1942 — Clearwater’s own ace, Pilot Officer Reade Tilley Jr., D.F.C. - or his double - unexpectedly appeared on the screen here last night as a British war movie was being previewed by a group of defense council and Red Cross executives and their guests. There was no identification of any of the persons in the film, but those who glimpsed the tall, mustachioed flyer at the left in a closeup of a small RAF group about to take off for battle were positive that it was the young man whose portrait is visible at his father's Cleveland street store, and who on May 24 at Malta was awarded the distinguished flying cross. He now has seven enemy planes to his credit.
The film, entitled "The Warning," showed the death and destruction that rain down from enemy airplanes and how English civilians have organized to protect themselves. The film was one of four shown in Peace Memorial gymnasium by William D. Monroe, chief of the visual education department of the Pinellas county defense council. As the American -and the Pinellas county- system of civilian defense is based on experience in the Battle of Britain, the picture was in effect a condensed but constantly dramatic textbook on the problem of staying alive during total war and how a community solves it. The picture is expected to become part of the educational material available to the defense council's division of information, headed by John Chesnut.
In addition to shots of the British navy, anti-aircraft guns and the Royal Air Force in action against German bombers, the film showed the work under air raid conditions of police, air raid wardens, gas decontamination squads, demolition squads, auxiliary firemen, emergency medical services, rescue and repair squads. The control room from which these civilian protection forces were directed in the movie was similar to that for the Clearwater area which was just to the left of the space in the gymnasium where the movie was shown.
Other pictures shown were "The RAF In Action," "Neighbors Under Fire," a record of co-operation in the small section of London where 1,200 persons were made homeless by one short air raid, and "Spotting the Bombers," data on distinguishing enemy and Allied aircraft. Chairman Alfred P. Marshall of the county defense council made a brief talk.
Reade Tilley Sr., was among the guests but he arrived just too late to see his son’s image on the screen.
"I got a letter from him yesterday," Tilley said, "from Gibraltar, where he was spending a seven-day leave after 30 days of fighting. He said the Gibraltar skies reminded him of Clearwater’s, that he was going to a dance that night and expected to have fun —'if there isn't too much competition from the Navy.' And he added, 'These señoritas seem to get more into a smile than the Yankee girls.'"
The Clearwater flier shot down a plane while still based in England, then got four more over Malta and was given the DFC. He reported his Malta results in a cable to his father "Score 4 to 0." His father cabled him: "Son, make it love set," referring to the tennis score of 6 to 0. A few weeks ago his father received this cable. "Made it love set this morning."


5 Americans With R.A.F. Still Fighting at Malta
Four at Most Bombed Spot Dead, Two Back in Britain

LONDON, 17 July 1942 - (UP) - Of eleven American pilots in the Royal Air Force who went to Malta, the most bombed spot on earth, four are dead. Five, with a number of Canadians, Australians and other Britons, continued to take off from Malta's scarred air fields to fight the Italians and Germans.
Those still fighting are: Reade Tilley, twenty-four years old, of Clearwater, Fla., who has been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and has five enemy aircraft to his credit; Ripley Ogden Jones, twenty-seven, of Cooperstown, N.Y., credited with one and a half enemy planes; Douglas Booth, twenty-three, of Brooklyn; Bruce Downs, twenty-six, of San Antonio, Tex., and Richard E. McHan twenty-two, of Pocatello, Idaho.
Two others, James E. Peck, twenty-one, of Berkeley, Calif., and Donald W. McLeod twenty-eight, of Norwich, Conn. returned to the British Isles recently.
These seven flyers arrived in Malta with the first Americans in March, when the Axis was beginning its biggest attacks. Ten days after he arrived, McLeod was shot down. With cannon fragments in his left arm and leg, he parachuted 800 feet and broke his neck. Two months later, he was flying again.
Peck and Tilley received the first decorations awarded to Americans in Malta. Peck shot down five German planes without getting a scratch or a bullet hole in his Spitfire.


11 Yanks with RAF in Malta Play Hero Roles; Four Killed

By WILLIAM R. DOWNS, United Press Staff Correspondent. LONDON, July 17, 1942 — This is an accounting of 11 American pilots in the RAF who went to Malta, the most bombed spot on earth.
Four are dead. Five, with a number of Canadians, Australians and other Britons, still take off from Malta's air fields to fight the Italians and Germans.
The five are Reade Tilley, 24, who has been decorated with the distinguished flying cross and has five enemy aircraft to his credit, of Clearwater, Fla.; Ripley Ogden Jones, 27, credited with one-and-a-half enemy planes, of Cooperstown, N. Y.; Douglas Booth, 23, of Brooklyn; Bruce Downs, 26, of San Angelo, Tex., and Richard McHan, 22, who was born in Omaha, Neb., but whose family lives in Pocatello, Idaho.
The remaining two, Jimmy Peck, 21, who was born in Calexico, Cal., and whose father lives in Berkeley, Cal., and Don McLeod, 28, who was born in Blackston, Mass., but whose father lives in Norwich, Conn., returned to the British Isles recently.

Broke Neck But Flies
They arrived in Malta in March, when the Axis was trying to blast the island out of the Mediterranean. Ten days after he arrived, McLeod was shot down. With cannon fragments to his left arm and leg, he parachuted 800 feet and broke his neck. Two months later he was flying again.
Peck, who with Tilley, received the first DFCs awarded to Americans in Malta, shot down five German planes without getting a scratch or a bullet hole in his spitfire.
McLeod's escape from death has become a legend. It happened on April 2, when RAF forces in Malta had not been reinforced and there were only a half dozen or so planes to meet the scores of bombers and fighters the Italians and Germans were sending over. 'How It Feels to Die'
"It happened that four of us went up to meet 24 Messerschmitt 109s escorting bombers in a daylight attack," McLeod said. "I thought I was all right until I saw stuff flying around me like a horizontal hailstorm. Then I knew I was in for it. I said to myself, 'So this is how it feels to die.'"
McLeod said his Spitfire was shot up so badly that the right aileron was sticking up vertically and his elevators were disabled. "The only thing to do was to hold the ship in a 200-mile-per-hour glide," he related. "I was 21,000 feet up when the attack started. I saw the machine gradually torn apart as Jerry after Jerry attacked. I kept looking over my right shoulder. I'd see two of them coming at me. Then I'd skid some and they would miss. Then I'd skid again. I felt something burn my left arm and leg, and saw Blood, but it didn't hurt. Radio Shot Away
Then' I skidded again. That was all I could do. The radio was shot out from in front of me and I couldn't talk to any one so I decided to get out of there."
RAF observers said McLeod bailed out between 500 and 800 feet. When the parachute opened, the straps struck his chin and snapped his body so hard that his thyroid cartilage was fractured. He alighted off the coast, where a ship picked him up.
They said the Germans usually were extremely friendly after they were shot down. Often the Germans autographed books for RAF pilots with: "I hope you break your neck and both legs." The Nazis considered this a good joke and were highly complimented if their books were similarly endorsed by the British.
They told of other remarkable escapes from death.

Typical Brooklynite
"We saw Doug (Booth), who is a typical Brooklynite, flying from a cloud on the tail of a Junkers 88," Peck related. "Right behind him was another Junkers on his tail. While Booth was firing at the Junkers in front of him, the one behind gave him a long burst and the Spitfire disintegrated in the explosion. Doug said he never remembered getting out of the cockpit. He must have been knocked out. He came to falling through the air and pulled the ripcord. Then he passed out again. He was unconscious when he landed."
The four Americans killed at Malta were: Eddie Streets, 21, who was born at Trappe, Md., but whose father lives at Easton, Md.; Hiram Putnam, 29, of Bobville, Texas, whose mother lives in Clarkwood, Texas; Harry Kelly, 26, of Los Angeles, whose father's address is Barstow, Cal., and Eddie Steele, 21, of Salisbury, Md.
Streets was killed by a bomb shortly after he arrived. The rest were killed in combat.


Clearwater Ace May Spend Yule Leave at Home

Clearwater, 11 Dec. 1942 — Reade Tilley Jr., the Clearwater High school graduate, who has shot down five Nazi planes as a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air force and wears Britain’s Distinguished Flying cross as a result of his exploits, may spend Christmas with his parents.
The young captain, recently transferred to the United States army air forces, is now in Canada on furlough after putting in several hectic months in the aerial defense of Malta — the world’s most bombed Island.
In a letter to his sister in Tallahassee, young Tilley said he had not confided his plans to his parents "because they were busy in the store." The pilot's father is a Clearwater jeweler. But the sister couldn't keep the secret and wrote her father.
The letter did not explain why Captain Tilley is back in Canada but it was believed he has returned as a fighter pilot instructor.


Reade Tilley to Spend Christmas With Parents

CLEARWATER, 11 Dec. 1942 — Capt. Reade F. Tilley Jr., DFC, credited with shooting down six planes over Malta, will spend Christmas with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tilley, 608 N. Osceola avenue.
Capt. Tilley arrived yesterday in Canada and talked to his sister by telephone advising her that he would be in Clearwater within a short time. This message was relayed from Canada to the happy parents.
The parents were overjoyed at the prospects of having their son with them again. Only a few months ago they waited anxiously for news while he was busy dally, with other filers, protecting Malta. During this work he was credited with bringing down six German and other enemy planes and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross by Lord Gort, commander of Malta.
A few months ago Capt. Tilley, who was an officer-pilot with the RAF, was transferred with others to the American Air Forces and since then has served as an instructor for fighter pilots, in the London area.
Capt. Tilley’s trip to the United States at this time is in line of duty, his parents were informed.


Tilley May Get Staff Assignment
Clearwater Ace Returns To This Country

Clearwater, Dec. 17, 1942 — Capt. Reade Tiller Jr., former star athlete for Clearwater High school and officially credited with six German planes as a fighter pilot with the R.C.A.F., may be assigned to staff work with the U.S. war department, the young ace informed his father last night in a long distance chat from Washington.
The husky Pinellas county youngster who was rejected by the U.S. army air forces two years ago because doctors said he was too tall, enlisted in the R.C.A.F., trained in Ontario and became one of the leading fighter pilots of the American Eagle squadron in the Battle of Britain. He participated in many air fights over the English Channel, notably the attack on two German battleships in their dash from a French coastal base.
Transferred to Malta, the most bombed island in the world, young Tilley piloted both Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and it was in this war theater that the Clearwater ace rolled up his largest consecutive string of victories. He was officially recorded with five German planes and was given credit for one probable. With the United States entry into the war, young Tilley, who had then been awarded the British Distinguished Flying cross, was transferred to the American air forces with the rank of captain. He is now attached to the Eighth Fighter command.


You Stick Together in Air War, Clearwater Flier Says

WASHINGTON, 19 December 1942 — Four Eagle pilots agreed yesterday that modern air fighting demands teamwork, with no room for one-man heroics.
All four—Maj. Carroll W. McColpin of Buffalo, N. Y.; Maj. William A. Daley Jr., Amarillo, Tex.; Capt. Sam A. Mauriello, Astoria, N. Y., and Capt. Reade Tilley, Clearwater, Fla.—were members of the celebrated RAF Eagle squadrons, made up of American pilots.
Now members of the U.S. Army Air forces, they have a combined total of 790 hours in the air in combat flights. Their combined scores total 21 enemy planes destroyed, 15 probably destroyed or damaged, five boats, two trains and two trucks destroyed, and nine boats damaged. Each wears the striped ribbon of Briton's Distinguished Flying Cross. And each was reluctant to discuss his own experiences at a press conference.
Mauriello put the reluctance into words.
"This is not a single man's war," he said. "There are no one- man aces. Everybody sticks together, or else you're going to get It."
They have been back in this country about 10 days, making reports to officers at the war department, and are about to start on two weeks' leave. After that, more discussions with staff officers are due before they rejoin their squadrons in Europe.
Tilley was in the RCAF two and a half years before he transferred to the Army Air forces Sept. 15, first with the 121st Eagle squadron, then with the 126th Malta squadron. All of his score of seven enemy planes destroyed and three probably destroyed he chalked up in Malta, and one of them he got in what he thought was probably his most exciting "show."
"Two of us in Spitfires went out looking for a small group of enemy aircraft that had been reported," he related. "We couldn't find them, turned around to come home—and ran into about 50.
"When we first saw those fellows we thought they were birds, and by the time we found out they weren’t it was too late to run. We were out of ammunition in about two minutes. But we got through."
"How?" he was asked.
"Well, we just stayed right in the middle of them. They couldn’t shoot at us without shooting each other. Of course, we were doing a lot of yelling over the R-T for reinforcement. No, we didn’t get any."
"Well, how did you break away from them?"
"I don't know—all of a sudden we just disappeared, and they did, too!"
Although their ammunition lasted only about two minutes, Tilley and his companion each shot down one ME109, and together they damaged four others.
All four were enthusiastic about the younger American pilots arriving overseas for combat assignments. Asked if any of the newcomers ever "broke away" from operational training to get into a fight, Tilley replied:
"I don't see how they could, but if they could, they all would!"




Tilley to Hollywood

Capt. Read F. Tilley Jr., one of the heroes of the Malta defense as a fighter pilot with the RCAF, has been assigned by the war department to Hollywood as technical adviser on a war film, it was learned yesterday from his father, a jeweler in Clearwater. Tilley was transferred to the American forces after shooting down six enemy planes over Malts and England. He took primary flight training at Junior college. Tilley last visited Clearwater on Christmas shortly after his return from overseas.


Clearwater Jeweler Has Unusual Window Display

CLEARWATER, 8 July, 1944 — Reade F. Tilley (Sr.), local Jeweler who was the first merchant in Clearwater to throw away all his merchandise made in Japan, has one of the most unusual and expensive window displays ever seen in Clearwater.
Scattered about in the window are $10,700 in war bonds, dating back to 1935, all purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Tilley and an additional thousand owned by employes of the store, making a total of more than $11,000. The display has attracted wide attention.
Tilley sold $30,000 in war bonds by giving about $100 in bonds to children in a recent contest.


Victories Include :

24 Mar 1942
28 April 1942
8 May 1942

9 May 1942
10 May 1942

14 May 1942

23 May 1942
9 July 1942

12 July 1942
14 July 1942
23 July 1942
one FW190
one Me109
one Me109
one Me109
one MC202
one Me109
one Me109
one Me109
one Me109
one Re2001
one Me109
one Ju88
one Re2001
one Me109
one MC202
destroyed &
damaged [1]
damaged &
probable [2]
destroyed &
destroyed [3]
destroyed &
damaged [4]
121 Sq. Spit AD463
601 Sq. Spit BR195 "Q"
126 Sq. (& all the following)

(1st sortie)

(2nd sortie)

7 / 3 / 6

[1] Listed as a Ju88
[2] Listed as a Ju87 damaged
[3] Listed as an MC202
[4] Listed as an MC202


Son Of Clearwater Couple Now Colonel In Air Force

CLEARWATER, 24 May 1955 — Reade Tilley Jr., 36, graduate of Clearwater High school and St, Petersburg Junior. College, son of Mr. and Mrs. Reade Tilley Sr. of Clearwater, now holds the rank of colonel in the United States Air Force effective April 19.
Col. Tilley is presently assigned to the nation’s long range air striking force, Strategic Air Command at Omaha. He is special assistant to its commander-in-chief General Curtis E. Le May.
After attending Clearwater schools he studied at both St. Petersburg Junior College and the University of Texas.
In 1940 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and later was a member of the Eagle Squadron of the Royal Air Force. In action over Europe and Malta, in the Mediterranean, he destroyed seven enemy aircraft to become one of the first American ace fighter pilots of World War II.
Late in 1942 Tilley transferred from the RCAF to the United States Air Force as a captain, in London. After a brief assignment with 8th Air Force Fighter Command he returned to the United States and an assignment to the A. F. School of Tactics at Orlando in 1943. There he served as an instructor and was active in the development of new fighter tactics and equipment.
Shortly after the war Col. Tilley was assigned to the United States Air Forces in Europe. He was first in the Operations Directorate and later became director of public relations for USAFE. After the Berlin Air Lift he returned to the United States on assignment to Headquarters, Strategic Air Command in Omaha. In 1951 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel with the job of director of information. The following year he became special-assistant to the commander in chief. His promotion to the rank of colonel this week came just short of 15 years of military service.
Col. Tilley races sports cars as a hobby and has participated in National races for the past several years. He resides in Omaha with his wife the former Miss Barbara Burke of New York City and his son Reade III.


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On these pages I use Hugh Halliday's extensive research which includes info from numerous sources; newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC); the Google News Archives; the London Gazette Archives and other sources both published and private.

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