Thomas W. Horton (RAF officer)

Thomas Welch Horton, DSO, DFC & Bar (born 29 December 1919) is a retired Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) officer, pilot, and combat veteran who served with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in a number of significant engagements during the Second World War. He was a member of No. 88 Squadron RAF and flew anti-ship missions in the Bristol Blenheim and Douglas Boston. Horton also served with and later commanded No. 105 Squadron RAF flying the de Havilland Mosquito in the Pathfinder Force (PFF) that marked targets for destruction by following groups of heavy bombers.

Thomas Welch Horton
Wing Commander Tom Horton in 1945.jpg
Wing Commander Thomas W. Horton in 1945
Born (1919-12-29) 29 December 1919 (age 100)
Masterton, New Zealand
AllegianceNew Zealand
United Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal New Zealand Air Force (1939–47)
Royal Air Force (1947–66)
Years of service1939–1966
RankWing Commander
Service number39920 (RNZAF)
59071 (RAF)
Commands heldNo. 105 Squadron RAF
No. 203 Squadron RAF
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar

After the war, Horton was commissioned with the Royal Air Force and commanded No. 203 Squadron RAF, flying maritime patrol missions in the Neptune MR.1. He served on the United Kingdom's Air Ministry staff and as a liaison officer in the Pentagon to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Horton retired with the rank of wing commander in 1966.

Early yearsEdit

Horton was born on 29 December 1919 in Masterton, New Zealand, the only child of Constance Welch and Thomas Hector 'Bill' Horton.[1][2] He grew up in Masterton and attended Wairarapa High School. Horton learned to fly in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth biplane at the Wairarapa & Ruahine Aero Club where he was selected in July 1937 for training as part of the civil reserve of pilots.[3] He worked in a law office before joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force on 26 October 1939.[4][5]

Air Force careerEdit

No. 88 SquadronEdit

Horton received additional flight training at Blenheim, New Zealand, in the Vickers Vildebeest, and then headed to England at the end of April 1940 aboard the SS Mataroa. At RAF Benson, he trained in the Fairey Battle and was assigned to No. 88 Squadron RAF where he flew anti-ship patrols from RAF Sydenham in Northern Ireland. The squadron moved to RAF Swanton Morley in July 1941 where Horton transitioned to the Bristol Blenheim and flew more anti-ship patrols.[6]

The devotion of the attacks on Rotterdam ... are beyond all praise.

Winston Churchill, Message to the surviving aircrews[7]

In 1942, Flight Lieutenant Horton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill and bravery on anti-ship missions including the hazardous low-level attack on shipping at Rotterdam on 28 August 1941.[8][9] On at least three missions, he successfully returned to base after one of his aircraft's engines had been disabled by anti-aircraft fire.[5]

Horton transitioned to the Douglas Boston and flew more anti-ship strikes from RAF Attlebridge northwest of Norwich, Norfolk, England.[5] He participated in a number of Circus missions in which RAF bombers, escorted by friendly fighters, were used to draw out Luftwaffe fighters to their destruction. After completing his first combat tour, Horton spent a year as an instructor teaching instrument flying.[6]

Pathfinder ForceEdit

Mosquito B Mk IV serial DK338 before delivery to 105 Squadron

In July 1943, Horton was assigned to No. 105 Squadron RAF where he flew the de Havilland Mosquito light bomber from RAF Marham in Norfolk as part of the Pathfinder Force (PFF).[6] The Pathfinders specialized in locating and marking targets with flares thereby improving the accuracy of the following main bomber force. No. 105 Squadron was part of the No. 8 (Pathfinder Force) Group. For Horton, this meant a change from low-level daylight to high altitude nighttime missions.[10]

The squadron utilized precision navigation aids such as the "Oboe" system that allowed the Pathfinders to accurately mark targets despite the industrial haze and cloud cover that obscured the area by night. Horton also dropped bombs, including the 4,000-pound (1,800 kg) "cookie", from his Mosquito. He participated in the Battle of the Ruhr in 1943 and protected the Normandy landings in 1944.[6] In 1944, Squadron Leader Horton was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross for demonstrating "great courage and determination" on his missions with No. 105 Squadron.[11] In June of the following year, he took command of the squadron.[12] On 21 September 1945, Wing Commander Horton received the Distinguished Service Order.[13] The citation recognized his "sound judgement and fine leadership as a flight commander".[5] FlightGlobal included Horton in their 1945 photo presentation of Pathfinder leaders.[14]

Horton completed his World War II service with 111 sorties, 84 of them with the Pathfinders, and returned to New Zealand in 1946. He separated from the RNZAF on 10 April 1947.[5]

RAF careerEdit

No 203 Squadron RAF in 1954

The United Kingdom's Air Ministry offered Horton an appointment to a permanent commission with seniority for his wartime service if he would accept a position with the Royal Air Force.[15] Horton left New Zealand and returned to England in late 1947 where he began his RAF service on 1 January 1948.[5] After several staff appointments, including the Air Ministry in London and RAF Coastal Command headquarters, Horton took command of No. 203 squadron RAF from December 1952 to January 1955.[16] The squadron relocated in late 1952 to RAF Topcliffe and re-equipped with the Neptune MR.1 to perform North Atlantic Ocean maritime and anti-submarine patrols during the Cold War with the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states).[17]

In 1955, Horton returned to the Air Ministry and served with the department of the Chief of the Air Staff.[18] Horton was promoted to RAF wing commander in 1956[19] and in 1964 was assigned to the staff of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee at the Pentagon in the United States.[20] From 1959 to 1960, Horton served in a dual capacity as senior air staff officer at RAF Gibraltar and British air attaché to Rabat, Morocco.[21] Horton retired from the RAF with the rank of wing commander on 29 December 1966 with a total of 27 years of military service.[22]


DSO certificate presented by George VI

Horton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1942,[9] and a Bar to his DFC in 1944.[23] In 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[13] King George VI formally presented Horton with this honour at an investiture ceremony at the Court of St James's on 21 September 1945.[24] For his service, Horton received the following campaign and commemorative medals: 1939–1945 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939–1945, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal, and the New Zealand War Service Medal.[6]

In 2013, Horton was recognized for his contributions by Mike Moore, New Zealand's ambassador to the United States, during the 98th anniversary Anzac Day.[20] Horton met with Mr. and Mrs. Moore again in 2014 at the 99th anniversary of Anzac Day.[25]

Personal lifeEdit

Second World War aviators Ken Chilstrom and Tom Horton at an OBPA luncheon in 2014

Horton married in December 1943 and has one daughter, Gail, and one son, Peter. His wife of 68 years, Beris, died in October 2011.[6] Horton remains interested in aviation and attends luncheons with fellow pilots. During a 2012 interview, he expressed a desire to visit a restored de Havilland Mosquito at the nearby Military Aviation Museum, but age has made travel increasingly difficult for him.[6] As of 2019, Horton resides with his daughter in Naples, Florida in the United States.[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Stanley, Ben (21 April 2019). "Love and luck: 99-year-old World War II pilot reflects on war". Wellington, New Zealand: Stuff Ltd. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  2. ^ "Twelve Awards". CXXXVIII (40). Wellington, New Zealand: The Evening Post. 16 August 1944. p. 6. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  3. ^ "Reserve of Pilots". CXXIV (19). Wellington, New Zealand: The Evening Post. 22 July 1937. p. 11. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  4. ^ Thompson, H. L. (1956). "New Zealanders With The Royal Air Force (Vol. II)". New Zealand Electronic Text Collection. Wellington, New Zealand: Historical Publications Branch. p. 252. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Hanson, Colin Morris (2001). By Such Deeds: Honours and Awards in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, 1923–1999. Christchurch, New Zealand: Volplane Press. pp. 259–60. ISBN 9780473073015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Homewood, Dave (May 2012). "The Wings Over New Zealand Show Aviation Podcast". Episode 26 – W/C Tom Horton DSO, DFC, (pff). Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  7. ^ Pigott, Peter (2005). On Canadian Wings: A Century of Flight. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-1550025491.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. ^ "Air Force Honours". CXXXIV (19). Wellington, New Zealand: The Evening Post. 6 August 1944. p. 5. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  9. ^ a b "No. 35654". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 August 1942. p. 3410.
  10. ^ "Bomber Command No.8 (Pathfinder Force) Group". Whitehall, London: Royal Air Force. Archived from the original on 26 March 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  11. ^ "Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross" (PDF). Flightglobal/Archive. London, England: Reed Business Information. 5 October 1944. p. 381. Retrieved 8 March 2017.
  12. ^ Barrass, M. B. (17 February 2017). "105 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  13. ^ a b "No. 37277". The London Gazette (Supplement). 21 September 1945. p. 4706.
  14. ^ "Portraits from the Famous Pathfinder Force of Bomber Command". Flightglobal/Archive. London, England: Reed Business Information. 8 November 1945. p. 500. Retrieved 7 August 2016.
  15. ^ "No. 38169". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 January 1948. p. 133.
  16. ^ Barrass, M.B. (4 November 2016). "Squadron Commanding Officers, No 203 Squadron". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  17. ^ "203(R) Squadron". Whitehall, London: Royal Air Force. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  18. ^ "Royal Air Force Appointments". Flightglobal/Archive. London, England: Reed Business Information. 30 December 1955. p. 984. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  19. ^ "Squadron Leader to Wing Commander" (PDF). Flightglobal/Archive. London, England: Reed Business Information. 20 January 1956. p. 96. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  20. ^ a b Nakayama, Misato (19 October 2013). "Australia, New Zealand Mark 99th ANZAC Day Observance". Washington, D.C.: The Washington Diplomat. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  21. ^ Steinberg, S.H., ed. (1961). The Statesman's Year-Book: Statistical and Historical Annual of the States of the World for the Year 1961. Toronto, Canada: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1248. ISBN 978-0-230-27090-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  22. ^ "No. 44231". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 January 1967. p. 820.
  23. ^ "No. 36656". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 August 1944. p. 3774.
  24. ^ T. W. Horton Distinguished Service Order Warrant of Appointment, London, England: Government of the United Kingdom, 21 September 1945
  25. ^ Lawn, Connie (30 April 2014). "Ambassador Moore meets Wing Commander Thomas Welch Horton". Scoop Independent News. Retrieved 8 March 2017.

External linksEdit

  • "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 70258". Aviation Safety Network. Alexandria, Virginia: Flight Safety Foundation. 16 September 2016. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  • Dawson, Andy (6 October 2016). "105 Squadron". The Mosquito Page. Retrieved 10 March 2017.