This South African fighter pilot ace shot up the famous General Erwin Rommel’s staff car in France in 1944. Rommel was thrown out of the car, suffered a severe skull fracture and it was effectively game over for Rommel’s participation in World War 2.
Here is our hero, and there is more to this ace than shooting up Rommel. Squadron Leader J J Le Roux, Commanding Officer of No 602 Squadron Royal Air Force seen in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX, “Betty”, at B11/Longues, Normandy.
Johannes Jacobus “Chris” Le Roux was born in Heidelberg, in the Transvaal, South Africa, in 1920, and received part of his education at Durban High School. He subsequently joined the Royal Air Force, and served with No 73 Squadron in France as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF), where he too part in the latter stages of the debacle that was “The Battle of France”, the squadron withdrawing from France on the 17 June 1940.
Le Roux was then took part in the Battle of Britain, both opening his account on arial victories and having to bale out of a blazing Hurricane. Le Roux is said to have been shot down on no-less than 12 occasions during 1940, which is incredibly remarkable, and if so, it’s a wonder he survived as long as he did.
Le Roux enjoyed better luck with No. 91 “Nigeria” Squadron in 1941 and 1942, shooting down eight enemy aircraft before joining No. 111 Squadron RAF in North Africa. He ended his second tour in command of the Squadron.
Following a rest from operations he was given command of No. 602 Squadron in July 1944. He carried out an incredible number of sorties – 200 in total. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross – not once but three times, here are the citations:
DFC, London Gazette, 4 October 1941, Issue 35312, page 6034:
“Acting Flight Lieutenant Jacobus Johannes Le Roux (42240), No. 91 Squadron.
This officer has carried out over 200 operational sorties which have included shipping reconnaissances, during which much valuable information has been obtained, and numerous attacks on shipping and enemy aerodromes in the face of heavy enemy fire. Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has destroyed 3 hostile aircraft in combat and at least 1 on the ground.”
First Bar to DFC, London Gazette, 8 December 1942 (Issue 35819, page 5391):
“Flight Lieutenant Jacobus Johannes LE Roux,
D.F.C. (42240), No. 91 Squadron.
Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has destroyed a further five enemy aircraft. In addition to his air victories he has attacked shipping and targets on the ground with considerable success. At all times Flight Lieutenant Le Roux has displayed a fine fighting spirit.”
Awarded 9th July 1943
“Sqn. Ldr. Le Roux’s magnificent leadership has played a large part in the many successes attained by his squadron. He has personally destroyed 14 enemy aircraft and damaged many others, and has also inflicted much damage on enemy shipping.”
On one occasion Le Roux’s aircraft was “so badly damaged by flak after he had strafed a convoy of vehicles that it looked impossible for anyone to have flown it, but he made base successfully”. To the airmen of 602 Squadron he was known simply as the “Boss” , “in the air a cool, calculating tactician and disciplinarian, on the ground his personality shone out in the social life of a very happy team”, and his “keen vision frequently enabled him to shoot down aircraft which other members of the squadron flying with him had not even seen” (an attribute he shared with fellow South African RAF air-aces “Sailor” Malan and “Pat” Pattle).
Le Roux is generally credited as the pilot who attacked and badly wounded Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel in his staff car on the road between Livarot and Vimoutiers on 17 July 1944, the day on which he also destroyed two Messerschmitt Bf 109s and damaged two more to bring his victory score to 23.5.
In the early morning of July 17, 1944, a staff car left Rommel’s headquarters at La Roche Guyon. The passengers included Rommel, his aide Captain Helmuth Lang, Major Neuhaus, Sergeant Holke, and their driver, Sergeant Karl Daniel. The journey was one of Rommel’s routine inspections of the front line. By January 1944, Hitler had forbidden Rommel from traveling via aircraft, as several high-ranking officers had been killed in air crashes.
It was unfortunately an air accident that would end the young life of J.J. Le Roux, during a fateful cross-channel flight on 29 August 1944, whilst doing a ‘booze run’ – taking alcohol back to his squadron at Tangmere – that he crashed into the channel in bad weather. According to Paddy Barthropp, ‘Chris’ Le Roux was without a dinghy and was sitting on numerous bottles of champagne, which do not float. It was indeed a tragic end to one of South Africa’s most popular and gallant fighter pilots.
His cheerful and very happy disposition made him one of South Africa’s most popular fighter pilots, and this is seen in No.111 Squadron Operations Record Book which contains the following reference to him, it relating the story of his having made a good landing in very dirty weather and the mud described earlier, and finishes up: “I didn’t realise I was down until I heard the ground crew clapping!” He was a very worthy member of “the gayest (happiest) company who ever fired their guns in anger.”
Le Roux left behind an English wife and two children, at the time resident in Shropshire.
Photo and caption reference copyright: Imperial War Museum, Wikipedia and The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek and Field Marshal Erwin Rommel: the head injury that may have prolonged the Second World War – Heather A. Fuhrman, BS,1 Jeffrey P. Mullin, MD, MBA,2 and Chris A. Sloffer, MD, MBA.
Written and Researched by Peter Dickens