Written by The Daily Telegraph
Monday, 16 November 2009

Lieutenant-Commander Michael Langman, who has died aged 88, enjoyed three distinct flying careers, served in two Navies and was recognised for his bravery over the western desert and the Mediterranean.

Langman flew Swordfish in 815 naval air squadron based at Buggush, under the command of the renowned Percy Gick (later Rear Admiral Percival Gick, DSC and Bar), and made daily sorties to bomb German targets further west. The squadron also conducted occasional night-time anti-submarine patrols over the Mediterranean. On May 22 1942, Langman depth-charged a surfaced U-boat, without apparent success.

Then, on June 26, Langman and his squadron were suddenly ordered to evacuate Buggush as Rommel’s tanks broke through Allied defences. At the last minute, as the aircraft were lined up for formation take-off, Gick ordered his aircrewman to retrieve the White Ensign which was still flying over the airfield, even as Langman spotted German panzers approaching along the coast road. Langman reflected that the Germans must have thought them mad.

For the next six months, in which Langman accumulated 355 hours day and night flying, he conducted regular sweeps over the Mediterranean, interdicting enemy supplies into El Alamein. He was awarded the DSC in 1943 for his skill, bravery and sustained resolution in many air attacks against enemy submarines and small craft.

Victor Michael Langman was born on August 16 1921 at Boreham, Essex; his love of flying was inspired when Alan Cobham brought his flying circus to Chingford and, for five shillings, Michael enjoyed a circuit . He was educated at Brighton College and volunteered for the Fleet Air Arm, joining HMS St Vincent as a naval airman, 2nd class, in June 1940 with 113 classmates including some 20 New Zealanders.

Langman learned to fly at Luton, while accommodated in the stable block at Luton Hoo. There were no bunks, but plenty of straw. Langman was a slow learner and it was 12 hours and 25 minutes before he was allowed his first solo flight in a Miles Magister.

In the spring of 1941 Langman undertook further training at Kingston, Ontario, in the Fairey Battle, which, on May 10, he flew under the International Bridge spanning the St Lawrence river.

After courses and several sea passages, Langman flew as a passenger in a KLM Junkers 52 from Lagos to Cairo to join the Fleet Air Arm squadrons based at Dekheila, five miles west of Alexandria.

There he was disappointed to be assigned to 775 naval air squadron, employed on communications duties. But he was quickly able to familiarise himself with the Middle East, flying several aircraft types and experiencing a variety of emergencies.

In March 1942 Langman made a serious misjudgement when, with two joy-riders embarked, he buzzed an army lorry on the desert road to Alexandria. His starboard wing hit the lorry, which pulled up unharmed. But his aileron was broken by the collision and he had to use all his weight to hold the aircraft level and return to Dekheila, arriving over the airfield as his companions were enjoying their lunchtime pink gins.

The reprimand he received was only slightly ameliorated by the ensuing congratulations for bringing the aircraft back in, by and large, one piece.

After the war Langman worked in the father’s cardboard factory, but he was not a successful salesman and emigrated to Canada where he tried building, again unsuccessfully.

In 1948 Langman joined the Royal Canadian Navy, flying Avengers from Maggie, as the Canadian carrier Magnificent was known, commanding the Canadian 881 squadron, and was senior pilot in the carrier Bonaventure, or Bonnie. He retired in 1966 and was awarded the Canadian Forces Decoration.

Langman returned to the United Kingdom where he joined the Civil Aviation Authority. In 1975 he was seconded to manage the Sultan of Brunei’s new airport, where the airport staff named a new fire engine after him.

In 1983 he retired again, enjoying his garden and helping his daughter Angela with her many animals.

In his quarter of a century of flying he logged 4,600 hours in the air, with 220 daytime and 51 night-time deck-landings. He flew 42 different types of aircraft.

Michael Langman, who died on November 16, married Betty Joy (always known as Jane) Matthews in 1947; she survives him with their son and daughter.

The Daily Telegraph Obituary >>

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