Obituary: Tommy Broom

Second World War navigator was part of a daring duo dubbed the Flying Brooms

Born: 22 January, 1914, in Portishead, Somerset.

Died: 18 May, 2010, in Portishead, aged 96.

TOMMY Broom was bored with his first job after leaving school, in a local garage. So, in 1932, he joined the RAF, where he trained to be a navigator. Life was reasonably uneventful for the next few years, until Hitler began his war on the rest of the world. And that's when Broom came into his own.

He was mobilised to France with 105 Squadron as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF) flying the Fairey Battle, a single-engined light bomber that was woefully inadequate for the task.

This was in stark evidence during the Blitzkrieg in France and western Europe which began on 10 May 1940. The Fairey Battles were crucified by the Nazi ground troops, adept at protecting themselves from attacks from the air. In the skies, the Luftwaffe were flying Me109s, a far superior craft in terms of speed, agility and weaponry. In a single afternoon, on 14 May, more than half of the Fairey Battles sent in to combat failed to return. It was not a day to remember for the AASF, with 40 or their 71 bombers being shot down.

The disastrous events of May 1940 led to a withdrawal of the squadron the following month and the pilots and navigators were transferred to Bristol Blenheims.

The Blenheims were responsible for the attacks on the French ports to disrupt or disable the German invasion of Britain. Broom was a part of those attacks before he was removed from combat in order to train rookie navigators how to negotiate the skies under the blanket of darkness. He was reassigned to 105 Squadron in 1942, this time to fly Mosquitos.

It was during the following three years that Broom cemented his reputation not only amongst his colleagues in 105 Squadron but in Bomber Command. His first pilot in the Mosquito was Sergeant Edgar Costello-Power, with whom he carried out several daytime raids before they spectacularly hit a pylon during a raid on a power station near Cologne. Costello-Power had been skimming the treetops to avoid detection but clipped the pylon and lost transmission. The plane limped out of the danger zone but crashed in nearby Belgium, which had been occupied by the Nazis.

Stranded in woodland, injured and with little chance of getting out alive, the pair hid for two days before they stumbled across a remote field hospital where they persuaded a nurse to help them.

Remarkably, the nurse was able to put them in contact with resistance fighters in Antwerp, who secured them forged papers and rail tickets to Paris. Somehow, they made their way to Spain across the Pyrenees and, after several months, eventually arrived back in Britain. Later, Broom admitted there had been times that he thought he'd never get home.

"There were a couple of close shaves," he said. "On one occasion, a Gestapo officer came into the carriage to check our papers. I didn't speak a word of German or French, so when he said something to me, I just handed him my ID and railway ticket".

After working as an instructor for a period upon his return, Broom was assigned to 571 Squadron where he met his new pilot, coincidentally named Ivor Broom. The pair worked wonderfully together and they remained a team until the end of the war, flying together for 571, 163 and 128 Squadrons.

They impressed Bomber Command, who gave them the nickname the Flying Brooms and adorned their craft with a crossed-broomsticks logo.

They first flew together in May 1944 for 571 Squadron and quickly became one of the most successful teams in the history of the RAF bombing campaigns. The Flying Brooms had a reputation for fearless flying, high levels of skill and a dogged determination, a fact that was not lost on Air Marshall Don Bennett. Over the course of their three tours, the two Brooms were each awarded three DFCs in recognition of their huge contribution to the war effort.

The Flying Brooms weren't in the business of sitting at altitudes of six miles dropping bombs from height –they were renowned exponents of low-level bombing. At one point, Bomber Command were being frustrated by the access of the Dortmund-Ems Canal and sent the Brooms in to "fix" the problem. They were successful, using anti-shipping mines, a drop that required incredible navigation and flying prowess.

Even more flying skill was required in their raid on New Year's Day, 1945, when they managed to land a 4,000lb bomb at the mouth of a railway tunnel at Kaiserslautern. It was released from the aircraft at just 50ft.

Following demobilisation, Ivor Broom went on to become air marshal and Controller of National Air Traffic Services and Tommy returned to Somerset where he married and became an accounts clerk, but they remained great friends until Ivor's death in 2003.

Tommy vanished into relative obscurity and could well have died unsung outside of his home town, had it not been for a friend, Tom Evans. Evans had known Broom for some 40 years and had regular chats with his accounts clerk friend. Yet he had not known about his incredible wartime exploits until they both retired.

It was then that Broom opened up to the astonished Evans about his experiences during the war.

Evans was hugely impressed, so much so that he wrote Squadron Leader Tommy Broom DFC**: The Legendary Pathfinder Mosquito Navigator, a biography based on Broom's recollections of the war.

Squadron Leader Tommy Broom DFC died on 18 May, aged 96. His wife, Annemarie, died in 1963 and he is survived by his daughter and a step-daughter