From The Daily Telegraph 7 August.
Wing Commander Peter Isaacson, who has died aged 96, was a highly decorated Royal Australian Air Force Pathfinder pilot who later had a distinguished career in publishing in Australia.
The son of an Australian soldier and an Austrian mother, Peter Stuart Isaacson was born on July 31 1920 in London. When he was six his family moved to Melbourne, Australia.
In December 1940 he started training as a pilot, initially in Australia and then in Canada before returning to England to convert to bombers. Nearing the completion of his course Bomber Command launched a series of “Thousand Bomber” raids. To make up the numbers, some Wellingtons were flown by instructors and students from the bomber training units and Isaacson flew on the first two raids against Cologne and Essen in May and June 1942. He then joined the recently formed No 460 (RAAF) Squadron.
Soon after joining the squadron, Isaacson and his crew attacked Kassel. An enemy night fighter damaged their Wellington as they were leaving but Isaacson managed to escape. On a raid to Turin, they were one of only two crews to bomb despite bad weather. In November the squadron sent seven aircraft to Mannheim when severe icing was encountered. Isaacson’s crew was the only one to bomb the target successfully. A week later, returning from Munich, they were attacked over Belgium and the two gunners beat off the night fighter.
When Isaacson had completed 22 operations he was awarded the DFM. His CO described him as “exceptional and an ideal leader”. He was commissioned and he and his crew volunteered for the Pathfinder Force and joined No 156 Squadron in late November 1942.
The squadron was re-equipping with the Lancaster and had just been selected as one of the first five squadrons to form the nucleus of the new Pathfinder Force. Using new navigation aids and dropping flares and target indicators, Isaacson and his fellow crews marked the target for the main bomber force following behind.
Over the next few months Isaacson attacked industrial targets in Germany during the Battle of the Ruhr. On one of his early raids as a Pathfinder, his Lancaster was damaged when a German night fighter attacked it and he escaped into cloud before pressing on to the target. On the night of March 11943 he had dropped his target markers over Berlin flying at 17,000 feet when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged.
The controls to the tail plane were badly disabled, a gun turret was put out of action and the aircraft lost a great deal of height but, with the aid of two of his crew, he was able to regain control and level out at 4,000 feet. On the return flight, a cone of searchlights illuminated the Lancaster for 15 minutes before Isaacson escaped.
At this stage his aircraft had lost more height and was flying at 900ft. Still over enemy territory, and in a perilous situation, he managed to get the bomber back to base. He was awarded an immediate DFC, the citation commenting that he was “an outstanding captain”. Two of his crew were also decorated.
On completion of their tour with No 156 Squadron, having flown 45 operations, they were selected to fly their Lancaster “Q for Queenie” to Australia. They set off on May 21 1943 and, after a 15-hour flight over the Atlantic, they flew over Canada and the USA before heading across the Pacific. On arrival at Sydney, as the first Lancaster to reach Australia, large crowds including the Prime Minister and the Governor-general met them. For this first east to west flight from Britain to Australia by the RAF, Isaacson was awarded the AFC.
Over the next few months, the crew flew the bomber around Australia and New Zealand to encourage people to buy war bonds – £250 bought a flight and £5 a look around the aircraft. On October 22 they were demonstrating the aircraft at Sydney when Isaacson dropped down to 100 ft over the harbour and then, on impulse, flew under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This was captured on film and reinvigorated the war bond campaign.
Isaacson left the RAAF in February 1946.
Full obituary with photographs.
Full obituary with photographs.