Bio / Text:
A very accomplished Canadian, one who shaped Canadian Architecture and housing development. Subsequent to retiring as Senior Vice President at CMHC in 1977, Ian and his wife Nina, moved to White Rock, BC where he was appointed by the Canadian Government as a Trustee on the development of Granville Island, then a derelict industrial area in False Creek, Vancouver. Ian was a strong voice in the Trust to keep some industrial use for the island that has since become a world-renowned site. In addition to this work, he served as juror on the Massey Medal Awards for Architecture, and sat as a Board member on other housing projects for special needs adults. -
But this bio is about the Spitfire pilot in the cruel skies of Mata, 1942.
Ian Maclennan was one of the last – if not the last – of the aces who defended the island of Malta in the Siege of 1940 to 1943. He was an RCAF Spitfire pilot on loan to the Royal Air Force, the only defence against the German and Italian forces trying to overwhelm the tiny Mediterranean island from the air and sea.
Malta was key to the German and Italian occupation of North Africa. Without it, the RAF could attack convoys on their way to reinforce the German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox.
Mr. Maclennan, who died Nov. 6 in White Rock, B.C., at 94, arrived on Malta as a Flight Sergeant on July 15, 1942. There was only one way to get there – by plane. He flew his Spitfire off the deck of the British aircraft carrier the Eagle off the coast of Algeria, using a strong wind to lift off.
“The Royal Navy had provided the Spitfire pilots with one lecture on how to take off and no information on how to land. The pilots en route to Malta were forbidden to attempt a landing back on the Eagle if their engine faltered,” Wayne Ralph wrote in his book Aces, Warriors & Wingmen. HMS Eagle was sunk by a German U-boat the next month.
Flight Sergeant Maclennan and other Canadians, including George Beurling, the top Canadian ace of the Second World War, helped defend Malta against flight after flight of German and Italian fighters and bombers. An ace is a pilot who has shot down five aircraft; Mr. Maclennan’s score was seven, with a spectacular day as recorded in the notice that went with his Distinguished Flying Medal.
“One day in October 1942, this airman destroyed two of a force of thirty Junkers 88s which attempted to attack Malta. The next day he destroyed a Messerschmitt 109. Flight Sergeant Maclennan has displayed great courage and tenacity. He has destroyed four and damaged several more enemy aircraft.”
He said the defenders had many things going for them, including a code from the ground controllers to tell them where enemy aircraft were. It also helped that the enemy had the sun in their eyes.
“Our big advantage was that we had the sun behind us,” Mr. Maclennan told an interviewer late in his life. His childhood in Saskatchewan had prepared him to shoot fast-moving objects in the air. “I’d shot at ducks when I was a boy. I knew about deflection.”
The island of Malta had little food as few ships got through. Many on the island starved to death, and the airmen lost a lot of weight. Tours of duty in Malta were short because of the danger of malnutrition and related diseases. In a photograph of Mr. Maclennan on Malta in late 1942, his clothes are hanging from him and his hat seems too big.
After the British victory at El Alamein in November, 1942, the pressure was off Malta. Soon afterward, Flight Lieutenant Maclennan – he had been promoted – went on home leave to Canada. He was back in England by early 1943. Flying over the beaches on D-Day plus one, June 7, 1944, his Spitfire was hit and he crash-landed. He was captured and taken to Stalag Luft III prison camp near Berlin.
At the camp, he suffered from asthma, and when the war was almost over, he was lucky enough to be moved west by train instead of a cold march in January. Eventually, he escaped and hitchhiked to Paris. He arrived back in London on May 8, 1945, the day the war ended.
Mr. Maclennan was not one to romanticize the war or his part in it. Until the end of his life, he could be melancholy remembering the death of his brother, Bruce, in a daylight raid on Berlin in March, 1945. He blamed the recklessness of Arthur (Bomber) Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command, who he felt should never have sent the Lancaster bombers on daylight raids, since they were armed with low calibre guns and were vulnerable to the new German jet, the Me 262, the type of aircraft that shot down his brother’s bomber.
After the war, Mr. Maclennan went straight into civilian life, studying architecture at the University of Toronto. None of his fellow students knew he was a war hero, although many were also veterans.
“He and I attended the University of Toronto School of Architecture and graduated together in 1950,” Ian Rutherford, himself a navigator in the RCAF, wrote in a letter in May, 2005. “During our time at the U of T, his exploits were completely unknown to me and most of our class although his leadership qualities were quite evident.”
OBITUARY FROM TELEGRGRAPH (link on right) - SIMILAR TO GLOBE AND MAIL ABOVE (but more detail)
Flight Lieutenant Ian MacLennan, who has died aged 94, was one of the last surviving fighter “aces” who engaged in fierce air battles during the Siege of Malta to secure the island’s survival.
MacLennan was a sergeant pilot flying Spitfires with No 401 (RCAF) Squadron in Britain when he crashed an aircraft. At the subsequent reprimand, his flight commander, rather pointedly, commented that “they are looking for volunteers for Malta”.
A few weeks later MacLennan was on board the carrier Eagle in the Mediterranean. On the morning of June 9 1942 he took off with 31 other pilots and headed for the isolated island. Four hours later, with very little fuel remaining, the Spitfires landed at Ta Kali airfield; within minutes, they were airborne with Malta-based pilots to repel a large raid by Luftwaffe bombers.
Before arriving in Malta, MacLennan had not fired his guns in anger – but he had figured out the grim business of shooting down the enemy: “I’d shot at ducks when I was a boy – I knew about deflection.” By the time he left Malta six months later he had become an “ace”, having destroyed seven enemy aircraft and damaging at least another eight.
After damaging a Junkers 88 in July, MacLennan claimed his first success on August 10 when he shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 which was escorting a bomber force attacking Luqa airfield. Four days later he shot down an Italian fighter; its pilot was rescued from the sea.
With Malta suffering, living conditions for everyone, including pilots, were primitive. They faced relentless attacks, and few fighter pilots were under greater pressure. The intensity peaked on October 11 when “The Last Blitz” began.
MacLennan was in action immediately and damaged two enemy fighters over Grand Harbour. Later that day he intercepted a large force of Junkers 88 bombers as it approached the island. He dived into the formation, set one bomber on fire and shot down a second before attacking a third. He was hit by return fire but pressed on until his ammunition ran out.
On October 16 he was forced to crash land his badly damaged Spitfire but he returned to the battle and, by the end of the month, had accounted for three more fighters and some damaged bombers. He was awarded an immediate DFM for his “great courage and tenacity”. Commissioned, he returned to Britain.
Ian Roy MacLennan was born in Regina, Canada, on April 4 1919. He attended school in Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, and studied engineering at Saskatchewan University before enlisting in the RCAF in October 1940. After training as a pilot he arrived in England in the summer of 1941.
He flew Spitfires on sweeps over France and on May 24 1942 damaged a Focke Wulf 190 off Calais. Shortly afterwards he left for Malta, where he joined No 1435 Flight.
After returning from Malta and a period of rest in Canada, MacLennan joined No 443 (RCAF) Squadron as a flight commander. On June 7 1944, whilst covering the D-Day landings, he was on his third sortie of the day strafing enemy positions when his Spitfire was hit by ground fire and he was forced to crash land on the beach behind enemy lines.
MacLennan was sent to Stalag Luft III. In January 1945 the camp was evacuated as the Soviet army approached. He was in the camp hospital at the time and was put on a train, which headed southwards. Nearing the Austrian border, he and a colleague escaped and hid in farms until they were able to reach the American lines.
On his return to Canada, MacLennan attended Toronto University before embarking on a long and distinguished career as an architect, initially in Venezuela and the United States before returning to Canada. He focused on creating housing for low-income families and became chief architect, and later senior vice-president, of the Central and Mortgage Housing Corporation. In 1961 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
For many years he shunned any publicity. But in 2009 a television company flew him to Malta, where he was given a hero’s welcome. A quiet, courteous, but plain-speaking man, his consuming passions included double bridge – he was a Life Master – and boating on French waterways in his 100-year old Dutch barge.
Ian MacLennan’s wife of almost 70 years, Nina, predeceased him. His son and daughter survive him.
Flt Lt Ian MacLennan, born April 4 1919, died November 6 2013
FROM "TIMES OF MALTA" link on right:
Spitfire pilot Ian McLennan is still overwhelmingly emotional when he talks about 1942 in Malta.
He may have gunned down the enemy over the island at the time but he has a problem fighting back the tears as he lucidly recalls the war.
Sitting on the terrace of Mdina's Xara Palace, Relais & Chateaux, once an officers' mess, and looking out at the panorama - where, back then, dogfights could be followed as low as 500 feet - he pauses to regain control.
"Even then, I recall it was merciless - destroying cities that were not a menace to Germany. Malta was just being bombed. What for? I can see they should have taken it, being an important strategic country. We all know that. But, instead, they bombed the hell out of it, which did not achieve anything except kill people. Even then I thought: Why? Why were they strafing people?"
Mr McLennan was shot down and crash-landed, captured and taken prisoner in France on D-Day.
It took the Canadian fighter pilot 20 years to talk about the war again, such was the impact, he explains. "It was a big experience for me. It changed my life. I was in a happy, little, Roman Catholic family and I returned from the war saying I was no longer..."
Once the emotions are overcome and his surreal, glassy, light eyes are no longer watery, Mr McLennan says he would love to hop into a Spitfire and take it up right away.
The fact that he is celebrating his 90th birthday today - and is visiting the Mosta Dome on the anniversary of its bombing as well as of his birth - has not diminished his drive. "Just give me a five-hour cockpit drill. I feel I could do it," he says, attributing his desire to the fact that the Spitfire was a first-class aircraft. "It is very easy to fly and anyone can fly it. That is part of its genius."
He visited the Spitfire exhibited at the Malta Aviation Museum yesterday and, although the temptation was strong, he had to resist taking off.
Promoted to flight lieutenant of 1435 Squadron during his stay in Malta, he recounts in detail the tactics and strategies adopted by the fighter pilots, hands gesticulating wildly, now and again, portraying a swarm of Spitfires entangled in each other during combat. He explains, for example, what happens "when you run out of ammunition and are in a vulnerable state, with the enemy chasing you right down to the airport" as if it was only yesterday.
When flying, the whole body is concentrating, thinking and looking, he recalls. "It is not so much a question of fear when you are up in the air, engaging in warfare," he says, but qualifies his statement: Fear is not the strongest emotion but it is there - "otherwise there is something wrong with you... You're concentrating and the orders were to get the bombers at all costs!
"We were told all enemy aircraft had to be destroyed before reaching the shores of Malta (bombing them on land was creating too much of a mess), which was a good thing as we felt confident that we must have been winning the war," he recounts.
Mr McLennan has returned to Malta twice since 1942 - once to show the island to his wife and another time when Queen Elizabeth and then President Ċensu Tabone inaugurated the Siege Bell Memorial - a ceremony he described as "emotionally moving, I don't know why... Well, yes," he says, on second thoughts, "It was a victory bell really; the lifting of a siege..." of which he played a "small part".
The fighter pilot remained in Malta from July to December 1942. "I was a young man..." Much time has passed but "it (the experience in Malta) made a big difference to me and my life". He pauses to compose himself: "Even as a young man, I felt it was all wrong to be pounding the hell out of a beautiful place. People were dying..."
He recalls an air raid and an older woman running to the shelter. He could see that she was terrified and tried to catch her to slow her down but "she flew, plunged and died". He recalls the steel rings of that particular shelter and wants to know where it is...
The link to his past is evidently strong and Mr McLennan is reliving it. His Mdina connection is vivid. The pilot only spent one night in the mediaeval city and although all he did was rest and recover, having just landed off MHS Eagle, he still remembers the details and the novelty of the experience of sleeping under a mosquito net in a spacious room. "I was taken into a beautiful place that resembled a nunnery, alone in a lovely bed. I felt tranquil..."
Getting off the aircraft carrier was nerve-wracking, he recalls. "We had no (arrester) hooks so you could not land back and that was it! It is a harrowing one-off experience. Then there was the long flight here; then finding Malta; then Ta' Qali; then to land..."
In 1942, he would wander around Valletta when he was on leave and when the Ohio sailed in, he remembers finding a way to climb up to see her. During his stay in Malta, he has nostalgically retraced his steps to the vantage point.
And there were also a couple of dances they were invited to, "with beautiful Maltese girls, but they were guarded by machine gunners - their mothers and fathers - and they needed them".
Malta is becoming modern, he says, 66 years later. "Buy a building in Valletta", he strongly recommends as an investment.
A History Channel documentary
The Canadian veteran is in Malta for the shooting of a documentary by the Toronto production company Breakthrough Films and TV, which is scheduled to be aired on the History Channel in November in time for Remembrance Week.
The production is being assisted over the week of filming by Joseph Formosa Randon and Graziella Decesare of Pearlygates Malta, a servicing company for commercials and documentaries.
The documentary, provisionally entitled Uncovering The Battlefield, is divided into four episodes, one of which is The Siege of Malta.
It includes an interview with The Battle Of Malta author Joseph Attard and Major Maurice Agius at Fort St Elmo, based mainly on eyewitness accounts to highlight Malta's crucial role in the war.