Bio / Text:
Ken Charney DFC & Bar, an Argentine Ace with the RAF
Kenneth Langley Charney was born in Quilmes, Argentina, in 1920. Ken was Angloargentinean. His father had been a soldier in World War I and now was manager of the Anglo Mexican Petroleum Co. Because of this, his family moved from one city to another within the country. When he was 12, he was speeding in his father’s car and was caught by the police of Bahia Blanca city!
As one of his father’s responsibilities was to refuel the planes of Aeroposta in Patagonia, Ken met the French pilots. Among them, Saint Exupery, Mermoz and others. He fell in love with planes.
To complete his studies he was sent to Aldenham College in Hertsfordshire, UK. When he returned to Argentina, he entered St. George’s College, where his irreverent attitude made him break all records for punishments!
When war broke, Ken left for the UK in the second group of Argentineans that fought with the Allies (a grand total of approximately 4,000 volunteered, roughly 800 of them in the Canadian and Royal Air Forces). He was 22 years old.
He got his wings in April 1941 as a Sergeant Pilot and his first Squadron was 91, where he flew for 14 months.
He was recommended as flight commander and sent to Malta at the end of 1941. He was Flight Lieutenant by then and flew with 185 Sqn. His first victory was a Macchi 202. In his own words, this is how he described a victory against a Bf109 over Malta: “He turned to climb but this was his mistake as, before he could finish the maneuver, I fired two accurate bursts; his fuel tanks caught fire as a match and, soon after, he fell out of control. I saw him go by as he went down”. He added in a letter that he did not feel pleasure in killing anybody.
A very famous plane from Malta, Spitfire MkVc BR112 “X” was one of his favorites (it ended her days in a beach in Sicily…there is a well known picture of this plane). Ken said: “One of my favorite planes is the Spitfire “X”, it has been used by some Squadron’s pilots, but a pilot called Claude Weaver always manages to steal it from me. This plane has given me great satisfactions”
On February 5, 1943 Ken was awarded the DFC for his courage and skill leading his squadron during the Battle of Malta. He was called “The black knight of Malta” in his Squadron. During his spell in the island he obtained 4 victories, 3 probables and damaged 4 enemies.
The loss and suffering of so many young friends changed his spirit and he became sad and depressed.
Early 1943 saw him posted to 53 Operational Training Unit where he became famous for his skills as an instructor. After much struggling, he managed to get away from this “boring” place and during the second half of 1943 he served in 122 Squadron, where he stayed for some weeks.
In November 1943 he was transferred to 602 “City of Glasgow” Squadron. Here he was a flight commander and met one of his greatest friends, the future top scoring French ace Pierre Clostermann who became his wingman in many occasions. The four crazy members of this team where Pierre, Jimmy Kelly, Jacques Remingler and Ken.
Clostermann says that Ken had a great heart and was always ready to laugh and play jokes on others.
They flew escort missions to Hurry bombers, Flying Fortresses, intruders’ missions, the mission against the Munsterland, rangers…
On July 2, 1944 he scored two kills over Normandy. Only 3 Spits were over Caen in bad weather when he was heard calling out 40 Fw190s above and their left. These dove on the 3 Spits that turned sharply. Ken caught a Fw190 who was trying to follow his maneuver and shot away the engine hood and part of a wing. This plane fell down. He fired at a second German but without evident results. Yet another Focke got on his tail while he was chasing another one and although under fire, he managed to hit the 190 in the cockpit area. Ken saw the pilot dead at the controls. He turned sharply to clean his tail and the combat was over. Clostermann also had two kills in the same combat. The 3 Spits returned safely and Ken and Pierre made news in the press, while receiving a bar for the Argentine’s DFC and the first DFC for the French (who was born in Brazil).
In July 1944 he was promoted to Squadron Leader.
Ken would go to London and meet with other Argentines in pubs and other common places for his co-nationals.
Flying over Falaise, he was the first to spot the German 7th Army trying to escape. He called on the radio: “Send out whole Air Force!” The massacre at Falaise had started.
When he left 602 Sqn he was posted to 132 Sqn. They had Spit IX which were used to attack the V1 sites. He got 2 more victories in this Squadron. The last one of his tally happened this way: Nine Germans were detected flying above the Spits and Ken sounded the alarm. When they dove on the British, the Spits split in pairs and the Argentine got on the tail of a Fw190. This one turned sharply but Ken got his tail again and fired a burst that made the Fw190 explode. This was his 7th and final confirmed kill (to be added to 4 probable and 8 damaged).
They were sent to the Far East, where they flew Spitfire VIII and then XIVs in Madura. Aboard HMS Smitter 132 RAF Squadron to settle in Hong Kong after the Japanese surrender. His Spit was named Jean VII (in fact, his Jean I was in 91 Sqn) after his love, an American girl he had left behind in Rosario, Argentina.
After the war he became part of Lord Louis Mountbatten’s staff. He was liaison with the Indonesian and Malayans, as he knew their languages. Then he was named Commanding Officer of RAF Palembang and in 1947 he was transferred to Ceylon.
He became an instructor in 1950, when he flew Vampires in Sylt, Germany. He witnessed the tests of atomic bombs on Christmas Island in 1959 as he was on those days Wing Commander on the Task Force.
In 1960 he was in charge of the RAF Cadet School in London and later on he was in charge of the forces in Christmas Island (Army, Navy and Air Force).
He retired as Group Captain in 1970. He became an Instructor in the Saudi Air Force for 3 years, lived in Spain for a short time and finally set to live in Andorra. During his career he had flown 36 types of planes and had 2,300 hours in jets and fighters.
He loved to sky, golf, music and photography. He married in 1980 and had no kids. He died of cancer in 1982.
Text from ABCC - Argentine British Community Council