Les Clisby Was Australia's first fighter ace of World War II credited with 16 victories before being killed in action during the Battle of France. In a combat career lasting a matter of months.Clisby achieved his first aerial victory on 1 April 1940, a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined fighter over Moselle. The following day in the same vicinity, he claimed a Messerschmitt Bf 109.As the Battle of France opened on 10 May, Clisby began to score heavily, estimates for his remarkable run of "kills" in the next five days ranging from eight to thirteen or more.Clisby destroyed two Dornier Do 17 bombers on 10 May, after which his aircraft was struck by friendly fire from a French anti-aircraft battery. He became an ace the following day,when he shot down three German fighters before the rudder of his Hurricane was damaged by enemy gunfire. Breaking off combat, he found a Heinkel He 111 bomber drifting in front of him and instinctively took a shot at it, forcing it to land in a paddock. Clisby himself landed nearby and, when they tried to escape, chased the German crewmen across the field, firing his revolver. Capturing one in a rugby tackle, he forced the others to surrender at gunpoint. He then proceeded to march them over to French authorities before rejoining his squadron, whose diarist recorded: "He wanted their autographs!"According to Time magazine, reporting on the exploit some weeks later, "Clisby's commanding officer remarked it was a bit uncommon for pilots to bring back prisoners".
By now Clisby had become known for his extreme aggression in the air, rushing headlong into combat irrespective of the odds and often alone On 12 May, he was credited with the destruction of six aircraft, claiming three Bf 109s and three Henschel Hs 126 reconnaissance planes (also identified as Arados) during action in support of Fairey Battles in their historic raid on the Albert Canal bridges near Maastricht, on the Dutch-Belgian border. For his achievements that day, as well as his earlier successes, Clisby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The citation would be promulgated in the London Gazette on 14 June
Flying Officer Leslie Redford CLISBY (40043) (now reported missing). One day in April, 1940, this officer was the pilot of one of three Hurricanes which attacked nine Messerschmitt 109's, one of which he shot down. The following day he destroyed another Messerschmitt 109. In May, 1940, this officer was engaged in six combats against the enemy in which he shot down eight enemy aircraft. Flying Officer Clisby has displayed great courage on all occasions.
— London Gazett
Described as being "extrovert, profane, perpetually cheerful and addicted to flying", Clisby also had "premature lines" on his face. At twenty-five, and with only a few months of air-to-air combat experience, he was considered a seasoned campaigner and had become No. 1 Squadron's top-scoring ace.He was also the first Australian-born ace of the war,and was well known for giving vent to patriotic feelings for his homeland in another way. All RAAF personnel who served with the RAF were permitted to continue wearing their original dark-blue Australian uniform until it wore out, after which they were to exchange it for the lighter-coloured British variety. Clisby flatly refused to give up his RAAF uniform, regardless of how shabby it became. When teased about its condition, he would simply respond, "It will see me through".
Clisby was still wearing his RAAF uniform on 15 May when he went into action with his flight against more than thirty Bf 110s over Reims.Having destroyed two of the German heavy fighters, Clisby's Hurricane was seen going down with its cockpit trailing smoke and flames, evidently hit by cannon fire.He was initially posted as "missing", along with one of his comrades, Flying Officer Lorimer, whose plane was also seen losing height in the same action. The French later found two burnt-out Hurricanes in the vicinity, which were identified as Clisby's and Lorimer's. Clisby died without knowing that he had been awarded the DFC.A fellow pilot later said, "He was an Australian and had thrown himself into the fray with a reckless abandon that was magnificent in its way".
Estimates of Clisby's total number of victories in his short career range from nine to twenty or more, but the most common and official score attributed to him is sixteen.The loss of much of the RAF's documentation in the chaotic retreat through France and across the English Channel in May 1940 meant that many squadron records and combat claims had to be reconstructed from the memory of surviving personnel. Even the date of Clisby's death is unclear, with some sources (including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) claiming 14 May rather than the following day.Regardless of the exact date, he was the first RAF ace of the war to be lost in action.Clisby was buried in the military cemetery at Choloy in north-eastern France.His name appears on Supplementary Panel 12 of the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.