Eric Crossley was born on 23rd May 1878 to parents Sir William and Mabel Crossley in Altringham, Cheshire. A wealthy and influential family, his father had founded the successful Crossley engineering company with his brother Frank and was an original proponent  of the Manchester Ship Canal. A 1909 Crossley car is pictured below. Eric was educated at Altringham school, Eton college and then Trinity College, Cambridge.

1909 40hp Crossley car

In 1903 he married Janet Boyd Merriman in Bucklow, Cheshire and  their first son Nigel John Crossley was born in Dunham Massey, Cheshire on 29th May 1904, and a daughter Barbara born in 1906. In 1908 the family moved to Sun Rising, near Tysoe in Warwickshire, below.

Michael, Betty, John, Barbara and Janet Crossley at Rising Sun Hill

At the outbreak of the First World he joined the 11th (Prince Albert's Own) Hussars as a 2nd Lieutenant. He joined them in France as part of the 1st Cavalry Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force. The 1st Cavalry would remain on the Western Front throughout the war. It participated in most of the major actions where cavalry were used as a mounted mobile force, and were also  used as dismounted troops and effectively serve as infantry. These included the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, between the 15th and 22nd September 1916, a subsidiary of the Battle of the Somme and the first time tanks were used by the British. They were also involved in the Battles of Vimy and Scarpe, 9th to 14th April 1917, part of the Arras Offensive and the advance of 1918. 

On 11 November 1918, orders were received that the Division would lead the advance of Second Army into Germany, by 6th December the Division had secured the Rhine bridgehead at Cologne. He finished the war as a Major. He was invested as a Officer, Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in 1919.

After the war the family moved to Park Farm, Wykeham Lane near Bodicote where Eric farmed, he also developed farming interests in South Africa spending a few months there each year, sailing between Southampton and Cape Town. He was also a director of Banbury Cattle Market, and in 1922 he became the first captain of Tadmarton Heath Golf Club, below. That year his eldest son Nigel was commissioned into the Royal Navy, his story is told on nigel-crossley.php

In the early 1930s the Crossleys moved to Tadmarton House in Lower Tadmarton, below, where they continued farming.

It was about this time that Eric and his son Michael became  interested  in aviation. Michael had been educated at Eton College before attending the College of Aeronautical Engineering in Chelsea. On 22nd May 1933 he gained his Royal Aero Club Aviator's certificate flying a de Havilland Gipsy Moth at Brooklands Flying Club. His certificate and photo are pictured below.


Back at Tadmarton House, both Eric Crossley and his son Michael started to build a Mignet Pou du Ciel or Flying Flea, below, in late 1935. It would seem likely that it was never completed for, following several fatal accidents, the Air Ministry banned the design in 1936 and the interest in the aircraft petered out.

Undeterred, Major Crossley and Michael designed their own homebuilt aircraft, the Tom Thumb, a high-wing, single seat, cabin monoplane. This was never completed, possibly as Michael joined the RAF  in 1936. It was acquired by the Midland Air Museum and I am indebted to them for the photos below.

In 1937 Major Crossley purchased a British Aircraft Company Drone, G-AEKV, and on 8th November 1938 he gained his Royal Aero Club Aviator's certificate flying the aircraft from Witney and Oxford Aero Club, below. This aircraft survives today in the Brooklands Museum.

Mike Crossley was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 25th May 1938 and posted to 32 Squadron, then based at Biggin Hill and flying the obsolete Gloster Gauntlet, below. 

In October 1938 the squadron received the new Hawker Hurricane Mk1. He was made a flight commander shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He commanded Red Flight and thus earned the nickname "Red Knight".

At the outbreak of war, Major Eric Crossley had three sons on active service. Nigel a Lieutenant-Commander in the Royal Navy and captain of HMS Gipsy, John in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and Michael in 32 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Eric Crossley did his bit too, serving as Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st Oxfordshire (Banbury) Battalion of the Home Guard.

With 32 Squadron he covered the evacuation of Dunkirk, Operation Dynamo, and was credited with 6 victories during this period. After the fall of France 32 Squadron continued to operate over France, escorting light bomber in attacks on German positions.

Michael Crossley was made an acting Flight-Lieutenant in August 1939. When the Germans invaded France and the Low Countries in May 1940, 32 Squadron flew patrols from Biggin Hill and his first combat mission involved strafing German troop transports at Ypenburg airfield in the Netherlands. By the start of June 1940 he had claimed 6 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 4 of the feared Messerschmitt BF 109 fighters. On the 21st June 1940, Michael received the Distinguished Flying Cross presented to him by King George VI in a ceremony at Biggin Hill. His citation reads:

"In June, 1940, this officer was the leader of two squadrons of fighters which were carrying out an offensive patrol in the Le Treport area. Flight Lieutenant Crossley sighted seventeen Heinkel 111's, and displayed outstanding initiative and courage in his method of attack. As a result of the engagement seven enemy bombers were destroyed. Flight Lieutenant Crossley himself destroyed two, and had to break off a further fight as his ammunition was expended. He had his first combat in May, 1940, when he succeeded in destroying a Messerschmitt 109. He has displayed exceptional skill and leadership and, since the middle of May, 1940, has destroyed seven enemy aircraft".


32 Squadron was officially the most successful fighter squadron during the first half of what became known as the Battle of Britain. On 20th July it took part in the most successful engagement to that date, one of the series of convoy battles that made up the first phase of the battle, alongside 615 Squadron. Fifteen German aircraft were claimed destroyed, and German records support thirteen of those claims. In his book "Fight for the sky" Douglas Bader recounts an episode of one of Michael Crossley's sorties.

"He shot a Ju 87 dive-bomber on the top of its zoom having released its bomb: as it collapsed from his burst the Ju 87 behind it collided with it: followed by number three hitting the first two: so Mike got three enemy aircraft with a single burst."

On 16th August he was promoted to Squadron Leader and the following day even though the 17th dawned an exceptional summer's day with little wind and cloudless skies, there was not a German aircraft in sight, the skies around the south coast were empty. Radar operators at many of the stations began to suspect that their masts or receivers were faulty, not a blip could be seen on any of them. Squadron Leader Crossley wrote in the Squadron log:

"Not a single sausage, scare, flap or diversion of any description today. Amazing, heavenly day too"

This changed on the 18th however.  On the last raid of what became known as "The hardest day", he was shot down by ME 109s, on the last raid of the day, in combat over Gillingham. He bailed out of his Hurricane N2461, below, and landed safely. 

On August 20th he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, his citation reads:

"This officer has led his section, flight and squadron with skill and courage and has flown almost continuously since the commencement of hostilities. Since May, he has participated in engagements against the enemy over Holland, Belgium and France, including patrols over Dunkirk and St. Valery during the evacuation operations. In August he destroyed two Junkers 88 over Portsmouth and assisted in the destruction of another over Croydon. During the latter engagement he encountered another Junkers 88 and, having expended all his ammunition, acted as above guard until two of his section finally destroyed it. The next day he destroyed three enemy aircraft. Squadron Leader Crossley has now destroyed a total of eighteen enemy aircraft and possibly another five. He has displayed rare qualities as a leader; his example of courage and tenacity of purpose have proved an inspiration to other members of his squadron".

On that same day Winston Churchill made his famous "Never in the field of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few" speech. After listening to it with members of 32 Squadron, Michael quipped:

"Careful chaps, the PM has seen our mess bill"

On 25th August he was shot down again over Folkestone in Hurricane P3481 but bailed out safely. Between 12th and 25th August he was credited with 12.5 kills and was the top scoring ace by the time the Squadron moved to Acklington in Northumberland on 28th August to rest. He was generous in his praise of his ground crews:

"How Tubby, the Squadron Engineer Officer, continued to render at least fifteen out of twenty Hurricanes serviceable at every readiness period is a secret that will die with him.  A lot of publicity and glamour comes the way of the fighter pilot but not all the praise in the world would do justice to these 'back room boys'."

In that summer which would change the course of the war, Michael also married Doreen Maud Tibbitt, 23,  at Holy Trinity Brompton with St Paul's, an Anglican parish church in Kensington, London. Doreen served with the Women's Auxillary air force, becoming a section officer in 1941. Unfortunately they were divorced in 1945. 

The pictures below show Squadron Leader Eric Crossley DFC DSO with his fellow 32 Squadron pilots, with his Bentley and a painting  by Eric Kennington RA.

The squadron remained at RAF Acklington until 15th December 1940 when it moved to Middle Wallop in Hampshire. Squadron Leader Crossley was Mentioned in Despatches on 1st January 1941 and left the squadron in April.  He was remembered as a popular leader with a nice sense of humour. He next went to the United States to act as a test pilot for the British Air Commission there. One of his first jobs was to perform the acceptance test flights  for the North American Mustang, built to specifications from the British Purchasing Commission in the US. The Mustang's designer  Edgar Schmued described Crossley thus:

"He was a very pleasant Britisher, 6ft 2ins tall, but the cockpit was designed for a 5ft 10ins pilot. When he sat in the Mustang's cockpit, his knees were just about under his chin, but he didn't complain."

The routine fights were all most satisfactory and he only had one more test to perform, firing the planes guns over the Pacific Ocean. This needed the permission of the Coast Guard which would take a few weeks. An impatient Crossley complained to the designer:

" I don't understand you Americans: we in England just fire into the countryside, and you would be surprised how few people get killed"

Fortunately the Navy stepped in and offered the use of their firing ranges. The picture below shows Michael Crossley in the cockpit of the Mustang Mk1 . This aircraft was crated and shipped to England.

Michael Crossley was promoted to Wing Commander on 1st September 1942. He returned to England in 1943 where he was appointed Wing Leader at RAF Detling in Kent. The pisture below shows him pictured with The Honourable Mr Drakeford, the Australian Minister for Air and other officers on 3rd January 1945 taken in Kent.

Unfortunately shortly after he contracted tuberculosis which ended his operational flying career. His final tally was 20 enemy aircraft shot down,  shared in the destruction of two others with one 'probable' and one 'damaged'. All of his victories were scored in the Hawker  Hurricane. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire on 1st January 1946, before discharge from the RAF later that year and finally retired from the RAF Reserve of Officers on 29th May 1957. 

Shortly after leaving the RAF, Michael Crossley emigrated to South Africa to farm. His father Eric had died there at White River, Transvaal on 23rd May 1949 of heart failure aged 71. He married his second wife Sylvia Constance Heyder there on 27th April 1957 and had three children with her. She died in Transvaal in April 1975 aged 44. He married a third time to Moyra Birbeck in 1977 in Chippenham, Wiltshire. 

Michael Nicholson Crossley OBE DSO DFC died suddenly in his garden in Transvaal on the 7th December 1987 aged 75.

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