TORONTO - At the end of the Second World War his was virtually a household name — a hero among heroes.
Today he’s largely forgotten, partly because he was uncomfortable in a hero’s role, but mostly because he died in a plane crash in 1948, at age 27 — a plane crash that invoked suggestions of sabotage. Read on.
George “Buzz” Beurling was a fighter pilot like few others. He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, was high strung, usually cheerful, defied discipline, irritated senior command, was a superb pilot and a better marksman. He was the most lethal Canadian fighter pilot in WWII, shooting down a record 31 1/2 enemy aircraft over Malta and was awarded a Distinguished Service Order, Distinguished Flying Cross and two Distinguished Flying Medals as a sergeant pilot.
Known as the “Falcon of Malta,” he was pure warrior. He shunned formation flying, and liked to take off on his own “hunting expeditions.” No one knows the number of “probables” he shot down. Among his peers, he was considered the best.
Squadron leader James “Ginger” Lacey, one the RAF’s greatest WWII aces (28 kills) said of Beurling: “He was a wonderful pilot and an even better shot.”
Born in Verdun, Que. in 1921, he was intrigued with flying and first handled the controls as a young teenager. He flew solo at age 17 and tried to enlist in the RCAF but was rejected due to lack of academic credentials.
He found his way to England and joined the RAF, got his wings, but was resented because an “all-English” squadron was wanted — no colonials, thank you.
He wound up in Malta, then under day-to-night air attacks to break the island’s morale — an error in Axis judgment, for the attacks strengthened morale. Malta’s fighter aircraft were always outnumbered by German and Italian fighters and bombers.