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 University of Toronto 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