Distinguished RAF pilot, Algarve bar owner and for 20 years a Portugal resident was born 20th December 1917 and died 28th August 2011, aged 93.
Group Captain Billy Drake DSO, DFC & Bar was an ace British pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II, scoring 20 enemy aircraft confirmed destroyed, six probables and nine damaged. Drake was a skilled operator of Supermarine Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes and Tomahawks/Kittyhawks (Curtiss P-40s) and saw action from airfields in France, England, West Africa, North Africa and Malta.
Drake was the top-scoring RAF P-40 pilot and the second-highest-scoring British Commonwealth P-40 pilot, behind Clive Caldwell.
The son of an English doctor married to an Australian, Billy was born on December 20 1917. Early educational establishment seemed unable to cope with his zest for live and eventually he was sent to be educated in Switzerland which he enjoyed greatly, not least for the ample skiing opportunities.
Young Drake, a direct descendant of Elizabethan buccanneer Sir Francis Drake, joined up just before his 18th birthday and was commissioned a few months later having qualified as a pilot. Drake joined the iconic No.1 Squadron at RAF Tangmere in May 1937 on a Short Service Commission in July 1936.
War soon followed and No.1 squadron was sent to France where on 20 April 1940, during the chaos of the Battle of France, Drake shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Subsequent kills over French soil were a Dornier Do17 and Heinkel He111. Drake's action ended when he was attacked frm behind by a Messerschmitt Bf110 and had to bail out of his blazing Hurricane over France, was treated initially in a French Hospital and returned to England for treatment to the damage caused by shell splinters in his back.
On 20 June 1940, Drake was posted as a flying instructor to No. 6 Operational Training Unit, at RAF Sutton Bridge but three months later was back in action with 213 Squadron at RAF Tangmere.
He was soon appointed Commander of No.421 Flight comprising Spitfires involved in specialised low-level reconnaissance patrols over the English Channel and the French coast. Two further kills and two probables ensured his hit rate was recognised in the form of the Distinguished Flying Cross on 7 January 1941.
Drake then returned to instruction duties until September 1941.
West africa called in December 1941, where Drake formed and commanded No.128 Squadron RAF at Hastings, Sierra Leone, flying Mark II Hurricanes. Soon afterwards, he shot down a Vichy French Glenn Martin 167F bomber, near Freetown.
In April 1942, Drake was posted to Air Head Quarters Middle East, and at the end of May was appointed commander of No.112 (Shark) Squadron, based at RAF Gambut, Egypt, and so began a period of relentless action during which Drake accounted for more than 30 enemy aircraft, 15 of them during low level attacks over enemy landing grounds. On 1 September 1942, a day of heavy losses for the Desert Air Force, Drake bagged two Junkers Ju 87s.
During his time in command of No 112 he had destroyed 17 aircraft in the air with two others shared, a total exceeded in North Africa only by one other pilot, the Australian-born Group Captain Clive 'Killer' Caldwell.
Drake was awarded a Bar to his DFC in July 1942 followed by the Distinguished Service Order in December 1942. He scored 13 aerial victories in P-40s.
Promoted to Wing Commander in January 1943, Drake had a short staff posting before assuming command of RAF Krendi on Malta, flying Spitfires. In July 1943, he made his last claim of the war, a MacchiMC.202 of 4 Stormo, Regia Aeronautica, over Sicily.
In November 1943, Drake returned to England to command No.20 Wing RAF, operating Hawker Typhoons with the Second Tactical Air Force. He was later sent to Fort Leavenworth in the United States. On 22 October 1943, he was awarded the American Distinguished Flying Cross. Drake finished the war as a staff officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.
Drake later did the circuit as a staff officer and air attaché at various British embassies, retiring to the Algarve in 1963 as a Group Captain.
On retirement from the service Billy Drake spent 20 years in the Algarve where he managed properties and ran a popular bar for expats in Albufeira. Latterly he moved to Teignmouth in Devon, was twice married and is survived by two sons from his first marriage.
Drake's remarkable tally of destroyed and damaged enemy hardware, he was credited with 24.5 aerial kills and destroyed a dozen more enemy planes on the ground, has assured him a place of honour in military history.
He died on 28 August 2011 and is remembered by veteran expats in the Algarve as a fearless and engaging character.