Squadron Leader Archibald McKellar DSO, DFC & Bar lived from 10 April 1912 to 1 November 1940. He was a highly successful flying ace who served as a squadron commander with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, and who was killed in combat. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Archibald Ashmore McKellar was born in Paisley, the son of John and Margaret McKellar. He went to school at Shawlands Academy in Glasgow. After leaving school he spent some time working for a local stockbroker, before joining his father's construction company as an apprentice plasterer.
McKellar was fascinated by flying, and by tales of World War One pilots. In 1933, at the age of 21, he joined the Scottish Flying Club, which was based at Renfrew Airport. He rapidly gained his pilot's licence and was soon making his name as an enthusiastic and able flyer. This brought him to the attention of Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Clydesdale, who commanded 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force, based at nearby RAF Abbotsinch where it flew Hawker Hart and Hawker Hind biplane light bombers. McKellar was commissioned as a pilot officer in the Auxiliary Air Force on 8 November 1936 and began flying with 602 Squadron. Like other squadron members he was a reservist who served on a part-time basis. McKellar was promoted to flying officer on 8 May 1938.
With the approach of war, the squadron converted to a fighter role and re-equipped with Supermarine Spitfires. It mobilised at RAF Grangemouth in central Scotland on 6 October 1939 and moved to RAF Drem in East Lothian a month later, charged with defending Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth. On 16 October 1939 McKellar was flying one of two Spitfires that shot down a Ju88 bomber over the Firth of Forth. His flight commander, flying the second Spitfire, was credited with the kill, though some sources suggest it should have been shared. On 28 October 1939 McKellar attacked a Heinkel He 111H-2 bomber with other Spitfires and was credited with his first kill. On 28 May 1940, 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron moved to RAF Drem, flying Hurricanes. On 21 June 1940 McKellar was transferred to 605 Squadron on promotion to flight lieutenant.
On 15 August 1940, 605 Squadron intercepted a German raid on Tyneside by He 111 bombers flying from Norway. McKellar shot down three He 111s during the raid and was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 7 September 1940, 605 Squadron moved to Croydon Aerodrome south of London under the command of Squadron Leader Walter Churchill. Two days later, on 9 September 1940, McKellar shot down four enemy aircraft in a single day. He destroyed three He 111 bombers with a single burst. The first He 111 exploded. It damaged a second which rolled over and dived down into the ground. McKellar then aimed at a third, destroying its port wing. On a separate sortie that same afternoon he shot down a Bf 109 fighter. Two days after that McKellar was promoted to squadron leader, and took over command of 605 Squadron at the age of 28.
McKellar shot down three more enemy aircraft on 15 September 1940, and another shortly after midnight, early on 16 September. This resulted in the award of a second Distinguished Flying Cross. On 7 October 1940 McKellar shot down five Bf 109 fighters in a single day, and on 20 October 1940 he shot down two more, though only one was formally credited to him. He shot down three more Bf 109 fighters in encounters on 26 October, 27 October and the morning of 1 November 1940.
A little after it got dark on 1 November 1940, McKellar was killed when his Hurricane crashed near Adisham in Kent. It is believed that he was shot down by Hauptmann Wolfgang Lippert, who was flying a Bf109 fighter of Jagdgeschwader 27. During his short career as a fighter pilot Squadron Leader Archibald McKellar had shot down 21 enemy aircraft, with a further two that were not credited to him but probably should have been. On 8 November 1940 McKellar was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his "outstanding courage and determination" in leading his squadron.
Archie McKellar was buried at New Eastwood Cemetery in Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire. There is a sad irony in that the dates subsequently chosen for what we now call "The Battle of Britain" were 10 July 1940 to 31 October 1940. As a result Archie, the RAF's second most successful fighter ace during the battle, was deemed to have been killed the day after it ended. He is therefore not listed on the Battle of Britain roll of honour in The RAF Chapel in Westminster Abbey.