Virgil, known as Paul to his friends, was born on the 6th March 1920 in Warwick, Queensland.
Paul enlisted on the 8th November 1940. After training in Canada, he was sent to Britain in August 1941. In October, he was posted to 64 Squadron, but early the next year he was sent to Malta as a Flight Sergeant. Flying off HMS Eagle on March 7 with the first Spitfires for the island, they arrived to form 249 Squadron. Action followed swiftly, and on the 17th March he shot down a Bf 109 over Luqa for his first victory.
His two citations for DFM and DFC are as follows:
LG 22/5/1942 p 2239
This airman is a most determined and courageous pilot. An exceptional shot, he always pressed home his attacks with vigour. In two combats he has destroyed at least four enemy aircraft and damaged others.
LG 6/10/1942 p 4342) – Citation:
A fine pilot and a keen fighter, this officer has destroyed at least 10 enemy aircraft. One day in May 1942, he destroyed a Junkers 87 and damaged another in combat. The next day he led his section in an attack on 12 enemy fighters (an escort to a bomber formation) and shot down one and damaged another of the fighters. This officer has always displayed outstanding determination to destroy the enemy.
It was just the beginning, and over the next few months amid constant fighting, Paul destroyed 10 aircraft, probably another and damaged six. He received a DFM and was commissioned (eventually to rise to acting Flight Lieutenant) in May and by the time he left the island at the end of his tour in July, a DFC was waiting. He and a fellow Malta ace, Ray Hesselyn RNZAF, wrote “Spitfires over Malta,” a classic account of their experiences on the island.
After a period as an instructor until January 1943, Paul sailed home, arriving on April 17.
On the 13th June 1943, Paul was killed in a fatal accident while he was en route to join 452 Squadron. According to David Hopton, a fellow Squadron pilot:
“The Spitfires were coming in to land at Garbutt Airstrip, when suddenly and unaccountably, one of them stopped short, and made to turn off the airstrip. In the process of doing so, this maneuver put the pilot and his aircraft into the committed flight path of another Spitfire, which unavoidably crashed into and on top of the aircraft beneath and killed the pilot instantly.
The young pilot killed was the Flight Commander, Flt. Lieutenant Paul Brennan DFC, DFM. This young fighter ace, aged twenty three, had distinguished himself in the fierce air battles waged over Malta. Miraculously he had survived this life and death struggle over this island bastion, and, along with other fighter pilots, he was brought back to Australia from overseas to help form the core and backbone of newly created fighter Squadrons.
Had Paul survived the war and remained with the RAAF or returned to civilian life, I feel sure he would have carved out a worthwhile career in either area. He was a fighter, he was a young St. George. Paul was buried in the war cemetery at Townsville on 13 June. The other pilot survived the crash, but was badly shaken, and he did not return to flying with the Squadron. The position of Flight Commander B Flight was taken over by another tested pilot, Flight Lieutenant Max Bott.”
And so ends a magnificent story on a daring officer pilot with bravery and courage. Well done Paul, and God bless you.
The photo is of a Spitfire over Malta.
The following article was published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993Brennan, Virgil Paul (1920–1943) by David Wilson:
Virgil Paul Brennan (1920-1943), air force officer, was born on 6 March 1920 at Warwick, Queensland, fifth child of Edgar James Brennan, solicitor, and his wife Katherine, née O’Sullivan, both Queenslanders. Educated at Christian Brothers’ School, Warwick, Downlands College, Toowoomba, and Brisbane State High School, Paul became a law clerk in Brisbane and studied part time at the University of Queensland. After enlisting in the Citizen Air Force of the Royal Australian Air Force on 8th November 1940, he trained as a pilot in Australia and Canada. ‘Digger’ Brennan arrived in Britain in August 1941. Following operational training, he served briefly in the Royal Air Force’s No.64 Squadron. He was promoted temporary flight sergeant on 4 January 1942 and next month was sent to the Mediterranean.
Posted to No.249 Squadron, on 7th March Brennan piloted one of fifteen Spitfires which flew from the aircraft-carrier, H.M.S. Eagle, to Malta. In mid-March the Germans began a major air assault on the island. Brennan and his comrades intercepted the waves of attacking bombers and their protective fighter screens: they had to contend with fatigue and inadequate rations while battling the enemy’s superior forces. Proving himself a determined and courageous pilot, as well as an excellent shot, Brennan won his first victory ten days after his arrival when he destroyed a Messerschmitt 109. Further successes followed: on 20th April he shot down another Me-109; later in the day he dispatched a Junkers 88. Wounded in the left arm on 12th May, he was commissioned and awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal that month. By the time he left Malta in July, he had survived twenty-two combats, and been credited with the destruction of at least ten enemy aircraft and with damaging several more; a Distinguished Flying Cross was added to his previous award for gallantry.
On his return to England, Brennan and Pilot Officer Ray Hesselyn, a New Zealander from No.249 Squadron, collaborated with the journalist Henry Bateson in recording their experiences in Spitfires over Malta (London and Sydney, 1943). Granted the rank of acting flight lieutenant and posted as an instructor to No.52 Operational Training Unit, Brennan was subsequently repatriated on 17 April 1943. Slightly built and 5 ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall, he had dark hair and brown eyes. Although there was aggression in his manner, he had an easy-going nature, an engaging sense of humour and was loyal to his friends; his flair for oratory made him a forceful debater. On 1st May he joined No.79 Squadron, R.A.A.F. His commanding officer observed that he was strained and tired, and that he seemed to be marshalling his reserves for the unit’s forthcoming deployment to Goodenough Island, off Papua. For all that, Brennan shared his operational experience with other pilots.
During their journey north, on 13th June 1943 the squadron’s Spitfires reached Garbutt airfield, Townsville, Queensland. Brennan landed his aircraft in the stream of fighters, but the plane which should have landed behind him overran Brennan’s machine and collided with it. Brennan died of his injuries on the way to hospital. He was buried with Catholic rites in Townsville war cemetery.
David Hopton, Paul Carter, David Hamilton, Jack Langley and Steve McGregor
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association