Lieutenant-Commander Peter ("Toby") Davis, who has died aged 85, was a sailor, submariner and airman who flew more sorties in the Korean War than any other United Nations pilot, and took part in the first shooting-down of an enemy fighter since the Second World War.
Davis flew Sea Fury fighter-bombers in 804 and 802 Naval Air Squadrons from the aircraft carriers Unicorn, Glory and Ocean. His arrival in the fleet was inauspicious: in June 1951 his radio failed, and, unable to communicate when his engine ran rough, he was waved off at his first attempt at landing on Unicorn. The engine then cut out and he was forced to ditch in the sea — he was picked up in record time and was on-board only three minutes after the engine had seized.
On July 18 1951, Davis was attacking North Korean railway facilities at Osan-ni when his flight-leader, Lieutenant PG Young, was hit. “Feeling somewhat incensed, I had a second go at the target (mistake – never make a second pass – the opposition has got his eye in by then!). I thought Young was joking when I flew up to him to inspect his damage and he told me, 'You have a massive oil leak’.” Davis had also been hit, and as his engine failed he flew out to sea and ditched again; this time he was an hour and a half in the water before being picked up by Glory’s Dragonfly helicopter.
On August 9, Davis was No 3 in a flight of four Sea Furies, led by Lieutenant Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, which was attacked by eight North Korean MiG 15s . Davis recalled that the MiGs threw away their advantage by slowing down and descending. “We got stuck in and fired at as many of them as presented themselves, aircraft wheeled around the sky and then suddenly all was clear. One of their aircraft went down and hit the ground.” The dogfight had lasted three or four minutes, and the Fleet Air Arm had shot down the first enemy fighter since the Second World War. As flight-leader, Carmichael was credited with the kill, but the other members of his flight also claimed a share.
Next day there was a similar incident. This time a MiG got behind Carmichael, but Davis “was able to make him break off. It is unlikely that I hit him as it was a high deflection shot”. A few seconds later he found himself in a head-on attack, but the enemy flinched first: “I guess it was the big prop and the solid front of my Sea Fury that frightened him! Things seemed to be getting a bit hot, so we took to a passing cloud for a few seconds and then all was clear.” This dogfight lasted 10 minutes, after which one enemy was seen to be trailing black smoke and heading northward, damage which was credited to Davis.
Davis’s war ended in anticlimax: on the last day of operations, on October 30 1952, he was running in to dive-bomb a bridge at Chinnampo when his engine started to run rough and he had to nurse his aircraft back to Ocean .
For 10 months air operations during patrols off the Korean west coast had consisted of four days’ flying, one day of replenishment at sea, followed by another four days’ flying, with two or three sorties of two hours each on each flying day. Davis had flown 313 sorties. He was awarded a DSC. Peter Steel Davis, always known as Toby, was born on St Valentine’s Day 1927 at Scalby in the North Riding of Yorkshire and educated at Scarborough College before entering Dartmouth aged 13, shortly before the college was evacuated to Eaton Hall in Cheshire. His family were mariners: his father, Charles Henry Davis, was master of the SS Hazelside when she was torpedoed on September 24 1939 south-east of Fastnet by Kapitänleutnant Johannes Habekost in the German submarine U-31; Habekost surfaced and shelled Hazelside as the crew were trying to launch lifeboats, and Davis and 11 crew members were killed. Toby served as a midshipman under training in the battleship Howe in the British Pacific Fleet in 1944-45 before volunteering for “the trade”, serving in the submarines Truculent and Alliance. However, it was probably his experience in 1947 of a 30-day underwater endurance trial in Alliance off the coast of Africa which led him to apply for flying training. After leaving the Navy, Davis flew for British Eagle International Airlines, taking holidaymakers to Italy and Spain. After the company folded in 1968 he went to Court Line, based at Luton , until that airline was declared bankrupt in 1974. During the North Sea boom he returned to sea as a master of oil-rig supply vessels, but by the late 1970s he was again airborne, flying private jets for “some of the more unenlightened despots” in Africa and the Middle East, and, in the 1980s, for Marlboro McLaren. He also transported rock stars — “most of whom I had never heard of”. Davis flew 67 different types of aircraft, his favourites being the single-seat, propeller-driven Sea Fury and the Seafire, two aircraft which required “proper pilots”. He married, in 1957, Cynthia Jean Moore, who survives him with their three sons . Lt-Cdr Peter Davis, born February 14 1927, died December 18 2012