Ronnie Hay volunteered for the F.A.A in 1938 and did his elementary training at a civilian school at Rochester. He then joined No 3 Course at No 1 FTS at Netheravon where he graduated as a Fighter Pilot in October 1939.
He joined 801 Squadron in HMS Ark Royal for the Norwegian Campaign in April 1940 flying Skuas and Rocs. He survived this campaign where on one occasion he was the sole fighter defence for the Fleet in a Roc with no R/T. This Squadron then moved to Detling in Kent working under Coastal Command photographing Channel Ports and barge concentrations during the Dunkirk period. He was twice in charge of the Squadron when successive COs were lost and he survived after "mixing it" with Me 1O9s. This occurred over North Foreland and only four of his Squadron got back.
In August 1940 he joined 808 Squadron (Fulmars) at Wick working under Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain period and qualified for the Battle of Britain Bar - (two other RM Pilots also qualified in 804 Squadron - A. E. Marsh and A. J. Wright and a rating Pilot, ex-RM Corporal T. J. Mahoney also). This Squadron saw considerable action during many Malta Convoys embarked in the Ark Royal and also in the Bismark action. He was a survivor from the Ark Royal when she was sunk in November 1941. It was at this time that he was awarded the D.S.C. After a few months in command of 761 Training Squadron he was appointed CO of 809 Squadron (Fulmar) trained for Army Co-operation duties in Operation Torch (Invasion of Africa) flying from HMS Victorious.
He then took the RAF Wing Leaders Course in May 1943 and spent the rest of 1943 writing up instructions on Naval Air Warfare and teaching Carrier Groups air tactics. In November 1943 he flew out to Ceylon to prepare Fighter Training Facilities for the Far East War. In August 1944 he was appointed Wing Leader of 47 Naval Fighter Wing in Victorious for the operations against Sumatra. In December 1944, four Fleet Carriers, Victorious, Illustrious, Indomitable and Indefatigable all rendezvoused in China Bay, Ceylon and Admiral Vian hoisted his flag as Flag Officer Commanding First Aircraft Carrier Squadron.
Prior to the arrival of the other carriers, raids against targets in Sumatra, such as the important cement works at Indaroeng and the harbour at Emmahaven, were carried out at the end of August 1944 by squadrons from Indomitable and Victorious. Following this, raids were made on 18 September against the rail centre at Sigli. Because of poor results a period of weapon training was ordered. In October attacks were made on the Nicobar Islands between 17 October and 19 October as a feint to coincide with the American assault on the Philippines. Attacks were made on airfields and Nancowry harbour.
From October to December the Air Groups carried out training in Ceylon working up with the new Avenger Squadrons in readiness for the move into the Pacific theatre alongside the Americans. The first task for the newly constituted British Pacific Fleet was a series of raids on sources of enemy oil - the Sumatran oilfields provided 75% of Japan's aviation fuel from an annual production of three million tons of crude oil. The first blow on 20 December against the refinery at Pangkalan Brandan was not a success due to bad weather. The next strike against the same target was mounted on 4 January 1945 and this was supervised for the first time by the BPF's newly appointed Air Co-ordinator. Ronnie Hay was appointed to this "star" post in December 1944 and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel for the job. He led a special flight of Corsairs from Victorious and his R/T call sign was "Father". The second attack on Pangkalan Brandan was made by aircraft from the Indomitable, Victorious and Indefatigable, 1770 Firefly Squadron from Indefatigable being led by Major V. B. G. Cheesman with Hay as overall Co-ordinator. Operation "Lentil" as this was called, was carried out by "Force 65" under Admiral Vian and was much more successful than the earlier raid. A total of 92 aircraft took part and only two of these were lost, the crews being rescued. Heavy damage was inflicted on the refinery whilst about twelve enemy aircraft were shot down and about another twenty were destroyed on the ground in strafing attacks on the airfields.
The main striking force of the British Pacific Fleet left Trincomalee on 16 January 1945 for Sydney which was to be its main base. En route heavy strikes were made on the Sumatran oil refineries around Palembang. The first raid, Operation Meridian I, was made on 24 January on the Pladjoe refinery resulting in all oil in storage being burned out and oil production being halved for three months. Fourteen enemy aircraft were destroyed in the air and a further 34 on the ground for the loss of seven F.A.A aircraft from all causes. The second raid, Operation Meridian II, was made on 29 January on the refinery at Soengi Gerong also near Palembang. As a result all production stopped for two months and normal production never recovered. Over 30 enemy aircraft were shot down, plus another 38 destroyed on the ground for a loss of 16 F.A.A aircraft. In addition, one of Japan's largest tankers was damaged beyond repair.
The true losses of aircraft were affected by deck landing crashes and ditchings near the Fleet so that the actual figure was 41 lost from all causes. Thirty aircrew were lost but of these several survived and were taken prisoner. However, it was subsequently discovered that between 18 and 20 August, after the Japanese surrender, nine F.A.A Pilots, Observers and Air gunners were beheaded on a beach north of Changi.
For these operations Hay was awarded the D.S.O. It is noteworthy that in addition to co-ordinating the raids, he personally shot down two enemy aircraft and shared in two others whilst still having time to carry out considerable photography and make comprehensive reports on the strikes. These are on pages 124 and 125 of Fleet Air Arm History by Waterman.
The next series of operations were designed to support the American invasion of Okinawa and were code named "ICEBERG". These involved continuous raids on the airfields and installations in the Sakishama Gunto group of islands. The raids went on for 62 days broken only by a few days at Leyte for re-storing. During this period Lieutenant Colonel Hay was airborne daily, reconnoitring the airfields before the strikes, observing their execution and doing his share of strafing, as well as filing comprehensive reports on the days work. By this time it was May 1945 and his carrier, the Victorious, had survived two Kamikaze hits in one day - 9 May - but was still fully operational.
The Fleet now retired to Sydney to re-arm the squadrons and rest the ships companies. On 16th July the BPF joined the American Third Fleet and the final phase commenced when the Japanese mainland was attacked. And so it went on until 12 August when the Japanese sued for peace.
Incidently, a little earlier, in April 1945, over Formosa, Hay sighted a passenger train skulking in a tunnel but with the engine sticking out. This was most unwise with someone like Hay around - the results to the train when he attacked were most catastrophic.
After the end of hostilities Hay returned to the UK and was later injured in an air crash. Whilst recuperating he served on the Joint Air Safety Board before reverting to Corps Duty in 1947. He then served in 40 Commando in Cyprus, Hong Kong and Malaya but like other RM Pilots who had flown through the war he did not really settle.
Having led all the F.A.A air strikes in the Pacific, under such a task master as Admiral Vian and having earned a D.S.O and double D.S.C, life as an RM Captain under Commanding Officers with far less continuous fighting experience, admittedly in a different sphere, made life for him rather difficult. In 1951 he transferred to the Royal Navy as a Lieutenant Commander. He was promoted to Commander in 1955 and retired in November 1966.