"Birdie" Partridge first took up flying in 1934 after a commission in the Hermes on the China Station. He qualified as a fighter pilot and spent some three years in 802 Squadron in Courageous, Hermes and Glorious. He reverted to Corps Duty in November 1938 but returned to the FAA on 17 May 1939 before the outbreak of WWII.
After a refresher fighter course he was very early in action and took command of 804 Squadron when it formed at Hatston in November 1939. Within a few weeks he took over command of 800 Squadron, the premier naval air squadron, operating Skuas from Hatston and the Ark Royal. The story of the activities of this squadron, together with 801 and 803 Squadrons are fully covered in the various Naval Histories.
The squadron was at first under the local Fighter Command Group and flew convoy escort duties for several weeks. Heinkel IIIs were encountered on 20th March and 3rd April and were driven off but none were damaged. However, during the German occupation of Norway on 9 April 1940 the German light cruiser Konigsberg was damaged by Norwegian shore batteries at Bergen. The only air striking force available was 11 Skuas of 803 Squadron and 5 of 800, all based at Hatston, a round trip of 600 miles. The two squadrons led by Lieutenant Bill Lucy RN and Captain Partridge RM achieved complete surprise, scoring three direct hits and one near miss with 500lb bombs. The ship broke in two, capsized, and sank in ten minutes.
Having taken off at 0500 on 10 April, the Skuas were back at Hatston by 0945 having made history by sinking the first warship ever to be sunk by bombing. Only one Skua was lost. Further strikes were flown from Hatston against the Bergen area on 12th, 14th and 16th April, the Skuas being at the limit of their range with inadequate reserve. A week later 800 Squadron embarked in Ark Royal and carried out fighter patrols over the Allied troops at Namsos and Aandelsnes. The squadron destroyed six HE Ills and damaged another score. The first of these "kills" was
scored by Captain Partridge on 27th April but he was hit by return and had to force-land on a frozen lake. He and his observer, Bostock, later encountered the German crew of the Heinkel who were ultimately taken prisoner by the Norwegians. Although they set fire to the Skua it was not totally destroyed and was recovered in 1974 and is now in the FAA Museum at Yeovilton.
After this incident, Captain Partridge and his Observer made their way on foot across the mountains just in time to join the evacuation from Aandalsnes and returned to the Ark Royal. Partridge then again led his squadron flying round the clock against forces far superior to their own. Unfortunately, at that time Ark Royal was not fitted with radar or RDF and was forced to operate over 120 miles from shore. As a result the loss rate was very high. For example on 23 April three Skuas ran out of fuel whilst waiting to land-on and were lost. Next day, 24 April, a dawn strike was made on Trondheim by 26 Swordfish and 10 Skuas. Three enemy aircraft were destroyed, a hangar on Vaernes airfield was damaged and a transport and two oilers were set on fire. The cost was four aircraft shot down but seven more were lost through running out of fuel before they could get back to the ship.
Finally, on 8 June 1940 HMS Glorious was sunk by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau while withdrawing, having landed on the surviving RAF Gladiators and Hurricanes. Following this the Ark Royal searched for the German ships whilst also covering the passage of the troop transports. Having located the two ships at Trondheim the Ark remained within 300 miles until early on 14 June when she launched a strike of 15 Skuas from 800 and 803 Squadrons. This attack was made in daylight without adequate supporting cover and the Germans were waiting. Only two Skuas of 800 Squadron and five of 803 returned, the rest having been shot down. This included Partridge whose fuel tank blew up. He bailed out and was picked up by a Norwegian fishing boat, badly burned but alive. He spent the next five years as a POW in company with Guy Griffiths and Wings Day.
After being liberated he immediately returned to flying and was appointed to Leeon-Solent for EOW and POW leave and refresher flying training. On completion of this he was appointed to Lee-on-Solent on 10 November 1945 as Commander (F) and Officer-in-Charge of RNAS Lee-on-Solent. He was subsequently selected for an Instructional Technical Course at RAF South Cerney, followed by a course at the Empire Flying School, the Empire University of Aviation, at Hullavington where he obtained a "Distinguished Pass". During this course among the many aircraft he flew were Gloster Meteor jets and Avro Lancaster Bombers. He was the first RM pilot to qualify on jets, fourteen years before Murphy who was the only other one to do so. He was also the only RM pilot to fly a four engined bomber although a few, including the writer, had some experience on twin engined aircraft.
Although little is known of the later history of those pliots who transferred to the RAF after the Great War, it is fair to say that Partridge was probably the most experienced aviator ever to serve in the Corps.
His next appointment was to the Department of Air Organisation and Training but he was later faced with a return to Corps Duty and the acceptance of appointments in which his very considerable experience as a pilot and of leadership in the air would be wasted. Accordingly he retired at his own request on 26 January 1951 and then farmed for many years in East Sussex but is now retired at Piltdown in that County.