• This is a stand-to for an incoming competition, one of our most expensive yet.
    Later this week we're going to be offering the opportunity to Win £270 Rab Neutrino Pro military down jacket
    Visit the thread at that link above and Watch it to be notified as soon as the competition goes live

Enemy Coast Ahead - Guy Gibson VC

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
Yes indeed but didn't Portal have to eventually directly order Harris to cooperate with the Americans on attacking German oil and transport facilities, which he hadn't been keen to do?
Harris essentially challenged Portal to sack him over the matter, which Portal declined to do.

One biographer perceptively said that Harris would never disobey a direct order, but would argue like hell up to the moment it was issued. Once given the order, he would execute it faithfully - often exceeding the original intention. A classic example was the transportation attacks in the run-up to D-Day. Harris had to be ordered to make them, but once ordered he put much in more frequent and more accurate attacks than required.

It's also interesting that Harris also stated that the only senior commander he never resented taking orders from was Eisenhower. He came under Ike's command for several months before and after D-Day and reckoned he was never so ably strategically directed.

[Eisenhower's air commander was Tedder, who believed strategic bombing should be woven into an overall strategy].

Harris and Eisenhower maintained a warm friendship for the rest of their lives.

Wordsmith
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
If you ever go to RAF Cranwell, go to the Daedalus Officers' Mess, they have copies of the Bomber Command 'Blue Books' in glass cases outside the bar where you can see the % of every target destroyed - I think the King was given the other copies:

View attachment 354577
And Stalin. It was Churchill's way of showing the Russians that although he hadn't invaded Europe yet, he was hammering the Germans.

Pictures of ruined German cities gave Stalin much satisfaction...

Wordsmith
 
Harris essentially challenged Portal to sack him over the matter, which Portal declined to do.

One biographer perceptively said that Harris would never disobey a direct order, but would argue like hell up to the moment it was issued. Once given the order, he would execute it faithfully - often exceeding the original intention. A classic example was the transportation attacks in the run-up to D-Day. Harris had to be ordered to make them, but once ordered he put much in more frequent and more accurate attacks than required.

Wordsmith
Big Week (James Holland) goes into this quite a bit.
Well worth a read
 
Although you might criticise Harris for continuing area bombing in the closing months of the war - when the German cities were effectively defenceless - for much of the war, he executed the policy determined by the War Cabinet and hence the Air Ministry.
I for one have always believed you can't criticise Bomber Command or the crews for continuing to bomb anything German up to the point they signed the surrender agreement.......we were at war with Germany and the German people ....the very same ones who were still making weapons and war goods .

It is with only the luxury of hindsight that people Judge decisions made in a time of war..........it continues today with members of the forces being judged by people and the press for actions taken on a battle field that those judging and vocally criticising have never and will never have to make.

I believe the adage "You can't Judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes" still holds good and to me many who judge and criticise Bomber Command never did .....they were Politicians and those with an agenda and an axe to grind

Don't get me started on the deliberate dubbing down and outright propaganda that is taught to the current generation with regards to this period in our history .
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
I for one have always believed you can't criticise Bomber Command or the crews for continuing to bomb anything German up to the point they signed the surrender agreement.......we were at war with Germany and the German people ....the very same ones who were still making weapons and war goods.
You might however point a finger at Harris. As I've said before, Harris was a formidable leader, but he lacked strategic insight. By the end of 1943, Bomber Command was evolving the capability of precision attacks at night, as would be proven in the spring of 1944 when Harris started to attack transportation targets in France.

When Harris was eventually released from Eisenhower's control after the D-Day landings, he went back to area bombing and had to be ordered to devote part of his efforts to precision attacks on oil or transport. Yet, those precision attacks did more to damage the German war economy than Harris's raids on cities.

Part of the blame lies with Portal, who lacked the strength of will to issue a direct order to Harris to stop area bombing. Everything suggests that, given that direct order, Harris would have focused on precision attacks. Given that much of the damage was done to the German cities in the final months of the war as the German defences collapsed, Harris (and Bomber Command) would not have created as much of a wasteland in Germany and been subjected to as much post war criticism.

That said, it's easy to be an armchair general. The Chief's of Staff, Portal (as CAS) and the War Cabinet did not possess the information we have now - all they could see was a Germany still capable of lashing out and with new hi-tech weapons such as the V1, V2, Me262 and the new U-Boats steadily appearing. In that situation, hitting Germany with everything in the toolkit was perhaps an understandable decision.

Wordsmith
 
I for one have always believed you can't criticise Bomber Command or the crews for continuing to bomb anything German up to the point they signed the surrender agreement.......we were at war with Germany and the German people ....the very same ones who were still making weapons and war goods .

It is with only the luxury of hindsight that people Judge decisions made in a time of war..........it continues today with members of the forces being judged by people and the press for actions taken on a battle field that those judging and vocally criticising have never and will never have to make.

I believe the adage "You can't Judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes" still holds good and to me many who judge and criticise Bomber Command never did .....they were Politicians and those with an agenda and an axe to grind

Don't get me started on the deliberate dubbing down and outright propaganda that is taught to the current generation with regards to this period in our history .

My bold very true, a lot of revisionists forget/ignore that Germany had started the terror raids on unarmed & defenceless civilian targets on places such as Warsaw & Rotterdam. Obviously preceded by the attack on Guernica by the Condor Legion in the Spanish civil war.
This is an account of that raid " According to war reporter George L. Steer in the London daily the Times two days later, the strategy seemed clear. First, he wrote, came the heavy bombs and grenades to drive the population into panic. Then came the machine-gun strafing to drive them underground. Finally, came the incendiary bombs to destroy their hiding places".
Many people also forget the "Baedeker" raids on places with no strategic value but just to destroy often historic towns & cities in Britain.
 
A number of the bomber Command VCs are for bomber pilots who stayed at the controls to give their crew a chance to escape, pretty well guaranteeing they would die with the aircraft.
Rawdon Hume "Ron" Middleton, VC (22 July 1916 – 29 November 1942) ... enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 14 October 1940, and trained as a pilot in the Empire Air Training Scheme. He undertook initial flying training at No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School (5 EFTS) Narromine, and advanced training in Canada. In February 1942 he joined No. 149 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, flying as second pilot on Short Stirling bombers. By July of that year he was appointed as an aircraft captain, and flew his first raid as a pilot-in-command against Düsseldorf.

On 28 November 1942, Middleton was captain of Stirling BF372 detailed to bomb the Fiat aircraft works at Turin. It was his twenty-ninth combat sortie, one short of the thirty required for completion of a 'tour' and mandatory rotation off combat operations.

Middleton and his crew arrived above Turin after a difficult flight over the Alps, due to the low combat ceiling of the "bombed-up" and "fueled-up" Stirling (due to its short stubby wings, designed to keep all up weight down, but of little use at high altitudes). Over the target area Middleton had to make three low-level passes in order to positively identify the target; on the third, the aircraft was hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire which wounded both pilots and the wireless operator. Middleton suffered numerous grievous wounds, including shrapnel wounds to the arms, legs and body, having his right eye torn from its socket and his jaw shattered.

He passed out briefly, and his second pilot, Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder, who was also seriously wounded, managed to regain control of the plunging plane at 800 feet and drop the bombs, before receiving first aid from the other crew. Middleton regained consciousness in time to help recover control of his stricken bomber. Middleton was in great pain, was barely able to see, was losing blood from wounds all over his body, and could breathe only with difficulty. He must have known that his own chances of survival were slim, but he nonetheless determined to fly his crippled aircraft home, and return his crew to safety. During the return flight he frequently said over the intercom "I'll make the English Coast. I'll get you home".After four hours of agony and having been further damaged by flak over France, Middleton reached the coast of England with five minutes of fuel reserves. At this point he turned the aircraft parallel to the coast and ordered his crew to bail out. Five of his crew did so and landed safely, but his front gunner and flight engineer remained with him to try to talk him into a forced landing on the coast, something he must have known would have risked extensive civilian casualties. He steered the aircraft out over the sea, off Dymchurch, and ordered the last two crew to bail out. They then too bailed out, but did not survive the night in the English Channel. Middleton stayed with the aircraft, which crashed into the Channel. His body was washed ashore on 1 February 1943.

The last line of his Victoria Cross citation reads: "His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force".

Flight Sergeant Rawdon Hume Middleton VC was posthumously promoted to pilot officer, and is buried at Beck Row, [Mildenhall], Suffolk. His Victoria Cross and uniform are displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Pilot Officer G.R. Royde (observer) was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, while Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder (2nd pilot), Flight Sergeant D. Cameron (upper gunner) and Sergeant H.W. Gough (rear gunner) all were awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. Coincidentally, Cameron (as a flying officer) would be a member of Flight Sergeant Ian Willoughby Bazalgette's crew when the Canadian would be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross as well.
 
For those interested in Guy Gibson's background, it is well worth going to Scampton and talking to some of the guides who learned a considerable amount about him. Seems he hated SNCOs who were pilots and rarely if ever spoke to his OWN ground crew.

there are also issues around how he actually died. Rumours that he was shot down by a bomber because he flew under it, emanate from a few sources.
 
I personally knew a Lancaster mid-upper gunner from 103 Squadron (Elsham Wolds). He told me that it was difficult to cope with crews (and friends) not returning after a sortie but, it meant you moved up the leave ladder. He also agreed that all the crews did not necessarily drink to excess, but a lot of drinking was done after sorties. the thing he said they looked forward to was an egg banjo and a beer.
Sadly he passed on but a real privilege to know him and listen to his war stories.
 
For those interested in Guy Gibson's background, it is well worth going to Scampton and talking to some of the guides who learned a considerable amount about him. Seems he hated SNCOs who were pilots and rarely if ever spoke to his OWN ground crew.

there are also issues around how he actually died. Rumours that he was shot down by a bomber because he flew under it, emanate from a few sources.
Where did these guides ‘learn’ these things? Gibson was no saint, but he wasn’t selected to lead the Dams Raid by mistake.

As for his death, I find it strange that people can’t accept that a pilot with combat exhaustion might fly into the ground. Arguing otherwise reminds me of all those walts who have to be ex-SAS rather than ex-ACC....they can’t be satisfied with ‘normal’.
 
Arthur Arron VC, DFC ,21 yrs old.



Aaron was 21 years old, flying Stirling serial number EF452 on his 20th sortie. Nearing the target, his bomber was struck by machine gun fire. The bomber's Canadian navigator, Cornelius A. Brennan, was killed and other members of the crew were wounded.
The official citation for his VC reads:

Air Ministry, 5th November, 1943.
The King has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned airman in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—
458181 Acting Flight Sergeant Arthur Louis Aaron, D.F.M., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 218 Squadron (deceased).
On the night of 12 August 1943, Flight Sergeant Aaron was captain and pilot of a Stirling aircraft detailed to attack Turin. When approaching to attack, the bomber received devastating bursts of fire from an enemy fighter. Three engines were hit, the windscreen shattered, the front and rear turrets put out of action and the elevator control damaged, causing the aircraft to become unstable and difficult to control. The navigator was killed and other members of the crew were wounded.
A bullet struck Flight Sergeant Aaron in the face, breaking his jaw and tearing away part of his face. He was also wounded in the lung and his right arm was rendered useless. As he fell forward over the control column, the aircraft dived several thousand feet. Control was regained by the flight engineer at 3,000 feet. Unable to speak, Flight Sergeant Aaron urged the bomb aimer by signs to take over the controls. Course was then set southwards in an endeavour to fly the crippled bomber, with one engine out of action, to Sicily or North Africa.
Flight Sergeant Aaron was assisted to the rear of the aircraft and treated with morphia. After resting for some time he rallied and, mindful of his responsibility as captain of aircraft, insisted on returning to the pilot's cockpit, where he was lifted into his seat and had his feet placed on the rudder bar. Twice he made determined attempts to take control and hold the aircraft to its course but his weakness was evident and with difficulty he was persuaded to desist. Though in great pain and suffering from exhaustion, he continued to help by writing directions with his left hand.
Five hours after leaving the target the petrol began to run low, but soon afterwards the flare path at Bone airfield was sighted. Flight Sergeant Aaron summoned his failing strength to direct the bomb aimer in the hazardous task of landing the damaged aircraft in the darkness with undercarriage retracted. Four attempts were made under his direction; at the fifth Flight Sergeant Aaron was so near to collapsing that he had to be restrained by the crew and the landing was completed by the bomb aimer.
Nine hours after landing, Flight Sergeant Aaron died from exhaustion. Had he been content, when grievously wounded, to lie still and conserve his failing strength, he would probably have recovered, but he saw it as his duty to exert himself to the utmost, if necessary with his last breath, to ensure that his aircraft and crew did not fall into enemy hands. In appalling conditions he showed the greatest qualities of courage, determination and leadership and, though wounded and dying, he set an example of devotion to duty which has seldom been equalled and never surpassed.​

The gunfire that hit Flight Sergeant Aaron's aircraft was thought to have been from an enemy night fighter, but may have been friendly fire from another Stirling.
 
Yeah - how on Earth did they cope with that? How do you cope with seeing aircraft flown by your friends being shot down, then come back to base and learn about other missing aircraft, and go through a debrief, and then find the courage go through it all again a few nights later, wondering who was not going to come back this time?

Uncle Ted noted that some people criticised Bomber Crews and at the time for things like drinking heavily between raids. FFS! He also mentioned having to clear the remains of a rear gunner, a friend, from the tail turret as the ground crew could not face it.
Apparently , they had a go at Harris about his crews having soaring VD rates .
He took it as a compliment on behalf of his command .
 
Yeah - how on Earth did they cope with that? How do you cope with seeing aircraft flown by your friends being shot down, then come back to base and learn about other missing aircraft, and go through a debrief, and then find the courage go through it all again a few nights later, wondering who was not going to come back this time?

Uncle Ted noted that some people criticised Bomber Crews and at the time for things like drinking heavily between raids. FFS! He also mentioned having to clear the remains of a rear gunner, a friend, from the tail turret as the ground crew could not face it.
The aircrew were more afraid of being labelled LMF ( Lack of Moral Fibre , ie Cowardice ) than they were of dying .
There is very little out there about the LMF cases , but basically you were stripped of your stripes and brevet , reduced to the ranks and made to do all the medial sanitary tasks on a station ( not sure if your own , though ) under the gaze of everyone who could see the missing rank and brevet on your faded battledress .
Some were also sent to the " Aircrew Refresher Centre " Sheffield .
I have never been able to find a memoir of anyone who went there or served there , but it was meant to straighten them out , though how you do that with someone who has totally exhausted his reserve of courage is beyond me .
 
Bader by all accounts was a complete cock.

I can’t help but think that when you have survival rates like bomber command had you just got an a did amazing things because there was little other option.

The wireless operator who climbed out on the wing to extinguish flames is a good example. He did it because there was no other option.

It isn’t exactly the scenario when you can bunker down in a shell scrap and wait until the nastiness goes away.
My father's brother was killed on Stirlings in 1942 .
( can hardly call him uncle as I wasn't born 'till 20 years later ) .
In a letter to my aunt from his training unit , he urged to sell or give away all his belongings because he didn't think he was coming back .
The instructors had already began to prepare them for the worst , plus my father had been shot down and taken prisoner the year before , flying Whitleys .
 
Last edited:
I think there were a great many stories which got a bit over-egged immediately after the war and historians since then have generally done a very good job of re-calibrating what remain, by any measure, some quite remarkable achievements. For all his faults, without Brickhill the Great Escape would probably have been relegated to the same level as the Warburg Wire Job in the national consciousness and possibly even Chastise would have gone that way as well.

Personally I'm very grateful to those Fifties authors - for all their embellishments and inaccuracies, they inspired a lifelong love of the subject and a desire to know more, not to mention a profound admiration for the deeds of better men.
The " delousing " escape from the North Compound of Stalag Luft III never gets a mention , but was far simpler and got as many people out .
All recaptured in hours , though .
 
Arthur Arron VC, DFC ,21 yrs old.



Aaron was 21 years old, flying Stirling serial number EF452 on his 20th sortie. Nearing the target, his bomber was struck by machine gun fire. The bomber's Canadian navigator, Cornelius A. Brennan, was killed and other members of the crew were wounded.
The official citation for his VC reads:

Air Ministry, 5th November, 1943.
The King has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned airman in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—​
458181 Acting Flight Sergeant Arthur Louis Aaron, D.F.M., Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 218 Squadron (deceased).​
On the night of 12 August 1943, Flight Sergeant Aaron was captain and pilot of a Stirling aircraft detailed to attack Turin. When approaching to attack, the bomber received devastating bursts of fire from an enemy fighter. Three engines were hit, the windscreen shattered, the front and rear turrets put out of action and the elevator control damaged, causing the aircraft to become unstable and difficult to control. The navigator was killed and other members of the crew were wounded.​
A bullet struck Flight Sergeant Aaron in the face, breaking his jaw and tearing away part of his face. He was also wounded in the lung and his right arm was rendered useless. As he fell forward over the control column, the aircraft dived several thousand feet. Control was regained by the flight engineer at 3,000 feet. Unable to speak, Flight Sergeant Aaron urged the bomb aimer by signs to take over the controls. Course was then set southwards in an endeavour to fly the crippled bomber, with one engine out of action, to Sicily or North Africa.​
Flight Sergeant Aaron was assisted to the rear of the aircraft and treated with morphia. After resting for some time he rallied and, mindful of his responsibility as captain of aircraft, insisted on returning to the pilot's cockpit, where he was lifted into his seat and had his feet placed on the rudder bar. Twice he made determined attempts to take control and hold the aircraft to its course but his weakness was evident and with difficulty he was persuaded to desist. Though in great pain and suffering from exhaustion, he continued to help by writing directions with his left hand.​
Five hours after leaving the target the petrol began to run low, but soon afterwards the flare path at Bone airfield was sighted. Flight Sergeant Aaron summoned his failing strength to direct the bomb aimer in the hazardous task of landing the damaged aircraft in the darkness with undercarriage retracted. Four attempts were made under his direction; at the fifth Flight Sergeant Aaron was so near to collapsing that he had to be restrained by the crew and the landing was completed by the bomb aimer.​
Nine hours after landing, Flight Sergeant Aaron died from exhaustion. Had he been content, when grievously wounded, to lie still and conserve his failing strength, he would probably have recovered, but he saw it as his duty to exert himself to the utmost, if necessary with his last breath, to ensure that his aircraft and crew did not fall into enemy hands. In appalling conditions he showed the greatest qualities of courage, determination and leadership and, though wounded and dying, he set an example of devotion to duty which has seldom been equalled and never surpassed.​

The gunfire that hit Flight Sergeant Aaron's aircraft was thought to have been from an enemy night fighter, but may have been friendly fire from another Stirling.
Bloody hell.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
there are also issues around how he actually died. Rumours that he was shot down by a bomber because he flew under it, emanate from a few sources.
The most plausible suggestion is that Gibson's Mosquito ran out of fuel due to Gibson's lack of familiarity with the fuel system - he only had limited experience on type.

Guy Gibson - Wikipedia
Lack of fuel is the explanation most favoured by members of No. 627 Squadron at the time. In December 1985 the site was excavated and wreckage from the plane recovered. No enemy damage was noticeable. It has therefore been suggested that Gibson and Warwick had failed to switch fuel tanks at the correct time. It has also been suggested there was a fault with the fuel tank selector. Further, it is possible that a lack of familiarity with the Mosquito resulted in neither Gibson nor Warwick being able to find the switches to swap the fuel supply. This would also be a reason to explain why the cockpit was illuminated: they were attempting to locate the switches. In either case, the result would be that the aircraft simply ran out of fuel.
It's clear Gibson didn't have the most attractive of personalities - the qualities that make you an effective leader in wartime (as Gibson clear was) are not necessarily the qualities that will let you win a popularity contest.

Wordsmith
 
Where did these guides ‘learn’ these things? Gibson was no saint, but he wasn’t selected to lead the Dams Raid by mistake.

As for his death, I find it strange that people can’t accept that a pilot with combat exhaustion might fly into the ground. Arguing otherwise reminds me of all those walts who have to be ex-SAS rather than ex-ACC....they can’t be satisfied with ‘normal’.
He was probably selected to a large degree because he had loads of what they called in those days the " press-on spirit." After his first tour on Hampdens in 1939/40 he almost immediately volunteered for a tour on Beaufighters . Fighter Command was short of pilots experienced in night flying and Gibson got several kills while flying Beaus. There is a story from when he was commanding 106 Squadron in 1942, maybe apocryphal but very illustrative of the man's character: the aircraft were taxiing for take-off when one of the Lancs pulled off the track. Gibson, not flying himself that night , raced down from the watch office in his car to see why. The captain said to him " the Gee box has blown up sir ." ( the navigational aid Gee apparently had a self-destruction device ). Gibson replied " You've got four good engines , you'll bloody well go and bomb Germany ."
 

Similar threads

Latest Threads

Top