Tag Archives: Victoria Cross

19 September 1944

19 September 1944:

Air Ministry, 13th November, 1945.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—

Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony LORD, D.F.C. (49149), R.A.F., 271 Sqn. (deceased).

Flight Lieutenant Lord was pilot and captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies at Arnhem on the afternoon of the 19th September, 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Air crews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers.

While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the main stream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. But on learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in three minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of supplies.

By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns. On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight, and level course while supplies were dropped. At the end of the run, he was told that two containers remained.

Although he must have known that the collapse of the starboard wing could not be long delayed, Flight Lieutenant Lord circled, rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took eight minutes in all, the aircraft being continuously under heavy anti-aircraft fire.

His task completed, Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft, which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames. There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes.

By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and, finally, remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice.

Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette, 13 November 1945, No. 37347 at Page 5533.

The Victoria Cross: “For Valour”
Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord, D.F.C., Royal Air Force.

David Samuel Anthony Lord was born in the city of Cork, Ireland, 18 October 1913, the son of Warrant Officer Samuel Beswick Lord, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and Mary Ellen Miller Lord. He was raised in Ireland, British India and Wales. Lord was educated at St. Mary’s College, a seminary in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, and the University of Wales in Cardiff.

David and his brother Frank enlisted in the Royal Air Force 6 August 1936. In 1938 he was promoted to corporal and requested an assignment to flight training. He trained as a pilot at RAF Uxbridge, and on completion, 5 April 1939, was promoted to sergeant.

Sergeant Lord was assigned to No. 31 Squadron, a bomber/transport unit then based at Lahore, Punjab, in what is now Pakistan. The squadron was equipped with Vickers Type 264 Valentia biplane transports, but early in World War II these were replaced by more modern Douglas DC-2s. The squadron flew in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Eqypt. Lord was promoted to Flight Sergeant, 1 April 1941. In June 1941, Lord’s Dakota was severely damaged by attacking German fighters and he was forced to crash land. Along with his passengers and crew, Lord safely returned to friendly lines.

Flight Sergeant Lord was appointed a warrant officer, 1 October 1941. In 1942, Temporary Warrant Officer Lord returned to operations in India, where he flew “the Hump,” the aerial supply line to China over the Himalaya Mountains. He was appointed to the commissioned rank of Pilot Officer on probation (emergency), 12 May 1942, and then promoted to Flying Officer.

Douglas Dakota Mk.III, FL512, of No. 31 Squadron in Burma, circa 1944.

In The London Gazette, 16 July 1943, it was announced that Flying Officer Lord had awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in Burma.

Flying Officer Lord was reassigned to No. 271 Squadron, based at RAF Down Ampney, Wiltshire, England, flying the Dakota Mk.III. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 2 June 1944, and flew in the airborne assault of Normandy, on the night of 5–6 June 1944. On 1 September 1944, Flight Lieutenant Lord was commended by George VI for valuable service in the air.

19 September 1944. Burnt-out Douglas Dakota Mark III, KG401, of No. 48 Squadron RAF. The same type aircraft as Flight Lieutenant Lord’s KG374, this is one of many Dakota’s lost while attempting to resupply Allied soldiers during the Battle of Arnhem. © IWM (CE 165)

Only one member of Lord’s crew, the navigator, Flight Lieutenant Harold King, survived. The others were buried next to the wreck of their Dakota, at Wolfheze, just northeast of Arnhem, The Netherlands. Following the war, their remains were moved to the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery.

Flight Lieutenant King was captured and spent the remainder of the war at Stalag Luft I, a prisoner of war camp at Barth, Western Pomerania. When he was repatriated, he reported what had happened on the 19 September 1944 mission.

After investigation, the Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded to Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord, D.F.C.  His parents received his Victoria Cross at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 18 December 1945.

Flight Lieutenant David Samuel Anthony Lord, V.C., D.F.C., was the only member of the Royal Air Force Transport Command to be awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II.

Flight Lieutenant David S.A. Lord’s medals in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum. (Left to right, Victoria Cross; Distinguished Flying Cross; India General Service Medal 1936 with Northwest Frontier Clasp; 1939–1945 Star; Africa Star; Burma Star; France and Germany Star; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939–1945 with Bronze Oak Leaf.)

Flight Lieutenant Lord’s airplane was a Douglas Dakota Mk.III, the Royal Air Force designation for the U.S. Army Air Forces’ Douglas C-47A Skytrain. It was built in January 1944 at the Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Plant, adjacent to the Oklahoma City Air Depot (now, Tinker Air Force Base) at Oklahoma City, OK. Douglas gave it the company serial number 12383. It was a C-47A-5-DK Skytrain with the serial number 42-92568. The airplane was one of the 5,354 built by Midwest City. The plant turned out 13 C-47s each day and produced more than half of the Skytrains built during World War II.

42-92569 was delivered to the U.S.A.A.F. on 24 January 1944. The Skytrain was turned over to Royal Air Force at Dorval Airport, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 4 February 1944, and assigned the RAF identification KG 374. It was then flown across the North Atlantic to the United Kingdom, 17 May 1944. KG 374 was assigned to No. 271 Squadron, 10 June 1944, and the squadron identification YS L.

A Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Douglas Dakota painted in the markings of Flight Lieutenant Davis Samuel Anthony Lord’s KG 734.

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain is an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane transport with retractable landing gear. It was operated by a minimum flight crew of two pilots, a navigator and a radio operator. The airplane’s control surfaces are covered with doped-fabric. The primary differences between the civil DC-3 and military C-47 airframes was the addition of a cargo door on the left side of the fuselage and a strengthened floor in the cabin.

The C-47 is 64 feet, 5½ inches (19.647 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters) and height of 17 feet (5.182 meters). Empty weight of the C-47A is 17,257 pounds (7,828 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms).

The C-47A was powered by two 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) air-cooled, supercharged R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1. These were rated at 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), maximum continuous power, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

The C-47 has a cruising speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and service ceiling of 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

The C-47 could carry 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms) of cargo, or 28 fully-equipped paratroopers. Alternatively, 14 patients on stretchers could be carried, along with three attendants.

KG 374 crashed at Wolfheze, The Netherlands, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) northwest of Arnhem. Fragments of the wreckage are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Douglas C-47 Skytrains at the Midwest City Douglas Aircraft Plant. Douglas produced 13 C-47s a day at this facility. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 August 1940

Flight Lieutenant James B. Nicolson, VC, RAF
Flight Lieutenant Eric James Brindley Nicolson, Royal Air Force. Photographed by Robert L.S. Calcheside. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 07.19.56Air Ministry.

15th November, 1940.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery : —

Flight Lieutenant James Brindley NICOLSON (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.

During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs.

Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.

The London Gazette, Number 34993, Friday, 15 November 1940, at Page 6569, Column 1

Wing Commander Nicolson’s medals at the RAF Museum, Hendon, London. (greentool2002)

Peter Townsend wrote about Nick Nicolson’s battle in his history of the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles:

Flight Lieutenant Eric J.B. Nicolson, VC, RAF (Detail from photograph by Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1700 4700-16)

“Flight Lieutenant J.B. Nicolson of 249 Squadron was patrolling in his Hurricane west of Tangmere at seventeen thousand feet. He dived on some Ju. 88s when suddenly his Hurricane staggered. From somewhere behind bullets and cannon shells ripped through the hood, hit him in the foot and pierced his centre-tank. A searing mass of flame filled the cockpit. As he whipped into a steep turn he saw the offender, a Me. 110, slide below, diving hard. A wild resolve, stronger than reason, seized Nicolson. The cockpit a furnace, his dashboard ‘dripping like treacle’ and his hands fused by heat onto throttle and stick, he yelled, ‘I’ll get you, you Hun.’ And he went firing until the Me. 110 fell, until the frightful agony of his burns had passed the threshold of feeling. Then he struggled out of the cockpit and still wreathed in flames fell until the rush of cold air extinguished them. Only then did his mutilated hand fumble for the ripcord and somehow find strength to pull it. As if his sufferings were not already enough, some imbecile of a Home Guard fired at Nicolson and hit him fifty feet above the village of Millbrook in Hampshire.

“The gallant Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross. Of three thousand fighter pilots who fought in the battle ‘to defend the cause of civilization’ Nicolson alone among the defenders received the supreme award for valour. It was enough. The twenty-three-year-old pilot was typical of his young comrades. Alone in their tiny cockpits miles above the earth, there courage was of a peculiar kind which no medal, no material standard, could ever properly measure.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 23 at Pages 328–329.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flt. Lt. Nicolson, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)
The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hawker Hurricane marked as the aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Nick Nicolson, GN A, 16 August 1940. (© IoW Sparky)

Nick Nicolson’s fighter was a Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, P3576, with squadron markings GN A. It was in the third production block of 544 Hurricanes built by Hawker Aircraft Limited,  Brooklands, between February and July 1940.

The Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane flew on 12 October 1937. The early production Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models. It was 31 feet, 4 inches (9.550 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet (12.192 meters) and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters). Its empty weight was 4,982 pounds (2,260 kilograms) and gross weight was 6,750 pounds (3,062 kilograms).

The Mk.I’s engine was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 27.01 liter (1,648.96 cubic inches) Rolls-Royce R.M.1.S. Merlin Mk.III single-overhead-cam 60° V-12, rated at 990 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 12,250 feet (3,734 meters), and 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 10,250 feet (3,124 meters), using 87 octane aviation gasoline. The Merlin III drove the propeller through a 0.477:1 gear reduction ratio. It weighed 1,375 pounds (624 kilograms).

The fixed-pitch propeller was soon replaced with a three-bladed, two-pitch propeller, and then a three-bladed constant-speed propeller. Speed trials of a Mk.I equipped with a 10 foot, 9 inch (3.277 meters) diameter Rotol constant-speed propeller achieved a maximum True Air Speed in level flight of 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) at 3,000 r.p.m. The service ceiling was 33,750 feet (10,287 meters). The Mk.I’s range was 600 miles (966 kilometers) at 175 miles per hour (282 kilometers per hour).

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings.

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of the enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker, Gloster and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

Eric James Brindley Nicolson was born 29 April 1917 at Hampstead, London, England. His parents were Leslie Gibson Nicolson and Dorothea Hilda Ellen Brindley. He was educated at the Tonbridge School in Kent, a private school which was founded in 1553. Nicolson was employed as an experimental engineer at Sir Henry Ricardo’s Engine Patents, Ltd.,  Shoreham, West Sussex, until joining the Royal Air Force in October 1936. On 21 December 1936, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. After flight training, P/O Nicolson served with No. 72 Squadron at RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire, August 1937–May 1940. He was promoted to Flying Officer, 12 May 1939.

On 29 July 1939, Eric Nicolson was married to Miss Muriel Caroline Kendall of Kirby Wharfe, Yorkshire.

Flying Officer Nicolson was assigned to No. 249 Squadron at RAF Leconfield, East Riding of Yorkshire, 15 May 1940, as an acting flight commander, and then promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 3 September 1940.

Following the action of 16 August, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was hospitalized at the burn unit of Princess Mary’s Hospital, RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire, and then sent to a convalescent facility at Torquay, Devon. On 12 January 1941, he was promoted to Squadron Leader.

Nicolson returned to duty 24 February 1941, with 54 Operational Training Unit. From 21 September 1941 to 16 March 1942, he commanded No. 1459 Flight at RAF Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire. This was a night fighter unit, flying the Douglas Boston (P-70 Havoc). He was next assigned as a staff officer at Headquarters, 293 Wing, Royal Air Force, Alipore, West Bengal, India. After another staff assignment, Squadron Leader Nicolson was given command of 27 Squadron, a de Havilland Mosquito squadron at Agartala, in northeast India.

Nick Nicolson was promoted to Wing Commander 11 August 1944 and assigned to 3rd Tactical Air Force Headquarters in the Comilla Cantonment, East Bengal.

Wing Commander Eric James Brindley Nicolson, V.C., D.F.C., died 2 May 1945, while flying as an observer aboard a No. 355 Squadron Consolidated Liberator B Mk.VI, KH210, “R” (B-24J-85-CF 44-44071). At approximately 0250 hours, two engines caught fire. The bomber, piloted by Squadron Leader G.A. De Souza, RAF, and Flight Sergeant Michael Henry Pullen, Royal Australian Air Force, ditched in the Bay of Bengal, approximately 130 miles (209 kilometers) south of Calcutta. Of the eleven on board, only Pullen and one of the gunners survived.

Nicolson was the only RAF Fighter Command pilot awarded the Victoria Cross during World War II.

This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945
This Liberator Mk.VI KH166 (B-24J-80-CF 44-10731) is the same type as the bomber on which Wing Commander Nicolson was killed, 2 May 1945.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 July 1915

Captain Lanoe George Hawker, V.C., D.S.O., Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps (Imperial War Museum Catalog number Q 61077
Captain Lanoe George Hawker, D.S.O., Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps (Imperial War Museum Catalog number Q 61077)

25 July 1915: Near Passchendaele, Belgium, Captain Lanoe George Hawker, DSO, No. 6 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, was flying a single-engine Bristol Scout C, which he had had his mechanic equip with a single Lewis machine gun, fixed and firing 45° to the left to avoid the propeller arc.

Captain Hawker saw three enemy aircraft and attacked, shooting down all three. For this action, Captain Hawker was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was the third pilot, and the first ace, to receive Britain’s highest award for gallantry in combat.

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 20.14.17War Office, 24th August 1915.

     His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers, Non-commissioned Officer and man, in recognition of their most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in the field:—

Captain Lanoe George Hawker, D.S.O., Royal Engineers and Royal Flying Corps.

     For most conspicuoius bravery and very great ability on 25th July, 1915.

     When flying alone he attacked three German aeroplanes in succession. The first managed to eventually escape, the second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third, which he attacked at a height of about 10,000 feet, was driven to the earth in our lines, the pilot and observer being killed.

     The personal bravery shown by this Officer was of the very highest order, as the enemy’s aircraft were armed with machine guns, and all carried a passenger as well as the pilot.

The London Gazette, Number 29273, 24 August 1915, at Page 8395, Column 1.

Hawker was credited with destroying 7 enemy aircraft in combat. His luck came to an end, however, on 23 November 1916, when he encountered Leutnant Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richthofen of Jagdstaffel 2 near Begaume, France, while flying an Airco DH.2.

A lengthy battle ensued with neither fighter ace gaining advantage. Richthofen, “The Red  Baron,” fired over 900 rounds during the fight. Running low on fuel, Hawker tried to break off and head for friendly lines. Almost there, he was struck in the head by a single machine gun bullet from Richthofen’s Albatros D.II. Major Hawker was killed and his airplane spun to the ground. He was the eleventh of Baron Richthofen’s eighty aerial victories.

The Baron took one of Hawker’s machine guns as a trophy.

 Captain Hawker's Bristol Scout C, No. 1611, in which he destroyed three enemy aircraft in aerial combat, 25 July 1915. In this photograph, the angled placement of Hawker's Lewis machine gun is visible.
Captain Hawker’s Bristol Scout C, No. 1611, in which he destroyed three enemy aircraft in aerial combat, 25 July 1915. In this photograph, the angled placement of Hawker’s Lewis machine gun is visible. (Wikipedia)

The Bristol Scout C was a single-place, single-engine tractor-type biplane reconnaissance aircraft. It was manufactured by the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co., Ltd., at Brislington, south east of Bristol, England. The Scout C was 20 feet, 8 inches (6.299 meters) long with a wingspan of 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) and height of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). The wings had a chord of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters) and vertical separation of 4 feet, 3 inches (1.295 meters). They were staggered 1 foot, 4½ inches (0.419 meters). The Scout C had an empty weight of 757 pounds (343 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 1,195 pounds (542 kilograms).

The Scout C was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 10.91 liter (665.79 cubic inch) Société des Moteurs Le Rhône 9C nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 83 horsepower at 1,285 r.p.m. The engine turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller through direct drive.

The Scout C had a maximum speed of 92.7 miles per hour (149.2 kilometers per hour) at ground level, and 86.5 miles per hour (139.2 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). It could climb to 10,000 feet in 21 minutes, 20 seconds. Its service ceiling was 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). It carried sufficient fuel to remain airborne for 2½ hours.

A total of 374 Bristol Scouts were built. 211 of these were of the Scout C variant.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 May 1943

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, VC, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. (Imperial War Museum TR 1002)
Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

Wing Commander Guy Penrose Gibson, D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, was awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George VI in a ceremony at RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, England. Wing Commander Gibson received the medal for his leadership of No. 617 Squadron, The Dambusters, during Operation Chastise, an attack on Germany’s Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, 16–17 May 1943.

The Victoria Cross ranks with the George Cross as the United Kingdom’s highest award for gallantry.

The first British medal to be created for bravery, the Victoria Cross was instituted in 1856, with the first recipients being personnel honored for their gallantry during the Crimean War.

The bronze cross pattée, which bears the inscription “FOR VALOUR,” is cast from the metal of Russian guns captured at Sevastopol during the Crimean campaign. The Victoria Cross is awarded for most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.

The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant Les Munro from New Zealand. Wing Commander Guy Gibson is on the right and Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, Commander of No 5 Group is behind Flight Lieutenant Munro and to the right. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)
His Majesty The King has a word with Flight Lieutenant John Leslie Munro, Royal New Zealand Air Force, at RAF Scampton, 27 May 1943. Wing Commander Gibson is on the right, facing Munro. (Imperial War Museum TR 999)

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 09.40.32Air Ministry, 28th May, 1943.

ROYAL AIR FORCE.

     The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: —

Acting Wing Commander Guy Penrose GIBSON, D.S.O., D.F.C. (39438), Reserve of Air Force Officers, No. 617 Squadron: —

     This officer served as a night bomber pilot at the beginning of the war and quickly established a reputation as an outstanding operational pilot. In addition to taking the fullest possible share in all normal operations, he made single-handed attacks during his “rest” nights on such highly defended objectives as the German battleship Tirpitz, then completing in Wilhelmshaven.

     When his tour of operational duty was concluded, he asked for a further operational posting and went to a night-fighter unit instead of being posted for instructional duties. In the course of his second operational tour, he destroyed at least three enemy bombers and contributed much to the raising and development of new night-fighter formations.

     After a short period in a training unit, he again volunteered for operational duties and returned to night bombers. Both as an operational pilot and as leader of his squadron, he achieved outstandingly successful results and his personal courage knew no bounds. Berlin, Cologne, Danzig, Gdynia, Genoa, Le Creusot, Milan, Nuremberg and Stuttgart were among the targets he attacked by day and by night.

     On the conclusion of his third operational tour, Wing Commander Gibson pressed strongly to be allowed to remain on operations and he was selected to command a squadron then forming for special tasks. Under his inspiring leadership, this squadron has now executed one of the most devastating attacks of the war—the breaching of the Moehne and Eder dams.

     The task was fraught with danger and difficulty. Wing Commander Gibson personally made the initial attack on the Moehne dam. Descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the antiaircraft defences, he delivered his attack with great accuracy. Afterwards he circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself in order to leave as free a run as possible to the following aircraft which were attacking the dam in turn.

     Wing Commander Gibson then led the remainder of his force to the Eder dam where, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully developed.

     Wing Commander Gibson has completed over 170 sorties, involving more than 600 hours operational flying. Throughout his operational career, prolonged exceptionally at his own request, he has shown leadership, determination and valour of the highest order.

The London Gazette, Tuesday, 25 May 1943, No. 3630 at Page 2361

Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson VC, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)
Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, 1944. © IWM (CH 13618)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 April 1915

Second Lieutenant Bernard Rhodes-Morehouse, Royal Flying Cross
Second-Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, Royal Flying Corps (Beaminster Museum)

War Office,

                                                                                                         22nd May, 1915.

     His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers, Non-commissioned officer, and Men, for their conspicuous acts of bravery and devotion to duty whilst serving with the Expeditionary Force :—

2nd Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, Special Reserve, Royal Flying Corps.

For most conspicuous bravery on 26th April, 1915, in flying to Courtrai and dropping bombs on the railway line near that station. On starting the return journey he was mortally wounded, but succeeded in flying for 35 miles to his destination, at a very low altitude, and reported the successful accomplishment of his object. He has since died of his wounds.

The London Gazette, Special Supplement 29170, Saturday, 22 May, 1915 at Pages 4989–4990

Chlorine gas dispersing downwind at the Second battle of Ypres, April 1915
Chlorine gas dispersing downwind at the Second Battle of Ypres, 22 April 1915.

Beginning 22 April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres, the military forces of the German Empire began to use lethal chlorine gas as a weapon on the battlefield. A second mass gas attack took place on 24 April.

The Royal Flying Corps was ordered to interdict the German supply lines by bombing railways. On 26 April 1915, Second-Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhead, Royal Flying Corps, of No. 2 Squadron at Merville, France, was assigned to attack the railway at Kortrijk, West Floandern (Courtrai, West Flanders) with his Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b reconnaissance airplane, number 687.

Departing alone from Merville at 3:05 p.m., Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse flew to his target, approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) away. He approached the railway station from an altitude of approximately 300 feet (91 meters) to accurately drop his single 100 pound (45.4 kilogram) bomb. He was hit in a leg by a rifle bullet, and shrapnel from his bomb damaged his airplane.

As Rhodes-Moorhouse flew away from the railroad station, he descended to 200 feet (61 meters) and was wounded twice more.

Gare de Kortrijk (the Courtrai Railrod Station)
Gare de Kortrijk (the Courtrai Railroad Station)

The wounds to his hand and leg were serious, but the one to his abdomen was mortal. However, he continued the difficult return flight in his damaged airplane, and arrived back at Merville at 4:12 p.m. Rhodes-Moorhouse’ airplane had 95 holes from bullets and shrapnel. The wounded pilot insisted on making a report to his commanding officer and friend, Captain Maurice Bernal Blake, before being taken to an aid station.

It was soon apparent that Rhodes-Moorhouse would not survive. Captain Blake informed him that he had recommended that he be awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Second-Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died of wounds at 2:25 p.m., 27 April 1915.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest award for valor, on 22 May 1915. Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse was the first airman of the British Empire to be so decorated.

His medal is part of the Lord Ashcroft Victoria Cross Collection, displayed in the Aschcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum. He also was awarded the 1914–1915 Star, The British War Medal 1914–1918, and the Allied Victory Medal.

Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres, K.P., G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., A.D.C., P.C., commanding general of the British Expeditionary Force, later said that Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse had been responsible for “the most important bomb dropped during the war so far.”

Rhodes-Morehouse’ remains were buried at the family home at Parnham Park,¹ Beaminster, Dorset. After his son, Flight Lieutenant William Henry Rhodes-Morehouse, D.F.C., No. 601 Squadron, was killed when his Hawker Hurricane was shot down during the Battle of Britain, his ashes were placed alongside his father.

William Bernard Rhodes-Moorhouse

William Barnard Rhodes Moorhouse was born into a wealthy family at 15 Princes Gate, London, England, 26 September 1887. He was one of four children of Edward Moorhouse, “a gentleman of independent means,” and Mary Ann Rhodes, the wealthiest woman in New Zealand. Moorhouse was educated Harrow School in northwest London, and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Radley monoplane on Portholme meadow. Constructed in 1911 in the Old Iron Foundry, St.John’s Street, H’don. Copyright – Huntingdon Record Office

Moorhouse developed an early interest in aviation and was soon an expert airman of international renown. Working with James Radley at Huntingdon, he developed the Radley-Moorhouse Monoplane. In 1910, Radley and Moorhouse traveled to the United States  to demonstrate their airplane. Moorhouse is reportedly the first person to have flown through San Francisco’s Golden Gate. He was granted pilot’s certificate No. 147 by the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 17 October 1911.

In 1912, Moorhouse legally changed his surname to Rhodes-Moorhouse (and thereby replaced his second middle name, or maternal surname, Rhodes), because of the terms of his grandfather’s will. A Royal Licence authorizing the change was granted 11 January 1913, and published in The London Gazette ten days later.²

Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes-Moorhouse, 25 June 1912. (The Bowes Museum’s Blog)

Rhodes-Moorhouse married Miss Linda Beatrice Morrit at St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, 25 June 1912, . They had one son, William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse, born in 1914.

Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes-Moorhouse, along with John Henry Ledeboer, crossed the English Channel on 4 August 1912 in a three-place Société des Ateliers d’Aviation Louis Breguet 3-place biplane, flying from Douai, in northern France, where the airplane was built, to Ashwood, Staffordshire, England. The airplane was destroyed in a crash landing, but no one was hurt.

A Breguet 3-place biplane, 1912. (FLIGHT)

With England drawn into World War I, Rhodes-Moorhouse joined the Royal Flying Corps, 24 August 1914, and was assigned to the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. He was transferred to No. 2 Squadron, joining the unit at Merrville on 21 March 1915. He died just over one month later.

Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2

The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E. (which stands for Blériot Experimental, meaning that it was a tractor-type airplane, which had been developed by Louis Blériot) was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane which was used as a trainer, reconnaissance aircraft, artillery spotter or bomber. An observer occupied the forward cockpit and the pilot was aft.

The B.E.2.b was essentially the same as the B.E.2.a, except the cockpit sides were higher. The elevator control cables were external from the pilot’s cockpit, aft. Probably the most significant change was the use of ailerons for the B.E.2.b, where the previous versions had used wing-warping like the original 1903 Wright Flyer.

The fuselage was constructed of a wooden framework, cross-braced with wires. The wings had wood spars and ribs. The airframe was covered in doped fabric.

The wings of the 2.a and 2.b were straight with no dihedral. Both upper and lower wings had the same span and there was no stagger. The lower wing spars were connected through the fuselage with steel tubing. The landing gear had both wheels and tires, but also wood-covered steel tube skids extending forward to protect the propeller from contacting the ground.

This Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.a, No. 347, of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, at Lythe, near Whitby, June 1914. Its pilot, Lieutenant Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly, Royal Irish Regiment, is at the lower right of the photograph. (Imperial War Museum Image number Q 54985)
This Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.a, No. 347, of No. 2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, at Lythe, near Whitby, North Yorkshire, June 1914. Its pilot, Lieutenant Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly, Royal Irish Regiment, is at the lower right of the photograph. (Imperial War Museum Image number Q 54985)

The B.E.2.a–2.b was 29 feet, 6½ inches (9.004 meters) long with a wingspan of 38 feet, 7½ inches (11.773 meters). It had an empty weight of 1,274 pounds (578 kilograms) and gross weight of 1,650 pounds (748 kilograms).

The B.E.2, B.E.2.a and B.E.2.b were powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 6.949 liter (424.036 cubic inch) Renault Type WB side-valve 90° V-8 engine with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.12:1. The WB was rated at 70 horsepower at 1,750 r.p.m. The engine drove a four-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller at one-half crankshaft speed. The Renault WB was 3 feet, 9.5 inches (1.556 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.8 inches (0.833 meters) high and 2 feet, 5.8 inches (0.757 meters) wide. It weighed 396 pounds (180 kilograms).

Armstrong Whitworth B.E.2.c, s/n 1799. Compare the staggered wings to those of the the B.E.2.a. in the photograph above.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 70 miles per hour (113 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet (1,981 meters). It could climb to 3,000 feet (914 meters) in 9 minutes and 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in 35 minutes. The service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Maximum endurance was 3 hours.

The B.E.2.b was unarmed. The crew could only defend themselves with their personal weapons. The type was easy prey for German fighters. It could carry a small bomb.

Although designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnbourough, only 6 B.E.2s were built there. The remainder were built by Armstong Whitworth, British and Colonial Airplane Co., Coventry Ordnance Works, Handley Page, Hewlett and Blondeau, and Vickers. Eighty-five of the B.E.2.b variant were produced, with most being used as trainers. Nineteen were sent to the Expeditionary Force in France, and one to the Middle East Brigade. By late 1915, the type had been almost completely replaced by the improved B.E.2.c.

A reproduction of the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b flown by Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. In a 2015 interview with Richard Moss for “Culture 24,” Ian Thirsk, Head of Collections, said, “It’s another gem of the collection, and was built from scratch by a designer called John McKenzie to the original drawings at the former RAF Museum facility at Cardington between 1983 and 1988.”

 Replica of 2nd Lieutenant W.B. Rhodes-Moorhouse' Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b, No. 687.
Reproduction of 2nd Lieutenant W.B. Rhodes-Moorhouse’ Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2.b, No. 687, at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon. (British Aviation Preservation Council)

¹ Interestingly, Parnham House is believed to have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Baskerville Hall” in his famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).

Parnham House, East Front. William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse’ home in Dorset, England. (Country Life Magazine, 29 August 1908)

² The London Gazette, Number 28683, Tuesday, 21 January 1913, at Page 494, Column 1

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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