The Royal Air Force During World War 2
World War II Aces
Hawker Hurricane Mk IIC (Intruder) ‘Night Reaper’, RAF Tangmere, early 1942 This machine belonged to Karel Kuttelwascher, one of the top-scoring single-engine intruder pilots. He shot down fifteen planes while on fifteen night missions (another five enemy aircraft were damaged). This intruder version of the Hurricane carries two 200 litres fuel tanks under the wings, in addition to the 300 litres in the main internal fuel tank, increasing the range of the aircraft and allowing it fly for three to five hours at 270 k/mph. The pilot’s personal insignia, under the engine exhausts, consists of a scyth behind a red banner that reads ‘Night Reaper.’
The Victoria Cross
Flight Sergeant George Thompson, Scotland. Died of Wounds, Age 24
A wireless operator aboard a Lancaster during a fateful day-raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal in Germany on 1 January 1945, George Thompson had left school at the age of 15 to start a four apprenticeship in Kinross to become a grocer. When war came, he quickly abandoned this profession and like so many others joined the RAF in the summer of 1940. Given differed service, Thompson then joined the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), his desire to get into the air force not to become reality until 1941 when he was assigned to ground crew training. Far from discouraged, he pursued his boyhood interest in wireless transmitting and finally placed as the wireless operator aboard a Lancaster in April 1944, with sergeant’s stripes on his arms.
Invited to join a crew by the lead pilot, Flying Officer Harry Denton, a New Zealander, while at 14 Operational Training Unit, Thompson quickly took up the offer and together both men joined 9 Squadron on 29 September 1944. Eager to get into action, the crew unfortunately found little of it. In October they managed three sorties, in November none and in December just one. The January 1 raid was intended to be their show opener but already there were signs that the operation carried bad luck.
Just before takeoff, as they taxied on the airfield towards the main runway, Denton and his crew had just taken off and were turning slowly at 500 feet when they saw another Lancaster trying to take-off, speed off the runway and explode in gigantic jumble of flames, the bright light cutting through grim, early morning darkness. To make matters worse, a second Lancaster following did not do any better and slid across the grass at the far end of the runway before slithering to a halt.
Denton and his crew joined another 100 crews over Northern France and headed for their objective. Soon the canal came into view and the bombardier, Sergeant Ron Goebel, dropped the Lancaster’s entire compliment of twelve 1,000lb bombs. Just as the last bomb fell away, an 88mm shell plunged into the mid-upper turret as a second destroyed the nose, blowing up the bombardier position and shattering the cockpit canopy. Although knocked unconscious by the blast, Denton came too moments later and punched the fire extinguisher button to smother flames creeping up near the engines. But the aircraft's controls had been hit.
Denton fought with the stricken Lancaster to keep it from drifting to the left. Fresh air bellowing in from the blasted Perspex canopy raged through the plane fanning flames near mid-upper turret. A blazing fire erupted, fed by severed hydraulic fluid lines. At this point, Goebels miraculously appeared, his face blackened and carrying a parachute, having somehow survived the disintegration of the bombardier’s position.
Meanwhile Sergeant Ernie Potts, the mid-upper gunner, was in a precarious position. Knocked out and surrounded by flames around the stricken turret, he had no inkling of the efforts of George Thompson, who without gloves was attempting to extricate him from the blaze. Just as Pott’s clothes caught on fire, Thompson managed to reach in and pulled the unconscious man to safety.
At the aircraft's tail, a similar fate was overtaking the rear turret gunner, Sergeant Hayden Price who being aware of his situation, was waiting to die. Just as he lost all hope he heard banging on the turret bay door and George Thompson appeared. His clothes were ragged and burned away with fire-induced blisters and large tracts of blackened skin appearing on his legs, hands and face, Thompson behaved as though he was oblivious of his injuries. Quickly freeing the rear gunner, he quickly put out the fires on Price’s clothes with his bare hands before helping him along the fuselage to Potts. By now in near collapse due to the sheer weight of his injuries and exhaustion, Thompson carried on up the fuselage in the freezing wind racing through the broken fuselage, towards the cockpit to inform Denton that the wounded gunners were incapable of bailing out.
His pilot barely recognized him. As they soared over the Rhine, the enemy ack-ack began to pound the aircraft again, knocking out the inner starboard engine. With just two engines remaining, the Lancaster began to lose altitude. Denton managed to crash-land the aircraft upon a field in friendly territory. As the Lancaster slid across the earth, it broke into two. All of the crew escaped the wreckage. However, Potts died the next day and Price needed extensive plastic surgery before he was declared fit again. As for Thompson, with penicillin and treatment for his burns, he began to make a rapid recovery until he was laid low by pneumonia. He died on January 23, 1945. A posthumous Victoria Cross was announced on February 20 in the London Gazette.