Personal Research by Albert Briggs

Some personal research prompted by memories of a childhood visit to RAF Scampton, Licolnshire. In the late 1950’s my dad took me to RAF Scampton, just outside Lincoln. Him being from Lincoln with five brothers and a sister. He was drafted into the RAF into what he always called “The Last Lot”.

There were two large hangers just inside the main gate; (This being the home of 617 Squadron {The Dambusters} that used Barnes Wallace’s Bouncing Bomb). The hangers were named: LEAROYD and HANNAH. He said their titles were:
Wing Commander Roderick Alastair Brook Learoyd VC. And W/O Sgt. John Hannah VC. I have always remembered this and recently decided to do a little ‘lockdown’ research about these two men.

The RAF’s Youngest VC John Hannah (18 Glasgow’s first VC for Aerial Operations). Many men and women were awarded honours and medals for heroic acts during WW11. A name that was synonymous with the word courageous was that of Sergeant John Hannah. This honour was for his part in a raid on enemy shipping at Antwerp in 1940. He was attached to 83 Squadron (Hampden bombers) as a wireless operator and gunner. With the Battle of Britain spitfires continuing to maintain their vigil in the skies over Britain, the Fighter Command was stretched to the limit.
On the night of the 15th September 1940, 83 Squadron left their base with a force of 15 Hampden Bombers, heading for a concentration of German barges at the Port of Antwerp as part of an armada to invade Britain. As the bombers approached their objective, they were caught in the piercing beams of light from the searchlights, followed with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire.

Shortly after Hannah’s plane had released its bombs; it was hit with shrapnel and bullets and the rear fuselage exploded into a blazing furnace of fire and searing heat which quickly spread. The rear gunner had no option but to bale out, as the floor of the gunner’s cockpit melted beneath his feet. Hannah should have followed him out but stayed and fought the fire with two fire extinguishers. He rapidly discharged their contents, then continued to beat out the flames with his log book. Finally having brought the fire under control he joined the pilot to help him navigate back to Scampton. The pilot, Officer C. A. Conner, was shocked to see the extent of his burns to his face and hands. On arriving back he was quickly transferred to a Service Hospital in Lincolnshire.
At Buckingham Palace on the 10th October 1940, John Hannah attended the investiture for his award of the Victoria Cross at age of 18, the youngest recipient for aerial operations.

Acting Flight Lieutenant Roderick Alastair Brook Learoyd VC. As first pilot of a Hampden aircraft, he had repeatedly shown the highest conception of his duty and complete indifference to personal danger in making attacks at the lowest altitudes regardless of opposition.

On the night of August 12th, 1940, he was detailed to attack a special objective on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. He had attacked this objective on a previous occasion and was well aware of the risks entailed. To achieve success it was necessary to approach from a direction well known to the enemy, through a lane of especially disposed anti-aircraft defences, and in the face of the most intense point blank fire from guns of all calibres. The reception of the preceding aircraft might well have deterred the stoutest heart, all being hit and two lost. Flight Lieutenant Learoyd nevertheless made his attack at 150 feet, his aircraft being repeatedly hit and large pieces of the main plane torn away. He was almost blinded by the glare of many searchlights at close range but pressed home this attack with the greatest resolution and skill. He subsequently brought his wrecked aircraft home and, as the landing flaps were inoperative and the undercarriage indicators out of action, waited for dawn in the vicinity of his aerodrome without causing injury to his crew or further damage to his aircraft. His citation included this comment: The high courage, skill and determination which he invariably displayed on many occasion in the face of the enemy, sets an example which is unsurpassed.

Albert Briggs

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