Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Aussie VC with RAF Bomber Command

In one hectic week in July 1941 the airmen of Bomber Command in Norfolk were awarded two Victoria Crosses, the highest award for gallantry in action available. Both men came from the colonies, but otherwise were very different characters united only by their outstanding bravery in the face of the enemy.

Hughie Idwal Edwards had been born in Western Australia, the son of Welsh immigrants on 1 August 1914. At the age of 20 he joined the army to serve in the local artillery that protected the port from naval attack, but in 1935 transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) before joining the RAF the following year. In 1937 he began his flying career as a pilot on Blenheim MkI bombers with 90 Squadron. He was, therefore, an experienced professional by the time he was appointed to command 105 Squadron at Swanton Morley in May 1941.

Edwards led his squadron on several sweeps across the North Sea hunting for German ships before, on 4 July he was ordered to lead Operation Wreckage, an attack on the docks at Bremen. This was to be Edwards’ 36th operational flight and he was to have under his command not only 105 Squadron, but also six Blenheims from 107 Squadron. Edwards briefed his men to fly to Bremen in tight formation, but on arrival they were to form up into a line abreast, each aircraft some 400 feet apart from the others. Edwards hoped in this way to ensure that each aircraft found a worthwhile target while keeping to a minimum the chance that two bombers would go for the same victim. The attack was to be quick and destructive, with the Blenheims wasting no time before racing back out to sea towards England.

The formation flew over the sea at around 100 feet to avoid German radar, roaring over the coast at Cuxhaven. As soon as they were over land the aircraft were spotted and the air defences of Bremen soon began to throw up flak and machine gun fire. Edwards led his aircraft through the outer ring of defences and negotiated a field of barrage balloons before giving the order for the formation to form up abreast.

By this time Edwards had his Blenheim down to just 50 feet and only narrowly avoided hitting a telephone wire strung between a pole and an office building. Seconds later Edwards flew under an electricity power line before spotting a large factory. Turning slightly to get over the target, Edwards dropped his bomb dead on target. His navigator, Pilot Officer Ramsay, took a famous photograph looking back over the aircraft’s tail showing the factory just before it was torn apart by the bombs.

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