James Allen Ward VC
James Allen Ward VC (14th June 1919 – 15th September 1941) was a New Zealand recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Born in Wanganui, Ward was a teacher when the Second World War began. He immediately volunteered for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and after completing flight training in New Zealand, travelled to England. In mid-1941, he was posted to No. 75 Squadron, which operated Vickers Wellington bombers. He participated in his first few bombing missions as a co-pilot, during the last of which, on 7th July 1941, he earned the VC for his feat in climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber to extinguish an engine fire caused by a night fighter attack. Ward was the first of three New Zealand airmen to be awarded the VC during the Second World War. He was killed two months later commanding his own Wellington on a bombing mission to Germany.
James Allen Ward was born on 14th June 1919 in Wanganui, New Zealand, to English immigrants, Percy and Ada Ward. He was educated at Wanganui Technical College and after graduation, trained as a teacher in Wellington. Having qualified in 1939, he had just accepted a teaching position at Castlecliff School in Wanganui when the Second World War broke out. Ward immediately volunteered for the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).
Second World War
Despite being quick to enlist in the RNZAF, Ward was not called up until 1st July 1940, when he reported to Levin for initial training. He then proceeded to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School at RNZAF Taieri, followed by more advanced courses at Wigram Air Base in Christchurch. He was rated as a pilot of high average ability and of confident and reliable character. During his period of flight training, one of his fellow classmates was Fraser Barron, who went on to become a notable bomber pilot during the war.
Ward qualified as a pilot on 18th January 1941 and was promoted to sergeant shortly thereafter. At the end of the month he departed for England aboard the troopship Aorangi, to commence service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). On arrival, he was selected for training on heavy bombers and posted to 20 Bomber Operational Training Unit RAF, in Scotland. Upon completion of his courses at Lossiemouth in mid-1941, Ward was posted to No. 75 Squadron. According to Hugh Kimpton, a fellow New Zealander at Lossiemouth, only one place was available at the squadron at the time. Ward was selected as a result of winning a coin toss between Kimpton and him.
Service with No. 75 Squadron
No. 75 Squadron was an RAF unit formed around a core of RNZAF flying personnel present in England prior to the outbreak of the Second World War to take delivery of 30 Vickers Wellington bombers purchased by the New Zealand government. These personnel had set up a unit at Marham, in Norfolk, to prepare for the transportation of the Wellingtons back to New Zealand. However, once hostilities commenced, with the permission of the New Zealand government, the fliers were transferred to the Royal Air Force. Shortly afterwards, it was arranged for the RNZAF personnel to form the cadre of 75 Squadron, the first Commonwealth squadron of Bomber Command. At the time of Ward’s arrival at 75 Squadron, it was based at the Royal Air Force’s base at Feltwell in Norfolk, and operating Wellington bombers. His first operational flight was made on 14th June, as a second pilot to Squadron Leader Reuben Widdowson, a Canadian, on a bombing mission to Düsseldorf in Germany. Over the next few weeks, he flew six more bombing missions accompanying Widdowson.
The sixth and final mission Ward flew with Widdowson took place on 7th July; a raid on Münster. On the return flight, while over the Zuider Zee on the Dutch coast, Ward’s Wellington was attacked by a German Bf 110 night fighter. The attack opened a fuel tank in the starboard wing, and caused a fire around the rear of the starboard engine. After initial attempts to put out the flames using fire extinguishers directed through a hole made in the fuselage of the Wellington failed, Widdowson ordered the crew to bail out. However, Ward proposed that he climb out and try and smother the fire using an engine cover. He crawled out through the astrodome on the top of the fuselage, secured by a rope. Making his way down the side and along the wing of the aircraft, he kicked or tore holes in the fuselage’s covering fabric with a fire axe to give himself hand-and foot-holes.
He soon reached the engine and attempted to smother the flames with a canvas cover. With the fire out, he stuffed the cover into the hole from which fuel from a petrol line, damaged in the night fighter attack, had leaked and exacerbated the fire. Ward, now exhausted, gingerly made his way back to the astrodome with the navigator, Sergeant Joe Lawson of the RNZAF, keeping tension on the rope tethered to Ward and assisting him back into the aircraft. Although the cover shortly blew away by the slipstream, the remnants of the fire had burnt itself out and the plane was now safe. Instead of the crew having to bail out, the aircraft made an emergency landing, without flaps or brakes, at Newmarket. The Wellington ran into a hedge and fence at the end of the runway and was written off.
Ward described his experience out on the wing of the aircraft, exposed to the slipstream, as “…being in a terrific gale only worse than any gale I’ve ever known”. To recognise Ward’s courage, the commander of 75 Squadron, Wing Commander C. Kay, recommended him for the Victoria Cross (VC). Instituted in 1856, the VC was the highest gallantry award that could be bestowed on military personnel of the British Empire. Kay also recommended Widdowson for the Distinguished Flying Cross and Sergeant Allan Box for the Distinguished Flying Medal. Box, a New Zealander, was the tail gunner of Ward’s aircraft and had shot down the night fighter. The awards for Widdowson and Box were immediately approved while Ward’s VC was announced on 5th August.
The citation for Ward’s VC was published in the London Gazette and read:
“On the night of 7th July 1941, Sergeant Ward was second pilot of a Wellington bomber returning from an attack on Munster. While flying over the Zuider Zee at 13,000 feet his aircraft was attacked from beneath by a German Bf 110, which secured hits with cannon-shell and incendiary bullets. The rear gunner was wounded in the foot but delivered a burst of fire sending the enemy fighter down, apparently out of control. Fire then broke out in the Wellington’s near-starboard engine and, fed by petrol from a split pipe, quickly gained an alarming hold and threatened to spread to the entire wing. The crew forced a hole in the fuselage and made strenuous efforts to reduce the fire with extinguishers, and even coffee from their flasks, without success. They were then warned to be ready to abandon the aircraft. As a last resort Sergeant Ward volunteered to make an attempt to smother the fire with an engine cover which happened to be in use as a cushion. At first he proposed discarding his parachute to reduce wind resistance, but was finally persuaded to take it. A rope from the aircraft dingy was tied to him, though this was of little help and might have become a danger had he been blown off the aircraft.
With the help of his navigator he then climbed through the narrow astrodome and put on his parachute. The bomber was flying at a reduced speed but the wind pressure must have been sufficient to render the operation one of extreme difficulty. Breaking the fabric to make hand and foot holds where necessary and also taking advantage of existing holes in the fabric, Sergeant Ward succeeded in descending three feet to the wing and proceeding another three feet to a position behind the engine, despite the slipstream from the airscrew which nearly blew him off the wing. Lying in this precarious position he smothered the fire in the wing fabric and tried to push the engine cover into the hole in the wing and on the leaking pipe from which the fire came. As soon as he had removed his hand, however, a terrific wind blew the cover out and when he tried again it was lost. Tired as he was, he was able, with the navigator’s assistance, to make a successful but perilous journey back into the aircraft. There was now no danger of fire spreading from the petrol pipe as there was no fabric left near it and in due course it burned itself out. When the aircraft was nearly home, some petrol which had collected in the wing blazed up furiously but died down quite suddenly. A safe landing was made despite the damage sustained to the aircraft. The flight home had been made possible by the gallantry of Sergeant Ward in extinguishing the fire on the wing in circumstances of the greatest difficulty and at the risk of his life.”
— The London Gazette, No. 35238, 5th August 1941
Ward’s VC was the first of three that would be made to New Zealand airmen during the course of the war; the others were Squadron Leader Leonard Trent, a bomber pilot, and Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, a pilot with Coastal Command. According to Clifton Fadiman, a compiler of anecdotes, Ward was summoned to 10 Downing Street soon after the announcement of his VC, by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The New Zealander was apparently awestruck by the experience and was unable to answer the Prime Minister’s questions. Churchill regarded Ward with some compassion. “You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence,” he said. “Yes, sir,” managed Ward. “Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours,” said Churchill.
After his flight of 7th July, Ward was given command of his own crew and aircraft. He flew his first mission as commander to Brest without incident. On his second mission, a raid on Hamburg carried out on 15th September, his Wellington encountered a night fighter shortly after releasing its bombs. Set on fire by the attacking night fighter, Ward ordered his crew to bail out and held his aircraft steady enough for two of his crew to do so; they subsequently became prisoners of war. When the Wellington crashed near Hamburg, the remaining crew and Ward were still on board. It was initially reported that the Wellington had been hit and destroyed by flak. It was not until the two surviving crew members were released from their prisoner of war camp was it determined that a night fighter was involved in the destruction of Ward’s aircraft.
Unbeknown to Ward, an official at the Air Ministry had suggested to the New Zealand government that he be returned to New Zealand. It was appreciated that Ward’s profile as a result of the VC award would be useful for propaganda and recruitment purposes. He could also have served as an instructor with one of the home-based RNZAF squadrons. On 15th September 1941, the day of Ward’s death, Group Captain Hugh Saunders, the Chief of Air Staff of the RNZAF, approved the proposal to return him to New Zealand.
Ward’s body was recovered from the wreckage of his aircraft and buried by the Germans in a civilian cemetery. Initially reported in the United Kingdom and New Zealand as missing, presumed dead, at one stage Ward was believed to be a prisoner of war in Germany. Confirmation of his death was officially reported in August 1942 by the International Red Cross. After the war and following official identification, his remains were reinterred in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery Ohlsdorf in Hamburg.
Victoria Cross and legacy
Ward’s VC was presented to his parents by the Governor General of New Zealand at Government House in Wellington on 16 October 1942. The Ward family loaned Ward’s VC and other service medals to the RNZAF for several years until 2006, when they were returned. The medals were subsequently lent to the Auckland War Memorial Museum for display.
There are a number of memorials to Ward, one being a painting by Peter McIntyre, entitled Memorial to Sergeant James Allen Ward, V.C. and depicting Ward’s feat, hangs at the Sarjeant Gallery in Ward’s hometown of Wanganui. There is also a plaque honouring him in Queen’s Gardens in Dunedin. In November 2004, the Wellington College of Education, in preparation for merging with Victoria University, renamed one of its halls in honour of Ward. On 14th May 2011, the community centre at Feltwell, where Ward had flown from during the Second World War, was dedicated in his honour. It had served as a sergeant’s mess hall during the Second World War.
Kenneth Campbell VC
Kenneth Campbell, VC (21st April 1917 – 6th April 1941) was a Scottish airman who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack that damaged the German battlecruiser Gneisenau, moored in Brest, France, during the Second World War.
Kenneth Campbell was from Ayrshire and educated at Sedbergh School. He gained a chemistry degree at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron.
Second World War
In September 1939, Campbell was mobilised for service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) following the outbreak of the Second World War. Flying Officer Campbell joined No. 22 Squadron RAF in September 1940, piloting the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber. Campbell torpedoed a merchant vessel near Borkum in March 1941. Days later, he escaped from a pair of Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, despite extensive damage to his aircraft. Two days later, on a ‘Rover’ patrol he torpedoed another vessel, off IJmuiden.
On 6th April 1941 over Brest Harbour, France, Flying Officer Campbell attacked the German battleship Gneisenau. He flew his Beaufort through the gauntlet of concentrated anti-aircraft fire from about 1000 weapons of all calibres and launched a torpedo at a height of 50 feet (15 m).
The attack had to be made with absolute precision: the Gneisenau was moored only some 500 yards (460 m) away from a mole in Brest’s inner harbour. For the attack to be effective, Campbell would have to time the release to drop the torpedo close to the side of the mole. That Campbell managed to launch his torpedo accurately is testament to his courage and determination. The ship was severely damaged below the waterline and was obliged to return to the dock whence she had come only the day before; she was put out of action for six months, lessening the threat to Allied shipping crossing the Atlantic.
Generally, once a torpedo was dropped, an escape was made by low-level jinking at full throttle. Because of rising ground surrounding the harbour, Campbell was forced into a steep banking turn, revealing the Beaufort’s full silhouette to the gunners. The aircraft met a withering wall of flak and crashed into the harbour. The Germans buried Campbell and his three crew mates, Sergeants J. P. Scott DFM RCAF (navigator), R. W. Hillman (wireless operator) and W. C. Mulliss (air gunner), with full military honours. His valour was only recognised when the French Resistance managed to pass along news of his brave deeds to England.
Victoria Cross citation
The announcement and accompanying citation for the decoration was published in supplement to the London Gazette on 13th March 1942, reading…
Air Ministry, 13th March, 1942.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:—
Flying Officer Kenneth CAMPBELL (72446), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (deceased), No. 22 Squadron.
“This officer was the pilot of a Beaufort aircraft of Coastal Command which was detailed to attack an enemy battle cruiser in Brest Harbour at first light on the morning of 6th April 1941. The aircraft did not return but it is known that a torpedo attack was carried out with the utmost daring.
The battle cruiser was secured alongside the wall on the north shore of the harbour, protected by a stone mole bending around it from the west. On rising ground behind the ship stood protective batteries of guns. Other batteries were clustered thickly round the two arms of land which encircle the outer harbour. In this outer harbour near the mole were moored three heavily armed anti-aircraft ships, guarding the battle cruiser. Even if an aircraft succeeded in penetrating these formidable defences, it would be almost impossible, after delivering a low-level attack, to avoid crashing into the rising ground beyond.
This was well known to Flying Officer Campbell who, despising the heavy odds, went cheerfully and resolutely to the task. He ran the gauntlet of the defences. Coming in at almost sea level, he passed the anti-aircraft ships at less than mast-height in the very mouths of their guns and skimming over the mole launched a torpedo at point-blank range. The battle cruiser was severely damaged below the water-line and was obliged to return to the dock whence she had come only the day before.
By pressing home his attack at close quarters in the face of withering fire on a course fraught with extreme peril, Flying Officer Campbell displayed valour of the highest order”.
At a small ceremony in his home town of Saltcoats in Ayrshire on 6th April 2000, the 59th anniversary of Campbell’s death at Brest, a memorial plaque and bench were unveiled by his sister-in-law, and his 90-year-old brother handed over his VC to the safekeeping of the commanding officer of the present-day No. 22 Squadron.
The RAF named their original Vickers VC10 aircraft after Victoria Cross holders. XR808 is named after Kenneth Campbell.
A memorial to him stands in his old school, Sedbergh, commemorating his brave deeds.
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Victoria Cross winning actions Having successfully released their bombs over the German city of Munster on the night of 7th/8th July 1941, the crew of Vickers Wellington L7818 set course for their home station at Feltwell and hoped for an uneventful return flight. Those hopes were dashed when co-pilot James Allen Ward noticed a sinister shape stalking their aircraft in the night sky, a Luftwaffe Bf 110 nighfighter. Before he could warn his pilot, the enemy fighter positioned itself under the Wellington and unleashed a hail of bullets and cannon shells into its fuselage, leaving it severely damaged and on fire. On seeing the severity of the fire, the pilot instructed Ward to prepare the crew to abandon the aircraft and as a parting, ironic comment in this desperate situation, also said, ‘see what you can do about that damned fire!’ Ward took him at his word, cutting a hole in the fuselage of the bomber and attempting to extinguish the flames using fire extinguishers, however the savage slipstream made these efforts futile. What he did next was quite extraordinary – he crawled through the astrodome hatch on the spine of the bomber and onto the wing of the aircraft.
Clinging to the exposed geodetic framework of the Wellington, Ward slowly made his way to the wing fire and stuffed a canvas sheet into the gaping hole, putting out the fire in the process. Completely exhausted due the slipstream, he was pulled back into the aircraft by his crewmates, who could hardly believe what they had just witnessed. Though still badly damaged, the bomber made it back to an RAF emergency landing ground and the crew all survived this incredible ordeal, thanks to the selfless act of bravery performed by Sgt James Allen Ward.
As an Island nation, the protection of Britain’s sea lanes during the Second World War was a crucial battle which had to be won. Throughout the first few months of conflict, the German capital ship Gneisenau and her sister vessel Scharnhorst were posing a serious raiding threat and on receiving news that the ships had entered Brest harbour to undergo repairs in late March 1941, the RAF immediately planned raids intended to destroy, or at least damage the ships. On Sunday 6th April 1941, Bristol Beaufort Mk.I N1016 (OA-X) took off from RAF St. Eval in Cornwall and headed for a rallying point off the coast of France, close to the entrance to the harbour. Even though the weather was poor, they were surprised to find that they were the only aircraft to make it and with radio silence crucial to the success of the mission, the crew faced the decision whether to press on with their attack alone, or return to base. Although the odds were seriously stacked against them, they turned towards the heavily defended harbour and began their attack run, descending to almost wavetop height. Pilot Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, expertly lined up his Beaufort for the optimum attack angle, passing so close to enemy shore batteries that they could hardly fail to hit their target, but only releasing the single torpedo when he was sure it would strike the warship.
Almost hitting the mast of the ship as the aircraft pulled away in a violent, banking turn, the Beaufort exposed its undersurfaces to the anti-aircraft gunners, who raked it with everything they had. Having sustained heavy damage during its attack run against Gneisenau, Bristol Beaufort N1016 crashed into the harbour almost immediately, tragically claiming the lives of all souls on board. Unbeknown to them, their attack had successful and the torpedo had blown a huge hole under the waterline of Gneisenau, causing it to return to the dry dock from where it had only just emerged, in need of further repairs. It would be out of commission for almost six months following the attack and it is impossible to gauge how many lives were saved and how much vital cargo reached its destination as a result of the heroic actions of this single Beaufort crew. Launching their attack alone, the selfless actions of Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell and his crew would have probably gone unheralded had it not been for the intervention of the French resistance. Sending a report on the condition of the German battleship back to British authorities, they also described the actions of this brave Beaufort crew and how they had paid the ultimate price whilst heroically performing their duty. For displaying valour in the face of extreme peril and without regard for his own safety, Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for valour in the presence of the enemy, an honour he would surely have gladly shared with the rest of his crew.
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