27.05.1944 No. 250 (Sudan) Squadron P-40 Kittyhawk IV FX761 LD-? P/O. John (Jack) Casson CGM
Operation: Armed Reconnaissance
Date: 27 May 1944 (Saturday)
Unit: No. 250 Squadron - Motto: "Close to the sun"
Badge: A river eagle standing on a rock
Type: Curtiss Kittyhawk IV
Base: San Angelo, Foggia, Italy
Location: San Angelo, Foggia, Italy
Pilot: P/O. John (Jack) Casson CGM 160186 RAFVR (NCO No.778890) - Killed
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REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from San Angelo on an armed reconnaissance of the Caprino-Arche-Frosinone road. To give him leadership experience his Flight-Commander, Australian Flight Lieutenant Lucas Mc Bryde, DFC was allowing him to lead the twelve aircraft on the sortie whilst he flew as his number two.
Sighting a convoy of twenty or more enemy vehicles near Frosinone heading towards Alatri, Jack Casson led Red Section into the attack scoring four direct hits and one on a vehicle that blew up with flames shooting 300 feet in the air. Encountering intense flak Fl/Lt. McBryde's aircraft was badly damaged forcing him to head back for base and eventually crash land in no-man's land. Meanwhile, Casson took Red Section up to act as top cover whilst Blue Section attacked the convoy and scored further hits. Blue Section leader was heard to call out "Loads of Ack-Ack" before Casson led Red Section in for another strafing attack. It was during this second attack that Casson's aircraft was hit by a shell and he was badly wounded in the thigh. Over the radio he was heard to say “My leg’s been pretty well shot off” but said so calmly that the other pilots thought that he meant the leg of his undercarriage.
Despite his serious wounds and damage to his aircraft Jack Casson flew the fifty miles back to base where more Kittyhawks were preparing to take off. Instead of asking for an emergency landing he circled three times until they were all away before he touched down. He made a safe landing but as he slewed round across the runway it was clear that something was wrong.
He was still conscious when he was lifted from the cockpit but the situation was desperate and he was taken to 239 Air Wing Hospital, Italy where the M.O. found that the shell had gone through the middle of his right thigh, shattering the bone. In addition there was a deep wound in his left thigh, multiple penetrating wounds of his right arm, and paralysis of the Ulnar nerve on his left arm. The doctors who attended him said that it was a miracle of courage that a man in such condition could have flown his aircraft over enemy lines, through the mountain heights, and back to base. His leg was amputated and three airmen on Casson's squadron gave blood by transfusion, but it was impossible to save him and he died shortly afterwards
Scale: 1"=28 miles
Recommended the same day by his commanding officer Major J.R.R. Wells for an award of the CGM he was the first and only Southern Rhodesian to be awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) during the Second World War.
John (Jack) Casson was born 20 November 1922 at Seascale, Cumberland the second son of Henry (? Harry W) Casson and Olive Beatrice Casson nee Boys. His elder brother William Harry (Bill) Casson was the Wireless Operator of Halifax W7933 and was also killed when his aircraft crashed on the North Yorkshire Moors in 1942. For further details click here
The family moved to Penhalonga, Southern Rhodesia and later to Salisbury. Harry and Beatrice Casson later took over the Rhodes Inyanga (now Nyanga) Hotel at Inyanga (now Nyanga). Olive Casson was the daughter of Harry Hanson Boys well known in the Cumberland area as a Hotel and Coach Proprietor.
In 1934 Jack entered Grey House at Plumtree School in Mangwe district of Matabeleland. He passed his Junior Certificate examination in 1937, and after leaving school in December 1940, he was employed by the Imperial Tobacco Co. He attested in October, 1941, and after receiving his preliminary training in Rhodesia he proceeded to the Middle East in January 1943.
In early 1944 with 250 Squadron based in Italy he was flying anti-shipping and ground attack missions during the battle for Rome and on 16 February took part in an attack on the monastery at Monte Cassino. On 2 March he reportedly sunk a 3000 ton ship with a direct hit forward of the funnel, the sinking later confirmed by reconnaissance and on 11 April, flying through intense flak, he delivered a direct hit that broke an Adriatic coast bridge.
On 14 May 1944 he was appointed to Commission as a Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) (London Gazette 25 July 1944). Also in May 1944 as part of 239 Wing 250 squadron flew in support of the Fifth Army's breakout from Anzio and assault on the Gustav Line conducting strafing and bombing attacks on enemy vehicles and positions. On 26 May Jack led an armed reconnaissance of Kittyhawks that destroyed 10 German vehicles: the following day he was killed.
Jack Casson was described as small, slight and fair. He had blue-grey eyes that twinkled and lit up his whole face when he laughed. He was always playing pranks. But he was intent on his job. Nothing deflected him from the task assigned to him and the job of bringing his aircraft back. His Flight-Commander, Fl/Lt. McBryde, spoke of him as quiet and keen. “A really fine young lad, who looked almost too slight to have that amount of pluck.”
In his book “In Action with the Enemy” Alan Cooper had this to say about Jack and his final sortie
“John Casson was buried on 28th May in the British Cemetery No 12. His action came at the height of the Battle for Rome and apart from Casson, the squadron got quite a mauling on this operation. Wingman to Casson, Sergeant Barrow, did not get home. Flight Lieutenant McBryde, an Australian, had to force land but luckily, inside Allied lines. Four other aircraft came back with holes shot through them. At the time of his death, Casson had flown ninety-eight sorties, and had 496 flying hours in his log book.”
Jack's father Harry Casson was presented with his son's Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (Flying) on 22 November 1946.
John Casson and his brother William Harry Casson are both commemorated on the Plumtree School Roll of Honour.
As stated Pilot Officer John Casson was buried at British Cemetery No. 12 on 28 May 1944. He was re-interred at the Minturno War Cemetery, Lazio, Italy on 29 December 1944 in Plot 4. Row A. Grave No. 16.
Photograph courtesy M. Ann Ashton nee Casson
Four photographs of Minturno War Cemetery - Courtesy M. Ann Ashton nee Casson
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of Jack Casson - March 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.