28/29.11.1942 No. 149 Squadron Stirling I BF372 OJ-H P/O. Rawdon Middleton VC
Operation: Fiat works, Torino, Italy
Date: 28/29th November 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)
Time: 03:00 hours
Unit: No.149 Squadron RAF
Type: Stirling I
Serial No. BF372
Location: English Channel, off Dymchurch, Kent.
Base: RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk.
Pilot: Fl/Sgt. Rawdon Hume Middleton VC. AUS/402745 RAAF Age 26. Killed (1) Posthumously promoted to P/O
Pilot 2: Fl/Sgt. Leslie Anderson Hyder DFM. Injured
Fl/Eng: Sgt. James Ernest Jeffery MiD. 576050 RAF Age 19. Killed
Air/Bmr: F/O. George Reicher Royde DFC. 118604 RAFVR Age 32. (Note 3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. John William Mackie MiD. 994362 RAFVR Age 30. Killed
Air/Gnr: P/O. Norman Edward Skinner DFC. 118084 RAFVR Age 31. Injured (Note 2)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Douglas Cameron DFM. 971446 RAFVR
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Harold Wray Gough DFM. 1130087 RAFVR Injured
REASON FOR LOSS:
BF372 took off from RAF Lakenheath at 18:14 hours. 228 aircraft took part in this night raid - 117 Lancasters, 47 Stirlings, 45 Halifaxes, and 19 Wellingtons. The aircraft was hit three times, before the order was given to bale out, five of the crew of eight managed to bale out before the Stirling crashed at 03:00 hours into the sea of Dymchurch, Kent. One Wellington and two Stirlings were lost during this raid. Two other Stirlings were lost due to mechanical problems.
Above left to right: Pilot, Fl/Sgt. Middleton, Pilot 2, Fl/Sgt. Hyder, Wireless Operator, Sgt. Mackie.
The following details are given in the London Gazette of 12 January, 1943:
"Fl/Sgt. Middleton was captain and first pilot of a Stirling aircraft detailed to attack the Fiat Works in Turin one night in November, 1942. Very difficult flying conditions, necessitating three low altitude flights to identify the target, led to excessive petrol consumption, leaving barely sufficient fuel for the return journey. Before the bombs could be released the aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and a splinter from a shell which burst in the cockpit wounded both the pilots and the wireless officer.
Fl/Sgt. Middleton's right eye was destroyed and the bone above it exposed. He became unconscious and the aircraft dived to 800 ft. before control was regained by the second pilot, who took the aircraft up to 1,500 ft. releasing the bombs, the aircraft meanwhile being hit many times by light flack. On recovering consciousness Fl/Sgt. Middleton again took the controls and expressed his intention of trying to make the English coast, so that his crew could leave the aircraft by parachute. After four hours the badly damaged aircraft reached the French coast and there was once more engaged and hit by anti-aircraft fire. After crossing the Channel Fl/Sgt. Middleton ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Five left safely, but the front gunner and the flight engineer remained to assist the pilot, and perished with him when the aircraft crashed into the sea."
Fl/Sgt. Middleton was determined to attack the target regardless of consequences and not to allow the crew to fall into enemy hands. While all the crew displayed heroism of a high order, the urge to do so came from Fl/Sgt. Middleton, whose fortitude and strength of will made possible the completion of the mission. His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force.
Fl/Sgt. Leslie Hyder DFM during convalescing at the hospital.
Fl/Sgt. Middleton was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, gazetted on the 13 January 1943. DFCs were awarded to F/O. Royde and P/O. Skinner whilst DFMs were awarded to Fl/Sgt. Hyder, Sgt. Cameron and Sgt. Gough, these awards being promulgated on the 12 February 1943. Further details of the incident were revealed in the citation which reads:
"On 28th November, 1942, these members of an aircraft crew took part in an attack on a target at Turin. Whilst over the target area, their bomber was repeatedly hit by anti-aircraft fire, and sustained much damage A shell, which burst, in the cockpit, rendered the captain, the late Flight Sergeant Middleton, V C , unconscious and wounded the second pilot, Flight Sergeant Hyder, in the face and legs, Pilot Officer Skinner, the wireless operator, was also wounded in the leg. Despite his injuries, Flight Sergeant Hyder, took over the controls and succeeded in regaining control of the aircraft which had dived from 2,000 to 800 feet. Later the bomb load was released. Shortly afterwards, the captain recovered consciousness but Flight Sergeant Hyder after receiving first aid, insisted on'' remaining beside him in case of emergency.
On the return flight when crossing the Alps, Flight Sergeant Cameron and Sergeant Gough greatly assisted the pilot to maintain height by jettisoning all movable equipment. Skilful navigation by Flying Officer Royde enabled the aircraft to be flown back to this country. Shortly after crossing the coast the aircraft had to be abandoned owing to lack of petrol In the face of almost insuperable odds, these members of the aircraft crew displayed courage, fortitude and determination of a high order."
Jack Taylor contacted us in April 2017:
“I have read with great interest the story of Flt Sgt Middeton's heroic last fight and have no doubt he earned his VC but I have believed for many years that Jackie Mackie, one of the crew members who stayed with Middleton and went down with him into the English Channel, should also have been honoured with a medal instead of just being "mentioned in dispatches".
If it had not been for Fl/Sgt. Mackie's courageous decision to help Middleton fly the Stirling back to England it is doubtful that any would have survived. Jackie Mackie was a cousin of my father Jack Taylor (also of Alva, Scotland) and joined the RAF with him.
I believe James Jeffrey, the other crew member who went into the sea with Middleton, should also have been honoured with a medal. I now live in Sydney, Australia, but I would be happy to participate in any effort to have them more significantly honoured.”
The bodies of Sgt Mackie and Sgt. Jeffery were washed ashore on the 29th shortly after the crash. The body of Fl/Sgt. Middleton was also washed ashore, but not until 1st February 1943 at Shakespeare Beach, Dover.
Sgt. Mackie and Sgt. Jeffery were both Mentioned in Dispatches as promulgated in the London Gazette of 2 June 1943.
(1) Fl/Sgt. Middleton VC (posthumously promoted to Pilot Officer) was the great nephew of Hamilton Hume, the famous Australian explorer who discovered the Darling River, Lake Bathurst and the Goulburn Plains in Australia. He was also the cousin of P/O. Robert L.O. Ryder, (see note) killed earlier on the 8th November 1941 serving with 75 Squadron on a Wellington IC Z8942.
The pilot Sgt. John S. Wilson was killed along with 4 of his fellow crew members, with the only survivor Sgt. Lawrence B.H. Hope being accidentally killed on the 19th April 1945 by allied aircraft when they strafed a Prisoner of War column in which he was marching.
Beck Row Churchyard at Mildenhall, Suffolk (Aircrew Remembered Archives)
Left, the grave of P/O. Middleton at Beck Row. Any relative/interested party who would like a high resolution copy of this please don't hesitate to contact us (Aircrew Remembered archives)
P/O. Rawdon Hume Middleton VC. St. Johns Church, Beck Row Churchyard, Mildenhall, Suffolk. Row D. Grave 1. (funeral procession shown under) Further details: Son of Francis Rawdon Hamilton Middleton and Faith Lillian Middleton (Née Millar), of 'Epsom', Grange Street, Parkes, New South Wales, Australia. Born on 22nd July 1916 at Waverley, New South Wales, Australia. Employed as a Jackaroo (care of livestock - male worker, Jillaroo - female worker) at Leewang, Yarrabandi, Australia. Educated at Dubbo Hugh School. Enlisted into the RAAF on the 14th October 1940, learning to fly at Narromine and then further training in Canada. Arrived in Britain September 1941, joint 149 Squadron February, 1942. Posted to No. 7 Squadron before returning to 149 Squadron in September 1942. This operation was his 28th Operational flight of the 30 required for a ‘tour’. Three of his crew had already completed their ’tour’ quota, but decided to remain with their pilot, such was their loyalty. His VC was the first to have been awarded to a RAAF member of the war. His VC was presented to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, together with his portraits (one shown) painted by Harold Freeman and Norman Carter after his death.
Sgt. James Ernest Jeffery. Poole Cemetery Sec. 12. Grave 13164. He was born in 1923 at Poole, Dorset the son of Charles J. Jeffery and Elsie Jeffery nee Maidment. He had three siblings, James born 1917, Gladys born 1919 and Joan born 1921.
Sgt. John William Mackie. Alva Cemetery. Sec. 2. West Part. Grave 59. Son of Alexander and Marion Mackie, of Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland
(1) Note: 25 year old P/O. AUS/404626 RAAF, Robert Leslie Owen Ryder. Rotterdam General Cemetery. Plot LL. Row 2. Grave 16. Son of Arthur Owen and Florence Gardiner Ryder, husband of Marjorie Ryder, of Roma, Queensland, Australia.
(2) Note: Fl/Lt. Norman Edward Skinner was killed on 21 September 1944 when Stirling LJ982 captained by Wg Cdr. G.E. Harrison was shot down on a supply drop to Arnhem during operation Market Garden. To read the story of this loss click here
(3) Note: F/O. George Reicher Royde was also killed, on the 14th May 1943. To read the story of his loss click here
Commemorative stamp to Flt Sgt Middleton shown below
Dedicated to relatives of this crew. With thanks to Isobel Carberry and the family of Sgt. John William Mackie, Australian War Memorial, Jack Taylor - relative of Sgt. Mackie who contacted us in April 2017. With additional details from Aircrew Remembered own archives.