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Attack on MAN Diesel Works 17th April 1942, led by Sqd.Ldr. John Nettleton VC. MiD

No better account of this extremely gallant enterprise may be quoted than that written by Chaz Bowyer in For Valour, The Air VCs:

‘At 3.12 p.m. John Nettleton lifted Lancaster R5508 ‘B’ off the Waddington runway, followed by five other Lancasters from 44 Squadron. Once all were airborne and beginning to close up in tight formation, the last Lancaster to leave circled and returned to base, being simply a reserve machine to slot into any gap at the start of the sortie. The remaining six aircraft settled into two Vics of three as they drummed low across Lincolnshire heading southwards. In front Nettleton had Warrant Officer G. T. Rhodes in Lancaster L7536 ‘H’ to his left, and Flying Officer J. Garwell, DFM in R5510 ‘A’ to starboard. The second Vic close behind was led by Flight Lieutenant N. Sandford in R5506 ‘P’, with Warrant Officer J. E. Beckett in L7565 ‘V’ to port and Warrant Officer H. V. Crum in L7548 ‘T’ to starboard.

The six bombers were soon linked up with six more Lancasters from 97 Squadron, based at Woodhall Spa, and led in similar two-Vics formations by Squadron Leader J. S. Sherwood, DFC in Lancaster L7573 ‘OF-K’.The rendezvous came over Selsey Bill and all twelve dropped to a mere 50 feet as they thundered across the English Channel. Ahead of them a force of 30 Boston bombers and 800 fighters were variously busy bombing and strafing targets away from the bombers’ planned route, in the hope of drawing off any Luftwaffe fighters and thereby provide the Lancasters with a safe run across Europe. As the bombers hugged the waves to the French coast line, Nettleton’s front two sections began to draw ahead of Sherwood’s formation, flying slightly north of the intended flight path. Sherwood made no attempt to catch up; the briefing had allowed for separate attacks if circumstances decreed such, and Sherwood was highly conscious of the need to preserve fuel on such an extended sortie. Still keeping as low as possible to keep under any radar defences, the twelve aircraft roared across the French coast and headed deep into Germany.

For much of the initial journey across enemy-occupied territory the bombers met no serious opposition from ground defences and none from the Luftwaffe, but as Nettleton’s six aircraft - now well ahead of the 97 Squadron formation - skirted the boundary of Beaumont le Roger airfield they ran out of luck. As the bombers appeared a gaggle of Messerschmitt Bf. 109s and Focke-Wulf Fw. 190s of II Gruppe / Jagdgeschwader 2 ‘Richthofen’ were in various stages of landing after an engagement in the Cherbourg area with some of the diversionary RAF raids. For a moment the Lancasters thought they hadn’t been spotted, but then several German fighters were seen to snap up their undercarriages and turn quickly in their direction.

Unescorted, at tree-top height, and in broad daylight, the ensuing onslaught could have only one conclusion for the Lancasters. The rear Vic of Nettleton’s formation was the first to be attacked, and the first Lancaster to go was Beckett’s; hit by a hail of cannon shells from Hauptmann Heine Greisert and diving into a clump of trees like a roaring furnace of flames. Next to go was Sandford who was attacked by Feldwebel Bosseckert and had all four engines set on fire before exploding in a giant fireball. Then Crum was jumped by Unteroffizier Pohl in his Bf. 109 ‘Black 7’ and had his port wing erupt in flames. Jettisoning his bomb load immediately Crum promptly put the crippled Lancaster down on the ground, as per the pre-agreed briefing instructions. Unbeknown to Crum his crash was recorded in the Jagdgeschwader’s ‘Game Book’ as its 1000th claimed victory in the war.

The fighters now started attacks on Nettleton’s front Vic of three Lancasters. By then they had been joined by Major Oesau, a 100-victory ‘ace’ officially forbidden to fly more operations, but who had jumped into a fighter and taken off on first sight of the Lancasters, followed by his wing man Oberfeldwebel Edelmann. Oesau selected Rhodes for his victim and closed to within 10 metres firing all guns and cannon in a withering hail of fire. The Lancaster’s port engines both erupted in flames which spread instantly to the starboard motors. The bomber reared abruptly - ‘as if in agony’ - stalled harshly, plunged straight down; passing between Nettleton and Garwell in a vertical dive and missing both by mere inches. By now most of the fighters were forced to withdraw due to lack of fuel, and the two surviving Lancasters, though damaged, continued their journey. Finally reaching the objective both flew straight across the target factory in close formation, released their bombs, and began the run-out. At that moment Garwell’s aircraft was hit badly by the alerted ground defences and, pluming smoke and flames, dropped towards the ground as Garwell put the Lancaster down quickly, finally slithering to a halt and saving the lives of all but three of his crew.

Nettleton, now alone, pulled away from the scene and set course for the return journey. By then the evening darkness was closing in, providing a form of protection for the lone bomber as it retraced its path across Germany and France ... ’

97 Squadron’s six Lancasters were met by a similar curtain of flak, Squadron Leader Sherwood’s aircraft being the first to go down, followed by another piloted by Warrant Officer Mycock, DFC who continued on his bombing-run even though his Lancaster was a ‘ball of fire’ - it exploded in the air. Total losses therefore amounted to seven out of the original 12-strong Lancaster force, and 49 aircrew from an original strength of 85 men, although 12 of them were eventually confirmed as PoWs.

Sqn.Ldr. John Deering Nettleton’s Victoria Cross (VC) was gazetted on the 28th April 1942. Air Ministry. 28th April, 1942. ROYAL AIR FORCE. The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:

The Citation Reads: "Squadron Leader Nettleton was the leader of one of two formations of six Lancaster heavy bombers detailed to deliver a low-level attack in daylight on the diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Southern Germany on April 17th, 1942. The enterprise was daring, the target of high military importance. To reach it and get back, some 1,000 miles had to be flown over hostile territory.
Soon after crossing into enemy territory his formation was engaged by 25 to 30 fighters. A running fight ensued. His rear guns went out of action. One by one the aircraft of his formation were shot down until in the end only his and one other remained. The fighters were shaken off but the target was still far distant. There was formidable resistance to be faced.
With great spirit and almost defenceless, he held his two remaining aircraft on their perilous course and after a long and arduous flight, mostly at only 50 feet above the ground, he brought them to Augsburg. Here anti-aircraft fire of great intensity and accuracy was encountered. The two aircraft came low over the roof tops. Though fired at from point blank range, they stayed the course to drop their bombs true on the target. The second aircraft, hit by flak, burst into flames and crash-landed.
The leading aircraft, though riddled with holes, flew safely back to base, the only one of the six to return.
Squadron Leader Nettleton, who has successfully undertaken many other hazardous operations, displayed unflinching determination as well as leadership and valour of the highest order."

Sqn.Ldr Nettleton was also MiD, gazetted 24th September 1941.

Above: Sqn.Ldr. Nettleton’s crew, minus Flt.Lt. Charles Surtis Cranmer McClure DFC 80251 RAFVR. (Provided by Diana Calderwood)

Back Row Left to Right: Flt.Sgt. Leonard Henry Mutter DFM* 818016 RAFVR, Flt.Sgt. Frank Howe Harrison DFM* 818045 RAFVR (Survived the war), Sgt. Donald Norman 'Buzzer' Huntley 777675 RAFVR;

Front Row Left to Right: Plt.Off. Patrick Arthur Dorehill DSO, DFC*, Bar to DFC 80207 RAFVR (Survived the war), Sqn.Ldr. John Deering Nettleton VC, MiD 41425 RAF, Plt.Off. Desmond Ossiter Sands DSO, DFC* 102110 RAFVR (Survived the war), Flt.Sgt. Charles Flemming Churchill DFM* 999273 RAFVR (Survived the war).

* The following is a group citation that conveyed a number of bravery awards approved by the King on the MAN diesel works raid led by Sqn.Ldr. John Deering Nettleton VC. Citation reads:: "On the 17th April, 1942, a force of twelve Lancaster heavy bombers was detailed to deliver an attack in daylight on the diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Southern Germany. To reach this highly important military target, and return, a most daring right of some 1,000 miles over hostile country was necessary. Soon after entering enemy territory and whilst flying at a very low level the force was engaged by 25 to 30 enemy fighters. Later, the most intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire was encountered. Despite this formidable opposition 8 of the bombers succeeded in reaching the target and in delivering a successful attack on the factory. The following officers and airmen who participated, in various capacities, as members of the aircraft crews, displayed courage, fortitude and skill of the highest order".

Other Citations:

Flt.Lt. Dorehill was awarded a Bar to his DFC whilst with 44 Sqn, Gazetted 3rd March 1944.

The citation reads: "Flight Lieutenant Patrick Arthur DOREHILL, DFC (80207), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 44 Squadron. This officer has participated in a very large number of sorties, involving attacks on most of the heavily defended targets in Germany. Recently, he took part in an attack on Berlin. Before reaching the city his aircraft was attacked by a fighter. Flight Lieutenant Dorehill succeeded in evading the attacker but the bomber had been repeatedly hit by cannon fire, which damaged the fuselage and the tail plane and also put the hydraulic system out of action. Despite this, Flight Lieutenant Dorehill continued to the target which he bombed successfully. On return to base he effected a masterly crash-landing. He displayed great skill, courage and determination throughout."
He was also awarded a DSO whilst with 44 Sqn, Gazetted 14th July 1944. Citation reads: "This officer has completed a second tour of operations during which he has attacked Berlin on 7 occasions. He has displayed outstanding skill, courage and devotion to duty and his determination to press home his attacks has won him much success. His record has been most impressive."

Patrick Dorehill sadly passed away on the 6th June 2016, aged 94. He was an Honorary Member of the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club. Patrick’s story of the Augsburg raid has been posted on the Crowborough Beacon Golf Club and can be read here:

Sqn.Ldr Sands was awarded the DSO whilst with 467 Sqn (RAAF), gazetted 27th April 1945.

Citation reads: "This officer has completed many sorties on his second-tour of operational duty. Throughout these operations, most of which have been against strongly defended targets, Squadron Leader Sands has displayed the highest standard of determination, and devotion to duty. By his undoubted ability as navigator, and bis efficiency as captain, this officer has played a good part in the successes obtained. His services have been invaluable."
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SPY 19-09-2019

RS 02-12-2020 - Addition of image of Sqn.Ldr. Nettleton's crew and other details and links.

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