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Air Commodore 'Dim' Strong AFC

Air Commodore ‘Dim’ Strong A.F.C.
Born: September 30th 1913 at Cardiff. Died: August 21st 2011 Age 97.

Air Commodore ‘Dim’ Strong, had to ditch his Wellington bomber in the North Sea; after being rescued by fishermen, he and his crew were given ‘a hell of a party’ by officers of the Luftwaffe before being sent to a PoW camp.

Strong, a flight commander on No 104 Squadron, took off on the night of September 10/11 1941 as part of a force of 76 aircraft sent to bomb the Fiat factory in Turin. 

On the return flight the weather deteriorated and the bomber was struck by lightning, affecting the compass and the radio.

Strong descended, eventually breaking cloud at 300ft above the sea. He was running out of fuel, and was forced to ditch.

After a few hours in their dinghy, the crew were picked up by a Danish fishing boat. Denmark was then under occupation, and the fishermen refused to make for England. Strong and his colleagues were landed at Esbjerg, where they were met by Hauptmann Hans-Kurt Graf von Sponeck, adjutant of the Ricthofen Staffel, a Luftwaffe fighter unit (his father would be shot for his part in the attempted assassination of Hitler in July 1944).

Two Mercedes staff cars brought Strong and his crew to the officers mess, where all the Luftwaffe airmen gathered to greet their R.A.F. visitors.

An all-night party ensued, with food, Danish beer, brandy and musical entertainment.

The following morning Strong was told by a German officer: ‘We are front-line chaps – you won’t be treated like this in the rear.’

After bidding their hosts farewell, Strong and his crew were taken by train to the PoW reception centre at Frankfurt.

Strong and von Sponek kept up a regular correspondence after the war.

David Malcolm Strong, known throughout his life as ‘Dim’, was born in Cardiff on September 30 1913 and went to Cardiff High School, where he excelled at sport.

In 1936 he entered the RAF on a short-service commission and trained as a pilot before joining No 166 Squadron to fly the antiquated Heyford biplane bomber.

In April 1940 he became an instructor on a bomber training unit, and at the end of the year was mentioned in despatches.

During the spring of 1941 Strong was returning from a seven-hour navigation exercise when one of the two engines of his Whitley bomber caught fire. He would have been justified in bailing out, but instead he made an emergency landing at an airfield in Oxfordshire, an action for which he was awarded an A.F.C.

In October 1941, following his capture, Strong arrived at Oflag VIB near Warburg, which was a hive of escape activity.

He soon became involved: as one of the more senior officers – a squadron leader – he was in charge of one of three shifts digging a tunnel.

Torrential rainfall caused it to collapse as it neared the perimeter wire.

During the spring of 1942 other tunnels were started, one from Strong’s barrack room.

The tunnel was almost 300ft long and ready to break surface when it was discovered. Caught red-handed, Strong was accused of advancing on a German guard “with clenched fist and flashing eyes” and sentenced to 10 days in the cooler; his personal record card was marked ‘especially obstinate and arrogant’.

In May 1942 he was one of a party of 50 “hard cases and troublemakers” transferred to the new camp at Sagan, Stalag Luft III.

His stay there was brief, and he was moved to Oflag XXXIB at Schubin, where he was again put in charge of digging a tunnel.

This boasted electric lighting, tapped from the German mains, and was just beyond the perimeter wire and ready to break when Strong suddenly found himself transferred back to Sagan.

He was appointed adjutant of the North Compound and established a good working relationship with the camp authorities.

This benefited the whole camp community, and it was decided that he would not be one of those to join the ‘Great Escape’ in March 1944, when 76 PoWs absconded.

Fifty of those recaptured were shot by the Gestapo.

In January 1945 the prisoners were ordered to march westwards as the Soviet Army advanced from the East. In the severe winter weather, many PoWs perished before they reached camps in western Germany.

Strong was repatriated in May 1945.

Postwar, Strong commanded an air navigation school, served on the staff with the Rhodesia Air Training Group and spent three years on the staff of the RAF Staff College at Bracknell.

After serving as the station commander of the bomber station at Coningsby in Lincolnshire, he was promoted air commodore and made responsible for the postings and career management of aircrew officers.

For two years he was the senior air staff at R.A.F. Germany, and in December 1963 was appointed Commandant of the R.A.F’s Apprentice School at Halton.

It was an appointment that gave him great satisfaction — he was an ardent admirer of the Service’s apprentice scheme.

An extremely popular commandant, he had one of the station’s roads named in his honour.

He was appointed C.B. in 1964.

On his retirement from the R.A.F. in 1966, Strong and his wife settled at Wendover, Buckinghamshire, where they remained for 40 years.

For a decade he worked for a British intelligence agency before finally retiring aged 65.

Strong played rugby for Cardiff and was in the RAF team that played the Army at Twickenham in 1936.

He was chairman of the R.A.F. Rugby Union from 1954 to 1956 .

He was also chairman of the R.A.F. PoW Association Dining Club.

He and his wife travelled widely, spending most winters in South Africa, where their daughter made her home.

‘Dim’ Strong married his wife Daphne, a W.A.A.F, in 1941. She died in 2008, and he is survived by their two sons and one daughter.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 04 May 2015, 09:29