This article in the May issue outlines the career of Wing Commander ‘Babe’ Learoyd who was Bomber Command’s first VC. A pre-war regular pilot, he flew an operational sortie in his Hampden bomber of 49 Squadron on the morning that war was declared. There was little activity during the “Phoney War” but operations intensified after the German occupation of the Low Countries and France in May/June 1940. A target of special importance was the Dortmund-Ems Canal, used for the build-up of shipping and barges for the planned invasion of Britain. On the night of August 11/12 a force of Hampdens attacked a key aqueduct, which was heavily defended. Two of the five aircraft were shot down. Learoyd was the last to attack and had witnessed the earlier attacks. Despite the intense opposition he bombed successfully from 150 feet. He then nursed home his badly damaged aircraft and waited until daylight to make a safe landing. He was awarded the VC. He later commanded a Lancaster squadron and left the RAF at the end of the war. He died in January 1996.
The Hampden was one of those aircraft like the Fairey Battle in that many said the very act of taking one into combat should have been enough to earn one a VC. The narrow fuselage earned the Hampden something of a “flying Coffin” reputation if the pilot was killed or incapacitated.