merlin_140672619_e60591fd-5582-41d6-a918-2b631ce4a735-jumboRichard Cole, who has died aged 103, was the last survivor of the 80 US airmen known as the “Doolittle Raiders” who carried out the first bombing raid against Japan in the Second World War.  Cole was the co-pilot to James Doolittle, the leader of the raid.  Sixteen Mitchell bombers were loaded on the US aircraft carrier Hornet and they were launched from the 600-foot flight deck when they were 650 miles from the Japanese coast.  They bombed Tokyo before heading for Nationalist China.  Cole and his crew baled out after crossing the Chinese coast and eventually were returned to Allied lines.  He later flew transport aircraft in support of the campaign in Burma, served in Korea and retired in 1967.  He was awarded the DFC and two clusters.  In 2016 he attended the naming ceremony of the USAF’s latest bomber called ‘The Raider’.

In the photograph Cole is second from the right with Doolittle second from the left

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Image (29).jpgBryan Colston and his colleagues on 225 Squadron moved to North Africa in November 1942 as part of Operation Torch, the Allied landings in Algeria.  Equipped initially with Hurricanes, Spitfires began to arrive in early 1943 and these were assigned to Colston’s flight.  Flying from advanced airstrips in the fighter reconnaissance role, the squadron supported the British 1st Army as it advanced towards Tunis.  Colston carried out many reconnaissance and low level strafing sorties, which resulted in the award of the DFC.  He supported the liberation of Tunis and later flew over the island of Pantelleria Island and dropped a message instructing the garrison to surrender.  Invalided home with typhoid fever he later instructed navigation and fighter reconnaissance tactics at a Spitfire OTU.

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LearoydThis 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.


TJM Irving jacket copy 2Tom Maxwell was only nineteen years old and the rear gunner when he was forced to bale out of his Lancaster bomber over northern France.  The aircraft was returning from an attack on Stuttgart when it was badly damaged and had to be abandoned on the return flight.  He was sheltered by farmers before being taken to Paris and then by train to the Spanish border near Pau.  Together with some USAAF airmen, a guide took him over the Pyrenees into Spain.  After returning to England, he continued to fly on operations and was awarded the DFC.  He later served as an air traffic control officer before spending ten years in the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force.

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JHS and groundcrew-1John Sauvage flew sixty-four operations in Bomber Command and was decorated three times.  His first tour was on Hampdens with 44 Squadron and after a spell as a bombing instructor he was recruited to the Pathfinder Force.  He attacked Hamburg, Peenemunde and Berlin in addition to targets in the Ruhr and in Italy.  He marked the old Zeppelin sheds at Friedricshafen, where key radar components were being manufactured.  His Lancaster was badly damaged and he flew on to Algeria where he landed safely.  After his second tour he joined Transport Command and flew the York.  On one sortie he took ‘Monty’s Double’ to Gibraltar and North Africa in an attempt to deceived the Germans a few weeks before D-Day.  After he left the RAF he flew on the Berlin Airlift and was a pioneer of the air charter and holiday tourist airline business becoming the the managing director of Britannia Airways and chief executive of Thomson Travel Group.

In the photograph, John Sauvage is on the left with his ground crew and his Lancaster.

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IMG_20190407_105154969 copyFrank Griffin was decorated twice as a Pathfinder pilot in Bomber Command.  Initially he trained as an air observer and flew anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic and North Sea.  After training as a pilot he flew Lancasters and attacked Berlin numerous times.  In December 1943 his aircraft was badly damaged but he carried on to the target and returned safely.  He was awarded the DFC.  With 103 Squadron he attacked the Ruhr and targets in north France prior to D-Day.  He was awarded the DSO – the citation concluding “he was a fearless and determined captain”.  He joined British South American Airways after the war and searched for the Avro Tudor Star Tiger, which was lost in the Bermuda Triangle with the wartime commander Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham on board.  Griffin was 99 when he died in March.

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This month’s magazine Britain at War features a long and lavishly illustrated article  that relates the brief and gallant life of the RAF’s first fighter ‘ace’ (five victories) in World War Two.  New Zealander ‘Cobber’ Kain was a Hurricane pilot serving with No. 73 Squadron, which moved to France in September 1939 as apart of the Advanced Air Striking Force.  Kain’s first success came on 8 November when he shot down a Dornier 17 reconnaissance aircraft.  By the time the German’s invaded the Low Countries and France on 10 May 1940, Kain had already achieved ‘ace’ status.  In the fierce fighting that followed, his score mounted to at least seventeen.  Exhausted, he was ordered home and on 7 June he took off from a landing strip and turned to make a farewell flypast.  He had completed two slow rolls when he crashed and was killed.  At the time of his death he was the RAF’s most successful fighter pilot.  He was twenty-one years old.