Bomber Command was now making the long haul across France and over the Alps to bomb targets in the industrial north of Italy. Such long trips made huge demands on the crews and aircraft – and that was before they had to deal with enemy fighters and flak. It was an especially difficult flight for the Stirling bomber with its low ceiling, which effectively meant they had to fly through the Alps rather than comfortably over them.
There was rarely a trip when there were not a few losses. One particular mission is remembered because most of the crew survived to tell the tale. Ron Middleton, from Waverley in Sydney, Australia, was on his 29th mission, one short of completing a ‘tour’ and being rested for a while. His Victoria Cross citation states:
402745 Pilot Officer Rawdon Hume MIDDLETON R.A.A.F.
Attached to 149 Squadron, R.A.F.
Night of 28th-29th November, 1942, in raid on Turin, Italy
Flight Sergeant Middleton was captain and first pilot of a Stirling aircraft detailed to attack the Fiat works at Turin in November 1942. Great difficulty was experienced on the way to the target and while over the target the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Flight Sergeant Middleton was badly wounded and his right eye was destroyed. The second pilot was also badly wounded. The possibilities of abandoning the aircraft or landing in northern France were discussed but Flight Sergeant Middleton stated his intention to attempt to reach the English coast.
After crossing the Channel there was only sufficient fuel for five minutes flying. Flight Sergeant Middleton flew the aircraft parallel with the coast and ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft. Five of the crew left the aircraft and two remained to assist him. The aircraft crashed into the sea and all remaining onboard were killed.
“Flight Sergeant Middleton was determined to attack the target regardless of the consequences and not to allow his crew to fall into enemy hands. While all the crew displayed heroism of a high order, the urge to do so came from Flight Sergeant 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”.
London Gazette: 15 January, 1943