Captain Philip Gardner wins the VC

With the tow-rope now secured, Gardner was signalling the driver to move when a bullet struck him in the leg, fortunately not breaking it. As the tank moved, the tow-rope parted — probably shot away. Despite his own wound, Gardner returned to the armoured car, lifted Beame out and staggered back to his tank, half carrying and half dragging him.

Captain Philip Gardner after recovering from wounds sustained whilst rescuing a fellow soldier in the desert.

Captain Philip Gardner was serving with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment in 32nd Tank Brigade in the Western Desert. They made an attempt to break out of Tobruk to join up with the forces of Operation Crusader that were seeking to break the siege. The most complete account of how he won the Victoria Cross appeared in The Times obituary following his death aged 88 in 2003:

During the fighting on November 23, Gardner was sent with two Matilda tanks to rescue a pair of armoured cars of the 1st King’s Dragoon Guards trapped under enemy fire.

The two tanks raced down the long desert slope as fast they could go, abreast with a hundred yards between them. Crossing the ridge, Gardner saw that both armoured cars were being used for target practice by the enemy with slow deliberate fire. Ordering the second tank to make a wide circuit to the left, he ran his tank up to the nearer of the stricken vehicles while his accompanying tank manoeuvred and kept up sustained fire on the enemy position. Gardner dismounted and tried to unhitch one of his tow-ropes, to tow the car away.

The one stowed along the side of his tank was jammed, so he loosened the one at the rear and signalled to his driver to turn about. In order to keep the main gun facing towards the enemy, the gunner began to traverse his turret and in doing so accidently killed the wireless operator/gun loader who, most unfortunately, chose that moment to put out his head to see what was happening.

The gunner had to ease the body clear before he could complete the gun traverse and, having done so, saw Gardner lifting Lieutenant Beame of the Dragoon Guards, who had been lying wounded with both legs shattered, back into his armoured car.

With the tow-rope now secured, Gardner was signalling the driver to move when a bullet struck him in the leg, fortunately not breaking it. As the tank moved, the tow-rope parted — probably shot away. Despite his own wound, Gardner returned to the armoured car, lifted Beame out and staggered back to his tank, half carrying and half dragging him.

The gunner continued loading and firing the Besa machinegun as fast as he could, single-handed, to distract the enemy while Gardner hoisted the badly wounded officer onto the rear deck of the tank. Gardner returned to the armoured car but found no other survivors. He then signalled to the driver to advance, and clambered up beside the wounded officer, receiving another bullet, this time in the arm, as he did so. The gunner then ordered the driver full speed ahead and, reloading his gun with another belt of Besa, kept up fire on the enemy position as the gallant little party withdrew.

The Times, February 18, 2003

His official citation for the Victoria Cross concluded.

The courage, determination and complete disregard for his own safety displayed by Captain Gardner enabled him, despite his own wounds, and in the face of intense fire at close range, to save the life of his fellow officer, in circumstances fraught with great difficulty and danger.

The citation varies from the account provided by The Times, and states that the unnamed Loader was killed by heavy shellfire as they returned to their lines. See VictoriaCross.org.

Another VC at Sidi Rezegh

During the final enemy attack on the 22nd November he was wounded, but continued most actively in the foremost positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself. Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him.

Campbell at his investiture with the Victoria Cross by the Commander in Chief, General Sir Claude Auchinleck. Campbell was awarded the VC for his action at Sidi Rezergh, 21 - 22 November 1941.

Bitter fighting continued at Sidi Rezegh, a battle that might be better remembered had its significance not been eclipsed by Rommel’s subsequent successes.

Later in the war the Commander of the New Zealand Division, Lieutenant-General Freyberg was to consider how difficult the battle had been when he was planning other attacks: ‘Whenever I discussed such [a dangerous] operation with one of my senior commanders we were always comforted by the reflection that the operation was not so hazardous as Sidi Rezegh during the approach to relieve Tobruk.’

This was another gallant action that won a Victoria Cross:

On the 21st November Brigadier Campbell was commanding the troops, including one regiment of tanks, in the area of Sidi Rezegh ridge and the aerodrome. His small force holding this important ground was repeatedly attacked by large numbers of tanks and infantry.

Wherever the situation was most difficult and the fighting hardest he was to be seen with his forward troops, either on his feet or in his open car. In this car he carried out several reconnaissances for counter-attacks by his tanks, whose senior officers had all become casualties early in the day.

Standing in his car with a blue flag, this officer personally formed up tanks under close and intense fire from all natures of enemy weapons.
On the following day the enemy attacks were intensified and again Brigadier Campbell was always in the forefront of the heaviest fighting, encouraging his troops, staging counter-attacks with his remaining tanks and personally controlling the fire of his guns. On two occasions he himself manned a gun to replace casualties.

During the final enemy attack on the 22nd November he was wounded, but continued most actively in the foremost positions, controlling the fire of batteries which inflicted heavy losses on enemy tanks at point blank range, and finally acted as loader to one of the guns himself.

Throughout these two days his magnificent example and his utter disregard of personal danger were an inspiration to his men and to all who saw him. His brilliant leadership was the direct cause of the very heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy.

In spite of his wound he refused to be evacuated and remained with his command, where his outstanding bravery and consistent determination had a marked effect in maintaining the splendid fighting spirit of those under him.

London Gazette, 30 January 1942

John Beeley wins the VC at Sidi Rezegh

On his own initiative, and when there was no sort of cover, Rifleman Beeley got to his feet carrying a Bren gun and ran forward towards a strong enemy post containing an anti-tank gun. The post was silenced and Rifleman Beeley’s platoon was enabled to advance, but Rifleman Beely fell dead across his gun, hit in at least four places.

Comrades of Rifleman John Beeley VC of 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his gallantry at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh on 21 November 1941, working on a cross to be placed over his grave, 22 May 1942.

Twenty-three year old Rifleman Beeley was a member of 1st Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps which was ordered to seize some high ground overlooking Sidi Rezegh airfield. This was an important objective of Operation Crusader and was to be the scene of fierce engagements over the next few days.

The attack was launched at 0830 hours on 21 November across 2,000 yards of open airfield. Very little artillery support was available at the time. As they approached the escarpment it became apparent that it was more strongly defended than expected and they were outnumbered by about three to one. Nevertheless the battalion pressed on with its attack and John Beeley’s action was instrumental in their ultimate success. His citation reads:

On the 21st November 1941, during the attack at Sidi Rezegh, North Africa, against a strong enemy position, the company to which Rifleman Beeley belonged was pinned down by heavy fire at point-blank range from the front and flank on the flat, open ground of the aerodrome.

All the officers but one of the company and many of the other ranks had been either killed or wounded. On his own initiative, and when there was no sort of cover, Rifleman Beeley got to his feet carrying a Bren gun and ran forward towards a strong enemy post containing an anti-tank gun. The post was silenced and Rifleman Beeley’s platoon was enabled to advance, but Rifleman Beely fell dead across his gun, hit in at least four places.

Rifleman Beeley went to certain death in a gallant and successful attempt to carry the day. His courage and self-sacrifice were a glorious example to his comrades and inspired them to further efforts to reach their objective, which was eventually captured by them, together with 700 prisoners.

Three officers and a further 25 other ranks were killed, and five officers and 50 other ranks wounded, out of a total strength of about 300.

More on John Beeley.

Raiding party attempts to capture Rommel

From the outset Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes deliberately selected for himself the command of the detachment detailed to attack what was undoubtedly the most hazardous of these objectives—the residence and Headquarters of the General Officer Commanding the German forces in North Africa. This attack, even if initially successful, meant almost certain death for those who took part in it.

Geoffery Keyes, the youngest Lieutenant-Colonel in the British army at the time, was fatally wounded whilst leading the raid on Rommel's desert base.

On the eve of the new British offensive in North Africa a Commando unit landed far behind enemy lines in Libya in a daring raid to capture the German commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.

Rough seas meant that only a small part of the intended force was able to land from the submarines that took them to a secret rendezvous on the coast. They then spent two nights moving inland, hiding in caves by day, travelling to the Germans base where it was believed that Rommel resided. Unfortunately the intelligence was wrong and Rommel was actually in Italy at the time – a fact not discovered until after the raid.

This was a pioneering operation by the Commando’s, even though unsuccessful it helped establish their reputation for audacious, behind the lines attacks.

Geoffrey Keyes, at 24 the youngest Lieutenant-Colonel (albeit Temporary) in the British Army at the time, won the Victoria Cross for his leading role in the raid:

Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes commanded a detachment of a force which landed some 250 miles behind the enemy lines to attack Headquarters, Base Installations and Communications.

From the outset Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes deliberately selected for himself the command of the detachment detailed to attack what was undoubtedly the most hazardous of these objectives—the residence and Headquarters of the General Officer Commanding the German forces in North Africa. This attack, even if initially successful, meant almost certain death for those who took part in it.

He led his detachment without guides, in dangerous and precipitous country and in pitch darkness, and maintained by his stolid determination and powers of leadership the morale of the detachment.

He then found himself forced to modify his original plans in the light of fresh information elicited from neighbouring Arabs, and was left with only one officer and an N.C.O. with whom to break into General Rommel’s residence and deal with the guards and Headquarters Staff.

At zero hour on the night of 17th-18th November, 1941, having despatched the covering party to block the approaches to the house, he himself with the two others crawled forward past the guards, through the surrounding fence and so up to the house itself.

Without hesitation, he boldly led his party up to the front door, beat on the door and demanded entrance.

Unfortunately, when the door was opened, it was found impossible to overcome the sentry silently, and it was necessary to shoot him. The noise of the shot naturally aroused the inmates of the house and Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes, appreciating that speed was now of the utmost importance, posted the N.C.O. at the foot of the stairs to prevent interference from the floor above.

Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes, who instinctively took the lead, emptied his revolver with great success into the first room and was followed by the other officer who threw a grenade.

Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes with great daring then entered the second room on the ground floor but was shot almost immediately on flinging open the door and fell back into the passage mortally wounded. On being carried outside by his companions he died within a few minutes.

By his fearless disregard of the great dangers which he ran and of which he was fully aware, and by his magnificent leadership and outstanding gallantry, Lieutenant-Colonel Keyes set an example of supreme self sacrifice and devotion to duty.

Field Marshal Rommel led from the front and was recognised by the British as a formidable opponent in North Africa.

Jimmy Ward climbs out on the wing – mid flight

The squadron leader said, “What does it look like to you?” I told him the fire didn’t seem to be gaining at all and that it seemed to be quite steady. He said, “I think we’d prefer a night in the dinghy in the North Sea to ending up in a German prison camp.” With that he turned out seawards and headed for England.

A pre war publicity shot of Wellington bombers in formation flight.
Sergeant James Allan Ward of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, the first New Zealander to win the Victoria Cross during the Second World War, standing in the cockpit of his Vickers Wellington Mark IC, L7818 ‘AA-V’, at Feltwell, Norfolk.

New Zealander Sergeant James Ward provided a dramatic account of his flight home from a bombing operation over Germany on the 7th July.

It was on one of the Munster raids that it happened. It had been one of those trips that you dream about—hardly any opposition over the target; just a few searchlights but very little flak—and that night at Munster I saw more fires than I had ever seen before. We dropped our bombs right in the target area and then made a circuit of the town to see what was going on before the pilot set course for home.

As second pilot I was in the astro-dome keeping a look-out all round. All of a sudden, over the middle of the Zuider Zee, I saw an enemy machine coming in from port. I called up the pilot to tell him, but our inter-com. had gone phut. A few seconds later, before anything could be done about it, there was a slamming alongside us and chunks of red-hot shrapnel were shooting about all over the place.

As soon as we were attacked, the squadron leader who was flying the plane put the nose down to try and dive clear. At that time we didn’t know that the rear gunner had got the attacking plane, a Messerschmitt 110, because the inter-com. was still out of action and we couldn’t talk to the rear turret.

We’d been pretty badly damaged in the attack. The starboard engine had been hit and the hydraulic system had been put out of action, with the result that the undercarriage fell half down, which meant, of course, that it would be useless for landing unless we could get it right down and locked. The bomb doors fell open too, the wireless sets were not working, and the front gunner was wounded in the foot. Worst of all, fire was burning up through the upper surface of the starboard wing where a petrol feed pipe had been split open. We all thought we’d have to bale out, so we put on our parachutes. Some of us got going with the fire extinguisher, bursting a hole in the side of the fuselage so that we could get at the wing, but the fire was too far out along the wing for that to be any good. Then we tried throwing coffee from our flasks at it, but that didn’t work either. It might have damped the fabric round the fire, but it didn’t put the fire out.

By this time we had reached the Dutch coast and were flying along parallel with it, waiting to see how the fire was going to develop.

The squadron leader said, “What does it look like to you?” I told him the fire didn’t seem to be gaining at all and that it seemed to be quite steady. He said, “I think we’d prefer a night in the dinghy in the North Sea to ending up in a German prison camp.” With that he turned out seawards and headed for England.

I had a good look at the fire and I thought there was a sporting chance of reaching it by getting out through the astro-dome, then down the side of the fuselage and out on to the wing. Joe, the navigator, said he thought it was crazy. There was a rope there; just the normal length of rope attached to the rubber dinghy to stop it drifting away from the aircraft when it’s released on the water. We tied that round my chest, and I climbed up through the astrodome. I still had my parachute on. I wanted to take it off because I thought it would get in the way, but they wouldn’t let me. I sat on the edge of the astro-dome for a bit with my legs still inside, working out how I was going to do it. Then I reached out with one foot and kicked a hole in the fabric so that I could get my foot into the framework of the plane, and then I punched another hole through the fabric in front of me to get a hand-hold, after which I made further holes and went down the side of the fuselage on to the wing. Joe was holding on to the rope so that I wouldn’t sort of drop straight off.

I went out three or four feet along the wing. The fire was burning up through the wing rather like a big gas jet, and it was blowing back just past my shoulder. I had only one hand to work with getting out, because I was holding on with the other to the cockpit cover. I never realised before how bulky a cockpit cover was. The wind kept catching it and several times nearly blew it away and me with it. I kept bunching it under my arm. Then out it would blow again. All the time, of course, I was lying as flat as I could on the wing, but I couldn’t get right down close because of the parachute in front of me on my chest. The wind kept lifting me off the wing. Once it slapped me back on to the fuselage again, but I managed to hang on. The slipstream from the engine made things worse. It was like being in a terrific gale, only much worse than any gale I’ve ever known in my life.

I can’t explain it, but there was no sort of real sensation of danger out there at all. It was just a matter of doing one thing after another and that’s about all there was to it.

I tried stuffing the cockpit cover down through the hole in the wing on to the pipe where the fire was starting from, but as soon as I took my hand away the terrific draught blew it out again and finally it blew away altogether. The rear gunner told me afterwards that he saw it go sailing past his turret. I just couldn’t hold on to it any longer.

After that there was nothing to do but to get back again. I worked my way back along the wing, and managed to haul myself up on to the top of the fuselage and got to sitting on the edge of the astro-dome again. Joe kept the dinghy rope taut all the time, and that helped. By the time I got back I was absolutely done in. I got partly back into the astro-hatch, but I just couldn’t get my right foot inside. I just sort of sat there looking at it until Joe reached out and pulled it in for me. After that, when I got inside, I just fell straight on to the bunk and stayed there for a time. . . .

Just when we were within reach of the English coast the fire on the wing suddenly blazed up again. What had happened was that some petrol which had formed a pool inside the lower surface of the wing had caught fire. I remember thinking to myself, “This is pretty hard after having got as far as this.” However, after this final flare-up the fire died right out—much to our relief, I can tell you.

The trouble now was to get down. We pumped the wheels down with the emergency gear and the pilot decided that, instead of going to our own base, he’d try to land at another aerodrome nearby which had a far greater landing space. As we circled before landing he called up the control and said, “We’ve been badly shot up. I hope we shan’t mess up your flare-path too badly when we land.” He put the aircraft down beautifully, but we ended up by running into a barbed-wire entanglement. Fortunately nobody was hurt though, and that was the end of the trip.

Close-up of the damage caused to Vickers Wellington Mark IC, L7818 ‘AA-V’, of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF, at Feltwell, Norfolk, after returning from an attack on Munster, Germany, on the night of 7/8 July 1941. While over the Zuider Zee, cannon shells from an attacking Messerschmitt Me 110 struck the starboard wing (A), causing a fire from a fractured fuel line which threatened to to spread to the whole wing. Efforts by the crew to douse the flames failed, and Sergeant James Allen Ward, the second pilot, volunteered to tackle the fire by climbing out onto the wing via the astro-hatch (B). With a dinghy-rope tied around his waist, he made hand and foot-holds in the fuselage and wings (1, 2 and 3) and moved out across the wing from where he was eventually able to extinguish the burning wing-fabric. His courageous actions earned him the Victoria Cross. He was shot down and killed while bombing Hamburg on the night of 15/16 September 1941, in another Wellington of the Squadron.

Roden Cutler wins the Victoria Cross

He had been ordered to establish an outpost from which he could register the only road by which the enemy transport could enter the town. With a small party of volunteers he pressed on until finally with one other he succeeded in establishing an outpost right in the town, which was occupied by the Foreign Legion, despite enemy machine gun fire which prevented our infantry from advancing.

British armoured cars advancing into Syria, June 1941.

The invasion of Syria had encountered unexpectedly [permalink id=11997 text=”fierce resistance from French forces”] loyal to the Vichy regime in France. The main thrust north from British Palestine was led by the 7th Australian Division. There were many notable actions during the campaign but one at least, by a forward artillery observer, was not forgotten. The citation for Lieutenant Roden Cutler gives some idea of the fighting in just one of the towns during the advance:

For most conspicuous and sustained gallantry during the Syrian Campaign and for outstanding bravery during the bitter fighting at Merdjayoun when this artillery officer became a byword amongst forward troops with which he worked.

At Merdjayoun on 19th June, 1941, our infantry attack was checked after suffering heavy casualties from an enemy counter-attack with tanks. Enemy machine gun fire swept the ground, but Lieutenant Cutler with another artillery officer and a small party pushed on ahead of the infantry and established an outpost in a house. The telephone line was cut and he went out and mended this line under machine gun fire and returned to the house, from which enemy posts and batteries were successfully engaged.

The enemy then attacked this outpost with infantry and tanks, killing the Bren gunner and mortally wounding other officers. Lieutenant Cutler and another manned the anti-tank rifle and Bren gun and fought back, driving the enemy infantry away. The tanks continued the attack, but under constant fire from the anti-tank rife and Bren gun eventually withdrew.

Lieutenant Cutler then personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded members of his party. Undaunted he pressed for a further advance. He had been ordered to establish an outpost from which he could register the only road by which the enemy transport could enter the town. With a small party of volunteers he pressed on until finally with one other he succeeded in establishing an outpost right in the town, which was occupied by the Foreign Legion, despite enemy machine gun fire which prevented our infantry from advancing.

At this time Lieutenant Cutler knew the enemy were massing on his left for a counter-attack and that he was in danger of being cut off. Nevertheless he carried out his task of registering the battery on the road and engaging enemy posts.

The enemy counter-attacked with infantry and tanks and he was cut off. He was forced to go to ground, but after dark succeeded in making his way through enemy lines. His work in registering the only road by which enemy transport could enter the town was of vital importance and a big factor in the enemy’s subsequent retreat.

On the night of 23rd-24th June he was in charge of a 25-pounder sent forward into our forward defended localities to silence an enemy anti-tank gun and post, which had held up our attack. This he did and next morning the recapture of Merdjayoun was completed.

Later at Damour on 6th July, when our forward infantry were pinned to the ground by heavy hostile machine gun fire Lieutenant Cutler, regardless of all danger, went to bring a line to his outpost when he was seriously wounded. Twenty-six hours elapsed before it was possible to rescue this officer, whose wounds by this time had become septic necessitating the amputation of his leg.

Throughout the campaign this officer’s courage was unparalleled and his work was a big factor in the recapture of Merdjayoun.

Roden Cutler went on to become Sir Roden Cutler VC AK KCMG KCVO CBE , a distinguished diplomat who became Governor of New South Wales, Australia.

Charles Upham wins his first V.C.

He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion’s new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off.

A German aerial view of the airfield at Maleme, Crete littered with the wrecks of Ju-52 troop carrying planes.

Two days into the airborne invasion of Crete fierce battles were raging. If the Germans could be denied possession of the airfields they would be unable to bring in the re-inforcements they needed to consolidate their positions. New Zealand troops [permalink id=11467 text=”under the command of Brigadier Howard Kippenburger”] were to distinguish themselves in many different actions. The extraordinary story of Second Lieutenant Charles Upham was just one of these. He first came to notice on the 22nd May:

During the operations in Crete this officer performed a series of remarkable exploits, showing outstanding leadership, tactical skill and utter indifference to danger.

He commanded a forward platoon in the attack on MALEME on 22nd May and fought his way forward for over 3,000 yards unsupported by any other arms and against a defence strongly organised in depth. During this operation his platoon destroyed numerous enemy posts but on three occasions sections were temporarily held up.

In the first case, under a heavy fire from a machine gun nest he advanced to close quarters with pistol and grenades, so demoralizing the occupants that his section was able to “mop up” with ease.

Another of his sections was then held up by two machine guns in a house. He went in and placed a grenade through a window, destroying the crew of one machine gun and several others, the other machine gun being silenced by the fire of his sections.
In the third case he crawled to within 15 yards of an M.G. post and killed the gunners with a grenade.

When his Company withdrew from MALEME he helped to carry a wounded man out under fire, and together with another officer rallied more men together to carry other wounded men out.

He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion’s new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off.

During the following two days his platoon occupied an exposed position on forward slopes and was continuously under fire. Second Lieutenant Upham was blown over by one mortar shell, and painfully wounded by a piece of shrapnel behind the left shoulder, by another. He disregarded this wound and remained on duty. He also received a bullet in the foot which he later removed in Egypt.

At GALATAS on 25th May his platoon was heavily engaged and came under severe mortar and machine-gun fire. While his platoon stopped under cover of a ridge Second-Lieutenant Upham went forward, observed the enemy and brought the platoon forward when the Germans advanced. They killed over 40 with fire and grenades and forced the remainder to fall back.

When his platoon was ordered to retire he sent it back under the platoon Serjeant and he went back to warn other troops that they were being cut off. When he came out himself he was fired on by two Germans. He fell and shammed dead, then crawled into a position and having the use of only one arm rested his rifle in the fork of a tree and as the Germans came forward he killed them both. The second to fall actually hit the muzzle of the rifle as he fell.

On 30th May at SPHAKIA his platoon was ordered to deal with a party of the enemy which had advanced down a ravine to near Force Headquarters. Though in an exhausted condition he climbed the steep hill to the west of the ravine, placed his men in positions on the slope overlooking the ravine and himself went to the top with a Bren Gun and two riflemen. By clever tactics he induced the enemy party to expose itself and then at a range of 500 yards shot 22 and caused the remainder to disperse in panic.

During the whole of the operations he suffered from dysentery and was able to eat very little, in addition to being wounded and bruised.

He showed superb coolness, great skill and dash and complete disregard of danger. His conduct and leadership inspired his whole platoon to fight magnificently throughout, and in fact was an inspiration to the Battalion.

London Gazette, 14 October 1941

Petty Officer Sephton wins the Victoria Cross

Sephton reported to the Control Officer that he had been hit but could carry on. He continued to carry out his duties admirably, although obviously in great pain. Sephton knew that owing to the cramped space in the director and the difficulty of access he could not be relieved until the end of the action. His heroism in carrying on under these conditions set a magnificent example to A.B. Fisher who was also able to carry on, thus maintaining the efficiency of the director.

The Anti-Aircraft guns on a Royal Navy warship

The war in Mediterranean sea around Crete was suddenly hotting up, with the Luftwaffe making constant attacks on British shipping:

On 18th May while on patrol in company with Rear Admiral (D) in “Phoebe”, an S.O.S. was received from Hospital Ship “Aba” who reported being bombed in a position South East of Crete. “Coventry” in company with “Phoebe” proceeded to her assistance arriving at about 1745. Shortly after the “Aba” was sighted, a large group of Ju.87s approached the ships. These aircraft attacked “Aba” “Phoebe” and “Coventry” independently. “Coventry” engaged several targets in turn, both directors operating independently.

Alfred Edward Sephton was a Petty Officer on HMS Coventry when he won the V.C.

Petty Officer Sephton was in ‘B’ director as layer. The first direct attack on “Coventry” came from astern when a Ju.87 carried out a steep dive bombing attack, spraying the ship with machine fire. One bomb was dropped which fell close on the Port quarter, but no damage to the ship was done. As a result of the machine gunning however, Petty Officer Sephton was fatally wounded by a bullet which penetrated the director, passed though his body, and wounded A.B. Fisher who was communication number in the director.

Sephton reported to the Control Officer that he had been hit but could carry on. He continued to carry out his duties admirably, although obviously in great pain. Sephton knew that owing to the cramped space in the director and the difficulty of access he could not be relieved until the end of the action. His heroism in carrying on under these conditions set a magnificent example to A.B. Fisher who was also able to carry on, thus maintaining the efficiency of the director.

After about ten minutes at the end of the attack, Sephton was relieved. He refused any assistance, climbed out of the director, but collapsed on the deck below. He died next day as a result of the extensive internal injuries sustained during the action.

It is considered that Petty Officer Sephton’s heroism in carrying on, and his fine example to Fisher may well have saved “Coventry” and “Aba” who were both attacked after Sephton had been wounded, the attacking aircraft being effectively repelled by “Coventry’s” gunfire.

From the original recommendation for an award, submitted by Captain Carne see TNA ADM 1/11502

Trawler Captain wins the Victoria Cross

The pilot of this machine seemed a novice or else thought we had no ammunition left as he circled us closing towards us each time. He was keeping up a continuous fire with his two guns but I decided to hold my fire until he was closer.

heinkel 115 floatplane
A Heinkel 115, a German float plane of the type shot down by HMS Arab

Lieutenant R. B. Stannard was in command of the Anti-Submarine Trawler H.M.S. Arab that was part of a force sent to Namsos in late April. A series of heroic actions over the 5 day period that he was there would win him the Victoria Cross. His own report to the Admiralty provides a detailed account of those actions, the final episode occurred just as he was leaving the Fjord: Continue reading “Trawler Captain wins the Victoria Cross”