During its service with 10 Squadron, and after 2005 with 101 Squadron, several VC10s have been named in honour of RAF and RFC Victoria Cross recipients. This is the story of this connection.
Naming the VC10s
The decision to name the fourteen RAF VC10s started with the first CO of the VC10 era, Wg Cdr Mike Beavis. He proposed around 1967 that the aircraft, with its VC10 designation, would be most suited for commemorating Victoria Cross recipients. This idea was approved but it also created a bit of a headache as there were then 51 VCs which had been won by airmen, and only fourteen VC10s. To achieve a drastic reduction in this list the decision was made to restrict it to recipients from the UK who had lost their lives on flying operations during RAF or RFC service. This whittled the list down to 21 names, still too large for the number of VC10s which had been ordered.
There were seven recipients from WW I and fourteen from WW II. In this second group a large proportion (eight recipients) gained their awards in Bomber Command. To further reduce the list the decision was made to choose the first recipient from Bomber Command, Guy Gibson, and have this recipient represent Bomber Command on the fourteen aircraft. This step eliminated several worthy candidates from the list, including Plt Off C.J. Barton who won his award flying a Halifax on 578 Squadron, then part of 4 Group together with 10 Squadron. The problem is of course that a courageous act is connected to each VC that has ever been awarded and with only a limited number of VC10s, choices had to be made.
The end result was a list of fourteen VCs which were then distributed across the 10 Squadron fleet of VC10s.
The Naming Ceremony
On 11 November 1968 a ceremony was organised at RAF Brize Norton to name the VC10s. XR810 was the airframe chosen to attend the occasion and this VC10 was named by the brother of David Lord VC. Relatives of ten of the fifteen VC holders were present including the son of Thomas Mottershead. After this ceremony the scrolls were also applied to the other thirteen VC10s in the squadron. The fact that fifteen names were chosen to name fourteen VC10s can be explained by XR807's scroll with two names on it: Donald Garland VC and Thomas Gray VC. They were part of the same crew and received the VC for their courageous lead during an attack on a bridge over the Albert Canal from which they did not return.
Initially the scrolls were hand painted onto the airframes but in later years these were replaced with transfers.
Retirement and moving the scrolls around
When the first aircraft left squadron service, not much thought was given to the VC scroll. XR809 continued to fly with the scroll during its service for Rolls Royce and after it was retired the piece of fuselage with the scroll was removed, its present location is unknown. When the VC10s were removed from service in larger numbers a plan was constructed to move the scrolls from aircraft about to be retired and place them on active VC10s. Because of this the previously unnamed K3s and single K4 started carrying VC scrolls as well, culminating in a total of five scrolls on ZA147 just prior to the last flight.
During this move of the various scrolls, the scroll for XR809 was remembered and during its final year and a half of service sistership XR808 once again carried the scroll commemorating Hugh Malcom VC.
Although the original VC10s carried the names of fifteen VC recipients, there was one name which was added at a later stage: K4 ZD241 received a scroll for Leonard Cheshire VC. It is not known when this was done but this makes ex-G-ASGM the only non-10 Squadron VC10 to be named.
The plan called for the scrolls to be removed prior to the VC10 being retired and because of this no VC10 arrived at a museum or scrapyard with a VC scroll in place. Some of the preserved airframes have since had the scrolls applied again so that the VC10s once again commemorate the RAF Servicemen who displayed valour in the face of the enemy.
Two scrolls have also been applied to a VC10 over wing escape hatch which has been signed by the attendees at a commemorative dinner which was held on board XR808 to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. This escape hatch may be at Abbeywood but I have not been able to confirm this yet. Another memorial to the various VC recipients is VC10 K3 ZA148 at Newquay, since its retirement all the sixteen names that flew on VC10s have been applied to the lower fuselage area of this airframe, stretching along both sides of the nose.
The citations for the VC recipients are listed alphabetically below. The various tables show the airframes that carried the VC scrolls and the (approximate) dates when the scrolls were applied. Any corrections and additions are welcome.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to Captain Ball for the most conspicuous and consistent bravery from 25 April-6 May 1917. During this period he took part in 26 combats in the air and destroyed 11 hostile aircraft, drove down 2 out of control and forced several others to land. On several occasions his own aircraft was badly damaged, once so seriously that but for the most delicate handling, the machine would have collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away. On returning with a damaged aircraft, he had always to be restrained from immediately returning to battle in another. Captain Ball destroyed a total of 43 German aircraft and one balloon and consistently displayed the most exceptional courage, skill and determination.
This VC medal is held by the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham.
Flying Officer Campbell was the Pilot of a Beaufort detailed to attack an enemy battle cruiser in Brest Harbour at first light on the morning of 6 April 1941. The aircraft did not return but it is now known that during the mission Campbell carried out a torpedo attack with the utmost daring. The battle cruiser was in a heavily defended harbour backed by high sloping ground so that even if the aircraft managed to penetrate the defences, it would be almost impossible, after delivering a low-level attack, to avoid crashing into the rising ground beyond. In spite of the odds against success, Flying Officer Campbell went cheerfully and resolutely about his task, running the gauntlet of the defences. Approaching his target almost at sea level, he passed anti-aircraft ships below mast height and skimmed over the harbour mole to launch his torpedo at point blank range. The battle cruiser was severely damaged below the water line and as a result, had to return to the dock which she had left only the previous day.
This VC medal is held by 22nd Squadron, Royal Air Force.
The citation for Wg Cdr Cheshire noted: "In four years of fighting against the bitterest opposition he maintained a standard of outstanding personal achievement, his successful operations being the result of careful planning, brilliant execution and supreme contempt for danger – for example, on one occasion he flew his P-51 Mustang in slow 'figures of eight' above a target obscured by low cloud, to act as a bomb-aiming mark for his squadron. Cheshire displayed the courage and determination of an exceptional leader."
To read the full citation as published in the London Gazette of 5th September 1944 click the link below:
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about David Lord VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
Flying Officer Garland was the Pilot and Sergeant Gray was the Observer of the leading aircraft of a formation of 5 aircraft that attacked a bridge over the Albert Canal which had not been destroyed and was allowing the enemy to advance into Belgium. All the aircrews of the Squadron concerned volunteered for the operation and, after 5 crews had been selected by drawing lots, the attack was delivered at low altitude against this vital target. Orders were issued that this bridge was to be destroyed at all costs. As had been expected, exceptionally intense machine gun and anti aircraft fire were encountered. Moreover, the bridge area was heavily protected by enemy fighters. In spite of this, the formation successfully delivered a dive bombing attack from the lowest practicable altitude. British fighters in the vicinity reported that the target was obscured by the bombs bursting on it and near it. Only one of the 5 aircraft returned from this mission. The pilot of this aircraft report that besides being subject to extremely heavy anti-aircraft fire, through which they dived to attack the objective, our aircraft were also attacked by a large number of enemy fighters after they had released their bombs on the target. Much of the success of this vital operation must be attributed to the Formation Leader, Flying Officer Garland, and to the coolness and resource of Sergeant Gray, who in the most difficult conditions, navigated Flying Officer Garland’s aircraft in such a manner that the whole formation was able successfully to attack the target in spite of subsequent heavy losses. Flying Officer Garland and Sergeant Gray did not return.
The VC medal that was awarded to Donald Garland is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon. Gray's VC is not publicly held.
Wing Commander Gibson is best remembered for the raid on the Moehne and Eder Dams. He personally made the initial attack on the Moehne Dam, descending to within a few feet of the water and taking the full brunt of the anti-aircraft defences. After he had completed his attack he then circled very low for 30 minutes, drawing the enemy fire on himself, so that the following aircraft would have an easier run into the Dam. When the attack on the Moehne was complete and the dam was breached, Wing Commander Gibson then led the remaining aircraft to the Eder Dam where once again, with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeated his tactics and once more drew on himself the enemy fire so that the attack could be successfully completed. Wing Commander Gibson was eventually killed on 19 September 1944 whilst flying a Mosquito on a raid against Rheydt. He crashed in Holland on the flight home.
Guy Gibson's VC medal is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
The award of the Victoria Cross was made to Major Lanoe Hawker for most conspicuous bravery and very great ability on 25 July 1915. When flying alone he attacked 3 German aeroplanes in succession. The first managed eventually to escape, the second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third, which he attacked at a height of about 10,000 feet, was driven to earth in British lines, the pilot and observer being killed. The personal bravery shown by this officer was of the very highest order, as the enemy’s aircraft were armed with machine guns, and all carried a passenger as well as the pilot.
This VC is in the collection of the RAF Museum, Hendon, but I did not see it on my last visit in March 2016. If anyone has a photo I would appreciate a copy.
Flight Lieutenant Lord was Pilot and Captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies to Arnhem on the afternoon of 19 September 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Aircrews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers. While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the mainstream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. On learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in 3 minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of supplies. By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns. On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight and level course while supplies were dropped. He then rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took 8 minutes in all, the aircraft being continually under heavy anti-aircraft fire. His task completed , Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames. There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes. By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and finally remaining at the controls to give his crew a change of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self sacrifice.
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about David Lord VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
This officer commanded a squadron of light bombers in North Africa. Throughout his service in that theatre his leadership, skill and daring were of the highest order. On 17 November 1942, he was detailed to carry out a low-level formation attack on Bizerta airfield, taking advantage of cloud cover. Twenty miles from the target the sky became clear, but Wing Commander Malcolm carried on, knowing well the danger of proceeding without a fighter escort. Despite fierce opposition all bombs were dropped within the airfield perimeter. A Junkers 52 and a Messerschmidt 109 were shot down; many dispersed enemy aircraft were raked by machine-gun fire. Weather conditions became extremely unfavourable and as a result, 2 of his aircraft were lost by collision; another was forced down by enemy fighters. It was due to this officer's skilful and resolute leadership that the remaining aircraft returned safely to base. On 28 November 1942, he again led his squadron against Bizerta airfield which was bombed from a low altitude. The airfield on this occasion was heavily defended and intense and accurate anti aircraft fire was met. Nevertheless, after his squadron had released their bombs, Wing Commander Malcolm led them back again and again to attack the airfield with machine-gun fire. These were typical of every sortie undertaken by this gallant officer; each attack was pressed to an effective conclusion however difficult the task and however formidable the opposition. Finally, on 4 December 1942, Wing Commander Malcolm, having been detailed to give close support to the First Army received an urgent request to attack an enemy fighter airfield, near Clanigin. Wing Commander Malcolm knew that to attack such an objective without a fighter escort - which could not be arranged in the time available - would be to court almost certain disaster; but believing the attack to be necessary for the success of the Army's operations, his duty was clear. He decided to attack. He took off with his squadron and reached the target unmolested, but when he had successfully attacked it, his squadron was intercepted by an overwhelming force of enemy fighters. Wing Commander Malcolm fought back, controlling his hard-pressed squadron and attempting to maintain formation. One by one his aircraft were shot down until only his own aircraft remained. In the end he, too, was shot down in flames. Wing Commander Malcolm's last exploit was the finest example of the valour and unswerving devotion which he constantly displayed.
Personal Note: Hugh Malcolm was born at Dundee and in 1936 he became a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. At the time of the gallant action which cost him his life, he was 25 years old and a Wing Commander in command of a bomber squadron. His was the first Air Force Victoria Cross to be won in North Africa and the famous Malcolm Clubs opened at many RAF stations are named after him.
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Hugh Malcolm VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
The award of the Victoria Cross was made in recognition of bravery of the first order in aerial combat. On 17 June 1918, he attacked an Halberstadt machine near Armentieres and destroyed it from a height of 8,000 feet. On 7 July 1918, near Doulieu, he attacked and destroyed one Fokker (red-bodied) machine, which went vertically into the ground from a height of 1,500 feet. Shortly afterwards he descended to 1,000 feet and attacked another Fokker biplane, firing 60 rounds into it, which produced an immediate spin, resulting, it is believed, in a crash. On 14 July 1918, near Merville, he attacked and crashed a Fokker from 7,000 feet and brought an enemy 2-seater down damaged. On 19 July 1918, near Merville, he fired 80 rounds into an Albatross 2-seater, which went to the ground in flames. On 20 July 1918, east of La Bassee, he attacked and crashed an enemy 2-seater from a height of 10,000 feet. About an hour afterwards he attacked at 8,000 feet a Fokker biplane near Steenwercke and drove it down out of control, emitting smoke. On 22 July 1918, near Armentieres, he destroyed an enemy triplane from a height of 10,000 feet. This highly distinguished officer, during the whole of his career in the Royal Flying Corps was an outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty and self sacrifice, which has never been surpassed. The total number of machines definitely accounted for by Major Mannock up to the date of his death in France (26 July 1918) is 50.
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Edward Mannock VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
The award of the Victoria Cross to Major McCudden was for the most conspicuous bravery, exceptional perseverance, keenness and a very high devotion to duty. At the time of the award Major McCudden had accounted for the destruction of 54 enemy aeroplanes. Of this total, 42 had been definitely destroyed, 19 of them on the British side of the lines. Only 12 of the 54 were driven down out of control. The following examples are typical of Major McCudden’s efforts. While leading a patrol on 23 December 1917 he attacked 8 enemy aircraft, personally shooting down 2 of them. Earlier that day and while flying on his own, he had attacked 4 enemy aircraft, shooting down 2 of them and driving the others back across the enemy lines. On 30 January 1918, and once again single handed he attacked 5 enemy aircraft, destroying 2 of them. The final paragraph of the citation in the London Gazette stated:
“This officer is considered, by the record which he has made by his fearlessness, and by the great service which he has rendered to his country, deserving the very highest award.”
James McCudden's VC medal is held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham.
Sergeant Mottershead was awarded the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill. When attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet, the petrol tank in his aircraft was pierced and the machine caught fire. Enveloped in flames, which his observer was unable to control, Sergeant Mottershead succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to British lines. Although he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath the wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Although suffering the most extreme pain from his burns, Sergeant Mottershead showed exceptional presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place and his endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his observer. Sergeant Mottershead eventually died as a result of his injuries.
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about Thomas Mottershead VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
The Thomas Mottershead Statue Appeal Fund is working hard to have this airman honoured by a statue in his home town, Widnes. Their website includes more information about Thomas Mottershead and the two observers who flew with him on the actions for which he was awarded a Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Conduct Medal. Visit the site and see how you can help this appeal: the SGT Thomas Mottershead VC DCM Statue Appeal.
Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was Fighter Command’s only VC in the Second World War. His decoration was awarded after an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16 August 1940, when his aircraft was hit by 4 cannon shells, 2 of which wounded him while another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft because of the flames in the cockpit, he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying with his aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face and legs.
If you visit the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon you can have a look at several items of equipment that Flt. Lt. James Nicolson used, as well as his medals. Apart from the Victoria Cross he was also awarded the DFC, 1939-1945 Star (with Battle of Britain clasp), Air Crew Europe Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal and 1939-1945 War Medal.
Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse was awarded the Victoria Cross for the most conspicuous bravery on 26 April 1915, while flying to Courtrai and dropping bombs on the railway line near the station. At the start of his return journey he was seriously wounded, but succeeded in flying 35 miles to his destination, at a very low altitude, and reporting the successful completion of his mission. Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse later died of his wounds.
This VC is part of the Lord Ashcroft collection and is displayed on rotation in the IWM Lord Ashcroft Gallery. Click this link for more information about William Rhodes-Moorhouse VC and the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
On 9 December 1941 all the available aircraft at RAF Butterworth were ordered to make a daylight raid on the Japanese airfield at Signora in Thailand. The aircraft were on the point of taking off when the enemy attacked the airfield and with the exception of Squadron Leader Scarf’s aircraft, which had already taken off, all the aircraft were either badly damaged or destroyed while still on the ground. Squadron Leader Scarf witnessed the destruction below and decided that he would continue the attack on his own. This he successfully did but the opposition over the target was severe and he was attacked by a considerable number of enemy fighters. Even though seriously wounded, he continued to engage the enemy in a running fight back to the Malaysian border in an attempt to return to Butterworth. However, because of the seriousness of his wounds he was unable to reach his destination and had to force-land at Alor Star on the way. Squadron Leader Scarf completed his forced-landing without causing any injury to his crew, but although he himself was admitted to hospital, Squadron Leader Scarf eventually died of his wounds.
This VC is on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, in the Bomber Command hall.
Flight Sergeant Thompson was the wireless operator of a Lancaster which attacked the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 1 January 1945. The aircraft had twice been hit by anti-aircraft shells; the first hit the mid-upper turret and set the aircraft on fire, filling it with dense smoke; the second shell struck the nose of the aircraft which caused an inrush of air, clearing away the smoke but revealing a scene of utter devastation Flight Sergeant Thompson immediately saw that the mid-upper gunner was trapped. Without a moment's hesitation he entered the blazing turret and pulled the unconscious gunner free. He carried him to safety and then with his bare hands extinguished the gunner's blazing clothing, sustaining serious burns in the process. Flight Sergeant Thompson then noticed that the rear gun turret was also on fire, and despite his injuries, made his way to the rear of the aircraft; once again ignoring his own safety, he entered the burning turret to rescue the unconscious rear gunner, and with his already badly burnt hands, extinguished the gunner's blazing clothing. Even though he was now almost completely exhausted, he made his way forward to the captain to report on the fate of the crew. So pitiful was his appearance that his captain failed to recognise him. Even so, Thompson's only concern was for his 2 comrades left in the rear of the aircraft. The aircraft eventually crash-landed near Heesch, The Netherlands. Flight Sergeant Thompson was admitted to hospital, where 3 weeks later, he died of his wounds.