I think it seems wholly appropriate, following on from my little tribute to John “Jock” Moffat below and COMJAM’s excellent posting showing off the beautiful `PV-2 Harpoon` that I do a follow-up on those incredible, historic men of Naval Aviation, particularly as `Hudson’s` feature in the tale.
I am going to move on a few months from the action against the Bismarck. It’s now early 1942 and the war has just been joined by a shocked and badly bruised United States of America. The `sleeping giant was awake and seeking a terrible resolve` but elsewhere, in the stormy North Sea, another giant – this one with an evil heart – was intent on moving into the Atlantic.
I have provided a link at the end to what I feel is an excellent and highly detailed account, one that will require the reader to set aside a little extra time, but I think you will find it worth it and as moving an experience as I do whenever I read of the action of Lt Cdr Esmonde VC and his band of brothers. They were not fearless, they were scared to death, but they carried on despite all their natural in-built warnings telling them they were crazy and to get the hell out of there. Lt Cdr Esmonde VC had flown against the Bismarck and knew exactly what it would be like this time. It is that which made them truly magnificent – masters of their fears. Lt Cdr Esmonde’s Victoria Cross, as you will have guessed, was awarded posthumously. Here is an extract from the involvement of the aviators:
Sub-Lieutenant Brian Rose was flying the second Swordfish in the first subflight. Soon after the initial encounter with the enemy he was hit in the back. He was still able to fly the aircraft, though he was now in considerable pain. Moments later, another shell fractured the petrol tank. The engine faltered and Rose decided that he had to get rid of his torpedo. He aimed it at the second big ship, Gneisenau. As he turned away it “seemed to be running well”. He estimated the range as about 1.829 meter (2.000 yards).
In the cockpit behind him the gunner, Leading Airman A. L. Johnson, had been killed. The observer, Sub-Lieutenant Edgar Lee, had escaped injury. He had even tried to take over the gun but Johnson’s body was in the way. It was now quite clear that the aircraft would never get back to Manston. Rose brought it down into the sea about 457 meter (500 yards) from the enemy destroyer screen. His back was now in very bad shape but Lee managed to help him out and into the rubber dinghy. Johnson’s body was too firmly wedged in place to be shifted before the Swordfish sank. The two men waited until the German ships were well out of the way. Then they fired two distress signals with a Verey light pistol. They were seen by an MTB, which picked them up after 1½ hour.
The German Vice-Admiral Ciliax said afterwards: “The mothball attack of a handful of ancient planes, piloted by men whose bravery surpasses any other action by either side that day”. Helmuth Giessler said: “Such bravery was devoted and incredible. One was privileged to witness it.” Captain Hoffmann said during the attack: “Poor fellows. They are so very slow. It is nothing but suicide for them to fly against these big ships.”