The following information was sent to the No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron Association by the one of the leading authorities on the life of Arthur Louis Aaron VC DFM Mr Martin Cocker.
Arthur Aaron’s “Other” Award
As told to Martin by Alan Larden C.G.M (Flying) Malcolm Mitchem DFM and Jim Richmond.
Acting Flight Sergeant Arthur Louis Aaron was awarded two medals posthumously following his death from injuries received during an operation against Turin on the night of 12/13th August 1943. The Victoria Cross, gazetted on November 5th 1943 received considerable attention. The Other award, the Distinguished Flying Medal, has received little attention despite the award being highly regarded recognition for a non commissioned airman.
At the end of July 1943, Bomber Command conducted a number of heavy raids against Hamburg in an attempt to so damage the city that its industries would be put totally out of use. The effect upon the war effort was hoped to be emphatic and, if followed up successfully against other targets, it could shorten or even end the war in Europe. The dropping of “Window”, numerous short strips of paper backed by reflective aluminium foil intended to confuse the enemy radar defences, had been introduced on the first major raid on Hamburg on July 24th 1943. Also in the early stages of its use and development was H2S, a form of ground-tracking radar for accurate navigation.
For a fifth time in seven days a major raid was called on July 30th. The target was the Ruhr town of Remscheid. Whilst the effect of the raid was highly successful losses from the attacking force was back up to 5.5% illustrating that the German defences were quickly overcoming the effects of “Window” on their radar predictors. Arthur Aaron was very nearly one of these losses. Only coolness under pressure by the whole crew enabled their safe return. Malcom Mitchem recalls :
“We were late on our timing. We were delayed due to being coned by searchlights near Amsterdam, entailing losing height and direction to evade them then regaining height whilst still loaded. We were cutting off corners to get to around Dusseldorf to get to the target and back into our bomb slot time for our wave and height. We never did catch up and going in to the target the gunners were told to keep their eyes peeled watching above for higher waves of aircraft going in.
Despite this they were hit by three incendiaries dropped from above. Two 4lb incendiaries penetrated the starboard wing between No.2 and No.4 main tanks. Fortunately, they remained un ignited and were discovered there when they landed back at RAF Downham Market, their home base. A 30lb incendiary penetrated the fuselage roof, it drove the hydraulic lines which would have powered the mid under turret (not fitted) through the floor of the fuselage into the well where the turret would otherwise have been. The incendiary caught fire and set light to the hydraulic fluid gushing from the fractured pipes. Having nearly been struck as it penetrated the aircraft, “Jimmy” Guy the Wireless Operator, who had been by the flare chute pushing out wads of “Window” called up on the intercom to report that the aircraft was on fire.
The aircraft filled with thick black smoke and fumes and flames roared up through the fuselage floor and out of the gashed roof as a great flare of flames. Whilst Arthur and Alan pressed on with the task of reaching and bombing the target, Malcolm came off intercom, grabbed a portable fire extinguisher and went back to fight the fire. The flare of the flame and the fire glow in the fuselage attracted the searchlights which again coned the aircraft. Having dropped their bombs, Arthur started a diving, twisting descent to forestall the flak and escape the searchlights. Alan Larden said :
“Arthur had opened his side window to force the smoke to the back of the aircraft and by then “Jimmy” Guy and I were able to work our way back along the aircraft to Jim Richmond in the mid-upper turret. Jim had been trapped there above the fire. With the aid of portable oxygen cylinders we were able to help him to the front of the aircraft to recover”.
With all the smoke and the eerie glow cast by the searchlights and the flames Malcolm Mitchem, who was off intercom was confused about the state of the aircraft.
“With all the diving and turning I thought that the aircraft was out of control and that maybe all the others had bailed out. I began to return up front to reach my own parachute when I met Alan and “Jimmy” Guy coming back with more extinguishers after they had moved Jim Richmond forward. The incendiary had burnt its way through the floor and had fallen out. We were able then to extinguish what remained of the fire around the hole left in the floor. ”
By now Arthur had descended towards the Cologne/Dusseldorf gap in the searchlight belt and eventually escaped the glare of the lights. They had lost a lot of height and were streaking for home on an even keel at low level across Holland. When they had crossed the Dutch Coast and were out over the North Sea they could relax a little. Flasks were opened and coffee was pressed upon Malcolm who was coughing and retching from all the smoke and extinguisher fumes. They landed back at Downham Market at 03:05hrs after a eventful 4 hours 30 minutes flight. Interestingly, the Squadron Operational Records Book make no reference to their adventures. Their own brief, factual summary shows that they bombed from 15000ft on red TI markers, saw quite a lot of fires and saw smoke up to 8000ft.
The London Gazette of 19th October 1943 announced the award of the DFM to Arthur. The citation reads as follows:
This NCO has completed 19 successful operations, the majority of which have been against the most heavily defended areas in Germany. He has avoided trouble by his skill in anticipating enemy action and taking the correct evasive action. On one occasion when his aircraft was hit by incendiaries dropped from above, a fire started in the rear of the bomb doors. The wireless operator and engineer managed to get it under control while the attack was pressed home. He has proved himself an exceptional captain and leader. I wish to recommend him for the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.
Remarks by Station Commander
Strongly recommended. This NCO is highly imaginative and rather highly strung individual. The fact that he is always doggedly determined to reach and bomb the target in any circumstances is considered doubly commendable.
Remarks by A.O.C
On the night of 12/13th August, 1943 after this recommendation was first made. Sergeant Aaron completed his 20th sortie with a bombing attack on Turin and was wounded in action. The award of the distinguished Flying Medal is recommended.