Stirling BF372

November 28th, 1942: Rawdon Hume "Ron” Middleton of the Royal Australian Air Force was captain of Stirling BF372, a bomber detailed to bomb the Fiat aircraft works at Turin. It was Ron's twenty-ninth combat sortie, only one short of the thirty required for completion of a 'tour' and mandatory rotation of combat operations.

Middleton and his crew arrived over their target after a difficult flight over the Alps, making three low-level passes to identify his target. On the third and final pass, the bomber was struck by heavy anti-aircraft fire, damaging the aircraft, and wounding both pilots as well as the wireless operator. Middleton was severely wounded with a shattered jaw, multiple shrapnel wounds, and his right eye torn from its socket. Middleton lost consciousness. 

His co-pilot, Flight Sergeant L.A. Hyder, also seriously wounded on that last pass, managed to regain control of the diving bomber at a mere 800 feet above ground level. Hydner quickly released the bomb load, and climbed for altitude before receiving first aid from the other crew.

A few moments later, Middleton regained consciousness, recovering control of his stricken bomber, barely able to see, losing blood from multiple wounds, and breathing with difficulty. Middleton was determined to bring his crippled aircraft home and return his entire crew to safety.

Middleton called over the intercom "I'll make the English Coast. I'll get you home”.

The already stricken bomber received further damage by flak over France as it flew westbound, and finally reached the coast of England with only five minutes of fuel reserves remaining.

Middleton turned his aircraft parallel to the English coast and ordered his crew to bail out. Five crew bailed out and landed safely. Middleton's front gunner and flight engineer remained with him to try to talk him into a forced landing on the coast, but Middleton feared risking civilian casualties.

Just off Dymchurch, Middleton gave the final order to the last two crew to bail out. They did not survive. Making one final turn, Capt Middleton steered his aircraft out over the sea...

The body of Rawdon Hume "Ron” Middleton of the Royal Australian Air Force washed ashore on 1 February 1943.

Middleton was posthumously promoted to pilot officer and was a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

The last line of his Victoria Cross citation reads: "His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force

Pilot Officers George Royde (navigator) and Norman Skinner (wireless operator) were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Flight Sergeant Leslie Hyder (2nd pilot), Flight Sergeant Douglas Cameron (mid-upper gunner) and Sergeant H.W. Gough (rear gunner) each received the Distinguished Flying Medal.

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