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Roderick Learoyd



Wing Commander

Roderick Learoyd - Biography

As a young motor salesman in the early 30’s in Folkstone I became friendly with the Hawker Fury pilots of 25 Squadron, Hawkinge. This, together with a few trips in a friend’s Bristol fighter, convinced me that a pilot was what I really wanted to be. I applied for a Short Service Commission but initially was turned down. I re­applied and was later accepted and sent to Hamble for Initial (Civil Licence) Flying Training in March 1936.

After obtaining my uniform and ‘learning which knife and fork to use’ at Uxbridge, I was sent to No 5 FTS, Wittering on Hawker Harts. At the end of a year I was posted to my first Squadron No 49 of 2 Group, Worthydown, Winchester, equipped with Hawker Hinds. In 1938 the station was handed over to the Navy (and, as HMS Kestrel, sunk by Lord Haw Haw!) and 49 was relocated at Scampton, Nr. Lincoln.

In 1939, after twin-engine conversion on Blenheims of 110 Squadron, Waddington, 49 became the first Squadron to be equipped with Handley Page Hampdens.

On the evening of the day war was declared, I was No 2 in a formation flight detailed to locate part of the German Fleet which was sailing from Kiel Canal towards Hamburg. Luckily we never found them as I was having enough trouble with night formation flying – my leader didn’t know that the Hampden was equipped with Formation-Keeping lights and his upper-gunner/wireless operator periodically flashed an Aldis lamp which, of course, blinded me! – the No 3 had left for home early on. Anyhow the trip meant that we were now ‘operational’.

A quiet period followed until the Spring, when we started low level mining of the sea approaches and harbours of Norway and Denmark. By Summer we were put on to the more general disruption of enemy communications – bombing railway marshalling yards, lines and tunnels, aerodromes, and major crossroads.

In June of the year 1940, we carried out our first raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal – an attack at 300 feet on the lock-gates. Then back to mining and a couple more bombing trips including one to act as diversion for someone-else’s attack on the lock-gates. This target was important as the enemy transported much of the output of the Ruhr steel plants and factories to Hamburg, Bremen etc. via the Canal, which was most vulnerable near Munster, where the freight was carried over the Ems river on an aquaduct.

Early in August I started a short solo special training session – low level practice night bombing on a range near Gainsborough. My target being a small light by a stream.

Soon came the day when the reason for all this became clear: Scampton had been chosen to supply five volunteer crews – 2 from 49 Squadron and 3 from 83 Squadron – to attack the Dortmund-Ems Canal and attempt to actually breach the aquaduct. The attack was to be low level with special missiles (a cross between a mine and a bomb) with a ten-minute delayed action. We were to go in at 2-minute intervals and therefore accurate timing was essential.

The eventful night of August 12th is described in my Combat Report. Following this attack, my second Dortmund-Ems Canal raid, I was sent to London as P/A to Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brook-Popham. Whilst with Sir Robert I heard I had been awarded the Victoria Cross for our part in the Raid.

A couple of months or so later I returned to 49 Squadron, then to the OTU at Coltismore and back to Scampton as C.O. of 83 Squadron. This was followed by a posting to No 44 Squadron who were re-equipping with the first Lancasters and then on to another OTU at Finningley.

After this I spent one year at the Air Ministry as a member of the ‘line-shoot’ squad visiting factories in order to help boost the war effort.

Though I served in 83 Squadron at Scampton, 44 Squadron at Waddington, and much later 48 Squadron of Transport Command, I regard 49 Squadron as my real operational Squadron. 49 was the first R.A.F. Squadron to be equipped with the Handley page Hampden, and it was with this Squadron that I flew the eventful Dortmund-Ems Canal raids.

By VE Day I was with Flying Transport Command, piloting Dakotas of 48 Squadron training paratroopers. After VE Day I spent some time bringing released prisoners of war back to U.K. By V. J. Day I had a Communication “Flight” at Accra, Gold Coast, operating up the coast to Rabat and via Nigeria and Khartoum to Cairo.

I came back to U.K. early in 1946 and to demob with the rank of Wing Commander.

Notes on Aircraft flown in Combat 1939-45

I flew various types of aircraft, from the agile Hawker Hind to the somewhat pedestrian Dakota, but I have greatest affection for the Handley Page Hampden. Although the aircraft design did not lend itself to development, it was in its day a fine, very manoeuvrable, but much maligned aeroplane. On more than one occasion it got me and my crew home in spite of considerable damage inflicted by enemy flak.

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Leonard Cheshire & Roderick Learoyd

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