Valor Friday

| May 17, 2019

Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross

Mason brings us today’s Valor Friday, which honors Warrent Officer Norman Cyril Jackson, RAF. His amazing tale of bravery and self-sacrifice in an in extremis situation with his burning Avro Lancaster heavy bomber, is the stuff of legends. He was 20,000 feet above German territory his crew had just bombed, and I’ll cede the post to Mason.

Mason

Though American history is not lacking in heroic figures worthy of writing about, I feel from time to time that the acts of servicemen from allied nations is worth highlighting. Today’s is one such article.

Norman Cyril Jackson was adopted into the Gunter family when he was very young. The family adopted another young boy, Geoffrey Oliver Hartley, who as a police lieutenant in 1951 was awarded the George Medal (the second highest British award for bravery not in the face of an enemy). Jackson joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1939 as WWII started. He was married and in a protected occupation (fitter and turner – what we Yanks would call a machinist), so he didn’t have to enlist, but he did.

His RAF duties saw him using his civilian acquired skills as an engine fitter. Assigned to a flying boat squadron in Sierra Leone, he applied for and was granted retraining as a flight engineer.

July 1943 saw Jackson assigned to the No. 106 Squadron flying Avro Lancaster heavy bombers. He passed his 30 mission threshold on 24 April, 1944. This would permit him to return home. He’d completed one of these missions with a different crew. He decided to fly with his crew for their final, 30th mission on the night of 26-27 April, 1944.

avro lancaster
Avro Lancaster

Jackson and crew took off in Lancaster bomber serial #ME669 headed for Schweinfurt, Germany to bomb a ball bearing plant. The night’s raid included 200 Lancaster bombers. Jackson’s crew succeeded in bombing their target but came under fire from a German night fighter as they climbed out of their attack.

Jackson was injured by shrapnel in the attack, and the aircraft sustained heavy damage. The worst of the damage saw a fuel tank in the starboard (right) wing catch fire. Their options were almost none. Ditching would be their best bet, ditching over enemy territory they had just bombed the shit out of.

Young Norman Jackson however saw a burning wing on his aircraft not as a sign of defeat, but rather a problem an intrepid flight engineer could tackle. His daring plan; to climb out onto the wing, while in flight, and put the fire out with a handheld extinguisher. He somehow convinced the captain of the plane that this was a good idea.

Jackson strapped on a parachute and took the small extinguisher. The plane was going 200 MPH at roughly 20,000ft as he climbed out the escape hatch above the pilot, headed for the wing.

As he was making his way out, the parachute popped, filling the cockpit with the canopy and rigging lines. Sergeant Jackson continued out, the cockpit crew gathering his lifeline as best they could. As Sgt Jackson crawled along the fuselage, they played out the line. Buffeted by wind, he slipped and fell from the fuselage to the starboard wing.

Hanging on to the leading edge of the wing with one arm he lost the extinguisher. The fire on the wing was now larger and burned across his hands, face, and clothes.

Just then, the night fighter returned, strafing the plane again. Jackson was again hit, this time shot in the legs, and the plane took more damage. He was knocked off the wing, his parachute aflame and riddled with holes. His crew tossed his chute out the door as they prepared to bail out as well. When last he was seen by his crewmates, the parachute was only partly inflated and burning in a number of places.

The parachute slowed his descent, but only barely. Plunging 20,000ft, Jackson survived the fall, as did four of the other six men on his crew after ditching the plane. Jackson crawled, suffering from agonizing injuries, to a German village and was captured. He spent months in a German hospital with burns, bullet and flak wounds, and a broken ankle. After ten months he was transferred to the Stalag IX-C POW camp.

Jackson made two escape attempts, the second one successful as he was met by the US 3rd Army. As he and the other POWs were repatriated, Norman’s story of courage was relayed. He was awarded the UK’s highest award, the Victoria Cross (equivalent to the American Medal of Honor).

At the medal presentation ceremony in front of King George VI, Jackson was accompanied by Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, who was also slated to receive the VC. The Group Captain, despite their differences in rank (Jackson now ranked Warrant Officer), insisted they approach the king together as peers. Cheshire also attempted to have the king present Jackson’s award first because, “This chap stuck his neck out more than I did – he should get his VC first!” The King stuck to protocol however, though Jackson was struck and honored by Cheshire’s words.

After the war, Jackson became a travelling whiskey salesman for Haig and had six children. He died in 1994 at the age of 74.

VICTORIA CROSS CITATION

Extract from Fourth Supplement, The London Gazette No 37324 of Friday 26 October 1945:
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS in recognition of most conspicuous bravery to:- 905192 Sergeant (Now Warrant Officer) Norman Cyril Jackson R.A.F.V.R., 106 Squadron.

This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944. Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once, but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine.

Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain’s permission to try to put out the flames.

Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and clipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot’s head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit.

Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot (Fred Mifflin), bomb aimer (Maurice Toft) and navigator (Frank Higgins) gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away.

By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.

Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for.

Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After ten months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands require further treatment and are only of limited use.

This airman’s attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered.

Wow. Thanks, Mason. The only thing I can say after that is…

Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

Category: Guest Link, The Warrior Code, Valor

Comments (3)

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  1. Slick Goodlin says:

    Interesting Historical facts about the actual medal:

    All Victoria Crosses are cast from the metal of captured cannons.

    A single company of jewelers,has been responsible for the production of every Victoria Cross awarded since its inception in 1856.

  2. SFC D says:

    That Lancaster was not shot down. It simply did not have the horsepower nor the lift to support Norman Jackson’s immense set of balls.

  3. 5th/77th FA says:

    Daaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyuuuuuuuuuuuuuum!

    To semi paraphrase SFC D, I don’t think a triple canopy ‘chute would have slowed the descent with those ‘nads, nor would a modern B1B have enough lift or power.

    “That such men lived.”

    Hand Salute…Ready…Two