View Full Version : F/L William Reid - No.61 Squadron - later No.617 Squadron - Victoria Cross

11th May 2022, 14:48
REID, William, Flight Lieutenant (124438) – No. 61 Squadron – Victoria Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 14 December 1943. Information from Spink auction catalogue of 19 November 2009 which summarized his career as follows:.

The outstanding Second War Bomber Command Victoria Cross Group of Six to Lancaster Pilot, Flight Lieutenant W. ‘Bill’ Reid, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who whilst on a sortie with 61 squadron to Dusseldorf, 3.11.1943, was ‘wounded in two [fighter] attacks, without Oxygen suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended ‘targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long perilous journey home’. He was later posted to the famous 617 ‘Dam Buster’s squadron with whom he was ‘Bombed-out’ on a ‘Tall Boy’ sortie over Rilly La Montagne, 31.7.1944, ‘Just as he emerged, the Lancaster broke in two and Reid tumbled down, accompanied by a hail of metal fragments from his aircraft’. He and his wireless operator survived to be taken prisoner of war. Tragically the rest of the crew perished in the crippled plane.

“.On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

“Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay, he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

“During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

“Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stern to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action, Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

“Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorized his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target. Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semi-consciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

“The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by the blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on.

“Wounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”

Flight Lieutenant William Reid, V.C. (1921-2001); born Baillieston, Glasgow, educated at Coarbridge Secondary School; joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, April 1941; he was given deferred service until August that year and then reported to the Initial Training Wing at Newquay, Cornwall; further training was undertaken at Moncton, Canada and on the 3rd of December he was posted to No. 2 BFTS Lancaster in California, U.S.A. for his advance course; Reid received his ‘wings’ and was commissioned Pilot Officer, 19.6.1942; after a stint at No. 6 APU, Little Rissington, he was posted to 29 OTU, North Luffenham, 15.9.1942; upon arrival at the latter, he expected to ‘crew up’ prior to receiving an operational posting, however, his skill as a pilot was recognized and he was ‘screened’ to be an instructor; he did however whilst in this capacity get his first taste of action flying a Wellington, 9.3.1943 ‘X-Country. Attacked by night fighter vicinity Great Yarmouth – Three attacks damage to post side of a/c; after defensive action headed for base & landed at Woolfox having called Dorky because of damage. Tyre port side burst landed ok’ (Log Book refers); after converting to Avro Lancasters, Reid received what he had been waiting for, an operational posting, on this occasion to 61 Squadron (Lancasters), Syerston, Newark, 6.9.1943; operational sorties flown with the squadron included over heavily defended German targets such as Hanover (2), Mannheim, Bochum, Munich, Kassel (2), Stuttgart and 3.9.1943 to Dusseldorf; on the latter date, a force of approximately 600 hundred bombers set out on the raid to Dusseldorf, Reid was piloting Lancaster LM360 ‘O’; his six men crew consisted of Flight Sergeant J.A. Jeffreys (Navigator); Flight Sergeant I. Rolton (Bomb-Aimer); Flight Sergeant J.W. Norris (Flight Engineer); Flight Sergeant J.J. Mann (Wireless Operator); Flight Sergeant D. Baldwin, D.F.M. (Mid-upper gun turret) and Flight Sergeant A.F. ‘Joe’ Emerson (rear gun-turret).

To Dusseldorf and Back
For Valour, The Air V.C.’s offers further insight into Reid’s extraordinary flight, ‘At one minute before 5 p.m,. Reid became airborne from Syerston and steadily climbed towards the coastline, heading towards Holland…. Crossing the Dutch coast at 21,000 feet, Reid’s windscreen suddenly exploded in a blinding flash, and he felt as if his head had been blown off. A Messerschmitt Bf 100 night-fighter had attacked from dead astern. Its cannon shells damaging both gun turrets of the Lancaster and shattering Reid’s cockpit. Hit in the head and shoulder by stray slivers of shell, Reid was also struck in the body and face by a myriad of jagged Perspex fragments from the windscreen. Fortunately, none had penetrated his eyes; though his eyelids were scratched and torn.

Half-dazed by the impact, Reid managed to get his goggles over his eyes to protect them from the howling icy slipstream battering him through the broken Perspex canopy. Blood was flowing freely from his face and shoulder and Reid could taste it in his mouth, but the slipstream quickly coagulated the flow. The Lancaster, badly hit, nosed downwards for 2,000 feet before Reid managed to regain control. The port elevator was badly hit, several instruments (including the compass) out of commission, and the hydraulics partly damaged.
He heard Alan Jefferies (sic) yell, asking Reid if he was ok. Reid, though feeling ‘half-dead’ (sic) replied, ‘Yes, I fell all right’ – he could see no purpose on worrying the crew about his injuries. He then checked that the other crew members were unharmed, and calmly decided to continue his mission to Dusseldorf. It was a decision with no ‘heroic’ overtones; simply a logical (to Reid) move. To turn back would have meant running head-on through the following main stream of bombers, and that would undoubtedly be dangerous to both Reid’s aircraft and the main force. It was ‘common sense’ in Reid’s way of thinking to continue the sortie.

Jamming on hard left rudder constantly to counteract the tendency of his aircraft to yaw because of the elevator damage, Reid had hardly begun to settle down before a Focke Wulf FW 190 bore in from the port beam and raked the whole length of the bomber’s fuselage with a murderously accurate hail of cannon shells. The navigator, Jefferies, died instantly and crumpled to the floor of the fuselage, while Mann, the wireless operator, fell on top of Jefferies, seriously wounded. Norris too was hit in his left arm, and Reid was also hit. Other shells ruptured the aircraft’s oxygen and hydraulic systems, and further damaged the two-gun turrets.

Despite his own wounds, Norris clipped an emergency oxygen bottle onto Reid’s supply tube and then helped the pilot in holding the control column steady, as the stricken bomber slowly levelled out again at 17,000 feet. Still conscious, Reid again calmly continued on his sortie, still determined to reach Dusseldorf. Without the use of his compass now, Reid looked for the Pole Star and flew on that until he recognized Cologne on the starboard side, and began his final approach to his target; reaching the objective nearly an hour after the second night fighter attack.

With both arms folded around the control column to hold it rock steady, Reid flew across the centre of the target, and Rolton released the bomb load accurately. Then, as Reid steered slightly northwards to clear the flak zone, Rolton and the wounded Norris stood by Reid, ready to help in controlling the heavily damaged bomber for the long return trip. Navigating as best he could by the stars, Reid was steadily getting weaker now. The constant physical effort in keeping on hard left rudder, and holding the control column with both arms, fingers linked, was sapping his remaining strength.

Near the Dutch coast, he ran into a heavy flak barrage, but managed to get through without further damage or injury until the Lancaster was well out over the North Sea. Then, without warning, all four engines spluttered and cut, and the bomber wallowed into a flat spin. Reid, by then without oxygen as the emergency supply petered out, was lightheaded and slow in reaction. Norris also light-headed from his own wounds, had forgotten to change over the petrol cocks to a full tank; but instinctive training told him what was wrong and he swiftly rectified the fault. All engines resumed their former full power and the Lancaster levelled out to continue its flight home.

As he approached the English coast, Reid, aware of the low petrol state of his aircraft and the ruptured hydraulics (the bomb doors had remained open after bombing and could not be retracted), decided to try to land at Wittering, where the extra length of available runway offered possible safety.

Then he spotted a cone of searchlights, indicating an airfield below. Having no precise idea of his location, Reid circled the lights and flashed his landing lights to indicate his distressed aircraft condition; then prepared to land. With the hydraulics useless, he had to use an emergency pressure bottle to handpump the undercarriage down, and this exertion in addition to the descent into warmer levels re-opened his wounds. His head wound began bleeding freely again, threatening to obscure Reid’s vision.

Les Rolton positioned himself behind his skipper, ready to pull him out if he lost consciousness or control, while Reid ordered his remaining crew to prepare for a crash landing. As the Lancaster touched down, the undercarriage collapsed, shot through, and the bomber scraped along the concrete runway for perhaps 60 yards before finally halting. Reid had landed at Shipdham, base for the 44th Bombardment Group, USAF; the time was one minute after 10 p.m.

As the crew were evacuated from the Lancaster, Reid discovered for the first time that Jefferies was dead – a bullet through his head – and that Norris and Mann were wounded. All were taken immediately to the station medical centre for treatment, but Mann died of his injuries the following day.’ Reid was awarded the V.C., Norris the C.G.M. and Emerson the D.F.M. for their gallant conduct during the sortie to Dusseldorf.

617 Squadron
On being discharged from hospital, Reid was given a month’s convalescent leave. His next posting was to 617 Squadron of ‘Dam Busters’ fame. Taking Les Rolton with him, Reid reported to the squadron, then stationed at Woodhall Spa, and was allotted to “C” Flight. After spending February, March and the first week of April undertaking specialized training in the squadron’s bombing techniques, Reid flew in his first operational sortie with 617 Squadron, 18.4.1944, ‘Operation Marshalling Yards at Juvisy Nr. Paris Load 4-1000 lbs. 4-500lbs. 6 flares. Aiming Point Photo.’ (Log book refers). Further sorties that month included 20.4.1944, ‘Operations Marshalling Yards at La Chappelle Paris, Load 12-1,000 lbs’; 22.4.1944, ‘Operations Brunswick Load, 1-2,000lbs. 10, J-type Clusters’ and 24.4.1944, ‘Operation – Munich routed via Alps – Milan etc’. Reid’s next operational sortie was 5.6.1944, ‘Special Operations ‘D’ Day significance’, this was as part of Operation Taxable. By June, the squadron’s Lancasters had been modified to carry Bomber Command’s new-weapon, the 12,000 lb. high explosive deep penetration bomb nicknamed ‘Tallboy’. Reid’s first outing with this weapon was in the squadron’s attack led by Cheshire on the Saumur rail tunned, 8.6.1944 ‘Operations – Saumur Tunnel; France 1x14,000lb “Tallboy””. Aiming Point plotted.’ The operation was a complete success, the tunnel was destroyed, and a German Panzer division was prevented from reaching the Allied invasion beach-head that had been established two days earlier. Further sorties in June included: 14.6.1944, ‘Special Operations Le Havre – E Boat Pens & Concentrations 1x12,000lbs “Tall Boy” formation with Squadron bombed individually’; 19.6.1944, ‘Daylight Operations on Pas De Calais Rocket Installations – Formation with Fighter Cover 1x12,000lbs Tall Boy’; 24.6.1944, Daylight Operations on Wizernes Rocket installations – Formation with Fighter Cover 1x12,000lbs. Tall Boy’;24.6.144, ‘Daylight Operations on Wizernes Rocket Installations Pas De Calais area 1x14,000lbs Tall Boy’; and 25.6.1944 ‘Daylight Operations Siracaurt Rocket Installations 1x12,000 lbs Tall Boy Dummy Run-Hang Up-Dropped Second Run’, the raid had once again been led by Cheshire.

Prisoner of War

Reid’s penultimate sortie was 25.7.1944, ‘Operations Warren Pas De Calais Rocket Installations 1 – Tall Boy 12,000lbs. On the 31st of July, ‘617 Squadron was linked with 9 Squadron for ‘Tall Boy’ attack on a V-Weapon storage dump in a railway tunnel at Rilly La Montagne, near Rheims. Over the target, Reid released his bomb from 12,000 feet, when he felt his aircraft (ME557, “S”) shudder under the impact of a 1,000 lb-bomb, dropped from another Lancaster 6,000 feet higher. The bomb ploughed through Reid’s aircraft in mid-fuselage, severing all control cables and fatally weakening the structure. Reid felt his control column go sloppy, realized what had happened, and gave the order to bale out. As the rest of the crew came forward to abandon the Lancaster, the bomber slid into a dive, pinning Reid in his seat with pressure forces. Reaching overhead he managed to release the escape hatch panel, and struggled to get out. Just as he emerged, the Lancaster broke in two and Reid tumbled down, accompanied by a hail of metal fragments from his aircraft. Landing safely, Reid was captured within the hour by German troops, and later met his wireless operator, Luker, also a prisoner.

The two gunners had died in the rear part of the fuselage; while Les Rolton and the remaining two crew members perished in the forward section of the Lancaster. Reid was imprisoned in Stalagluft III, Sagan initially, and was later moved to Stalag IV, Belleria; before finally being repatriated to England in May 1945 in Operation Exodus – the Bomber Command air retrieval of prisoners of war from Europe.’ (For Valour, The Air V.C.’s refers).

Reid left the R.A.F., in January 1946 and enrolled firstly at Glasgow University, where he graduated with a B.Sc. and later at the West of Scotland Agricultural College. He could not, however relinquish his passion for flying and was commissioned as a Flying Officer in the R.A.F.V.R.,15.1.1949. He flew Tiger Moths out of 11 R.F.S. Perth. The Trustees of the Douneside Trust awarded Reid a post-graduate round the world travelling Scholarship of a Value of approximately 1,000 pounds, ‘this is to enable you to visit various Agricultural Colleges and to study agriculture and conditions in India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States of America.’ Reid had taken a position with the MacRobert Trust Farms Ltd, Aberdeenshire (the MacRobert family were trustees of The Douneside Trust), and in the capacity as a Reservist and Passenger he recorded this tour in his Log Book, 18.11.1949 – 30.4.1950. After his return, he worked as an agricultural adviser to the MacRobert Trust, 1950-59. Reid was a founder member and later, a life vice-president of the Aircrew Association. He was one of ten VC holders who accompanied the VC10 aircraft promotional tour of East Africa in 1972, and in recognition of his work for the Aircrew Association he was granted the Freedom of the City of London in 1988.