With allied western nations having all but abandoned Afghanistan over the past few weeks and the Taliban having stepped up its offensive taking significant gains in the northern half of the country to the extent that we believe that it now controls in excess of one third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan one may perfectly well question whether the statement issued by the NATO council overnight will make one jot of difference for the people of Afghanistan who fear that Taliban control and loss of hard fought for freedom is now all but inevitable.
That the 15 diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Kabul seemingly joined hands on Monday to urge the Taliban to halt military offensives across Afghanistan is welcome. But coming just a few hours after a peace meeting in Doha failed to agree a ceasefire, I am bound to doubt whether a mere statement asking that the Taliban lay down their weapons for good and show the world their commitment to the peace process will do any good. I hope that I may be proved wrong but given the intensity of the situation in Afghanistan with militia’s reportedly putting up only a half-hearted fight against the Taliban religious movement, I am bound to fear that without the promise of military support to the struggling Afghan government a joint statement which I might add is supported by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the United States along with NATO’s senior civilian representative will fall on completely deaf ears Taliban ears.
Recalling Heroism of Flt Lt John Alexander Cruickshank VC – Last Surviving RAF WW2 Victoria Cross Holder
Now 101 years of age and the last living Royal Air Force holder of the Victoria Cross what follows is yet another timely reminder of what real heroism is.
A pilot in the Royal Air Force during WW2, Flight. Lieutenant John Alexander Cruickshank flew Catalina flying boats out of the Sullom Voe. During World War Two RAF Coastal Command had an extensive flying boat base at Sullom Voe. It was an important part of the Battle of the Atlantic, involving a large number of men and women, and equipment. For the aircrew, it was a taxing operation, long ocean flights, often in poor conditions. The aircraft were noisy, and in modern terms, uncomfortable.
John Cruickshank (Jock) was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on May 20, 1920. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh. A bank clerk until joining the Royal Artillery in the Territorial Army on May 10, 1939, he transferred to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) on June 30, 1941 and was shipped to Canada – arriving at No. 1 Manning Depot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s processing centre for the British Commonwealth Air Training plan. After graduating in primary flight training at NASGI, he was sent to NAS Pensacola, Florida where he earned his Wings before being shipped back to the UK continent where he undertook Catalina Conversion Training at the Operational Training Unit in Invergordon, Scotland. He was then posted to Coastal Command Flying Boats as a Flying Officer with 210 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) at Sullom Voe on the Shetland Islands. By July 1944 he was an experienced pilot, flying Consolidated Catalina flying boats. The Catalina was by then considered to be an obsolescent but still effective aircraft, slow, but with a long range and very useful for North Atlantic missions.
On the 17th July 1944 Cruickshank was piloting Catalina JV928/Y on what was his 48th sortie. One of the crew, Flight Sergeant Fidler was on his first sortie. When they were nearly 300 miles west of Lofoten the Catalina picked up a German U-boat radar contact.
Moving in, the crew fired recognition flares only to receive a barrage of anti-aircraft fire in return. It was nearly 10 pm. An attempt to drop depth charges at 50 feet failed, and Flt Lieutenant Cruickshank decided to take his aircraft round again for another attempt to destroy the U-boat against what was now a well-prepared and determined enemy crew. This time round, depth charges successfully straddled the enemy submarine and sank it.
The U-boat in question was U-361,a V11 C class submarine with a crew of 52. However, before it was sunk the doomed U-Boat gunners had succeeded in damaging the Catalina – starting small fires, killing Navigator Flying Officer John Dickson and wounding other members of the crew. F/Sgt Appleton was however able to dress the crew’s wounds, including the wounded hand of the second pilot, F/Sgt Garnett, before realising how badly hurt Flight Lieut. Cruickshank was. He had initially collapsed and was taken aft for treatment but he subsequently revived and insisted on going back to the cockpit, taking the second pilot’s seat.
F/Sgt Fidler took over navigation and calculated a five-hour flight back home although at that point he had expected the need to ditch at some point as it appeared that the Catalina’s fuel consumption was too high. In fact, damage to the Catalina’s instruments caused an error in the fuel consumption calculation and the aircraft somehow managed to make it all the way back to Sullom Voe. Flt Lt John Cruickshank remained in command and even refused pain-killing morphia fearing that this would diminish his alertness. Once in the vicinity of the Sullom Voe base, he was forced to wait another hour for light before landing.
On examination, the doctor at Sullom Voe found that Flt Lt John Cruickshank had received no fewer than 72 wounds among which had been two in his lungs and ten in his legs. He received an immediate blood transfusion and was transferred to the hospital in Lerwick in the then Anderson Institute building, before being sent south.
Successfully achieving his mission to sink the U-Boat west of Lofoten it is simply amazing that he was able to fly his aircraft and crew home having himself sustained 72 wounds.
John Cruickshank somehow managed to recover but he did not fly operationally again. On 21st September 1944, he received the Victoria Cross from King George VI at Holyrood Palace and F/Sgt Garnett got a DFM. The King asked John Cruickshank how he was. “I am still a bit week” he said.
A man who was and remains exceedingly modest and also averse to talking about his exploits his exploits are an important reminder of the generation who gave so much, and in his case, someone who pressed on so determinedly. He had never expected reward and apparently, the first thing he asked for after regaining consciousness on the aircraft was about his crew.
In 2004 he told Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth that “Decorations didn’t enter my head.” After the war he returned to his career in banking. He is now the last living Victoria Cross holder to have been awarded the medal during World War Two.
From the RAF Museum – Obituary of Squadron Leader Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman
The Royal Air Force Museum is saddened by the news that Squadron Leader Lawrence ‘Benny’ Goodman has died at the age of 100. Benny enjoyed a distinguished RAF career spanning 24 years, during which he completed a full operational tour as a wartime bomber pilot with No. 617 Squadron, the celebrated ‘Dambusters.’
In retirement, Benny supported several RAF charities and worked hard to promote reconciliation with Germany and educate younger people about the realities of war. More recently, he offered tireless support to the RAF Museum’s ‘Jewish Hidden Heroes’ project, which highlights the vital role played by Jewish people, like himself, in the RAF’s battle against Nazi tyranny.
Lawrence Goodman was born in London and volunteered to join the RAF, aged 18, at the outbreak of war in September 1939. Selected to train as a pilot, he proved so skilful that in 1942, he was posted to Canada as a flying instructor. Benny requested a return to the UK, and after retraining, became the first pilot without operational experience to be posted to No. 617 Squadron, the RAF’s crack precision bombing unit.
Beginning in August 1944, Benny participated in 30 operations with the squadron against important enemy targets. On 19 March 1945, he demolished the Arnsberg railway viaduct with a 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam bomb, and on 25 April, he attacked Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest’ at Berchtesgaden.
Benny was compulsorily demobbed in 1946, but joined No. 604 Squadron (Auxiliary Air Force) flying Spitfires from RAF Hendon, now the site of the RAF Museum. With the Berlin Blockade in 1948, he voluntarily re-joined the regular air force; and in the following years piloted Hastings transports with No. 53 Squadron and photo-reconnaissance Canberra’s with No. 80 Squadron. Benny eventually retired as a squadron leader in 1964, having logged over 3,500 hours on 22 different aircraft types; and he would hold a private pilot’s licence until he was 93. In 2017, the Republic of France appointed him a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur.
When ‘Jewish Hidden Heroes’ was launched in 2018, Benny supported it energetically, sharing his remarkable story at a special event at the RAF Museum that November. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the RAF Museum’s partnership with Chelsea FC and of their campaign to challenge anti-Semitism and racism through education. Thanks to this partnership, Benny’s oral testimony, captured by Museum Ambassador Joshua Levine, will feature in the augmented reality displays planned for the forthcoming Bomber Command exhibition.
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, in September 2020, Benny joined us, along with Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, to mark the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and his own 100th birthday. And earlier this year, he also agreed to be the face of the virtual Lancaster Challenge, helping the Museum to raise funds by encouraging participants to maintain their physical fitness. Sadly, Benny was to have been the guest of honour at the Battle of Britain gala in September.
Maggie Appleton MBE, CEO of the RAF Museum, concludes:
‘So many of us will be mourning Benny, while celebrating his outstanding contribution during the Second World War and his faultless RAF Service. The RAF Museum has been fortunate to call Benny a friend. He supported us in sharing the incredible story of Jewish servicemen and women during the war, and the brave airmen who were in a particularly perilous situation should they have been captured. Benny was a special man who lived a long and fruitful life and brought joy and inspiration to many. He will be sadly missed by his friends at the RAF Museum, but we will ensure that his stories live on to inspire generations to come.’
CHW (London -19th July 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785