- Name: Arthur Louis AARON
- D.O.B: March 5th, 1922
- D.O.A: August 12th, 1943
- D.O.D: August 13th, 1943
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Acting Flight Sergeant, No 218 Squadron, No 3 Group, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
From Turin, Italy to Bône, Algeria
12 August 1943
The Second World War
On 12 August 1943 a force of Short Stirlings took off from RAF Downham Market, Norfolk to bomb Turin. In the course of the mission, Acting Flight Sergeant A L Aaron’s aircraft was the victim of friendly fire from another bomber and not an enemy fighter as recorded in the Citation. Amongst other damage the automatic pilot system was disabled. The plane lost effective radio contact and the crew had little idea of their exact location. However, under Aaron’s inspirational leadership, it flew on to Bône (modern Annaba) on the north-eastern coast of Algeria. Flight Sergeant A W J Larden, who actually landed the plane, was awarded the CGM and Sergeants T Guy and M Mitchem the DFM. Their Citation gives a further account of the action (The London Gazette, 8 October 1943, Numb. 36207, pp. 4501-02). Fittingly, it was Mitchem who unveiled the statue of Aaron in Leeds in 2001.
On the night of 12th August, 1943, Flight Sergeant Aaron was captain and pilot of a Stirling
aircraft detailed to attack Turin. When approaching to attack, the bomber received devastating
bursts of fire from an enemy fighter. Three engines were hit, the windscreen shattered, the
front and rear turrets put out of action and the elevator control damaged, causing the aircraft
to become unstable and difficult to control. The navigator was killed and other members of the
crew were wounded.
A bullet struck Flight Sergeant Aaron in the face, breaking his jaw and tearing away part of his face. He was also wounded in the lung and his right arm was rendered useless. As he fell forward over the control column, the aircraft dived several thousand feet. Control was regained by the flight engineer at 3,000 feet. Unable to speak, Flight Sergeant Aaron urged the bomb aimer by signs to take over the controls. Course was then set southwards in an endeavour to fly the crippled bomber, with one engine out of action, to Sicily or North Africa. Flight Sergeant Aaron was assisted to the rear of the aircraft and treated with morphia. After resting for some time he rallied and, mindful of his responsibility as captain of the aircraft, insisted on returning to the pilot’s cockpit, where he was lifted into his seat and had his feet placed on the rudder bar. Twice he made determined attempts to take control and hold the aircraft to its course but his weakness was evident and with difficulty he was persuaded to desist. Though in great pain and suffering from exhaustion, he continued to help by writing directions with his left hand.
Five hours after leaving the target the petrol began to run low, but soon afterwards the flare path at Bone airfield was sighted. Flight Sergeant Aaron summoned his failing strength to direct the bomb aimer in the hazardous task of landing the damaged aircraft in the darkness with the undercarriage retracted. Four attempts were made under his direction; at the fifth Flight Sergeant Aaron was so near to collapsing that he had to be restrained by the crew and the landing was completed by the bomb aimer.
Nine hours after landing, Flight Sergeant Aaron died from exhaustion. Had he been content, when grievously wounded, to lie still and conserve his failing strength, he would probably have recovered, but he saw it as his duty to exert himself to the utmost, if necessary with his last breath, to ensure that his aircraft and crew did not fall into enemy hands. In appalling conditions he showed the greatest qualities of courage, determination and leadership and, though wounded and dying, he set an example of devotion to duty which has seldom been equalled and never surpassed.