Personal info

  • Name: John HANNAH
  • D.O.B: 21st Nov, 1921
  • D.O.A: 15th Aug, 1940
  • D.O.D: 9th Jun, 1947
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Sergeant, No 83 Squadron, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force
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Sources & Acknowledgements

Over Antwerp, Belgium 15 September 1940

15 September 1940

More details about:
The Second World War 1939 - 40 

On 15 September 1940, fifteen Handley Page Hampden bombers took off from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire to attack enemy barges moored at Antwerp in readiness for Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Britain. During the action, the plane piloted by Pilot Officer C A Connor was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire. The navigator and rear gunner, Flight Sergeants D A E Hayhurst and G James, baled out. However, the radio operator Sergeant J Hannah fought and extinguished the blaze, though terribly burnt, allowing the plane to return to Scampton. Connor received the DFC and Hayhurst the DFM. The Germans postponed Operation Sealion a couple of days later.


 On the night of 15th September, 1940, Sergeant Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on enemy barge concentrations at Antwerp. It was then subjected to intense anti-aircraft fire and received a direct hit from a projectile of an explosive and incendiary nature, which apparently burst inside the bomb compartment. A fire started which quickly enveloped the wireless operator’s and rear gunner’s cockpits, and as both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced, there was grave risk of the fire spreading. Sergeant Hannah forced his way through the fire to obtain two extinguishers and discovered that the rear gunner had had to leave the aircraft. He could have acted likewise, through the bottom escape hatch or forward through the navigator’s hatch, but remained and fought the fire for ten minutes with the extinguishers, beating the flames with his log book when these were empty. During this time thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded in all directions and he was almost blinded by the intense heat and fumes, but had the presence of mind to obtain relief by turning on his oxygen supply. Air admitted through the large holes caused by the projectile made the bomb compartment an inferno and all the aluminium sheet metal on the floor of this airman’s cockpit was melted away, leaving only the cross bearers. Working under these conditions, which caused burns to his face and eyes, Sergeant Hannah succeeded in extinguishing the fire. He then crawled forward, ascertained that the navigator had left the aircraft, and passed the latter’s log and maps to the pilot. This airman displayed courage, coolness and devotion to duty of the highest order and, by his action in remaining and successfully extinguishing the fire under conditions of the greatest danger and difficulty, enabled the pilot to bring the aircraft safely to its base. 

The London Gazette of 1 October 1940, Numb. 34958, pp. 5788-89

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