Kenneth Cross


Kenneth Cross

Air Chief Marshal Sir Kenneth Brian Boyd Cross KCB CBE DSO DFC RAF (4 October, 1911 - 18 June, 2003), was a senior Royal Air Force commander. He was commonly known as Bing.

ACM Cross was famous as one of only two survivors of No 46 Squadron embarked on HMS Glorious when she was sunk on the way back from Norway in May 1940.

Below is a transcript of a letter Cross wrote to the Secretary of the No 46 Squadron Association, in which he gives a detailed and fascinating account of No 46 Squadron's contribution to the Norwegian Campaign.

Gleneagles Hospital AuchterarderPerthshire

26 June 1940

My Dear Marchant,

:Many thanks for your letter, which has just reached me. As you see I'm hors de combat for the moment and Jameson is here with me, but I'll start at the beginning and tell you the whole story since we left Digby on the 9th May.

:At the beginning of May, I was sent for by the AM; and told that we should be going to Narvik as soon as an aerodrome could be prepared for us there. On the 9th May we got the signal and we left Digby as a formation of 18 Hurricanes (an impressive sight I was told) and landed at Abbotsinch near the Clyde.

:Next day we taxied through fields to a wharf where the Hurricanes were hoisted aboard barges two at a time and taken down the Clyde to HMS Glorious where they were hoisted aboard. By the grace of luck and little apples, none were bent though only inches saved us on several occasions. After one false sailing we got away in company with the Furious on the 14th May and a strong escort of destroyers. The Furious carried a Gladiator Squadron. We arrived in our position to take off on the 21st but received a signal that the aerodrome wouldn’t be ready until 26th May so we returned to Leaps to re-fuel. We turned to a point 60 miles off the Norwegian coast on the 26th and on receiving the affirmative signal from the General ashore we prepared to take off.

:This, of course, was the first time Hurricanes had ever taken off the deck of a carrier and though we were given figures by the A.M, things were complicated by the Glorious having a ramp two thirds of the way along the deck on which there was a distant chance of our touching the props if we weren’t airborne by then. However, we worked it out that with a 30 knot wind over the deck we should just be airborne at the top of the ramp which meant getting up speed over the first part and then easing the stick back enough to give prop clearance without losing forward speed. The Navy were perfectly splendid all the way out, they couldn’t do enough and the night we were in Scapa they threw a full dress guest night for us of which the main toast was “46 Squadron" and now the Commander Engineer himself took charge and despite a flat calm whacked the old Glorious up to the fastest she had been for years – 30.7knots! I had the doubtful honour of taking the first one off and, of course we needn’t have worried for the old Hurricane simply leapt off and I was very soon joined by the rest of the boys and we set off for Norway.

:Hit off our landfall O.K. and made for our aerodrome. The scenery was of such grandeur that it would be futile for me to try and describe it, but the mountains going up to five and six thousand feet straight out of the sea was a sight I shall never forget. The so-called aerodrome consisted of a strip of marsh on the edge of a fjord~ which had been drained and covered with matting and wire netting. Of course, it would not stand the weight of the Hurricanes and after a couple of minor accidents we evacuated it and went to another one carved out of the forests and solid rock about 60 miles away. Even this was a bit tricky, but by constant care the boys never broke a thing. Next morning, of course, we were bombed but gave Jerry such a reception that we were never bombed again.

:The battle of Narvik started that night at eight and we kept a patrol over the beaches where the landings were made for the next 28 hours solid, and as none of the boys had had much sleep since they left the Glorious they were falling asleep as they got out of the cockpits. However, we had our reward with x Bosch shot down and the capture of Narvik. The gratitude of the troops had to be seen to be believed for they Poles, Norwegians, French and English, had been subjected to uninterrupted bombing for weeks past.

:By this time, of course, the Germans realised we were there and in our normal patrols over the line and the port of embarkation, we had some stirring battles and though outnumbered sometimes by as many as four to one we always managed to prevent them getting into their target. We came to the conclusion that they weren't keen on fighting even when they had superior numbers. Everything went well for a bit, we lost ~ couple of chaps, Jackie Lydall who was at the last dinner was one.The poor lad waded into a formation of five J088's and was picked off from behind but not before he'd sent one down in flames himself. Banks was the other, and we never really found out how he went.

:Then came the evacuation, which was a damn shame as we had forced the Germans, right back to the Swedish border and were all set to move south. However, things at home made it necessary and of course the Navy were using an awful lot of ships up there. I was told at the start that we would have to be the last to leave or the embarking troops would be bombed to hell, that was O.K by us but I insisted that there should be some method of us leaving when it was all over but of course this was difficult as they wanted us to guard the ships well out to sea.

:However, after a few wet suggestions like bailing out beside destroyers, etc, I heard that the Glorious was around and so asked if we might have a shot at flying on. I know the chaps on the Glorious would be full out and this was eventually arranged. Things were complicated by the Norwegian Army getting wind of things, and things weren't at all comfortable as we were surrounded by five thousand of them at our aerodrome. However, we armed all the troops and by putting a bold face on things avoided that trouble. Well, we covered the evacuation for two days (there were 35,000 men) to be taken off remember, and on the third day (the last) Jerry really woke up to what was going on.

:The day started at 3a.m. with a raid on our aerodrome, which we dealt with in undress, our standby section having been ordered off to Narvik a few minutes before. Of course, it never got dark up there and it was as light at midnight as it was at mid-day. It was a hell of a day but we managed to keep them off Narvik while they took the troops off and no ships were bombed. We knocked down 4 confirmed that day and hit 3 or 4 more that we weren't able to get information about.

:At midnight, I called for volunteers for a shot at landing on the Glorious and of course the boys stepped forward to a man, so there was nothing for it but to pick the senior ten (we only had ten serviceable aircraft by this time, 4 having been lost by enemy action, only two pilots though, both the other two managing to get back, one by the use of his parachute, and the other four having been dismantled and shipped back (being unrepairable out there).

:We left at 00.45 hours dead beat, but as we left we were pleased to see the Skuas of the Fleet Air Arm coming in to cover the embarkation of our troops who had a destroyer standing by for them at a little fishing village seventeen miles away. We were navigated by a Swordfish at 100 knots and the old Hurricanes had to do some fairly hearty zigzagging to keep behind. It wasn't a nice feeling knowing that if we couldn't get on the deck there was no way out, and remember we had gone to the trouble of hoisting them aboard in the first place as the Air Ministry having had trials, pronounced it as being impractical. However, we had taken the precaution of setting our brakes pretty coarsely without too much risk of going on our noses The Navy again were full out and as there was a fresh breeze blowing we had 35 knots over the deck and they all came on like birds. The last one landed at 0300 hrs just 24 hours after our first air raid the day before. Most of the boys were pretty tired, and after some very welcome eggs and bacon and cocoa we all tuned in.

:The next day most of the boys appeared about lunchtime, when we discovered we were on our way home at 18 knots. At teatime we were suddenly given "Action Stations" and by the time I'd got on deck, salvoes were already falling around us. We'd been caught in fact by a couple of German cruisers. We had a couple of destroyers, one of which was blown out of the water when she went to investigate in the first place, the second did her best to lay a smoke screen, but as there was a cruiser on each quarter this wasn't effective.

:All the boys went to their abandon ship stations and when the order came, we went over the side. The whole thing was over in 45 minutes. I swam to a raft and a few minutes later young Jameson came swimming along. Well, we eventually had twenty-nine people aboard, but after 3 nights and 2 days when we were picked up, we had but seven left, of which two died later.

:We spent three days on the Norwegian tramp that took us to the Faeroe Islands. We spent a couple of days in hospital there, and were then transferred on stretchers to a couple of destroyers and brought to Rosyth. I should have said that the tramp picked up 39 people all told clinging to various rafts, and I think that that was all that was saved out of 1,400.

:The boats that got away were sunk by heavy seas, but in most cases they so badly holed by gunfire that they all sank as they were launched. When we were in the raft the Germans came up, had a look and then went straight away. I've a real hatred for Germans now.

:Have been here for just over a week. Our feet are the trouble, being in the water all that time - they got a species of frost bite and have been giving us terrific stick for now for some time, We were assured, that this is normal, and that the pain will stop in about a week.

:46 of course, has been reformed with a new C.O and two new Flight Commanders. I was heartbroken at first but now I realise that I couldn't go back having lost ten fellows, the finest on earth, who'd been through some of the most difficult tasks ever asked of a fighter squadron and always with a smile and never a thought of questioning an order. And they have all gone - what a shame.

:Well this is a very long letter, and being written in bed my handwriting is now chronic. I've said a lot of things I'd like you to keep to yourself, but I should let George Bulman know about the show as he'd be interested in the doings of the Hurricanes, so perhaps you'd like to pass this letter on to him.

:Thank you for your kind wishes and the Padres. Jameson sends his regards and so do I.

Yours sincerely,

(K.B.B. CROSS)

P.S. We got 19 Huns in all.

P.P.S. The new C.O. of 46 is S/L Maclachlan, a Canadian and a very good sort.

Sir Kenneth Cross was the Air Officer Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command from 20 May 1959 to 30 November 1963.

References

* [http://www.rafweb.org/Biographies/Cross.htm Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Chf Mshl Cross]


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