James Andrew "Jimmy" Watson

RCAF   F/L   -   MiD

use switches
Fighter Pilots
Air Gunners
Navigators/Radar Operators
Other Aircrew
Gallery Gallery
Misc. Miscellaneous

Crew of Lancaster R-ND 781/G of 622 Squadron
Surrender Berry (Nav), Ron Hayes (MUGnr), Jimmy Watson (Pilot), Roy Eames (Flt Eng) & Murdock MacKinnon (RGnr) is in the turret

use switches
Site Map Sitemap
Sources Slang
Acknowledgements Thanks/
About Us About
Links Links


Flight-Lieut. James Watson Met Hero’s Death Over the Reich

26 January 1945 - Flight-Lieut. James A. Watson, of this city, was listed as missing last April. Now it is known that he died so that others might live.
He stayed at the controls of a blazing bomber, and as the great aircraft plummeted toward the earth, he ordered his six fellow crew members to parachute to safety.
Unharmed, they were taken prisoner by the Germans; Flight-Lieut. Watson’s body was found in the wreckage of the aircraft.
From the German prison camp have come touching tributes to the heroism of the dead flyer from two of the airmen whose lives he saved.
One was written by F/O William Ransom, of Toronto, to his father, Major the Rev. A. B. Ransom, padre at the Canadian Army Trades School here.
It reads: “Please see Jimmie’s folks and give them my deepest sympathy. He died like a hero in the fullest meaning of the word. He reached the ultimate in courage and devotion to duty that a bomber skipper can reach in that he gave his life that his crew might, live, and he was successful, as all of us are safe. I am looking forward to meeting the parents of the grandest guy I’ve ever known — when this war is over."
The other letter was received by the parents of Flight-Lieut. Watson, Major and Mrs. R. S. Watson, of 66 Beulah Avenue, from Sgt. Roy Eames, of the Royal Air Force.
“As far as we know, Jimmie has gone. I can’t say definitely, but we were shown his ring and identification bracelet, and we are told that that means but one thing. Jimmy was the bravest and coolest fellow I have ever met and we all owe our lives to him.”
Flight-Lieut. Watson won his wings and commission at No. 5 A.N.S., Brantford, on October 23, 1942, and was posted overseas before the end of the year. He became a flying officer in April, 1943, and within two months was promoted to the rank of flight-lieutenant.
A former student of Westdale Collegiate, he was scoutmaster at Melrose United Church and a member of the staff of Camp Onondaga.


Born in Hamilton, Ontario, 9 June 1922
Son of Robert Scott Watson, M.C., and Mary Kathleen Watson
Home there (student, summer jobs only)
Enlisted there 22 September 1941
Trained at
No.5 ITS (graduated 31 January 1942)
No.22 EFTS (graduated 19 June 1942) and
No.5 SFTS (graduated and commissioned 23 October 1942)
To “Y”Depot, Halifax, 7 November 1942
to RAF Trainees Pool, 19 November 1942
Embarked from Canada 20 November 1942
Arrived in Britain, 6 December 1942
To No.20 (P) AFU, 23 March 1943 on Oxford aircraft
Attached to No.1519 Beam Approach Training Flight, 20-27 April 1943
Promoted Flying Officer, 23 April 1943
to No.12 OTU, 18 May 1943 (Wellingtons)
to No.1657 Conversion Unit, 5 August 1943
to No.622 Squadron, 11 September 1943
Promoted Flight Lieutenant, 1 October 1943
Killed in action 27 April 1944 (Lancaster ND781)
Buried at the Choloy War Cemetery, France (grave 1A. B. 23)
Recommended for the Victoria Cross
Got an MiD instead
Certificate sent to his mother, 10 January 1949


WATSON, F/L James Andrew (J20076) - Mention in Despatches - No.622 Squadron (deceased)
Award effective 21 February 1947 as per London Gazette of that date and
AFRO 120/44 dated 7 March 1947

Public Record Office Air 14/4115 has extensive correspondence and affidavits relating to a possible Victoria Cross to this officer. Although no formal citation was drafted, the documents record the story as follows. The aircraft (code letter "R") took off from Mildenhall, the crew briefed to attack Friedrichshaven. At about 0130 hours, while en route to the target, and flying at 17,000 feet a little south of Strasbourg, they were attacked by a night fighter. This was driven off, but further attacks continued and the aircraft sustained increasing damage. The rear gunner, Flight Sergeant M.D. MacKinnon (RCAF), later reported that his turret was knocked out; 30 seconds later (evidently a second fighter was involved) the starboard wing and starboard inner engine were set on fire. Watson maintained control but efforts to fight the fire were unsuccessful and he ordered the crew to abandon the aircraft.

MacKinnon, in a deposition sworn in Toronto on 30 March 1946, went on to say:

The aircraft lost altitude rapidly. Nevertheless, Flight Lieutenant Watson remained at the controls and kept the aircraft under sufficient control to enable the other members of the crew and myself to parachute to safety.
It is beyond doubt that the unselfish conduct of Flight Lieutenant Watson and his devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety resulted in the lives of the crew and myself being saved. I sincerely trust that such heroic action be duly acknowledged and strongly urge that Flight Lieutenant Watson be suitably awarded posthumously so commensurate with the highest possible gallantry.

The flight engineer, Sergeant Roy Clive Eames (RAF) swore a more detailed deposition at Rochester, Kent on 25 July 1946:

I joined the crew of F/L Watson at RAF Station Stradishall in August 1943 as a Sergeant engineer. From Heavy Conversion Unit we were posted to 622 Squadron, Mildenhall. This was in September 1943.
Apart from an operation F/L Watson did when we first arrived at the squadron, with W/C Gibson, I flew with him on every operation he did.

On the 2nd October 1943, I was called upon to fly in an operation as engineer in another crew. Upon my return I discovered that F/L Watson had waited all the time in the flying control tower for my return. His most apparent anxiety brought to light exactly how he felt about the safety of his crew.

On the night of April 27th, 1944, I flew with Flight Lieutenant Watson on an operation and our mission was to bomb Friedrichshaven. At approximately 0115 B.S.T. on the 28th April, we were at 17-18,000 feet approximately; I was in the nose of the aircraft carrying out window (radar defence) procedure when some shells came through the nose of the aircraft and realising we were being attacked, I immediately left the nose to take up my standing position beside the captain, Flight Lieutenant Watson. In this position, I saw the call light flickering. This call light is used in emergency when the intercommunication by telephone is unserviceable. I realized that although the rear gunner's intercom has been all right a few minutes before that it must be out of order, since we heard no report from [about] the attackers.

I subsequently learned that the first burst which I had encountered in the nose had also damaged the port tail plane, port aileron and rear controls. The Mid-Upper gunner then gave orders to corkscrew starboard and an enemy aircraft opened fire which set our starboard inner petrol tank on fire and also starboard inner engine. Flight Lieutenant Watson gave the order immediately to prepare to abandon aircraft. I feathered the starboard inner engine and also pressed its fire extinguisher to try to put the flames out. Flight Lieutenant Watson put the nose down to keep the flames away from the aircraft and to possibly quench the flames.
Realizing this was impossible, Flight Lieutenant Watson then endeavoured to keep the aircraft straight and level. This was only achieved by keeping control column pressed tightly on his chest and I realized that our flying controls were seriously damaged.

As part of the drill, the bomb aimer endeavoured to attach to Captain's harness his parachute and succeeded after considerable difficulty.

During this time the Captain asked the navigator to inform the crew of our position for the purpose of escape. The navigator told us we were approximately on the French border, 30 minutes flying time from the turning point into our target. This point was a little south of Strasbourg.

There was at no time any suggestion of panic and this was largely due to the coolness and perfect calm of out Captain.

I must point out that all the action of combat actually occurred in the space of a few minutes.

At this time, the rear gunner was out of communication with the rest of the crew, but I heard bursts of machine gun fire from his turret. I saw that the rear of the aircraft was badly damaged and I thought that the rear gunner must have been injured.

Throughout the combat, Flight Lieutenant Watson repeatedly asked for news of the rear gunner and assured us that he would look after him; I think his exact words were, "Whatever happens, he'll be O.K."

I told the skipper that his turret was still moving, but that was the only indication we had that he was alive. The damage caused by the second attack had damaged the cal light communication.

The Mid-Upper gunner was giving a commentary on the fires of the starboard wing.

The captain gave us orders to bale out. I remember his words, "I'm sorry lads, but you'll have to hit the silk" and in accordance with our drill, I was the first one to leave the aircraft at approximately 12,000 feet. I acknowledged the captain's order as I left, and that was the last time I saw him.

About two hours after my jump, I was captured by the Germans and found that Ransom, the navigator, had also been captured, but for obvious security reasons and in order not to assist the enemy, we pretended we did not know each other, although the Germans seemed to assume that we were of the same crew.

At Colmar gaol, to where we were taken, I was in the same cell, but still none of us could talk of anything that had occurred. At Calmar I also saw Russell, the wireless operator and Hayes, the mid-upper gunner. All four of us were taken to Freiburg where we stayed the night in a cell. From there we were taken to Dulag Luft, Frankfurt-on-Maine. We were separated there and I did not see the wireless operator and the navigator again.

I learned that I was to be taken to Stalag Luft VI, and on the day before my departure, I met the rear gunner, MacKinnon. Seeing him gave me a severe shock as I had convinced myself that he had been killed. We still could not have any conversation and left within a few hours of seeing him for Stalag Luft VI in East Prussia. Later I met here the rear gunner, the bombardier and the mid-upper gunner, and at last we were able to discuss the matter. Of course this was done in all security and I learned from the mid-upper gunner that F/L Watson had been killed in the crash. Hayes had learned this information at Colmar where he had been shown F/L Watson’s ring and identity bracelet. The rear gunner confirmed that he had baled out unbeknown to pilot and crew. I realised at once the significance of the Captain’s words when enquiring of the rear gunner during the combat, when we all had the impression that he was injured.

The words, “He’ll be O.K.” and with horror I realised that F/L Watson would not leave that aircraft while there was the slightest doubt that a member of the crew remained in the aircraft and as a last resort would attempt a crash landing to save that member of his crew.

It is quite clear that F/L Watson sacrificed his life knowingly and willingly to ensure the safety of his crew. His most courageous act, his great and noble sacrifice in the face of the enemy was beyond the highest ideals of his duty and merits the highest possible award for gallantry and for valour in the face of the enemy.

I recommend him for the Victoria Cross.

The crew of ND781 (“R”) consisted of Watson plus J22438 F/O W.V. Ransom (navigator, Hamilton), 54088 P/O W.H. Russell (WOP), R139478 FS W.S.J. McKee (London, Ontario, air bomber), 2204146 Sergeant R.J. Hayes (air gunner), R176583 FS M.D. McKinnon (Somerville, Massachusetts, air gunner) and 1801506 Sergeant R.C. Eames (flight engineer). His entire crew survived and were taken prisoner. In a letter to his father (28 April 1944, W/C I.C.K. Swales, Commanding Officer, No.622 Squadron wrote, in part:

Your son was one of our most experienced pilots, and had successfully completed sixteen operational flights. He was admired by all who knew him, and will be much missed by his many friends in the squadron.

Other documents confirm 16 sorties (93 hours 35 minutes).

Authorities had learned something of his deed as early as August 1944 when J22438 F/O W. Ransom wrote from POW camp:

On the night of 27th/28th April 1944 our aircraft was attacked northwest of Colmar and set on fire. The captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. The civilian authorities at Colmar told me that the body of F/L Watson was found in the wreckage of the aircraft. I did not identify the body, but they said he was going to be buried in a village near Colmar. Would you please bring to the notice of my Commanding Officer the fact that it was due to F/L Watson remaining at the controls until the crew had left that their lives were saved. As the last member left it was obviously too low for F/L Watson to have left the aircraft.

The above was communicated (without comment) to his father (21 September 1944). On 26 September 1944 the father (Major R.S. Watson, MC) wrote to RCAF Headquarters. In passing he stated:

A book has been written by one of his friends and dedicated to my son. The book covers the story of Jim and his crew and in entitled “For Those Who Wait and Wait.” It has been passed by the censor and has received permission from the Royal Air Force authorities in England, and is now in the hands of the publishers.

Ransom made another statement from POW camp, 15 November 1944; it read, in part:

Our aircraft was attacked north of (censored) and went out of control. F/L Watson gave the order to abandon aircraft. F/L Watson was uninjured in the attack. I was third to leave the aircraft and saw F/L Watson still trying to control the aircraft while the rest of the crew abandoned it.

Also on 15 November 1944, P/O R. Wilson made a similar statement:

Our aircraft was attacked west of (censored) and was set on fire. F/L Watson gave the order to abandon. I was the last one to leave the aircraft and saw F/L Watson at the controls. He was uninjured at that time. The aircraft crashed near (censored).

McKinnon (now a Warrant Officer) made a report on the circumstances of their being shot down (6 May 1945). He stated:

Aircraft badly damaged. Starboard elevator in tail shot off. Navigator stated pilot was last seen holding stick hard to port. Navigator last man out. When I baled out the aircraft was a blazing mass in a dive so it seems impossible that pilot got out. Intercom shot off between rear turret and rest of crew so I was entirely ignorant of proceedings. I baled out when flames were passing rear turret.

Major Watson wrote AFHQ again on 6 September 1945. He recapitulated some of Ransom’s earlier letter, then added:

I have also been advised by each of the members of my son’s crew that they all made a report recommending him for a decoration. Would it be possible to have a copy of these reports for purpose of record ?

This inquiry was passed to RCAF Overseas Headquarters and Air Ministry. Their reply is not on file, but on 9 November 1945 a letter was sent from RCAF Overseas Headquarters to AFHQ, quoting Air Ministry as follows:

I am directed to inform you that no such recommendation has been received by this Department. In any case, such information is strictly confidential and would not, in any circumstances be divulged.

However, the number of affidavits on his personal file leave no doubt that his friends were determined to get him a Victoria Cross. On 26 July 1946, Ronald Joseph Hayes swore the following affidavit in Liverpool:

On the 27th day of April 1944, 622 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command was detailed to attack Friedrichshafen, Germany.

F/L James Watson, my captain and his crew of which I was at that time Sergeant Hayes No.2204146 was the mid-upper gunner, were among those selected to support the Pathfinder Force by flying at 16,000 feet and by bombing the target with high explosive only.

The aircraft was approaching our turning point before the run into the target when it was attacked from dead astern under. The attack was a complete surprise, there was no moon, just complete darkness. I would like to point out at this stage that we were carrying H2S radar equipment which transmits pulses and although we did not know it then, not did our intelligence, I have since learned that the Germans were able to home onto us in the dark by following the source of the transmission.

As we were attacked, I heard thuds at the rear of the aircraft accompanied by flashes. While searching for the attacking aircraft I saw that the port elevator was badly buckled. I waited for a moment for the rear gunner to direct the pilot, F/L Watson, as the attacking aircraft was not in my field of vision. When the rear gunner gave no directions for evasive action I assumed that his turret had been hit and took over control of the aircraft. The term control is used by me simply to denote that I direct the captain as to what evasive action he was to take.

I knew from the bursts of fire that we had at least two attacking aircraft and as I couldn’t see them I decided to let the aircraft stay on a straight course rather than attempt to dive away from our attackers. I knew that we had an advantage in doing this as our attackers must have expected us to take evasive action to port or to starboard.

Then I noticed an attacking aircraft closing in from the starboard quarter level. I let it approach to about 350 yards and then directed the captain to corkscrew starboard.

Notwithstanding the badly buckled port elevator, of which I had informed him, the captain’s evasive action was immediate and I do not doubt that he had our Lancaster aircraft under full control. His response to my directions was magnificent but we were hit about the position of the starboard inner engine and a second later this portion of the wing burst into flames. The first impression was that the starboard inner engine was on fire but from dialogue on the intercom between crew members in the cockpit I knew that the gravinor fire extinguisher button had been pressed. I could not give a verbal report on what was all this about but I do remember the captain’s voice was devoid of all impatience. The flames, however, did not die out as was hoped by us all and I thought the source of the flames was in the starboard undercarriage. The danger of flames was increasing all the time and the captain sideslipped to keep them away as much as possible and we were losing height at the same time.
I saw that the flames were causing the seam aft of the starboard inner engine to melt. I informed the captain of this and he ordered us to collect our parachutes.

My parachute had broken loose from its mooring in the fuselage and rather than waste time looking for it, when I might be needed in my turret, I returned to my turret.

The aircraft was losing height and the flames had enveloped most of the wing and half of the seam had melted. I informed the captain of this and he ordered us to bale out.

I was delayed in leaving my turret by my oxygen pipe and intercom cord becoming entangled. I freed them and left my turret and put on the fuselage light. It lighted and was able to see the rear gunner in the rear turret.

I plugged into the the intercom system opposite the rear exit and told F/L Watson that I was baling out and told him the rear gunner was still in his turret and that I would let him know we were getting out. The captain’s last words to me were, “Yes, O.K., but hurry, we’re at 4,500 feet. If he’s (referring to the rear gunner) not hit he might make it. So long, Ron, good luck.”

I opened the bulkhead door leading to the rear turret and saw the rear gunner turn his head towards me. I patted my parachute to indicate that we were baling out and as he turned away I assumed that he understood and would bale out.

I estimate the height of the aircraft at about 4,000 feet when I baled out. F/L Watson had the aircraft under perfect control, it was still losing height in a sinking fashion and the flames had enveloped the fuselage alongside the burning wing.

After I had baled out I search for a hiding place, for a wood or an isolated barn, but I was unable to find one. I was captured by a man, an Alsatian, and taken to a village. The name of the village was Guermar. I was captured about 0100 hours on the 29th April 1944. At this village I was interviewed by a young girl who could speak a little English and I was then taken to a village hall. Here I met a French school mistress, Mme. Louise Strohl. She gave me tea, biscuits and tobacco and then she told me that F/L Watson had been found dead at the controls of the aircraft. She went to some length in describing him, even saying that he was a Canadian and that he had two stripes on his epaulettes. She received no help from me in her description and was convinced that the captain had died in the crash. This French mistress had been to England and was really sympathetic and wanted to cheer me up and make me feel at home. I think her only idea was to make up for the fact that she could not help me escape. The village hall had become crowded with the local inhabitants who might have helped but for their fears of the Gestapo.

From here I was taken away by two Luftwaffe Intelligence officers to Colmar gaol where they interrogated me. After the usual questions I was asked if I would help them in a matter of identification. An officer emptied the contents of an envelope on a table. The contents of that envelope were the personal belongings of F/L Watson. They consisted of his identification bracelet, a ring. I remember he told me that his father had given it to him.

The Germans said they had taken the articles from a dead pilot, a Flight Lieutenant, who was found dead in the pilot’s seat of a Lancaster. I said nothing to them for fear that it might be the beginning of a long interrogation and I also knew that the identity bracelet was sufficient.

At Colmar in a cell I thought about it and formed the opinion that the pilot, F/L Watson, had died in an attempt to save the rear gunner. He had attempted to execute a crash landing. At Colmar I saw Russel, Ransom and Eames, three members of the crew. We did not speak to each other thinking of the German methods of hidden microphones and after our removal to Dulag Luft the usual routine of the German Gestapo methods followed. I and Eames were taken to Stalag Luft VI. Ransom and Russel, being officer, were separated from us and we had not the opportunity of talking to them in secret. On our way to Stalag Luft VI I learned from Eames, the Engineer, that he had seen MacKinnon the rear gunner arrive the day before and had received quite a shock because we both thought that he too had been killed. My mind wandered back to my conversation with the pilot before I baled out. I realised the pilot thought him to be wounded and I realised from his conversation that his crash landing was a most deliberate attempt to save the life of the rear gunner.

When MacKinnon arrived later at the same camp, he told me that he had baled out without being able to inform the captain; his intercom and call light were both unserviceable.

I knew then that due to my report to the captain before baling out I had unwittingly left him the impression that Flight Sergeant MacKinnon was still in his turret and the captain had attempted a forced landing in terrible conditions in an attempt to save the life of the rear gunner.

Throughout every operation I flew with Watson, I recognised in him an inspiring standard of leadership and a man who possessed the most heroic qualities of courage. His quiet manner, his ability to avoid panic at the most terrifying moments saved us in many previous actions. There were many combats and actions in previous operations I flew with him, and although in these we had always emerged as the victors, I knew it would not have been possible without the leadership of our captain.

F/L Watson was a most conscientious captain and his sense of responsibility towards his crew was almost overwhelming. The responsibility of a bomber pilot in the event of an emergency was for the safety of his crew. His duty, however, did not go to the point of having to die for his crew in the circumstances I have outlined. His magnificent display of valour in the most adverse circumstances is unsurpassable. His devotion to duty is unsurpassable. He gave his life and he could not do more than make his most glorious attempt to save the life of the rear gunner. Knowing Watson as my captain for several months, I know it would be unthinkable to him that he should bale out believing that a member of the crew remained in the aircraft, although he would have been fully justified in so doing and saving his own life.

For his devotion beyond the line of duty, for his valour against the enemy, I recommend that F/L J.A. Watson of the RCAF be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Murdock Daniel MacKinnon swore the following in Toronto, 30 March 1946:

I was formerly J96129 F/O M.D. McKinnon in His Majesty’s Royal Canadian Air Force, and as such have full knowledge of the matters herein contained.

That on the evening of April the 27th, 1944, I was assigned as rear gunner to the Lancaster bomber “R for Robert” and was briefed with other members of the crew from Squadron No.622 of Mildenhall, England, to attack Friedrichshafen. The bomber was under the command of the late James Andrew Watson, and we proceeded towards our target in the early morning of April 28th, 1944. While flying towards the target area at a height of approximately 17,000 feet a little to the south of the city of Strasbourg at about 0130 hours, we were suddenly attacked by an enemy night fighter which was driven off, but in the course of a further attack, serious damage was inflicted to our aircraft in my rear turret which was knocked out of commission. About 30 seconds later, we were again attacked by another enemy night fighter which further damaged our aircraft. The starboard wing and the starboard inner engine were set on fire and blazed furiously. The bomber was put out of control but our pilot, the late James Andrew Watson, by extraordinary efforts managed to regain partial control. Efforts were made to extinguish the fire but it was impossible to do so. Flight Lieutenant Watson ordered the members of the crew to abandon the aircraft.

The aircraft lost altitude rapidly. Nevertheless, Flight Lieutenant Watson remained at the controls and kept the aircraft under sufficient control to enable the other members of the crew and myself to parachute to safety.

It is beyond doubt that the unselfish conduct of Flight Lieutenant Watson and his devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety resulted in the lives of the crew and myself being saved. I sincerely trust that such heroic action be duly acknowledged and strongly urge that Flight Lieutenant Watson be suitably awarded posthumously so commensurate with the highest possible gallantry.

William Ransom filed a statement (no date on copy in service documents) as follows:

On the night of April 27th-28th, 1944, I was the navigator of the aircrew captained by F/L J.A. Watson, RCAF, flying Lancaster GI-R of 622 Squadron, 3 Group, Bomber Command, RAF, on a bombing raid on Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Shortly after 0100 hours, while flying on an easterly course, at 17,000 feet, over Alsace, we were attacked without warning by two German night fighters. The first attacker came from behind and below and scored numerous direct hits on our aircraft with cannon shells, which started a fire in our starboard inner engine, causing considerable damage to the pilot’s controls and badly damaged the rear turret, destroying its inter-communication system. The latter damage left F/L Watson without any means of knowing when the next attack was coming or from what direction. He immediately took what evasive action the damaged condition of the aircraft would permit and with the utmost coolness and presence of mind jettisoned our bomb load, gave orders to operate the fire extinguishers in the burning engine and when the latter proved ineffective, assisted the engineer to feather the propeller and shut off the motor. In the meantime he continuously operated the emergency signal light in the rear turret, instructed the crew to put on parachutes and set an example of leadership, efficiency and courage which had a most effective, steadying influence on the rest of the crew. Having received no answer to his light signals, he finally instructed me to go to the assistance of the rear gunner, whom he thought was injured and in difficulties. Just then, however, we received the second attack, which resulted in some direct hits. The controls were again damaged to such an extent that F/L Watson had only one aileron in full working condition. By this time the fire was completely out of control, the flames enveloping the cockpit and the whole starboard side of the aircraft. We were losing height rapidly and the mid-upper gunner reported that the metal on the wing root was melting and there was the possibility that the heavy load of petrol in the wings would explode at any moment.

F/L Watson then gave the order to abandon aircraft and spoke calmly and encouragingly to the engineer as he removed the front escape hatch and prepared to bail out. The bomb aimer adjusted F/L Watson’s parachute as he passed him and as I took my turn at the escape hatch, I could see that F/L Watson was having great difficulty maintaining the aircraft in level flight. By remaining at his post and using the utmost skill in manipulating the damaged controls, I am certain that F/L Watson was completely responsible for the quick and efficient manner in which the crew carried out their abandon aircraft drill and saved their lives by means of parachutes.

After leaving the aircraft and releasing my parachute, I was able to watch the burning aircraft almost until it crashed. It remained level, latterly, and in a shallow dive for much longer than would have been necessary for F/L Watson to reach the escape hatch and bailout, a fact which leads me to believe that he remained at the controls in order to allow the rear gunner, whom we were all under the impression was injured, as much time as possible to clear his turret. The latter informed me later that he got clear just in time to have his fall checked by his parachute, before reaching the ground. I firmly believe it would be impossible for an aircraft, in as badly damaged condition as was ours, to remain in such an attitude of flight without any assistance from the controls. Having flown with F/L Watson on numerous operational flights and having observed his determination to carry out his duties to the fullest extent, under all circumstances, I am convinced that on this occasion he unhesitatingly made his decision and at the cost of his own life remained at his post to ensure that his crew would have every possible opportunity and every valuable second of time to abandon the aircraft and save their lives. It is, therefore, with pride and the most profound feeling of gratitude that I recommend F/L J.A. Watson for the highest decoration that his courage, self-reliance and devotion to duty so fully merit.

W.R. Russell filed an affidavit from Mildenhall (no date on document):

On the night of April 27/28th, 1944, the crew: F/L Watson (Captain), F/O Ransom (Navigator), P/O Russell (W/OP), Flight Sergeant McKee (Air Bomber), Flight Sergeant McKinnon (Air Gunner), Sergeant Eames (Engineer) and Sergeant Hayes (Gunner) were detailed to take part in a raid on Friedrichshafen in Lancaster “R” Robert of No.622 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Approximately 50 miles from the target on the run in at 01.30 hours, at a height of 18,000 feet, we were attacked by four enemy aircraft. The Captain took immediate evasive action and succeeded in losing them, but too late. The controls had been badly damaged and the starboard inner engine and petrol tanks were on fire. He could not maintain height. The Captain ordered the bombs to be jettisoned but we still lost height, so the Captain ordered us to “bale out”; in the meantime he was struggling with the damaged controls to keep the aircraft in the air long enough for us to bale out.

I jumped at roughly 2,500 feet, and was the last man to see him alive. He was still endeavouring to maintain some semblance of control.

His devotion to duty and to his crew in giving his life is beyond description. A finer man never lived and he fully deserves the highest award his country can offer.

Although not a member of the crew that night, another man had a detailed “take” on Watson, sworn on 22 June 1946 at Hendon by 133715 F/L Surrender Berry (a navigator):

In June 1943, I was stationed at No.12 Operational Training Unit, Bomber Command, Chipping Warden, for the purpose of receiving operational training and to join a crew with whom I would take part in operations against the enemy.

It was here and at this time that I first met Pilot Officer James Andrew Watson, a pilot of the Royal Canadian Air Force, whose service number was J.20076. Watson invited me to join his crew as navigator and I agreed. The service approved this step with the result that from that time on, I flew with him on any flight undertaken by him.

At approximately the 20th June 1943, Watson was piloting a Wellington Mark III. I, among his crew, flew with him and the flight was regarded as solo for him in that there was no other pilot on board. At this stage, Watson had just proved himself to be competent to fly this machine without the assistance of another pilot and we were detailed to practice circuits and landings.

While landing, on the approach, about 60 feet above ground, the port engine burst into flames. Watson completed the landing and as he did so, calmly informed all the crew to be at their escape posts to jump out as soon as he brought the aircraft to halt. And Also, on the Radio Telephone communication which was linked with the aircraft intercommunication system so that we could all hear everything at once, spoke to the Aircraft Controller and calmly informed him to have a fire engine ready to put out the fire. Fortunately, the pulling back of the throttles in landing reduced the flames from the exhaust and the fire burnt itself out without doing any damage. Watson was then an inexperienced pilot and displayed great composure and thoughtfulness in moments when panic might easily have ensued.

At the end of July 1943, Watson and I among the crew were posted to No.1667 Heavy Conversion Unit, Stradishall, for the purpose of adapting our training to the larger bombers. I continued to remain his navigator throughout his training.

In August 1943, when Watson was familiarising himself with a Stirling bomber, he flew under the instruction of another pilot, Pilot Officer Smith. I and the remainder of the crew flew with him even on initial dual trips. Smith as instructor was captain of the aircraft while Watson performed all the duties of a captain.

It was on initial night circuits that an incident occurred. This was in August 1943. Watson was coming in to land at Stradishall when the aircraft suddenly swerved to starboard and the aircraft was rushing straight toward the hangars - it had not touched down and was still airborne. The lives of the crew were saved by the prompt action of both Smith and Watson. Smith immediately pulled up the undercarriage while Watson gave full power to lift the aircraft clear of the hangars. Only by the prompt and cool headed action of both pilots working in complete harmony was a crash avoided. Once clear of the hangars and at a safe height, Smith and Watson tested all the controls and neither could find any defect. Smith was a most experienced pilot who had completed one tour of operations on Stirling aircraft.

Coming in to land for the second time, Smith decided that he would land it with Watson’s assistance in case the incident repeated itself. The aircraft swerved off the runway to starboard after the touchdown and was racing furiously towards the hangars. Watson switched off the magnetos which cut off the engine power while Smith applied full brake pressure but still the aircraft tore through the ground towards the hangars. In order to avoid the crash, Smith effected a ground loop and the aircraft performed approximately two and half revolutions before it came to rest. The wings and tail had received considerable damage in chopping another aircraft. I learned the following day the cause had been a runaway outer starboard engine which cannot be seen from the cockpit. The linkage had severed and while it was a one in a million chance, the instruments gave no indication of it. I also learned that it was Watson’s prompt action in switching off the magnetos which had saved the situation, although Smith too did well in effecting the ground loop; this in itself might have proved more dangerous with the runaway engine. The prompt action of both pilots again saved the lives of the crew.

From Stradishall, Watson and I among the crew were posted to 622 Squadron, Mildenhall. This was in September 1943.

I flew with now Flying Officer Watson until December 30th, 1943 on all his operations except his first, which he did with the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Gibson, as a familiarisation trip.

The first operation I did with him was on the 18th September 1943, in Stirling aircraft “O”, Number EH992. Our mission was to drop mines at a specified point in the Bay of Biscay. The journey to the target was without any unusual incident but on the actual run in dropping the mines, Flying Officer W.V. Ransom, the bomb aimer in the crew, who was in the nose of the aircraft and looking below and dropping the mines at my direction, spotted a flak ship waiting for us to come within range. We had just dropped the last mine and Ransom directed the pilot, Watson, to weave to port. At that very second, shells were exploding where we had been a split second before just off the starboard wing. Only Ransom’s immediate directive and Watson’s most immediate response had saved the situation from disaster.

On 23rd September 1943, I flew with Watson on a bombing sortie to Mannheim, in Stirling “R” EJ114. Bearing in mind that this was the first major target for the crew and one where the enemy defences were very heavy and numerous, I attributed the success of this sortie largely to the leadership and composure of the captain, Watson.

On the night of 27th September 1943, in Stirling “R” EJ114, I flew with Watson on a mission to Hanover. On our way from the target, a combat ensued and I give below a verbatim report of the combat which is reproduced from my flying log book.


Night 27/28 September 1943 - Target Hannover

Stirling aircraft Mark III R/622 (EJ114) Captain F/O Watson. Time 2239 ½. Height 14,000 feet. IAS 165. Heading 245T. Weather conditions clear, position 5226 ½ North 0835 ½ East. The rear gunner, Sergeant MacKinnon sighted a T.E. e/a (enemy aircraft) 600 yards starboard quarter slightly up. E/A engaged in dropping flares; E/A made attack. Rear gunner ordered captain of Stirling corkscrew starboard. Rear gunner and mid-upper gunner opened fire at 400 yards. E/A broke off attack port quarter and appeared to slip in port quarter down and was not seen again. E/A claimed as probable. No damage sustained by Stirling aircraft. E/A recognised as HE.111.

Sergeant MacKinnon, R.G
No.9 B and G Canada
OTU 12
Con Unit 1657

Sergeant Cunningham, M/U
No.8 BGS
OTU 18
Com Unit 1651

The report is signed by F/L H. Berry who was 622 Squadron Gunnery Leader and by the Captain, F/O J.A. Watson.

I should mention that Sergeant Cunningham was a replacement. Sergeant Hayes, the normal mid-upper gunner of the crew was sick and replaced for this operation.

The fighter claimed as probable was confirmed by No.3 Group Headquarters some weeks later. This was confirmed by the fact that another air crew from another squadron on the same mission had noted an aircraft crashing down in flames at the same time in the same position.

On the 2nd October 1943 I was detailed to fly with Sergeant Jamieson on a mining mission to the Frisian Islands in Stirling aircraft “N” EF127. This was the first operation for Jamieson and since his own navigator had fallen off the wing of a Stirling that afternoon and sprained his ankle, it was necessary that he be replaced.

The operation was without unusual incidents and when we returned I found my own captain waiting for me in the control tower. He had stayed up half the night in his own anxiety.

I bring this point to light because it illustrates how Watson felt about the safety of his crew. It was not a personal matter but one of the crew as a whole. Sergeant Eames, the engineer in his crew, also had to fly out that night in another crew.

I continued on bombing missions with Watson to Kassel, Frankfurt, Bremen, Mannheim and the Ruhr until December 1943 when the squadron was changing over to Lancaster aircraft and meant a month’s conversion training. I made my last converting flight with Watson on January 5th, 1944, and then was discovered to be suffering from tuberculosis and then taken to hospital. I was replaced in the crew and Watson continued operations.

While recovering from my ailment in a sanatorium, I was informed by the Adjutant of 622 Squadron that now F/L Watson and crew were missing on the night of 27/28th April 1944.

I learned that all the crew members except Watson were prisoners of war and a discreet letter through civilian channels finally reached Squadron Leader Marsden, then Senior Intelligence Officer of the squadron from F/O Ransom, who had become the navigator, to replace me in the crew. He wrote to indicate that F/L Watson had been killed in the crash and had sacrificed his own chances of survival in order to ensure the safety of the crew. I was not a bit surprised by this; it was almost as if I had expected it. I knew F/L Watson for almost a year and as his navigator at the time I became his closest aide and advisor. I knew the man as no one outside the crew could know him. Barring all sentiment, knowing his true unselfish character, bearing in mind his acts, his words and his thoughts, he was throughout his operational career heavily conscious of his duty. His duty, of completing any operation, orders, and the responsibility that the crew’s lives depended upon him. So conscious was he of it that I know from my own personal experience of him that he worried about it secretly, and because he worried about it, he was never to let them down. He not only displayed a high standard of leadership, of coolness and courage in the most adverse circumstances, but his zeal, his fire and enthusiasm to complete to the minutest detail any operation or task he was given, not only won the admiration of his crew but of the whole squadron and of the new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Swales, DSO, DFC, DFM.

I approached Wing Commander Swales about this matter when I returned to the squadron in July 1944; my point was in view of F/O Ransom’s letter. He informed me that he would like to see justice and honour done to one so gallant but the full facts could not be made known until the war was over and the testimony of each crew member pieced together. I regret that I have since learned that Wing Commander Swales died in Germany.

At the end of the war I met F/O Ransom, Warrant Officer MacKinnon, Flight Sergeant Hayes and Flight Sergeant Eames, four members of the crew who were with F/L Watson. On different occasions and from each I learned of the magnificent presence of valour in their captain, particularly in those last few moments. His devotion to duty could not be surpassed.

My testimony can only fill in the gap of his previous actions but in the light of the testimony of the crew who were with him and knowing his previous actions and his capabilities I have no hesitation in recommending F/L Watson for the highest honour and award his country can bestow for valour in the face of the enemy.

I recommend him for the Victoria Cross.

The “K” Report on the loss of his aircraft was based on a report by J22438 F/L W.V. Ransom, a veteran of 14 operations (crew listed above). He reported the time of loss as being 0120 hours, 30 minutes before estimated time of arrival on target, height 17,000 feet. Narrative as follows:

Rear gunner reported two enemy aircraft with navigation lights on astern and up. Just as he did so a third Ju.88 attacked from underneath. His bursts set fire to starboard inner engine and destroyed intercom from rear turret, also put some of controls unserviceable. Rear gunner returned fire and claims he saw one engine on enemy aircraft on fire. Bombs were jettisoned and starboard inner feathered but fire extinguishers did not put out the fire which spread rapidly. Several minutes later a fourth enemy aircraft attacked from underneath. His bursts destroyed all remaining controls except port aileron. Pilot gave order to bale out as the fire had spread over the whole wing and mid-upper reported the metal was melting. Losing height rapidly. Engineer opened front hatch and baled out followed by Bomb Aimer, Navigator, Wireless Operator. The Mid-Upper went out by main door and Rear Gunner with much difficulty left through the turret doors. All were wearing chest type packs. While dropping in parachute I watched aircraft go from a steep glide into a vertical dive into the ground. I landed on ploughed ground sustaining a sprained ankle as my only injury. Engineer was windowing. Bomb Aimer put pilot’s chest type chute on him. Cover was thrown in aircraft but fell back and was jettisoned. H2S, Fishpond - no warning. Boozer.


Judging by the target, & distance from it, that were reported by the crew of the bomber & by Fw. Gunther Bahr of 3/NJG6 who reported downing a Lancaster 50-80 kms from Friedrichshafen, engaging at around 5500 meters, it looks like it was Bahr who got them early on the morning of the 28th.




Photo from Veteran's Affairs website

top     home

All content should be considered the property of the contributers and/or The Canadian Fighter Pilot & Air Gunner Museum - unless otherwise noted