For Valour: Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell’s Victoria Cross

Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell VC.
In our fourth Victoria Cross blog, we’ll explore Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell who gained the Victoria Cross on 6 April 1941 over France.

Location: 6 April 1941 over France
Who: Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 21 April 1917 – 6 April 1941

Flying Officer Campbell was captain and pilot of Bristol Beaufort N 1016, coded OA-X, of 22 Squadron. Campbell was tasked with a torpedo attack on the German battle-cruiser Gneisenau, which was undergoing repairs in Brest, France. Campbell’s crew comprised Sergeant James Phillip Scott (RCAF), navigator; Sergeant William Cecil Mulliss (RAFVR), wireless operator; and Flight Sergeant Ralph Walter Hillman (RAF), wireless operator/air-gunner. Although 22 Squadron was normally based at RAF North Coates, Lincolnshire, several Beauforts had been temporarily detached to RAF St Eval, Cornwall, to be nearer their target. Campbell took off at 0430 hrs. Because of bad weather, his was the only aircraft to make an attack.

The lengthy delay between the action (6 April 1941) and the award being Gazetted (13 March 1942) was because there were no British witnesses to the action. Reports from subsequently-captured German naval personnel, supplemented by French Resistance members working in Brest docks, formed the evidence for the award.
Beaufort
A Bristol Beaufort. Photo courtesy of Air Historical; Branch, Royal Air Force.

The London Gazette Friday 13th March 1942:

The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:— Flying Officer Kenneth CAMPBELL (72446), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (deceased), No. 22 Squadron. This officer was the pilot of a Beaufort aircraft of Coastal Command which was detailed to attack an enemy battle cruiser in Brest Harbour at first light on the morning of 6th April, 1941. The aircraft did not return but it is now known that a torpedo attack was carried out with the utmost daring. The battle cruiser was secured alongside the wall on the north shore of the harbour, protected by a stone mole bending round it from the west. On rising ground behind the ship stood protective batteries of guns. Other batteries were clustered thickly round the two arms of land which encircle the outer harbour. In this outer harbour near the mole were moored three heavily-armed anti-aircraft ships, guarding the battle cruiser. Even if an aircraft succeeded in penetrating these formidable defences, it would be almost impossible, after delivering a low-level attack, to avoid crashing into the rising ground beyond. This was well known to Flying Officer Campbell who, despising the heavy odds, went cheerfully and resolutely to the task. He ran the gauntlet of the defences. Coming in almost at sea level, he passed the anti-aircraft ships at less than mast-height in the very mouths of their guns, and skimming over the mole launched a torpedo at point-blank range. The battle cruiser was severely damaged below the water-line, and was obliged to return to the dock whence she had come only the day before. By pressing home his attack at close quarters in the face of a withering fire on a course fraught with extreme peril, Flying Officer Campbell displayed valour of the highest order.

Joe Barton's Victoria Cross

Flying Officer Campbell and his crew are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s plot within Brest (Kerfaufras) Cemetery.

Campbell’s Victoria Cross is reportedly held by 22 Squadron RAF, RAF Valley, Anglesey, Wales [Unverified]

Credits:

Citation: London Gazette 13 March 1942

Additional biographical details:
For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.
The National Archives Air 2/5686 ‘Recommendations for Victoria Cross’.

Photos
Flying Officer Campbell: Courtesy of AHB
Victoria Cross: RAF Museum
Grave headstone: The War Graves Photographic Project (www.twgpp.org)
Beaufort: RAF Museum

 

About the Author

Norman Brice: Volunteer

Volunteer Norman Brice

It all started very many years ago when, lying in my pram, I was awoken by what I later knew as Spitfires on their finals to RAF Biggin Hill, just a handful of miles away. As a schoolboy I was captivated by the annual September Battle of Britain Days at Biggin Hill with a vast range of visiting aircraft, including all three V-Bombers in gleaming anti-flash white.

Fast forward very many years past retirement I joined the RAF Museum London as a volunteer as a Vulcan and Cold War tour guide.