For Valour: Flying Officer Leslie Thomas Manser (66542) VC

Fg Off Leslie Thomas Manser VC, portrait photograph, in uniform, with RAFVR collar insignia.
Fg Off Leslie Thomas Manser VC, portrait photograph, in uniform, with RAFVR collar insignia. 

Location: 31 May 1942, over Germany

Who: Flying Officer Leslie Thomas Manser (66542) VC, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve 11 May 1922 – 31 May 1942

On the night of 30/31 May 1942, Bomber Command mounted ‘Operation Millennium’, the first ‘Thousand Raid’, against Cologne.

By marshalling all available aircraft, including from training units, Air Marshal Harris, appointed as Air-Officer- in-Command, Bomber Command, only 3 months previously, wanted to prove to both British and German Governments – and the Royal Navy and army – that strategic bombing was a major element of Britain’s war against Germany. Included in the 1,046 bombers he despatched against that city was Avro Manchester serial L 7301, coded ‘D’ for Dog of 50 Squadron, whose captain and pilot was Flying Officer Manser. He took off from RAF Skellingthorpe at 23:01 hours.

The VC medal


“The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery: — Flying Officer Leslie Thomas MANSER (66542), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (deceased), No. 50 Squadron. Flying Officer Manser was captain and first pilot of a Manchester aircraft which took part in the mass raid on Cologne on the night of May 30th, 1942.

As the aircraft was approaching its objective it was caught by searchlights and subjected to intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire. Flying Officer Manser held on his dangerous course and bombed the target successfully from a height of 7,000 feet. Then he set course for base. The Manchester had been damaged and was still under heavy fire. Flying Officer Manser took violent evasive action, turning and descending to under 1,000 feet. It was of no avail. The searchlights and flak followed him until the outskirts of the city were passed. The aircraft was hit repeatedly and the rear gunner was wounded. The front cabin filled with smoke; the port engine was over-heating badly. Pilot and crew could all have escaped safely by parachute. Nevertheless, Flying Officer Manser, disregarding the obvious hazards, persisted in his attempt to save aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands. He took the aircraft up to 2,000 feet. Then the port engine burst into flames. It was ten minutes before the fire was mastered, but then the engine went out of action for good, part of one wing was burnt, and the air-speed of the aircraft became dangerously low. Despite all the efforts of pilot and crew, the Manchester began to lose height. At this critical moment, Flying Officer Manser once more disdained the alternative of parachuting to safety with his crew. Instead, with grim determination, he set a new course for the nearest base, accepting for himself the prospect of almost certain death in a firm resolve to carry on to the end. Soon, the aircraft became extremely difficult to handle and, when a crash was inevitable, Flying Officer Manser ordered the crew to bale out. A sergeant handed him a parachute but he waved it away, telling the non-commissioned officer to jump at once as he could only hold the aircraft steady for a few seconds more. While the crew were descending to safety they saw the aircraft, still carrying their gallant captain, plunge to earth and burst into flames. In pressing home his attack in the face of strong opposition, in striving, against heavy odds, to bring back his aircraft and crew and, finally, when in extreme peril, thinking only of the safety of his comrades, Flying Officer Manser displayed determination and valour of the highest order.”

This image shows a military headstone for Flying Officer L.T. Manser, VC. The headstone is situated in a well-maintained cemetery with other similar headstones visible in the background. The inscription reads: "Flying Officer L.T. Manser, VC. Pilot Royal Air Force 31st May 1942 Age 20 Beloved son of T.J.S. and R. Manser, Radlett, Herts. England. 'He died to do his duty'" The headstone also features the RAF emblem at the top and the Victoria Cross symbol below the inscription.

The Manchester crashed near Bree, Belgium; Flying Officer Manser now rests in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Heverlee War Cemetery.

Avro Manchester

Manser’s Victoria Cross is displayed on rotation at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth, London

A black and white image of a handwritten letter. The letter is dated "23.10.42" and addressed to T.J.S. Manser Esq at Steodman Grange, Riddl. The letter contains expressions of congratulations and condolences regarding an award conferred upon Manser's son by His Majesty the King.

Image © Crown Copyright 1942. Reproduced under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0.


Citation: London Gazette 23 October 1942

Additional biographical details: For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.

Letter of condolence: RAF Museum

Flying Officer Manser: RAF Museum/RAF Air Historical Branch
Victoria Cross: RAF Museum
Grave: The War Graves Photographic Project (
Avro Manchester: 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.