Britain's Youngest V.C.

The War Illustrated, Volume 3, No. 58, Page 386, October 11, 1940.

Sergt. John Hannah of the R.A.F., who is only eighteen years of age, has been awarded the V.C. in recognition of most-conspicuous bravery. Here is the official account of the deed which has won for him the highest military honour; his own version is given in page 387.

On the night of September 15 Sergeant Hannah was the wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on enemy barge concentrations at Antwerp. The machine was 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 and quickly enveloped the wireless operator's and rear gunner's cockpits. As both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced, there was grave risk of the fire spreading.

Sergeant Hannah, on forcing his way through the fire to obtain two extinguishers, found that the rear gunner had had to leave the aircraft. He could have acted likewise, leaving through the bottom escape hatch, but he remained and fought the fire for 10 minutes, beating the flames with his log-book when the extinguishers were empty.

Meanwhile thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded in all directions. Hannah 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 the cockpit was melted away, leaving only the cross bearers. Although receiving 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.

Sergeant Hannah, who is 18 years of age, 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.

Articles in the Victoria Cross category