D’Arcy Collection. Paintings and Prints by Bill Perring. Aviation, Landscapes, Marine, and Figurative.
John Cruickshank's Catalina arriving back at Sullom Voe after the mission that won him the V.C
A Limited Edition of 850
Inverness airport was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Heathrow where I had boarded the plane earlier that morning - and was all the better for it. But there was little time to appreciate its rustic charm. A light aircraft was waiting and we were soon airborne again, en route to R.A.F Kinloss where, on the 31st of March 1995, the station was opening its new O.C.U building.
It was to be christened 'The Cruickshank Centre' in honour of John Cruickshank, the only surviving V.C holder from Coastal Command and the man I had been invited to meet to discuss the possibilities of a commemorative painting.
John, along with his friend and former wireless operator, John Appleton, was there for the unveiling, but after only the briefest of introductions it was into flying suits and off to board one of the station’s Nimrods. A special flight out to their wartime base in the Shetlands had been arranged and so my first questions were put as we circled Sullom Voe at around 400ft.
The story of the sinking of U-347 and the subsequent return of Cruickshank's Catalina are well documented and I can do no better than to quote official wartime documentation.
THE LONDON GAZETTE
OF TUESDAY, the 29th of AUGUST, 1944
The KING was graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:-
Flying Officer John Alexander CRUICKSHANK (126700), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 210 Squadron.
This officer was the captain and pilot of a Catalina flying boat which was recently engaged on an anti-submarine patrol over northern waters, when a U-Boat was sighted on the surface, Flying Officer Cruickshank at once turned to attack. In the face of fierce anti-aircraft fire he manoeuvred into position and ran in to release his depth charges. Unfortunately they failed to drop.
Flying officer Cruickshank knew that the failure of this attack had deprived him of the advantage of surprise and that his aircraft offered a good target to the enemy's determined and now heartened gunners.
Without hesitation, he climbed and turned to come in again. The Catalina was met by intense and accurate fire and was repeatedly hit. The navigator/bomb aimer was killed. The second pilot and two other members of the crew were injured. Flying Officer Cruickshank was struck in seventy two places, receiving two serious wounds in the lungs and ten penetrating wounds in the lower limbs. His aircraft was badly damaged and filled with the fumes of exploding shells. But he did not falter. He pressed home his attack and released the depth charge himself, straddling the submarine perfectly. The U-Boat was sunk.
He then collapsed and the second pilot took over the controls. He recovered shortly afterwards, though bleeding profusely, insisted on resuming command and retaining it until he was satisfied that the damaged aircraft was under control, that a course had been set for base and that all the necessary signals had been sent. Only then would he consent to receive medical aid and have his wounds attended to. He refused morphia in case it might prevent him carrying on.
During the next five hours of the return flight he several times lapsed into unconsciousness owing to loss of blood. When he came to, his first thought on each occasion was for the safety of the aircraft and crew. The damaged aircraft eventually reached base but it was clear that an immediate landing would be a hazardous task for the wounded and less experienced second pilot. Although able to breathe only with the greatest difficulty, Flying Officer Cruickshank insisted on being carried forward and propped up in the second pilots seat. For a full hour, in spite of his agony and ever-increasing weakness, he gave orders as necessary, refusing to allow the aircraft to be brought down until the conditions of light and sea made this possible without undue risk.
With his assistance the aircraft was safely landed on the water. He then directed the taxying and beaching of the aircraft so it could easily be salvaged. When the medical officer went on board, Flying Officer Cruickshank collapsed and he had to be given a blood transfusion before he could be removed to hospital.
By pressing home the second attack in his gravely wounded condition and continuing his exertions on the return journey with his strength failing all the time, he seriously prejudiced his chance of survival even if the aircraft safely reached its base. Throughout, he set an example of determination, fortitude and devotion to duty in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service.
John Appleton now lives in Australia, but I met him several times during his stay in London where he told me that, following the attack on the submarine, they had radioed to base, giving their situation and requesting that assistance should be standing by. The painting shows the return of the aircraft to Sullom Voe with dinghies in attendance and a seaplane tender racing alongside the damaged plane to give immediate aid.
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