01 May 2011

Victoria Cross: E. Swales


Captain, South African Air Force; 582 Squadron

Born: 3 July 1915, Inanda, Natal, South Africa
Died: 23 February 1945, near Valenciennes, France

Citation: Captain Swales was "master bomber" of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23rd, 1945. As "master bomber," he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers following in his wake.
Soon after he had reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy fighter and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey to further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter dosed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales' aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose.
It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war.
Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home. After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bale out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls.
Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live.

[London Gazette issue 37049 dated 24 Apr 1945, published 20 Apr 1945.]

Note: Capt Swales's DFC was gazetted in issue 36954, dated 23 Feb 1945:
Captain Edwin SWALES (6ioiV), S.A.A.F., 582 Sqn.
This officer was pilot and captain of an aircraft detailed to attack Cologne in December, 1944. When approaching the target intense anti-aircraft fire was encountered. Despite this a good bombing attack was executed. Soon afterwards the aircraft was attacked by five enemy aircraft. In the ensuing fights, Captain Swales manoeuvred with great skill. As a result his gunners were able to bring effective fire to bear upon the attackers, one of which is believed to have been shot down. Throughout this spirited action Captain Swales displayed exceptional coolness and captaincy, setting a very fine example. This officer has completed very many sorties during which he has attacked a variety of enemy targets.

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