|Born||21 April 1917|
Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland
|Died||6 April 1941 (aged 23)|
Brest (Kerfautras) Cemetery
|Service/||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1938–1941|
|Unit||No. 22 Squadron RAF|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
Kenneth Campbell, VC (21 April 1917 – 6 April 1941) was a Scottish airman who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack that damaged the German battlecruiser Gneisenau, moored in Brest, France, during the Second World War.
Second World War
In September 1939, Campbell was mobilised for service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) following the outbreak of the Second World War. Flying Officer Campbell joined No. 22 Squadron RAF in September 1940, piloting the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber. Campbell torpedoed a merchant vessel near Borkum in March 1941. Days later, he escaped from a pair of Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, despite extensive damage to his aircraft. Two days later, on a 'Rover' patrol he torpedoed another vessel, off IJmuiden.
On 6 April 1941 over Brest Harbour, France, Flying Officer Campbell attacked the German battleship Gneisenau. He flew his Beaufort through the gauntlet of concentrated anti-aircraft fire from about 1000 weapons of all calibres and launched a torpedo at a height of 50 feet (15 m).
The attack had to be made with absolute precision: the Gneisenau was moored only some 500 yards (460 m) away from a mole in Brest's inner harbour. For the attack to be effective, Campbell would have to time the release to drop the torpedo close to the side of the mole. That Campbell managed to launch his torpedo accurately is testament to his courage and determination. The ship was severely damaged below the waterline and was obliged to return to the dock whence she had come only the day before; she was put out of action for six months, lessening the threat to Allied shipping crossing the Atlantic.
Generally, once a torpedo was dropped, an escape was made by low-level jinking at full throttle. Because of rising ground surrounding the harbour, Campbell was forced into a steep banking turn, revealing the Beaufort's full silhouette to the gunners. The aircraft met a withering wall of flak and crashed into the harbour. The Germans buried Campbell and his three crew mates, Sergeants J. P. Scott DFM RCAF (navigator), R. W. Hillman (wireless operator) and W. C. Mulliss (air gunner), with full military honours. His valour was only recognised when the French Resistance managed to pass along news of his brave deeds to England.
Victoria Cross citation
The announcement and accompanying citation for the decoration was published in supplement to the London Gazette on 13 March 1942, reading
Air Ministry, 13th March, 1942.
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned 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 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 around 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 at almost 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 withering fire on a course fraught with extreme peril, Flying Officer Campbell displayed valour of the highest order.
At a small ceremony in his home town of Saltcoats in Ayrshire on 6 April 2000, the 59th anniversary of Campbell's death at Brest, a memorial plaque and bench were unveiled by his sister-in-law, and his 90-year-old brother handed over his VC to the safekeeping of the commanding officer of the present-day No. 22 Squadron.
A memorial to him stands in his old school, Sedbergh, commemorating his brave deeds.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Note:An air-launched torpedo required about 400 yards (370 m) to settle to its set depth and for the warhead to be armed.
- Barker pages 57 to 67
- Robertson pages 14 & 15
- Note: Sgt. Scott apparently tried to help fly the Beaufort when Campbell was incapacitated by the flak.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 February 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "No. 35486". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 March 1942. p. 1163.
- "Citations For RAF Holders Of The Victoria Cross Whose Names Are Associated With VC10 Aircraft". Vickers VC10. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- Barker, Ralph. The Ship-Busters: The Story of the R.A.F. Torpedo-Bombers. London: Chatto & Windus Ltd. 1957. No ISBN.
- Robertson, Bruce. Beaufort Special. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd., 1976. ISBN 0-7110-0667-9.