Young Scotsman and the Victoria Cross

As you are well aware, a young Scotsman by the name of J. L. Cruickshank took his primary pilot training at Naval Air Station Grosse Ile and went on to win the highly coveted Victoria Cross Award during World War II. I was very intrigued by his story and, after doing some research, I am submitting this information to you in the event you might like to put it on the NASGI web page.

John Alexander "Jock" Cruickshank was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on May 20, 1920. He was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Daniel Stewart's College in Edinburgh, Scotland. His occupation prior to the War was a bank clerk. On May 10, 1939, he joined the Royal Artillery in the Territorial Army. He transferred to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) on June 30, 1941. He was shipped to Canada and arrived at No. 1 Manning Depot in Toronto, Ontario. This was Canada's processing center for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). After graduating primary flight training at NASGI, he was sent to NAS Pensacola, Florida where he earned his Wings. From Pensacola he was shipped back to the continent where he took his Catalina Conversion Training at the Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Invergordon, Scotland. He was then posted to Coastal Command Flying Boats as a Flying Officer with 210 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF).

When he won his VC, he was twenty-four years of age and 210 was based at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands.

On July 17, 1944, Cruickshank set out from his base on his forty-eighth operational patrol in Catalina JV 928 coded DA-Y. This patrol was to take fourteen hours and, with "Jock", were ten other crew members. Meanwhile, U-742, under the command of KPTLT. Heinz Schwassman, with a crew of fifty-one, were on their third war patrol running on the surface in the Artic West of Narvik, Norway. U-742 was a Type VIIC Boat and was commissioned into service May 1, 1943. She was part of the 13th Flotilla based at Trondheim, Norway. Flying Officer Cruickshank's aircraft was equipped with ASV MK VI radar which was mounted in a pod above the cockpit. At 9:45 p.m., a surface contact was made on radar and JV 928 made an investigative run. It is assumed U-742 also had radar for she opened fire on the PBY which immediately commenced an attack. On the first run, Jock's depth charges failed to release. It was on the second run that accurate flak hit the aircraft killing the Navigator and wounding several crew members, including Cruickshank. Fire broke out in DA-Y; the hull of the aircraft was badly holed; the radar was knocked out and the main fuel line was leaking! Despite receiving severe wounds to the chest and legs, Cruickshank attacked again, straddling U-742 with his depth charges and sinking her with the loss of all hands. JV 928 headed for home more than five hours flying time away, with Cruickshank lapsing in and out of consciousness. He refused morphine as he wanted to land the aircraft at Sullom Voe. He released control of the aircraft to the Second Pilot with instructions that he was to be revived prior to landing. When the aircraft arrived at their base, it was still dark and "Jock" insisted they fly around until first light as he did not wish to attempt a water landing at night in a damaged aircraft with wounded on board. After flying another hour, he took command of JV 928 and safely completed a water landing. The flak damage to the aircraft's hull was so severe she began to sink! "Jock" saved his aircraft and crew by opening up the throttles and driving the PBY up on the beach!! It was only then that he allowed his wounds to be treated. He recovered from his wounds; was promoted later to Flight Lieutenant with his VC being awarded on September 1, 1944.

After the war he returned to a successful banking career, eventually retiring in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Tom Walsh.


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Revised: March 02, 2004