OBITUARY : Wing Cdr Roderick Learoyd VC

Wing Commander Roderick "Babe" Learoyd was awarded the Victoria Cross for his conduct during a bombing raid over Germany on 12 August 1940.

As one of a series of operations, Acting Flight Lieutenant Learoyd was ordered to lead a formation of Hampden twin- engine bombers (six from his own squadron, No 49) into Germany. The aircraft were slow, unsophisticated, and poorly defended. Their target was the aqueduct carrying the Dortmund-Ems canal.

This was known to be a target of special importance in view of the essential build-up of barges and other shipping for industrial and military support and particularly for the shipping planned for the Channel ports invasion. In view of this the Germans had provided overwhelming anti-aircraft defences in the form of hundreds of guns of all calibres and massed searchlights designed to blind the crews.

The latter had to fly at bombing levels down to 150ft to ensure the necessary accuracy and from a predictable direction obvious to the enemy. Learoyd and his crews were well aware of what they were asked to face, having attacked the canal before. Indeed to fly with bomber command made such experiences familiar to all.

After starting its bombing run Learoyd's aircraft was literally shot to pieces, losing among other things his undercarriage controls and his landing flaps. He later paid tribute to the immense skill and courage of his three-man crew. It is certainly worth noting that one of his gunners was neither an officer nor an NCO but a regular airman, which was quite common in those days in bombers, in Lysanders and in Defiant fighters. These men were paid one shilling and sixpence per day. Their carrier pigeons, one of whom laid an egg while they were over the target, only got rations.

The canal was successfully put out of action for 10 critical days. Having succeeded by a near miracle in escaping its defences, Learoyd arrived back over his base with nearly three hours of darkness still to come. He decided that a night landing would be too dangerous for his crippled aircraft and he orbited till daylight, when he made a perfect belly-landing without undercarriage or flaps and without injury to anyone.

It has sometimes given cause for comment that such experiences did not see the end of wartime flying for RAF pilots. Anything but. Learoyd continued to fly operationally with bomber command, eventually commanding No 44 squadron, which was the first unit to be equipped with the famous four- engined Lancaster bomber.

Like many of those who won the VC, he did not appear to be a particularly likely candidate for that supreme honour. After being educated at Wellington, he pottered about for a few years before taking a short service commission in the Royal Air Force and being posted to bomber command. Operational from the outbreak of war, he soon established a reputation for professional expertise and outstanding determination in locating and attacking heavily defended targets. But he was not an obviously notable or inspirational leader. He was a quiet and reserved man but also a friendly and comradely one. A good man at a party, but never allowing social life to interrupt his fighting career. Even after the award of the VC he gave no hint of conceit or self- importance.

After surviving the war Learoyd retired to civilian life, first as a VIP pilot and later as an export sales manager in the motor industry.

Christopher Foxley-Norris

Roderick Alastair Brook Learoyd, air force officer: born Folkestone 5 February 1913; VC 1940; died 24 January 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star