|Born||21 April 1917
Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland
|Died||6 April 1941 (aged 23)
|Buried at||Brest (Kerfautras) Cemetery|
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1939-1941 †|
|Unit||No. 22 Squadron RAF|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell VC (21 April 1917 – 6 April 1941) was a Scottish airman, posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an attack which damaged the German battleship Gneisenau moored in Brest, France.
Kenneth Campbell was from Ayrshire and educated at Sedbergh School. He gained a chemistry degree at Clare College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron. In September 1939 he was mobilised for RAF service, Flying Officer Campbell joining No.22 squadron in September 1940, with the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bomber. Campbell torpedoed a merchant vessel near Borkum in March 1941 and days later he made an escape from a pair of 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 Bristol 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 out of action for 6 months, which thus allowed allied shipping to cross the Atlantic without any threat.
Generally, once a torpedo was dropped an escape was made by low-level jinking at full throttle. Because of rising ground surrounding the harbour Flying Officer Campbell's Beaufort was forced into a steep banking turn, revealing its full silhouette to the gunners. The aircraft met a withering wall of flak and crashed into the harbour. The Germans buried Campbell and his other three crew mates, Sgts. 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 leak news of his brave deeds to England. A memorial to him stands in his old school, Sedbergh, commemorating his brave deeds.
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, 6th April, 1941.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—
Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, 22 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
In recognition of most conspicuous bravery. 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 his 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 22 Squadron.
- 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.
- "Citations For RAF Holders Of The Victoria Cross Whose Names Are Associated With VC10 Aircraft". Vickers VC10. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
- British VCs of World War 2 (John Laffin, 1997)
- Monuments to Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
- The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
- Scotland's Forgotten Valour (Graham Ross, 1995)
- 'Kenneth Campbell VC' (P. Munday, 2003) Research held in Sedbergh School Archives.
- 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.