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Aces of Aviation

Short Stirling B Mark III of Arthur L. Aaron

Short Stirling B Mark III of Arthur L. Aaron

Short Stirling B Mark III from the 218th Squadron of the RAF, piloted by Flight Sergeant Arthur L. Aaron, during the bombing of Turin, from 12th to 13th August 1943.

Wingspan: 30.20 meters.

Length: 26.50 meters.

Height: 6.93 meters.

Engine[s]: Four Bristol Hercules XVI of 1650 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 434 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 5180 meters.

Range with maximum load: 950 kilometers.

Armament: Eight Browning M1919 0.303-inch machine guns; maximum bomb load of 6350 kilograms.

Flight Sergeant Arthur Louis Aaron was Captain of a Short Stirling III bomber from the 218th (Gold Coast) Squadron, which took off from Downham Market, in Norfolk, to take part in the bombing of Turin, in the north of Italy, the night from 12th to 13th August 1943. After a long flight over the occupied Europe and the Alps, the Stirling was approaching its target when it was detected and attacked by an enemy night fighter. The valor shown by Aaron during and after this attack earned him the awarding of the Victoria Cross.

Three of the engines of the Stirling were hit, the windscreen destroyed and the fore and rear gun turrets put out of action. The steering system was damaged, which caused unstability and difficulty to control the large bomber. The projectiles pierced through the fuselage, killing the navigator and hurting other crew members. A bullet wounded Aaron in the face, breaking the jaw and tissues, while a second bullet injured his lungs. With his right arm disabled, Aaron fell on the control stick, causing the aircraft to dive several thousands of feet. The flight engineer managed to regain control at an altitude of 3000 feet (900 meters).

Deprived of his ability to talk, Aaron indicated the gunner to take control of the aircraft. A course to the south was chosen in an attempt to drive the crippled bomber, which had only one engine working and was loaded with a 4000-pound (1814-kilogram) bomb which could not been dropped, to Sicily or North Africa. Aaron was taken to the rear part of the aircraft, where morphine was given to him.

After resting for a while, Aaron insisted on returning to the cockpit. He was placed in the pilot's seat and his feet placed on the rudder's bar. Two times he tried to take control of the aircraft, but his forces were not on par with his determination and only with difficulty he was convinced to stop trying. Albeit exhausted and suffering great pain, Aaron continued providing assistance to the crew, writing his instructions with his left hand.

Five hours after leaving its target, the Stirling started to run out of fuel. However, soon were visible the reference lights of Bne Airport, in Algeria, and Aaron gathered his scarce forces to lead the gunner in the venturesome task of landing the broken-down aircraft. The airport was plunged into darkness and the landing gear of the Stirling could not be deployed; however, they tried to land for four times under Aaron's guidance. At the fifth attempt, Aaron depleted his remaining forces and the maneuver was successfully completed by the gunner.

But Aaron could not live to see his valor recognized. If he had settled for remaining on rest, saving his forces, perhaps he could have survived. But instead of that he fulfilled his duty, ensuring that his aircraft and crew did not fell in enemy hands, and paid it with the last price. In the mention that appeared in the London Gazzette after his death, tribute was paid to his action with these words: "In a desperate situation he showed the best qualities of valor, determination and command and, albeit wounded and moribund, he gave such a high example of sense of duty as it has rarely been seen."