War survivor's tribute to hero commander

A SUFFOLK survivor of a Second World War “suicide mission” has paid tribute to his fallen commander 12> after his Victoria Cross went on display.Sub Lieutenant Edgar Lee, from Woodbridge, was among the veterans who gathered at London's Imperial War Museum to pay their respects to Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, of Tipperary, Ireland, who flew his Swordfish torpedo-bomber into the face of intense German fire before eventually being shot down in flames on February 12 1942.

A SUFFOLK survivor of a Second World War “suicide mission” has paid tribute to his fallen commander 12> after his Victoria Cross went on display.

Sub Lieutenant Edgar Lee, from Woodbridge, was among the veterans who gathered at London's Imperial War Museum to pay their respects to Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, of Tipperary, Ireland, who flew his Swordfish torpedo-bomber into the face of intense German fire before eventually being shot down in flames on February 12 1942.

Not one of the six Swordfish, led by Lt Cdr Esmonde, returned from their mission to attack a huge German battle fleet as it made its “Channel dash” from Brest in France back to Germany.

Of 18 men, just five survived and only one, Sub Lt Lee, emerged unhurt.


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Sub Lt Lee, now 86, said the operation had been delayed after a series of miscalculations and oversights meant the German warships, destroyers and the largest Luftwaffe air cover ever gathered could move up the English Channel unnoticed.

He said: “Then all hell broke loose.

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“The Germans knew we were there and we barely knew the Germans were there.”

He explained that they were waiting for new Swordfish equipped with radar but that it never came. Nor did the five squadrons of Spitfires intended to escort them. Instead, only a small part of one squadron arrived.

Sub Lieutenant Lee said: “The Spitfires chased after the first attack but there were so many (enemy planes) that the Spitfires were involved in looking after themselves against some of the best German pilots.”

With enemy fire coming at the Swordfish from all angles, Lt Cdr Esmonde led the charge but was fatally shot down. Twelve other men in the Swordfish were killed and four were wounded.

His Victoria Cross, which is the UK's highest award for “gallantry in the face of the enemy”, is now on display in the Imperial War Museum's Victoria Cross and George Cross Gallery.

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