John Alexander Cruickshank
Royal Air Force
Born: 20th May 1920
Flying Officer Cruickshank was twenty-four years old when he piloted a Consolidated Catalina anti-submarine flying boat from Sullom Voe on 17 July 1944 on a patrol north into the Atlantic. There the "Cat" found a German Type VIIC U-boat on the surface.
At this point in the war the aerial threat to the U-boats meant that they were fitted with anti-aircraft guns and Cruickshank had to fly the Catalina into the hail of flak put up by the U-boat. On that first pass his depth charges did not release. Despite this he brought the aircraft back round for a second pass and this time straddled the U-boat with his charges sinking it with all hands. Cruickshank's VC citation refers to the U-Boat as U-347, although its now known that it was actually U-361 and that it went down with all 52 crew members.
The German flak however had been deadly accurate, killing the Catalina's navigator and injuring four including the second pilot Flight Sergeant Jack Garnett and Cruickshank himself. Cruickshank had been hit in seventy-two places, with two serious wounds to his lungs and ten penetrating wounds to his lower limbs. Despite this he refused medical attention until be was sure that the appropriate radio signals had been sent and the aircraft was on course for its home base. Even then he refused morphine aware that it would cloud his judgement. Flying through the night it took the damaged Catalina five and a half hours to return to Sullom Voe with the injured Garnett at the controls and Cruickshank lapsing in and out of consciousness in the back.
Once there Cruickshank returned to the cockpit and took command of the aircraft again. Deciding that the light and the sea conditions for a water landing were too risky for the inexperienced Garnett to safely put the aircraft down, he kept the flying boat in the air circling for an extra hour until he considered it safer and they landed the Catalina on the water and taxied it to an area where it could be safely beached.
When the RAF medical officer boarded the aircraft he had to give Cruickshank a blood transfusion before he was considered stable enough to be transferred to hospital. John Cruickshank's injuries were such that he never flew in command of an aircraft again