Ceremony to Commemorate the Life of Wg Cdr Hugh Malcolm VC
On 4th December 2012 the 70th anniversary of the courage shown by Wg Cdr Malcolm and the award of his Victoria Cross was commemorated at RAF Odiham.
A ceremony was led by OC 18 Sqn, Wg Cdr Jon Murnane, recounting the life of Wg Cdr Malcolm VC; followed with prayers by the Stn’s Padre Sqn Ldr David Richardson and MACR ‘Ginge’ Bradley reading the recommendation for the Victoria Cross.
Hugh Malcolm was born 2nd May 1917 at Broughton Ferry, Dundee. He joined the RAF in January 1936 and got his ‘Wings’ in December 1937.
On promotion to Sqn Ldr, Hugh was appointed to 18(B) Sqn which were operating Blenheim IV bombers that were mainly utilised for night intruder sorties.
During this period 18(B) Squadron was part of the ‘1,000-bomber’ raid where the Sqn launched 18 Blenheim IV’s against three Luftwaffe airfields. Malcolm led seven of the bombers against St Trond airfield. The Blenheim IV was ageing and soon due to be replaced.
Upon promotion to Wg Cdr Hugh was made OC 18(B) Sqn.
Along with 18(B) Sqn, 13, 114 and 614 Squadrons formed 326 Wg. They were to be based at Blida airfield in Algeria. 326 Wg’s Sqns operated in close cooperation with each other, in much the same way as the Chinook wing currently does. They often carried out mixed squadron formations and on occasion even shared the airframes or backfilled ground crew to achieve their missions.
On 4th December 1942, 11 Blenheim V’s of 326 Wg were flown to a forward landing ground at Souk-el-Arba for close support and tactical bombing in aid of the army formations in the battle area. At 0915, six Blenheims were led by Hugh to the notorious area of Chougui to locate troop concentrations. A Luftwaffe landing strip was also located in the area and successfully bombed and strafed.
Within an hour of landing, Hugh received a message from the forward Army battle zone, requesting an operation against the same area. It would mean a daylight attack, over a fiercely contested battle zone. Fighter cover couldn’t be organised within the timescale that was available. Knowing these extreme hazards well, Hugh decided to fly the sortie, to service his main mission and duty of supporting the hard-pressed 1st Army.
Ten Blenheims of 326 Wg were ordered to attack that Hugh led. Behind him one aircraft burst it’s tail wheel on take-off and so nine Blenheims pressed on. 20 minutes later another Blenheim suffered an engine failure and crash landed in the desert. With now only eight bombers left their combined mutual defence was even weaker.
German observers signalled the approaching bombers and the experienced and well equipped Gruppen I & II ‘Ace of Spades Group’ were hunting the Blenheims. As Hugh’s formation found their target they started to bomb. The exploding bombs immediately highlighted their position and a staggering 50 Bf 109 fighters started to pounce.
Meanwhile Hugh was controlling his formation and valiantly fighting back, with their only defence their tight formation albeit in rapidly dwindling numbers. The Germans savaged the remaining formation and through the melee reports indicate that Hugh’s Blenheim was the last to be shot down. His aircraft was seen to erupt into flames on crashing and despite the valiant attempts of the infantry, amongst detonating ammunition and intense heat, only the body of the air gunner and wireless operator James Robb could be recovered.
At the ceremony Padre David Richardson reflected upon the gallantry shown by Wg Cdr Hugh Malcolm and the crews of 18 Sqn both then and right through to the present day.
The Sqn’s motto reads ‘animo at fide’ which appropriately translates to ‘with courage and faith.’