(24) Leslie Manser

Leslie Thomas Manser, VC (11 May1922 -31May 1942) was a British Bomber pilot and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, which was award posthumously following an attack on the German city of Cologne.

Manser was accepted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) in August 1940, and was commissioned as a pilot officer in May 1941. After a navigational course and final operational training at No. 14 Operational Training Unit, RAF Cottesmore, he was posted to No. 50 Squadron operating the Handley Page Hampden.

For the 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne on the night of 30 May 1942, Manser was captain and first pilot of Avro Manchester bomber 'D' for Dog. As he came over the target, his aircraft was caught in searchlights and although he bombed the target successfully from 7,000 ft (2,100 m) it was hit by flak. In an effort to escape the anti-aircraft fire he took violent evasive action, this reduced his altitude to only 1,000 ft (300 m) but he did not escape the flak until he was clear of the city. By this time the rear gunner was wounded, the front cabin full of smoke and the port engine overheating. Rather than abandon the aircraft and be captured, Manser tried to get the aircraft and crew to safety. The port engine then burst into flames, burning the wing and reducing airspeed to a dangerously low level. The crew made preparations to abandon the aircraft, by then barely controllable and with a crash inevitable. The aircraft was by now over Belgium, and Manser ordered the crew to bail out but refused the offer of a parachute for himself. He remained at the controls and sacrificed himself in order to save his crew. As the crew parachuted down they saw the bomber crash in flames into a dyke at Bree, 13 mi (21 km) north east of Genk in Belgium.

Pilot Officer Barnes was taken prisoner, but Sergeant Baveystock, Pilot Officer Horsley, Sergeant King, Sergeant Mills and Sergeant Naylor all evaded capture and made their way back to the United Kingdom. The testimonies of the five evaders were instrumental in the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross for Manser.

On part of the old RAF Skellingthorpe airfield from which Manser flew his last sortie, a new primary school was built. It was opened in 1981 and named the Leslie Manser Primary School. On 31 June 2004 Memorial to Manser was unveiled in natural domain the ‘Zig’, Stamproolerbroek near Molenbeersel, Kinrooi in the north-east of Belguim.

Manser’s Victoria Cross is on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.