P/O Leslie Manser lifted off on his 14th operational sortie on the night of 30/31st May 1942, bound for Cologne. He was piloting L7301 an AVRO Manchester MK 1 aircraft of No.50 Squadron stationed at Skellingthorpe. He decided to make his bombing run at 7000 feet rather than the briefed height of 12000 and successfully bombed his target. He was then caught by searchlights, and his aircraft was hit by flak which blew off part of the bomb doors. He was again hit by flak and the port engine caught fire. Luckily this did not set the rest of the aircraft alight and he was able to continue homeward on one engine. However this became overheated and he was soon to realise that the aircraft could not make it back. He gave the order to his crew to bale out as he fought to keep the aircraft flying, and bought them time to do so as a result. The last man out, having stayed behind to assist Manser, was Leslie Baveystock. Manser eventually lost control, and was killed when the aircraft crashed near Bree in Belgium.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously on October 20th 1942.
Leslie Thomas Manser was born in New Delhi, India during his father's employment as an engineer with the Post and Telegraph Department and, when the family returned to England, they settled in Radlett, Hertfordshire. He was a student of Victoria Boys' School, Kurseong, Darjeeling and Aldenham School, Elstree, Hertfordshire. He was accepted by the Royal Air Force in August 1940, and Manser was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in May 1941. After a navigational course and final operational training at 14 OTU, RAF Cottesmore, he was posted to No. 50 Squadron (which was operating the Handley Page Hampden) at RAF Swinderby, Lincolnshire on 27 August.
Two days after joining his squadron Manser experienced his first operation: as a second pilot, he took part in a bombing raid on Frankfurt. During the next two months he flew six more sorties against targets like Berlin, Hamburg and Karlsruhe before being posted to 25 OTU, Finningly on 7 November and a month later posted back to 14 OTU as an instructor.
Manser served briefly with No. 420 Squadron RCAF (Hampdens) from March–April 1942 when he rejoined 50 Squadron then operating from Skellingthorpe, and converting to the new Avro Manchester heavy bomber. He piloted one of the new aircraft during a leaflet drop over Paris, and flew a further five sorties during April and May. Manser was promoted to Flying Officer on 6 May.
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 a crash inevitable. The aircraft was by now over Belgium and Manser ordered the crew to bale 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.
P/O Barnes was taken prisoner, but Sgt Baveystock, P/O Horsley, Sgt King, Sgt Mills and Sgt Naylor all evaded capture and made their way back to the UK. The testimonies of the five evaders were instrumental in the posthumous award of the VC.
The citation for the VC read: "In pressing home his attack in the face of strong opposition, in striving, against heavy odds, to bring back his aircraft and crew and, finally, when in extreme peril, thinking only of the safety of his comrades, Flying Officer Manser displayed determination and valour of the highest order."
Manser was the brother-in-law of British Army Captain John Neil Randle who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross in 1944.
On part of the old RAF Skellingthorpe airfield where Manser flew his last sortie from a new Primary School was built. It was opened in 1981 and named The Leslie Manser Primary School after Flying Officer Leslie Manser.
On 31 June 2004 a Memorial to F/Off. Leslie Manser VC., RAFVR. 50 Squadron - Royal Air Force was unveiled in natural domain the "Zig", Stamprooierbroek near Molenbeersel, Kinrooi in the north-east of Belgium.
His VC is on display in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum, London.