John Dering Nettleton VC

b. 28/06/1917 Nongoma, South Africa. d. 13/07/1943 near Brest, France.

John Dering Nettleton (1917-1943) was born on the 28th June 1917 at Nongoma, Natal, South Africa, the son of John Hennah Nettleton and Ethel Maud Nettleton nee Barker. He was also the grandson of Admiral A. T. D. Nettleton, Paymaster-in-Chief, Royal Navy. Following the family tradition, he decided his future would be in the Navy and, after leaving school he sat the entrance examination for the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, only to fail to gain a pass mark.

John D Nettleton VC

He then joined the Botha as a cadet in 1930 and, on graduation three years later, became 3rd Officer of the merchant ship “Mattawin” of the Elder Dempster Canadian-South Africa line. After some 18 months’ sea-going experience he returned to Cape Town where he became an apprentice civil engineer to the city’s divisional council.

Travelling to England in the autumn of 1938 with his mother for a holiday, he decided to join the RAF, and on 6th October began elementary pilot training at No 8 E and RFTS, Reading. Accepted by the RAF for a Short Service Commission, Nettleton was commissioned on 14th December 1938 on the same day as he reported to No 12 FTS, Grantham, and two weeks later transferred to 11 FTS, Shawbury. Graduating as a pilot on 22nd July 1939, his first active posting was to 207 Squadron at Cottesmore; followed by another move, to 98 Squadron at Hucknall, on 30th September. At the end of November, he joined 185 Squadron at Cottesmore, then an operational training unit for Hampden bomber crews, and continued to serve on instructional units until 26th June 1941, on which date he joined an operational bomber unit, 44 Squadron at Waddington, flying Hampdens over Germany. On 17th July he was promoted to Squadron Leader and for the following 5 months participating in bombing sorties over Europe, by day and by night, and was mentioned in despatches in December 1941.

No 44 Squadron were soon the first unit equipped with the new four engine bomber – the Avro Lancaster; the first arriving on Christmas Eve 1941. After a few months of practice, it was not until 3rd March 1942 the first operational sortie took place.

On 17th April 1942, a daylight bombing mission was planned by RAF Bomber Command against the MAN diesel engine factory at Augsburg in Bavaria, responsible for the production of half of Germany’s Uboat engines. It was to be the longest low level penetration so far made during World War II, and it was the first daylight mission flown by the Command’s new Avro Lancaster. Squadron Leader Nettleton was the leader of one formation of six Avro Lancaster bombers on a daylight attack on a diesel engine factory at Augsburg, near Munich Germany flying Lancaster Mk I, R5508, coded “KM-B”.

A second flight of six Lancasters from No 97 Squadron based at RAF Woodhall Spa, close to Waddington, did not link up with the six from 44 squadron as planned, although they had ample time to do so before the aircraft left England by Selsey Bill, West Sussex.

When they had just crossed the French coast at low level near Dieppe, German fighters of JG 2, returning after intercepting a planned diversionary raid which had been organised to assist the bombers, attacked the 44 Squadron aircraft a short way inland and four Lancasters were shot down. Nettleton continued towards the target in and his two remaining aircraft attacked the factory, bombing it amidst heavy anti aircraft fire.

Nettleton managed to limp his bomber home, and eventually landed at Squire’s Gate aerodrome, near Blackpool just before 1am and telephoned RAF Waddington to report on the mission and ask about survivors. On 28th April the London Gazette announced the award of a VC to Nettleton, and a flock of DFCs, DFMs and a DSO to the other survivors of the raid. Nettleton was then sent on a six week tour of the USA, lecturing and inspecting American industrial complexes, and returned to Waddington in June. On 1st July 1942 he married Section Officer Betty Havelock, WAAF in Lincoln, and was then posted “internally” to No 44 Conversion Flight at Waddington. In November 1942 he was detached to 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit, but on 4th January 1943 he was promoted to Wing Commander (acting) as commander of 44 Squadron, and returned to operations.

On the night of 12th-13th July 1943, Nettleton was skipper of Lancaster ED331, the “Z” of 44 Squadron, one of 14 aircraft from the unit which set out to raid Turin. Taking off at 10.23pm Nettleton’s Lancaster failed to return. His death was not officially presumed until an announcement made on 23rd February 1944 – ironically on the same day another notice was announced the birth (on 19th February) of the son he never saw, John Dering Nettleton. Nettleton’s body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. His medals are not publicly held.





Stewart May – Image of the Nettleton VC Framed Photo at Yorkshire Air Museum.

Brian Drummond – Image of Nettleton’s name on the Bomber Command Memorial, Lincoln.