Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire
Leonard Cheshire is one of Great Britain's most decorated wartime bomber pilots and,
today, one of the world's premier humanitarians. Educated in law at Oxford, he learned
to fly with the university's air squadron before graduating on the eve of World War II.
His first real trial of skill and courage came while flying a twin-engine Whitley bomber
on a night raid in late 1940. Anti-aircraft fire caused a photo flare to explode inside
his aircraft, ripping a 12-foot hole in the fuselage and starting an onboard fire.
Despite the smoke and flames, Cheshire brought the crippled aircraft under control and
calmly directed the actions of his crew while he continued the run and released the
For his actions, King George VI presented him with the first of his three
Distinguished Service Orders. Later, following a combat tour as commander of a Halifax
heavy bomber squadron, 24-year-old Cheshire was promoted and became the youngest Group
Captain in RAF history. Within a few months, he voluntarily gave up his promotion and
returned to operational flying as commander of the famed No. 617 "Dambusters"
Squadron. Flying Lancaster and Mosquito bombers, he proved his
innovation and courage while perfecting the nighttime technique of "marking"
targets with colored flares from extremely low level. With Cheshire leading every
mission for over a year, they scored direct hits on the Limoges aero-engine works, the
submarine pens at LeHavre, and the Saumur rail tunnel, which linked the German's main
rail supply line from the south to the Normandy Front.
He also flew in support of D-Day
by successfully dropping strips of tin foil called "window" to create the false
illusion on German defense radars that the invasion fleet was steaming toward Calais
rather than Normandy. Following his 100th combat mission, Leonard Cheshire was taken out
of the front line and awarded his nation's highest award for gallantry, the Victoria
Cross, for "sustained bravery" throughout an unprecedented four tours of
operations. He was to fly just one more mission during the war--as an observer for
America's atomic bomb release on Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. Following his
departure from the RAF after the war, he has devoted himself to the relief of suffering
by founding the Cheshire Foundation which has been responsible for establishing some 200
homes for the disabled in over 45 countries.
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Leonard Cheshire's "supreme moment of the war" came on the night of
24 April 1944 while flying a two-engine de Havilland Mosquito Mk VI
bomber. In this 380-mph aircraft, which was constructed almost entirely of
wood, he led 260 bombers to the rail yards in the center of Munich and
"marked" the target from rooftop level while the main force
released their weapons from high altitude. Despite over 200 flak guns in the
target area, blinding searchlights, cascading bombs from above, and only 15
minutes of planned fuel reserve, he remained at 1,000 feet above the city for
about 12 minutes while directing the bombing effort.