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Swales, Edwin

    Date of birth:
    July 3rd, 1915 (Inanda/Natal, South Africa)
    Date of death:
    February 23rd, 1945 (Leopoldsburg, Belgium)
    Buried on:
    Commonwealth War Cemetery Leopoldsburg
    Plot: VIII. Row: C. Grave: 5.
    Service number:
    South African (1910-1961, Union)


    Edwin Swales was born in Natal and served with the Natal Mounted Rifles on the outbreak of war. He joined the S.A.A.F. in early 1942 and was seconded to R.A.F. Bomber Command in August 1943, being posted to 6 AFU based at Little Rissington. He was transferred to duties
    with 582 Squadron, part of the Pathfinder Force, in July 1944. Swales was awarded an immediate DFC for his coolness under fire, leadership and adept manoeuvring during a daylight raid on the marshalling yards at Cologne on 23 December 1944. His friend Squadron Leader R.A.M.
    Palmer, who acted as Master Bomber on the Cologne raid, was shot down and killed, receiving a posthumous VC for the action in a way which strangely foreshadowed Swales’s own award. Exactly two months after Cologne, on 23 February 1945 (the very day, by coincidence, on which his DFC was gazetted), Swales took the place of Master Bomber on the Pforzheim raid. His Lancaster was severely damaged by enemy fire both on the way in and over the target, but he
    steadfastly continued to control the bombing until the end of the raid (which was to prove particularly accurate, concentrated and effective). Turning for home in his crippled Lancaster, Swales encountered turbulent cloud and ordered his crew to bale out over Belgium. As the last man jumped the aircraft stalled, leaving Swales himself no chance of
    escape; he was found dead at the controls and is buried at the
    Leopoldsburg War Cemetery. His posthumous award of the VC was gazetted on 24 April and proved to be Bomber Command’s last of the war. Edwin Swales’s medals, uniform and logbook were presented by his mother to the South African National Museum of Military History in 1959.

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    Second World War (1939-1945)
    No. 582 Squadron, South African Air Force
    Awarded on:
    April 24th, 1945
    “Captain Swales was 'Master Bomber' of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23, 1945. As Master Bomber he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers in his wake.
    Soon after he reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy aircraft and one of his engines was put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey for further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales’ aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose.
    It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war. Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home. After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bail out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls. Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live"

    Captain Swales Victoria Cross is publicly displayed at the National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Edwin Swales is buried at the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery, Belgium.
    Victoria Cross (VC)
    Second World War (1939-1945)
    No. 582 Squadron, South African Air Force
    Awarded on:
    February 23rd, 1945
    Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
    “This Officer was pilot and Captain of an aircraft detailed to attack Cologne in December, 1944. When approaching the target, intense anti-aircraft fire was encountered. Despite this, a good bombing attack was executed. Soon afterwards the aircraft was attacked by five enemy aircraft. In the ensuing fights, Capt. Swales manoeuvred with great skill. As a result his gunners were able to bring effective fire to bear upon the attackers, one of which is believed to have been shot down. Throughout this spirited action Captain Swales displayed exceptional coolness and captaincy, setting a very fine example. This Officer has completed very many sorties during which he has attacked a variety of enemy targets.”