While Fighter Command took on the Luftwaffe over Britain and the Channel, the airmen of Bomber Command were flying missions over Fortress Europe. Hitler's plan for invading the UK, Operation Sealion, would require a landing force setting off from mainland Europe and on the night of 15 September, Sergeant John Hannah and the crew on his bomber were targeting barges in Belgium that could potentially be used in the attack.
At just 18 years old, Glaswegian Sergeant John Hannah was a wireless operator/gunner on a Handley Page Hampden aircraft with No. 83 Squadron.
Setting off on 15 September – a day that would later be known as Battle of Britain Day – Hannah and his crew were targeting barges in Antwerp, Belgium.
Coming under intense anti-aircraft fire in Antwerp, Hannah's aircraft was set alight when both fuel tanks were struck.
The rear gunner was forced to bail out when the intense heat melted the floor beneath him, and the navigator too was forced to evacuate.
Hannah, however, rushed through the flames to the two fire extinguishers and attempted to put out the fire.
The heat was so intense that thousands of rounds of ammunition began to explode and Hannah threw these out of the aircraft through the hole in the fuselage.
Hannah was forced to use a log book and finally his hands to extinguish the flames after the fire extinguishers ran out.
Having extinguished the fire and suffering from severe burns to his hands and face, Hannah reported to the pilot that the fire was out and that two crew members had bailed out.
With no navigator on board, Hannah then brought the maps to the pilot and assisted in directing the plane to RAF Scampton.
Hannah recuperated in hospital and on 10 October 1940 was awarded the Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace.
He is the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross for aerial operations. Sadly, Hannah contracted tuberculosis in 1941 and was discharged from the RAF in 1942. He died in 1947 at the age of 25.