Flight Lieutenant [Pilot]

James Fraser Craig

DFC

Awards

Conflict: 
WW2
Additional Information: 

Son of Peter Westwood Craig and Stella Craig, of Petone, Wellington, New Zealand.

References:
  • CWGC
NZ WAR GRAVES
CONTRIBUTED
James Craig

Public Contributions:

Submitted by: David Dickens
Relationship to casualty: None
Approximately 73 DFCs to New Zealanders in 1942. DFC recommendation 26 November 1941: “For continuous gallantry and devotion to duty during raids into enemy territory. Pilot Officer Craig’s work ... Read More
Approximately 73 DFCs to New Zealanders in 1942. DFC recommendation 26 November 1941: “For continuous gallantry and devotion to duty during raids into enemy territory. Pilot Officer Craig’s work has been of an exceptionally high standard. His courage and skill has been a great inspiration to all who have served with him. He has never hesitated to attack low when he has had difficulty in identifying his target. He has shown utter disregard for his own safety in many low level attacks. On the night of November 3/4 1941 as pilot of an aircraft he was detailed to attack shipping off the Frisian Islands. A 10,000 ton ship in a convoy was attacked from 50 feet, leaving the ship on fire, also killing a high officer of the German AA Command.” AOC 5 Group Air Vice Marshal (later Air Chief Marshal Sir) John Slessor added the remark “a captain who comes down to find targets – particularly bold and keen bomber – very strongly recommended” on 5 December 1941. Petone born Fraser “Jimmy” Craig first made his name at Upper Hutt High School as a schoolboy sporting star who won the double honour of representing the School in both the Cricket First XI and the Rugby First XV. Craig joined the Wellington Regiment in 1927, before working as a manager in Wellington, Suva and Palmerston North. He entered the Ground Training School Levin on 27 July 1940, earned his flying badge on 17 January 1941, and was also selected for the Combined Services Senior Cricket XI, before making his way through the usual flight training and OTU path. Craig joined Bomber Command’s 144 Squadron flying Hampden’s out of RAF Hemswell, Lincolinshire in July 1941. Here he earned a reputation for skillful flying and pressing home low level attacks. Craig flew 29 sorties against dockyards, shipping, airfields, and industrial targets in Frankfurt (3), Cologne (5), Aachen (2), Hanover (2), Karlsruhe (2), Kiel (2), and single sorties to Berlin, Dusseldorf, Acchen, a gardening trip to Terschelling and an attack on an airfield South West of Brussels. On the night of 11th/12th July 1941, on a sortie to Wilhelmshaven, his Hampden was caught in a circle of searchlights on the way to the target and attacked by three enemy night fighters. Craig out manevoured the attacks aircraft twice but in the third a Me.110 got in three aggressive attacks all from behind and below. Each attack was beaten off by accurate fire by the gunner and eventually the enemy aircraft disappeared. On another sortie over Cologne, Craig had a narrow escape when his Hampden was coned by searchlights and attacked by a twin-engine night fighter from astern. The rear gunner drove the fighter off and still coned by searchlights, the aircraft was rocked by heavy accurate flak. (Craig’s crewmates DFM recommendations LG 13 February 1942 refer.) The highlight of Craig’s tour was the successful attack on a large ship that killed a German General and another senior officer - all done in the most appalling flying conditions in early November 1941. For this Craig would be awarded the DFC and his crew each the DFM. The Squadron ORB captures Craig’s account of events filed soon after he landed: Took off at 1800, climbed to 10,000 ft to the Coast coming to 50 ft over the sea. Sighted Texel and skirted Frisians. Sighted convoy off Wangeroog and attacked from 30 ft, dropping 4x500 and 2x200 several of which struck a large supply ship from which smoke and steam were seen to rise. Entire trip made at low level through intermittent rain, snow and sleet, arrived back at Base and landed at 2300. German night fighter researcher Dr Theo Bolten’s account sheds further light on the attack and is based on an interview with Craig’s navigator – Canadian Warrant Officer Kenneth Neale: During the hours of darkness on 3/4 November 1941, six Bomber Command Hampdens were sent out to patrol the convoy lanes off the Dutch coast and Frisian Islands. P/O Craig and crew of 144 Squadron found and attacked a convoy off Wangeroog, one large merchantman being claimed hit and sunk. W/O Frank Neale was the navigator in P/O Jimmy Craig’s crew: “our briefing on this date informed us of a convoy proceeding down the North Sea coast, possibly off the Netherlands. Our mission was to locate the convoy, its strength, direction and speed. We took off at 1800 hours carrying one 2000 lb bomb plus two 500 lb bombs. Cloud cover was 10/10, cloud base 1,000 ft. We kept in the cloud near the base. After about 2 hours we observed flak on our port side. We dropped down and saw the convoy. Its position was off Wangeroog according to my chart. We circled at low altitude (50 to 100 ft) and counted 12 ships. I gave the location, size of convoy, direction and speed to the wireless operator. When this was done we decided to attack. We selected the third ship from the front of the convoy as the target. We were circling 1 to 2 hundred yards away from the convoy at zero height. When the largest ship came opposite to us PO Craig did a 90 degree turn and headed straight for the ship. We arranged that he would pull up on my signal of ‘up.’ The attack went as planned, the bombs straddled the ship, striking the bridge and blowing off the prow. As we passed over the convoy with machine gun fire, the bomb blast sent our Hampden several hundred feet upwards. Fortunately no damage was done. At our debriefing the Officers were skeptical and our episode went unnoticed until 2-3 …. [weeks] later. A German report related the event that 3 German Generals had been killed. When this was verified, PO Craig won the DFC, WO1 Neale a DFM. Sgt Alexander Lynch a DFM and Sgt Lewis Powrie a DFM.” In fact, PO Craig and his crew had bombed a 10,000 ton merchantman, the largest of several vessels in a German convoy, and set it on fire. Amongst those killed on board the ship was Major General Felix Varda, commander of the anti-aircraft defence on the Western front. Official records show Craig and his crew only had to endure the disbelief at the squadron for about two weeks. A 5 Group Report circulated to all Stations on November 16th cited a German radio report that a Major General Varda, Commander of Western AA defences had been killed “on a voyage in the West.” The 5 Group Report described Craig’s attack and claim that he had bombed the second ship in the convoy: No other hits on ships were claimed on this night by other aircraft of Bomber or Coastal Command and it is possible that the Major General may have been on board the second ship in the above convoy. On the 18th the Station Commander sent his “congratulations to the Squadron and P/O Craig” along with the Extract of Newspaper Report “Nazi AA Chief Killed.” The report based on a German broadcast described the General as an “ace artillery man of the last war” and quoted the German broadcast reporting Varda’s death in the West “by an enemy air attack during a voyage on official business.” Varda, the report said was responsible for the AA defence of Hamburg, Keil, Stettin and Bremen. In fact Craig and his crew had killed Generalmajor der Marinepioniere Felix Vara. Research by Colin Partridge and John Wallbridge confirm his death on 3 November but not off the Frisian Islands aboard Flugsicherunggsboot 502 – a large technical and engineering ship – travelling from Guernsey to Alderney on the day of the attack. Partridge and Wallbridge put the attack that killed Vara around the Channel Island of Sark. They say three others were killed in the attack including the naval fortifications expert Kapitan-zur-See Rolf Mirus. Major General Vara was the Chief of the Office-Group for Fortress-Construction of the Office-Group for Pioneers and Fortresses, Naval-Weapons-Head-Office, OKM and Inspector of Naval-Pioneers. Partridge & Wallbridge credit 234 Spitfire Squadron attacking with rockets for the attack. But the 234 Squadron ORB records an attack by the Squadron’s Red Section on an E Boat North of Sark and records that “further reconnaissance proves this vessel to be sunk.” This suggests 234 Squadron attacked an E Boat rather than a freighter as it is unlikely the 234 Squadron pilots would have confused a small E Boat for a large freighter. (Source: 'Mirus The making of a battery' (ISBN 0 946 346 04 6) by Colin Partridge & John Wallbridge.) The most likely explanation is that Craig and he crew were further South than they thought when they hit land – they were probably off the Netherlands rather than the Frisian Islands. They then turned and followed the coast South, and attacked the ship carrying Vara off Sark while the Spitfires attacked an E Boat. The attack was felt by the German High Command. Grossadmiral Raeder ordered one of the large gun batteries built by slave labour for the German’s in Guernsey to be named after Mirus (it still exists) while the German coastal artillery fortress at Møvik (now a museum) 8 kilometers west of Kristiansand, Norway was named Batterie Vara (MAB 6./502 Vara) by the German Navy in honor of his death. Following the attack Craig and his crew went on to complete trips to Cologne, Dusseldorf, Acchen, Terschelling and their final sortie was to Cologne on 11 December 1941. Tour Expired Craig then instructed on Oxfords for two years before returning to operations in March 1944 captaining a Lancaster with 550 Squadron– only to be killed with his crew on his first sortie against Stuttgart. He was 31 when he died and is buried at Choloy Commonwealth War Cemetery near Meurthe-et-Moselle, France with the rest of his crew.


Submitted by: Jan Jacobi
Relationship to casualty: Niece
Submitted by: jan jacobi
Relationship to casualty: Niece
James went to Hutt Valley High School in Lower Hutt not Upper Hutt High School. His date of birth is 11 December 1912. [NZWGT - record since amended.]

Personal Tributes:

Casualty

Service Number: 
402168
Name:
James Fraser Craig
Rank: 
Flight Lieutenant
Additional Rank:
Pilot
Date of Birth:
11 December 1912
Date of Enlistment:
Not known
Unit:
Royal New Zealand Air Force, 550 (RAF) Squadron

Casualty Details

Cause of Death:
Not known
Date of Death:
15 March 1944
Day of Death:
Wednesday
Age at Death: 
31
Conflict: 
WW2

Embarkation Details

Embarkation Body:
Royal New Zealand Air Force

Text in italics supplied by Cenotaph Online, Auckland War Memorial Museum

Cemetery

Cemetery Reference: 
Coll. grave 4. A. 12-16.
Cemetery Location: 
France
James Fraser Craig
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