A chance discovery…

Flying Officer Ron Moran pictured top left.

By John Telfer

The recent story of Flight Lieutenant William Campbell’s amazing escape from his burning Lancaster over Germany in World War 2, published in the SFT on 3rd September, invoked a response from David Moran of Locke Street, whose father Flying Officer Ronald Moran was also with 550 Squadron as a navigator, on board another Lancaster bomber on that same mission; to bomb the railway marshalling yards at Hanau in Germany. Whereby Bill Campbell’s aircraft was shot down, David’s father Ronald came back unscathed. Here is the story of Ronald John Moran who survived his quota of 30 missions, and like Bill Campbell, came home in one piece after some scary moments in World War 2 with Bomber Command.

Ronald John Moran was born on 15th November 1911 at Bondi, Sydney, to parents John and Alice Moran of Mosman, Sydney. He was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School North Sydney and later, at the University of Sydney where he took out a Commerce degree, before working with the family business called the Nightingale Supply Company. For the next few years, he moved into the position of Sales Manager, then married Evelyn Jean Scott in August 1936, and had 3 children before the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939.

On 15th February 1941, Ron Moran answered the call to serve by enlisting into the Australian army’s 49th Battalion at Enoggera Barracks, Brisbane. After undergoing the next month in training, Ron was quickly promoted to Corporal on 29th November, and went on leave before his deployment to New Guinea embarking on board HMT “Katoomba”. On arrival, Ron was attached to the Papuan Infantry Battalion, however, finding army life not to his liking, he decided to seek a discharge from the army. Once granted, Ron left New Guinea after a period of hospitalisation, on HMT “Annui” bound for Brisbane. He completed his discharge on 27th December 1942. and, two days later, enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an aircrew trainee on 29th December 1942.

Ron found the RAAF more to his liking, and eventually completed his initial training at various RAAF flying schools around Australia, finally graduating as a Navigator and posted to England’s Bomber Command’s Lancaster Training School. After completing a refresher course, Ron was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 13th August and sent to the Royal Air Force base at North Killingholme, Lincolnshire, for combat duty.

Ron was placed with a Lancaster crew captained by Flying Officer Dodds, the pilot, Sergeant Brown, flight engineer, Flying Officer Browning, bomb aimer, Flight Sergeant Beckingham, wireless operator, Sergeant Laidlaw, mid upper gunner, and Sergeant Lewis, rear gunner. Ron was the navigator. It was at this time that a remarkable coincidence took place when Flight Lieutenant Campbell and Flying Officer Ron Moran, both with a Warwick connection, took place. On 18th March 1945, when 550 Squadron was to go on a bombing raid to Hanau, to destroy the railway junction there. Lined up on the tarmac ready for take- off, Lancaster PA268 with Ron Moran on board as navigator, and Lancaster ME548 with Flight Lieutenant Bill Campbell aboard as their bomb aimer. Ron Moran had only returned to duty flying with Flying Officer Ernst Luder’s crew, from No3 Base (NE) which was a hospital facility, after falling off a push bike and breaking his arm while on leave. Ron was extremely lucky as he was replaced from flying duties with Flying Officer Harry Dodd’s crew by a Flight Lieutenant White, and all perished when lost on the “Operation Hurricane” raid on Duisburg, on 15th October 1944.

Lancaster ME548 took off at 23.50 am, and PA268 at 01.09 am, as part of 277 RAF bombers bound for Hanau, where they obliterated around 80% of the town before turning for home. It was on the return journey that only one aircraft failed to come back and, unfortunately, it was Bill Campbell’s Lancaster which was attacked and destroyed by a German night fighter, and thus began Bill’s survival when parachuting out of his plane after having to use heavy force, to open the escape hatch. On the other hand, Ron Moran’s PA268 Lancaster returned safely, but he also had a lucky escape as mentioned when he was replaced from Dodd’s crew a couple of months previously.

Bill Campbell and Ron Moran were 550 Squadron mates who both played a vital role in the RAF Bomber Command, with both having completed and survived the customary 30 missions against the enemy. What is a remarkable coincidence, is that the Warwick connection was only discovered when researching Bill Campbell story for his nephew, Rod Campbell of Grafton Street; So, David and Rod met up to compare notes on the war memoirs of these two very brave flyers. Ron Moran was to later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), promulgated in the London Gazette on 23rd September 1945. Bill Campbell was to save a lot of airmen’s lives when he redesigned the Lancaster’s escape hatch which almost sealed his fate when he had to kick away the hatch to evacuate his burning aircraft. On that raid on Hanau, all aircraft returned home with the exception of Bill Campbell’s ME 548, the only aircraft lost. But it became the great story of his escape, and opened up another adventure with American ground forces, who rescued him when landing in hostile territory.

The magnificent contribution made by men like Ron Moran and Bill Campbell can never be measured as they are among the bravest men of World War 2. They went out against all sorts of adversity to take the fight to the enemy and the casualty statistics tell the story. Historians must try to keep the memory alive of such men, as their name and deeds can never be surpassed in the history of warfare. England’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill really summed it up when he spoke to his War Cabinet about the deeds of Bomber Command when he said:

“The Navy can lose the war but only the Air Force can win it…….the Fighters are our salvation…but the Bombers alone are providing the means of victory”.