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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R S S James


Robert Stuart Seymour James was born in late 1911 in Pembroke, Wales.

He joined the RAF about July 1939 as an Airman u/t Observer.




He completed his training (above) and joined 248 Squadron in the Spring of 1940. On 31st May he was attached to No. 1 (C) OTU Silloth, rejoining 248, then based at Dyce, on 29th June 1940.



Above: James far right, others unknown.


He was killed on 29th May 1942, as a Flight Sergeant with 228 Squadron when Sunderland II T9089 crashed on landing at Oban.

Also lost were:

Sgt. JR Hughes

Sgt. E Lewis

Sgt. TJ Isaacs

Sgt. CA Blackwell died from his injuries on 31st May.

James is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, panel 74 (below).


A Pilot Officer J Sweeney, possibly of 228 Squadron, wrote an account of the accident to James's widow:

125405 P/O J Sweeney
22 Erngath Road
West Lothian

Sunday 19.7.42

Dear Mrs James,

I am glad that you received my letter, I assumed that if I addressed it to Mrs. Robson's old address you would eventually receive it.
I am dreadfully sorry that this letter must be so full of tragedy however I feel that you must be very anxious to have the whole story.
The following is the full account of the accident which I obtained from a friend of mine who assisted in the rescue operations.
On Friday morning the 29th May Sunderland Flying Boat DQ-O (I understand those were its letters) returned from patrol. The time was about 4.30am. Weather conditions were not really good for a landing in the dark, there being a thin mist or haze with a perfectly flat calm sea which mirrored the whole sky and made it extremely difficult for the pilot to judge his height. The flare path was in position in the Firth of Lome with three rescue launches standing by in case of a crash.
The aircraft came in to land in the usual way but to those on the flare path the angle appeared to be too steep. She hit the water with a severe bump, bounced into the air and turned over onto her back. The rescue launches were alongside the wreck in a few
seconds and immediately an attempt was made to take off any survivors. Of the total crew of nine six were rescued one of whom I understand has since died in hospital. The remaining three and regrettably Mrs James your husband was one of them were trapped in that part of the wreck which was totally submerged and must have been drowned immediately.
At this stage I should like to point out that no effort was spared to effect the rescue of every man on board. The unfortunate fact that everyone was not saved was not due to the fault of the crews of the rescue boats. Individual members of these crews performed acts of considerable gallantry. Two fellows actually dived off the boats into the water in the dark and swam into the sinking machine in a fruitless attempt to reach those known to be trapped. Although it was obvious that no life remained on board the rescuers did not give up hope until the machine began to sink.
They then withdrew to a safe distance because of the fear that the depth charges might go off when the wreck reached the prescribed depth at which they were set to explode. It was a blessing that they did because within a few minutes the air and sea were shaken by a terrific explosion and a column of water a hundred feet high was thrown into the air. Thus you will see that there was no possibility of there being any further survivors and that the salvage of the wrecked aircraft is completely out of the question.
I cannot tell you how sorry I am to have to write this tragic letter to you. Please accept my profoundest sympathy in you incalculable loss.
I, myself, have assisted in many similar rescue attempts and I would like to convince that on occasions like this every man works like a creature possessed to save the life of his flying comrade and risks his own life in doing so.
One small favour I ask of you. Please treat this letter as reasonable confidential. You understand I am sure that I am not supposed to disclose any details of aircraft accidents. It is considered prejudicial to public security. It would be harmful to me if the contents of this letter became known to the authorities.
If there is anything else you would like to know or if I can help you in any way please write to the above address. You will notice that I have been commissioned since I last wrote to you hence the different number.

Yours sincerely
J. Sweeney



The accident was also researched for 'RAF Oban - Flying Boat Operations' by Neil Owen:

The Squadron sustained its first casualties on 4th May 1942. Sunderland T9084 DQ-N had been detailed to take off from Oban and overfly Fort William where the aircraft was to photograph the gun emplacements which protected the Caledonian Canal, before flying on to Lochboisdale in the Outer Hebrides which was to be assessed as an emergency landing area.

Two naval officers accompanied the aircraft, hitching a lift to Lochboisdale. The aircraft was flown by F/O S Briscoe with P/O R Jones as second pilot. The landing-on area was difficult to approach and required the aircraft to be put down in the sheltered bay after a very low approach over the town. This was achieved, however the starboard float hit an obstruction and was almost torn from the aircraft. Briscoe made the only decision possible and tried to lift the aircraft from the water whilst he still had sufficient speed. The cliffs at the end of the bay loomed closer and the pilot pulled back hard and turned the aircraft to port. The aircraft stalled and dived onto the Isle of Gasey, the front of the aircraft ending up in the shallows with the tail on the island itself.

Miraculously eight of the crew and the two naval officers survived. P/O Jones and S/Ldr. FU Hollins AFC were killed. All survivors were injured to various degrees and, after initial treatment at a local convent, were taken back to Oban by ferry to the West Highland Hospital.

On the 21st May F/lt. F Goyen, an Australian, flying Sunderland DQ-M, attacked and damaged a submarine shadowing a convoy. This was followed two days later by a similar attack by F/O S Briscoe in Sunderland T9112.

A further loss to the Squadron occurred on the morning of the 29th May when Sunderland T9089 DQ-O flown by F/Sgt. S Davy, a pre-war regular, crashed on landing in the Firth of Lome off the north coast of the Island of Kerrera about 05.04 hours. The worst possible combination of a flat calm with a layer of sea mist above made landing conditions very difficult. The sky was effectively mirrored on the sea surface. Three rescue launches were on stand-by, close to the landing-on area. The aircraft hit the water at too steep an angle of descent, struck the sea and rotated through 180 degrees, landing on the upper fuselage, upside down and beginning to sink tail first. The tail gunner, Sgt. JR Hughes, was trapped in his jammed turret due to the severance of the hydraulic lines from the port inner engine and unable to escape. Two other crewmen were trapped in the submerged section of the aircraft. The rescue craft pulled six survivors from the sea, one with severe injuries. Frantic efforts then followed to try and reached the trapped men with two of the Marine Craft Section personnel jumping into the sea and trying to find their way into the sinking aircraft. As they struggled through the freezing water in near pitch-darkness, one of the swimmers released the homing pigeons. They could not find a way through the twisted, jagged metal of the fuselage to the trapped men. As the aircraft began to slide further underwater the two swimmers were taken back aboard the rescue boats which then stood off at a safe distance as it was considered possible that the depth charges would explode at thirty feet. Their apprehension was well-founded. Upon impact Sgt. J Brayshaw had been at his wireless operators position and was aware that the Flight Engineer, F/Sgt. VE Ames was standing at the astrodome. Both were thrown from the aircraft as it disintegrated and initially stayed afloat by gripping the ASV aerials projecting from the side of the inverted fuselage of the aircraft. The hull was slowly sinking and matters were not helped, as far as Brayshaw and Ames were concerned, when a power boat ran onto one of the aircraft's wings and began to force the wreck under water.

They were then heaved aboard one of the rescue boats which presently moved away from the aircraft as it sank beneath the surface. After a pause of a few minutes, during which the various boats were alone on the sea, their crews trying to tend to the injured airmen, huge detonations lifted a column of water a hundred feet into the as the hydrostatic fuses on the depth charges reached 30ft. The survivors were taken initially to the West Highland Hospital, Oban, and thereafter the more seriously injured to various hospitals around the country. Sgt. E Lewis was to succumb to his injuries. Sgt. J Brayshaw was treated at Bathgate Emergency Hospital for fractures to his neck, jaw, nose and teeth. A few weeks later the bed next to him was to be occupied by F/Sgt. A Jack, the sole survivor of the crash of the Sunderland carrying the Duke of Kent.

F/Sgt. Ames went on survivors leave, got married and was lost on the first operational flight of replacement Sunderland DQ-O, W4032, when it force-landed off Vaul Bay, Tiree on Saturday 5th September 1942.

Aircraft servicing was carried out both at Kerrera and, from September 1942, at the new facility at Ganavan Sands, just to the norm of Oban, where a slip and aircraft hardstanding had been constructed. The Squadron Engineering Officer was F/O G Gilfillan who had overall responsibility for the maintenance and procurement of spares for the aircraft and the efficiency of the Servicing Echelon.

A visitor to the Squadron was Leslie Charteris, author of 'The Saint', who was researching the location in preparation for a new novel. In honour of his visit Sunderland P-Pip, flown by S/Ldr. J Grunert, was christened 'The Saint' and a suitable logo emblazoned below the cockpit.


Additional research and all images courtesy of Bob James (son).


Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner.


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