Fast Facts – Sargeant John Hannah VC

Miles Whittam-Seth wrote this article.

Sergeant Hannah, at the age of only 19, was the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross during the Second World War.

  • John Hannah was born in Scotland on November 27th, 1921.
  • He joined the RAF at the age of 18 in 1939, and trained as a Wireless Operator Air Gunner. Hannah was subsequently posted to 83 Squadron flying Handley Page Hampden twin engine medium bombers, on operations over Nazi occupied Europe.
  • On September 15th 1940, during an attack on German invasion barges at the port of Antwerp in Belgium, the Hampden in which Sergeant Hannah was flying was damaged by anti-aircraft fire. This started a severe fire in the after part of the aircraft’s crew compartment.
  • The navigator and the other gunner bailed out, but Sergeant Hannah remained in the aircraft to fight the fire. The heat from the fire was so intense that it caused hundreds of rounds of .303 ammunition to go off in all directions, while the aircraft cabin’s aluminum floor actually melted, just leaving the supporting framework.
  • Hannah fought the fire for ten minutes, using two fire extinguishers, and then beating the flames with his log book, before finally putting it out.
  • Unfortunately, Sergeant Hannah sustained serious injuries in the process, with severe burns to his face, eyes and hands.
  • Hannah then informed the Hampden’s Canadian pilot, Flying Officer Clare Connor, that the fire was out and Connor was eventually able to fly to fly the back to their base.
  • FO Connor recommended Sergeant Hannah for the Victoria Cross, and he was subsequently decorated with the medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
  • Regrettably Hannah’s heath suffered as a result of the injuries he had sustained and he contracted Tuberculosis in 1941, which resulted in his eventual discharge from the RAF, on a full disability pension, at the end of 1942.
  • Sadly, Sergeant Hannah’s health continued to deteriorate until he passed away, aged just 26, in June 1947.