Four: Flying Officer R. G. V. “George” Coston, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, who flew operationally as a Navigator and Bomb Aimer in Liberators of No. 59 Squadron and who was present at the destruction of at least one U-Boat
1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, in their original addressed card forwarding box, extremely fine (4) £300-350
This lot was sold as part of a special collection, Medals to the R.F.C. and R.A.F. from the Collection Formed by the Late Squadron Leader David Haller.
“George” Coston was enlisted in the Royal Air Force in October 1941, and undertook his training as a Navigator out in Canada. Returning home in September 1942, he was posted to No. 59 Squadron, a Coastal Command unit operating in Liberators out of Ballykelly, in July 1943.
Remaining similarly employed until August 1944, in which period he flew in excess of 30 operational sorties, the majority of the anti-submarine or convoy escort variety, Coston was present at two memorable U-Boat actions. The first of them, as verified by 59’s Operational Record Book, was against the U-470 during the course of convoy ON. 206 on 16 October 1943, when his aircraft was captained by Pilot Officer W. G. “Wes” Loney, R.A.A.F.:
‘Directed by S.N.O. to U-Boat fully surfaced (210 ZZ 40). Attacked under moderate flak and straddled the hull with first four DCs. Under heavier flak the remaining four DCs were dropped close alongside and the U-Boat was seen to dive at about 60 degrees. None of our crew were injured and damage was received only in the port tyre and a hole in the port tank.’
Accompanying research includes an eye-witness statement made by one of Coston’s crew, Flight Sergeant “Bill” Sills, in which he states:
‘George [Coston] was a Navigator par excellence; he was a tremendous chap in other ways, one of which was his courage.
On the U-470 attack we made four passes in all, getting shot up for our pains. The Germans were not friendly! It was due to Wes’ supreme low flying, in which we climbed over the conning tower, that I had a straight view down inside the U-Boat from a very close standpoint. We were so low that I believe our top camouflage could have been seen from the conning tower. We did not experience much flak on the final run and Wes made a classic drop of DCs from the starboard quarter. Fifteen bods were seen in the water and we whistled them up a destroyer to collect them. Unfortunately, owing to the imminent danger of further attacks, it could not stop and steamed slowly through them with nets out to catch them - this added up to just two.
We attacked on P.L.E., and lost between 100 and 300 gallons of fuel from being shot up. I reckoned 100 and Wes 300, so we settled on 200! We also had our port undercarriage suffering from a 20mm. shell or two. We climbed to Rated Altitude without superchargers and headed back home to Ballykelly. I eased off the mixture until the cylinder temperatures rose, getting it as lean as possible. This caused a drop in airspeed which upset George as he was worried we would not make it, especially as the action had taken place at the bottom end of the Denmark Strait and we had quite a long way to go at night. George couldn’t be blamed as he was as keen as the rest of us to get back safely. We made it but the landing was, to say the least, interesting. We lost the complete port wheel and finished up on the remains of the oleo leg. Still, we were on the runway - just. on dipping the tanks we found that we had about a teaspoon full of fuel in each tank - I estimated we had about 15 minutes left! Wes got a well-deserved immediate award of the D.F.C. for that.’
During another patrol on 13 January 1944, Coston and his crew inflicted serious damage on the U-621. 59’s Operational Record Book takes up the story:
‘The notable achievement of the month was an attack by F./O. Loney and crew on a fully surfaced U-Boat on the 13th. The U-Boat was visually sighted from eight miles 060 Red from 2,000 feet, and an attack was made, the approach being made out of the sun, during which the U-Boat altered course to starboard and opened up heavy flak at four miles. The aircraft tracked over the conning tower at 50 feet, from 120 Green, and six depth charges were dropped - the first exploded alongside the hull but the remainder, spaced at 50 feet, overshot. A second attack was made and two depth charges, spaced at 60 feet, were dropped from a similar approach, tracking over the U-Boat half way between conning tower and stern - this stick fell across the stern and explosions were seen to straddle the stern. Three machine-gun attacks were then made and hits were obtained on and around the conning tower. Two minutes after the last of these attacks the U-Boat dived, finally disappearing at a steep angle with no way on, stern up, leaving no debris, but pale discolouration of the water. The U-Boat was observed to be of the 517-ton type, with two-step conning tower. No damage was sustained by the aircraft.’
U-621’s log adds further information from the enemy’s perspective:
‘1510 hours: Liberator closing at 7,000 metres, altitude 500 metres. Ordered fire at 5,000 metes, 3-7cm. gun jammed after three shots. Aircraft glides in, going down to 20 metres, crosses over boat starboard to port, three bombs, one bouncing against the conning tower; all detonated at 10-20 metres depth. Boat lists strongly to port. I have only one 2cm. gun firing, as the others are jammed. (Able Seaman) Thomas seriously wounded and died soon afterwards. Enemy crosses boat in every attack from starboard to port at altitude of 10-20 metres. Because he apparently has no more bombs and all my guns are jammed, am going to dive.
1527 hours: Boat going down rapidly at bow at 60 degrees, down to 40 metres, both electric motors running full ahead; listing 12 degrees to port; control board for electric motors on fire.
2058 hours: Surfaced.
2145 hours: Thomas handed over to the sea. Decided to return home because of the damage that could not be repaired.’
Tour ‘expired’ Coston saw no further operational flying and was released from the service in early 1946.
Sold with the recipient’s original R.A.F. Observer’s and Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book, covering the period October 1941 to August 1945, with his Air Navigator’s Certificate, 2nd Class, dated 20 March 1943, pasted down on inside front cover, together with three portrait photographs; also an extensive file of research, which includes a quantity of copied newspaper features reporting on the post-war reunion of Loney with one of the survivors of the U-470, and some original correspondence with the German’s family.