Joe McCarthy and his wartime friends

Joe McCarthy’s son, Joe McCarthy Jr, has kindly sent me some more information about the well-known picture of members of his father’s crew fraternising with the crew of an American B-26, taken at the Earls Colne airfield in Essex in 1944. I have previously reproduced a similar picture in the Dambuster of the Day article on Ron Batson.

Joe’s picture is a better shot obviously taken at the same time, as it doesn’t cover Johnny Johnson’s face. He also sent me a clipping from a newspaper given to him by Dorothy Bailey (daughter of Bill Radcliffe, the flight engineer in the McCarthy crew) which reproduces the same picture and helpfully includes a caption listing all the personnel:

Two more interesting points from Joe. The return flight from Earls Colne to Woodhall Spa was probably the last time that Johnny Johnson flew with the crew, as he left the squadron shortly after. McCarthy’s new bomb aimer was ‘Danny’ Daniels who went on to fly with ‘Willie’ Tait, including on the Tirpitz raid.

Next to McCarthy is the American pilot Major John Bull Stirling, another US citizen who joined the RCAF before the USA entered the war. In fact Stirling had been in the same RCAF training class in Ontario as McCarthy but he chose to transfer into the US Army Air Corps after Pearl Harbor. According to this entry on the American Air Museum in Britain website, he had an eventful time during the war and died in 1988.

Dambuster of the Day No. 97: Ronald Batson


This photograph, taken in August 1943, shows six members of Joe McCarthy’s Dams Raid crew fraternising with recently arrived USAAF personnel.
The printed caption on the reverse reads: “Passed By Censor No. 279211. Allied Airmen Get Together At U.S. 8th Air Force Bomber Station. Newly-arrived American airmen in the European Theatre of Operations are visited at their bomber stations by members of the R.A.F. who have had considerable experience of operational flying. In the course of friendly conversations they learn a great deal of useful knowledge. The Commander of one U.S. Bomber Station has declared that, thanks to these informal knowledge, his men are three months ahead of schedule in the field of experience. Associated Press Photo Shows:- Standing under the tail of a Martin B-26 Marauder Bomber, a group of R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. airmen get together at an 8th Air Force Bomber Station ‘somewhere in England’. They are (left to right): Lt. John Helton, of Clifton, Texas, Sgt. Ronald Batson, of Ferry Hill, Durham, Capt. W.M. Brier, of Anniston, Ala.; F/Sgt. Leonard Eaton, of Manchester; P/O. Don MacLean, of Toronto; Sgt. Len Johnson, of Newark; Lt. John Bull Stirling, of Annapolis; Flight Lieut. Joe McCarty, of Long Island, N.Y. (The D.S.O., D.F.C. Dambuster); Lt. Laurence McNally, of Bridgford, Conn.; Capt. Grover Wilcox, of Anahuac, Texas; and Sgt. Bill Radcliffe, New Westminster, D.C.” [All spelling and punctuation as in original.] [Pic: American Air Museum in Britain/IWM.]

Sgt R Batson
Front gunner

Lancaster serial number: ED825/G

Call sign: AJ-T

Second wave. First aircraft to attack Sorpe Dam. Mine dropped successfully but failed to breach dam. Returned to base.

Ronald Batson was born on 5 December 1920 in Ferryhill, Co Durham, the older son of Joseph and Elizabeth Batson. He was a grocer’s assistant before enlisting in the RAF in March 1941.

After qualifying as an air gunner, he was posted to 106 Squadron Conversion Flight in early September 1942. He quickly teamed up with Joe McCarthy whose logbook confirms that Batson and Bill Radcliffe first flew with him on the same day, 11 September 1942, in a Manchester on a training flight. Their first operation was on 5 October. Batson was the only one of McCarthy’s crew to fly on every single operation in 97 Squadron with his skipper. By late March 1943, they had amassed 31 trips.

On the Dams Raid, Batson was in the front turret of AJ-T. On the way back from the Sorpe, he spotted a goods train and asked McCarthy’s permission to attack it. The crew hadn’t realised, however, that this wasn’t an ordinary goods train but an armoured flak train, whose gunners responded with vigour. It was probably a shell from this which punctured a front tyre, and caused a problem a few hours later when landing at Scampton.

Batson went on to fly with McCarthy throughout the rest of his tour, and was recommended for a DFM in February 1944. The award was approved in June, with the citation reading:

BATSON, Ronald. 1045069 Flight Sergeant, No 617 Sqn.
Sorties 37. Flying Hours 264.30. Air Gunner.
“Flight Sergeant Batson has completed 37 operational sorties as Mid-upper gunner and has been operating continuously since October 1942. He has flown against many of the most heavily defended targets in Germany including Berlin, the Ruhr, Hamburg and Cologne and took part in the low-level attack on the Sorpe Dam. His enthusiasm and fighting spirit have invariably been of the highest order and he has proved his ability to face the heaviest opposition with complete calm and resolution. It is considered that the exemplary manner in which this NCO has executed his duties with the result that his captain has been able to place complete confidence in him merits the award of the Distinguished Flying Medal.”
12 February 1944
Remarks by Station Commander – “This air gunner has been engaged in operational flying for well over a year. His enthusiasm for operations has never flagged and he has set a fine example to all other air gunners. Strongly recommended.”

By the time the McCarthy crew came off operations in July 1944, Batson had reached the rank of Warrant Officer and had completed more than 60 sorties. He was posted to a training unit for the remainder of the war.

Ronald Batson had one brother, Douglas, who also volunteered for the RAF. He was killed in a freak accident on 23 August 1944, when a USAAF B24 Liberator bomber crashed into a cafe in Freckleton, Lancashire. He is buried in Duncombe Cemetery, Ferryhill, Co Durham. How ironic that one brother flew on more than 60 operations over occupied territory and survived, while the other died while eating in a Lancashire snack bar.

After the war Ronald Batson returned to Durham for a while, and worked for the Banda duplicating machine business. He later moved to Fleetwood in Lancashire. He was married twice, and moved back to Leeholme, Co Durham, with his second wife Muriel in the 1990s. He died there on 25 November 2006.

Thanks to the Batson family and Kevin Bending for help with this article.

Survived war. Died 25 November 2006.

Rank and decorations as of 16 May 1943.
Richard Morris, Guy Gibson, Penguin 1995
John Sweetman, The Dambusters Raid, Cassell 2002
Dave Birrell, Big Joe McCarthy, Wingleader Publishing, 2012
George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, The Last British Dambuster, Ebury Press, 2014

The information above has been taken from the books and online sources listed above, and other online material. Apologies for any errors or omissions. Please add any corrections or links to further information in the comments section below.

Further information about Ron Batson and the other 132 men who flew on the Dams Raid can be found in my book The Complete Dambusters, published by History Press in 2018.