World War II Victoria Cross Recipient. He received the award posthumously for his actions as a lieutenant commander in the 825th British Naval Air Squadron on February 12, 1942 while piloting a Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber biplane during an attack on German naval vessels in the English Channel. Born in Thurgoland, Yorkshire, England, his father was a medical doctor who was descended from Irish nobility. He received his education from Wimbledon College in London, England and from Clongowes Wood College in Clane, County Kildare, Ireland. In 1928 he was commissioned as a pilot in the British Royal Air Force and transferred to the Fleet Air Arm (a branch of the British Royal Navy) in the Mediterranean. In 1934 he left the British Navy and flew for Imperial Airways. When World War II broke out in September 1939, he returned to the Fleet Air Arm at the rank of lieutenant commander, serving on the cruiser HMS Courageous and aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. In May 1941 he took part in the torpedo attach on the German battleship Bismarck that contributed to its destruction. The following November he was serving on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal when it was torpedoed by a German submarine and sunk. In February 1942, he led six Swordfish aircraft on a bombing run against the German naval position at Brest, France. On their return to England, he was directed to attack, without fighter protection, the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen that had managed to slip away from Brest during the initial attack. During the engagement, his aircraft, and the other five, were shot down over the English Channel and he died at the age of 32. His body was recovered. In addition to the Victoria Cross, he also received the Distinguished Service Order, the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star, and the British War Medal 1939-45. His Victoria Cross citation reads: "The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the VICTORIA CROSS, for valour and resolution in action against the Enemy, to: The late Lieutenant-Commander (A) Eugene Esmonde, D.S.O., Royal Navy. On the morning of Thursday, 12th February, 1942, Lieutenant-Commander Esmonde, in command of a Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, was told that the German Battle-Cruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU and the Cruiser PRINZ EUGEN, strongly escorted by some thirty surface craft, were entering the Straits of Dover, and that his Squadron must attack before they reached the sand-banks North East of Calais. Lieutenant-Commander Esmonde knew well that his enterprise was desperate. Soon after noon he and his squadron of six Swordfish set course for the Enemy, and after ten minutes flight were attacked by a strong force of Enemy fighters. Touch was lost with his fighter escort; and in the action which followed all his aircraft were damaged. He flew on, cool and resolute, serenely challenging hopeless odds, to encounter the deadly fire of the Battle-Cruisers and their Escort, which shattered the port wing of his aircraft. Undismayed, he led his Squadron on, straight through this inferno of fire, in steady flight towards their target. Almost at once he was shot down; but his Squadron went on to launch a gallant attack, in which at least one torpedo is believed to have struck the German Battle-Cruisers, and from which not one of the six aircraft returned. His high courage and splendid resolution will live in the traditions of the Royal Navy, and remain for many generations a fine and stirring memory." His Victoria Cross and other medals are on loan to the British Imperial war Museum in London, England.
Bio by: William Bjornstad