Leslie Sayer and his brother Victor were brought up in Bures,
Suffolk where they were fostered as Barnardo's boys after the
death of their mother. Leslie attended the Watts Naval School,
Norfolk from the age of 9 to 16 years following which he joined
the Royal Navy as a boy seaman at HMS Ganges at Shotley
A bright lad Leslie was selected
for signalman and having served in two cruisers, transferred to
the Fleet Air Arm as a Telegraphist Air Gunner or TAG. He joined
his first Squadron, No. 811, of Fairey Swordfish biplanes onboard
the aircraft carrier HMS Furious in 1937.
The Fairey Swordfish Mark 1 biplane was built as a carrier based
three seat Torpedo Bomber, first introduced in 1934, and affectionately
nicknamed the "Stringbag".
It had an open cockpit for the
crew of a Pilot, an Observer and the TAG who had to be able to
work the Morse hand key-operated radio and the Vickers 0.303 gun.
Swordfish proved to be one of the most versatile aeroplanes under
the rigors of modern warfare. Leslie was promoted to petty officer
and qualified as a TAG instructor before a posting to 825 Squadron
and the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.
It was a major setback for the country
when the battle cruiser HMS Hood, was sunk, and the battleship
HMS Prince of Wales damaged by the German ships Bismarck
and Prinz Eugen.
With the loss of so may lives, Winston Churchill, issued the famous
order "Sink the Bismarck"
The two German warships had disappeared into the vast wastes of
the North Atlantic but after many hours of air reconnaissance
the Bismarck was located and HMS Victorious was
in the vicinity on her way to Malta loaded with Spitfires and
a small number of 825 Squadron's Swordfish and crew
<<<<<< Les at 19 in the Navy
The Swordfish Torpedo bomber, piloted
by Lieutenant Percy Click (later Rear Admiral) senior pilot of
the Squadron, with Sub-Lieutenant V. K. Norfolk as his observer
and Petty Officer Leslie Sayer as the air gunner, was the lead
aircraft of nine Swordfish of 825 Squadron sent for a midnight
attack from the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. This was
the first carrier-borne aircraft attack on the Bismarck
in one of the most dramatic sea chases of all time. In appalling
weather conditions and with the nine aircraft skimming just above
the waves none of the torpedo's launched hit the target.
including the M.B.E. (far left) and the Distinguished War medal
Lt Gick decided to take his aircraft
round for a second attack and under very heavy gun fire, which
ripped away some of the fuselage linen fabric of the aircraft,
he was able to score a hit on the armoured belt amidships of the
Bismarck which inflicted damage and caused an oil leak and
a subsequent slick which reconnaissance aircraft and ships could
sight and follow.
Les saw the strike and was able to report back the damage. In
a second wave of attacks by Swordfish from HMS Ark Royal
48 hours later, the Bismarck was hit by a single torpedo
launched by Sub-Lt. John Moffat that jammed the German vessel's
rudder and steering gear, leaving it prey for the British Home
Fleet battleships, HMS King George V and HMS Rodney, to
close and pound her mercilessly into a wreck that was sunk by
torpedoes with the loss of 1,995 lives about 30 miles west of
the coast of France.
Later Petty Officer Leslie Sayer
was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in this
epic sea battle.
Les accompanied Lt Gick and 825
Squadron to the carrier HMS Ark Royal in the Mediterranean
and took part in several convoy and land attack operations. He
was on board when HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed by a U-Boat
and sank. After being re-formed, 825 Squadron was based at RAF
Mansion, Kent when in February 1942 six Swordfish were dispatched
to attack the heavily defended German battle cruisers Scharnhorst
and Gneisenau with the Prinz Eugen, making their "Channel
dash" from Brest to ports in Germany. Although more than
300 British aircraft were engaged in support of the attacks by
Dover-based torpedo boats and a squadron of antiquated destroyers,
this powerful force escaped unscathed until Scharnhorst
was damaged by a mine off the Netherlands.
Led by Lt. Commander E. Esmonde, who was posthumously awarded
the VC, all six Swordfish were shot down and only five of the
eighteen aircrew were recovered. Les Sayer was due to be Esmonde's
air gunner but changed with Clinton who did not survive. He later
flew anti-U-boat patrols from an escort carrier on convoys to
Russia. His final posting was to 837 Squadron on board the newly
built light fleet carrier HMS Glory to the Far East just
as war was terminated by the dropping of the atom bombs.
After the war Leslie flew as navigator for British European Airways
for many years. In 1947 he became the first chairman of the Telegraphist
Air Gunner's Association and was appointed MBE for his services
||The Fairey Swordfish
was a torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy
during the Second World War.
most spectacular success was the famous crippling of the Bismarck
after the battleship had sunk the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal