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TRENT Leonard Henry

Leonard Henry Trent

Group Captain Leonard Henry Trent VC DFC (14 April 1915 – 19 May 1986)

Early life:
Trent was born in Nelson, New Zealand on 14 April 1915, the son of a dentist. In 1919 the family moved to Takaka, where three years later, after taking a short ride in a Gipsy Moth aircraft, Trent became captivated by flying. He was educated at Nelson College and boarded at the school between 1928 and 1934.

Air force career:
After induction training at Taieri near Dunedin, he undertook Royal New Zealand Air Force flight training in Christchurch, gaining his wings in May 1938. A month later he sailed for Britain to join the Royal Air Force.

In September 1939 Trent went to France as part of No. 15 Squadron RAF, flying Bristol Blenheims on high-level photo-reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. The squadron returned to England in December to begin convert to medium bombers. Trent flew numerous combat missions after Germany invaded the Low Countries and France in May 1940.

In July 1940 he received the DFC for his outstanding contribution to the Battle of France. Posted as a training instructor, he married Ursula Elizabeth Woolhouse on 7 August 1940 at Holborn, London.[1] He also test flew the Douglas DB-7 Boston, which he strongly recommended to the RAF.

Trent returned to combat duties in March 1942 and was promoted to Squadron Leader. He had spent six months at Headquarters, No. 2 Group RAF, before assuming command of B Flight in No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, working up on the Lockheed Ventura for daylight raids, a task for which the type was manifestly inadequate. He flew many difficult raids on targets in Holland and the Low countries during the late 1942 and early 1943.

Victoria Cross:
NCOs of Trent's 487 Squadron, with Ventura at RAF Methwold early 1943 He was a 28-year-old squadron leader, Royal New Zealand Air Force, serving with No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, under Royal Air Force control when he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 3 May 1943 the squadron was ordered on a Ramrod diversionary bombing attack on the power station in Amsterdam, (the code Ramrod meant a bomber raid escorted by fighters aimed at destruction of a specific target in daylight). No.s 118 Sqn, 167 and 504 Squadrons of the Coltishall Wing were to escort the Venturas, and were to be met by further squadrons of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command over the Dutch coast. The Venturas were to cross the coast at sea level so as not to alert German radar, then climb.

Unfortunately the 11 Gp Mk IXs flying Rodeo 212 ahead of the Venturas arrived early and crossed the coast high—being anxious to gain a height advantage—alerting the German defences. They ran low on fuel before the Venturas arrived and had to leave. The Luftwaffe scrambled some 70 fighters in four formations, with Focke-Wulf Fw 190s to deal with the escort and Messerschmitt Bf 109s the bombers.

Squadron Leader Trent, left, with Wing Commander G J "Chopper" Grindell, centre, Commanding Officer of No. 487 Squadron RNZAF, and Squadron Leader T Turnbull, 1943 The escort Wing Leader, Wg Cdr Blatchford, vainly attempted to recall the bombers but they were soon hemmed in by fighters. Under constant attack by II Gruppe, Jagdgeschwader 1, 487 Squadron continued on to its target, the few surviving aircraft completing bombing runs before being shot down. The Squadron was virtually wiped out. Trent shot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109 with the forward machine guns of his plane. Immediately afterwards, his own aircraft (Ventura AJ209) was hit, went into a spin and broke up.

Trent and his navigator were thrown clear at 7,000 feet and became prisoners. Trent, whose leadership was instrumental in ensuring the bombing run was completed, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The citation from the London Gazette dated 1 March 1946 reads:

"On 3 May 1943, Squadron Leader Trent was detailed to lead a formation of Ventura aircraft on a daylight attack on the power station at Amsterdam. This operation was intended to encourage the Dutch workmen in their resistance to enemy pressure, and the target was known to be heavily defended. The importance of bombing it, regardless of enemy fighters or anti-aircraft fire, was strongly impressed on the aircrews taking part in the operation. Before taking off, Squadron Leader Trent told the deputy leader that he was going over the target whatever happened.

All went well with the formation until the eleven Venturas and their fighter escort were nearing the Dutch coast. Then one of the bombers was hit and had to turn back. Suddenly large numbers of enemy fighters appeared. Our escorting fighters were hotly engaged and lost touch with the bombing force. The Venturas closed up for mutual protection and commenced their run-up on the target. Unfortunately, the fighters detailed to escort them over the target had reached the area too early and had been recalled. Soon the bombers were attacked. They were at the mercy of 10 to 20 Messerschmitts which dived on them incessantly. Within four minutes six Venturas were destroyed. Squadron Leader Trent continued on his course with the three remaining aircraft and in a short time two more Venturas were shot down in flames. Heedless of the murderous attacks and the heavy anti-aircraft fire which was now encountered, Squadron Leader Trent completed an accurate bombing run and even shot down a Messerschmitt at point blank range. Dropping his bombs in the target area, he turned away. The aircraft following him was shot down on reaching the target.

Immediately afterwards his own aircraft was hit and went into a spin and broke up. Squadron Leader Trent and his navigator were thrown clear and became prisoners of war. The other two members of the crew perished. On this, his 24th sortie, Squadron Leader Trent showed outstanding leadership. Such was the trust placed in this gallant officer that the other pilots followed him unwaveringly. His cool, unflinching courage and devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds rank with the fine examples of these virtues."

Stalag Luft III:
After his capture Trent was assigned to Stalag Luft III Sagan, Germany . He participated in the "Great Escape" of 24 March 1944 although he was recaptured almost immediately. The Gestapo executed 50 recaptured prisoners, but Trent received solitary confinement because of his immediate surrender outside the camp.Trent survived the war in a POW camp.

Trent was liberated by British forces on 2 May 1945. He returned to England and promptly recommenced RAF service, learning that his last combat mission had earned him the Victoria Cross. Quiet and unassuming, Trent disliked the fuss the award caused, especially during its investiture at Buckingham Palace on 12 April 1946, being uncomfortable with the publicity.

Post-war career:
Continuing in the Royal Air Force after the war, he trained in jets (having the dubious distinction of having to eject from a de Havilland Vampire and a Gloster Meteor) and later commanded No. 214 Squadron RAF with the, then, new Vickers Valiant. In 1956 he saw further action during the Suez Crisis, and later in the early 1960s, he was promoted to the rank of Group Captain and was appointed an Air Attaché to Washington DC.

Later life:
Trent moved to Forrestdale, Western Australia, in 1965, with his wife, Ursula, and three children, and took a job with MacRobertson Miller Airlines. With his wife, he returned to New Zealand to live at Matheson Bay, north of Auckland, in 1977, dying on 19 May 1986 at North Shore Hospital. Trent's ashes were returned to Western Australia, where they were interred at Fremantle Cemetery alongside those of his daughter, Judith, who had died in 1983 at the age of 31.
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