Citation: For great bravery in leading an attack to within fifty feet of a Japanese destroyer in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, thereby sinking the destroyer although he was hit and his own aircraft on fire and finally himself killed. He was one of the gallant company of Naval Airmen who, from December 1944, fought and beat the Japanese from Palembang to Tokyo. The actual incident took place in the Onagawa Wan on the 9th of August 1945. Gray was leader of the attack which he pressed home in the face of fire from shore batteries and at least eight warships. With his aircraft in flames he nevertheless obtained at least one direct hit which sank its objective.
Lieut. R.H. Gray, D.S.C., R.C.N.V.R., of Nelson, B.C., flew off the Aircraft Carrier, H.M.S. "Formidable" on August 9th 1945, to lead an attack on Japanese shipping in Onagawa Wan (Bay) in the Island of Honshu, Mainland of Japan. At Onagawa Bay the fliers found below a number of Japanese ships and dived in to attack. Furious fire was opened on the aircraft from army batteries on the ground and from warships in the Bay. Lieut. Gray selected for his target an enemy destroyer. He swept in oblivious of the concentrated fire and made straight for his target. His aircraft was hit and hit again, but he kept on. As he came close to the destroyer his plane caught fire but he pressed to within fifty feet of the Japanese ship and let go his bombs. He scored at least one direct hit, possibly more. The destroyer sank almost immediately. Lieutenant Gray did not return. He had given his life at the very end of his fearless bombing run.
be regarded as one of the most outstanding contributions
possible to Canadian aviation."
Hampton "Hammy" Gray Robert Hampton Gray was born on November 2, 1916 at Trail, B.C., the son of John Balfour (JB) Gray, a Scottish immigrant. His mother was Wilhelmina Gray from Listowell, Ontario. He had an older sister, Phyllis, and a younger brother John (Jack). Later the family moved to Nelson, where his father ran a jewellery store. "Hammy" was a popular student, who had the normal interest in sports. In the fall of 1936, he enrolled at the University of Alberta and spent two years there. During the summer of 1938, he decided to switch to medicine at the University of British Columbia. At UBC, Hammy joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and was active with The Totem, the university yearbook. Hammy continued his studies during the "phoney war", but in the spring of 1940 became alarmed by the blitzkrieg attacks that conquered Europe in seven weeks.
In July, Hammy and his two friends, Peter Dewdney and Jack Diamond drove all night to Calgary to enlist at the naval reserve unit there (later HMCS Tecumseh). They enlisted as part of a program under the RCNVR to supply officer candidates to the Royal Navy. Hammy and his friends took the train to Halifax in September 1940, and sailed for England on the Duchess of Richmond. Their initial training started at HMS Raleigh. In December, they were offered a chance to join the Fleet Air Arm, and about two dozen of the Canadians transferred to HMS St Vincent at Gosport for basic training. The course took three months, and concentrated on navigation, signalling and seamanship.
In March 1941, the group was transferred to the No 24 Elementary Flying Training School at Luton near London. In June, Hammy was sent to the No. 31 Service training School in Kingston, Ontario. He was able to get a short leave to return to Nelson, before starting training in Harvard aircraft. In September, Hammy was graduated as a pilot. He was able to get a short leave before leaving for Halifax and sailing for HMS Heron, the Royal Navy Air Station at Yeovilton. Initial training was on Hurricanes.
In early February 1942, Hammy had completed his operational training and was transferred to HMS Ketral at Worthy Down near Winchester with 757 Squadron. This was a second-line squadron flying Skuas, an obsolete 1934 design fighter. In May 1942, Ham was transferred to South Africa with HMS Afrikaner with 789 Squadron which was flying a mixture of Albacore's, Sea Hurricanes, Swordfishes and Walruses. In August, he was transferred to HMS Kipanga in Kenya with 795 Squadron. It was stationed at Tanga, Tanganika, and was flying Fulmars and Martlets. In the summer he was transferred to 795 Squadron in East Africa, and in September he was appointed back to 803 Squadron in Tanga.
In December 1942, Hammy finally got to sea with HMS Illustrious, and was promoted to Lieutenant in the New Years List of January 1, 1943. He spent two months with 803 Squadron, before being reassigned to 877 Squadron in Tanga which had been equipped with Hurricanes. In July, 877 Squadron was moved near Mombassa. In February 1944, he was transferred back to England, and in March to HMCS Stadacona for 10 weeks leave. After leave, he went back to England with HMS Heron for training on Corsairs, Hellcats, and SeaFires.
On August 6, he joined No 1841 Squadron on HMS Formidable under Lt. Comdr.. Richard Bigg-Wither, flying Corsairs. On August 22, the Formidable squadrons attacked the Tirpitz, but the cloud moved in and they had to turn back. On August 24, they tried again, but the Tirpitz was covered by smoke. They went in anyway, and encountered flak from the surrounding mountains and three Corsairs were shot down. Another strike was sent in on August 29, and one bomb hit, but did not explode. One Corsair failed to return. Hammy was mentioned in dispatches for his run over a German destroyer that was throwing up high levels of flak.
In September, HMS Formidable was assigned to the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). Repairs to the main engines took several months while the ship was in Gibraltar, so Hammy took some of the pilots to Alexandria for further training and practice. The ship reached Colombo on February 8, and Sydney on March 19. It joined several units of the BPF, including HMCS Uganda, and the group sailed to Manus in the Admiralty Islands. After a brief stop at Leyte, the Formidable joined the BPF on April 14.
The BPF was designated as Task Force 57, and allocated to the Sakishima Gunto islands to the north-east of Formosa. The objective was to take the airfields out of operation so that the Japanese could not route replacement aircraft to Okinawa. This was tedious work because the Japanese could repair the airfields as fast as the British took them out.
On May 4, Adm. Rawlings detached the battleships and cruisers from the formation for bombardment work. Many of the large ship crews were bored doing little except AA work for the carriers, so this was designed to boost their morale. Unfortunately, the removal of these ships from the AA screen allowed kamikaze aircraft to break though the air defence and to hit the carriers. One kamikaze hit the Formidable's flight deck, and the 500 lb. bomb exploded, setting fires. Eight crew were killed and 47 others injured, and 11 aircraft were destroyed, but damage control soon had the ship back into operation.
The Indomitable was also hit glancing blows by two kamikazes that had been partially deflected by the AA fire. On May 9, Victorious was hit by two kamikazes, and another hit the Formidable. This time the fires started by the bombs caused greater damage, resulting in the destruction of 19 aircraft by the flames or the water used to fight them. There was only one fatality, although several were injured. Formidable was reduced to 15 operational aircraft. On May 22, the ship departed to fleet for Sydney for repairs and replacement aircraft.
The Formidable sailed from Sydney on June 28 to rejoin the BPF, which was now designated as Task Force 37, under Adm. William "Bull" Halsey. In Sydney, the Formidable had strengthened its AA capability by replacing the 20 mm Oerlikan with 40mm Bofors. In addition, it had brought the air groups up to strength of 40 Corsairs, 12 Avengers and 6 Hellcats. The Corsairs were split evenly between Squadrons 1842 and 1842. Hammy was the senior pilot in 1841 while Lt.Cdr R.L. Bigg-Wither was still the commander. There were about 200 Canadian air crew serving with the BPF at this point.
The British and U.S. naval forces were sweeping across Japan to destroy the last remnants of the Japanese navy. Many of the ships were hidden in small bays to hide them from the Allies while waiting for the invasion of the homeland that was expected in October or November. The Japanese still had some 2,000 smaller craft that were expected to be used as kamikaze ships in the invasion. The objective of the operations was to destroy as many as possible. On July 18, 1841 Squadron attacked the Niigata area on the west coast of northern Honshu. The following day they attacked the Chosi area, 50 miles east of Tokyo. Bad weather delayed operations for the next few days, but on July 24 the attacks were directed at the Shikoku Island area at the southern end of Honshu.
On July 27, the Canadians in the BPF were dismayed to watch the departure of HMCS Uganda, the only Canadian ship with the BPF, sail for home because the majority of the crew refused to volunteer for the Japanese war. On July 28, Hammy attacked and sunk a Japanese destroyer at Maisuru. He was immediately recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross for this action.
On July 29, the famous typhoon that was to cause so much damage to the Allied fleets swept in. It was August 6 before weather cleared for flying. The BPF was stationed off northern Honshu where the Japanese were believed to be storing aircraft in anticipation of the invasion. Air operations were cancelled that day so the Americans could drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was obvious that this might have an impact on the end of the war, so the Commanding Officer of the Formidable advised his pilots to "not take undue risks" .
On August 9, Hammy led his wing into the attack at Onagawa Bay. This bay had several ships in it, including the 1000 ton destroyer Amakusa, Minesweeper 33, the newly completed destroyers Ohama and Soya, several other smaller subchasers, and minesweepers, and three merchant ships. The group had been warned of air attacks that had occurred at other airfields nearby and were on full alert. AA guns were mounted in the hills surrounding the bay.
At 09:20, Hammy led the flight into the attack from 10,000 feet, and came in low over the hills and levelled out over the water at about 50 feet. He aimed for the Amakusa but was hit by fire from the Amakusa, Minesweeper 33, Ohama, and Subchaser 42. One bomb was shot off and the airplane caught fire. Hammy released the second bomb which hit the Amakusa below the No. 2 gun platform and penetrated into the engine room before exploding. As Hammy's plane flew away from the ship, it suddenly burst into flame, rolled to the right and crashed into the ocean. The Amakusa quickly flooded, and listed to starboard. The bugle sounded "abandon ship" and survivors jumped into the water. The ship went down quickly, taking 71 crew with it.
The pilots saw the loss of their leader, and swung around for additional passes on the ships in the bay. The Ohama was hit and sunk, and Minesweeper 33 was hit before the aircraft left for the Formidable. The aircraft returned a few hours later, to continue the attack. On the return approach to the Formidable from this second attack, Lt. G.A. Anderson's aircraft engine faltered and the plane hit the roundown and he was killed, the last Canadian to die in WWII.
In the afternoon, an additional 40 Wildcats from the U.S. forces attacked the remaining ships in Onagawa Bay adding additional damage and sinking several more ships. While these attacks were going on, the Americans dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. On August 10, the aircraft from the Formidable returned to Onagawa Bay where the Kongo Maru, was attacked and sunk. Of the 15 ships in the bay, only the 86 ton subchaser 161 survived. That evening, the Japanese accepted the terms of surrender.
On August 31, 1945, Lt. Hampton Gray was officially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and on November 13, he was further awarded the Victoria Cross.