John SANDERSON 1923 – 1942

1148225 Sergeant John Sanderson, 202 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve was killed in action 20 November 1942, aged 19.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Malta Memorial [1] and the Evenwood War Memorial. 

Family Details [2]

John [Jacky] was born 1923, the son of John and Nora Sanderson and brother to Norman, Jean, George and Mary.  The family lived at Evenwood WMC house, Manor Street, Evenwood. 

Service Details [3]


 8 November 2020: I met Sandy Sanderson, Norman Sanderson’s son at Evenwood War Memorial.  He told me that the details I had about his uncle John Sanderson were incorrect and he would forward information to me.

10 November 2020:  I received an email from Sandy Sanderson with attachments which explained the circumstances surrounding his death.  Apparently, the “coming into land at Malta story” was family history but when Sandy started to investigate, he found the true version of events.  The Catalina flying boat was still “downed” by friendly fire.  I am pleased to receive details and amend the “profile” accordingly.  Much of the following account is taken from research undertaken by John Mulholland.[4]

202 Squadron was based in Gibraltar, in preparation for the Allied invasion of North Africa known as “Operation Torch”.  The squadron was equipped with Catalina Flying Boats and escorted convoys from the UK to North Africa, specifically on anti-submarine patrols.

Timeline of events

8 November 1942: Convoy KMS-3 sailed from Greenock, on the River Clyde, Scotland bound for Oran, a port on the Mediterranean coast of Algeria.  There were 53 ships in the convoy, in 11 columns, escorted by 12 corvettes and sloops.  The convoy proceeded without incident until 20 November.

20 November: Flight K202 took off for a routine anti-submarine escort of Convoy KMS-3 and by 08.50 reached the convoy.  It began to circle the convoy at a range of about 2 miles, at a height of about 1000 feet.

At 0910, in position 35˚ 55’N-10˚14’W, south west of Portugal 2 merchant ships, SS Grange Park and SS Prins Harold were hit by torpedoes from U-Boat 263. A corvette positioned astern, threw out depth charges.  The Catalina [5] passed over or near the corvette, reducing height and headed for the left hand edge of the convoy.  As it crossed the merchant ships, a cannon or Oerlikon opened fire and then a barrage of light and heavy flak was sent up by all ships in the vicinity.  The Catalina was hit repeatedly by continuous fire, burst into flames before spinning into the sea from about 2-300 feet.  On striking the water, the Catalina disintegrated in a heavy explosion.  There were no survivors, all 10 crew were killed.  The incident was witnessed by:

1] D.R. Higgins Pilot Officer 128368 RAF 32[F] Squadron who was aboard a RN ship, HMS Fowey.    

2] Some of the crew from Catalina T210, 202 Squadron.  It was in the vicinity and saw K202 fall into the sea in flames after being hit by A/A fire from merchant vessels.

Evidently, the merchant seamen didn’t know if the vessels had been attacked by torpedoes from a submarine or an aeroplane.  The gunners could not distinguish the Catalina as an RAF aircraft or an enemy aeroplane. 

Those who perished were:

F/O W.B. O’Connor [Captain]

P/O A.L. Campbell

F/O H.K. Pollock

P/O D.A. MacArthur

Flt. Sgt. A.F. Fletcher

Flt. Sgt. I.W. Drywood

Flt. Sgt. R.A. Laverty

Flt. Sgt. J. Sanderson [Flight Mechanic [Airframes][6]

Flt. Sgt. R.A. Tiffen

Flt. Sgt. J.L. O’Rorke

The crew are commemorated on the Malta Memorial and the 202 Squadron Roll of Honour Board.

Postscript [7]

20 November 1942: U-263 survived but sustained serious damage from the convoy escorts. 119 depth charges were dropped and U-263 was forced to return to port. 

24 November:  West of Gibraltar, 4 depth charges from a British Hudson bomber [Squadron 233 pilot Eric Smith] left U-263 even more seriously damaged and unable to dive. 

29 November:  The U-boat reached France – damage required 13 months of repair work. 

20 January 1944:  1 day after leaving port for a deep dive trail, it was reported that the external portside No.2 fuel tank had collapse.  The U-Boat attempted to return to La Pallice and was in need of immediate assistance.  It sank in the Bay of Biscay, south west of La Rochelle, France at position 45.40N 03.00W.  All hands were lost, 51 dead.


 Memorials to commemorate Sergeant John Sanderson: The Malta Memorial [8]

Sergeant John Sanderson has no known grave and is commemorated at Panel 4, Column 2, the Malta Memorial.  It commemorates 2,298 airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War whilst serving with the Commonwealth Forces from bases in Austria, Italy, Sicily, islands of the Adriatic and Mediterranean, Malta, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, West Africa, Yugoslavia and Gibraltar and who have no known grave.  It is situated in the area of Floriana and stands outside the main entrance to Valetta.

Thanks to Frank & Sandy Sanderson and Malta Memorial photo courtesy of Tot Sowerby.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Memorial

[2] Frank Sanderson


[4] “Death by Friendly Fire – the story of Flt. Sgt. R. Laverty, 202 Squadron” John Mulholland which refers to Operations Record Book 202 Squadron October/November 1941, Admiralty Files ADM 199/2143 PRO & ADM 199/1216 PRO

[5] Catalina Flying Boat No. FP153 Ministry of Defence Air Historical Branch G. Day letter dated 23 September 2010

[6] Ministry of Defence letter dated 23 September 2010


[8] CWGC