Onagawa Wan, Japan – August 9, 1945
Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve
For great bravery in leading an attack to within 50 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, HMS 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 into 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 50 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.
Robert Hampton Gray was born in Trail, British Columbia, on the 2nd of November 1917, the son of a Boer War Veteran. He received his early education in a public school and high school in Nelson, B.C., and then spent a year at the University of Alberta in Edmonton followed by two years at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. In 1940 he was selected as one of 75 candidates for commissions in the Navy. He was one of 13 who qualified as pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. In 1944 he was a lieutenant on board the HMS Formidable. For his brilliant work during the attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in Alten Fjord he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches. In July 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for aiding in the destruction of a destroyer in the Tokyo area and on the 9th of August he won the Victoria Cross as recorded in the citation. Lieutenant Gray has no known grave as neither he nor his plane were ever found, but his name is inscribed on the Sailor’s Memorial in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His Victoria Cross is on loan to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.