From The Supplement to the London Gazette
8 October 1982
THE DISTINGUISHED FLYING CROSS
Awarded to Flight Lieutenant William Francis Martin Withers 2607689 Royal Air Force
On 30 April 1982, two Vulcan B2 aircraft were prepared to fly from Ascension Island on the first bombing mission against Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands. At 22.53 hours, Flight Lieutenant Withers, Captain of the reserve aircraft took off last in a stream of two Vulcans and ten Victors. Within minutes, the primary Vulcan became unserviceable leaving Flight Lieutenant Withers' aircraft to conduct the mission. Throughout the 3400 mile outward leg of this unique operation, the formation encountered severe weather conditions which, combined with a major failure in one of the tanker aircraft, made night air-to-air refuelling particularly difficult, and resulted in the Vulcan approaching the target area with less fuel than planned. Although knowing that he had insufficient fuel for any diversion should his home-bound rendezvous with a tanker fail, Flight Lieutenant Withers continued his descent to the target area.
Major problems were then experienced with the aircraft radar which, if not resolved, would have resulted in aborting the attack since precise bombing was required to achieve success and avoid civilian casualties. After overcoming these problems, successfully jamming the enemy radar and confusing the defences, all the bombs were released and the runway and airfield facilities severely damaged.
During the return flight, fuel reserves became very low, allowing no margin for error on the part of Flight Lieutenant Withers or any member of his crew. Nevertheless, despite having been airborne for over 12 hours, the refuelling contact with the tanker was successfully carried out and the aircraft recovered safely to Ascension Island.
This was the longest in-flight refuelled bombing operation ever carried out by a Royal Air Force aircraft and covered a distance of 6800 miles and lasted over 16 hours. Throughout, both captain and crew were faced with several serious problems and difficult decisions affecting the success of the operation which they overcame with skill, courage and resolve. In so doing, Flight Lieutenant Withers displayed qualities of leadership, determination and presence of mind which were an inspiration to his crew. Moreover, through his exemplary airmanship and skill, the use of Port Stanley airfield was temporarily denied to the enemy.