Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (11 & 12 December 2013)

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Date of Auction: 11th & 12th December 2013

Sold for £4,100

Estimate: £4,000 - £6,000

A fine Great War ace’s M.C. group of three awarded to Captain J. H. T. Letts, Royal Air Force, late Lincolnshire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps, who, having taken over as a Flight Commander from Captain W. Leefe-Robinson, V.C., in No. 48 Squadron, claimed 13 victories in Bristol Fighters inside six months: famed for his aggression in combat, he twice returned to base with dead Observers, was himself shot down and wounded by Leutnant Maashoff of Jasta 11, and was killed rolling his aircraft immediately after take-off in October 1918

Military Cross, G.V.R., the reverse privately engraved, ‘Captain John Herbert Towne Letts, Lincolnshire Regiment & Royal Flying Corps, Won May 24 1917, Buckingham Palace Nov. 28 1917’; British War and Victory Medals (Capt. J. H. T. Letts, R.A.F.), very fine and better (3) £4000-6000


M.C. London Gazette 16 August 1917:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attacked four large two-seaters, driving two down out of control and forcing the remaining two down. He has helped to destroy eight machines, and throughout has set a splendid example.’

John Herbert Towne Letts was born in Lincoln in June 1897 and was educated at Lancing College and the R.M.C. Sandhurst, from which latter establishment he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment in January 1916.

Immediately seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, he gained his aviator’s certificate (Royal Aero Club No. 2618) in late March 1916, and first flew operationally with the ‘Flying Elephants’ of No. 27 Squadron.

No. 48 Squadron - Flight Commander - M.C.

In March 1917, however, he joined No. 48 Squadron, recently re-equipped with Bristol Fighters and, when Captain “Billy” Leefe-Robinson, V.C., was shot down early in the following month, he took over as a Flight Commander. And a day or two later, on 9 April, east of Arras, he opened his account with a brace of shared Albatros D IIIs, but not without cost, his own aircraft being badly shot up and his Observer, Lieutenant H. G. Collins, killed.

Having then shared in a further victim over Pelves on 4 May, he assisted in the destruction of Albatros D III over Biache-Dury on the 11th, but in the ongoing combat with elements of Jasta II four “Brisfits” were shot down, including Letts and his Observer, 2nd Lieutenant J. Jameson, in BF2b A7104 - the former was slightly wounded. Nonetheless, he was back in action on the following day, downing two Albatros D IIIs in combats over Beaumont and Izel, while on the 24th, after adding yet another victory to his tally over Vitry, he returned to base in a badly shot aircraft - and with a wounded Observer, Lieutenant L. W. Allen. Notwithstanding such close encounters, Letts shared in another victory over Cantin Palleul on the 26th.

Having then downed an enemy aircraft in a combat over Reincourt-Cagnicourt on 5 June, he was recommended for the M.C. And the day following the official announcement of his award, he claimed his first Albatros DV, a shared victory east of Nieuport, on 17 August - the enemy aircraft broke up in the air.

Five days later, Letts fought one of the most memorable combats of his operational career - with a Gotha bomber. On that occasion, with 2nd Lieutenant H. R. Power as his Observer, he set off in pursuit of the Gotha over the sea, but accurate return fire killed Power outright, the latter inadvertently striking Letts on the head with his Lewis gun as he fell. Despite his head injury and concussion, Letts somehow nursed his shot-up Bristol Fighter back to base.

Back in action in September, he assisted in the destruction of a brace of Albatros DVs over Ghistelles on the 4th and, just before being sent home on leave, claimed his final victory, on the 15th, north-east of Dixmude.

In September 1918, after rest and recuperation, Letts was ordered to No. 64 Squadron as a Flight Commander but, in the event, joined No. 87 Squadron. But his second tour of operations ended in tragedy on 11 October when, immediately after take-off, and still close to the ground, he attempted to roll his SE 5a with disastrous consequences.

He was 22 years old and was buried in Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery, Bailleuval, France.