Medals of wartime air ace who led Venice attack up for sale

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The medals of a wartime flying ace who was given the delicate job of leading an attack on enemy ships in Venice docks without destroying the city's historic buildings and priceless works of art are being sold at auction next week.

In 1945, Group Captain George Westlake headed Operation Bowler, so called because he and others feared they would be "bowler hatted" - thrown out of the military back into civilian life - if their attack was not precise enough.

On the afternoon of March 21, Westlake, who was at the controls of a Kittiwake, led dozens of pilots who were experts in dive-bombing to the city.

Once over the target, Westlake assessed the weather and ordered British and American fighters to attack the docks' gun defences. Then, from 10,000ft, he and the other bombers dived towards the docks almost vertically.

The bombers seriously damaged a large cargo ship and destroyed naval escorts and smaller vessels. So accurate were they that the locals felt confident enough to climb on to roofs to watch the attack - and the city escaped with just a few shattered windows.

Westlake later recalled: "It was a great success because apart from every vessel in the harbour, we hit a stockpile of their mines that blew a hole in the dockside about 100 yards across.

"The other bonus ... was destroying their underwater establishment, where they did all the training for their frogmen and two-men submarines."

He continued: "I was given an immediate DSO [Distinguished Service Order] after this show ... And the only damage to Venice was a few broken windows."

Westlake also won the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1942 for "continuous gallantry". The recommendation noted that he had always shown "exceptional daring and tenacity when engaging the enemy".

His medals - 11 in total - are expected to raise up to £22,000.

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