Flt Lt Harder & RAF Museum

Once I’d managed to find out some basic information regarding John Harder, I approached the RAF Museum at Hendon (http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london/) to further investigate this pilot. This is where I first met Stuart Hadaway one of the Assistant Curators who began to help me with some of my research. Eventually, we met when I took the letters, photo albums & documents that he been kindly lent me by Lewis, Carroll & Bobbie Harder for him to see.

The level of detail included was of sufficient interest that many of the documents were copied & catalogued as “The Harder Papers” &  they have been designated in their catalogue as X004-6012/011 (first log book), X004-6012/012 (second log book) and X004-6012/013 (PoW journal).  They have been electronically linked to the main Flt Lt John Worthington Harder Collection – X004-6016 – in the catalogue, so anyone coming across one part of the collection will automatically be made aware of all the other pieces. Hopefully, in time these will be made available online via the RAF Museum Website in addition to being here.

As part of the cataloguing process, Stuart was required to produce a summary of John Harder’s career; this is what he has written…

John Worthington Harder was an American citizen with a civilian pilot’s licence who appears to have joined the RAF in America, as an ‘Eagle’, in late 1941. By the end of the November he was under training with the RAF contingent at the Spartan School of Aeronautics. Over the following weeks and months he consistently refused offers to transfer to the USAAF after Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into the war.

After completing his training in early March 1942, Harder was posted to Britain. The next year of his career is somewhat hazy, but there are clear indications in his letters and habits (such as numbering operations in his log book) that he served for at least a short time on operations with a night bomber unit. Family tradition and some of the later newspaper articles about him also claim time with Coastal Command and on the trans-Atlantic ferry routes, although there is no documentary evidence for this.

His record of service shows for that year:

  • Attends medical board, declared A4B Unfit with defective vision, 1 May 1942.
  • Sent to 2 Officers School, Cosford, 27 May 1942.
  • Attends medical board, declared A1B fit, 16 October 1942.
  • Returns to 3 PRC, Bournemouth, 19 October 1942.
  • Posted to 17 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit, Watton, 20 October 1942.
  • Posted to 58 (Day fighter) Operational Training Unit, Grangemouth, 22 December 1942.

What is clear is that his night sight let him down, but after purchasing some contact lenses he remustered as a fighter pilot. After undertaking conversion training from late 1942, he was posted to 64 Squadron in March 1943. He remained with this unit for the next 16 months, achieving the rank of Flight Lieutenant and becoming a flight commander (at times leading the whole squadron).

Harder was shot down while conducting ground attack operations over Normandy on 24 July 1944. After an attempted evasion he was captured, and eventually sent to Stalag Luft III at Sagan. In February 1945 he was transferred to the satellite camp at Belaria. Shortly after the move he was moved as part of the Long March. According to later letters he was liberated by the Russians, but then escaped from Russian lines and made his way to American forces in early May. After a week in Belgium he was evacuated to the UK, arriving on 17 May 1945.

Harder seems to have considered remaining in the RAF as a career option, and after a period of leave (including to America) he joined 567 Squadron. Here he was engaged on anti-aircraft co-operation duties, although he also picked up some experience on Meteors. By the end of the year his rank had been reverted to Pilot Officer, and it is clear from his letters that he was feeling constrained by the routine and regulations of the peace-time RAF. Harder left the RAF in February 1946.

Harder remained in aviation after the war, possibly (again according to family stories, but unclear in log book) flying during the Arab-Israeli War. Through the 1950s and 1960s he worked for a succession of air lines established by himself (Commandair Inc., Starflite Inc.). He died in 1977.

John Harder was also featured in the RAF Museum’s online tribute to Americans serving with the RAF