Rear Admiral Michael Frampton ‘Mike’ Fell CB KCVSA DSO DSC and Bar, RN no FX76465
Luftwaffe attacks on the Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow led to the Royal Navy forming 804 Squadron.
On 25 November 1939, four Sea Gladiators of 769 Squadron were detached to Hatston on Orkney and, on 30 November, the detachment became 804 Squadron. Sub Lieutenant Fell served with this unit.
The Squadron was at this time under Fighter Command’s control and remained so during the Battle of Britain period.
Lieutenant Commander John Cockburn took command of 804 Squadron on 9 December.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on 9 April in Operation Weserübung. The preparation of this and the execution resulted in large fleet movements including that the British Home Fleet sailed for the Norwegian coast and some contacts were made especially between the Luftwaffe and the British fleet.
Following the unwelcome but not unexpected appearance of the British Home Fleet, ten He 111s of KGr. 100 were sent out on the morning on 10 April on an armed reconnaissance east and south-east of the Orkneys and Shetlands, followed by and He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz. Immediately after this reconnaissance screen came 35 He 111 of KG 26 to respond immediately to any target spotted. As the 3(F)/ObdL aircraft approached the Scottish coast, it was intercepted by seven Hurricanes of 43 Squadron led by Squadron Leader George Lott from Wick, Caithness, which was flying out to sea towards Ronaldsay. Five miles east of Ronaldsay Island, Oberleutnant Hein’z aircraft was spotted and the fighters attacked in line astern. Squadron Leader Lott and his two flight commanders Peter Townsend and Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull, all getting in shots, as did the four other pilots. Oberleutnant Heinz’s aircraft was shot down into the sea and broke in half. Three men were seen swimming, but were too far from land for there to be any chance of being picked up before they succumbed to exposure.
The KGr. 100 aircraft subsequently reached the area and reported that two convoys had been seen off the Moray Firth, and heavy naval units south of the Orkneys. These reports referred to two cruiser flotillas and a French force, which were now retiring to Scapa Flow, and at once these became the prime targets. The first attack began when the KGr. 100 aircraft found shipping off Kinnaird Head, but their bombing caused little damage. Numerous interceptions by defending fighters followed, and some heavy fighting ensued. The first such engagement occurred during the afternoon when a Hurricane from 605 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Ian Muirhead (Hurricane I L2059), also based at Wick, on convoy patrol spotted a German aircraft at 15:45 (according to some sources this claim was made 17:30). This claim was made 20-30 miles north-east of Kinnaird Head and was a Heinkel of 1./KGr. 100. Two attacks were made, but the bomber slipped away in cloud, returning with the flight engineer (Oberfeldwebel Richard Röder) dead, and a second crew-man (Unteroffizier Alfred Taupe) wounded, but with only minor damage to the aircraft.
Almost an hour later, Flying Officer ‘Pat’ Leeson from the same unit was leading Red Section out on a patrol when two He 111s were seen at 14,000 feet. The three Hurricanes climbed to attack and one of the bombers was shot down by Leeson, Pilot Officer Peter Carter (Hurricane I L2018) and Sergeant W. M. F. Moffat. Only two members of the crew were seen to bale out but in fact Oberleutnant Harald Vogel and all his crew of 4./KG 26 survived and were rescued by a Royal Navy Trawler.
The Sea Gladiators of 804 Squadron were also active in repelling these attacks. Lieutenant Donald Gibson remembered:
“In our Gladiators we had several alerts after German reconnaissance aeroplanes; there was an RAF Hurricane Squadron at Wick, which had success and our first blood was partly by courtesy of this squadron. I think we both intercepted more or less together and somehow we became involved and shot it down.”The successful pilots were Sub Lieutenant Fell (N5510), Petty Officer (A) Geoff Peacock (N5538) and Petty Officer (A) Bert Sabey (N5509) of Yellow Section who opened the scoring for 804 Squadron when they shot down one of the Heinkels, as recorded by the unit’s diarist:
“A tremendous day for HMS Sparrowhawk [RNAS Hatston], the first and we hope by no means the last. 804 began their fun at 16:05 hours when Yellow Section flew off to Copinsay. There were a great many plots on the board, the weather fine with layers of cloud varying in density up to about 10,000 feet. About 16:40hrs Yellow 3 saw a Do 17 [sic] and the Section gave chase. Sub-Lt Fell got in a burst at about 500 yards as the Do 17 disappeared into the cloud: but followed him in. Yellow 2 went in above the cloud and as he came out so did the Do 17 some 400 yards away. Peacock got in a burst before the e/a dived away back into the clouds. We were later informed that Do 17 was crying SOS with a leaking petrol tank and did not reach his base.”There were no Do 17s involved in these actions, only He 111s and it seems probable that their victim was a Heinkel from 1./KG 26 that crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt on return, in which Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.
At 16:45hrs Red Section were sent to patrol between Copinsay and Burray. As soon as they got there, Red 1 saw a He 111 about ten miles east going north-east. Hot pursuit was begun and as the Section followed, Hurricanes could be seen gathering on the cloud-dodging Heinkel’s tail. After a few minutes the e/a began climbing, twisting and diving. By the time Red Section arrived and got within range No.43 Squadron had done their job. The e/a motors were idling and he dived down to 20 feet over the sea. For two or three miles he held at 20 feet with a dark oil streak trailing behind him on the sea and finally flopped port wing first. Six Hurricanes and Red Section flew around the wreck as ‘Nifty’ got the position and saw the fuselage break in half, the port wing come off and the remainder sink as three of the crew swam for it.”This was the He 111P of 3(F)/ObdL flown by Oberleutnant Karl Heinz and claimed by 43 Squadron.
“At 21:10, Red Section dived down to 11,000 feet about four miles east of Burray (an island between Kirkwall and South Ronaldsay). Unfortunately Red 2 was left behind in the dive. As soon as they flattened out a bomber crossed 200 yards ahead from port to starboard, Red 1 and Red 3 turned and pursued and loosed off nearly all ammunition, gradually closing in from 300-200 yards. The enemy fired back narrowly and finally turned and dived away to the south-east with smoke coming from his starboard motor. During this party Blue Section [Lieutenant Richard Smeeton N2275, Petty Officer (A) W. E. J. Stockwell and Petty Officer (A) Theobald] were lurking further west and came galloping up on seeing the shooting. Plenty of e/a were coming in and so “Smee” chose a back one and stuffed himself under its tail. He and his section rattled away with such good effect that the e/a was last seen in a flat right hand spiral going down toward South Ronaldsay. Unfortunately no wreckage was found and so the very probable result could not be confirmed.”
By 21:50hrs the party was over and 11 Gladiators had returned. The 12th was Blue 3 [Petty Officer (A) Theobald] who shortly afterwards could be hearing calling “Where am I?” Nifty told him and led him back to Wick where he spent the night.”One Gladiator crashed on landing after the engagement; it may have been damaged during the fight.
"Blue leader was on patrol with his section of 3 a/c at 10,000 feet to the East of Burray. Weather was clear and good visibility with 5/10 cloud at 7,000 feet in a large bank. Blue leader was one mile off Burray when at 2120 hours, he was attracted by machine gun fire to the south and saw an E/A travelling west towards Scapa Flow at about 200 m.p.h. some 500 feet above him. The E/A appeared to be machine gunning searchlight positions from his from gun.Blue Sections victim was possibly a He 111 of 2./KG 26 (Leutnant de Res Hubert Schachtbeck), which had been very badly damaged by fighters and crash-landed at Marx and was a total loss.
There was a second aircraft in formation but as soon as Blue Leader climbed under the first E/A's tail to attack, the second E/A broke away and was not seen again.
Blue Leader closed rapidly and opened fire at from 350 to 250 yards closing to about 100 yards. This was repeated four times the attacks being delivered from either dead astern or over the port or starboard quarter. Each attack consisted of one burst of about 6 seconds. Tracer was observed to be entering the fuselage of E/A; tracer bullets were seen from both top and lower rear guns.
After Blue Leaders first attack lower gun was silenced but top gun continued to fire. Throughout the attacks E/A performed a series of violent turns necessitating deflection allowance by Blue leader. Towards the end of the fourth attack, E/A started to lose height.
Blue 2 now dived to attack and fired 1000 rounds from astern by which time E/A was in a flat right hand spiral dive. Having lost formation Blue 2 landed at Wick. Blue 3 did not get an opportunity to fire as Blue 1 and 2 were conducting their attack from astern. But he saw the starboard engine was disabled with clouds of smoke issuing from it and followed till the E/A's dive become too fast for him to follow any more.
Some slipstream was noticed when at close range and at some stage in the combat a bullet of rifle calibre passed through a spar of port main plane. In all Blue leader fired 2,600 rounds and experienced no stoppages. The R/T was not working very well either from the ground or between pilots owing to jamming interference.
No cine camera gun was carried and it was to dark to distinguish any marking or the type of plane, though it was thought to be a Heinkel IIIK.
Blue Leader landed at Hatston at 2204 hours."
“At 12:40, ten aircraft of KGr. 100 are sent out on an armed reconnaissance searching off the Shetlands and Orkneys. Between 16:17 and 16:40 east of the Orkneys in the Moray Firth two convoys are spotted consisting of 14 steamers, 10 destroyers, two cruisers and four individual steamers. The convoy and steamers are heading on a westerly heading, the warships on a northerly heading. At 17:10 off the southern tip of the Orkneys two battleships, three cruisers and six destroyers are spotted on a north-north-westerly heading. This fleet was attacked without recognizable success. Throughout the flight Spitfire [sic] and Hurricane fighters and shipborne flak harass the unit. In an air battle a Hurricane fighter was shot down.
At around 12:50, six aircraft of 1(F)/122 take off for a reconnaissance mission in the northern area of the North Sea. At 17:00, one battle-cruiser [HMS Hood?] with four cruisers as well as several destroyers are spotted on a course steering north-west off the Orkney Islands. Concerns raised that this may be the same fleet reported by KGr. 100. Aircraft have a short encounter with two Lockheed [Hudson] aircraft with no result.
At 11:00 an He 111 of 3/ObdL is sent on a reconnaissance mission to Scapa Flow. The aircraft is shot down with the loss of all crew.
Between 12:38 and 12:39 II./KG 26 take-off for operations over North Sea. On basis of information supplied the Gruppe heads towards the Orkneys. Due to bad weather attacks are limited. At 18:40 from 700 metres, coming out of cloud, a surprise attack was launched on a destroyer with two SC500 bombs. At 18:30 an attack on a cruiser was unsuccessful. The attack had to be called off due to worsening weather [cloud base had dropped from 700 to 500 metres and visibility was less than a kilometre]. Two aircraft were lost, while one other crash landed at Stavanger.
Nineteen aircraft of I./KG 26 – taking off about 18:20 – head out to attack the reported naval forces east of the Orkney Islands. Due to worsening weather and the approach of nightfall many crews did not find their target. Of thos that did some were unable to attack due to being blinded by floodlights carried by the ships. Those aircraft that did bomb could not observe their result because of the blinding effect, though a large warship was probably hit with one SC250 bomb. During the attack three floodlights and some flak was knocked out. The defence of the ships was an unknown quantity of flak and about 200 floodlights. In addition Gladiator fighters also tried to intercept the bombers. One of these was shot down.
Nineteen aircraft of KG 30 take off at 18:37 to attack naval forces in Scapa Flow. Seventeen aircraft were able to attack. Several near misses on the tidal walls and one SD500 hit on a cruiser were observed. Within the area 2 cruisers and several destroyers and steamers were also spotted. Defence of Scapa Flow was provided by floodlights and ground and ship based flak. One aircraft was lost in three attack.”
In support of the Mediterranean Fleet, a new battle squadron known as Force ‘H’, which was based at Gibraltar under Vice-Admiral Sir James Somerville, sortied on 8 July 1940 in an effort to create a diversion. Heavy air attacks by Sardinian-based aircraft during 9 July convinced the admiral that the risk did not justify the continuation of such a minor operation, and before the day was out turned back, losing the damaged HMS Escort to submarine torpedo attack. This brief operation brought action for the air group on HMS Ark Royal however. Having just completed their attacks on the French Fleet at Mers el Kebir, the aircrews were on top form. A shadowing Cant Z.506B floatplane of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva was caught by three Skuas of 800 Squadron at 15:30 after it had been on patrol for three hours. Lieutenant Richard Smeeton, the Commanding Officer, and his observer/gunner Lieutenant E. S. Carver, in Skua A6A led Sub Lieutenant Fell/Naval Airman D. H. Lowndes (A6B) and Petty Officer (A) A. B. ‘Bert’ Sabey/Leading Airman J. Coles (A6C) in a determined attack, the stricken Cant falling into the sea. They continued to strafe it until it was totally destroyed, but during this sustained attack the observer and radio operator were mortally wounded.
Subsequently S.79s of 38o Gruppo B.T. from Decimomannu attacked the carrier but were chased by Skuas of 803 Squadron, an aircraft of the 49a Squadriglia being shot down. This S.79 fell to the Skua crewed by Petty Officer (A) Alfred Theobald and Naval Airman Freddy de Frias, who recalled:
“Theo and I were flying in L3017, as usual in Red Section led by Lieutenant Gibson. Throughout the day the Italians had pressed home medium level attacks on the Force; the Italians were pretty efficient and determined. They stayed in formation and were frightening good in their bombing. We took off at 19:20, warned to expect a large formation. Fortunately we were able to get to 10-12,000 feet before they came in below us. Gibson led the Section in a diving turn to get at them and for some reason Theo didn’t get a decent burst in. But we ended up flying straight and level with the enemy leader only forty to fifty feet on our starboard beam. I could hardly believe it was happening as I opened up with the Lewis on a simple no deflection shot using the nose of the enemy as an aiming point. After my first aiming burst the S.79 appeared to go nose down so I gave it the rest of the 100-round pan. Before I had finished, a side hatch opened and at least two people, perhaps three, baled out. The aircraft went into a dive and I caught a glimpse of it going into the sea before it went out of my vision behind the tailplane.”De Frias would later be awarded the DSM mainly for this action.
Fell served a Sub Lieutenant with 800 Squadron in 1940, operating over the Western Mediterranean from HMS Ark Royal.
On 2 August HMS Ark Royal took part in Operation ’Hurry’ when HMS Argus launched twelve Hurricanes and two Skuas for Malta. As the Fleet turned back towards Gibraltar, fighter patrol from HMS Ark Royal were in action against shadowers from Sardinia. Five Skuas from 800 Squadron flown by Lieutenant Richard Smeeton/Lieutenant Carver, Lieutenant K. V. V. Spurway/Petty Officer (A) R. F. Hart, Sub Lieutenant Fell/Naval Airman Lowndes, Sub Lieutenant B. H. Hurle-Hobbs/Leading Airman E. E. Bell and Petty Officer (A) L. E. Burston/Naval Airman R. H. Holmes, claimed one Cant Z.506B shot down whilst another was claimed by another Section of 800 Squadron., crewed by Lieutenant G. R. Callingham/Midshipman H. Morris, Midshipman R. W. Kearsley/Leading Airman L. V. Eccleshall and Petty Officer (A) W. J. Heard/Naval Airman Hills.
Italian records indicate that a Z.501 flyingboat of the 146a Squadriglia R.M. was attacked by seven fighters – obviously the five Skuas of Smeeton’s patrol – limping back to Cagliari/Elmas with one dead and three wounded aboard. A Z.506 of the 198a Squadriglia, flown by Sottotenente Sigfrido Marcaccini, was reported shot down by four more fighters, this clearly falling Callingham’s Section.
In late 1941, he served in the composite RN Fighter Squadron, which operated alongside the RAF in the Western Desert.
At 16:40 on 23 November, Hurricanes from RNFS intercepted reported Italian Fiat G.50s 20 miles south-east of Gubi. Sub Lieutenant Fell (Hurricane I Z4189) claimed a probable while Sub Lieutenant J. F. Kee claimed a damaged.
He was then posted to 806 Squadron, operating land-based in Egypt in during the late 1941.
On 28 December, Fleet Air Arm fighters were active whilst escorting coastal shipping off the coast of North Africa and near Tobruk, Sub Lieutenant (A) Fell spotted a He 111 which he claimed as probably destroyed.
During August 1942, now a Lieutenant Commander, he commanded 805 Squadron, which had formed part of the Desert unit, equipped with Grumman Martlets, remaining in this position until January 1943.
Returning to the UK, he took command of a new unit, 878 Squadron, equipped with Martlet IVs, going aboard HMS Illustrious and sailing to the Mediterranean in time to support the Salerno landings during September 1943.
For these operations, he received a Mention in Despatches on 1 February 1944.
He then became an air group commander, operating in this role on HMS Searcher during strikes on the German battleship Tirpitz in May 1944, for which he was awarded a DSO.
On 27 March 1945, he was again Mentioned in Despatches, this time for the operations over the South of France from HMS Emperor, now flying Hellcats, during the invasion there in August 1944.
He led a number of strikes from HMS Emperor on targets in the Aegean Sea area, for which he was awarded a DSC on 14 August 1945.
Fell ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory and a total of 3 shared destroyed.
Fell remained in the Navy after the war.
The New Year’s Honours List of 1 January 1947, brought him a KCVSA, at which time he was serving with HMS Daedalus, still as a Lieutenant Commander.
Fell served as Commander of HMAS Sydney’s (the Australian aircraft carrier) 21st Carrier Air Group that comprised two squadrons of Sea Fury FB11s – 805 Squadron (CO Lieutenant Commander (P) W. G. Bowles RAN) and 808 Squadron (CO Lieutenant Commander (P) J. L. Appelby RN) during the Korean war when she started to operate of the coast of Korea on 5 October 1951, the first mission led by Fell himself.
On 26 October, four of 805 Squadron’s Sea Furies led by Lieutenant Commander (P) Fell were busy in the Han area attacking targets, including some camouflaged positions and supply dumps near a railway line to the west of Kaesong. They had just rocketed an enemy HQ at Haeju, causing a thick volume of smoke to issue from the buildings, when the call came to fly RESCAP over a downed Firefly (WB316/204) from 817 Squadron flown by Sub Lieutenant (P) Neil MacMillan with Hancox as navigator. Word had also gone out and a flight of Meteors from 77 RAAF Squadron at Kimpo soon joined them. Meanwhile the helicopter had taken off from HMAS Sydney and was on its way.
Down on the ground MacMillan and Hancox were heartened by the presence of the aircraft overhead and ready to defend their position if they came under attack MacMillan wrote in his report:
“We then noticed several men situated on the knoll to the west, looking in the direction of the aircraft. Through the binoculars we identified them as enemy troops. However, they disappeared over the side of the hill and we did not see them again. 45 minutes after landing, the Air Group Commander [Fell] flew low over our position and dropped a message in a container, which landed about 25 feet from the edge of the ditch. The message was a welcome one, stating that the ETA of the rescue helicopter was 17:30…”In his flight low over the stranded airmen, Fell’s Sea Fury was hit by flak. He had to leave the area and divert to Kimpo where he landed safely with only about eight of an inch of movement on his ailerons.
In October 1953, he was awarded a Bar to his DSC for operations over Korea as a Commander aboard HMAS Sydney.
On 1 January 1969, he was created a CB, by which time he was Rear Admiral, Flag Officer, Carriers and Amphibious Ships.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|10/04/40||16:40||1/3||He 111 (a)||Shared destroyed||Sea Gladiator||N5510||Copinsay area||804 Squadron|
|09/07/40||15:30-||1/3||Z.506B (b)||Shared destroyed||Skua||A6B||W Mediterranean||800 Squadron|
|02/08/40||1/5||Z.506B (c)||Shared destroyed||Skua||W Mediterranean||800 Squadron|
|23/11/41||16:40||1||G.50||Probably destroyed||Hurricane I||Z4189||20m SE Gubi||RNFS|
|28/12/41||1||He 111||Probably destroyed||Hurricane||near Tobruk||806 Squadron|
|28/02/42||1/2||Ju 88 (d)||Shared destroyed||Martlet||Coast off desert||805 Squadron|
Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 4 shared destroyed, 2 probably destroyed.
(a) Possibly a He 111 from 1./KG 26 that crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt on return, in which Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.
(b) Cant Z.506B of the 287a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Capitano Domenico Oliva shot down; the observer and radio operator killed.
(c) Probably Z.501 of the 146a Squadriglia R.M., which returned damaged with one dead and three wounded aboard.
(d) Aircraft of I./LG 1.
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Fledgling Eagles - Christopher Shores with John Foreman, Christian-Jaques Ehrengardt, Heinrich Weiss and Bjørn Olsen, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-42-9
Flying Sailors at War: Volume 1 – Brian Cull with Bruce Lander and Mark Horan, 2011 Dalrymple & Verdun Publishing, Stamford, ISBN 978-1-905414-14-7
Gloster Gladiator Home Page - Alexander Crawford
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
With the Yanks in Korea: Volume 1 – Brian Cull and Dennis Newton, 2000 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-49-7