Biplane fighter aces


Group Captain Randolph Stuart Mills DFC, RAF no. 36067

Stuart Mills was born on 20 October 1909.

He went to Imperial Service College and joined the RAF in January 1927 as an Aircraft Apprentice (561203). He passed out in December 1929 as a Fitter, Aero Engines.

He later applied for pilot training and was selected.

Mills was a Sergeant-pilot when he was granted a Permanent Commission on 21 May 1936 and promoted to Pilot Officer.

He joined 17 Squadron at Kenley on 3 June 1936 and moved to the Station Flight at Northolt on 1 February 1937.

He was promoted to Flying Officer on 21 November 1937

He joined 263 Squadron at its formation at Filton on 20 October 1939 as a Flight Commander.

On 21 November 1939 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.

He served with 263 Squadron during both Norwegian expeditions.

On 19 April, the Gladiators of 263 Squadron were ordered to Scapa Flow, there to embark aboard the carrier HMS Glorious which just had arrived from Gibraltar. HMS Ark Royal followed on her tail. The Gladiators were flown aboard by FAA pilots from 802 and 804 Squadrons, much to the chagrin of the RAF pilots, of which Flight Lieutenant Mills recalled:

“We were warned at short notice to move to Prestwick from where we should be embarking on an aircraft carrier. We guessed this meant Norway. Only minimum kit and equipment could be taken. Ground personnel, under Flight Lieutenant Tom Rowlands, the squadron’s other flight commander, departed for Rosyth, while we flew up to Prestwick. There I was able to buy one Daily Telegraph war map, which included part of Norway. We had no other maps of the country. We boarded Glorious off Prestwick on 22nd April. Much to our annoyance, Fleet Air Arm pilots, some of whom had had only limited experience of Gladiators, were detailed to fly our aircraft onto the carrier. One landed in the sea and was lost.”
He continued:
“The crew of Glorious, which had been hurriedly recalled from a long spell in the Mediterranean, was in poor, even mutinous mood. They had had no shore leave with their families after a protracted absence abroad. D’Oyly-Hughes, the ship’s captain, wanted the squadron to take off on 24th April at a point about 300-350 miles of the Norwegian coast and fly in from there to Lake Lesjaskog. He knew we had no maps of the landing area. We felt this to be quite unreasonable. Baldy therefore asked the captain if we could be put off much closer in – 150 miles off Norway. Because we had no maps, he also asked that two Navy Skua aircraft be put up to lead us to the frozen lake.”

At 09:00 on 25 April Mills took off and patrolled over Lake Lesjaskog for 30 minutes, allowing six more Gladiators to get off undisturbed. These then provided cover for the army at the front while their fuel lasted, and also spotted for the artillery.
During this patrol Mills engaged six II./LG 1 He 111s near a lake and was credited with shooting one down. This aircraft, a He 111 H of 4 Staffel, actually limped back to Stavanger/Sola, but as it approached to land, both engines failed, and it crashed into the sea. The crew was however rescued.
At Lesjaskog four more frozen-up Gladiators were destroyed by air attack at 13:05, but two others then got off, flown by Squadron Leader Donaldson (in N5633) and Flight Lieutenant Mills. Over the next two and a half hours these two would engage in six major combats over the lake.
Firstly at 14:00 both pilots attacked a Heinkel of Stab/LG 1 and brought it down to crash-land south of Vinstra, near Dombås.
Feldwebel Hans Gutt’s crew set fire to the aircraft, in which the badly injured wireless operator had shot himself. The survivors were subsequently captured, and the wreckage of this bomber was later inspected by British troops.
Both pilots then attacked another Heinkel from 6./LG 1, which was damaged, but made it back to Fornebu with two wounded aboard.
Donaldson and Mills were both airborne again during the evening, as the last five serviceable Gladiators were withdrawn from Lesjaskog north to a temporary landing ground, which had been prepared at Setnesmoen, just outside Aandalsnes. Donaldson was scrambled, and near the new base found a He 111 of II./LG 1, which had been attacking a steamer near Aandalsnes. This was believed to have been shot down into a ravine, but actually the very badly damaged bomber was almost able to reach Oslo/Fornebu before the engines failed and the crew baled out.
Mills was up for a third time before twilight, having a running fight with a Ju 88, but he had to make a force-landing having used up all his fuel and ammunition. As he was examining the fighter for damage, bombers appeared and destroyed it.

263 Squadron suffered heavily losses and was soon withdrawn back to Great Britain to be re-equipped.

On 10 May Mills was decorated with the DFC.

On 14 May the Squadron again sailed for Norway aboard the carrier HMS Furious.

On 21 May two sections of the squadron managed to take off from the carrier, each led by a Swordfish, to fly to their new base at Bardufoss in northern Norway. At this stage driving sleet prevented the take off of any further aircraft, and indeed one section successfully landed back on board again. The other pair set off behind their guiding Swordfish, but overcast and mist now extended down to the water in Torskenfjord, and all three aircraft flew into the mountain at Torsken. Mills was injured, but 24-year-old Pilot Officer Walter Philip Richards (RAF no. 77340) in N5693 was killed when he crashed into a mountainside at Osterfjord, Senja Island. The wreckage of N5693 has been recovered and identified.
It is possible that Mills flew N5907 since according to unconfirmed sources a serial plate with N5907 has been found on the wreckage. However according to other sources N5907 was lost with HMS Glorious on 8 June 1940.

Mills was one of the pilots who traveled back to England with the MV Arandora Star, thus avoiding the loss of HMS Glorious.

The squadron reformed at Drem but Mills was promoted on 24 August and took command of 87 Squadron at Church Fenton.

On 1 December he was promoted to Squadron Leader.

He was posted away in December to the USA, as Assistant Air Attaché, to develop British training facilities. The RAF eventually had six schools there. Mills also personally briefed MR. Roosevelt at the White House on European operations.

On 1 June 1942 he was promoted to Wing Commander.

He did not return to the UK until 1945.

Mills ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

On 1 October 1946 he was promoted to Wing Commander.

He retired from the RAF on 20 October 1956 as a Wing Commander, retaining the rank of Group Captain.

Mills died in 1996.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 25/04/40 09:45 ca 1 He 111 (a) Destroyed Gladiator II   Lake Lesjaskog 263 Squadron
  25/04/40 14:00 1/2 He 111 (b) Shared destroyed Gladiator II   S Vinstra 263 Squadron
  25/04/40 14:00 1/2 He 111 (c) Shared damaged Gladiator II   Lake Lesjaskog 263 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) He 111 H of 4./LG 1 shot down. The crew was rescued.
(b) He 111 of Stab/LG 1 shot down to crash-land south of Vinstra, near Dombås at 14:00. The badly injured wireless operator shot himself. Feldwebel Hans Gutt and the rest of his crew were taken prisoners after setting the aircraft on fire.
(c) He 111 of 6./LG 1 damaged shortly after 14:00 with two of the crew wounded.

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
Men of the Battle of Britain - Kenneth G. Wynn, 1999 CCB Associates, ISBN 1-902074-10-6
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional information kindly provided by Birger Larsen.

Last modified 24 August 2022