Biplane fighter aces

The Commonwealth

Petty Officer (A) William Eric John Stockwell, RN

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. Petty Officer (A) Stockwell 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 Michael 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.
Meanwhile, following the reports of the British shipping, a heavy raid had been prepared, and this came in at dusk, when about 40 bombers approached, comprising 19 He 111s of I./KG 26 followed by 19 Ju 88s from I. and II./KG 30, the latter briefed to bomb naval oil supplies at Scapa. Ten Hurricanes from Wick based 43, 111, 605 Squadrons were scrambled. First off at 20:05 being Yellow Section of 111 Squadron. Flight Lieutenant Peter Powell, Flying Officer Henry Ferriss and Sergeant William Dymond managed to shoot down one Heinkel, 10-15 miles east of Burray before landing again at 21:15. This was an aircraft of Stab I./KG 26 flown by Feldwebel Busacker, and commanded by the Gruppenkommandeur, 45-year-old Oberstleutnant Hans Alefeld, who perished with his crew. Flying Officer G. R. Edge of 605 Squadron attacked three bombers, while Pilot Officer C. F. Currant expended all his ammunition into another, but no definite results were observed in either case.
The anti-aircraft defences claimed three bombers shot down and it seems that on this occasion their fire had been most effective. Two Ju 88s were lost, one 2./KG 30 machine (Oberfeldwebel Walter Brünn) failing to return after radioing an SOS that one engine had been lost due to a Flak hit, whilst a 4 Staffel machine flown by Leutnant Hans Hohendahl was also missing.
A dozen Sea Gladiators from 804 Squadron was also involved in this late combat. At 20:45 the evening the blitzkrieg began. Red Section were scrambled to Copinsay and 15-20 enemy aircraft were reported approaching from the east at 20,000ft, so Red patrolled at 18,000 feet between Copinsay and Burray. By 21:00hrs all Sections were in the sky and the party had started, the guns putting up an ugly barrage. Yellow had the first chase after an e/a, which was in a long dive towards Kirkwall and which peppered Kirkwall and Hatston with front guns. Yellow Section unfortunately could not keep pace though optimistic Yellow 3 [Petty Officer (A) Peacock] gave the e/a a burst at a very long range in order to ease his repressed fighting spirit.” Lieutenant Rodney Carver was at the head of Red Section, with Lieutenant Donald Gibson and Sub-Lieutenant David Ogilvy:
“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) 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.
In a Fighter Command Combat Report, Lieutenant Smeeton (Blue Leader) reported:
"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.
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."
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.
A German report of the action revealed:
“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.”

804 Squadron took part in both Norwegian Campaigns in April-May 1940 on board of HMS Glorious and HMS Furious.
In the end of May, the carriers returned to Scapa Flow on their return from Norway and here on 23 May the 804 Squadron went ashore to provide the defence of the Orkneys once more, flying in to Hatston again.
The squadron continued to operate from Hatston until September thus being one of two FAA squadrons operating with RAF Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain; the second was 808 Squadron.

On 15 November 1940, the carrier HMS Argus sailed from Gibraltar with twelve Hurricanes and two Skuas aboard, destined for Malta (Operation ’White’).
At dawn on 17 November 400 sea miles from Malta, the first flight of six Hurricanes took off at 06:15, with an FAA Skua acting as a navigating leader. One hour later the second flight took off and Stockwell flew the navigating Skua (L2987). Things went wrong. The Sunderland scheduled to escort them failed to take off from Gibraltar. They missed their landfall at Galite Island, failed to meet the bomber sent out to meet them and became lost. The Skua navigator radioed for help but his set was faulty and unable to receive replies. Stockwell searched for somewhere to land, as the Hurricanes ran out of fuel one by one and fell into the sea, with the loss of all six pilots.
Just as the Skua was about to run out of fuel, Stockwell sighted land through a curtain of mist – it was south-western Sicily. The aircraft was almost immediately fired on by Italian anti-aircraft defences and crash-landed on the beach at Punta Palo on the Isola delle Correnti, near Syracuse. Stockwell and his navigator were captured.

Skua L2987 on the beach at Punta Palo after Petty Officer Stockwell’s crash-landing on 17 November 1940.

Stockwell became a Commissioned Pilot on 18 February 1945.

Stockwell ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory.

He later served in 771 and 779 Squadrons.

He retired on 9 December 1950.

Stockwell died in 1992.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  10/04/40 21:20 1/3 He 111 (a) Shared destroyed Sea Gladiator   1m E Burray 804 Squadron

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.
(a) 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.

Sources:
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
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Those Other Eagles – Christopher Shores, 2004 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-904010-88-1
Additional information provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 24 August 2012