Percival Stanley "Stan" Turner was born in Ivybridge, Devon, England on September 3, 1913. His parents emigrated to Canada when he was a child to Toronto, Ontario. He grew up in Toronto thoroughly Canadian. Stan enjoyed swimming and earned his Red Cross certificate to become a life guard. He attended the University of Toronto studying engineering and flying part-time with No. 110 (Auxilliary) Squadron as an airman, where he earned his "wings". Prior to the war he applied to the RAF through the RCAF recruiting depot in Toronto through the "Direct Entry Scheme". At this time the RAF anticipated a war with Germany and were actively recruiting from England and the Dominions for men who could become operational quickly as they would already have pilots licenses. The RCAF and the government of Canada were slower in comprehending the danger of Hitler and were not actively recruiting at the time. He passed the exams and was accepted for a short service commission in October, 1938. At this time many of the recruits had completed, at their own expense, initial flight training and had a pilots license. He and a select group of young Canadian men were shipped to England that same month for training. He was made an Acting Pilot Officer on Jan. 14, 1939 based on his pilots license and apparent promise as a pilot.
Turner (back row, 2nd from right) and a group of other men heading to England, Oct. 1938
He passed through the initial training and the Operational Training Unit for fighters and was posted to No. 219 Squadron in October, 1939, exactly one year after being accepted. A month earlier war had been declared by England and France on Germany following their invasion of Poland. No. 219 was a night fighter squadron flying out of Catterick in north-east England. This posting was short lived as the Canadian government was anxious that a Canadian fighter squadron be formed in England from one of the new squadrons being formed for the war. The RCAF couldn't spare any men from Canada so the squadron was to be formed from Canadians in the RAF, the so-called CAN/RAF pilots. The squadron formed was thus called No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron, RAF at Church Fenton, Yorkshire on Oct. 30, 1939. Turner was posted to 242 (Canadian) Squadron along with most of the pilots that he had travelled with overseas. The Squadron Leader was S/L Fowler Morgan Gobeil of Ottawa a graduate of RMC, Kingston, an officer of the RCAF since 1937 and a member of their Siskin aerobatics team.
|Gobeil's first task was to fill out the Squadron with Pilot Officers from various RAF squadrons and the Training Pools and push them through to operational efficiency. November 5 and 6 saw a flood of young pilots arriving at the squadron, including one who was to rise quickly to fame, William McKnight (at left). Stan Turner was posted and arrived at Church Fenton on the 20th.|
The presence of the Canadian squadron was revealed to the Canadian public in a press release in December and suggested that 242 would shortly be a front-line unit, when they did not have any aircraft, nor had the RAF determined the type they would be flying. They started operational training with three Miles Master Mk I trainers, a North American Harvard trainer and a Fairey Battle light bomber. They all hoped to fly the hot, new Supermarine Spitfires, but instead seven Bristol Blenheim I light bombers showed up in December along with three more Battles. It appeared that they were to be a light bomber unit. The only fighters at Church Fenton were Gloster Gladiator biplanes from another squadron. The Deputy Flight Commander and the SL started in on familiarization flights, instrument flying, and twin engine familiarization in the Blenheims.
|The Canadian press descended on RAF Church Fenton to get the "gen" on Canada's fighter squadron. They generally got everything mixed up, assuming 242 was operational, and had been in dogfights over France. One published photo showed a pilot on his Spitfire's wing, (it was the Magister, although with it's Rolls Royce Kestrel engine it had the vague appearance of a Spitfire). Mathew Halton queried Stan Turner about the handling characteristics of the Spitfire, Stan had to side-slip the question as he had never been in a Spitfire and turned the conversation to other matters. When not flying, their days were filled with lectures on air force organisation, aircraft recognition, engines, tactics, signals, rigging, armament, battle orders and practising in the Link Trainer.|
|SL Gobeil was also busy pressuring the RCAF Liaison Officer to have 242 made a day-fighter unit with Spitfires. He reasoned, with some success, that the making of No. 242 a Blenheim unit would defeat the aim of firing the public imagination at home. The RCAF took up the quest with the RAF at higher levels. By mid-December the RAF decided to provide No. 242 with fighters, although they were Hawker Hurricanes, not Spitfires, and send them to France in exchange for one of the currently posted Hurricane squadrons. The Hurricanes were tougher than Spitfires and could handle the poor quality forward airfields in France. They were also more numerous so they formed the fighter squadrons in the field. Also, Churchill was very leery about sending his best fighters to a forlorn cause for fear some would be captured and so appraise the Germans of what awaited them.|
A Hawker Hurricane fighter.
On Jan. 5, 1940 SL Gobeil and five others, including Turner, went to St. Athan, South Wales to take delivery of the first of their Hurricanes. On the return they ran into bad weather and had to land where they could. FO Coe crashed on a force-land at Appleton and was killed. Gobeil nearly came to the same end, overturning on landing at Culceth. Fortunately, he came out unscathed. The others reached their waypoint at Ternhill without incident. On the 16th the three with aircraft tried for Church Fenton, the weather closed in again and they were forced down all over the midlands. Turner wrote off his aircraft in a spectacular crash that he was lucky to survive. It turned out to be the worst winter in over 40 years, with record snowfalls.
Finally, on Feb 10th the weather cleared enough to ferry more aircraft so that they soon had 12 Hurricanes to start fighter training on. Air Ministry orders were that No. 242 be operational for day AND NIGHT! operations by March 12, 1940. Poor weather and night flying caused their second fatality as PO Niccolls crashed into level ground at full speed one night. By March 11 everyone in the Squadron received their shots for overseas service. On March 23 the Squadron passed their operational exam by the Air Ministry and two days later A Flight undertook their first operational sorties. Over the next two days the two flights alternated doing "convoy duties" escorting ships. on April 4th two officers were posted to France to " recce" locations for 242 in France, the Adjutant and a senior PO went. They returned two days later. General movement orders were issued on the 10th with the intent that they were to move to the continent between the 14th and the 21st of April. But the Germans ruined their plans, as they did so many others.
On April 8th the Wehrmacht supported by the Luftwaffe invaded Denmark and the next day, Norway. The "Phoney War" was over, the Blitzkrieg war of the Germans had resumed. On May 10th, 1940 the German offensive on France began with simultaneous attacks on Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and France. The RAF had six fighter Squadrons on the Continent, four more were dispatched immediately to support them. On May 13th Fighter Command sent a further 32 pilots as replacements. This move included orders for No. 242 to go to France. Then they were recinded and only four officers were ordered to France to fly with other units. FL Sullivan, and POs Grassick, McKnight and Turner were selected, leaving that evening. Six more pilots left two days later.
They reported to No. 607 Squadron at Vitry-en-Artois and were immediately thrust into battle attempting to stem the tide of Germans flooding into France. Their first combat sorties found a large group of Henschel Hs-126 army cooperation aircraft guarded by Messerschmitt Bf-109s. A fierce battle arose, with the Germans losing ten aircraft and the British four. One of the four was FL Sullivan, apparently killed in his parachute by a German fighter.
McKnight and Grassick were posted to No. 615 Squadron while Turner stayed in No. 607. Turner's logbook for this period was lost, and he didn't seem that assiduous in keeping it up, anyhow. The British squadrons fought a losing battle in a rapidly deteriorating situation. The momentum was in favour of the Germans who had burst through the Ardennes Forest flanking the French defensive Maginot Line. There was little to stop them as they slaughtered the French tanks and infantry units being committed piece-meal and the English troops were forced back to the coast at Dunkirk. Belgium and Holland were quickly overrun. The rest of the Squadron was ordered to France on the 16th of May arriving at Lille/Seclin. Ironically, the ground crews were flown to the continent in a Sabena Airlines Junkers Ju-52 transport. They started operations in company with No. 85 Squadron.
On May 18th McKnight, Turner and Grassick were ordered back to England, arriving there the same day in their Hurricanes. They were granted 7 days leave, although it was recinded quickly, they were quicker and made good their escape. By May 19th the squadron was forced to fall back further as the Germans advanced. They were heavily engaged with Bf-109s and Heinkel He-111 bombers attacking their bases and allied troops. By the 21st they were all ordered back to England with their Hurricanes. The ground crews were evacuated from Boulogne arriving in Dover shortly thereafter. They all received their baptism of fire, knocking down some six enemy aircraft and losing four of their pilots (one dead, one POW and two wounded).
Finally, the entire Squadron was put together at Biggin Hill by May 21st. They were now committed to Operation Dynamo, the extraction of the British Expeditionary Force and French units from Dunkirk. They flew combat patrols over the coast of France in the Arras, Albert, Frevent area to prevent German combat aircraft from the Dunkirk beaches. Their loses mounted rapidly, within two days they lost one pilot wounded, two killed and one POW. The next day (24th) two more pilots were killed when they collided over the sea. One Hurricane chewed the tailplane off the other, then they crumpled together and spun into the water. Their successes climbed as well, with at least four German aircraft downed. The 25th saw another loss to the squadron when a pilot force-landed in England and sustained serious head injuries. Turner rejoined them on May 25th a bit early from leave, McKnight and Grassick arrived back on the 26th. By the 27th they had only 12 pilots left, and Operation Dynamo was now fully underway.
Fighter Command put what resources it had into supporting the withdrawal from Dunkirk with some 20 Squadrons covering the ships. However, as in the case of 242 Squadron, hardly any of them were up to their full complement. The RAF could either fly a lot of small patrols continuously over the beaches but would not be able to exert command of the air, or they could fly in a few large patrols during which time they could dominate the air war. They tried the first, but eventually settled on the latter. Their task was simple but crucial, to cover the area between Furnes and Dunkirk, beating off any German aircraft that might come near the BEF and the Armée de France.
No. 242 Squadron flew uneventful sorties on the 27th, but were into the thick of the fighting on the 28th. On their 2nd mission of the day five pilots, including Stan Turner, became separated from the rest in cloud. The section leader spotted a dog-fight some three miles inland and was heading for it when they were distracted by twelve Bf-109s, these they attacked instead. Their small formation was in turn attacked by some sixty 109s. The section leader had fallen out of control after attacking a German and headed back to England low over the water. Two others were shot down, one of whom was killed instantly. Turner engaged a 109 and out manoeuvered it, getting in two bursts from 150 yards. The Messerschmitt went down in flames and PO Turner escaped into clouds and returned to base. The other pilot was Bill McKnight who shot down a 109 but claimed that he was in turn hit in the engine, losing his oil and coolant systems. In his words he reached Manston after "a determined and sustained chase by the enemy". However, Stan Turner told a different story after the war. While escaping in the cloud he fired at a shape that cruised past, which turned out to be McKnight's Hurricane. He blew off the oil sump and nearly shot down his friend. Back at Manston MnKnight angrily confronted Turner, then broke down with laughter. Mistaken identity was common in air battles and McKnight fudged his report to protect Turner.
On June 8, the entirety of 242 Squadron was sent back to France, the pilots joined with No. 17 RAF and flew to Le Mans, southwest of Paris. Two Divisions of English Army remained in France and more (including the 1st Canadian Div.) were being sent. No. 242 was to provide air cover for them. Stan recalled that "The battle by then was so confused, it was often difficult to tell friend from foe." Beside the runway was a wrecked Hurricane, the result of a fatal crash by the New Zealand ace "Cobber" Kain while stunting. The CO thought the wreck would impress on the pilots the stupidity of aerobatic flying. Their stay was short, they refueled and took off for Chateaudun NW or Oleans. Their aircrew flew in on Bristol Bombays and Handley-Page Harrow transports. Their accomodation at Chateaudun was a set of large bell tents.
On June 9 Turner shot down a pair of German fighters. His friend Don MacQueen was attacked by two 109s. Turner tried to get to him in time and radioed for him to bail out, but MacQueen was shot down in flames and killed. In a cold fury Turner in turn shot down one of his attackers and then another later on.
Shortly after arriving in France Stan and his wingman were forced down in a wheat field due to lack of fuel. They were quickly surrounded by hostile French farmers. There were a few frantic minutes until they convinced the natives that they were with the RAF and not the Luftwaffe, although this did not guarantee a warm welcome.
Their duties were to provide air cover for retreating French army units and to cover the important port of Le Havre, as it was their evacuation port. On June 13 there was a fire in one of their bell tents, all of the men escaped from it but their clothing went up in flames. The German ground advance was threatening their airfield so they tried to pull back, but all of the airfields behind them were choked with aircraft. They remained at Chateaudun for the 14th, which left the ground crews an important few hours to round up some trucks to move themselves.
It was clear that the Allied fight in France was rapidly coming to an end, on June 14 the Germans occupied Paris with a triumphal march down the Champs Elysees. No. 242 Squadron was ordered back to Nantes and met up with their ground crew.
For their losses of 7 pilots, 2 wounded and 1 invalided they shot down roughly 30 German aircraft. Turner and McKnight were leading most of the patrols by now as they were the most experienced pilots. The ground crews left for St. Nazaire to be shipped out so now the pilots had to do everything, including arming and re-fueling their aircraft. It was a gruelling time with long days and nights spent under the wings of their Hurricanes to ensure that no one would saboutage them. Turner recalled:
"One night we went into Nantes, and soon wished we hadn't. As we came out of a bar, we were sniped at - probably by another Fifth Columnist. We beat it back to the airfield and found the canteen tent abandoned. It was loaded with liquor, so we had a party. Willie McKnight, I remember, refused to drink from a glass. Whenever he needed a drink, he reached for a bottle, smashed the neck, and took it straight.
The day France surrendered, French soldiers set up machine-guns along our runway. "All aircraft are grounded," an officer told us. "there's to be no more fighting from French soil." We saw red. A brawl was threatening when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me was a British army officer, who had come out of the blue. "Go ahead and take off," he said. "I'll look after these chaps." He pointed to his platoon which had set up a machine-gun covering the French weapons. The French officer shrugged and left.
Time was running out. The Germans were over the Loire River and heading towards us. On June 18 we flew a last patrol over Brest and made a couple of sorties inland.
Later that day they were ordered to evacuate. The pilots destroyed several Hurricanes that they couldn't get started and then smashed the canteen.
"All that booze - it was heartbreaking. We armed and fuelled our aircraft and climbed in. We were a wild-looking bunch, unshaven, scruffily dressed, exhausted, grimed with dirt and smoke. We were also in a pretty Bolshie mood. After weeks of fighting we were all keyed up. Now that the whole shebang was over, there was a tremendous let-down feeling. As we headed for England we felt not so much relief as anger. We wanted to hit something, and there was nothing to hit. The skies were empty - not a German in sight - and the ground below looked deserted too. It was all very sunny and peaceful, and quite unreal. As if the war didn't exist. But we knew the real war had only just begun."
France sued for peace and Hitler occupied the northern half of the country and the channel ports, the rest was governed by the Vichy collaborationist government.
Fighter Command had been mauled in the Battle of France. It had weeded out the inadequate aircraft, like the suicidal Boulton-Paul Defiant and the Bristol Blenheim, and showed deficient tactics, like unescorted bombers, and low-level bombing by unescorted aircraft. All RAF fighter squadrons, except three in Scotland, had been in France and had all lost heavily. Many experienced men had died. The Army had lost all of their armour and artillery and much of their transport. The First Canadian Division was the best equipped unit in England. Only 200 inadequate tanks existed to meet the Panzers should they ever get a toe-hold in England. The situation was grim indeed.
Hugh Halliday in his 242 Squadron history wrote: "The remnant of No. 242 Squadron was assembled at Coltishall, near Norwich. They were demoralized, and unkempt, angry at their ejection from France and what they perceived to be official indifference. Turner and others characterized their feelings at this time as "Bolshi" (short for Bolshevic) a term used to indicate rebellion against Airforce authority. It was time for a change. SL Gobeil was removed and a new CO arrived. On artificial legs!"
SL Douglas Bader came stumping into A Flight's hut with his Adjutant. He received a frosty reception from the Canadians. The pilots were all down at the dispersal huts, on readiness, when he arrived. At 'A' flight's hut, Bader pushed the door open and stumped in unheralded. From his lurching walk the Canadians knew who he was. A dozen pair of eyes surveyed him coolly. No one got up. Hands stayed in pockets. The room was silent. Watchful.
At last Bader said, "Who's in charge here?" No one answered.
Well, who's the senior?" Again no answer, although men looked at one another inquiringly.
"Isn't anyone in charge?" A large dark young man said: "I guess not."
Bader eyed them a little longer, anger flaring, turned abruptly and went out.
In 'B' flight dispersal the eyes again stared silently. "Who's in charge here?" he asked.
After a while a thick-set young man with wiry hair and a face chipped out of granite rose slowly and said, "I guess I am." He had the single ring of a flying officer on his sleeve.
"What's your name?"
"Turner ..." he paused, "sir."
Bader informed Turner and the others that they were a disgrace to their uniforms and their service and that he intended to knock them into shape. What did they think of that?
"Horseshit," said Turner. Another pause. "Sir."
With that Bader was on the defensive. He realized that he had to prove himself to these angry, demoralized airmen. He turned and stumped out of the hut and over to a Hurricane. The fitter gave him a hand getting in and he showed No. 242 what he was made of. He showed them a flawless demonstration of aerobatic flying, despite the fact that he had never been in a Hurricane. When he slid off the wing he didn't even glance at the pilots clustered around the flight-hut door. He stumped off to his car and drove away. The Canadians were impressed.
Later he called the pilots to his office and silently eyed the rumpled uniforms, the preference for turtle-neck sweaters instead of shirts and ties, the long hair and general untidy air. At last he spoke: "You're a scruffy lot. A good squadron looks smart. I don't want to see flying boots or sweaters in the mess. You will wear shoes and shirts and ties. Is that clear?"
It was a mistake. Turner said unemotionally, in his deep, slow Canadian voice: "Most of us don't have any shoes or shirts or ties except what we're wearing."
"What d'you mean?" Bader said aggressively.
"We lost everything in France." With a trace of cynacism, Turner explained the chaos of the running fight, how they had apparently been deserted by authority, shunted about, welcome nowhere, separated from their ground staff 'til it had been every man for himself, each pilot servicing his own aircraft, and sleeping under his own wing. The squadron had suffered nearly 50 percent casualties. When the end had come they had flown back across the Channel. Since then things had not greatly improved and they were drifting. There was no self-pity in Turner's story, only a restrained anger.
"I'm sorry," said Bader. "I apologise for my remarks." He then loaned them what spare kit he had and personally guaranteed their purchases in Norwich at uniform shops. Then he talked over their fighter experience and went flying with each of them. In the mess that evening he won them over completely with his charm. Finally one pilot put down his empty pint pot and said, "Hell, sir, we were scared you were going to be another goddam figurehead".
Within two weeks No. 242 Squadron was a cohesive unit. They undertook a period of intensive training. They achieved the highest scores on the RAF air firing range ever posted. Apparently their Bolshie attitudes were being overcome by Bader, the upcoming emergency and plain hard work. Bader lived for his squadron and expected all his men to do likewise. He was everywhere on the base overseeing all activities. As Turner said to West, the squadron engineering officer: "Legs or no legs, I've never seen such a goddam mobile fireball."
RAF 242 Sqdn, 1940. L to R: Crowley-Milling, Tamblyn, Turner, Saville, Campbell, McKnight, Bader, Ball, Homer, Brown
The muscular Stan Turner was not a mild man himself, having a large capacity for beer and a penchant for firing off a revolver in public. The Wing Commander had suggested: "You ought to get rid of that chap. He's too wild". But Bader saw eye-to-eye with Turner, a first-class pilot, fearless and decisive.
|Their aerial tactics remained the same vics of three aircraft. All who had served in France and survived understood the versatility of the German finger-four tactics, but there was no time to re-train even the veteran pilots. Bader loosened up the vic and used several weavers to watch their tails. This helped somewhat but the German aerial tactics remained superior until the English had the winter to revise their manuals and train pilots.|
Vics of Hurricanes from RAF 242.
A schwarm of Bf 109Es in finger-four formation.
They were declared operational on July 9, 1940. Their first sorties were to patrol over a convoy. Most historians have agreed that the Battle of Britain occurred from July 10 to October 31, 1940. The initial period involved skirmishing and the probing of aerial defences by the Germans. The next few days saw a lot of small actions as they tested the aerial defenses of southern and eastern England. No. 242 was kept busy for most of July flying cover for convoys and covering the south-eastern part of England. Sporadic interceptions showed that No. 242 was not in the main part of the battle.
Denis Crowley-Milling, then a Pilot Officer with 242 who rose to become Air Marshal, stated "As young and inexperienced pilots, we were often too excited and fired our guns too early, from too far away. Fortunately, the armourers put tracer in toward the end of the ammo load, so that one would come up with a jolt and realise one didn't have much ammo left. It might have been better for us if they had put the tracer in first ..." Interspersing tracer was something that would later become standard practice so the pilot could see his stream of bullets.
Coltishall, an airfield controlled by No. 12 Group under Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, was on the northern flank of the primary battle area, and action was correspondingly sporadic. However, on August 19th German aircraft raided the field, killing two men and slightly damaging a building. One of the new pilots who took off after the bombers spun into the ocean, being killed on impact. A series of small German missions by three aircraft each kept them occupied for several days with nothing to show for it.
On August 30 the squadron was ordered to fly from Coltishall to Duxford, close to London. They did this in the morning, returning to Coltishall in the early evening. This put them into the prime battle area at the peak of the battle. That afternoon they were sent on a scramble to intercept bombers approaching North Weald aerodrome. Bader led the way west to get the sun behind them. They spotted a large force of Bf-110 Zerstörers and bombers. Bader charged into the midst of them, scattering their formation and making them all the more vulnerable to the Hurricanes. They downed 12 Germans that afternoon, although Turner did not fly.
From Aug. 31 to Sept 6 they patrolled over Duxford, Northolt, North Weald and Hornchurch without contacting the enemy. That is not to say they weren't there, terrific air battles were being fought, by other Squadrons. So far the Luftwaffe were concentrating on RAF fields in the south and east of England in areas where they would have to dominate during the invasion, Operation Seelowe (Sealion). But on Aug. 24 about 100 Luftwaffe bombers aimed for the Thameshaven oil refinery. This they missed but hit a residential area causing large fires and heavy civilian casualties. The English retaliated and bombed Berlin the next night. Now began a vicious retaliation/counter-retalian cycle that Goering felt the Luftwaffe capable of winning. He also thought the RAF was nearly through, although he was wrong on both counts. The Bf-109 without extra fuel tanks was operating at it's limit over London, they barely had 10 minutes fighting time at normal throttle before they had to head back to France. Many didn't make it because they ran out of fuel.
Sept. 7 started like many others had, No. 242 flew down to Duxford from Coltishall and joined Nos. 19 and 310 flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. With these they made up the "Duxford Wing". Just before 5 PM they were all scrambled to meet an incoming force of bombers and fighters. Bader took them up to 15,000 feet and found enemy aircraft 5,000 feet higher yet. Between 70 and 90 bombers in a tight box were protected by higher flying Bf-110s and Bf-109s higher yet. They slammed the throttles through the gates into maximum boost and cut off the attack. Turner was leading Green section, the last of the Hurricanes to hit the fray. As he approached the dogfight he saw a Bf-110 shot down in flames by Bader's section. He then fired at a 110 but before he could press home the attack he had to avoid a 109. Turner outmanoeuvred this one and gave it a good burst of machine-gun fire and saw it go into a dive. Another 109 jumped him, he snapped off a quick burst and took evasive action. His final score was a single damaged 109, despite the fierceness of the fight. The rest of the Squadron downed 10 German aircraft for the loss of one pilot and many damaged Hurricanes from wickedly accurate defensive fire from the bombers.
|Sept. 15 opened with mist but with a promise of good weather. The Germans sent over a few recce sorties in the early morning. By 11 AM the British radar plotters had a large force assembling over France. Only 30 minutes later 100 Do-17 bombers with a larger number of fighter escorts crossed the Channel.|
|It was to be the peak of the fighting for the Battle of Britain. The entire Duxford Wing, now consisting of five fighter squadrons, and four other squadrons were launched at the massive attack. It was the perfect defensive attack. The British had the advantage of height, and sun. The three Hurricane squadrons (242, 302 and 310) were at 23,000 feet in line abreast and the two Spitfire Squadrons (19 and 611) were stepped up at 26,000 feet. The Germans were at 17,000 with the escorting Bf-109s hovering close around. This proved to be a faulty tactic that the German bomber commanders insisted on. The German fighters didn't have room to manoeuver or to intercept the British fighters before they were through their protective screen and into the bombers.|
|It was disastrous for the Luftwaffe. No. 242 Squadron alone shot down 4 bombers and 2 fighters for only 1 Hurricane lost. Others claimed a further 23 destroyed and 8 probables. There was a great danger of colliding with another British fighter as there were so many twisting and firing at the bombers and fighters. Turner shot down a Do-17. Bader was given the credit for his fine timing in positioning his squadron and attacking out of the sun.|
|After a hurried lunch they were again airborne that day just after 2 PM. Climbing through clouds, AA bursts ahead showed them that the Germans this time had the height advantage. The Messerschmitts dove into the British fighters, the Hurricanes wheeled after them and the Spitfires went after the Dorniers.|
At the start of the battle Turner lined up a quick shot on a 109 and saw his bullets hit. The German spun out of control making him think the pilot was dead. But he couldn't watch that one any longer, a cannon shell exploded near the tail of his Hurricane throwing him into a spin. He dove through the clouds and pulled up near a Do-17. He attacked from the side with full deflection. The right-hand engine started smoking and fell into a gradual dive to explode on the banks of the Thames. His tail unit was on fire and Stan was seriously considering bailing out over the Thames Estuary when he flew through a rain-heavy cloud. To his great relief the cloud extinguished the fire. Being well out of the battle with a damaged Hurricane and low on ammunition he returned to base. He received a destroyed and a probable credit for the day.
On Sept. 16 Turner was jumped from a Pilot Officer to a Flight Lieutenant and given the job of "B" Flight Commander. Bader found that the added responsibility curbed Turner's wildness.
Following further successful battles with the Luftwaffe a set of medals were awarded to the pilots of 242, Turner received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Distinguished Flying Cross - Flight Lieutenant Percival Stanley Turner (October 8th, 1940)
On September 15th, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Turner succeeded in shooting down one enemy aircraft when his own aircraft was hit by a cannon shell which put it temporarily out of control. On recovery he saw and attacked a further enemy aircraft, which he destroyed, afterwards bringing his own damaged aircraft safely back to its base. This officer has personally destroyed a total of ten hostile aircraft during engagements over Dunkirk and England. He has proved himself a most courageous and capable leader, displaying coolness and initiative in the face of the enemy.
Sept 27th was the last of their participation in the heavy fighting of the Battle of Britain. They were back to patrolling from Coltishall and Duxford but few enemy aircraft showed themselves. They returned to Coltishall at the end of November and to Martlesham Heath for December.
The Luftwaffe had exhausted itself in the Battle of Britain, so that the RAF went on the offensive in early 1941. They began a series of offensive missions against German air units, aerodromes and military installations in Occupied France, Belgium and Holland. These missions were code named "Circuses" and were flown by a few bombers with massive fighter support. Turner and 11 others flew with the first Circus to Guines aerodrome near Calais. Their duty along with another squadron was to provide forward support by shooting up St. Inglevert airfield to tie down the 109 fighters. Two days later they continued with a "Mosquito" mission, later named "Rhubarbs" for their low-level flight plan. SL Bader and FL Turner conducted the first as an armed pair of low flying (600 feet max.) fighters. Half way across the Channel they spotted a pair of German Schnell or "E" boats and a converted fishing boat. They turned in towards them and, in loose formation, attacked. Bader described it in his report:
"Both opened fire together at a height of 50 feet and speed 200 mph. Saw bullets strike water ahead of "E" boat and then hitting "E" boat. Got one burst from front guns of "E" boat - no damage. F/Lt. Turner having converged slightly on me, turned away to avoid slip stream as we passed over "E" boat. One burst from drifter before I opened fire and none as my bullets struck drifter. Passed over drifter and made for home with F/Lt Turner in formation. Did not stop to observe damage to boats but "E" boat must have had a lot as we could see bullets from 16 guns hitting the boat; drifter probably did not receive much damage - probably killed a few of the crew."
The pilots were exhilerated at this new low-level attack mission, but they were lucky and had liekly surprised the E-boats. Low level attackes turned out to be extremely deadly. The same day as Bader and Turner's mission FO Willie McKnight and another pilot attacked ground targets along the coast. McKnight, the squadron's leading ace, died in the attack, likely hit by anti-aircraft ground fire. Also that same day FO Latta was killed in another low-level attack of dubious value to the war effort. In one day the Squadron lost some of their most experienced pilots in return for little damage to the Germans. This was to be the pattern for Rhubarbs, with some other notable losses in the RAF, such as fighter ace WC Stanford Tuck.
On Feb. 8 Turner, leading two others, was scrambled to intercept an approaching aircraft. Despite cloud and haze they intercepted an all black Do-17 bomber. Avoiding the defensive fire Turner lit into it destroying the right wing and fuselage, setting one engine smoking. It escaped into the cloud and one wingman went after it. He was heard over RT that he was landing in the sea, so Turner quit hunting the Dornier and went to look for his wingman. He never found him. No one did. His body was never recovered. On Feb. 15 Turner damaged a Ju-88 over the North Sea, and intercepted a 109 in the afternoon but lost it in cloud. At the end of February, they received a new aircraft, sort of. It wasn't Spitfires, but the 12-gun Hurricane IIa. March 18 saw SL Douglas Bader promoted to Wing Commander of the Tangmere Wing (145, 610 and 616 Squadrons), in his place came SL Treacy.
April was a disastrous month for No. 242 with the loss of six pilots, including FL Tamblyn, one of the few original pilots left. Three pilots, including SL Treacy died in a single mid-air collision. Bader had problems of his own, he had to rest the SL of 145 Squadron and asked the AOC, AVM Trafford Leigh-Mallory, for Turner.
"By all means," replied Leigh-Mallory. "I'm glad you asked for Turner because he is getting to be a bit of a nuisance in objecting to flying with anyone else."
The AOC no doubt was recalling Stan's reactin about a month before when he had promoted Bader to W/C Flying. Stan was present and, with his pipe stem jabbed right into Leigh-Mallory's chest, saild "look here, Sir, you can't go and post our CO away because we won't work for anyone else." No doubt the AOC was peleased to get Turner out of his way. On the 13th FL Turner was promoted to Squadron Leader and sent to command No. 145 Squadron.
No. 145 Squadron was still flying the Spitfire II on sweeps over France and Turner made a quick transition from the Hurricane to the Spitfire in a day. The next day he lead 145 Sq. in a historical sweep over France called Circus No. 1 - the first large-scale operation over France by Fighter Command. A veritable horde of Spitfires (36 from Tangmere, 36 from Biggin Hill and others for target support and rear cover) escorted a group of Blenheims to raid Cherbourg. The Luftwaffe declined to rise to the bait.
As the Germans had made several successful raids on Tangmere, Bader spread his squadrons out, 145 was posted to nearby Merston at night and flew from Tangmere in the day. The other innovation was the implementation of the finger four technique, identical to what the Germans were using at the time. It was also during this period that Turner developed his style of leading men in action. He demanded instant attention to his orders and promptly got rid of men who did not do as he instructed. Finally, in June, on a sweep of the Le Touquet area the Germans came up to do battle, the first sign that the Luftwaffe were still in operation. But the German high command surprised everyone with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.
On June 25 they flew two Circuses, the second netted Turner a destroyed. Over Westhampnett he spotted some 109s about to attack the other squadrons and drove them off. More Bf-109s appeared and he led his squadron on another dive this time with more solid results. At 300 yards he fired a large deflection volley that hit his target square in the fusilage, streaming white and black smoke the German plunged to the ground. However, a fighter pilot who stays fixated on his victem, soon becomes one himself, so Turner did not follow the final dive of his opponent. He claimed a probably destroyed.
In early July they finally received a much needed update in equipment, the Spitfire Va, with which to effectively combat the new Messerschmitt Bf-109F. It came with a more powerful engine and in place of six 0.303 machine guns it packed four 0.303 mgs and a pair of 20 mm cannons. In late July he downed a 109 in his old stomping ground east of Dunkirk, although it was nearly the death of him. They were loitering at 3 - 4,000 feet waiting for bombers to escort when they were bounced by 8 Bf-109s. They turned to evade them and repositioned themselves behind the fleeing Germans. They, however, made the mistake of turning back towards the Spitfires without climbing first. This gave Turner a shot at one that apparently did no damage, his wingman chased another down low over the Channel, leaving Turner alone. Four 109s kept him busy exchanging shots but none hit him as he twisted and turned away from them. Another 7 109s joined the fray and made everything a confused mess as Turner used their numbers against them. They generally got in each other's way. Finally seeing a chance he dove out of the fight to England. His wingman had made it made after killing his quarry and reported that Stan's first shots must have killed the 109 pilot as he had dove straight into the Channel. This raised his total to 10 1/3 destroyed (3 unconfirmed), 1 probable, 4 damaged.
Johnnie Johnson, Britain's No. 1 ace, was at that time a pilot in 616 Sq. He recalled Turner:
"Fearless and a great leader. He was given the most difficult job of all - that of top cover to ourselves and No. 610 Squadron. Teh Messerschmitt 109F possessed a higher ceiling than our Spitfire IIs, so that they still sqarmed above our formations; and Stan's task was to hold his squadron togther in their high sundown position and ward off the highest 109s. He was always there with his boys; always fanning across the skyin the right position; and always ready to chortle some ribald comment over the radio ... The Wing was far weaker after Turner's departure, for during the last few weeks we had fought hard together, and it would take a long time to work up the new squadron".
He led this squadron in this area on sweeps until October, 1941, receiving a bar to his DFC in August. The Citation read:
This officer had led his squadron on all sweeps over France, and has set a splendid example by his quiet coolness in the face of the enemy. he has been resposible for the destruction of at least 12 enemy aircraft."
Turner tried like a fury to prevent his posting out of 145 Squadron, and from posting the squadron on easier duties, but to no avail. He was given a two month rest by being posted as the Staff Operations Officer to 82 Group HQ in Northern Ireland until Dec., 1941. This also got him acquainted with the command structure and staff.
He was next given command of No. 411 RCAF (Grizzly) Squadron, although he remained in the RAF (they called such men CAN/RAF pilots). Discipline in 411 was poor and losses were mounting. Stan applied his furious energy and command to pull them together. They continued the same sweeps, and bomber escorts over France and the low countries. When in Fedruary he was posted out the Squadron diary read: Information received that S/L Turner, DFC & Bar, is to be posted Overseas shortly." A rush of applications followed for the same posting, all but that of P/O McNair were turned down. Stan was heading to the most active air front in the war, Malta. Stan was a fast learner, and had developed a reputation for being able to impart the new concepts of flying the 'finger four' formation to other pilots in a minimum of time, and was capable of pulling a bunch of trained men together into an efficient fighting team, a Fighter Squadron. In Feb. 1942, he was given command of 249 Squadron on Malta.
He was not only to command 249 Squadron, he was also tasked with revitalizing the entire fighter operations on Malta by getting all of the squadrons up to speed on the new tactics just prior to them converting from Hurricane IICs to Spitfire Vs. Laddie Lucas in his book "Malta, The Thorn in Rommel's Side" tells the story of Turner's time on Malta very well.
Prior to leaving for Malta Turner met and inspected several of his new officers. Lucas relates:
The Canadian squadron leader, whom I did not know, but to whom I would later owe so much, stepped forward as I came perfunctorily to attention. His first action was to flick apart my unbuttoned service greatcoat, which I had not yet removed. A cursory glance inside confirmed the absence of any decoration underneath the wings on my tunic. A look of decrepating disdain showed at once on his face. A flight lieutenant without a gong was hardly worth a damn.
Our first impression of Stan Turner was distinctly unpromising. Apparently unforthcoming and uncommunicative, he took no trouble to hide his belief that anyone who came from 10 Group of Fighter Command was largely beyond the pale, by comparison with his adherents from 11 Group in southeast England.
Turner had already become something of a legend, although I did not know it. Maybe this was one reason for the stiff reception.
Now this rugged and curiously diffident exponent was being sent out to Malta to sharpen up the Island's flying, what little there was of it considering its paucity of serviceable aeroplanes. For an officer who had already had a basinful - and showed it - it was quite an undertaking. What Turner was able to accomplish in his first month in the Mediterranean deserves a place in the history books. His was an unforgettable contribution of which, at this first meeting, he gave not the slightest hint.
Two days earlier the German Navy and Luftwaffe had managed to get the pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen past England via the Channel and into German waters. This extraordinary escapade had the effect of projecting our leader's acute operational mind, which was by now super-allergic even to the mention of the Luftwaffe's fighter aircraft, well forward to the affairs of the next day. Having told us that we would be leaving early by Sunderland flying boat for Gibraltar, en route for Malta, he added a cautionary rider.
"You guys may as well know that we'll be skirting Brest in broad daylight as we head down south for the Bay of Biscay and Gib. But if it helps any, remember that, for this party with the ships, the Hun will have moved all of the 109s and 190s from the Brest peninsula up to the Pas de Calais to fly the cover through the Straits. It's unlikely that they will have returned so soon. Breakfast will be at 0530."
As he mentioned the 109s and the 190s, I noticed that Stan, out of habit, swivelled his head round and was searching the ceiling for imaginary aircraft from 5 o'clock to 7 o'clock, 5000 feet above.
Next morning the weather was poor, blowing strongly and making it questionable for a takeoff in a flying boat. To the flying boat commander he stated "You're the captain of this aeroplane and it's up to you and your flying control masters - no one else - to make the decision. But if it's marginal, then let's get the hell out". It was a characteristic stance. They got off with their fair share of bruises from smacking into the waves during takeoff.
It was a curious fact of war that for a fighter pilot, accustomed to being alone in a small cockpit, doing everything busily for himself in the air, the role of passenger in a great hulk of an aircraft, with nothing whatever to do save sit, wait and listen, did not come easily. With Turner, the unease was manifested by a continuous vigil at one of the portholes on the port (enemy coast) side of the Sunderland. What good it would have done him - or anyone else - had he happened to see with his acute eyes a single or twin-engined fighter was not explained. But it clearly tempered his up-tight nervous system to be vigilant.
His behaviour showed to the observant that after the trials of France, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain and the sweeps over enemy-occupied territory, all of which covered the best part of two pretty hectic operational years, Stan's nerve-ends were raw and exposed. It was a little difficult to understand what the forthcoming Malta experience was going to do for this condition save exacerbate it. After all the fighting, Stan was strung up so tight you almost felt you could 'ping' him.
Two days later, as the Sunderland flying boat touched gently down on the waters of Kalafrana Bay at the start of a perfect spring day, evidence of the deficiency of the Hurricane was provided almost at once. After twenty-one hours in the air from England, it wasn't a sight to gladden a tentative heart.
As the tender took us from the aircraft to the quayside, and we began to make our way to the nearby Mess for what would purport to be breakfast, the sirens began wailing out their warning of the Germans' first air raid of the day. Turner, who was in the van of the party, quickened his step and started scanning the brightening sky. Within moments, the sound of fighter aircraft, climbing at full bore, heralded a scene which was to issue ominous notice of events to come.
A strung-out, antiquated VIC of five Hurricanes, breathlessly clambering to gain height, was heading south-east out of the early morning haze in a palpably forlorn quest to achieve some sort of position from which to strike at the incoming raid.
High above, three sections of four Me-109s in open line-abreast formation were racing at will across the powdered sky, the 'blue note' of their slow-revving Daimler-Benz engines spelling out a message of unmistakable supremacy.
Stan Turner, empty pipe turned upside down in his mouth, gazed up, astonished, as the Hurricanes were soon lost in the haze. Stunned by what he had seen, he removed the pipe from between his teeth. "Good God!" he muttered, and hurried on to the Mess.
The impact of the scene we were now confronted with in Malta was overwhelming. But it wasn't just the endless bark of gunfire, the sceam of bombs or the extensive rubble which had once been sand-coloured stone buildings that made for us, the impact. It wasn't only the lack of fuel and transport and, with it, the immobility ... It wasn't solely the monotony of the food and the predictable diet of McConachie's stew or bully beef, local 'gharry grease' for margarine, hard biscuits, bitter 'half-caste' bread or the paucity of it all; nor was it the surprise at seeing the spare look of squadron pilots and the pinched, drawn faces of those who had been sweating it out on the Island for weeks and months, without rest or respoite, in unequal combat with a superior enemy; nor, again had it al to do with the diminishing aircraft strength and the absence of spare parts with which to maintain serviceability.
It was something much more comprehensive. It was the primitiveness of everything and the governing lack of essentials in Malta by comparison with the well-endowed, orderly stations we had left behind so recently in Fighter Command, with their profusion of stores, supplies, equipment of all kinds and even aeroplanes. We realized that here, on this battered and isolated Island set in a mainly hostile sea, everything had to be improvised. The do-it-yourself, make-do-and-mend, cobble-the-parts-of-three-damaged-aircraft-together-to-make-one-fly concept ruled everywhere. This was what overwhelmed us, and the remoteness of the place - 1000 miles or so from Gibraltar in the west and some 800 or 900 from Alexandria in the east, with the enemy controlling much of the coastline to the north and to the south.
"Goddam this," said Turner dismissively, as he clambered into a front seat beside me on the bus. It wasn't exactly clear to what or at whom his brief comment was directed. I assumed that is was intended to be all-embracing.
The modern concept had not yet percolated the old Hurricane squadrons in Malta and this is where Percival Stanley Turner, who had flown the line abreast, finger-four principle with such signal success with the Tangmere Wing, made his mark on the Island and at Takali in particular. In the introduction of his instant change of tactics I was a learner, a first-hand witness, an accomplice and an accessory after the fact. What Turner was to achieve against some initial, outmoded and deep-seated opposition in his first five or six weeks in Malta, during the critical transition from Hurricanes to Spitfires, deserves a place in the history of the Mediterranean war. It stamped the Canadian with Lloyd, the AOC, and the recently installed Group Captain A.B. Woodhall, who quickly became the Service's outstanding controller of the war, as a principal architect of victory in this gruelling contest. From an operational standpoint, the circumstances which Stan Turner and his other newly arrived cohorts found at Takali were lamentable and catastrophic. Out of some sixty or seventy aircraft in varying states of damage and disrepair, there was a daily average of a dozen serviceable Hurricane IIs on the Island against Kesselring's front-line strength of some 400 aircraft in Sicily.
There was also a heavy, oversupply of pilots, as there were so few aircraft. This meant that their fighting form was blunted. Fighter pilots require frequent flying to maintain their abilities, not to do so dulls the edge so that after a while they are more of a hindrance in the air. Turner, with Woodhall's support, began by creating a pool of serviceable aircraft and making it available, in turn, for nominated squadrons to draw on. Not only did this give a squadron commander a chance to put up one, twor or even three sections of four aircraft; it also offered the opportunity for Stan to look at, assess and, where necessary, revitalize the operational characteristics of individual units. Even with this scanty force, a semblance of purpose and method began to be injected into this tenuous exercise.
One morning - it was 24 February - Turner took me by the arm in the Mess at Mdina and led me out onto the balcony overlooking the airfield. Although no one was about he followed his usual ritual of looking round to ensure that he would not be overheard.
"Look here," he said, "you'll be one of the flight commanders in the Squadron and I shall look to you to help me with changing the flying pattern here. We can't have any more of this goddam VIC formations otherwise we'll all get bumped, that's for sure. I want you to learn this line-abreast stuff with me. And quickly." He then removed the empty pipe from his mouth and with it started marking out on the dusty floor of the verandah all the line-abreast manoeuvres, emphasizing the need to get the cross-overs in the turns, as he put it, "spot on". "This way," he said, " a couple of guys will never get bounced: attacked maybe, yes; but never surprised, no kidding."
Reflective, yet impatient, he looked down at the airfield. "They've got several serviceable aeroplanes down there this morning. If Ops have got nothing on the table we'll grab a couple of aircraft and run the sequences through. If a raid develops while we're up, we'll get stuck into it."
My log book shows that we were airborne for thirty-five minutes in our clapped-out Hurricane IIs. My recollection is that during that time it seemed that Stan had the throttle of his aircraft permanently 'through the gate'. It was all I could do to keep station. His taut nerves dictated his air speed. All the while, Woodhall, controlling from the 'hole' in Valletta, was in touch over the R/T, his deep, unhurried voice dispensing confidence.
'Stan,' he said, rejecting the Squadron's 'Tiger' call sign, 'there are some little jobs at angels 20 going south very fast. They may be working round up-sun behind you. Keep a good look out.'
'OK, Woody,' said Stan, 'I can see them.' With that, he seemed to find a bit of extra boost and headed up towards the sun. "we'll just have a swing round,' he said, over the R/T, 'and see if we can get at the bastards.' There wasn't a chance of it.
Nothing doing, we went back to Takali and landed having done few of the manoeuvres Stan had been talking about. We walked back to what had once been 249's dispersal hut from our aircraft in their sandbagged pens. The CO lit his pipe. "That's it then," he said, "all there is to it. Just remember to keep the speed up. It's no good floating about round here."
I had seen nothing, and broadly speaking, done nothing save fly a vibrating Hurricane flat out for half an hour, yet for some inexplicable reason I felt I had moved up into Division I of the Flying League. When he wanted to - and only when he wanted to - Stan Turner had the capacity for making a follower stand taller than he was. No kidding.
In his second sortie against the Germans attacking Malta he, and his wingman, were shot down in what he described as a "comedy of errors". Eight of them had sortied to defend Malta, they split up to more easily find the Germans. Turner and his wingman spotted them first.
"I and one of my pilots set off to intercept four 109's coming in over Gozo. I saw them high above me, then lost htem in the sun. Ground Control said they would steer us ... some minutes later, I realized something was wrong and suspected that Control was plotting us as the 109s ... a new vector from Control immediately following this thought, confirmed that suspicion and I gave the order to break. The turn had just started when the cockpit exploded in a mass of oil, glycol smoke and fire. The 109s had arrived and must have considered me a goner, because they did not follow me down to make sure. I managed to get the machine under control just prior to crashing near Luqa ... I awoke in hospital. My No. 2 did not return."
No. 249 Squadron had to fly those clapped-out Hurricanes for another month against the Messerschmitts. But it taught the new guys what the old hands had been going through for the past three months. Those people who flew with Stan Turner in that month on interceptions learned a great deal about flying and fighting in the line abreast formation, essentially identical to the German's finger four. Turner's experience and all-round ability wasn't apparent until you witnessed it first hand.
After two weeks on the island Turner gave the AOC (Sir Hugh Lloyd) and GC Woodhall his blunt and frank appraisal of the conditions regarding fighter aircraft on Malta. 'Either sir,' he said to Lloyd, 'we get the Spitfires here within days, not weeks, or we're done. That's it.' There was no mistaking his purpose. Turner's ultimatum came at the same time as a signal from the Chiefs of Staff in London to the Commanders-in-Chief in Cairo.
Our view is that Malta is of such importance both as an air staging post and as an impediment to enemy reinforcement route that the most drastic steps are justifiable to sustain it. Even if Axis maintain their present scale of attack on Malta, thus reducing value, it will continue to be of great importance to war as a whole by containing important enemy forces during critical months.
In this time period, to highlight the importance of Spitfires to the defence of Malta, 229 Squadron equipped with yet more Hurricane IIs, was transferred from Gambut in North Africa to Malta. Within a month the squadron was declared non-operational. Of it's 24 aircraft nine were shot down, and seven damaged reducing operational strength to 8. Of it's pilots four were killed and five wounded. All of this for no claims of enemy aircraft destroyed.
Malta was now in desperate straits, the February convoy from Alexandria had failed to reach the island due to intense bombardment from Ju-87 Stukas and Ju-88s flying from Crete. The inhabitants were facing acute shortages of everything, to the point of starvation, including pilots. 'Operation Spotter' was planned to deliver Spitfires using the aircraft carriers HMS Eagle and HMS Argus. However, the elevators on Argus were too small to fit Spitfires, so that left only Eagle capable of delivering modern fighters to Malta. It would have to steam to within 650 miles of Malta to fly off the fighters. The Spitfires would have to take off in only 667 feet (the length of Eagle's deck) with a 90-gallon belly tank. They would take off with flaps deployed to the half way using wedges as Spitfires had only two flap positions, full up or down. Once in the air the pilots fully deployed the flaps, the wedges would fall out and then they would raise the flaps. The fate of Malta depended on these fighters, for only Spitfires flying at the extreme of their range could protect a convoy in the extremely dangerous "Bomb Alley" area of the Mediterranean south of Crete.
Turner summed it up for his squadron, "You guys may as well face it. The chips are down on the table. This goddam operation had just got to succeed. If it doesn't, God help us, no kidding."
The first attempted fly-off from the Eagle on Feb. 28 was a fiasco. The initial fault with the aircraft was an air lock in the supply pipe from the belly tank, preventing it's use, thereby making it impossible for the Spitfires to reach Malta. The entire delivery force returned to Gibraltar. None of the belly tanks had been tested prior to leaving England. Then the armorers inspected the Spitfire's four 20 mm cannons (they were Spitfire Vcs). They found that they needed to be properly set-up as none of them had been test fired in England. After this, the riggers discovered that they had no spare parts for the aircraft. One of the highly valuable fighters had to be scavenged for parts. By the time Operation Spotter was back on in mid-March the Axis were well aware of it. The Eagle and the rest of the fleet were shadowed for 9 hours just prior to the dispatch point. All fifteen Spitfires and an escorting force of seven Blenheim 'fighters' reached the island safely. Due to scheduling delays the further 16 Spitfires were delivered in two batches of nine and seven by Eagle on March 21 and 29, 1942.
HMS Eagle flying off Spitfires for Malta
Stan Turner was quick in exerting his influence to acquire the new aircraft for 249 Squadron. 'If it's the last goddam thing that I do, I'm going to see that 249 is re-equipped with these airplanes first'. Stan was true to his word, but the small number delivered robbed the RAF of a critical mass of fighters to effectively combat the ME-109Fs.
|The Luftwaffe's response was quick and decisive. General Bruno Lörzer stepped up the weight of bombing missions to Takali Field and the number of fighters escorting the bombers. Making the addition of a few Spitfires a drop in the bucket compared to the fighters against them.|
By the end of March Stan Turner was utterly spent as a Squadron Leader. He had survived nearly two years of continuous battle and had learned much of value to the RAF and would return much to the service. He was promoted to Wing Commander Flying, which on Malta was largely a ceremonial posting, and went to work for AOC Lloyd. His operational time on Malta was up.
April on Malta was sheer hell for all involved, with the Luftwaffe dropping over 7,000 tons of bombs on it. Spitfires continued to be delivered in small batches but they were quickly used up, either destroyed in bombing raids or overwhelmed in the air. By the end of April the senior RAF officers on Malta, AOC Hugh Lloyd, GC Woodhall and WC Turner were all exhausted. Lloyd was replaced with the New Zealander AVM Keith Park who had run 11 Group during the Battle of Britain. Woodhall and Turner had both been in 12 Group and as such were firm supporters of strategies espoused by AVM Leigh-Mallory, which Park had vehemently disagreed with. It wasn't likely that Park would put up with Turner for long. As it turned out, in slightly less than two weeks Park, in Turner's words "had him off the Island".
He returned to Gibraltar where he organized a more effective resupply of Malta with Spitfires. Operation "Bowery" involved the use of the USS Wasp and HMS Eagle. Prime Minister Churchill had made an arrangement with President Roosevelt to use theie larger carrier to carry Spitfires along with HMS Eagle. The Wasp could carry 50 to Eagle's 17, in any event only 46 were on board. In an effort to conceal the operation the AOC Malta (ACM Keith Park) had only 12 hours notice of the landing time. RAF Squadrons 601 (County of London) and 603 (City of Edinborough) were chosen to fly the 46 aircraft to Malta.
Within an hour of landing the radar plotters showed the Luftwaffe were up and leaving their bases in Sicily. It took three hours to get all of the Spitfires refueled, and rearmed due to the excessive security. Also, despite assurances that the cannons had been air-tested in England and were set-up, there was a problem with faulty ammunition. All of the regular hands took off in what new Spits were ready and were into the first of a series of heavy raids intended to destroy as many of the new fighters on the ground as possible. The Germans were quite successful. Forty-eight hours later only seven of the forty-six Spitfires remained fit to fly. The old hands could only look at each other. It was Malta's darkest hour.
Turner returned to the Maltese air-control centre and took on an extra, most unappealing, duty. He organized and led ad hoc sections of Hurricane IIC fighter-bombers and operated at night over Sicily, raiding the German airports. It must have been Keith Park's way of rewarding him. There was no mention of how successful these operations were, for a Hurricane could carry only two 250 lb bombs and were not designed to either fly at night or dive-bomb.
In August he secured a posting to HQ Middle East in Heliopolis, Egypt as the Senior Controller, Sector Operations Room, a skill he had picked up from GC Woodhall while on Malta. He made the transfer at the reduced rank of Squadron Leader because the rank of Wing Commander Flying from Malta was not recognised by RAF Command as a genuine rank. He didn't get along well with his senior officer and was sent to Alexandria as a tactical observer and adviser to the Royal Navy. One of his duties as a controller was to join the cruiser HMS Coventry to coordinate air and sea attacks in an ill-fated venture against Tobruk on Sept. 10, 1942. Again, he nearly lost his life, as the Coventry was sunk more than a mile from shore. His log book described this operation:
"September 10. Joined HMS Coventry to act as Observer for a combined operation against Tobruk. Coventry and 12 destroyers sailed from Port Said on Sept. 16. Shadowed from dawn - HMS Zulu and Sikh left main party to go inshore - delay in getting troops away after air bombardment. Stop resulted in enemy spotting Zulu and Sikh - HMS Sikh pounded by shore guns and destroyed despite Zulu's attempts to assist. Zulu attacked by bombs next day. Coventry going to assistance of Zulu was attacked and put out of action by 15 plus bombers. Had to be destroyed by torpedo. Myself and survivors picked up by HMS Dolverton. Whole action from beginning doomed to failure - too ambitious."
Following this he joined the Royal Navy on Operations Portoullis, Stone Age, Pocket and Burner, mostly escorting convoys to Malta in November and December. He flew a bit while with HQ in North Africa with 889 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm teaching them the basics of air-to-air combat. He was 29.
Finally, on Jan. 23, 1943 he was ordered to reform 134 Squadron RAF then at Shandur near the Suez Canal. They were flying Hurricane IIbs. They were to move up to an active zone of the Middle East theater and develop an especially low level method of ground attack using an early form of napalm. The tactic was for low-level attacks against tanks and hardened vehicles dropping fire bombs on them that would, in a gruesome manner, destroy the vehicle and men.
|Turner with No. 134 Squadron|
In his old style Stan demanded every drop of sweat from his pilots. He had been chosen because of his great work on Malta getting the squadrons there up to speed and organised. He set the example for 134 Squadron himself on low flying. There were many clapped-out tanks and trucks to use as targets in the desert, and Turner pressed in too close to one of these, caroming off a turret, while hitting the tank with a dummy bomb. He took off one and a half propellor blades and tried, unsuccessfully to chug back to base. He pranged it into the sand 20 miles short. Fortunately, he was not hurt and was picked up by a British patrol two hours later. He served with the squadron from January to June, 1943. Five of the squadron were sent up to the front but they were never used as the North African campaign drew to a close. It was just as well, low-level Hurricanes were quite vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. Many anti-tank Hurricane pilots were lost on operations using 40mm cannons under the wings of their aircraft.
In April, 1943, No. 417 RCAF Squadron moved up from the Nile Delta to begin operations as part of 244 Wing in Tunisia. On the second day of operations their inexperience showed when they were bounced by 20 Bf-109fs with the loss of four aircraft. In May, the desert fighting ground to a halt as the Afrika Korps was rounded up and the remainder of the Luftwaffe made its way back to Italy. They settled in and began to prepare for the invasion of Sicily, "Operation Husky". In an attempt to rebuild the inexperienced and demoralized squadron, HQ posted into 417 a pair of experienced Flight Lieutenants, Patterson and Houle, and was looking for an experienced Canadian Squadron Leader who could rebuild 417 and take them into potentially heavy fighting in Italy. AVM Broadhurst felt that "owing to the lack of operational experience of the Squadron as a whole, that strong leadership and an officer of outstanding operational experience should be posted" to No. 417. Other than not being in the RCAF, he was CAN/RAF, SL Stan Turner was perfect for the job. With at least ten enemy aircraft destroyed and four or more 'probables', two DFCs, and more than seven hundred hours of combat flying to his credit, he had a reputation as a disciplinarian where business was concerned, 'deadly serious' in the air but 'one of the boys' in the mess, and he was a Canadian, who understood and appreciated the foibles of his fellow countrymen, whatever badges he might wear. In June Turner was posted to 417 as the CO. Group Captain (then Flight Leader) Hedley Everard wrote extensively of his time with the squadron in his biography "A Mouse in My Pocket".
Turner with G/C Kingcombe and G/C Campbell, Dec. 1943.
"The Squadron's arrival in Malta coincided with the arrival of a new commanding officer and his deputy. Both were veteran leaders from RAF units. The new squadron leader (SL Stan Turner) wore battle honours earned during the Fall of France and the now famous Battle of Britain. He was both fearfully and affectionately called "The Bull".
The Bull was a slightly-built, city-bred Canadian with tight, curly, red hair above watery blue eyes. Immediate compliance to his orders was now essential for survival in his Unit. Many of 417's mouthy pilots found themselves airborne to Cairo on a transport the same day. His deputy (FL Albert 'Bert' Houle, right) was also completely intolerant of breaches of air discipline. Within two days, challenging air drills, lead by 'the Bull and Bert' had eliminated all the 'bad apples'. Replacement pilots were treated less harshly and coached in the ability of the pilots of twelve Spitfires to act as a team in battle tactics. Individual tail-chases were practiced. Basically these were dog-fights between two Spitfires where the aim of the target aircraft was to lose his "tail" by any manoeuvre or combination of tricks. All guns were made safe before flight and only the camera gun operated, so results could be accurately analysed.
In those last days of June we made a number of fighter sweeps over enemy territory, but few Axis fighters rose to the challenge of two dozen Spitfires. Limited engagements did occur but without positive results. It was taboo to break formation and chase decoy bandits, since other bandits could be perched high above ready to pounce. Every preflight briefing carried the words: "Beware the Hun in the Sun."
These wise words were ignored one morning by another Spitfire squadron and a fierce dog-fight occurred in which three Spits and two 109's were downed. We were scrambled to give assistance but when our twelve Spits with overheated engines reached the battle ground fifty miles north of Malta, the sky was empty. Below five dinghies bobbed in the water where friend and foe could be distinguished by the colour of their one man rubber rafts. After an hour we were replaced by another protecting squadron and returned to base. As we refueled another squadron was scrambled. From the nearby radio repair truck I heard the leader's "Tally-Ho" and knew that another dog-fight was in progress. Rapidly we were all refueled and strapped into our cockpits ready to take off. A third Spitfire squadron was hurled into the Mediterranean sky prior to the return of the second wave. Only ten aircraft of the second wave landed, so we knew that two more Spitfires had been lost. The third wave returned intact at which time we were ordered aloft. On arrival at the battle area, I peered unbelievingly at nine dinghies bobbing in the water- four of ours and five of theirs. Whether by instinct or orders, 'The Bull' placed us on a low patrol line west of the rubber flotilla. In a moment, I spied and reported a dozen bandits flying at our level two miles east. The Bull's voice barked:"Shut-up Blue One!" I knew then he had already spotted the 109's. In complete silence and in almost parade formation, we patroled our sentinel line to the west whilst the enemy repeated our manoeuver to the east.
After some time, a rescue boat from Sicily and another from Malta arrived and began to fish out their respective downed airmen. When the task was completed, we escorted our rescue craft back to Malta and I could see the 109's were providing the same cover to their boat. I smiled in my oxygen mask... As the news of our sortie spread the airmen adopted the big grin of our leader's face. From that moment on, even through the difficult winter months that lay ahead, the morale of 417 Squadron members improved. This was the stimulant that was needed to ease the slump in spirits of the Unit's previous year in the Desert.
The squadron flew with Turner over Sicily for the first time on the 10th of July, 1943, the day of the invasion. There was little to do, neither the Luftwaffe nor the Regia Aeronautica would contest the invasion. They moved to Cassabile just south of Syracuse on the 16th as the ground troops were making such good progress. Mostly they flew as top cover to Kittyhawk fighter-bombers, air-sea rescue and fighter sweeps. There wasn't any action in the air, but on the ground they were for a few days within range of German artillery and the Luftwaffe made a few night raids. They relocated first to Agnone but the shelling and presence of land mines made the base untenable so they moved to Lentini West on the east coast shortly after. As they were no longer the "new boys on the block" they got to occupy the only house around as their squadron ops centre (see below).
It was in this period that "The Bull and Bert" were nearly killed. F/L Hedley Everard and a group of others had found an Italian fighter, a Macchi 202, intact on an airstrip. Being curious about their opponents, Everard got in and acclimated himself to the aircraft. They fueled it and he fired up the engine. Being cautious they painted crude English rondels on it, or he would likely have been shot down. Everard flew his prize back to their base to the amazement, and admiration, of everyone. Not to be outdone by one of their Flight Leaders, Turner and Houle jumped into a reconnaissance vehicle and set off for the Italian airbase. As they passed through the remains of the gate their vehicle triggered a Teller mine (a large land-mine) that blew the front of the truck off and nearly blew them to pieces. Turner was trapped in the cab, badly lacerated and suffering from shock. Houle was blown out the door and had both ear-drums punctured. He was off flying for five weeks. His hat can be seen lying in front of the truck. In his book, Everard remembers the surprise he felt, for he must have driven over the same mine several times. A week or so later the Germans attacked Lentini West at night. Fortunately, Turner and Houle were sticklers for safety, every tent had a nearby slit trench. They all used them that night as bombs and anti-personnel "butterfly" bombs rained down. They destroyed two Spitfires and Everard's prize Macchi 202 but no one from 417 was hurt. The other squadrons in 244 Wing had 15 fatalities. It took a day or so with rifles to destroy all of the little, but lethal, butterfly bombs.
417s HQ at Lentini West and a Spitfire V
The remains of their truck after hitting the Teller mine.
From Lentini West they were able to provide the British 8th Army with air cover during the invasion of the "toe of Italy" at Reggio de Calabria. They met with no serious resistance from the Luftwaffe as they protected Supermarine Walrus Air-Sea Rescue boats, Kittyhawk fighter/bombers and Martin Baltimore bombers. Mostly they were attacking the ports that the Axis powers were using to evacuate Sicily. They also denied the enemy use of the air by flying standing patrols with other squadrons over the invasion area. In August they received one of the finest versions of the Spitfire, a new air superiority fighter, the Spitfire Mk VIII. It was faster, more heavily armed, equally agile and a stronger climbing aircraft than the Mk V.
In September they were sent to Gioia del Colle and Grottaglie at the top of the "heel of Italy". During the move to Italy Turner came down with a serious case of yellow jaundice and had to be temporarily hospitalized. It was just as well, as the only accomodation that FL Hedley Everard could find, so he says in his book, was in an Italian brothel. It lasted only a few days but made a real impression on everyone. Turner returned shortly after and only smirked at the report of the squadron's initial posting in Italy.
It wasn't until October that they gained their first victory over a German aircraft. They ran into a Staffel of 12 Fw-190 Jabos (fighter-bombers) bombing the harbor at Termoli. FL Bert Houle, shot one down after a long, lone chase when his wingmen couldn't dump their long-range tanks. The weather deteriorated in November forcing a reduction in flying hours. They moved up the east coast to Foggia, but then the heavy bomber squadrons pushed them to the smaller bases at Triolo and Canne. The field there was "a very small, rather harardous strip running at right angles to the beach; high winds frequently swept the down the coast, making cross wind landings on the single metal runway a difficult and tricky operation". Due to the absence of the Luftwaffe their Spitfire VIIIs were equipped with a rack for a 500 lb bomb and they were given some basic instruction in dive-bombing. The Spitfire was not well designed for this role, but it performed it adequately. They were flying patrols and fighter-bomber escorts over the Sangro River during the battles for a bridge-head across it by the Canadians. Their support of the British Eighth Army, including the 1st Canadian Division, was important to limit the Luftwaffe from intervening. In late November Luftwaffe dive-bombers tried to intervene in the battle and 417 downed three of them. Turner did not shoot down any, as he had been promoted up to Wing Commander Flying of 244 Wing.
On moving into Italy the four Wings in the Desert Air Force were reduced to three and the extra squadrons divided up between the remaining three Wings. 244 Wing was then composed of four Squadrons, these being 417 RCAF, 92 RAF, 145 RAF and 601 RAF squadrons (601 was the Royal Auxilliary Air Force "Millionaire's Squadron" during the Battle of Britain).
"He noted his feelings on Jan. 1, 1944 about the war:
The sixth Xmas and New Year's Eve of the greatest war in history passed in good cheer amid good comrades. To be at war in history passed in good cheer amid good comrades. To be at war had become normal - to die, most natural. Whatever the future holds for us, good or bad, we shall take it in our stride, giving our best, that a great new world may be born. It is for us to begin this new world with all that in mind and body can produce. It is for those to be born to finish it."
On New Years day, 1944 their entire camp nearly washed away as they were set up on sand dunes by the sea. A violent storm blew in and caused widespread flooding over their camp. To fill in time Squadrons of 244 Wing flew operations over Jugoslavia, free-roaming strafing missions on roads, and fighter-bomber sorties for anything that looked tempting. On the 16th of January they moved to Marcianise, near Naples, so they could provide high cover for the Anzio landing zone. At dawn of Jan. 22, 417 was flying CAP over the landing. They intercepted and shot down a single Bf-109, thereby maintaining the secrecy of the landing for a while longer. All Squadrons enjoyed considerable successes in this period as large numbers of Fw-190 Jabos (dive-bombers) and escorting Bf-109s were intercepted and shot down. Despite being a Wing Commander, Turner still flew and still scored. His last air-to-air encounter was on Feb. 8, 1944, when he damaged two Fw-190s of JG 343 over Anzio.
In order to improve fighter response time over Anzio Turner implemented a front-line approach. Each of his four squadrons took turns flying CAP over Anzio through-out the day. The last squadron up would land at a small strip prepared within the Anzio beach head. A group of fitters, riggers, etc. serviced the aircraft while they were there. Each squadron would spend a week as the last one down at Anzio. From Everard's book it was incredibly noisy as the American artillery fired all night with sporadic but intense responses from the Germans.
In May, 1944 Stan was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the citation confirmed his 14 victories.
This distinguished fighter pilot has flown nearly 900 operational hours in single-engined fighters. Since November 1943 he has taken part in all the more important air operations during the invasion of Sicily and Italy and in the Sangro and Anzio battles. He has destroyed fourteen enemy aircraft and has always shown the utmost gallantry, enthusiasm and leadership.
He was posted back to the desert, to HQ, Desert Air Force to learn the intricacies of running entire Wings and Groups of aircraft. By this time the Desert Air Force was in a backwater of the war and it was pretty quiet. In November his HQ schooling was over and he was posted to Britain as part of 84 Group of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, now fighting in Belgium. In January, 1945 he was promoted to Group Captain and made CO of 127 Wing conducting intensive "mopping up" operations on the continent with four Spitfire Squadrons.
The famous Johnnie Johnson was his first Wing Commander Flying, he was succeeded by the very successful Canadian WC Stocky Edwards. He oversaw the conversion of 127 Wing to ground attack duties and flew with it on the more important missions. By July the war was over and GC Stan Turner was posted back to England to Aldermaston until December. He reverted to the rank of Wing Commander as there were just not enough positions in the Air Force for all of the Group Captains who were freed up by the disbandment of the fighter squadrons.
In July, 1946 he transferred to the RCAF and attended Staff College. He took over 20 Wing from March 1947 to Feb., 1948. In this period he was awarded the Czechoslovakian War Cross, 1939 and Medal for Bravery for his work in the war. He then went through a variety of other duties, including Canadian Air Attache in Moscow from September 1954 to Oct. 1957. He was made the Commanding Officer of RCAF Station Lachine for 18 months. Then he was Air Force HQ Staff Officer, Personnel Administration in August, 1961. He finally retired as a Group Captain in 1965.
Following retirement he became an executive with the planning staff of Expo 67. Following this he worked with the exposition "Man and his World". He lived in the quiet town of Chambly, Quebec. He died on 23 July 1983, of a heart attack, while teaching kids to swim at a local pool in Ottawa. He had returned to his long-ago career of swimming instructor.
In 1973 he was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame.
Stan Turner was the epitomy of a squadron leader. Fiercely dedicated to the men of his squadron (often serving with them for only a short time), he trained them hard in advanced techniques that he knew would keep them alive. He had no time for slackers, "line-shooters", or men who shouldn't have been in a fighter. Reflective, yet dynamic, he could work most other men into the ground and be up the next day with the same energy. Yet he knew full well the cost of the war on the world, his men and himself. Oh, that all Squadron Leaders had been like him.
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