Percival Stanley "Stan" Turner
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 (Auxiliary)
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.
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
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
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
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.
The Battle for France
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
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 manoeuvred 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 refuelled and took off for Chateaudun NW or Oleans. Their
aircrew flew in on Bristol Bombays and Handley-Page Harrow transports.
Their accommodation 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
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-fuelling
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 sabotage
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.
The Battle of Britain
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
"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
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
cynicism, 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
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.
Vics of Hurricanes from RAF 242.
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.
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 defences 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-retaliation 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.
t 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
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
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
"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 exhilarated at this new
low-level attack mission, but they were lucky and had likely surprised the
E-boats. Low level attacks 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 fuselage, streaming white and black smoke the German
plunged to the ground. However, a fighter pilot who stays fixated on his
victim, 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 swarmed above our formations; and
Stan's task was to hold his squadron together 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
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
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
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 February 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
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 deprecating 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
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
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
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
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
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 scream 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 respite, 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
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,
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, two 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 veranda 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
'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.
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
"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 them 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
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
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 armourers 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.
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
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 refuelled, 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
"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
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 theatre 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 propeller 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.
417 RCAF Squadron
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.
"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
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
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
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 pre-flight
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 refuelled 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 refuelled 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 manoeuvre 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
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 roundels 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.
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
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 harbour 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 hazardous 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 Auxiliary 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 Attaché 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 epitome 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.