Stocker’s War

Ted Stocker’s War

A Pathfinder’ s War
by Flt Lt Edward ‘Ted’ Stocker DSO DFC with Sean Feast. Grub Street, 2009.
Ted Stocker lived a charmed life. Trained at RAF Halton as one of Trenchard’s ‘Brats’, a posting to Boscombe Down saw him fly in both the prototype Stirling and Halifax just as war engulfed Europe for the 2nd time. Qualifying as one of the RAF’s 1st Flight Engineers, he flew operations in 1941/42 with 35 and 102 Squadrons, a contemporary of Leonard Cheshire, helping with the often hair-raising task of converting Pilots from 2 to 4 engine Heavies. On his return to 35 Sqdn, he became a Pathfinder and Flight Engineer leader, taking part in virtually every major air battle of the war.  Awarded the DFC in 1943, he was posted to 7 and then 582 Squadrons, going on to complete a massive 108 ops as Flight Engineer on Lancasters of 35 Pathfinder Squadron, often as a Master Bomber, and flying with some of the Pathfinder ‘greats’, including Don Bennett himself.  Although his Aircraft was frequently hit, and he survived a crash landing on only his 2nd trip, Ted was never wounded. His achievements were recognised with the Distinguished Service Order, the only known DSO issued to a Flight Engineer during the War or since. After the War, he flew with Bomber Harris on a tour of Brazil and later qualified as a Pilot, introducing the Lockheed Neptune Anti-submarine Aircraft to the RAF for the 1st time as a Flight Commander with Coastal Command.

After the War, Stocker took part in a 3-Lancaster Tour of Brazil, led by Sir Arthur Harris, before transferring to Transport Command where he soon acquired an ‘A Cat’, but in 1948-49 he achieved his long-term ambition by becoming a Pilot. In 1951, after a tour on Lancasters with Coastal Command, he was selected to become a member of the team that was sent to the USA to convert to, and ferry back to the UK, the first Neptunes for the RAF. Unfortunately, he lost his Aircrew medical category in 1956 and left the Service to pursue a career which eventually embraced a variety of aspects of applied engineering.  The book’ s subtitle claims that Stocker’ s tale is ‘extraordinary’.  It is, and it is well worth reading.

tedstocker“I am Ted Stocker, a Flight Engineer from 582 Squadron. I ended up on 582 having been previously on 7 & 35 SquadronPathfinders and before that with 102 & 35 Squadrons in No.4 Group. I’d been around quite a bit.  I stayed alive when other people were dropping dead all around me.  It’s amazing, I went through 105 raids and the worst damage I had they’d made some holes in my jacket with Flak. But, remember I was the lucky one. But for everyone that was lucky, there was an awful number that was unlucky.  I started out in Evanston in Scotland on an Air Gunners Course because when I started there were no Training Courses for Flight Engineers you had to have an Engine Fitter’s qualification 1st. Then you learnt to be an Air Gunner, God knows why but we did. There were 12 of us on the course, 10 are dead, one’s blind and there’s me.  So as I say, it’s survival that was the name of the game.  If you stayed alive you got the Gongs!

On the Lancaster, the Engineers had 2 roles actually because within PFF it was different from the rest of Bomber Command. Don Bennett said ‘Any idiot can aim a bomb and drop it so the Engineers can do it!’  In PFF we had 2 Navigators instead of a Navigator and a Bomb Aimer. And the 2 Navigators were sat up there side by side to improve the quality of the job and make it easier – to ensure that we arrived over the Target at the right point and to drop the Markers at the right time and when we did, ‘Engineer – get down the nose and aim the bombs’ – as simple as that.

Oboe.jpgThe Oboe (a radio bombing) system, that was diabolical!  From my point of view, from the Engineers point of view!  But we did have Oboe on Lancasters.  I did the 1st one with Group Captain Grant and the unfortunate thing is our 582 Pilot gets out of the seat and swops over with the 109 Squadron Pilot, which is what happened with Palmer.  On the 1st one I was on it was just Group Captain Grant, who was CO of 109 who got in the left-hand seat and sat there and then we went over the Target and there is no Intercom, there is no nothing, just a deathly hush. I don’t know how long, I believe it must be about 4 minutes but it seemed like a 1/2 an hour or more. You are sat there, people firing guns at you but that is not unusual but you are flying straight and level and timing becomes – hope nothing hits you until the bombs go. Suddenly, thank god we are back on Intercom and the Gunner can at least say that there is something happening out there.  No, Oboe in a Lancaster was not good fun!  I think the boys in the Mosquitoes had a better deal, they were a lot higher up!   That was the big thing.  No, I didn’t like Oboe in Lancs.

Wing Commander George F. Grant, DSO, DFC
We dropped the markers, yes. One of the most fascinating was when I was flying with (Master Bomber) Group Captain P H Cribb, DSO, DFC, who was 582 Squadron Commander at that time.  This was a daylight ra id. We bombed the Island of Walcheren (3rd October 1944) on the Scheldt Estuary.  The idea was to make the island uninhabitable for the Germans by knocking a hole in the sea wall.  It wasn’t a big raid as far as aircraft was concerned. We stayed over the target for a couple of hours and they were sending in 50 main force aircraft every 20 minutes and we put the markers down on the sea front and gradually knocked a hole in the sea-wall and eventually the water came in.  There was a little rivalry between 5 Group which incorporates 617 (Dambusters) Squadron and the Pathfinder Force.  The last group of Bombers that were coming in to knock a hole in the wall was to be 617 Squadron with some of their Tallboys,  we didn’t need them, we sent them home again!  One up for Pathfinders!  But OK that was interesting because there was only one ack-ack battery at Westkapelle, right on the tip of the Island and earlier – between I think the 1st and 2nd wave we had some smaller bombs which we aimed vaguely at the ack-ack battery.  Then had the pleasure of seeing the brave Hun get on their bicycles and cycling down the main road straight through the middle of Walcheren Island to the mainland – very satisfying, that!

Interestingly enough after the War, I worked in Holland and we went down to have a look at Walcheren.  Where we knocked a hole in the Dyke, there is still a hole in the Dyke and there is a little inlet with a lagoon inside with a nice little beach and a nice Restaurant there.  Oh, well we did some good we gave somebody some employment.  You get the rough and the smooth.  The awkward ones when you get shot up over Berlin and the compass doesn’t work and one engine has gone out – you wonder where the hell you are and you find out when everyone is shooting at you – you must be over somewhere like ‘Happy Valley’, the Rhur Valley, they had plenty of guns.

I had a co-pilot stuck in that hatch once! The hatch in the Halifax, is right under the Nav’s table. We were told to bale out and we had a co-pilot who was actually a Skipper from the Whitley Squadron, 58 Squadron. We used to carry the Whitley skippers as co-pilots before they did the conversion course. This fellow was used to Whitleys and he had therefore put on the appropriate gear which was a full Irvin suit – the big Irvin top, the big Irvin trousers – he was a big lad.  Now that hatch is reasonable and this fellow sat with his legs out and then tried to pull his head out and there he was with his bottom stuck up in the air.  We had run out of fuel and we were about to crash obviously because there was nothing to keep us up!   Len Thorpe was our Wireless Operator, because I was standing up on the top of the steps waiting to come down and Len was supposed to go next.  Well, Len, instead of going came back up the steps where the co-pilots position is and jumped straight on this fellow’s backside and the pair of them went out like a cork out of a bottle!  By which time we were too low to bale out. Well, we might have been able to except that the Flight Engineer had to go down under the step by the Radio man’s position to get the Skippers pack – unfortunately, he hadn’t put the elastic across it so when the Navigator left way before Len had jumped we assumed the parachute pack went too.  So I went back on the top to the skipper and said, ‘Sorry, your parachute has gone!’ It was too late then anyway we were going to crash and we just went down in an untidy heap in a field.

Another Mission – anyhow it was quite an uneventful trip to Pilsen. We went over the Target, we dropped our bombs and nobody fired back or did any damage or anything.  So the Engineer puts his head down, goes to the Instruments, fills in the log sheet.  We were clear of the Target then – have a look through one of the Astrodomes, have a look at the exhaust, see that they are all the right colour.   I had my look out and then I said quietly over the intercom, ‘Navigator, if we are going home why is the Pole Star on the Port side?’ There was a little hush that lasted a good 10 seconds before all hell broke loose. The Pole Star on the port side means that we are going East and my reckoning from Czechoslovakia going East is not the best way home!

VE-DAY
TedStocker2.jpgThe last Operation we did was Operation Manna dropping the food for the Dutch in Rotterdam.  We did some of those from Little Staughton. And then we started bringing home the Prisoners of War.  I’d done, I think one to France bringing home Prisoners of War just before the 6th May 1945.  The 5th I don’t remember doing anything but on the 8th which was the day actually when they were calling it VE Day – 582 provided one of our Master Bomber Aircraft because our Master Bomber Aircraft had better Radio equipment than the others.  I had a Service Motorbike and I put that in the back of a Lanc and we went to Lübeck on the 8th of May and sat on the end of the runway acting as Air Traffic Control all through the day while Bomber Command was sending planes picking up POWs and flying them back.  We were the first in, in the morning and when the last Lancaster left in the evening we stopped acting as Air Traffic Control, picked up our quota of POWs and we flew back.  Not to Little Staughton, we had to take them somewhere else so we took them there and by the time we’d done that it was dark. We then had the privilege of flying back over England on the evening of VE-Day when all the bonfires were lit and all over the Country there were all these bonfires, it was a magnificent sight!  I didn’t actually get a drink because my log book says that we didn’t land until the morning of the 9th which was probably sometime after Midnight. I was doing Squadron Ops Officer at the time and I went down to the Ops Room to find out what was on the next day and what we were required to provide, I’ve forgotten how many, some Crews to do the same sort of thing the next day. Where was everybody? Cambridge! London! No Squadron Commander, no Station Commander! I think there were a couple of Flight Commanders of ours. Early on the morning of the 9th, I tried to rustle up a few Crews to go over the next day to bring some more POWs back.  I did get a drink sometime early on the morning of the 9th as the girls in the Telephone Exchange found a bottle of Gin that had some left in the bottom. I had a very tiny tot of Gin on the morning of the 9th.
“That was my VE-Day!”

FLt Lt Ted Stocker, DSO,DFC. (35,102,7,582 sqdns) – Flt Eng – flew 105 Operations

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