Wing Commander Bob STANFORD-TUCK, DSO, DFC**
Bob Stanford-Tuck Autobiography
At the age of 19 I accepted a short-service commission in the Royal Air Force in September, 1935, after having had two years at sea as a cadet. I was bored and wanted to fly.
After training at No. 3 F.T.S. at Grantham, flying the Avro Tutor, Hawker Hart, Hawker Fury and the Bristol Bulldog, I was proud to pass out with the highest rating available – ‘exceptional’ was entered in my log-book.
In July 1936, I was posted to my first Fighter Squadron, No. 65(F) at Hornchurch where I flew Hawker Demons, which were replaced by Gloster Gauntletts, then Gladiators, and finally Spitfires, which we received in late 1938, being one of the first Squadrons to be equipped with this revolutionary aircraft. Consequently, by the outbreak of war I had flown several hundred hours on Spitfires and was thoroughly familiar and confident in this advanced fighter. A tremendous advantage later when going into combat.
On the 16th May 1940, I was instructed on a top secret order to fly to Hendon with two other Spitfires. We were to act as fighter escort to an un-armed twin-engined Flamingo, carrying Winston Churchill and a small staff to Le Bourget, for his final attempt to prevail on the French to hold out a little longer. Churchill realised the evacuation of the B.E.F. from Dunkirk was imminent. After the return flight to Hendon the next day, Winston thanked us for our escort, but from his expression he left us in no doubt that he had been unsuccessful.
My first aerial combat took place over Dunkirk on 23 May 1940, as a flight commander in 92 (F) Squadron. I couldn’t have got off to a better start when I destroyed an Me 109; later the same day I shot down two further enemy aircraft, both Me 110’s.
I continued to serve with No. 92 Squadron on Spitfires, commanding one of the Flights throughout the Dunkirk battles, the large air battles which followed over the Channel in the build up to the Battle of Britain. I was still with 92, during the first half of the Battle of Britain, when I was posted to take over command of No. 257 Hurricane Squadron, which up until this time had suffered heavy casualties. My association with 92 Squadron had commenced a few months before the Dunkirk campaign when they had just converted from Blenheims to Spitfires Mk II. Although I had only been posted as an experienced Spitfire pilot to take over one of the flights at Croydon, I remained with this squadron until half way through the Battle of Britain, when I took over command of 257 Hurricane Squadron.
92 had become one of the leading Spitfire Squadrons of 11 Group. I experienced many combats flying with 92 over Dunkirk, The Channel and the South of England and naturally had great affection for my comrades in the Squadron. Sadly, throughout these battles we had many casualties, as we were right in the ‘thick of it’ the whole time.
I commanded 257 squadron’s Hurricanes until half way through 1941, when I was given command of the Fighter Wing at Duxford.
I spent October 1941 in the U.S.A. lecturing on air combat, and test flying all the American fighters as part of an Air Ministry assessment for the Lend-Lease programme. I returned to U.K. to take command of the Biggin Hill wing of four Spitfire Squadrons. My air combat career finished when I was shot down by ground fire during a low level attack over Northern France, in January 1942 and was taken prisoner by the Germans. I was credited with 29 air victories.
However, in 1978, the Aircraft Recovery Group excavated the remains of an Me 109 22 ft deep in the marshes, (sadly still containing the remains of the pilot, Lt. Werner Knittle), and subsequently, after considerable research at the M.o.D., it was determined it was an aircraft I had shot down, but had only claimed as a ‘probable’ at the time. Though I gained no pleasure from it I was duly accredited with the victory, the M.o.D. bringing my total up to 30.
I spent three years a P.O.W., but managed to escape in January, 1945, and made my way via Poland to meet up with the advancing Russian Army. Back in England by April 1945, I completed a refresher course on Harvards at Digby before flying Vampires and Meteors at Tangmere and West Raynham. In 1946 I became Station Commander at Coltishall, and after a spell in Singapore, retired from the R.A.F. in 1949.
Notes on Aircraft flown in Combat, 1939-45,
The types of aircraft which I flew in combat were the Spitfire II, and Mk V and the Hurricane II c. My favourite of the two aircraft was the Spitfire, due to it’s handling qualities and particularly it’s higher speed. It also had a better rate of climb and superior performance at high altitude. However, the Hurricane was a very sturdy war-horse, with better visibility for the pilot over the nose, and was admirably suited for attacking bombers; indeed with cross-fire from a large enemy formation, it was capable of withstanding very heavy damage.