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The Airmen's Stories - Lt.Cdr.(FAA) J C Cockburn


John Clayton Cockburn was born on 21st July 1907 and joined the Navy in 1926. He flew Fairey Flycatchers from the carrier Hermes and from the cruisers Cumberland, Suffolk and Kent. In the late 1930s Cockburn served with 800 Squadron on HMS Courageous and then with 802 squadron on HMS Glorious.

Cockburn commanded 718 (Catapult) Squadron from 29th March 1939 until 16th December 1939 when he took command of 804 Squadron.



On the 28th he collided with another aircraft whilst flying in Gladiator N5504. He baled out, unhurt.

He embarked on the carrier HMS Glorious on 22nd April 1940 with a detachment from 804. On 1st May they were in action against Ju87's off Namsos in Norway and Cockburn claimed one destroyed. The detachment transferred to HMS Furious on 9th May. From the 12th the 804 pilots were engaged in ferrying 263 Squadron's Gladiators to Furious for service in Norway.

The 804 detachment flew off Furious on 23rd May to Hatston, where the squadron re-assembled and was put under Fighter Command control. The squadron served on dockyard defence under RAF command for a time during the Battle of Britain.

Cockburn was mainly engaged with testing the Brewster Buffalo, from its arrival on 24th July 1940 until 5th September when he embarked by air on HMS Furious with A' Flight of 804 Squadron. The flight disembarked on the 8th and returned to Hatston.

On 1st June 1941 Cockburn took command of 881 Squadron on HMS Illustrious and took part in Operation Ironclad, the invasion of Madagascar in May 1942. He took part in the Harpoon convoy to Malta in June 1942 and the Torch landings in North Africa in November. In 1943 he held the same appointment on HMS Stalker, which was part of Force V in the assault on Salerno.

He led 26 Seafires of the Naval Fighter Wing to the airfield at Paestum on 9th September 1943 to operate from there until the RAF squadrons arrived in Sicily. The Wing then moved to Asa to operate alongside 324 Wing of the RAF, which it did for six days before returning to its own ships.

Cockburn was awarded the DSC (gazetted 23rd May 1944) for his part in the action.

From December 1944 Cockburn commanded the Royal Naval Air Station at Puttalam, Ceylon.

In 1955 he was Naval Attache, Rio before retiring in 1960 as a Captain.

He died in August 1999.


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