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The Airmen's Stories - P.O.(FAA) W E J Stockwell

 

William Eric John Stockwell was born on 2nd August 1915, by early July 1940 he was a FAA pilot attached to Fighter Command and serving with 804 Squadron at Hatston, flying Sea Gladiators on dockyard defence.

On 15th November 1940 the carrier HMS Argus sailed from Gibraltar with twelve Hurricanes and two Skuas aboard, destined for Malta. At dawn on the 17th, four hundred sea miles from Malta, the first flight of six Hurricanes took off, with an FAA Skua acting as a navigating leader.

 

Above L to R: Lt. RA Bird, Mid. MA Birrell, Stockwell (head in cockpit).

 

One hour later the second flight of six took off and the navigating Skua, L2987, was flown by Stockwell. Things went badly wrong from the start. The Sunderland scheduled to escort them in failed to take off from Gibraltar. They missed their landfall, failed to meet the bomber sent out to meet them and became lost. The Skua navigator radioed for help but his set was faulty and unable to receive replies.

Stockwell searched for somewhere to land, as the Hurricanes ran out of fuel one by one and fell into the sea, with the loss of all six pilots.

Just as the Skua was about to run out of fuel, Stockwell sighted land, it was south-western Sicily. The aircraft was almost immediately fired on by Italian anti-aircraft defences and crash-landed on the beach at Punta Palo on the Isola delle Correnti, near Syracuse. Stockwell and his navigator, Sub.Lt. RC Neil, were captured.

After liberation Stockwell became a Commissioned Pilot in 1945. He later served in 771 and 779 Squadrons.

He retired on 9th December 1950 and died in July 1992 in Gloucester.


 

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