Interview with Ted Stocker. Two


Interview with Ted Stocker. Two


Edward Ernest Stocker (Ted) began his service with the RAF as a flight engineer on Halifaxes. He came to the attention of his Commanding Officer on his second operation when, before departure, he warned that they were carrying insufficient fuel to make it back to base. He was correct and he describes how some of the crew bailed out before their Halifax crashed close to base, with he and the pilot still on board. He joined the Pathfinders force after fifteen operations and remained with them throughout the war. He compares the fuel tanks of the Halifax and Lancasters, discusses the navigation aids Oboe and H2S and the process of dropping target indicators for the main bombing force to follow. He completed 47 operations on Halifaxes and then volunteered for 7 Squadron on Lancasters, completing a further 61 operations. He was commissioned as a flight lieutenant. He speaks of encountering enemy opposition whilst in action, of witnessing aircraft being shot down and directing the bombing of Walcheren Island.




Temporal Coverage




00:52:44 audio recording


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AStockerEE150731, PStockerEE1601


AP: Tell us about yourself, Ted. Who you are and how got joining the Air Force?
TS: Oh, dear me. My name is Edward Ernest Stocker but for brevity call me Ted Stocker. I was born in August 1922 and I joined the Air Force at the age of fifteen in January 1938. I became, I went to Halton and became one of the Trenchard Brats. And from then on I was in the Air Force and life took it’s natural course with the war on.
[recording paused]
AP: On, on the aircraft. If you could talk a little bit about that, please.
TS: I started off as a flight engineer on Halifaxes. The Halifax really did need a flight engineer because the aircraft was originally designed to bomb Germany from advanced bases in France. The idea, before we really got into operations was we’d bomb, although you got our bombs in England then flew to France, refuelled so that we could reach Germany. Of course, when a little thing like Dunkirk arrived it was no longer feasible. So they modified the aircraft. Added extra fuel tanks. Eventually we had four fuel tanks in the Halifax. They kept squeezing little tanks in all over the place. And at the end of the time we had seven tanks on each side. And the management of those fuel tanks to keep the centre of gravity where it belonged and to ensure that they didn’t run out of fuel at an inappropriate moment kept the flight engineer extremely busy. That was great. But that’s how the Halifax developed and that’s how the duties of the flight engineer developed. Very much looking at fuel and obviously watching the engine instruments. Looking for any unfortunate things. The Halifax had very early Merlins. Merlin engines. Which were subject to internal coolant leaks which often resulted in having to switch the engine off. This again was the duty of the flight engineer to watch for this. When we changed over to the Lancasters only I did forty seven trips on Halifaxes. When we changed over to the Lancaster it was a whole different ball game. Now we had only four main tanks. Two in each wing and a little tank. Fuel management was simple and straightforward. The engines were Packard built Merlins which were not, they had a revised design of the engine cylinder block which reduced the chance of internal glycol leaks. So we didn’t have the trouble with the engine overheating or having to shut the engine down. The Lancaster was a whole better ball game. But so much so that on the Lancaster really the flight engineer was not fully occupied. Apart from being, acting as a cheap co-pilot. Remember, it takes a lot of time and money to train a co-pilot. You can get a flight engineer for a much lower price. Put him in the right hand seat. He can act as the co-pilot anyway. And that’s really how the flight engineers role developed.
[recording paused]
TS: But when you get on to the Lancasters where there isn’t the problems with the engines that we had on the Halifax the flight engineer was not as fully occupied. And Don Bennett, the chief of Pathfinders, Air Vice Marshall DCT Bennett had said that he wanted two navigators on a nav table and the flight engineers — he can still learn to drop the bombs. And so, on Pathfinders the flight engineer ended up very much as being both the flight engineer, and co-pilot and bomb aimer all wrapped into one. But there was duties spread through the flight. That made the flight engineer’s job much more interesting. Dropping, aiming bombs, particularly when you got on to flying with master bombers where you were putting the markers down it was a much more interesting job than as it had been originally on Lancasters.
AP: So if we talk a little bit about the actual Pathfinding squadron and what they did.
TS: Pathfinders were that developed. I was, I didn’t, I joined Pathfinders the month they started. I didn’t do the first Pathfinder raid but I did do the second Pathfinder raid and I stayed on Pathfinders until the end of the war. And I saw the developments as they happened. As I say one of the early ones was getting H2S. We had a decent radar picture. The important thing, the techniques developed we ended up basically with three basic types. There’s the visual mark. Visual marking where everything was done by looking at the ground, aided by the radar of course, which was the straightforward one. Then of course we had the problem with cloud cover and a load of other [unclear] which was led by radar particularly when we got, when Oboe came in close range. Oboe markers can be put down from the UK very, very accurately. And when we were outside radar range we had to develop radar assisted bombing which was bombing through cloud. Which worked up to a point. The worst, the most trickiest one was when we had very high cloud. No chance of seeing the ground at all. And we’d use these sky markers which were flares which burst at a very high altitude and gave a false aiming point. Obviously if you’re aiming for something in the clouds, on top of the clouds, the bomb doesn’t know it. It wants to go underneath. It goes through the marker, carries on falling so the sky markers, as they were called were very tricky for the main force to use because they were aiming at something and their bombs were going to hit something else. They were the three basic types. There were various variations on those three. But basically you’ve got the visual marking, you’ve got radar assisted marking and you had sky marking. They were three basic types.
AP: Could you talk a little bit about H2S and Oboe? What they are.
TS: Oh, H2S was the, if you look at a picture of a Lanc you’ll see a bulge. A bulge underneath. That conceal is made of material which is, does not interfere with radar. A fibreglass substance. And inside that is a scanner going around painting a picture on a cathode ray tube of what it can see underneath. It’s a very crude form of television really. It shows the sea and the land as separate colours. It shows built up areas where you’ve got a lot of windows and things. Windows and roofs and the sloping of roofs deflects the radar and that gives a different sort of picture. But that was the H2S which we were very lucky. We were one of the first. Pathfinders had H2S before it was in general use. And the other one I mentioned was Oboe. Oboe is, was originally used for Mosquitoes because it depends on line of sight from the UK and involves the development of the system the Germans had used to bomb Coventry where you have radio beams. It was the British development. It was more accurate and involved the bombs actually being released automatically by the Oboe system. They were, the pilot flew down one radio beam and when he crossed the other beam the bombs were released automatically. It was extremely accurate. We’re talking in sort of a hundred metres radius. It was very very good. Unfortunately, the range was limited by this line of sight. The Mosquito was, because it was able to fly higher than Lancs ever could could take the Oboe bombing further into the mainland of Germany. Or France anyway. After D-Day they put mobile Oboe stations on the continent and Oboe was able, range was able to move forward. We did have Oboe in a Lanc on 582 Squadron. And I went on the first Lancaster Oboe raid with Group Captain Grant who was the squadron commander of 109 Squadron. The Oboe squadron. And we did the first Oboe raid over France from a Lancaster. I must admit I did not enjoy it because having put Oboe into the thing the pilot and the Oboe operator had to have their own intercom system but nobody else could use it. So, about a few minutes before the target, something like six or seven minutes from the target the rest of the crew were off. Off intercom. And you just flew straight and level to the target. Fighters coming in. Ack ack. So what? You couldn’t tell anybody [laughs] That’s the bit of Oboe I didn’t like on Lancasters. But it worked. Fortunately, I did the first one to prove that it could. After that I let somebody else come [laughs]
AP: And this, this is just marking. You weren’t dropping any bombs at this stage were you?
TS: No. We were dropping the markers. The target indicators.
AP: Dropping the markers. Yeah. Yeah.
TS: The target indicators. I should have explained. The target indicators were a giant firework. You had a, the shell of a one thousand pound bomb. Inside it were a can, little canisters which were ignited when the bomb burst and they put down coloured candles. They burst normally at about three thousand feet over the target. So there was the cascade of coloured candles falling from the bomb over, over the target area. Hopefully over the target itself. This gave the main force an aiming point. Something to aim at. A coloured cluster of fireworks. Well the, if they were put down by Oboe initially they were in one colour. To keep the marking going because Oboe could only operate one aircraft at a time over the target we were main, on Pathfinders, came over with different colour markers and tried to aim at the original aiming point to keep the mark alive for the rest of the raid. You’ve got to remember some of the raids took us twenty or thirty minutes. The Pathfinders job when there was an Oboe raid was to keep the initial marking going on the same aiming point.
AP: Was this particular colours? Did they use particular colours?
TS: Oh yes. Primary. Usually the main colour was red. The primary marker was so that the master bomber could say, ‘Bomb the red TIs.’ When we’re backing up we were usually backing above a green. And there were yellows used for some things. Because we also used markers on the turning points on the, on the way in. When you’re going into a target you don’t go straight in because the Germans can see which way, where you are aiming. You do a dog leg or something. Well, to mark a turning point we used markers dropped by Pathfinders on the turning point. And they were usually yellow or something like that. Not, not reds. And that was basically what those TIs, as we called them. TIs. Target Indicators. They’re just giant fireworks but they seemed to work and they were visible from a long way away.
AP: And while you were doing this you’ve got ack ack and night fighters and all sorts of things.
TS: Well, you do. They do try and distract you a little [laughs] The gunners are on the, on the ball the whole time. Swinging their turrets and watching for everything. Providing the fighters are seen and are not too close before you see them the thing you’d do, there was a escape manoeuvre.
AP: Yeah.
TS: Corkscrew was the usual. The standard procedure. If you got a fighter high on the port side you corkscrew port down. If it was up on the starboard you corkscrew starboard down. If they were low down you still did a corkscrew. The corkscrew is just you are following the path of the corkscrew which keeps the gunner, the enemy’s shot on a constant deflection shot. And what you are trying to do really is just spoil his deflection shot. The deflection is changing the whole time in to the corkscrew. Hopefully that happens to miss. Ack ack. Well, it comes and goes. If it was close you could sometimes hear it rattling on the fuselage.
AP: What about predicted flak? Predicted flak.
TS: Well, predicted flak is, most of it is over the target they try to talk about predicted flak. But once they got the course in to the target they start filling the sky on the run in with flak from all sorts. Sometimes it gets you. Sometimes it doesn’t.
AP: Okay.
[recording paused]
AP: Okay. About the camera now. Right. Okay. Go
TS: You asked about how many raids I did. Well, I did forty seven on Halifaxes and then I, that is because on Pathfinders you didn’t do a single raid you did a double raid of forty five. Well, being me of course I did a couple extra. But my odd career really basically goes back to my second trip. The first trip I did was in a Halifax to Essen. Which is a good starting point. You know. They don’t come much tougher. And that was okay except I came back with a view that how the hell did he know we’d bombed Essen? But that was because early on in the war finding a target was a hell of a hit and miss affair. But anyway, for the next trip I was put on a raid to go to Nuremberg in a Halifax which at that time we’d only got five tanks. And I got together with the navigator and said, ‘Well, how many air miles are we doing?’ Because when you start thinking about fuel consumption in an aeroplane well fuel consumption depends on which way you’re flying. If you’re going downwind you go a lot farther than you do upwind. So work on air miles. That’s the number of miles you go through the air. Anyway, the navigator gave me the air miles and I looked at the fuel load and said, ‘It ain’t enough.’ And so being a cheeky eighteen or nineteen year old flight engineer freshly promoted from corporal to sergeant I went up to the squadron commander. The squadron leader in those days, and said, ‘Sir, I don’t think we’ve got enough fuel for this trip.’ To which he replied, ‘Nonsense lad. Group know what they’re doing.’ Silly lad. He believed anything. But anyway we were a little short on fuel. In fact we crashed nearer to base than anybody else in the squadron. We actually ran out of fuel about three or four miles short of the airfield and came down in an untidy heap. I had given an ETA, estimated time of arrival, of no fuel. And the navigator had given an ETA of when we should be at base. Well, the navigator had us at base about five, five, four or five minutes before I said we’d run out of fuel. There was a little matter of errors. I was right. We did run out of fuel when I said but we hadn’t reached base. It was just down there ahead of us. And when I said that we were going to run out two engines on one side stopped. One side stopped developing any power so I went down the back and put on the cross feed pipe which put, the empty tank was running the two port engines to supply fuel to the two starboard engines so we had four engines running for a moment. And the skipper, in his wisdom said, ‘It’s time to get out of here.’ Gave the order to bale out. Seemed sensible at the time. Well, it was sensible except the fact we were carrying a co-pilot who was a captain from Whitleys, the other squadron on the station and the Whitley is very poorly heated. So, if you fly in a Whitley you put all the full Irvin suit on. That sheepskin lined leather suit, jacket and trousers. And he was a tall boy. Quite a well-built lad. And so the first thing that happened when skip said bale out, the navigator lifts his table up, pulled the hatch up from underneath him, puts his parachute on and jumps. He’s gone. The wireless operator, Len Thorpe was underneath the skipper’s seat on the port side and he was getting ready to go. And this great big teddy bear of a man with his Irvin suit on, oh he didn’t jump out. He probably couldn’t jump with all that on top of him. And he sat on the back of the hatch and put his feet out. That was alright. And then he tried to put his head out but it’s a very small hatch. From my position in the co-pilot’s seat I could see his backside sat up in the air but he wasn’t going anywhere. So, I wondered what the hell we’d do. Len Thorpe, down there, he looks and he’s [unclear] he summed it up quite quickly. He pointed me to go back a bit. So, I had to move back a bit so that Len could get up on the top step. And then they jumped. He jumped. And two bodies disappeared out of the escape hatch. Well, my, because of the Battle of Britain the pilots in Bomber Command sacrificed their pilot ‘chutes to Fighter Command for the Battle of Britain and the pilots in Bomber Command flew with a observer type ‘chute which was a harness. There was a separate pack for the harness. For the parachute itself. And there was a stowage under the seat I was standing on which contained the pilot’s parachute. The flight engineer’s job, when the two have gone out or three have gone out the nose is go under that there and get the pilot’s parachute. Great. But I went down there. Oh dear. The elastics to hold the pilot’s parachute were not fastened and the pilot’s parachute must have been sucked out with everything else. It wasn’t there. So I went back up to the step. I’ve got my parachute on by this time myself. I go back and sit and said to the skipper, ‘Sorry. Your parachute’s gone.’ About that time all four engines stopped and so we were obviously going down. So I jettisoned the escape hatch over the pilot’s head so that he could get out and then I went back at midships where there was another hatch in the roof with a ladder up to it. And I, in fact opened the hatch and was pushing it back when we hit the ground the first time. And I was flung forward against this ladder and I found myself cuddling a ladder. We were in the air temporarily until we came down for the second time. And we slithered along a bit and came to a rest. So I go, with the ladder handy, I’m gripping it. Up on to the roof and there’s the skipper coming out. I think we might be the only two left. The rear gunner, he’s gone around the back. All he had to do was turn his turret around and jump. Oh no. Our rear gunner suffered from night blindness which is not a great help for a rear gunner. He couldn’t find his harness, his parachute anyway. So, he was still inside the fuselage looking for his parachute when we hit the ground. We didn’t know this of course. So, we got out. Skipper and I were on the wing and about to jump off and wondering about all these cows running and doing the war dance around the aeroplane. And a voice from behind us says, ‘Wait for me.’ It’s our rear gunner. He never did find his parachute. And so the three of us ran to the edge of the, edge of this field dodging all these terribly upset, terribly upset cows and got to the edge of the airfield. Got a little fire on each engine. Glycol and stuff. Nothing serious. As we were stood there, and then as I said we were very close to the airfield and two ambulances turned up. And then the CO turned up. He had a quick word with the skipper. He kept well away from me [laughs] and I think after that he’d got the idea that maybe flight engineers do understand a bit about aeroplanes. I’ll only say this. Many years later squadron leaders, our wing commander and squadron, and CO of the 35 Squadron in Pathfinders. I’m the flight engineer leader, a flight lieutenant and when the CO wanted to fly guess who he took as his flight engineer? [laughs]
AP: [unclear]
TS: But anyway we’d landed. We were in an untidy heap and this, of course this is, everything’s organised in the RAF. So there was a crash. Okay. Two ambulances turned up so because we hadn’t ,we were not really in walking distance of the base and so we go over to one of these ambulances, ‘Can you give us a lift back to the airfield?’ ‘No. I’m bodies only.’ ‘Oh’ [laughs ], ‘Catch the other one. You’re not injured are you?’ ‘No.’ I can’t lie. How am I injured? Eventually they sent out a guard party to look after the wreck overnight and one of those they, they, we got the driver out and he ran us back to the airfield. Another interesting thing is of the three blokes that baled out two of them ended up on the same train. The one had landed next to the railway, stopped a goods train and sort of, the driver said, ‘Well, what do you want?’ ‘I baled out.’ ‘Oh get in the guard‘s van. We’re going in to York,’ sort of thing. He goes a little bit further on. There’s another bloke waiting with a parachute waving. So he stopped, he said, ‘Your mate’s in the guard van.’ The other fellow hadn’t get a lift with the train but with the bloke with a car. He got back. Anyway, they all got back safely. The three got back safely. But that was my first endeavour. Rather gave me a reputation I think. Because the result of that I think was that when the Halifaxes were moved we were on the first Halifax squadron. When another squadron was going to get Halifaxes they had to be trained on how to fly a Halifax. The usual way was to take an experienced crew from one squadron, move them to the other squadron with one Halifax and they were to train the new squadron. Well, a good idea. So they got a squadron. 102 Squadron got, was going to get Halifaxes. And so they sent a qualified crew. Except I think the CO wanted to see the back of me. I’d only done four trips. I was not an experienced, but I was the flight engineer on the experienced crew that went to 102 Squadron. There I was. I had done four trips. I was on this new squadron teaching people how to, all about the Halifaxes. That’s how my odd career, career started. Because I was there and I was the only experienced flight engineer when the new squadron commander was going to do his first trip on the Halifax he wanted an experienced flight engineer. So, I went with him didn’t I? And when each flight commander wanted their first trip on the Halifax who was the flight engineer? So, and then I went down, down the list until I’d flown pretty well with every pilot on their first trip. And I was an instructor. Not what I’d intended to be. But anyway I ended up with a total of fifteen trips and Pathfinders started. Well, the Canadian crew, they wanted to go down, the Canadian pilot and navigator wanted to go to Pathfinders. They wanted to volunteer for Pathfinders. Their flight engineer didn’t and the silly bloke had talked me into joining him. So, that’s how I left 102 Squadron and went to, back to 35. On Pathfinders this time. That’s how I got onto Pathfinders. Okay.
[recording paused]
AP: The number of ops. Ops you did.
TS: Okay. Well, as I said I had done fifteen ops on 102 and 35 when I, this Canadian talked me into going to Pathfinders. So, I arrived at Pathfinders with just fifteen trips under my belt. I stayed on Halifaxes on Pathfinders until I finished my double, what was called a double mission. A mission is normally, for most of the main force was thirty trips. And then Pathfinders, when you volunteered to join Pathfinders you volunteered to do a double mission. A double mission was forty five trips. In fact I did forty seven on Halifaxes. And then I was screened and I went to the Navigation Training Unit of the Pathfinders and there was a bit of a problem on 7 Squadron. They’d lost the CO and a couple of flight commanders and all sorts of the top brass. They came to the Navigation Training Unit. They wanted a bit of strength back in 7 Squadron. I was asked to volunteer. I’d been screened for a couple of weeks by then. So I went back to, on to Pathfinders with 7 Squadron. The only thing was when I got to 7 is, well I knew before I went they were flying Lancasters. I’d flown in a Lancaster once. I’d read the book. So I joined 7 Squadron with no formal training at all having read the pilot’s notes. And I stayed on 7, on Pathfinders. Eventually did another sixty one ops on Lancasters. Giving me a grand total of a hundred and eight which is ridiculous. Nobody should do that. I don’t know how I did it. I know I changed, and I mentioned on 102, I flew with every Tom, Dick and every flight commander, CO and that gave me a number of different skippers. I then went back. Went on to Pathfinders and I did, I did, I think I did about thirty with this Canadian crew I went with. I did some odd ones. And then the turmoil started that they discovered 102 Squadron had put me up for a commission. Because they didn’t commission flight engineers early on. Because when I saw Wally Lashbrook, who was the instructor there called me in and said, ‘What do you think about taking a flight, a commission.’ I said, ‘Don’t be silly. They don’t commission flight engineers.’ He said, ‘Well maybe they’re going to. Would you? Can I put you forward?’ I said, ‘Yes. Why not?’ Well, actually, I did, I did ask him what he thought because I’m a Halton Brat. I went to Halton when I was fifteen. And the flight commander was Wally Lashbrook and he was a Halton Brat. So, on his advice I said, ‘Yes. Okay. Put me in for a commission,’ which led to the situation that I was on 102, I was now on Pathfinders. They didn’t know anything about commissioned flight engineers. I called in to the adjutant and he said, ‘They want you for an interview at the Air Ministry. What’s that for?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. Wait and see.’ Anyway, I was on ops one night and I was due to go to Air Ministry the next morning. Okay. So, down at Graveley, which is very close to London. It’s in Huntingdonshire and the railway station not far away. So anyway I did the trip, came back. Went in the uniform. Changed in the barrack. Changed in to my best blue, had a wash and a shave and caught the train to London. Which meant I then had to go in for this interview with the Air Ministry. Okay. Well, I’d been up all night remember. And they called me in. And one of those looked at me and said, ‘Where were you last night, lad.’ So, I gave them the name of the target. After that the interview was a walk over [laughs] Anyway, so I got through all that alright and I went back to the squadron. Several weeks later I’m called, the adjutant called me in. He said, ‘I don’t know how this happened but you’ve been commissioned.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I thought I might.’ He said, ‘You’d better go and get a uniform.’ So, I went up to London to one of the tailors. Bought myself a uniform. Go back. I’m a pilot officer now. The adjutant, they called me in again, ‘We’ve only got a [unclear] for a flight lieutenant. You’ll have to be a flight lieutenant.’ So, I’d been a pilot officer for several days and back to London to get some more stripes on my uniform. So, I was rather quickly a flight lieutenant and I got a job. I was obviously a flight engineer leader. Which again meant me flying with all sorts of odd bods. Which again meant that I went over, way over the odds. I flew with people, I said there was Hank Malcolm the Canadian I mentioned. I did thirty trips with him. That was alright. Later on I flew with a Welshman called Davies. Came from Swansea. I did thirty trips with him. I say I did all these thirty trips.
AP: What about Cheshire? Do you remember Cheshire much?
TS: Cheshire was my first flight commander on 35 Squadron. Didn’t like him very much. Never did.
AP: And Lancasters. Any particular missions that you remember? Operations that stick out?
TS: Very difficult. I can’t remember where it was, but once over the Ruhr Valley I didn’t enjoy life. We came, I think we’d been to Berlin and on the way back we’d gone a bit off course. As far as I remember we’d lost an engine or something over Berlin. Probably this oil stuff. It started again but we got radioed, the distant reading radio compass was not — distant reading compass sorry was not reading very accurately and keeping on course had been difficult. And instead of coming from Berlin just around the corner of the Happy Valley between Essen and Aachen and cutting through that way had got a bit off course and found ourselves over the Ruhr. There wasn’t a raid on the Ruhr. Just us odd bods coming back from Berlin. And they did rather catch us in the searchlights and flak for quite a long time. That’s one of the worst occasions of enemy opposition where it wasn’t so much that we were being shot at and we were being illuminated by the searchlights. We couldn’t get out of the damned things for about twenty minutes. Dashing around. I thought we were never going to get out of that. But anyway, Hank put the aeroplane in all sorts of manoeuvres and we got out of it but that was one of the worst occasions. Not being bomb caught over the target but caught off course on the way back. That was always the danger. You, you expect to be shot at over the target but you try and avoid it on route there and back. We hadn’t on that occasion. That was one of the worst trips anyway as far as that.
AP: Any raids in Northern France and Holland? Any raids there with Lancasters?
TS: Oh just before D-Day we were doing all sorts of silly things. I had the, this disputed honour of actually acting as master bomber on one of the raids on a little airfield in Northern France. What was the name of it? I can’t think of the name at the moment. I was flying with a Welshman on this occasion. And they wanted, around about D-Day there were all sorts of little raids. They needed a master bomber on a very small airfield and they suddenly decided that the skipper’s Welsh accent would not do. So I was then told to do the broadcast over the target, drop the bombs and sort of encourage people to come down and bomb the target. Tell them what to bomb. The cloud base was low. We got down low. We could see the target. I got my markers on the target. Could I persuade anybody else to come down to do it? No. They were all bombing from way up. Not doing very well anyway. We lost two aircraft on that trip. But I was actually, I think the only occasion when a flight engineer has held the microphone and acted as master bomber and told them where to bomb. It was a, have a change.
AP: And all those operations that you flew. Did, I’m guessing you must have seen other aircraft being shot down.
TS: Yeah. Of course I did.
AP: I mean, one of the things to try and describe to people is what it was like when you were flying through all that stuff
TS: Oh well —
AP: And what you saw. What people said. What they felt.
TS: It was very difficult early on. You get the odd one. Usually they caught fire and went down in flames and some parachutes would come out. You hoped more of them did. Later on, when the, towards the end the Germans had developed this, what they called musical jazz. Which was the night fighters were equipped with upward firing guns in the top of the fuselage. At an angle. And they did not use tracer. The idea was to fly on radar low down where you couldn’t be, where there was less chance of being seen by the top gunner or the rear gunner. Come up below the aircraft and when they were in the right position climb fairly steeply and let their cannons into the belly of the bomber. Very good idea. We’d had it years ago. When I was at Boscombe Down many years ago we had a Boston which had been modified with [pause] like bomb doors on the top of the fuselage and the bomb doors opened and there were four machine guns pointing upwards. Just like musical jazz, and there were only three of these. And we never developed it but the Germans did. That was what, that was the one of the games the RAF definitely lost. The main advantage having, before I started flying as a flight engineer I’d been an ordinary fitter who wanted to be a pilot. And I was fortunate in my postings. I was posted to Boscombe Down. Which meant I saw far more different aircraft than most people when they came out of Halton. And I worked on many including the first bloody Stirling bomber. Four engine. They had a position for flight engineer. ‘It’s your aeroplane. You fly.’ That was how I learned, you know, start flying. But I didn’t want to be a flight engineer. I’d been trying to be a pilot. But I was only an AC1. So I saw the flight commander. He said, ‘You’ve got to be an LAC if you want to go on a pilot’s course.’ So I did the trade tests and I got passed it and I was an LAC. Good. Go back to the flight commander, ‘Sir, I want a pilot’s course.’ ‘You have to be an LAC for six months. Then you can come and see me again.’ Five months later, ‘Oh hello Corporal Stocker,’ I goes in, ‘You can’t be a pilot now. You’re too valuable. You’re a corporal fitter.’ ‘Okay.’ I’m working in the hangar one day and the flight clerk comes up. And he’s got an AMO. He says, ‘The flight commander thinks you might look at this.’ It was the first AMO asking, Air Ministry Order, asking for volunteers to fly as flight engineer. If you’re a corporal or a sergeant in the group one trade you can volunteer to be a flight engineer. I think the flight commander had a clue I might be interested [laughs] and so I went back with the flight clerk and volunteered. And a few weeks later I was on an air gunner’s course. And that’s how I became a flight engineer. I don’t know how I did it. But anyway the basic thing is I did chance my arm rather more than most and got away with it with a hundred and eight raids. How the hell I did it I don’t know but I’m lucky. That’s how it happened. My first flight commander was Flight Lieutenant Cheshire. Oh dear. What can I add to that?
AP: Yeah. But let’s, let’s jump to that. Up the Island of Walcheren. Can you talk about that raid?
TS: Oh, one of the most interesting raids. The war was nearly over but there wasn’t a great deal of opposition anyway and they wanted to sink — the Island of Walcheren at the mouth of the Scheldt was really guarding the entrance to Northern Germany. They’d tried to get across. Across. Been an unsuccessful attempt by the army to do a landing on the south coast of Walcheren Island. They lost a lot of soldiers. And then they decided they might be better to, for a frontal attack but they need to get the Hun out of the way. So, we were, I was bomb aimer with the master bomber. The master bomber was Group Captain Peter Cribb. He had been on thirty. He took over from Cheshire as flight commander of 35 Squadron way back in 4 Group. Anyway, he was the master bomber, I was his bomb aimer and we went over to Walcheren Island. Oboe had put down a marker on the seashore and we put, put another marker beside it. And then we were getting, I think it was sixty aircraft every twenty minutes. I’m not sure about that number. It might have been less. And we directed them on to the markers right on the seashore and we managed to breach the dyke. And the sea water went through and started flooding the Island of Walcheren. There was an ack ack battery on the other side of the town from where we were which fired the odd shots but we had some thousand pound bombs. A couple. Four or something. So between two raids the sharp turn to port and I dropped my four one thousand pounders in the vicinity of this ack ack battery and had the good fortune to watch the brave German gunners get on their bikes and ride down the Island in the middle of the lake. They left us to it. So, really it wasn’t, there was no real opposition there. But anyway, we carried on with all these little raids and gradually made the dyke leak and the island was flooding behind. The last raid, the last batch of bombers we were getting were from 617 Squadron. They had their Tallboys. They were really going to knock a hole in that dyke. Well, we looked at the dyke and the sea was going in. The skipper called them up and said, ‘Go home. We don’t need you.’ Which, for the Pathfinders was always a good idea because Pathfinders and 5 Group which were Cochrane’s favourite Air Force were not really the best of friends. Cochrane didn’t approve of Pathfinders and Don Bennett who ran Pathfinders didn’t really approve of Cochrane because Cochrane had never actually been on a raid. Our AOC, Air Vice Marshall Donald Bennett had been on a raid. He’d been shot down in Norway. He knew what, he knew the score. That made the difference. He had a different outlook. But actually that was an interesting raid and when I was working in Holland after the war we did, I did go back there with my wife. And we went and had a look, and yes there’s a nice little puddle where we’d broken the dyke and there’s a bit of sand around the edge and somebody has opened a café there. So we got somebody in business anyway.



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Ted Stocker. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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