Interview with Ted Stocker. One


Interview with Ted Stocker. One


Ted flew 108 operations (47 on Halifaxes and 61 on Lancasters), flying as part of 35 Squadron Pathfinders. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.







01:02:00 audio recording


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AP: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton, the interviewee is Edward Stocker. The interview is taking place at Mr Stocker’s home in Clanfield, Hampshire on the 26th of July 2015.

ES: My name is Edward Ernest Stocker but I’d be glad it if you called 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, became one of the Trenchard brats, er, and from there on, I was in the Air Force and life took its natural course with the war on. I started out as a flight engineer on Halifaxes. The Halifax really did need a flight engineer because the aircraft was originally designed to bomb Germany from advance bases in France. The idea before — early on in operations we bomb — although you got our bombs in England then flew to France, refuelled so that we could reach Germany but, 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 adding, 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 we didn’t run out of fuel at an inappropriate moment, kept the flight engineer extremely busy. That was great, um, 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 was subject to internal, um, coolant leaks which, er, often resulted in having to switch the engine off. This again was a duty of the flight engineer to watch for this. When we changed over to the Lancasters only — I did forty-seven trips on Lanc— on Halifaxes — when we changed over to the Lancaster it was a whole different ball game. Now we had only, um, four main tanks, er, two in each wing and a little tank. Fuel management was simple and straightforward. The engines were Packard built Merlins which were not so — they had a, a revised design of the engine cylinder block which, um, reduced the chance of internal, um, coolital leaks so we didn’t have the trouble with engine overheating or having to shut the engine down. The Lancaster was a whole better ball game but, um, so much so that on the Lancaster really the, the flight engineer was not fully occupied, was partly 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 co-pilot anyway and that’s really how the flight engineer’s role was developed.
AP: Right.
ES: But when you get on to the Lancasters, where there isn’t the problem for 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 DCD Bennett, er, said that, um, he wanted two navigators on the nav table and the flight engineer he, he can soon 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 onto flying with master bombers where you’re putting the markers down. It was a much more interesting job than it — as it had been originally on Lancasters.
AP: So can we talk a little bit about the actual Pathfinding Squadron and what they did?
ES: Pathfinders was 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 were — happened. As I say, one of the early ones was getting H2S radar so we had a decent radar picture. The Morton thing — the techniques developed, we ended up basically with, er, three basic types. There was visual mark— visual marking where everything was done by looking at the ground aided by the radar, of course, which was the, the straightforward one. Then, of course, we had the problem with cloud cover and they developed a radio which was led by radar, particularly when we got Oboe. When Oboe came in, so strange. Oboe markers can be put down from the UK very, very accurately, and, um, we — when outside radar range, we had to develop radar assisted bombing which was bombing through cloud, um, which worked to a point. But the worst — the trickiest one was when you had very high cloud, no chance of seeing the ground at all, and we — you, you see sky markers which were, um, flares which burst at a ver— 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 and wants to go underneath and goes through the marker and carries on forward, 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. But, um, 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 the three basic types.
AP: Could you talk a little about H2S and Oboe, what they are?
ES: Oh, H2S was the — if you look at a picture of the Lanc, you’ll see a bowl, a bulge underneath that, um, concealed it. Made of material which is very — does not interfere with the radar, a fibreglass substance, and inside that is the scanner going round, painting a picture on the 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, um, roofs and the slo— sloping of the roofs deflects the radar, and that gives a different sort of picture. But that was the H2S which we — but we were very lucky. We were one of the first. The Pathfinders had H2S before it was in general use. The other one I mentioned was Oboe. Oboe is — was originally used for Mosquitos because it depends on line of sight from the UK and involves the development of the system that the Germans had used to bomb Coventry, where you had radio beams. It was the British development that was more accurate and involved the bombs actually being released automatically by the Oboe system. The, the pilot flew down one radio beam and when it crossed the other beam, er, the bombs were released automatically. It was extremely accurate, we’re talking sort of a hundred metres radius. It was very very good. But unfortunately, the range was limited by the line of sight but the Mosquito was — because it was able to fly higher than the Lancs ever could, could take the Oboe bombing further into the mainland of Germany, of France anyway. After D-Day, they put mobile Oboe stations on the continent and Oboe was able — the 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 squadron commander of 109 Squadron, the Oboe Squadron, and we did the first Oboe raid over France from the Lancaster. I must admit I did not enjoy it because having put Oboe into the thing, the pilot and the rad — Oboe operator had to have their own intercom system but nobody else could use it. So, about a few minutes from the target or something, six or seven minutes from target, the rest of the crew were off the — off intercom and, er, you just flew straight and level to the target, fighters coming in, AK-AK, so what? You couldn’t tell anybody [slight laugh]. That was the bit about Oboe I didn’t like on Lancasters but it worked. Fortunately, I did the first one to prove it that it could and after that I let somebody else have a go.
AP: Right, and this was just marking. You weren’t dropping any bombs at this stage?
ES: No, we were the dropping markers, the target indicators. 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 little 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 a cascade of coloured, er, 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, if they were put down by Oboe, initially they were in one colour, um, to keep the marking going — because Oboe could only fly — 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 markers alive for the rest of the raid. Remember, some of the raids took twenty or thirty minutes. The Pathfinder’s job, when there was an Oboe raid, was to keep the initial marking going on the same aiming point.
AP: Was there a particular colours? Did they use particular colours?
ES: Oh yes. The primary — usually the main colour was red, the primary marker, so that the master bomber can say, ‘bomb the red Tis’. When we were backing up, we were usually backing up with green. Yellow was used for some things, because we also used markers on turning points on the raid on the way in. When you’re going into a target, you don’t go straight in because the Germans can see which way you’re aiming, you do a dog-leg or something. Well to mark a turning point, we used markers dropped by Pathfinders on the turning point. They were usually yellow or something, not, not reds, and that was basically the TIs, we called them TIs, target indicators, they were just giant fireworks but, er, they seemed to work and they were visible from a long way away.
AP: And while you’re doing this, you’ve got AK-AK and night fighters and all sorts of things.
ES: Well, they do, they do try and distract you a little [slight laugh]. The gunners are on, 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. Then the thing you do is an escape manoeuvre. Corkscrew was the usual standard procedure. If you’ve got a fighter high on the port sight, you corkscrewed port down. If they were up on starboard side, you corkscrewed 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, sharp, on a constant, er, deflection shot and, er, what you’re trying to do really is to spoil his deflection shot. The deflection is changing the whole time when you’re doing a corkscrew, hopefully that makes him miss. AK-AK, well it comes and goes. If it’s close, you can sometimes hear it rattling on the fuselage. The Halifax had — the propeller blade on the Halifax was made of a wooden material, it was laminated wood blades to the props, although the bases were all metal. We did get jumped by a fighter somewhere and, er, his cannon shells came through just a bit to the right and they actually hit the starboard inner prop, and they hit a blade and that blade broke. That of course, created a, a terrible out of balance. The thing was shaking like hell. No good looking at the instruments and I had an interesting exercise. Well, we’ve been hit. Obviously one engine was in trouble, we’re shaking like hell, my instrument panel was shaking like hell and there’s no good looking at the instruments, a waste of time. So I went up — I went to stand beside the pilot and I put the two propellers on the port side up and down to change the pitch, and it didn’t seem to affect the balance, so left those, and so I went to the right hand side and I changed the pitch on the two right hand engines, until I found the one that was changing the frequency of the vibrations, then I knew which button to press to stop the engine. But that’s the sort of thing you had to do, sort of think, think on the hoof, what do you do next?
AP: Yes. Did you lose any engines at all?
ES: On Halifaxes, you lost engines regularly. I think I almost came back on three engines more often than I came back on four on Halifaxes. I think on Lancs, I only remember losing an engine on a Lanc once, but the Halifax yes, because of this internal coolant leak, we did lose a lot of engines. Sometimes you didn’t really know whether it was a serious leak or not, um, because the added problem on the Halifax was the oil cooler was very large in relation to the amount of oil. It’s a circular oil cooler, if you can imagine like a drum, and the oil came in on the top on one side and the deflection of the oil was supposed to go round the bottom and out on the other side, which it did normally, unless it got, got a little bit cold and then the oil would go in on one side and the, the oil in the middle had got so cold it wasn’t flowing properly, so the oil went in on one side, on the outside and went round on the outside and came out again on the — still at the same temperature it went in at. That resulted in a thing called the oil cooler was coring, it was getting a hard core in the middle. If you did get that, and you did occasionally, if you recognised it, you shut that engine down a moment, which gave the time for the oil temperature in the oil coolant to stabilise and then you could — hope there wasn’t an oil leak, start the engine up again and if it ran OK, fine, you’re that done and happy again. Little things like that. The Halifax was the trickier aeroplane from the engineer’s point of view. You had to be on the ball. You asked about how many raids I did, well I did forty-seven on Halifaxes and then I — that is because on Pathfinders, er, 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, um, my whole career really, basically, goes back to my second trip. The first trip I did was in a Halifax to Essen, which was a good starting point, you know, they don’t come much tougher and, um, that was OK, except I came back with the 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, ‘How many air miles are we doing?’ Because when you start thinking about fuel consumption in an aeroplane, well the fuel consumption depends on which way you’re flying. If you’re going downwind, you go a lot further than you go upwind, so work on air miles and 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’d 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, er, 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, four or five minutes before I’d said we’d run out of fuel. It 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, um, when they — I said we were going to run out two engines on one side stopped, one side had stopped developing any power, so I went down the back and put on a cross feed pipe, which put the empty tank that was running the two port engines to supply fuel to the two starboard engines, so that we had four engines running for a moment, and skipper in his wisdom said, ‘It’s time to get out of here’, and gave the order to bail out. It 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, er, sheepskin lined leather suit, jacket and [emphasis] trousers, and he was a lad, a tall boy, quite a well-built lad, and so that the first thing that happened when the skipper said, ‘Bail out’, navigator lifts his table up, pulls the hatch out from underneath him, puts his parachute on and jumps, he’s gone. The wireless operator then thought that, 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 this Irvin suit on, oh he didn’t jump out, probably couldn’t jump with all that clobber on and, er, 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 thought down there, he looked and he, he summed it up quite quickly. He pointed me to come 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 because of the Battle of Britain, the pilots in Bomber Command sacrificed their pilot ‘chutes to put fighter command in the Battle of Britain, and the pilots in Bomber Command flew with an observer type ‘chute which is a harness with a separate pack for the harness, for the parachute itself, and there was stowage under the seat I was standing on, which contained the pilot’s parachute. The flight engineers job, when the two have gone out or three have gone out the nose, go under there and get the pilot’s parachute. Great, but I go — went down there. Oh dear, the elastic to hold the pilot’s parachute were not fastened and the pilot’s parachute must have been sucked out with the [unclear], it wasn’t there. So I go back up to the step, I’d got my parachute on by this time myself, I get back at the step and talked to the skipper, ‘Sorry your parachute’s gone’. By that time, all four engines stopped and, um, so we obviously were going down, so I jettisoned the escape hatch over the pilot’s head so that he could get out and then I went back amidships where there was a— another hatch in the roof with a ladder up to it for — 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, er, ladder and I found myself cuddling a ladder. We were in the air temporarily until we came down for a second time and, um, we slithered along a bit and came to rest. So, I’d got the ladder handy and gripping it, up onto the roof and there’s the skipper coming out. I was thinking we were the only two left. The rear gunner, he’s gone down the back, all he had to do was turn his turret round 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 a war dance round the aeroplane, and a voice from behind us said, ‘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, 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, [unclear] and stuff, nothing serious, so we stood there and then, um, as I said, we were very close to the airfield and, er, two ambulances turned up and then the CO turned up. He had a quick word with the skipper, he kept well away from me, and, er, I think after that he got the idea that maybe flight engineers do understand a bit about aeroplanes [slight laugh]. I’ll only say this, many years later, the squadron leader was our wing commander and CO of 35 Squadron, leader of the Pathfinders. I’m the flight engineer then, a flight lieutenant, and when the CO wanted to fly, [unclear] I was his flight engineer [laugh]. But, um, anyway we’d landed, we were in an untidy heap. Of course, this is — everything’s organised in the RAF. So, there was a crash, OK, two ambulances turned up so of course we were, we were not really within walking distance to the base, and so I go to one of these ambulances and, ‘Can you give us a lift back to the airfield’, ‘No, I’m bodies only’. Oh, go to the other one. ‘You’re not injured, are you?’ ‘No, I’m not injured’. Eventually they sent out a guard party to look after the wreck overnight and, um, one of those they got the driver out and he ran us back to the airfield. Interesting things, um, the three blokes that bailed out, two of them ended up on the same train. One had landed next to the railway, stopped a goods train, and sort of the driver said, ‘What do you want?’ ‘I bailed out’. ‘Oh, get in the guard’s van. We’re going into York’, sort of thing. He goes a little bit further on. There’s another bloke waiting with a parachute, waving, so he stopped and said, ‘Your mate’s in the guard’s van’ [laugh]. The other fella hadn’t got a lift with the train got — bloke with a car, and got back. Anyway, they all got back safely, the three got back safely. Anyway, that was my first endeavour. Rather gave me a reputation because the result of that, I think was that, um, 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 Halifaxes. The usual way was to take an experienced crew from one squadron, move them to a squadron with one Halifax and they were, er, trained with the new squadron. Well, good idea. So, they got — the squadron, 102 Squadron, 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, and that’s how my whole car— career started. Because I was there and I was the only experienced flight engineer, when the squa— new squadron commander was going to do his first trip on a Halifax, he wanted an experienced flight engineer so I went with him, didn’t I? And, er, 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 probably flew with each pilot on their first trip and, er, I was an instructor, not what I intended to be. But anyway, I ended up with a total of fifteen trips and Pathfinders started. Well, the Canadian crew, they wanted go down — the Canadian, er, 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 thir — back to 35, on Pathfinders this time, and that’s how I got into Pathfinders. As I men— said I’d done fifteen ops on 102 and 35 when this Canadian talked me into going to Pathfinders, so I arrived at Pathfinders with just fifteen trips under my belt. I stayed on the Halifaxes, on Pathfinders, until I finished my double — what is called a double mission. A mission is norm— for most of the main force was thirty trips and then Pathfinders, when you volunteered to join Pathfinders, you vol— 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 Pathfinders, and there’d been a bit of problem on 7 Squadron. They’d lost their CO and a couple of flight commanders and all sorts of the top brass. They came to the Navigation Training Unit and wanted a, er, bit of strength back in 7 Squadron and I was asked to volunteer. I’d been screened for a couple of weeks by then so I went back to, um, onto Pathfinders with 7 Squadron. The only thing was when I got to 7 Squa— well I knew before I went they were flying Lancasters. Well I’d flown in a Lancaster once and 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’s, um, Pathfinders, eventually did another sixty-one ops on, um, Lancasters, but giving me a grand total of a hundred and eight, which is ridiculous. Nobody should do that [slight laugh]. 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’s CO. That gave me a number of different skippers. I then went back, went onto Pathfinders and I did, I think I did another thirty with this, er, Canadian crew I went with, and I did some odd ones and then the trouble started. They’d 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?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ Well, actually, 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 OK. Put me in for the commission’, which led to the situation. I was, I was down on Pathfinders, they didn’t know anything about commissioned flight engineers and I was called in to the adjutant, ‘What did you do 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, er, and I had — was due to go to Air Ministry the next morning. OK, so down at, um, Gravely, 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 in the uniform, changed, um, into the barracks, changed into 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 Air Ministry. OK. Well, I’d been up all night remember, and they called me in and, um, one of those who, who looked at me said, ‘Where were you last night lad?’ So I gave him the name of the target. After that, the interview was awkward [laugh]. Anyway, so I got through that alright and I went back to the Squadron. Seven weeks later I’m — the adjutant called me in and he said, ‘I don’t know how this happened. 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, er, one of the tailors, bought myself a uniform, go back. I’m a pilot officer now, yes, and they called me in again. ‘We’ve only got [unclear] for a flight lieutenant? You’ll have to be a flight lieutenant’, so I’d been a pilot officer for several days. Back to London, get some more stripes on my uniform [laugh], so I was rather quickly a flight lieutenant and then got a job and there was obviously a flight engineer needed, which again meant flying with all sorts of odd bods, which again meant I went over, way over the odds. I flew with people. I, I flew with Hank Malcom, 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. As I say I did all these thirty trips.
AP: What about Cheshire. Do you remember Cheshire much?
ES: Cheshire was my first flight commander on 35 Squadron. Didn’t like him very much, never did, but, um —
AP: And Lancasters, any particular missions that you remember, operations that stick out?
ES: Very difficult. I can’t remember where it was, one time over the Ruhr Valley. I didn’t enjoy life. We came — I think we’d been to Berlin, and on the way back we got a bit off course, er, as far as I can remember, we’d lost an engine or something over Berlin, probably this oil stuff, and I started it again but we got the — radio, distant reading radio compass was not, distant reading compass, sorry, er, was not reading very accurately and keeping on course had been difficult, and instead of coming, er, from Berlin, just round the corner of the Happy Valley, er, probably between Essen and Aachen, and cutting through that way, got a bit off course and found myself 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 their searchlights and flak for quite a long time. That was the one of the worst occasions with the enemy opposition, where it wasn’t so much that we were being shot at and were being illuminated by searchlights, we couldn’t get out of the damn thing for about twenty minutes, dashing around. I thought we’re never going to get out of that but anyway, er, Hank put the aeroplane in all sorts of manoeuvres and we got out of it. But that was one of the worst occasions, not when we were caught over the target but caught got off course on the way back. That always the danger, you expected to be shot at over the target but you tried to avoid it enroute there and back. We hadn’t on that occasion. It was one of the worst trips anyway as far as —
AP: Any raids in Northern France and Holland? Any raids there in Lancasters?
ES: Just before D-Day, we were doing all sorts of silly things. I had, I had the dis— disputed honour of actually acting as master bomber on one of the raids on a little, er, airfield in northern France. What’s 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 — round about D-Day, there were all sorts of little raids, but they needed a master bomber on a very small airfield and they suddenly decided that this skipper’s Welsh accent would not do. So I was then, er, 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, 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 and do it? No, they were all bombing from way up, not doing very well anyway. We lost two aircrafts on that f — but I was actually — I think it was the only occasion when a flight engineer held the microphone and acted as master bomber and told them where to bomb. [unclear] have a change.
AP: All those operations that you flew, did — I’m guessing you must have seen other aircraft being shot down?
ES: Oh yeah of course we did.
AP: I mean, one of the things I’m trying to describe to people is what it was like when you were flying in all that stuff, what you saw, what people said, what they felt.
ES: It was very difficult early on, um, you got the odd one. Usually, they caught fire and went down in flames and some parachutes would come out. You hoped more did. Later on, when the — towards the end, the Germans had developed this — what did they call them? Musical chairs, which was the night fighters were equipped, er, 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 you were in the right position, climb fairly steeply and let the, er, 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, um, like bomb doors on the top of the fuselage and the bomb doors opened and there was four, er, machine guns pointing upwards, just like musical chairs, only there were only threes and we never developed it, but the Germans did. That was, that was one of the games the RAF definitely lost. My advantage, having before I started learning to fly as a flight engineer, I’d been an ordinary fitter who wanted to be a pilot and fortunately, 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, um, I worked on many, including the first bloody, er, Stirling bomber, four engine. They had a position for a flight engineer. ‘It’s your aeroplane. You fly’. That’s how I learnt, you know, to start flying. 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 and he said, ‘You’ve got to be an OAC to go on the pilot’s course’. So I did the trade test and I was a — I passed it. I was an OAC. Good. Go back to the flight commander, ‘I want a pilot’s course’. ‘You have to be an OAC for six months then you can come and see me again’. Five months later, ‘Oh hello Corporal Stocker. [unclear] You can’t be a pilot now. You’re too valuable. You’re a corporal fitter’. OK. I’m working in the hangar one day and the flight clerk comes out, and he’s got an AMO, he says, ‘The flight commander thinks you might like to look at this’. It was the first AMO asking — Air Ministry Order — asking for volunteers to fly as flight engineer. If you are a corporal or a sergeant in, in the group 1 trade, you can volunteer to be a flight engineer. I think the flight commander had a clue that I might be interested in that and so I went back with the flight clerk [laugh] and volunteered [laugh], 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. But that’s how it happened. The first flight commander was Flight Lieutenant Cheshire. Oh dear. What can I add to that?
AP: Let’s, let’s jump to that, the island of Walcheren. Can you talk about that raid?
ES: Oh, one of the most interesting raids. The war was nearly over, there weren’t — there wasn’t a great deal of opposition anywhere and then they wanted to sink the Walcheren. The island of Walcheren was at the mouth of the Scheldt and was really guarding the entrance to northern Germany. They’d tried to get across — there’d been an unsuccessful attempt by the Army to do a landing on the, er, 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, er, so we were — I was bomb aimer with the master bomber. The master bomber was Group Captain Peter Cribb. He was on thirty. He took over from Cheshire as flight commander of the 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 sea shore and we 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 this markers right on the sea shore and we managed to breach the dy— the dyke and the sea water went through and started flooding the island of Walcheren. There was an AK-AK battery on the other side of the town from where we were, er, which fired the odd shots, but we had some thousand pound bombs, a couple, four or something, so between two raids, I did a sharp turn to port and I dropped my fourth one thousand pounder in the vicinity of the AK-AK battery, and had the good fortune to watch the brave gu— German gunners get on their bikes and, er, ride down the island in the middle of the raid. They left us to it. So really it wasn’t — there was no real opposition there. Anyway, we carried on with our — all these little raids and gradually made the, er, dyke leak and the island was flooding behind. The last raid, the last, um, batch of bombers we were getting were from 617 Squadron, they had their tallboys they [unclear] at that time. Well, we looked at the dyke and the sun and the sea was going in, and the skipper called them up and said, ‘Go home. We don’t need you’, which was for Pathfinders was a not idea because Pathfinders and 5 Group, which was Cochrane’s private 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 [emphasis] been on a raid. He’d been shot down in Norway. He knew, he knew the score. That made the difference. He had a different outlook. But, um, actually yes, it 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 was a bit of sand round the edge and somebody had opened a café there, so we got somebody in business anyway. They set up a committee to evaluate the value of Bomber — what was happening with Bomber Command and they came to this awful conclusion that how a few bombs arrived within ten miles of the target. There was obviously a fault there and I having — this was the impression I had from my very first raid on Essen, that the accuracy with which they found the target was pathetic. And as a result of that, there was a great deal of conversation at the top end of Bomber Command and the Air Ministry what to do about it. Butcher Harris was not keen on the idea of a, an elite, um, a special force, special squadrons who were experienced and could lead the way. He said it was a sort of elitism. We don’t want elitism in Bomber Command. Certain people could see that this was the way to go, er, but Harris was overruled by C and C I suppose, I don’t know which one it was, and was told to look at the idea of an elite force, er, they eventually came up with the conclusion they’ll have with a special force. Initially they took — each group was asked to provide one squadron for this special force, so we ended up initially with Pathfinders with a hodgepodge of squadrons. There was one Whitley Squad–, no not one Whitley, one Wellington Squadron, there was a Stirling Squadron number 7, er, there was a Halifax Squadron 35, and they were put together as a, as an elite force. They had to find a CO. Don Bennett was in with — the main, main problem was navigation. Don Bennett was a well-known navigator; he was the only officer in the Air Force with a first class navigator certificate to start with. He’d already proved himself as navigator by flying the Maia Composite from Scotland to South Africa by himself. Just — all he had on board was a wireless operator. He was an experienced navigator. He’d started in — had already early on in the war started the transatlantic ferry. They used to fly — put Hudson bombers from America into boxes and put them on a ship to come Am— to England. Don Bennett was recruited really by BOAC to do, er, to do something about it and he started the transatlantic ferry by leading the first formation of bomb— Hudson bombers across the Atlantic to England and started the transatlantic ferry. He was then a civilian in the BOAC. He had been in the Air Force before the war so he started the Pathfinders and he put it together, because he had — he was the only AOC that they could find who had experience of flying bombers, who was an experienced navigator, who proved that he could navigate and, um, that’s how Pathfinders started, but it made a hell of a difference. We started first of all, trying to mark — how to mark the targets. All sorts of things were tried but Pathfinders gradually developed very, very rapidly, um, initially as this bunch of squadrons, then it became a Group and, er, ended up as quite a big air force of its own. At the end of the war, Pathfinders’ Group, number 8 Group, had over a hundred aircraft, it had a hundred Mosquitos for the late night strikers. It was an enormous empire but, um, it did the job. We found ways of finding the target, we found ways of marking the target, and we ended up in a situation where we could, if the weather — in reasonable conditions, we could hit any target anywhere. The development of the master bomber, which started with the Peenemünde raid, was a big step forward. It gave us some control, where the people, er, the other people who may be on their first or second trip and never seen enemy fire before a chance to be guided, and given some encouragement, what was going on, what to do. That was a big step forward. It was interesting to live thorough it all from, er, hit and miss and, er, precision bombing helped it.



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Ted Stocker. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 26, 2024,

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