Jack Stafford Stories

Flight Lieutenant John "Jack" Stafford was born on 19 August 1922 in New Lynn, Auckland. He joined the RNZAF in March 1942. He was converted to Hurricanes before being posted to 486 Squadron in November 1943 as a Sergeant Pilot. Based at Tangmere with Hawker Typhoon, 486 Sqn were engaged in operations over Europe in preparation for the invasion of Europe the following year. In January 1944, 486 Sqn were re-equipped with Hawker Tempest. In February Stafford was posted to the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Hatfield as a testpilot in the Propeller Test Division. By April he was back with 486 Sqn. The squadron flew fighter sweeps, shipping strikes and ground attack prior to D-Day, before becoming one of the main units involved in the V-1 Flying Bomb campaign. In early September 486 he returned to the offensive over Europe. In late September Stafford covered the airborne invasion to capture Arnhem and the Nijmegan Bridges before the squadron moved to Europe as a part of the Second Tactical Air Force, based at Grimbergen in Belgium. 486 Sqn moved again in early October to Volkel in Holland. On Christmas Day Jack Stafford, along with Flying officer Bremner shot down the first confirmed Me 262 for 486 Sqn. Stafford was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in February and made Flight Commander of A Flight. He was posted to 83 Group HQ Mettingen, Germany on 15th May, receiving the DFC. On 15 May he was posted to 80 Sqn at Fassberg before moving to Copenhagen.

He was repatriated to New Zealand in December 1945 and left RNZAF in April 1946. Jack is now semi-retired, living at Okareka, near Rotorua.

 

Intercept the Flying Bomb

 

My first flying bomb interception took place June 16 1944. It was a total disaster. I caught up to the bomb and while shooting my cannons jammed. I was almost shot down by our own flak, which was totally disorganised and firing constantly and badly, endangering our own fighters. On 19 June I shot down my first flying bomb and between June16 and July 31, I shot down 8, while recording 56 patrols. From July 31 to August 26 I shot down one further bomb while recording a further 30 patrols. During this period I also carried out intruder attacks in France on ground targets and Fighter sweeps. 
This was not a notable score. Three pilots on our squadron had scores around the twenty mark. They were Ginger Eagleson, Jim McCaw and Ray Cammock. Ginger joined 486 with me, Jim McCaw was our Flight Commander and Ray Cammock had done a tour of duty in Africa before joining 486. Three Squadron had several pilots who scored around 30 and Sqdn Ldr Berry, flying a Tempest, scored 60. Several Mosquito pilots, I think, flying at night scored over 50. From the advent of the flying bomb the British Defence Forces moved quickly. British flak concentrated on the South coast and a balloon barrage was erected across Southern London to give protection. This concentrated flak was very effective and the balloons played their part. The area between the flak and the balloon barrage was left to the fighter aircraft. We were free to make our interceptions and engage the bombs without being subjected to interference.

 

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An exploding V-1 at only 300 yards range.

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A Tempest is chasing a V-1 over the English countryside.

We patrolled a couple of thousand feet higher than the anticipated height of the intruding bombs and were kept well informed, by control, of their imminent arrival. We would be vectored to the expected position where the bomb would cross the coast and were given a perfect countdown to the arrival of the enemy. Control was always totally accurate and we would see the flak barrage that met the bomb and heralded its position. As soon as any of the missiles cleared the flak we would make our attack, starting with a long diving turn to bring us into the best position to engage. We would be at full revs and boost. The speed of our targets would vary at times but usually they would cross the channel at around 350mph and by using up their fuel and so lightened, would attain around 400 mph when we met them. In our diving attack we would reach a speed of between 400mph and 450 mph. This gave us 2-3 minutes to catch them before they reached London. It should be remembered that the Flying bomb carried a warhead of 2000 lb of high explosive. At a speed of around 430 mph the Tempest was travelling through the air at something like 170 yds. per second. You don't need to be Einstein to calculate that in the event of a bomb exploding, the pilot has between one and two seconds to evade the blast. depending on the distance at which he opened fire. Consider also that the blast will move in all directions, back towards the pursuing aircraft as well as up and down. No wonder there were so many scorched Tempests sitting around the airfield at times. My technique was very simple and basic. I just attempted to close from astern and get within 2-300 yds of the target and fire with no deflection. The formidable armament we carried, four 20mm cannons, should do the rest. At times the bomb would blow up and we were forced to fly through the blast and debris, as previously mentioned. Pilots were killed on such occasions but the Tempest was one tough aircraft and took a lot of punishment. In my own case I just fired at the entire unmanned aircraft but seemed to hit the jet unit or part of the control surfaces. Sometimes a wing would be hit and the bomb would spin into the ground and explode. I did have several explode in front of me, with no serious consequences. Occasionally the gyro controlling the bomb would be hit and the missile would perform the most impressive and entertaining aerobatics before hitting the earth and exploding, normally in open country. Speed was a requirement for success and the Tempest had the most magnificent performance. At this low altitude it was supreme.
Determination from the pilot was imperative. You had to chase and close regardless, to obtain success. Any hesitation during the attack rendered the operation impotent. The intrepid obtained and deserved victory.

 

All success was to a certain extent, a lottery. If you were flying when they came over you had a chance. If unlucky you could fly many tedious patrols and see nothing. We flew in pairs and the leading aircraft got the first chance at the target. No2 had to wait, unless several came over together. While not often difficult to catch, with a Tempest, they were difficult to hit and destroy and they were always dangerous. Pilots considerate of their own safety were not among the successful. As always, fortune favours the brave.
Our desire was to destroy the bomb in the air. Our job was to defend the defenceless on the ground. I felt a sensation of virtue while engaged in these operations. I felt like a defender of the innocent. The knight in shining armour. It was different when intruding over Germany. There I felt I was an intruder, almost a violator. Despite this, flying over the land of the enemy, with its increased danger was always very exciting, nerves on edge, an unbelievable buzz. But still a trespass. We lived under rather primitive conditions We had tents that slept 2, 3 or 4 pilots on cots with sleeping bags. Our officers mess was a Marquee. Our airstrip was reinforced with a landing strip of steel support cross members. There were no facilities for bathing at the airstrip and the lavatory was a trench in the ground some distance from the tent lines. It was summer and far from pleasant. Water was obtained from a well.


A system was quickly established enabling us to spend 24 hrs on duty at the airfield, followed by 24hrs off. This was great. The 24hrs off were spent at Eastbourne, Hastings or Ashford, which was the closest. Mid day would see those who came off duty leave in an assortment of decrepit old vehicles for the chosen city. Rick Tanner and I usually headed for Hastings where we were treated royally by the publican of the Railway Hotel. He was wonderful to us, good food, hospitality and always a bath. Bruce Lawless went with me on several occasions and ended up marrying the Inn keepers lovely daughter. Together they made their home in England, which was a loss to New Zealand.
Newchurch was a place of great historic significance and had played many parts in English History. Numerous tales were told of the smugglers who frequented the area Nothing much happened in early times, without Newchurch being in some way affected. I heard that a local vicar was, in the distant past, a most infamous Smuggler. Good for him! On one occasion I woke early in my tent. I needed to use the latrine. I left the tent and walked out into the predawn with a swirling ground fog lying mysteriously all around. I walked through the mist and completed my ablutions. I returned towards the tent line and gradually the camp and the tent lines came indistinctly into view through the dispersing mist. I stopped and stood still. All was silent. I noted a lightening in the eastern sky. My imagination was stimulated; we were not that far from Hastings. Possibly some of the English survivors of that disaster headed east attempting to escape the Norman Conquerors. Could this have been a resting-place after the great Battle? Did the retreating English or maybe the pursuing Norman camp here? Were their horses tethered in the fields where now our aircraft stood? Their tents could have occupied the same site where ours were now pitched. Technology so different, men so similar. The mingled blood of the Anglo-Norman still pulsed through the veins of many of us here today. As men, we would be little different from those ancestors of one thousand years ago. Driven by the same desires, the same fears, the same hopes, not knowing what the future would bring to any of us. Fighting to the death in a conflict whose political causes and ultimate aims were little understood by most of the participants.


The noise of clattering pots and pans came from the cookhouse. More light was coming from the East. The ghostly groundmist swirled and disappeared around me. A short flight for a fighter, away across the Channel, young men from many Nations lay groaning and dying in the sands of Normandy, and in the surrounding countryside. Hundreds of miles away-in some cases thousands of miles away, families would soon be mourning the loss of their beloved sons.


A few shouted commands came from the airfield. The noise of the ground staff preparing for the days' flying came clearly. The crack of a starter cartridge, followed by the ear splitting roar from the 2,500 horsepower Napier Sabre ended my ancient reverie, time to act not dream. Across the sea, in the land of the Norman's, German soldiers were readying the flying bombs to launch the offensive of the day. Soon I'd be mounting my steel battle charger in much the same way as perhaps the Normans and their English enemies mounted their battle chargers in 1066. Perhaps.

 

Jack Stafford © 2002.

 

 

Rhubarb to Münster, December 22 1944

 

"The decision to do this show was made in the mess late the night before, at a time when decisions like this should never be made. A time when the confidence supplied by a few drinks overcomes discretion. We decided to do a Rhubarb, a low-level show. Might pick up a hun or two around Munster air field? Sounds great! The success of these shows depended, to a large extent, on the weather.To be effective we needed a low cloud base, into which we could seek refuge if we got into trouble with enemy fighters and yet good visibility for a few hundred feet to enable us to seek out and see targets. Bill Williams, our deeply respected Flight Commander, was to lead, with Bev Hall, Ray Danzey, myself and Jim Sheddan. The weather forecast was perfect for such a trip, cloud base about 1,000 ft and 10/10. The morning dawned cold and depressing. We breakfasted, climbed into our truck and headed for the dispersal and the briefing .The weather worsened but around midday we got a clearance to proceed In a short time we were out at the end of the runway Jim developed an oil leak so we were one down. We took off but Ray became separated or had engine trouble and turned back. Depleted in number, our three remaining aircraft forced on regardless. We were well used to flying together, I had joined 486 on the 25th Nov '43 together with Ginger Eagleson Bev and Bill had joined 486 together in January 44. Bill had already completed a tour of 'ops on Spitfires, part of it flying from Malta. Bev was straight from OTU. Bill Williams was a man of average height, slim and fastidious. Gentlemanly and soft spoken it was always a pleasure to be with him. Married before leaving NEW ZEALAND, Bev had a baby son back home. He spoke of this child frequently. Together we had been on leave in Edinburgh shortly before this flight. Over previous months, flying 'ops together, we had become close friends. Bev was tall and strongly built. He was dark and his thick black hair showed a tinge of premature grey. With faith in each others ability we confidently flew on into the gloom of that German afternoon. We had taken off at 14.40 hrs and the murk increased with each passing minute. Once into Germany the weather deteriorated badly, the cloud base lowered. Bill was leading on a compass course as at that height map reading was difficult to say the least. A couple of times we came suddenly onto targets and I found it impossible to line them up before overshooting, although I managed to get a few bursts into a couple of flak emplacements.This was a highlight as most of the Flak gunners were playing soccer immediately in front of me as I came over a hedge and gave them a squirt. 
Bev fired at a high-tension pylon, which exploded with a brilliant flame. I was very impressed at the fireworks display and kept an eye open for a similar target. Bill found the weather too dicey and decided to return to base. We turned 180 degrees and set course for Holland. We were flying at zero feet, rising for belts of trees as the cloud had come right down. Shortly after turning I saw ahead of me a high tension cable and decided to emulate Bev's spectacular success. The pylon was in sight and I actually was firing up at it. My shells were crashing all over it but no explosion I fired a long burst striking it with numerous hits but it failed to explode. I persisted. Suddenly I realised I'd left it too late to avoid a collision. I wrenched back the stick and kicked the left rudder to dodge the pylon itself and with a sickening thump I struck the cable. My main memory is of the other aircraft streaking away from me and my Tempest hanging in the air almost stalled. She shuddered and ,as I stuck the nose down, I noticed that the airspeed had fallen to around 170mph,well down from the 400 mph we had been doing. I was almost at the stall when I got the nose down and she recovered just in time to lift, and was almost on the ground when she regaining flying speed .
Bev and Bill were several miles ahead of me, such was my loss of speed, and were attacking a train, which had several flak cars on it. As I stumbled up, the Tempests were well on their way with the flak following them. I gave the flak cars a couple of long bursts, at the gunners and also plastered the loco. The gunners were back on to me and were firing madly at Bev and Bill so I was able to upset the plans of some of them for that evening and many to follow. My speed had not really built up so the flak gave me a hard time as I flew low over them. They had just me to shoot at and really wanted to get me. I heard hits on my aircraft and she shuddered, almost staggering in the air. I caught up to the others and as I did we approached a town (Vreden) from which we were met with a violent barrage of flak .
My only chance of survival was to be low, low, low. I was just clear of the ground, firing my cannons at the flashes from their guns as they poured it at us. As we came to the town I raised one wing and I skidded down the street between buildings. Billy lifted up to clear a building on my left, we were only meters apart . I could see light flak pouring into the underside of his fuselage. His aircraft was wobbling and as we left the town he was forward in his seat and getting lower towards the ground I flew beside him screaming at him to pull up.
His head kept falling forward and lifting again as he struggled to see and to control the crippled plane. I was devastated, I yelled and cursed the hun I watched him as he finally slumped forward and his aircraft dropped lower, still being struck by the following Flak. He hit the ground, skipped like a stone and hit again, exploding into a great orange ball ,the colour exaggerated by the misty low cloud. I felt so sick I could hardly hold my head up. At that point I took a cannon shell from behind which deadened the radio and filled the cockpit with smoke. I could smell the explosive while wearing an oxygen mask. Bev who had been a mile or so out to port from us closed up on me and I climbed into the cloud, finally breaking through above it.
Bev kept trying to formate on me expecting me to lead but I wanted him to get a vector home and kept pointing to my earphones. Finally he got the message and turned slightly indicating that he was in contact with control. We droned on just on top of the cloud ready to drop into it if attacked by German fighters. I was checking the instruments and had low oil pressure and a high temperature. Apart from being very noisy everything seemed to function. After some time Bev indicated a reduction in height and we dropped into the cloud gradually lowering through it in tight formation. We broke cloud about 1000ft and were met by a mass of flak; they were waiting for us. Bev went onto his back and disappeared beneath me and I was almost blown upside down as a large hole appeared in my starboard wing close to my cannons. I pulled up into the cloud, with the flak all around me providing a most disconcerting scene. I flew on a SW course in cloud for some time quite sure that I was the only one left. Again I decided to descend to try and locate my position. I broke cloud. Beneath me was an airstrip with a windsock but no sign of any aircraft or transport. I thought it may have been recently captured by the Allies and could be in South Eastern Holland.
My engine was giving trouble, running rougher than ever and the temperature was alarming. I thought I should try to put it down and approached the airfield. I felt I MUST be in Southern Holland by now. I did a cautious circuit but as I was on the downwind leg I became apprehensive. Something didn't look right I opened up and started to climb away. At this point I was again subjected to some very unpleasant flak, mighty close. I was still in enemy country. I remained in the cloud continuing SW but was starting to doubt the compass and everything else. Finally the motor started to miss and smelled dangerously hot, oil pressure right down and vibrations coming through the stick and rudder pedals.
The cloud base had lowered even more and I was just in the cloud looking at the dark landscape beneath. I saw a village and flew towards it deciding that if I were in the British-American zone, transport would be there .and if Allied, it would be easily identified . I passed over the village very low and thank God, big white stars on the tops of several trucks, a large ploughed field suitable for a belly landing was nearby and I decided to put her down. As I turned and lined up for the approach I was amazed to see recall rockets piercing the mist in the distance, obviously from an airfield. My chances of survival would be better there, 'fire truck and meat wagon.' I made for it, nursing that faithful old kite through the gathering gloom. As the strip came into sight it seemed to be a dream, I couldn't believe it- it was Volkel, the strip I had left to go on this show! I approached, without any circuit, dropped my wheels, got the green lights, dropped the flaps, no flaps. That didn't matter - at Volkel, with the length of runway I had plenty of room. I glided over the perimeter track and touched down on the airfield I had despaired of ever seeing again. Home, safe, alive, no more flak- until tomorrow! I could hardly believe it.
In the mess I was congratulated, even by the G/cpt.( NZer Pat Jameson) on the great navigational feat in that weather, with no radio, badly damaged, etc. I said nothing but wondered how in hell I did get home? I had had no idea where I was. Was it some unknown instinct guiding me? Was it perhaps the soul of Billy Williams in the cockpit unseen with me? Did we come home together?
Bev Hall had survived with an aircraft as battered as mine. He had arrived back long before me. Five days later we were together, just the two of us, high in that cold and merciless German sky. He was shot down and killed by a Focke Wulf 190."

 

Flight Lieutenant Jack Stafford DFC © 486 (NZ) Squadron

 

 

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Flight Lieutenant Jack Stafford, 
DFC 486 (NZ) Squadron

Footnotes: 
Bill Williams was buried in the Roman Catholic Parish churchyard at Losser in Holland. Postwar his body was to have been re-interred into the British Cemetery at Arnhem but the Bürgermeister appealed to his parents to leave the gravesite undisturbed. Bill was the only soldier buried in the churchyard and the townsfolk considered it an honour that he be allowed to remain there. They take care of the plot, and every year in a ceremony similar to Anzac Day, fresh flowers are laid in memory of him.
Subsequent information shows that Bev Hall was killed by Leutnant Peter Crump, Staffelkapitaen of 10/JG54. Crump survived the war with over 40 allied kills.

 

 

Source:
Flight Lieutenant Jack Stafford DFC © 486 (NZ) Sqn.