Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Fighting Airmen of Two World Wars—Part 3 of 4: British and Allied Airmen – Bombers

[Editor's note:  This series is being presented on each of the Thursdays during October 2022. MH]

By Adrian Roberts

Part 1 of this series looked at some German Airmen who saw aerial combat in both World Wars. The remaining parts will deal with some well-known Allied airmen. The RAF was stricter than the Germans about the age limits of combat fliers, so the definition of combat in the following examples will be broader.

Part 3 looks mainly at some who were associated with bombers.

William Staton (left in photo) was a large extrovert who was nicknamed “Bull”, and later “King Kong.” He was born in 1898 and flew Bristol F2B Fighters (two-seaters) with 62 Squadron in 1918, becoming an ace with 26 victories, including possibly the first victory of the RAF after it’s formation on 1 April 1918. He remained in the RAF, specializing in flying boats for several years, and at the outbreak of WWII, he was commanding 10 Squadron flying Whitley bombers. He led some of the first air raids on German territory, and realizing the lack of accuracy started to formulate the ideas that led to the Pathfinder force. He was then posted to the Far East as an acting group captain, and was taken prisoner by the Japanese when they over-ran Java. He was severely punished for resisting interrogation, and had all his teeth pulled out. He managed to survive captivity and retired as an air vice-marshal. He captained the British shooting teams in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. He died in 1983.

Benjamin Silly was born in 1893 in Australia and worked in Switzerland before the war. After serving in the Royal Fusiliers and the Royal Artillery he joined the RFC, and after training joined 55 Squadron flying DH4 bombers in daylight raids over Germany. He progressed to flight commander and then CO of the squadron by the end of the war. 

He was a Group Captain by the start of WWII and was appointed senior air staff officer in Singapore. After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942 he was evacuated to Java, promoted to acting air commodore, and given the impossible task of organizing the onward evacuation of 12,000 men to Australia. When Java was over-run, he had the opportunity to escape but chose to stay with his men, and was taken prisoner. He died in Japanese captivity on 7 December 1943 and is buried at Sai Wan War Cemetery, Hong Kong.

Ronald Ivelaw-Chapman was probably the only RAF officer whom Winston Churchill ordered to be shot on sight. Born in January 1899, by the last few months of WWI he was flying Armstrong-Whitworth FK8 artillery observation aircraft with 10 Squadron in France, aged only 19. He gained a permanent commission in the RAF after the war, being involved in the evacuation of Kabul in 1928. This was neither the first nor the last evacuation of that city by the British, but it was the first time that a major evacuation was carried out anywhere by air; 512 civilians were evacuated by three aircraft none of which could take more than ten adults at a time, with no casualties.

He held several staff positions during WW2. For several months of 1943 he was involved in planning for the invasion of France. He was then, as an air commodore, station commander of the bomber base at Elsham Wolds. On the 7 May 1944, he flew on an operation accompanying the crew of a Lancaster. The aircraft was shot down by a night fighter, and he and the radio operator were the only crew able to bale out. He had been given permission to make this flight, but Churchill was furious when he heard that a senior officer with knowledge of the invasion plans could be in German hands and ordered that he be killed by the French Resistance rather than risk interrogation by the Germans. Ivelaw-Chapman was indeed hidden by the Resistance, but the command never got through, or at least was not acted on. By the time the Germans captured him, the invasion was under way. He returned to Britain after the war, and as far as he knew, the order was never rescinded. However, it didn’t do his career any harm; he became vice-chief of the Air Staff, and retired in the four-star rank of air chief marshal. Like Stanley Vincent, he was a pioneer of the movement to preserve WWII aircraft; the photo shows him in a postwar photo-reconnaissance Spitfire. He died in 1978.

Maurice Arnoux, a French pilot, was the only non-German and non-English example that I have been able to find. Born in 1895, after flying Farman two-seaters, he became a scout pilot with Escadrille N49, renamed Spa49 after replacing Nieuports with SPADs. He was credited with five victories including two balloons, and awarded the Croix de Guerre. Between the wars he was a noted racing and test-pilot, mainly in light aircraft, winning several races and setting records including an altitude of over 25,000 feet in a light aircraft in 1937. It seems that he returned to flying fighters in WWII, but was killed in action on 6 June 1940. I can find no more details about his death, even whether it was definitely in the air rather than on the ground. Most website references to him are word-for-word copies of Wikipedia! If anyone has any more information, maybe from French-language sources, I would be interested to know.

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