The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. W R Stevens
William Ronald Stevens was born in 1920 in North Shields and attended St. Elizabeth’s Infant School at Altringham, Cheshire during 1926 and later St. John’s Church of England School at Altringham during 1932. At the outbreak of war in September 1939 Stevens joined the RAF as a Leading Aircraftsman (LAC), training as an air gunner.
Having completed his training at RAF Manby Air Armament School (No. 1 AAS) he was posted to ‘A’ Flight of 23 Squadron, operating Blenheims at Wittering near Peterborough.
The following account is based on Stevens’ Observer/Air Gunner flying log-book, with his written notes shown in italics.
His first flight was at 0515 hrs on the 10th October 1939 with Sgt. Dann, flying Blenheim MS-B from Wittering to Digby.
At 0730hrs the same day he was on his first ‘Searchlight Patrol’' with F/O Duke-Woolley lasting one and a half hours. On the 11th October LAC Stevens was taken up in Blenheim MS-A by S/Ldr. Beamish (the CO) for an assessment lasting 30 minutes. On the 18th October 1939 he was again flying with S/Ldr. Beamish this time in Blenheim MS-D on a Searchlight Co-operation and also investigating Very lights dropped over Sutton Bridge.
On the 20th October Stevens was crewed up with Sgt. Burton on a Patrol in Blenheim MS-E from Digby when they pursued an unknown aircraft but were unable to intercept.
On the morning of the 30th Stevens was crewed up with Sgt. Burton in Blenheim MS-G on an Escort and Patrol duty over the North Sea, returning to Bircham Newton. He took off again at 4pm with Sgt. Burton in the same aircraft in order to escort bombers, but lost contact with them due to R/T failure, landing at Hemswell.
Stevens next Patrol was on the 7th November when he was crewed up with P/O Cooper-Key (later killed in Hurricane P2685 with 46 Squadron on 24th July) in Blenheim MS-G on a Searchlight Patrol lasting for one and a half hours.
On the 27th November Stevens completed two Patrols with P/O Danbury flying Blenheim MS-F for one hour forty five minutes.
On the next day Stevens records that he flew on a Searchlight Patrol with S/Ldr. Beamish and the AOC in Blenheim MS-E for one and a half hours. Beamish signed the logbook.
Stevens next flight was on the 19th December 1939 with Sgt. Burton in Blenheim MS-D on a Searchlight Patrol.
In the new year on the 11th January 1940 Stevens, by now a Sergeant, was crewed up with F/Lt. Joseph O’Brien (later killed on 7th September with 234 Squadron flying Spitfire P9466) on a Searchlight Patrol lasting two hours.
Stevens makes a note in his log for 10th February that he was with F/Lt. O’Brien in Blenheim YP-X (flown by P/O Gawith) when they practised abandoning the aircraft, which took 28 seconds.
On the 16th February Stevens was crewed up with P/O Cooper-Key in Blenheim YP-E on a Light Ship Patrol for over three and a half hours. This was repeated the next day with F/Lt. O’Brien flying Blenheim YP-N for three hours.
The next Searchlight Patrol was on the 12th April with Sgt. Burton flying Blenheim YP-A for one hour forty minutes.
On the 26th April Stevens had Sgt. Clise as his pilot flying in Blenheim YP-E an a Searchlight Patrol lasting for over one and a half hours.
Stevens then undertook various night flying tests and tactical exercises on different aircraft with different pilots during the month of May and flew his next Night Patrol on the 6th June with P/O Cooper-Key flying Blenheim YP-A for one hour and twenty minutes. The next night he flew with S/Ldr. Leslie Bicknell on a Night Interception Patrol from 0105 to 0320 in YP-A.
23 Squadron had been under 12 Group at RAF Collyweston during this period, but would be moved to RAF Wittering in 11 Group during August 1940 and onto RAF Ford in September.
On the 28th June 1940 Stevens flew with P/O Duff for the first time in Blenheim YP-Z on a RDF Patrol for over three hours. A further Night Patrol of three hours was undertaken on the 30th June with P/O Willans flying Blenheim YP-X. Stevens then undertook a series of Air Firing Exercises with camera gun and RDF trials in the early part of July with P/O Duff, P/O Willans and P/O Orgias, going back on a Night Patrol at 2330 hrs on the 22nd July with P/O Duff flying Blenheim YP-Y for two hours fifty-five minutes. This particular sortie was the first one flown during the official Battle of Britain period.
Stevens again flew with P/O Duff in YP-Y on the night of 27th July taking off at 0030 hrs for a Night Patrol lasting two and a half hours.
A further Night Patrol taking off at 1800 hrs lasting one hour fifteen minutes was flown in YP-Y on the 28th July with P/O Duff as the pilot.
This was repeated again on the 31st July, this time in Blenheim YP-G flown by P/O Duff.
At 2225 hrs on the 9th August 1940 Stevens flew with P/O Orgias in Blenheim YP-B on a Night Patrol lasting one hour twenty minutes.
During the afternoon of the 12th August P/O Duff and Stevens completed a North Sea Patrol in Blenheim YP-Y lasting one and a half hours.
At 2230 hrs on the same day they completed another Night Patrol lasting for two and a half hours in Blenheim YP-B.
At 0255 hrs on the 19th August 1940 Stevens and P/O Duff took off on a Night Patrol of just over one hour, flying in Blenheim YP-X.
At 2315 hrs on the 9th September Stevens and P/O Duff made a Night Patrol of one and a half hours, in Blenheim YP-Y
On the 17th September at 2300 hrs Stevens and Sgt. Duff made a Night Patrol of 50 minutes in Blenheim YP-H.
The next Night Patrols were undertaken at 2050 hrs on the 23rd September for two hours, with AC2 Butterworth as the radar operator, and at 2110 hrs on the 26th for one hour and fifty five minutes both in Blenheim YP-D.
On the 7th October P/O Duff and Stevens took off at 2245 hrs for a one hour and ten minutes flight again in Blenheim YP-D on a Night Patrol.
The next evening at 1810hrs they took off on another Night Patrol lasting one hour and thirty minutes flying Blenheim 1f L8722 YP-Y when they engaged an enemy aircraft. During the combat Stevens aircraft was damaged by return fire forcing P/O Duff to crash land at Tangmere. Neither of them was injured but the aircraft was damaged beyond repair. Stevens notes in his logbook 'Patrol - also crashed up at Tangmere'.
They were airborne again the same night at 2300hrs in Blenheim YP-X on a further Night Patrol lasting one hour and fifty minutes. The ORB’s note that the weather deteriorated between 2200 and 2300hrs, and again at 0300hrs until dawn, visibility being hazy at 7000 ft.
The next Night Patrol was at 22235 hrs on the 13th October in Blenheim YP-F, this time for two hours and twenty minutes in the air.
On the 19th they were airborne from 2010 for two hours 30 minutes on another Night Patrol in Blenheim YP-J.
Taking off at 1820hrs, the final Night Patrol of the month and during the Battle of Britain period was for forty five minutes on the 29th in Blenheim YP-A.
The next entry in his logbook is dated 13th January 1941 and Sgt. Stevens is flying with F/Lt. Gracie as his pilot at 1450 hrs in Blenheim YP-Z on a Test Flight of thirty minutes. At 1925 hrs the same day he is again flying with Gracie, this time in Blenheim YP-G for thirty minutes engaged on Night Landings.
At 2325 hrs on the 16th January Stevens is flying with P/O Brown in Blenheim YP-H for two hours and fifteen minutes on Special Operations.
At 2015 hrs on the 18th January Stevens is flying in Blenheim YP-A with F/O Robinson for a three hour trip to Bomb Poix in France, Stevens makes an entry 'Lots of Flak' under which there is written:-
'Log-book lost for 14 months but hours roughly exceed 240'.
The next entries in his logbook start on the 10th January 1942, when Stevens is crewed up with Sgt. Saunders flying a Lysander at 1030 hrs for one hour forty five minutes on a Channel Patrol.
The next day at 1420 hrs Stevens flies with Sgt. Barber in a Lysander for thirty five minutes To Tangmere and back.
At 0930 hrs on the 14th January Stevens is On Patrol with P/O Carillo in a Lysander for two hours.
1000 hrs on the 21st January sees Stevens crewed up with Sgt. Ormistan for a Patrol lasting two and a quarter hours in another Lysander, landing at RAF Ford.
At 1400 hrs on the 3rd February a Special Patrol is flown by Stevens along with Sgt. Barber in a Lysander.
On the 9th February at 0725 hrs Stevens is teamed up with P/O Carillo again in a Lysander for a Patrol of the Channel lasting two hours ten minutes.' Nothing Found'.
The last entry in the logbook is dated the 20th March 1942 taking off at 0815 hrs in a Walrus aircraft with F/Sgt. Higgins on a North Sea Patrol lasting two hours and thirty minutes.
Some reference works credit Sgt. William Ronald Stevens as a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Medal. On the 11th November 2010 the MOD Medal Office confirmed they could not find any trace of this award on his service record.
Sgt. Stevens kept a personal diary during 1940/41 but only a few pages now remain, he made the following entries:-
9.10.40 Tuesday, I was in very bad bombing raid today. Also went on patrol and crashed at Tangmere through very dirty weather. Cloud from 17,000 ft to 200ft. Still I got away with it OK.
21.10.40 Fleet Air Arm chaps left today it must be getting too hot for them still we will stick it out.
Received money from Mum today she’s a grand person, the best mother in the world to me. Tonight very bad crash three chaps killed and among them my old pal Tom Perry*. Accident due to dirty weather again. Roll on fine flying weather.
* Blenheim L6721 from Ford crashed at South Bearsted 2030hrs suffering R/T failure and bad weather conditions. F/Lt. Woodward, P/O Atkinson, Sgt. Perry all killed.
1.11.40 Proceeded on leave today. Grand trip but slightly dull. London very bad to travel through. Journey took 14 1/2hrs.
11.1.41 Flew with four new pilots tonight. Two very bad at night bombings. Quite a bit of fog, still we managed OK. Needed stiff drink afterwards in the form of lemonade.
15.1.41 Reggie Cullen* shot down tonight and he is now a prisoner in Germany. Weather very foggy, hope it stays that way.
* Sgt. Reginald Cullen (AG) shot down in Blenheim 1f L1226 of 23 Squadron on the 10th January 1941, and made PoW during an intruder sortie over Beauvais.
17.1.41 More bombing trips tonight still pretty foggy and cold.
18.1.41 Wednesday, Went on bombing raid tonight to Poix. Bombed Jerry drome with quite a lot of success, very cold weather, snowing at times. Met Junkers 88 on way back so we gave him a helping hand on his way back to Germany in the way of bullets!
24.1.41 Saw Nat Gonella tonight in a stage show, it was quite good.
15.2.41 Met S/Ldr. Willie Brown and F/O Robertson both from Kenley. Both grand chaps returning home from a grand leave to a busy station.
24.2.41 Set off on a wild goose chase to try and see Rosemary. Haven’t reached there yet. Up to now it looks hopeless. I am now at Fratton.
27.3.41 Was shot up by machine guns off Brighton today. We were about 20 ft up and 50yds from promenade. They were pretty lousy shots as we got away OK.
12.4.41 Proceeded on leave but I don’t know what sort of time I will receive when I get there. Bill Brewer* was killed the other night 10.4.41, bad luck, still we carry on.
* Horace Charles Jack Brewer (Obs) and other two crew members killed in Blenheim 1f L8616 M. Shot down on an intruder mission over Avelin France, and buried there.
Simon Muggleton February 2011.
Additional research by Dean Sumner.