Lone Wolf: The Outstanding Story of Britain’s Best Nightfighter Ace of the Blitz | Books | Leisure
Richard Stevens poses along with his Hurricane in 1941 on this colourised picture
By 1940 the Blitz was in full swing as London and different cities took a horrible pounding. The nocturnal raids marked a turning level within the Battle of Britain – RAF Fighter Command was relieved of the stress it was beneath however remained all however impotent in opposition to them on account of its paucity of evening combating functionality.
Nonetheless, the Luftwaffe hadn’t reckoned on the efforts of the RAF’s unlikely secret weapon – a pilot deemed too previous to be a fighter pilot however imbued with a deep hatred of the enemy and astonishing evening imaginative and prescient.
Rising up, Richard Stevens had spent hours on nocturnal walks, his siblings remembering him, “At residence at midnight – the evening intuition of a cat!”. Not solely that, however he turned a crack shot.
Firing an air pistol at 78rpm information suspended from a washing line, he delighted in getting pellets by means of the centre gap however was mortified if he missed and the dancing discs shattered into black shards.
Dragon skewering Nazi eagle from his Hurricane’s starboard engine cowling
By 1928, an adventurous spirit led him to go farming in Australia, however life there turned uninteresting so he enlisted within the Palestine Police Drive, serving for some 4 years. By 1936, he was again in Britain, married to Mabel Hyde and studying to fly.
Qualifying as a pilot, he flew airliners from Croydon Airport the place his potential to see at midnight stood him in good stead on evening flights. A colleague recalled: “Stevens’ evening sight was unimaginable. Not solely may he see within the fog and mist, he had the instincts of a homing pigeon.”
Stevens quickly enlisted within the RAF’s volunteer reserve. Then, after warfare was declared in September 1939, he flew Military co-operation flights and a goal plane coaching anti-aircraft gunners.
He desperately wished to get on the enemy although, at 31, his superior years dominated him out as a frontline fighter or bomber pilot. In the meantime, Mabel and their kids, twins John and Frances, have been concerned in a tragic home accident.
In October 1940, a paraffin range overturned inflicting a fireplace through which Frances died aged simply 21-months. Stevens was devastated and the tragedy led to him turning into estranged from Mabel. Later, it was reported his spouse and surviving baby had been killed within the Blitz – a narrative Stevens did nothing to dispel although, as we will see, it was fanciful.
By late 1940, after relentlessly pestering the authorities, Stevens was lastly posted to coach as a fighter pilot.
His teacher recalled: “We have been used to coping with younger and inexperienced pilots. On to this scene burst 31-year-old Stevens – vastly extra skilled than any of us instructors. He was an extremely competent unhealthy climate pilot, and we may have taught him to fly the Hurricane in every week. However the ‘system’ demanded he keep the complete course.”
However, in November 1940, Stevens was posted to 151 Squadron at RAF Wittering in Cambs as an evening fighter pilot.
Right here, on the evening of January 15/16, 1941 – 80 years in the past this week – he tasted victory for the primary time. Over Essex, he got here throughout a Dornier 17 bomber, sending it flaming into the bottom.
Stevens, momentarily blacking out from extreme G-forces within the dive from 30,000ft, over harassed his Hurricane to an extent it was instantly grounded.
Taking on one other Hurricane later that evening, he discovered additional prey and put a Heinkel into the ocean off Canvey Island. Touchdown at Gravesend to refuel, Stevens strode into the aircrew hut to seek out exhausted pilots lounging round doing nothing.
Pilot Officer Ivor Cosby recalled: “All of the sudden, in strode a chap sporting a sheepskin jacket and flying boots. Wanting round, he demanded, ‘Why aren’t you lot airborne?’ He was informed in no unsure phrases of 1 syllable, and some expletives, what he may do.
“We requested him who the hell he was, the place he got here from, and in what? He informed us from Wittering, in a Hurricane. We informed him: ‘Bloody nicely return there!'”
Stevens second kill, a Heinkel, is recovered
Richard’s first ‘kill’ was immortalised by warfare artist Eric Kennington in a piece referred to as Stevens Rocket, printed with a Kennington portrait of Stevens himself within the London Illustrated Information.
Admitted to hospital with a burst eardrum attributable to diving from 30,000ft, Stevens later wrote to his father: “I resent congratulations for a job that 9/10ths of the RAF may have performed as simply or higher.”
His first ‘kill’ after recovering was a bomber he noticed in opposition to the moon’s reflection on the ocean. The raider stood no likelihood. Then, on April 8, he despatched one other bomber crashing in flames close to Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.
Two days later, Stevens actually flew by means of the exploding particles of a Heinkel. One of many survivors, a traumatised air gunner, informed me in 1987: “We have been flying slowly at beneath 100 ft in misty situations. I believed we have been invisible. All of the sudden, I seemed up and noticed the shadow of an evening fighter proper on high of us.
“I simply could not consider it because the cockpit and propeller slowly moved inside our tail airplane. When he opened-up along with his cannon, I believed he had collided with us as a result of our particles was throughout him. However there, fairly clearly seen within the glare of our burning plane, a black helmeted determine was silhouetted within the open cockpit.”
In his quick and meteoric profession, Stevens had grow to be legendary within the RAF. Whereas newspapers lauded him as Cat’s Eyes, a senior RAF officer referred to as him Lone Wolf and tales of his exploits abounded.
As soon as, when a bomber exploded in entrance of him, the bloody stays of a German airman have been splattered throughout his Hurricane.
The Lone Wolf’s grave is well-preserved in honour of his function
His mechanic recalled: “How he landed at midnight I do not know. The windscreen had a big gap in it. The oil tank was punctured and dented, and we discovered hair and bits of bone caught to the forefront of the port wing. The ideas of the propeller blades have been coated in blood.”
Stevens painted a vibrant dragon on to his Hurricane, an RAF ensign wrapped in its tail because it speared a swastika-bedecked eagle.
His rating rising, Stevens developed harmful ways to trace his quarry, intentionally flying into anti-aircraft barrages. Figuring out this was the place the Germans could be, he picked off raiders with consummate marksmanship.
Merely flying a Hurricane at evening was difficult, not to mention discovering after which partaking the enemy. Usually, his cover could be open for higher visibility, however this sucked harmful carbon monoxide exhaust fumes into the cockpit as temperatures plummeted to sub-zero.
One evening, informed the climate was too unhealthy to fly, he took off anyway. On one other event, the airfield was bombed. Stevens, racing to his Hurricane to get airborne, was informed he could not take off as a result of the runway lights weren’t on.
Stevens, painted by artist Eric Kennington
Enraged, he shouted: “I do not want bloody lights. I am going to get that b*****d!” And he did. Stevens continued to assert victories, and on the finish of June 1941 despatched a Junkers 88 into the North Sea as quantity 12.
In July, he acquired quantity 13, retaining the enemy silhouetted in opposition to the distant Northern Lights earlier than the North Sea finally claimed one other bomber. By late summer season, German evening raids had all however stopped.
Nonetheless, as grasp of machine, evening sky and foe, Stevens was despatched over occupied enemy territory to hunt out the enemy. It was referred to as intruding.
Group Captain Tom Gleave, station commander at RAF Manston, recalled: “Night time intruding was in its infancy and Steve was the pioneer. He was somebody I admired tremendously. Though quiet, and a loner, he was imbued with a hatred of the Hun.”
Ultimately, in his all-black Hurricane, Stevens set out on his final operation over Gilze-Rijen airfield within the Netherlands on December 15, 1941, taking pictures down one Junkers 88 and damaging one other earlier than his Hurricane crashed close to the airfield, killing him immediately.
Lone Wolf is out now
Tom Gleave recalled: “The ops room stated they heard Steve calling however could not make out what he was saying. Then, nothing extra was heard from him. Because the evening ticked away, the unhappy reality dawned on us all.”
The intense star that had been Flt Lt Richard Stevens, DSO, DFC & Bar, had been snuffed out. He was the RAF’s highest scoring evening fighter pilot of the Blitz and the one one to attain outcomes with out radar through the use of ability, intuition and marksmanship.
He left behind his surviving son, John, and an estranged spouse, bizarrely going to his demise with out dispelling the story his household had all died within the Blitz – it being stated that revenge for this drove his campaign to down German bombers. In a profession spanning rather less than a yr, he shot down 15 bombers, had half a declare in one other, claimed two probables and one broken.
Writing of Stevens, writer H E Bates summed his life and demise thus: “He’s lifeless now – you’re the dwelling. His was the sky – and yours is the earth due to him.”
● Lone Wolf: The Outstanding Story of Britain’s Best Nightfighter Ace of the Blitz (Grub Road, £20) is out now. At no cost UK supply, name Specific Bookshop on 01872 562310 or order through www.expressbookshop.co.uk