Richard Stevens poses with his Hurricane in 1941 in this colourised picture
James and Richard Stevens were asleep in their cottage in the vicinity of Gravesend, Kent, when their mom called: “Boys, rapid! He’s coming down on fire!” Dashing to their bedroom window, the brothers cheered as the German airship split into two angry purple balls of fire and fell to earth north of the river. They experienced witnessed the very first prosperous night fighter interception in historical past above British soil. Lt William Leefe Robinson was afterwards awarded the Victoria Cross for his action. At that moment, young Richard made the decision what he wanted to be when he grew up: a night time fighter pilot.
It was, even at the height of the Excellent War, an difficult and not likely aspiration. But 25 several years later, he turned just that: the RAF’s finest night time fighter pilot who even stalked his prey in that exact same patch of sky.
By 1940 the Blitz was in complete swing as London and other towns took a terrible pounding. The nocturnal raids marked a turning place in the Battle of Britain – RAF Fighter Command was relieved of the stress it was below but remained all but impotent against them due to its paucity of night time battling ability.
On the other hand, the Luftwaffe hadn’t reckoned on the initiatives of the RAF’s not likely solution weapon – a pilot considered far too previous to be a fighter pilot but imbued with a deep hatred of the enemy and astonishing evening eyesight.
Increasing up, Richard Stevens had used hrs on nocturnal walks, his siblings remembering him, “At home in the dark – the evening intuition of a cat!”. Not only that, but he grew to become a crack shot.
Firing an air pistol at 78rpm data suspended from a washing line, he delighted in obtaining pellets by means of the centre hole but was mortified if he missed and the dancing discs shattered into black shards.
Dragon skewering Nazi eagle from his Hurricane’s starboard motor cowling
By 1928, an adventurous spirit led him to go farming in Australia, but daily life there grew to become dull so he enlisted in the Palestine Law enforcement Pressure, serving for some four yrs. By 1936, he was back again in Britain, married to Mabel Hyde and studying to fly.
Qualifying as a pilot, he flew airliners from Croydon Airport wherever his means to see in the darkish stood him in very good stead on night time flights. A colleague recalled: “Stevens’ night sight was extraordinary. Not only could he see in the fog and mist, he experienced the instincts of a homing pigeon.”
Stevens soon enlisted in the RAF’s volunteer reserve. Then, just after war was declared in September 1939, he flew Army co-procedure flights and a target plane instruction anti-aircraft gunners.
He desperately desired to get at the enemy though, at 31, his superior several years ruled him out as a frontline fighter or bomber pilot. Meanwhile, Mabel and their small children, twins John and Frances, had been included in a tragic domestic accident.
In Oct 1940, a paraffin stove overturned leading to a hearth in which Frances died aged just 21-months. Stevens was devastated and the tragedy led to him getting to be estranged from Mabel. Later on, it was described his spouse and surviving child had been killed in the Blitz – a story Stevens did practically nothing to dispel even while, as we shall see, it was fanciful.
By late 1940, following relentlessly pestering the authorities, Stevens was lastly posted to train as a fighter pilot.
His instructor recalled: “We had been applied to working with youthful and inexperienced pilots. On to this scene burst 31-yr-outdated Stevens – vastly a lot more experienced than any of us instructors. He was an extremely skilled undesirable climate pilot, and we could have taught him to fly the Hurricane in a week. But the ‘system’ demanded he stay the full course.”
Nevertheless, in November 1940, Stevens was posted to 151 Squadron at RAF Wittering in Cambs as a evening fighter pilot.
Below, on the evening of January 15/16, 1941 – 80 years in the past this 7 days – he tasted victory for the very first time. Above Essex, he arrived across a Dornier 17 bomber, sending it flaming into the ground.
Stevens, momentarily blacking out from extreme G-forces in the dive from 30,000ft, more than stressed his Hurricane to an extent it was right away grounded.
Getting up an additional Hurricane later on that night time, he identified additional prey and put a Heinkel into the sea off Canvey Island. Landing at Gravesend to refuel, Stevens strode into the aircrew hut to come across exhausted pilots lounging all around carrying out absolutely nothing.
Pilot Officer Ivor Cosby recalled: “Out of the blue, in strode a chap carrying a sheepskin jacket and flying boots. Seeking around, he demanded, ‘Why aren’t you good deal airborne?’ He was informed in no uncertain terms of one particular syllable, and a few expletives, what he could do.
“We requested him who the hell he was, the place he came from, and in what? He informed us from Wittering, in a Hurricane. We informed him: ‘Bloody perfectly go back again there!'”
Stevens second get rid of, a Heinkel, is recovered
Richard’s initially ‘kill’ was immortalised by war artist Eric Kennington in a get the job done referred to as Stevens Rocket, posted with a Kennington portrait of Stevens himself in the London Illustrated News.
Admitted to clinic with a burst eardrum induced by diving from 30,000ft, Stevens later wrote to his father: “I resent congratulations for a occupation that 9/10ths of the RAF could have performed as effortlessly or far better.”
His first ‘kill’ immediately after recovering was a bomber he spotted in opposition to the moon’s reflection on the sea. The raider stood no prospect. Then, on April 8, he sent yet another bomber crashing in flames close to Wellesbourne, Warwickshire.
Two times afterwards, Stevens actually flew by way of the exploding debris of a Heinkel. 1 of the survivors, a traumatised air gunner, explained to me in 1987: “We had been traveling gradually at underneath 100 toes in misty disorders. I believed we were being invisible. Out of the blue, I looked up and noticed the shadow of a night fighter correct on top rated of us.
“I just could not imagine it as the cockpit and propeller slowly and gradually moved inside our tail aircraft. When he opened-up with his cannon, I believed he had collided with us mainly because our debris was all above him. But there, fairly obviously viewed in the glare of our burning aircraft, a black helmeted determine was silhouetted in the open up cockpit.”
In his brief and meteoric job, Stevens experienced turn out to be legendary in the RAF. Even though newspapers lauded him as Cat’s Eyes, a senior RAF officer named him Lone Wolf and tales of his exploits abounded.
Once, when a bomber exploded in front of him, the bloody remains of a German airman were splattered across his Hurricane.
The Lone Wolf’s grave is well-preserved in honour of his part
His mechanic recalled: “How he landed in the dim I will not know. The windscreen had a substantial gap in it. The oil tank was punctured and dented, and we identified hair and bits of bone stuck to the foremost edge of the port wing. The guidelines of the propeller blades had been coated in blood.”
Stevens painted a vibrant dragon on to his Hurricane, an RAF ensign wrapped in its tail as it speared a swastika-bedecked eagle.
His score growing, Stevens designed harmful ways to track his quarry, intentionally traveling into anti-plane barrages. Knowing this was wherever the Germans would be, he picked off raiders with consummate marksmanship.
Simply traveling a Hurricane at night was complicated, permit alone finding and then participating the enemy. Often, his canopy would be open for greater visibility, but this sucked risky carbon monoxide exhaust fumes into the cockpit as temperatures plummeted to sub-zero.
One evening, told the temperature was way too negative to fly, he took off anyway. On a further celebration, the airfield was bombed. Stevens, racing to his Hurricane to get airborne, was instructed he could not take off since the runway lights were not on.
Stevens, painted by artist Eric Kennington
Enraged, he shouted: “I don’t want bloody lights. I’ll get that b*****d!” And he did. Stevens ongoing to declare victories, and at the conclusion of June 1941 despatched a Junkers 88 into the North Sea as number 12.
In July, he obtained amount 13, holding the enemy silhouetted from the distant Northern Lights prior to the North Sea sooner or later claimed an additional bomber. By late summer time, German night time raids had all but stopped.
However, as master of machine, night sky and foe, Stevens was sent in excess of occupied enemy territory to seek out the enemy. It was named intruding.
Group Captain Tom Gleave, station commander at RAF Manston, recalled: “Evening intruding was in its infancy and Steve was the pioneer. He was a person I admired immensely. Although peaceful, and a loner, he was imbued with a hatred of the Hun.”
Sooner or later, in his all-black Hurricane, Stevens established out on his very last operation above Gilze-Rijen airfield in the Netherlands on December 15, 1941, capturing down 1 Junkers 88 and harmful yet another just before his Hurricane crashed in the vicinity of the airfield, killing him quickly.
Lone Wolf is out now
Tom Gleave recalled: “The ops home mentioned they listened to Steve calling but couldn’t make out what he was indicating. Then, almost nothing additional was read from him. As the night time ticked absent, the unfortunate reality dawned on us all.”
The shiny star that had been Flt Lt Richard Stevens, DSO, DFC & Bar, had been snuffed out. He was the RAF’s optimum scoring night fighter pilot of the Blitz and the only just one to achieve success without the need of radar by using talent, intuition and marksmanship.
He still left behind his surviving son, John, and an estranged wife, bizarrely going to his loss of life without having dispelling the tale his spouse and children experienced all died in the Blitz – it remaining mentioned that revenge for this drove his campaign to down German bombers. In a job spanning a minor a lot less than a 12 months, he shot down 15 bombers, had half a assert in a further, claimed two probables and just one weakened.
Composing of Stevens, author H E Bates summed his life and demise consequently: “He is useless now – you are the dwelling. His was the sky – and yours is the earth since of him.”
● Lone Wolf: The Remarkable Story of Britain’s Finest Nightfighter Ace of the Blitz (Grub Avenue, £20) is out now. For no cost United kingdom shipping, contact Specific Bookshop on 01872 562310 or order by means of www.expressbookshop.co.united kingdom