View Full Version : John Willian STEPHENS - No.107 Squadron - DFC and Bar - escape master

3rd May 2022, 17:46
STEPHENS, John William, Flying Officer (40028) – No. 107 Squadron – Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 20 February 1940. From Spink catalogue 20 July 2006.

STEPHENS, John William, Flight Lieutenant (40028) – No. 102 Squadron – Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross – awarded as per London Gazette dated 22 November 1940. Information from Spink catalogue of 20 July 2006.

STEPHENS, John William, Squadron Leader (40028) – Mention in Despatches – awarded as per London Gazette dated 31 January 1947. Information from Spink catalogue of 20 July 2006.

A Bomber Command 1940 ‘Wilhelmshaven Raid’ D.F.C., and Dunkirk Low Altitude Attack Bar Group of Four to Squadron Leader J.W. Stephens, Royal Air Force, who piloted the only Blenheim from 107 Squadron to return from attacking the Admiral Scheer, the Emden, and the Admiral Hipper; shot down and made prisoner of war the same year; later became a prominent member of the ‘X’ Organization in the infamous Stalag Luft III, Sagan; he took part in no less than twelve attempts to escape by tunnelling.

Squadron Leader John William Stephens, D.F.C., born Calcutta, India, 20.9.1917; Acting Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force, 9.8.1937; posted Pilot Officer No. 10 Flying Training School, 31.5.1938; posted 822 Squadron (Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance Squadron), 24.8.1938; posted 107 Squadron (Blenheims) Wattisham, Suffolk 7.3.1939; flew with the Squadron in operational sorties including 4.9.1939, Wilhelmshaven, ‘He was the only member of 107 Squadron to return from the first raid of the War when the attack was carried out on the German battle fleet at Wilhelmshaven’ (Letter from Air Marshal Sir B. Embry refers); Flying Officer 31.12.1939; Flight Lieutenant 31.12.1940; flew operational sorties with the Squadron until 23.6.1940, when he was piloting Blenheim IV N3593, ‘T/O 1650 Wattisham’. Crashed in Holland.’ (Bomber Command Losses of the Second War, refers). Stephens was wounded and taken prisoner of war, whilst the two other members of his crew were killed, ‘I have rescued Lieut. Stevens (sic) out of the wreckage of his plane and rushed him on the fastest possible way to the “Wilhelmina Hospital” at Amsterdam. Lieut. Stephens could only be saved by means of a blood transfusion. I volunteered as the blook donor.’ (Letter from a German soldier trying to obtain Stephens’ address, dated 14.1.21946 refers).

Stephens received a Bar to his D.F.C. whilst as a P.O.W. having been recommended a month before his crash. ‘As I was his Commanding Officer from the beginning of the War until the end of May, I know how well he deserved it; he always did a magnificent job of work and personally I think his conduct and high courage whilst in action were always up to the very highest traditions of our Service and in fact, I doubt if they have been surpassed in this War. I sympathize with you on him being a prisoner, but I suppose you must consider yourself lucky that he is still alive… I feel sure that if your son gets the slightest chance, he will get away, as I have not yet met a Hun that is good enough to hold him.’ (Letter from Air Marshal Sir Basil Embry, dated 5.12.1940, refers).

Stephens spent time recovering from his wound in the Wilhelmina Hospital, Amsterdam, 23.6.1940-13.1.1941, before being moved to the French P.O.W. Hospital in Berlin for a further three-month period. Having fully recuperated, he was imprisoned in: Stalag Luft I (Barth), 23.3.1941-April 1942, ‘As I told you in my last letter, I am now at a British Camp; settling down rapidly and learning the tricks of the trade and wangles that help to make life more comfortable, as befits a “kriegie” of ten months standing. Having been shot down in June, I am also a member of the select band known as the “Blitz Boys”. I am pleased to tell you that I have now graduated in toasting (a tricky business on our stoves) and am at present swotting to pass my trade tests in advanced cooking. I have also started an experimental station of my own to see in how many ways I can dish up the common spud, and I must say that I sometimes surprise myself and my roommates… although the aforementioned mates seem almost reluctant to suffer in the cause of science (P.O.W. Letter’, dated 30.4.1941 refers); Stalag Luft III (Sagan), April 1942 – October 1942; Oflag XXIB (Schubin Poland), October 1942-April 1943; Stalag Luft III (Sagan, April 1943-27.1.1945; Stalag Luft III (Marlag), 4.2.1945-4.4.1945; on the march in North Germany, 4.4.1945-2.5.1945.

During his imprisonment in Sagan, Stephens was a code letter writer for ‘X” Organization and sent messages from the camp to 1.5.9., he also made twelve attempts to escape by tunnelling, all of which were unsuccessful (M.1.9. Debrief refers), and would have been involved with the ‘Great Escape’ from Sagan, which led to the escape of 76 Allied Air Force Officers.

Stephens returned to service with 13 O.T.U., 10.10.1945-26.2.1946; 107 Squadron 19.3.1946-20.1.1947; Squadron Leader 1.8.1947; briefly posted to 2 Group Communication Squadron, 23.1.1947 – 3.4.1947, before returning to 107 Squadron, 24.6.1947 – 10.6.1950; posted Squadron Commander, 8 Squadron (Bristol Brigands and Buckmasters), 5.2.1952, and served with the Squadron until 21.4.1952, when he was tragically killed in a crash whilst piloting Buckmaster RP209. Squadron Leader J.W. Stephens is buried in the European Cemetery, Aden.