Warrant Officer John Edward STAPLETON

Service No: 416898
Born: Lithgow NSW, 29 June 1919
Enlisted in the RAAF: 11 October 1941 (at Adelaide SA)
Unit: No. 454 Squadron
Died: Air Operations (No. 454 Squadron Baltimore IV aircraft FW300), Aegean Sea, 3 March 1944, Aged 24 Years
Buried: Unrecovered
CWGC Additional Information: Son of John Alphonsus and Muriel Kathleen Stapleton, of Alberton, South Australia
Roll of Honour: Adelaide SA
Remembered: Column 282, Alamein Memorial, Egypt
Remembered: Panel 105, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide

A heavy burden fell at this time on the shrunken German Air Force which, besides its convoy escort tasks, was also called on for the protection of scattered airfields, lines of communication and harbours, and also attempted to maintain reconnaissance of the Delta area. No. 454 had a sharp reminder of enemy capabilities on 3rd March when two Baltimores sent out on early morning patrols failed to return. One of them, piloted by Kempnich, had time to send an “enemy fighter” signal and this was construed as indicating a German convoy at sea.

When investigating this convoy, in Milos Harbour at 11 a .m., Kempnich had been forced to descend to an altitude of 1,000 feet to avoid flak and was then attacked by two Me-109s. The crew intercommunication system was shot away during the first attack, and after three more attacks the port engine was dead and the starboard engine on fire. Kempnich ditched about 40 miles south of Milos and, although badly burned about the head and neck as he swam clear of a pool of burning petrol, he secured the aircraft dinghy and with the help of his wireless-air gunner Warrant Officer Seymour rescued the badly wounded navigator. Unfortunately all rations were lost except one small bar of chocolate and, as the dinghy drifted helplessly day after day, Kempnich, although himself in pain, showed extraordinary qualities of leadership in tending for and encouraging his injured companions. Several times the dinghy was paddled close to various islands but on each occasion strong currents drove it out to sea again . At dawn on the sixth day when both his comrades had collapsed into a delirious state, and the dinghy was again relatively near a small island close to Antiparos, Kempnich decided to swim ashore for help but the task was too much for his badly sapped strength and he perished in this gallant unselfish act to save his friends, both of whom survived.

Extract from Herington, J. (John) (406545) Air War Over Europe 1944-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1963 – Page 91

The crew members of FW300 were:

Warrant Officer Francis James Brown (421787) (Navigator) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 29 July 1946
Flight Sergeant Allan Wilfred Joseph Kempnich MID (413608) (Pilot)
Warrant Officer Jack Dudley Seymour (409187) (Wireless Operator Air Gunner) PoW, Discharged from the RAAF: 30 May 1946
Warrant Officer John Edward Stapleton (416898) (Wireless Operator Air Gunner)


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A705, 166/38/443

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