LEST WE FORGET
Warrant Officer Noel Lindsay STEVENSON
Service No: 407083
Born: Adelaide SA, 23 April 1918
Enlisted in the RAAF: 27 May 1940
Unit: No. 11 Squadron (RAF), Colombo Racecourse, Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Died: Air Operations (No. 11 Squadron RAF Blenheim aircraft Z7803) off Ceylon, 9 April 1942, Aged 23 Years
CWGC Additional Information: Son of Stuart Henry and Julietta Stevenson, of Adelaide, South Australia.
Roll of Honour: Woodville SA
Remembered: Column 421, Singapore Memorial, Singapore
Remembered: Panel 130, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of SA, North Terrace, Adelaide
Before the enemy raid began the 14 crews of No. 11 Squadron RAF were being briefed for an attack on the Japanese naval force, now known to include several aircraft carriers and battleships. Engine and armament faults prevented four aircraft from leaving the ground but at 9.20 a.m. 10 Blenheims left Colombo to attack. En route to the target engine failure reduced the force by another aircraft. Of the nine Blenheims which finally attacked two of the crews were all-Australian, and there were Australians in all other crews but one.
The Blenheims, carrying a varied bomb-load of 500-lb and 250-lb general-purpose and 250-lb anti-submarine bombs, found their target “dead ahead”: 5 aircraft carriers, 3 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers and a variety of other craft—a total of more than 40 warships. The Blenheims came down to 11,000 feet and began their bombing runs against a large carrier. The enemy ships held their fire until the Blenheims were practically overhead, perhaps mistaking them for their own aircraft; then practically every ship in the fleet opened fire. Several near misses were the best the Blenheims could record with their bombing but all came safely through the barrage of gunfire. Enemy fighters—between 45 and 50 of them—then attacked. One bomber piloted by a Rhodesian, Flying
Officer C. H. Adcock, with two Australians as crew—Flying Officer Burgan (navigator) and Sergeant Gray (wireless air gunner)—was immediately shot down. Other Blenheim crew members saw the tracer coming from the Blenheim’s gun as Gray continued firing until the last.
Another Blenheim piloted by a South African, Lieutenant D. Knight, with two Australians as crew members—Flying Officer Evans and Sergeant McAuley —was shot down when flying low over the sea, and a third which had an all-Australian crew—Sergeants MacLennan and Travers and Flight Sergeant Nell —also went into the sea after a fierce running fight just above the water. Other crews thought that MacLennan’s crew had accounted for two Zeros just before the bomber hit the sea. The Zeros claimed their fourth victim when they shot down a bomber piloted by another Australian (Warrant Officer Stevenson).
Meanwhile the leader of the Blenheim formation, Squadron Leader Ault, whose wireless operator-air gunner was an Australian (Sergeant Eckersley), now free from enemy fighters, headed back to base. When approaching the Ceylon coast, this crew met a formation of 50 enemy bombers and fighters which appeared directly ahead. The fighters broke off and attacked Ault’s aircraft which was shot down only 15 miles from the coast. Against tremendous odds No. 11 Squadron had suffered severely. Without achieving any success it had lost five crews and aircraft, and the four crews that escaped were fortunate to reach their base. They estimated that four enemy fighters were shot down.
The enemy formation, from which fighters had broken off to attack Ault’s Blenheim, was in fact returning from another phase of the Japanese assault. While Trincomalee was being raided two enemy reconnaissance aircraft found Hermes about 60 miles out to sea. All available British
fighter aircraft were deeply engaged over China Bay, and so the British carrier and her escort, the Australian destroyer Vampire (Commander William Thomas Alldis Moran RAN), were bereft of
air cover. It was not long before the two ships were being fiercely attacked by a force of 85 enemy dive bombers and nine fighters. The onslaught, as described later by Captain A. S. Crockett, a marine gunnery officer in Hermes, was “carried out perfectly, relentlessly and quite fearlessly “.
“The aircraft,” he added, “peeled off in threes, coming straight down on the ship out of the sun on the starboard side.” Both ships were hit repeatedly and 20 minutes after the attack began Hermes and Vampire had both been sunk. Hermes and Vampire accounted for four enemy aircraft between them; 20 officers and 296 ratings, mostly in Hermes, lost their lives.
Extract from Gillison, D.N. (Douglas Napier) (254475) Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1962 – Pages 499-500
Blenheim R 3911 of 11 Squadron RAF (Indian Command) was ordered by Operations No. 222 Group to carry out operations against the Japanese fleet on the morning of 9 April 1942. Enemy fighters were encountered and neither the aircraft nor crew were seen since. Following post war enquiries and investigations, it was recorded that the missing crew had lost their lives at sea.
The crew members of Z7803 were:
Sergeant James Charles Alfred Bell (970852) (RAFVR) (Air Gunner)
Flying Officer Alexander Watt Donald (78989) (RAFVR) (Observer)
Warrant Officer Noel Lindsay Stevenson (407083) (Pilot)
No. 11 Squadron lost Blenheim Z7896 (Flying Officer Geoffrey Shuttleworth Burgan DFC (407284) (Navigator)) on 9 April 1942.
No. 11 Squadron lost Blenheim V5992 (Sergeant George Keith Eckersley (404290) (Wireless Operator Air Gunner)) on 9 April 1942.
No. 11 Squadron lost Blenheim Z9754 (Flying Officer David Hugh Evans (406203) (Observer)) on 9 April 1942
No. 11 Squadron lost Blenheim R3911 (Sergeant Hugh Alexander MacLennan (404107) (Pilot)) on 9 April 1942.
No. 261 Squadron (RAF) lost Hurricane Z5533 Sergeant William Ernest Pearce (402825) in the air battle.
Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records (RAAF Casualty Information compiled by Alan Storr (409804))
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, 163/163/353
Ilbery, P.L.T. (Peter Leslie Thomas) (422957) Hatching an Air Force: 2SFTS, 5SFTS, 1BFTS Uranquinty and Wagga Wagga, Banner Books Maryborough QLD 4650, 2002
Probert, H. (Henry) The Forgotten Air Force: The Royal Air Force in the War Against Japan 1941-5, Brassey’s, London, 1995