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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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30/01st May 1944 838 Squadron Swordfish II NE906 Sub/Lt. (A) Wilson

Operation: RP Attack

Date: 30/01st May 1944 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 838 Squadron. Fleet Air Arm. 156 Wing. Coastal Command. 19 Group

Type: Swordfish II

Serial: NE906

Code: 'F'

Base: RAF Harrowbeer, Devon


Pilot: Sub/Lt. (A) Ian Lewis Ruxton Wilson RNZNVR / FAA Age 23. Missing - believed killed

Obs: Sub/Lt. (A) Edward Thompson Clark RNVR / FAA Age 23. Missing - believed killed

W/Op/Air/Gnr: P/O. (A) Albert Rockley RNVR / FAA FX 86788 Age 19. Missing - believed killed

Update 11th October 2021: With many thanks to Antony Wiles, Angela Caughey and Gildas Saouzanet the local historian in Pluguerneau for their work in the research of this and other crews.


Taking off from RAF Harrowbeer (on detachment from HMS Machrihanish in Argyle) on a rocket propelled attack on the German torpedo boat T27 (1) that had run aground at Vierge, Brittany following an attack by HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Haida Canadian destroyers.

It is reported that the squadron were dispatched by mistake as a RAF Typhoon squadron was the intended unit! The officer in charge is reported to being moved to another unit following the error.

Twelve Swordfish from the squadron were tasked for the attack. The T27 although grounded carried a fierce amount of guns (1) and coastal German anti aircraft units were also alerted to the attack.

We have been advised that the target was M156 a 878 ton German minesweeper stranded at Aber Wrac’h. (2)

All three aircraft were shot down, NE906 at 00:05 hrs and NE923 were hit by either the guns from the German torpedo boat or coastal batteries. NE946 was hit by the coastal batteries and crashed into the sea.

NE923: flown by Sub/Lt. (A) Leslie Frank Hayward RNZNVR - all three crew missing - believed killed (details shown below)

NE946: flown by Sub/Lt. (A) Stanley Frederick Such RNVR - all three crew killed (details shown below)

Burial details:

It is thought that some of the missing crews were in fact buried at Plougerneau Cemetery in graves marked as 'Known unto God'. Angela Caughey (Née Wilson) and family visited the cemetery in 2018 to unveil a plaque on the wall describing the events on the 01st May 1944. They also placed bronze plaques at each of the unknown Airman's graves. The Town Hall produced the plaque with information provided by Gildas Saouzanet.

(Photographs courtesy Angela Caughey and family via Gildas Saouzanet)

NE906 (F) Crew details:

Sub/Lt. (A) Ian Lewis Ruxton Wilson. New Zealand Naval Memorial, Devonport, Auckland. Panel 9. Born on the 13th June 1920 at Auckland. Worked as a clerk/law student for Guardian Trust and Executers Company prior to service. After serving with the New Zealand Territorials which he joined in October 1938 he enlisted in the RNZN on the 01st October 1941. Remustered as a pilot U/T and attached to the RN/FAA 14th May 1941. Embarked for England on the 19th May 1941 and arriving on the 04th July 1941. Based at HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent. Embarked for training in Canada on the 17th November 1941. Pilots badge awarded and received his commission on the 27th March 1942. Embarked for England on the 25th May 1942. Attached to 785 squadron on a Torpedo Reconnaissance course on the 01st June 1942. Attached to 818 squadron flying the Swordfish on the carrier HMS Unicorn (3) from 24th March - 12th October 1943. Joined 838 squadron after it had reformed on the 01st November 1943. Embarked on carrier HMS Nairana (4) between17th December 1943 - 15th January 1944. Son of Warwick St. George Ruxton and Merthyr Tydvil Winfred Wilson (née Lewis), of 112 Remuera Rd, Auckland, New Zealand. One brother 22 year old, Fl/Sgt. Warwick St George Ruxton Wilson NZ/404438 RNZAF was killed on the 18th April 1942 whilst with 57 Squadron. His other brother 2nd. Lt. Keith Noel Ruxton Wilson 377379 New Zealand Artillery survived the war, passing away on the 10th June 2013, age 91. One sister, Elizabeth Ann Ruxton Wilson also served as a clerk in the WAAF. The other, Angela Mary Ruxton Wilson was still at school.

Sub/Lt. (A) Edward Thompson Clark. Lee-On-Solent Memorial. Bay 5, Panel 5. Born on the 21st October 1920 in Plymouth. Son of Lt/Cmdr. Edward Sawle Clark, R.N (died Died 10th November 1944 at RN Auxiliary Hospital Minterne Magna, age 55 of illness), and Olive Emily Clark (née Thompson - died 25th May 1971). Attended Portsmouth Grammar School 1933 - 1937. His twin brother, Lt/Cmdr. John Sawle Clark also served in the Royal Navy, survived the war, passed away on the 12th January 1980 age 60.

P/O. (A) Albert Rockley. Lee-On-Solent Memorial. Bay 5, Panel 2. Son of Albert and Kathleen M. Rockley, of Nottingham, England. Medals sold for £320 at Golding Young Auctioneers. Including the 1939-45 Star, the Atlantic Star with Aircrew Europe bar, the Africa Star, the Italy Star, and the Defence medal, shown below.

In November 2021 the current custodian of Albert Rockley's medals submitted the following information and photographs:

On 20th April 1944 Fleet Air Arm (FAA) Squadron 838 moved south from HMS Landrail at Machrihanish, Scotland to join No. 156 Group Wing, RAF Coastal Command at RAF Harrowbeer, near Plymouth, for anti-submarine and anti-ship operations in the English Channel during the build-up to the Normandy invasion.

Ten days later, on the night of 30th April 1944, a flight of twelve Swordfish took off at 5 minute intervals from 22.15 tasked with making a rocket projectile strike on a German Elbing-class destroyer, at 48°40’N 4°26’W, probably T-27 recently beached off Kerlouan, Brittany. After planned consultation with ADGB (Air Defence of Great Britain) Intelligence (whose aircraft of 263 Squadron RAF had been attacking the same target in the afternoon of 30th April (though it was not actually an Elbing destroyer) the targets’ position for the attack was changed to 48°36’N 4°36’W - unfortunately as events were to prove. The ship reported in the new position was in fact M-156 a minesweeper, badly hit at Aber Wrac’h in February 1944 - not the destroyer - with flak in the surrounding area being more intense than at the original location. Only two aircraft were able to identify and attack the target with four other aircraft attacking targets in the vicinity - due to flak, poor visibility and 10/10ths cloud. Three aircraft and nine aircrew were lost to flak including Swordfish NE906 ('F') crewed by Pilot Sub-Lt ILR Wilson RNZNVR, Observer Sub-Lt ET Clark RNVR & Telegraphist/Air Gunner (TAG) P.O. A Rockley – initially all declared missing on war service. It is believed that aircraft from 838 Squadron were not intended to undertake this operation but a RAF Typhoon squadron (probably once more 263 also based at Harrowbeer) but orders were sent to 838 in error.

Albert Rockley, son of Albert and Kathleen, brother to Nancy, was born on 12th June 1924 in Nottingham from where the family moved soon after to the suburb of Beeston. Albert attended Beeston Fields School and on leaving joined Boots Pure Drug Company working in the time office. During his spare time in 1942 he enjoyed trips to the cinema, dancing and courting girlfriends Dale and then Kath, applied to join the merchant navy, unsuccessfully, and in March was successful in a Fleet Air Arm application. He joined the Royal Navy as a TAG trainee on 12th August 1942, at HMS Royal Arthur where he commenced five weeks induction training, then three months at HMS St Vincent for part one of TAG training, as a telegraphist. On completion he would have received his flying kit ready for part two training, air gunner at HMS Kestrel December 1942 to September 1943 with air target time at HMS Vulture in Cornwall. He joined 838 Squadron FAA, reformed at HMS Gadwall, Belfast, in October 1943 with one month squadron working up onboard escort carrier HMS Nairana and then shore airfields prior to the move to Harrowbeer. Albert had been looking forward to promotion and getting married. On 6th January 1945 Albert’s mother was notified that his death was presumed. He was 19 years old.

NE923 (G) Crew details:

Sub/Lt. (A) Leslie Frank Hayward. Age 24. New Zealand Naval Memorial, Devonport, Auckland. Panel 8. Born on the 20th January 1920 at Wellington. Served in the New Zealand Territorials prior to enlisting in the RN/FAA on the 02nd May 1941. Embarked for England on the 05th May 1941 arriving on the 16th June 1941. Attached to 254 Elementary Flying School for pilot training on the 07th September 1941. Embarked for Canada on the 11th December 1941. Pilots badge awarded together with his commission on the 24th April 1942.Embarked for England 22nd July 1942. Involved in a night taxying accident on the 06th September 1942 - no injuries. Joined 838 squadron on the 07th February 1943. Son of Jephunneh Morley Claude and Florence Ada Hayward (née Bennett), of Houghton Bay, Wellington, New Zealand.

Sub/Lt. (A) David James Hanson MiD. Age 22. Lee-On-Solent Memorial. Bay 5, Panel 5. Son of James and Florence Minnie Hanson, of 'Chantry', 9 High Street, Olney, Buckinghamshire, England.

LA. Brian Lambert Rowntree FX87018 Age 19. Manchester Southern Cemetery. Sec. S. C. of E. Joint grave 5776. Son of Sydney Braithwaite Rowntree and Lillie Rowntree (née Richardson), of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England. His body was recovered at a later date. He shares his grave with Pte. George Herbert Clough T/167027 a driver with the RASC who was killed on the 11th October 1940. It is understood that he was his brother in law. Grave inscription: 'In Loving Memory Of Our Beloved Boys'.

NE946 (H) Crew details:

Sub/Lt. (A) Stanley Frederick Such. Age 23. Brest Cemetery (Kerfautras). Plot 47. Row 5. Grave 13. Son of William P. Such and Lily M. Such and husband of Alice Muriel Such, of Bromley, Kent, England. Grave inscription: 'Dearly Beloved Stan. He Is Not Dead... He Hath Awakened From The Dream Of Life'.

Lt. (A) James Benjamin Cook. Age 30. Brest Cemetery (Kerfautras). Plot 47. Row 5. Grave 15. Son of Sidney William and Amelia Cook; husband of Barbara Mary Cook, of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, England. Grave inscription: 'In Proud And Everloving Memory'.

P/O. (A) Richard Crawford Grapes. Age 21. Brest Cemetery (Kerfautras). Plot 47. Row 5. Grave 14. Son of William Sydney Onslow Grapes and Margaret St. John Grapes, of Bushey, and husband of Mary Frances Grapes, of Bushey, Hertfordshire, England. Grave inscription: 'For This Is The Will Of God, Even Your Sanctification'.

(1) German torpedo boat T27: Launched on the 20th June 1942. Carrying a crew of 206, capable of 33.5 knots armed with 4 x single 10.5 cm guns, 2 x twin 3.7 cm anti aircraft guns, 1 x quadruple, 2 x single 2 cm anti aircraft guns. British motor torpedo boats and aircraft destroyed the wreck of the T27 in early May 1944.

(2) M156 minesweeper: Built at the Oderwerke, Stettin. Commissioned on the 28th April 1942. Carrying a crew of 119, capable of 18.2 knots. Armed with 4 x single 10.5 cm, 1 x 3.7 cm, 2 x 2 cm anti aircraft guns.

(3) HMS Unicorn was an aircraft repair ship and light aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy in the late 1930s. She was listed for disposal in 1958 and sold for scrap in 1959.

(4) HMS Nairana was the lead ship of the Royal Navy's Nairana-class escort carriers that saw service in the Second World War. Transferred to the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1946. In Dutch service, she was renamed HNLMS Karel Doorman until 1948, when she was converted into a merchantman named the Port Victor. Until March 1968, Port Victor was owned by the Cunard Line but managed by Blue Star Port Lines. She eventually became owned by Port Line in 1971. On the 21st July, she was sent to Faslane to be scrapped.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Portsmouth Grammar School, Jenifer Lemaire and to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Weekly News of New Zealand, Antony Wiles, Gildas Saouzanet, Angela Caughey, Rowntree burial details courtesy of Tony Goulding and Andrew Simpson, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 03-06-2021

KTY 03-10-2021 Page updated with new photographs, courtesy Antony Wiles, Gildas Saouzanet and Angela Caughey.

KTY 19-11-2021 Page updated with new information.

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