DFC, DFC (Dutch)
“Stapme” Stapleton is the epitome of a Battle
of Britain Pilot. He is now one of the only survivors left
to us from the Battle of Britain.
Born in Durban, South Africa he was christened Basil Gerald
Stapleton but prefers to be called Gerald. He took his epithet
“Stapme” from the exclamation habitually uttered
by his newspaper carton strip hero Just Jake who used to feature
in the Daily Mirror.
Stapleton was commissioned into the RAF in January 1939 and
by 1940 had been posted with 603 “City of Edinburgh
Auxiliary Squadron” based in Scotland.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, 603 squadron was
moved south to RAF Hornchurch and immediately found itself
in the thick of the battle. Stapleton himself racked up almost
twenty German aircraft shot down in this period, including
Oberleutnant Franz von Wera who is famous for being the only
German Prisoner of War to have escaped from captivity and
back to Germany during World War II. Stapleton was, however,
himself shot down on September 7th 1940, luckily without injury.
Many of 603’s pilots were not so lucky with thirteen
being killed and many more badly injured between the end of
August and November 1940. These included a number of Stapleton’s
friends, including Richard Hillary who was badly burnt and
Fred “Rusty” Rushmer who was killed.
Stapleton was posted away from 603 Squadron in April 1941
and after a brief stint flying catapult launched Hurricanes
from merchant ships on Atlantic Convoy runs went on to command
a flight with 257 Squadron. Stapleton also did a stint instructing
at the Central Gunnery School before moving on to command
247 Squadron just before the D-Day landings of 1944..
As Squadron Leader with 247 Squadron, Stapleton flew the
powerful Hawker Typhoon fighter/bomber on breathtaking hedge
height ground attack operations in support of the allied armies
in Europe. Stapleton’s 247 Squadron saw action at such
famous battles as Falaise and Operation Market Garden, the
failed attack on Arnhem.
Stapleton’s war came to an end on December 23rd 1944,
during the Battle of the Bulge, th elast great German Offensive
in the west . Flying his Typhoon on an offensive patrol Stapleton
attacked a train with his rockets. Unfortunately Stapleton’s
Typhoon was hit by fragments from the exploding train and
he was forced to crash land behind German lines. Captured
he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war.
In April 1946, Stapleton left the RAF to fly for BOAC. Stapleton
finally returned to his native South Africa and has also lived
in Botswana before returning to the UK in 1994 where he has
Gerald Stapleton has recounted some of his exploits on the
Battle of Britain Memorial flight website (http://www.bbmf.co.uk/foreward.html).
In addition, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s
Spitfire P7350 (the only Spitfire surviving from the Battle
of Britain and which flew during the battle with 603 Squadron)
is presently painted as Gerald “Stapme” Stapleton’s
personal aircraft during the battle.
Ross, D. 2002. Stapme: The Biography of Squadron Leader
Basil Greald Stapleton DFC, DFC (Dutch).