Flt Lt Henry Stockings (DFC) – An Obituary

Flight Lieutenant Henry Stockings, who is famous for his record long flight of 12 hours to bomb Danzig early in World War II, has died at the age of 98. He was captured during one of his later RAF bombing raids, but he carried on his service for the country as an intelligence gatherer in German prisons.

After the German occupation of Poland, there was an urgent need for encouragement of the local Polish people to resist German forces. Stockings was among the aviators who were given the task to drop leaflets in Polish towns, and also to carry out a bombing raid on the docks in Dazing.

Initially, the task was considered an impossible endeavour, due to the range limitations of the pre-war aircraft. The engineers came up with an ambitious plan to install additional fuel tanks in the planes, in a bid to increase their flight range.

The plane chosen for this raid was the Hampden bomber, which had two engines. Three of these bombers were modified for the task, and Stockings was to operate one of them. They took off from Waddington, near Lincoln, but only Stockings could manage to reach the Polish cities. The others were forced to go back due to bad visibility and weather. Stockings and his crew carried on with their mission. They were unable to locate the targets due to poor visibility. Stockings did manage to bomb some German-controlled buildings; he then descended to a mere 500 feet, to drop the propaganda leaflets, which he very successfully did.

Stockings succeeded in bringing his Hampden bomber back to Britain. He had been flying the bomber for more than 12 hours, which was clearly a record in aviation and military history. He was honoured with the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross). He received his award from the King himself, in a ceremony held at RAF Waddington.

Henry Rayner Stockings was born on 22nd August 1916, and received his education at Perse School, Cambridge. After his education, he decided to help his father, who was the director of a corn and milling merchant based in London. In 1939, he joined the RAF and, after his training, he went to No. 44 Squadron at Waddington in 1940. He carried out a number of attacks in Germany, sometimes flying very low to hit his targets with great precision, The Telegraph reports.

Very soon after his daring raid on Danzig, he took part in another campaign, to bomb shipping at the mouth of the River Elbe. He then participated in another bombing raid, on Berlin, where an anti-aircraft gun hit his plane. He very skillfully managed to control the plane and landed safely back on British soil.

On his 26th mission, he took off on a bombing mission to Cologne. While he was returning after a successful bombing, his plane was attacked by one the best German night fighter pilots, Hauptmann Werner Streib. Stockings decided to abandon his plane and bailed out. He landed in a tree in a small Dutch town. He was arrested and was taken to a German camp for questioning. Hauptmann Streib went to see Stockings, and saluted him standing in the doorway, before he quietly left.

During his initial stay at a German prisoner-of-war camp on the Baltic coast, he was recruited by the British MI9 and taught to use codes for communications. He was working closely with the ‘X’ organization to facilitate the escapes from the prison. He was then transferred to the famous ‘Stalag Luft III’ camp at Sagan. He had to work days and nights to enable the prisoners to execute their escape plans successfully. At one point, he stayed in the famous ‘Hut 104’, which was the epicentre of ‘The Great Escape’. He moved out of the hut just before the actual escape, in order to accommodate someone else, since he wanted to stay and help others to escape as well.

On 27th January 1945, on a cold night, all the prisoners were ordered to evacuate the prison. The prisoners embarked on a westward journey, which became known as ‘The Long March’. In the cold weather and tough terrain many of the prisoners died on the way, until they were liberated at the end of April.

After the war, Stockings left the RAF and started his poultry business and then became a pig breeder. He maintained his affairs quite successfully until he retired at the age of 78 in 1994. He died at the age of 98.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE