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CO 857 Naval Air Squadron, Lt Cdr James Hall (l) Richard Stovin-Bradford (r)
Palembang painting
ASac Sea King over Afghanistan

Palembang pilot remembered by 857 NAS

Published: 02 Jul 2014

A Naval Air Squadron which has just returned from 26 months in Afghanistan, has been presented with a painting from the son of a pilot, who served on the squadron during the Second World War. 

On 24th June, 857 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was honoured to be presented with a painting entitled “First out; Last Back” by Mr. Richard Stovin-Bradford.  The painting depicts a heavily damaged Avenger of 857 NAS, piloted by Richard’s late father - the then Sub Lieutenant Frank Stovin-Bradford, in its last moments before ditching close to the British Eastern Fleet on its return from the Palembang raids of January 1945. 

In a moving address, Mr. Stovin-Bradford told how his father pressed home his attack on the oil refineries of Sumatra despite his aircraft being crippled by cannon fire from a Japanese fighter en-route to the target.  Highlighting how the spirit of those aviators of the Second World War endures in the resilience of current 857 NAS personnel returning from operations in Afghanistan, he recalled his father’s decision making process, “…We had a quick chat as a crew, but decided to crack on.”  Having successfully pressed home his bombing run and survived the subsequent ditching, Frank returned to civilian life after the war but always retained his love of aviation. 

The raids themselves were hugely successful, although at significant cost to crews drawn from 847, 854, 849 and 820 Naval Air Squadrons; in all, 41 aircraft and 32 aircrew were lost during the raids.  For their sacrifice, the Pladjoe and Soengi Gerong oil refineries were shut down for one and three months respectively, with neither returning to full productivity until after the war. The result was a huge strategic blow to the Japanese war effort and proof of the potency of air power launched from the sea. 

The presentation, also attended by Captain Mark Garratt, the Commanding Officer of Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, served as a pertinent reminder to squadron personnel of the level of commitment which will be required during the Squadron’s ongoing regeneration to maritime operations following two years of continual support to operations in the desert.  Lieutenant Simon Thompson, a current 857 NAS pilot, commented, “If we can emulate even a fraction of the spirit displayed by the men of Palembang, we will have a great deal to be proud of.” 

857 Naval Air Squadron has recently returned from a 26 month tour in Afghanistan, where they played a key role in locating insurgents’ arms caches, tracking drugs shipments and following the movements of insurgents.


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