Trawler Captain wins the Victoria Cross

heinkel 115 floatplane

A Heinkel 115, a German float plane of the type shot down by HMS Arab

Lieutenant R. B. Stannard was in command of the Anti-Submarine Trawler H.M.S. Arab that was part of a force sent to Namsos in late April. A series of heroic actions over the 5 day period that he was there would win him the Victoria Cross. His own report to the Admiralty provides a detailed account of those actions, the final episode occurred just as he was leaving the Fjord:

Thursday 2nd May 0200 – proceeded up Fjord, met fleet leaving, transported wounded, Aston Villa’s and Gaul’s crews, to H.M.S. “Griffin” proceeded down fjord, ordered to proceed to England. Decided I would keep well north as I was on my own and my speed was about 5/6 knots. 0500 – Clear of Namsen Fjord. 1000 – Speed 3 knots.

Attacked by Heinkel 115 who signalled by V/S in plain language ” Go east or be sunk”. (Had sent out W/T message half an hour before reporting a friendly or captured cargo ship about 8 miles north was being escorted by sea plane, heading S.E.) Could not intercept her owing to lack of speed. A suitable answer was sent in reply. The pilot of this machine seemed a novice or else thought we had no ammunition left as he circled us closing towards us each time. He was keeping up a continuous fire with his two guns but I decided to hold my fire until he was closer. He banked at 800 yards just forward of the beam so opened fire with all Lewis guns and Oerlikon. Could see the H.E. Oerliker shells bursting on him. The Heinkel 115 came down about 2 miles astern of us but I did not attempt to save the crew.

Proceeded well north, then south and west of Shetlands, arriving Scapa 1700 May 6th,

See TNA ADM 199/476, a copy of the full report can be seen at Royal Naval Patrol Service Association. For contemporary and modern images of Namsen Fjord see Royal Naval Reserve.

Lieut.Commander Richard Been Stannard, R.N.R. V.C.

The citation for the Victoria Cross summarises his endeavours:

“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the grant of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant Richard Been Stannard, R.N.R., H.M.S. Arab, for outstanding valour and signal devotion to duty at Namsos. When enemy bombing attacks had set on fire many tons of hand grenades on Namsos wharf, with no shore water supply available, Lieutenant Stannard ran Arab’s bows against the wharf and held her there. Sending all but two of his crew aft, he then endeavoured for two hours to extinguish the fire with hoses from the forecastle. He persisted in this work till the attempt had to be given up as hopeless.

After helping other ships against air attacks, he placed his own damaged vessel under shelter of a cliff, landed his crew and those of two other trawlers, and established an armed camp. Here those off duty could rest while he attacked enemy aircraft which approached by day, and kept anti-submarine watch during the night.

When another trawler near-by was hit and set on fire by a bomb, he, with two others, boarded Arab and moved her 100 yards before the other vessel blew up. Finally, when leaving the fjord, he was attacked by a German bomber which ordered him to steer East or be sunk. He held on his course, reserved his fire till the enemy was within 800 yards, and then brought the aircraft down.

Throughout a period of five days Arab was subjected to 31 bombing attacks and the camp and Lewis gun positions ashore were repeatedly machine-gunned and bombed; yet the defensive position was so well planned that only one man was wounded.

Lieutenant Stannard ultimately brought his damaged ship back to an English port. His continuous gallantry in the presence of the enemy was magnificent, and his enterprise and resource not only caused losses to the Germans but saved his ship and many lives.”

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: