Thrown into the thick of the Battle of Britain from August 1940, flying in No. 603 Spitfire Squadron based at RAF Hornchurch in Essex, Basil ‘Stapme’ Stapleton became one of the outstanding fighter pilots of that period, accounting for nearly twenty enemy aircraft destroyed or damaged. He was consequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 15 November 1940.
One of the German aircraft that he downed was the Bf109E of Franz von Weera, the only German pilot to subsequently escape from captivity and return to Germany. In another combat, Stapme was lucky to make it home, his aircraft having been badly damaged in a dogfight over the Channel. From April 1941. Stapme served in various units including those operating ‘Hurricats’; Hurricane fighters converted to be launched by catapults from convoy-escort ships. In February 1942, he was made Flight Commander of No. 257 Squadron, before becoming gunnery instructor at Kenley and then the Central Gunnery School.
Stapme returned to operations in August 1944 to command No. 247 Squadron’s Typhoons and for his part in the Battle of Arnhem he received the Dutch Flying Cross. Whilst attacking a train in Germany his aircraft sustained damage from flying debris and he had to force land, becoming a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 1 until the war’s end.
Always known to his many friends and admirers as ‘Stapme’, from a phrase in his favorite cartoon ‘Just Jake’, he was a very likable character and looked every bit the classic image of an RAF fighter pilot; tall, blonde and with his characteristic handlebar mustache.