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RB396’s Pilots – F/L Lawrence ‘Pinkie’ Stark

Lawrence W.F. 'Pinkie' Stark by Captain Cuthbert Orde

Lawrence W.F. ‘Pinkie’ Stark by Captain Cuthbert Orde

On the 16th of November 1944, Flight Lieutenant Lawrence ‘Pinkie’ Stark was attached to the Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote, Gloucestershire. ‘Pinkie’ Stark, so nicknamed due to his rosy complexion during coal collection duty in the cold winter of 1940, was test flying Hawker Typhoon aircraft as they were completed at the Gloster factory. ‘Pinkie’ Stark’s journey to test flying Hawker Typhoon RB396 twice that autumn Thursday had been eventful.

Born in Bolton in 1920, the son of a paper mill engineer, Stark would volunteer for the RAF in 1940, despite holding a reserved occupation at the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company. Stark would be sent to Canada for training, returning in 1941 to fly the Boulton-Paul Defiant before transferring to 182 Squadron and being introduced to the Hawker Typhoon. The new fighter was the fastest ship in the RAF, but her reputation was poor due to structural and engine issues, the result of the Typhoon being rushed into service before her testing programme was completed. In January 1943, Stark transferred into 609 ‘West Riding’ Squadron whose young CO, Roland ‘Bea’ Beamont, was determined to prove just how effective an aircraft the Typhoon was.

'Pinkie' Stark after claiming 609 Squadron's 200th victory

‘Pinkie’ Stark after claiming 609 Squadron’s 200th victory

‘Pinkie’ Stark thrived in this environment and by March had claimed his first Fw190 at zero feet above the channel, getting damaged himself in the process. 609 Squadron’s aggressive approach, which included single aircraft night sorties over France, meant that by the autumn of 1943 they are on the hunt for their 200th victory. The pilot who made this would be guest of honour at a Squadron party at the Majestic Hotel, Folkstone. October 5th 1943 is the ‘Red Letter Day’. Stark was flying Typhoon JP659 on a ‘Ranger’ with American F/O A.S. Ross where they attack an airfield near Soissons and see a number of Me110s parked up in a neat line. The two Typhoons attacked with Stark in the lead, a burst from his cannon causing a Me110 to burst into flames, Ross follows up but finds his gunsight failing and has less fiery results.

As the airfield’s flak batteries open up, Stark and Ross decide to depart to the south where they spot a Junkers Ju88. Stark climbs and turns in on the Ju88 opening fire at 250 yards, setting the starboard engine on fire. Making a second attack from only 100 yards, Stark’s cannon shells hit the cockpit and the Ju88 crashes. On the way home, for good measure, Stark and Ross attack and destroy 2 barges, a locomotive and damage another barge. The party for 100 members of the squadron, and Stark’s share of the squadron sweepstakes, seem to have been some event. F/O Ross, ever the gentleman, escorted a lady home and then abandoned by his Belgian comrades, returns to base the next day in a tank. During ‘Pinkie’ Starks time with 609 Squadron, they claim 61 enemy aircraft destroyed.

 

It was not all plain sailing for Stark during his posting with 609 Squadron. On returning from a ‘Ramrod’ with F/L Charles ‘Windmill Charlie’ Demoulin they spotted a stationary train that was clearly a flak-trap. Undeterred, Stark attacked and Demoulin followed, despite being out of ammunition. Stark pressed home and was so focused on the target, he flew straight through a pine tree by Forges station. Pulling up, he called Demoulin over to inspect his badly damaged Typhoon. Stark had lost his propeller hub and bent back both a propeller blade and a cannon barrel in the collision and a length of the tree trunk was embedded in the radiator. With the ‘kind of luck that that allows pilots to get home on a wing and a prayer’, as Demoulin remembered, Stark nursed his badly damaged Typhoon back across the channel and then carried out a normal landing. Demoulin would describe the damage as ‘amazing’ and that he believed that no other aircraft in the world could have made it home with that amount of damage.

'Pinkie' Stark and his Typhoon after hitting a pine tree at Forges

‘Pinkie’ Stark and his Typhoon after hitting a pine tree at Forges

In February 1944, ‘Pinke’ Stark joined 263 ‘Fellowship of the Bellows’ Squadron as the A Flight Commander. Ground attack is very much the order of the day, with 263 Squadron equipped with ‘Bomphoons’, Typhoons with a 500lb bomb under each wing. In March 1944, with 6 confirmed victories, he was awarded the DFC, the citation stating that Stark is, “a cool and resourceful fighter who had invariably displayed great keenness and determination.” Throughout June, Stark and 263 Squadron are in intensive action in support of the D-Day Landings. In June alone, Stark flies over 20 support missions. On the 3rd July, his luck runs out.

Flying Typhoon MN527, Stark and 263 Squadron fly ‘Ramrod 151’, an attack on the power station at the Guerlédan Dam in Brittany. Stark’s Typhoon was hit by flak and losing Glycol, climbed to 6500’ and he bailed out, losing a shoe in the process. Landing near to some farmers working in their field, Stark was sent towards a nearby wood and, later, into the arms of the Resistance. He was handed over to the “Shelburne” escape line and 10 days later he joined a party of four American airmen evading capture. On the night of 12/13th July, they are picked up by MGB 503 and whisked home.

Pinkie Stark HE XAfter his debriefing, and in the interests of protecting the “Shelburne” line should Stark be captured again, he was rested from operations and posted to the Gloster Aircraft Company. In October 1944 he would receive a bar to his DFC, his citation stating, “His excellent leadership, courage and fine fighting spirit have set a splendid example to all.” The following month, ‘Pinkie’ Stark would spend an hour, over two flights, testing and signing off a new Hawker Typhoon, RB396.

‘Pinkie’ Stark would go on to command his old unit, 609 Squadron, for the final two months of the war. 609 Squadron had been in the thick of the action continuously and moral had slipped. The squadron’s adjutant would note in the squadron diary of Stark’s arrival as CO that ‘he lifted the squadron by the bootlaces and made it the efficient fighting unit it had always been… He led them in the air with the same ruthless efficiency, and soon 609’s record was the best in 123 Wing.” His Typhoon on 609 Squadron would be adorned with his squadron commander’s pendant and the white rose and hunting horn that 609 had carried with such honour.

Stark remained in the RAF as a Squadron Leader where he refused to take promotion exams. He joined his old boss, ‘Bea’ Beamont, at the Aeroplane and Armament Establishment at Boscombe Down. ‘Pinkie’ Stark also completed Course No. 6 of the Empire Test Pilots’ School and would play an instrumental part in establishing the RAF’s Blind Flying Unit that created techniques still in use today. He retired from the RAF in November 1963 and became the manager at Rochester Airport for the next 25 years, before retiring in 1989.

Squadron Leader Lawrence ‘Pinkie’ Stark DFC and Bar, AFC and Croix de Guerre with Palm (Bel) passed away on 1st August 2004, aged 83.

pinkie stark

To play your part in returning one of ‘Pinkie’ Stark’s Hawker Typhoons to the air, join the RB396 Supporters’ Club today. For more information, please click the banner below.

Sources:

RAF ORB and Summary form 541/540 Oct 1943 –  AIR-27-2103-20 and AIR-27-2103-19

Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War 2 by Chris Thomas Pg: 27-8, 30

Firebrids! By Charles Demoulin Pg: 92-3

The Story of 609 Squadron: Under the White Rose by Frank H. Ziegler

L’Aviation en Bretagne website: https://www.absa3945.com/Pertes%20Bretagne/Cotes%20Armor/3%20juillet%2044/stark.html

Squadron Leader ‘Pinkie’ Stark Obituary Dail Telegraph 18/8/04: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1469627/Squadron-Leader-Pinkie-Stark.html

https://www.revolvy.com/page/Laurence-Stark?cr=1

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