Commander Stan Orr

Outstanding Fleet Air Arm pilot
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The Independent Online

Stanley Gordon Orr, naval pilot: born London 28 September 1916; DSC 1941, and bars 1941, 1944; AFC 1948; married 1940 Myra Page (died 1999; two sons); died Fareham, Hampshire 11 August 2003.

Stan Orr was one of the outstanding naval pilots of the Second World War, recording 17 destroyed enemy aircraft. For his consummate skill and courage in attacking the enemy he was awarded the DSC and two bars.

Always keen to become a pilot, he had first attempted to join the RAF but failed the eyesight test. Not easily put off, he applied to join the Fleet Air Arm and in the same room in Holborn in which the previous examination had taken place - but this time with a different doctor - he passed the test.

Early in 1939, he underwent seamanship training on Argus and learned to fly that summer. Having qualified as a pilot, and after gunnery school, he joined 759 Squadron at Eastleigh, Hampshire, in February 1940 for operational training on Skuas and Gladiators. This was followed by deck-landing training and in May he joined 806 Squadron in the Orkneys for operations in southern Norway. He was one of the first RNVR pilots to see action in that area.

In late May and early June he was switched to Dunkirk to cover the evacuation. Many on the beach awaiting ships were critical of the British air cover, but, unseen by them, much effective combat against the enemy was carried out at high level. In August, Orr's squadron, now flying the two-seater Fairey Fulmar, joined the formidable carrier Illustrious in the Mediterranean, where they were soon in action against the Italian air force. On 11 November, he flew air cover for the outstanding and successful attack by the Swordfish squadrons on the Italian fleet at Taranto.

On 10 January 1941, during a fast convoy to Malta, Illustrious was attacked by 43 Stuka dive bombers in a precise and prolonged attack in which the ship was hit six times by 1,000lb bombs. Amidst the chaos on board, Orr, who was airborne at the time in his Fulmar, courageously attacked the enemy fighters and was able to account for one of them.

Forced now to fly to Malta to refuel, Orr was soon back in action as Messerschmitts attacked the vulnerable Illustrious and her convoy. The ensuing dogfight saw seven of the enemy destroyed and this did much for the morale of Illustrious as she struggled towards the sanctuary of Valletta harbour. Malta was much sought after by the Germans in order to supply its forces in North Africa. Orr and 806 Squadron now found themselves engaged in almost daily conflict over the island; Orr was to destroy five more of the enemy for which he was awarded a bar to his DSC.

Stanley Orr was born in London in 1916 and educated at a boarding school and then at the local secondary school before attending Regent Street Polytechnic. He then became an apprentice at the Humber Motor Company and after two years joined Vale Engineering who produced sports cars. However the company went bankrupt so Orr went to Hadley Page where he worked on the prototype Hamden and Halifax bombers. With the prospect of war all around him, he, like so many young men, became excited with the thought of flying, and joined the Fleet Air Arm.

After his time with Illustrious, and following a period of shore-based operations over Syria, Orr became an instructor until August 1942, when he went to the United States to take command of 896 Squadron. He was aboard Victorious in the Pacific when he contracted polio and much to his disappointment was forced to leave the squadron. He made a remarkably quick recovery, after spending 10 weeks in an iron lung, and was given command of 804 Squadron on Emperor, which was equipped with Hellcat fighters.

From Emperor, he saw action with sorties attacking shipping off the Norwegian coast in the spring of 1944; he was involved in the attack on the Tirpitz anchored in the Alten fjord in north Norway. With extraordinary skill the pilots of the FAA somehow overcame the 68 anti-aircraft guns of the Tirpitz. By attacking the heavily defended ship from port and starboard simultaneously, they were able to drop 15 bombs on her, causing widespread damage.

On 14 May 1944, Orr shared in the destruction of three German sea planes. For his last action in the war, he received another bar to his DSC.

In September 1944, he became chief flying instructor at RNAS Henstridge before attending the Empire Test Pilot School at Boscombe Down. On completion of the course, he joined the RN Test Squadron and spent an exciting two years as a test pilot. He saw further action in Korea on Ocean and retired from the service in 1966. During his long career, he flew over 100 different aircraft.

He became marine superintendent of Vospers Thornycroft for the next five years, where he was involved in fast patrol boat development. He subsequently became a commercial agent for a number of engineering firms.

Max Arthur