World War II prisoner of war camp - Stalag Luft I


World War II - Prisoners of War - Stalag Luft I 

A collection of stories, photos, art and information on Stalag Luft I


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Wing Commander E.W. "Bill" Tacon
New Zealand

Stalag Luft I POW

Click here to email his family

Air Commodore 'Bill' Tacon

Air Commodore E W "Bill" Tacon, died on September 15, 2003, at aged 85, was one of the most decorated pilots in RAF Coastal Command before becoming Captain of the King's Flight.

Tacon's most outstanding wartime successes took place in 1944, after he converted to Beaufighters, joined 236 Squadron, and rapidly began to demonstrate dead-eyed accuracy with his front guns and rockets. On June 23 he attacked four R-boats entering Boulogne harbour; although his aircraft was badly hit and his navigator killed, R 79 was sunk, earning Tacon a Bar
to the DFC he had won in 1940.

Tacon, who was based at Davidstow Moor, was soon involved in helping the Navy destroy the remaining Kriegsmarine vessels off western France. In the first of these attacks, at Les Sables d'Olonne, nine Beaufighters sank a German Jupiter escort ship with armour-piercing rockets weighing just 25lbs, using a procedure devised by Tacon and the armaments officer at North Coates.

They had calculated that, in a 25-degree dive from 1,500 feet at 230 knots, the pilot should always score hits if he closed to a distance of about 800 yards. While not popular with all aircrews - for it involved flying steadily at the target whilst ignoring the return fire - the method worked. The Jupiter vanished under a hail of cannon fire, with no loss to the attackers.

The second attack was equally successful. On August 8, 15 Beaufighters of 404 Squadron and nine of 236 Squadron, led by Tacon, set off on another armed sweep, working with the naval squadron Force 26. In the shallow Bay of Bourgneuf, they found four M-class minesweepers. Flak rose to meet them and one Beaufighter exploded but, as the remaining Beaufighters left, all four vessels were ablaze.

By now the strike wings' attacks, combined with those of Bomber Command and the Navy, had all but destroyed the remains of Marinegruppekommando West. The surviving U-boats had departed for Norway and the Germans were scuttling many of their damaged surface vessels. Two important warships remained afloat, however: the destroyer Z 24 and the torpedo boat T 24, which had survived the thwarted attack on the western flank of the Allied invasion forces.

Still well-armed, the two ships were thought to be at Le Verdon on the southern tip of the mouth of the Gironde estuary. On August 15, the naval Force 27 had damaged T 24 near La Pallice, but the German warships were in the shelter of coastal batteries, so an air attack was needed.

This was the last big strike required of the Davidstow Moor wing. Tacon was to lead 10 Beaufighters from 236 and 10 from 404, all armed with cannon and 25lb rockets. Taking off at 4.15pm, they were scheduled to attack near the limit of their range, with the prospect of returning in darkness.

Two Beaufighters of 404 Squadron turned back en route with mechanical trouble, but the remaining 18 aircraft made their landfall and turned north to the Gironde estuary. Spotting the two warships in the harbour of Le Verdon, Tacon called: "Keep down low, everyone. We'll head to the estuary first and fly along it for our climb. Then straight out to sea after the attack."

Tacon hoped to take the enemy by surprise, but the two vessels had steam up by the time the Beaufighters dived, and the flak was the most intense the crews had ever experienced. Nevertheless, every Beaufighter followed Tacon's leadership in one of the most dangerous attacks made by a strike wing. Several 25lb warheads penetrated T 24 below the waterline, causing an uncontrollable rush of sea-water into the hull and the warship to sink almost immediately.

Z 24 received numerous hits above and below the waterline. Her starboard engine was disabled but she remained afloat, and there was time to tow her the short distance to a quay at Le Verdon, where she was made fast alongside the harbour railway station. Frantic efforts to patch the underwater holes were to no avail; five minutes before midnight she capsized and sank.

Although none of the Beaufighters was shot down, 15 were damaged. They were a long way from home, with darkness ahead. Tacon's "Call in, anyone in trouble" elicited several responses. After instructing one of the crippled aircraft to ditch near the naval force (the crew was picked up after 10 hours) Tacon led five Beaufighters to Vannes aerodrome, planning to leave three of the damaged aircraft, before returning to England in the remaining two.

One of the aircraft crash-landed, however, and there was no alternative but to leave the two crew there and hope that medical help would arrive before long. With Davidstow Moor closed due to fog, the 12 remaining Beaufighters were redirected to alternative landing strips in the South-West. Their fuel was almost exhausted, and one landed just as its engines cut out. Tacon eventually landed at Portreath, six hours after take-off. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC.

The destruction of the two German warships caused much excitement in the Admiralty. Some naval officers were incredulous; others were alarmed that such powerful destroyers could be defeated by the tiny 25lb warheads. Tacon took command of 236 Squadron the day after attack on the Gironde, and the detachment returned to North Coates. He continued to fly with the same determination until September 12 1944, when he led 40 Beaufighters from North Coates and Langham against a convoy assembling in Den Helder harbour.

Diving down against a hail of fire from the ships and the harbour, his Beaufighter was badly hit in the wing and fuel tank. Tacon fired his rockets for the last time, before his aircraft was hit in the fuselage. Ammunition in the cannon boxes caught fire and exploded. His navigator cried out and Tacon turned round to see him lying dead on the floor. He began to climb, tugging on the lanyard of his bottom escape hatch, but this remained closed.

As flames licked around him, burning his face and helmet, he almost gave up hope. When his Beaufighter was hit for the third time, Tacon could see the gun post firing at him and decided to take the gunners with him. He rolled the Beaufighter on its back and dived straight at the post. His last recollection was of the airspeed indicator showing 360 knots. Then there was
a violent explosion and he floated through the air, pulling his ripcord just in time.

He landed on the island of Texel, so badly burned around the eyes that he could hardly see. He was soon taken prisoner by German soldiers, who bundled him roughly aboard a boat which took him to Den Helder. On arrival, he was surrounded by a group of sailors and kicked violently before being marched him off to the local jail.

After medical treatment, he was taken to Dulag Luft, near Koblenz, and then to Stalag Luft I near Barth on the Baltic coast. He was eventually released by the Russians and quietly made his way back to North Coates. In his absence he had been awarded the DSO.

Ernest William Tacon was born on December 16 1917 at Napier on the North Island of New Zealand, into a farming family. He was educated at St Patrick's, Wellington, where he played for the 1st XI and 1st XV. He later played club rugby as a scrum-half.

He joined the RNZAF in July 1938, and transferred to the RAF in May 1939 under an arrangement whereby New Zealand supplied six trained pilots each year. He joined 233 Squadron at Leuchars, initially flying Ansons but switching to Hudsons on the outbreak of war.

For the next year and half, he was engaged in a mixture of anti-submarine work, escorting naval vessels during the Norwegian campaign, and bombing airfields. He was intercepted by German fighters on nine occasions, shooting down two of his adversaries. He was awarded the DFC in May 1940 and completed his tour in January 1941.

He flew a Flying Fortress from Portland, Oregon, to Prestwick, introduced the Hudson to the newly-formed 407 (RCAF) Squadron at North Coates and was responsible for converting 59 Squadron at Thorney Island from Blenheims to Hudsons. He was awarded the AFC. Tacon was then sent to Nova Scotia to open up a new Operational Training Unit, and next, after a return to New Zealand, on to Fiji as Commanding Officer of 4 Squadron, equipped with Hudsons, earning a Bar to his AFC. Back in Britain, he converted to Beaufighters and joined 236 Squadron in May 1944.

Tacon transferred permanently to the RAF in 1946 and was appointed Officer Commanding The King's Flight at RAF Benson. Over the next three years he flew the King's plane all over the world, including the tour of South Africa with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on board. He was appointed MVO (4th Class, now LVO) in 1947.

There followed overseas tours as OC Flying Wing, Fayid, Egypt (Canal Zone) from 1951 to 1953, and as Station Commander, RAF Nicosia, Cyprus, from 1955 to 1958, when he was appointed CBE. In 1960 he became Lecturer at the School of Land/Air Warfare, at Old Sarum, and in 1961 Commander of the Royal Air Force, Persian Gulf.

Returning to England in 1963, he served as Commandant, Central Fighter Establishment for two years, and then Air Commodore, Tactics, HQ Fighter Command Bentley Priory. His final tour was as AOC Military Air Traffic Operations from 1968 to 1971.

On retirement from the RAF in 1970, he returned to New Zealand with his family, where he ran the Intellectually Handicapped Children's Society (IHC) and then fulfilled a management role with Air New Zealand before full retirement.

He died in Auckland on September 9. After the death of his first wife, Clare McKee, by whom he had two daughters and a son, he married, secondly, in 1960, Bernadine Leamy, who survives him, along with three sons.




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