Torpingtons, Tankers and What Might Have Been…

We bought an accumulation of ephemera last week from the family of a DFC winner, Flt Lt Charles Stein. He flew in Wellington bombers with 38 Squadron in Malta and North Africa. They were, at one point, converted to carry torpedoes, and had some important successes in the Desert campaign. In this role they were known as “Torpingtons”.

His DFC was awarded for his part in a successful torpedo attack on an Italian tanker bringing fuel to Rommel’s Afrika Corps. (See London Gazette 5th February 1943 – Pilot Officer Charles Lourie STEIN (131139), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 38 Squadron).

As a result of this, and several other attacks, the Afrika Korps eventually ground to a halt when the Panzers and Luftwaffe ran out of fuel.

We have a selection of propaganda leaflets, maps and other bits and pieces that he accumulated during his flying days.

Wellington crew - 38 Squadron

Wellington crew – 38 Squadron

He’s one of the young men in this photograph. Five of them wrote their details on the back – at least three, possibly four, didn’t make it. They were, I think, an earlier crew than the one he won his DFC with, and died in several different actions.

Three were killed on operations with 38 Squadron, one was probably killed with another squadron (there aren’t quite enough details to confirm this), and I can’t read the name of the final man.

Stein himself ended up in hospital with diphtheria after winning the DFC and wrote to his parents with the news while he was still in hospital. While he was there his crew was posted as missing when they failed to return from a mission. As there are no reports of enemy action that night it is likely they suffered engine failure and went down in the sea. Or, as they flew low searching for shipping, it’s possible they just flew into the sea.

According to the details we were given, Mr Stein went on to have a long and happy life, successful both in business and in bringing up a family. One child became an academic, one a professional violinist and the third worked in fashion. It makes you wonder what the other aircrew could have done if they’d been given a chance.

And then there are the other questions. If he’d been with them would he have died? Or would his experience have helped the crew survive?

His main regret, according to his daughter, was that he wasn’t allowed to keep the jacket he was wearing in the photograph.

WW2 propaganda leaflet

WW2 propaganda leaflet

Not all the leaflets are as interesting as this.


21 thoughts on “Torpingtons, Tankers and What Might Have Been…

    1. quercuscommunity

      Yes. Before they tidied everything else away I was able to read a telegram from hospital telling his mother he’d been decorated, a newsclipping about his pilot and letters from the Maltese Fovernment awarding him the commemorative war medal. All interesting stuff, and something I knew little about. You hear so much about Lancasters, Halifaxes and Mosquitoes you tend to forget about the Wellingtons.

      1. Aviationtrails

        Very true. Considering how many were built and the important role they played, especially at the start of the war, their crews are largely forgotten.

  1. jodierichelle

    I was thinking that this should be on or something. Lots of people would be interested in this story and photograph. Not that you are responsible or anything – lol.

    1. quercuscommunity

      It’s a bit tricky – I have permission to pass on information as provenance with the ephemera but not necessarily anything else. I widened it to include the blog but anything else may be a bit too much.


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