Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (17 & 18 May 2016)

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Date of Auction: 17th & 18th May 2016

Sold for £26,000

Estimate: £15,000 - £20,000

Sold by Order of a Direct Descendant

The outstanding and unique post-war K.C.B., Second World War Fleet Air Arm operations D.S.O., D.S.C. and Korean War Bar to D.S.C. group of thirteen awarded to Vice-Admiral Sir Michael Fell, Royal Navy, one of the most distinguished and decorated pilots in the history of British naval aviation:

Fresh from swopping his Harrovian’s boater for a flying helmet, he scored a rare biplane ‘kill’ in a Gladiator off Scotland in April 1940 - where he operated alongside Peter Townsend’s No. 43 ‘Fighting Cocks’ Squadron - and raised his score to four enemy aircraft shared destroyed and two probably destroyed over the Mediterranean, two of them in Skuas operating out of Ark Royal and another brace in Hurricanes of the Royal Navy’s Fighter Squadron over the Western Desert: Their Lordships at the Admiralty appear to have deemed such gallant service as unworthy of reward, a shortcoming shortly to be amended in spectacular fashion

With a squadron command in the carrier Illustrious, he won a “mention” for gallantry in operations during the Sicily and Italy landings

As Leader of No. 7 Wing operating from the carrier Searcher on 3 April 1944, he won an immediate D.S.O. for leading the Fleet Air Arm’s second strike on the Tirpitz, deliberately drawing flak from his fellow pilots and scoring a low-level hit

As Commander (A.) in the carrier Emperor, he added another “mention” to his accolades for his gallant leadership in numerous strikes in support of the landings in the South of France in August 1944, which distinction was swiftly followed by the award of a D.S.C. for like services in the Aegean in October, when he participated in ‘the most destructively successful day that Emperor’s aircraft have had since the ship was commissioned’

Remaining in the Fleet Air Arm after the War, Fell won a King’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air for his gallant experimental work at the Empire Flying School in 1947

The advent of hostilities in Korea found him attached as Air Group Commander to the carrier H.M.A.S. Sydney, his ensuing part in scores of ‘milk runs’ witnessing his Sea Fury sustaining flak damage on numerous occasions, not least during his gallant role supporting a memorable helicopter rescue operation behind enemy lines. He was awarded a Bar to his D.S.C.

Marked out for senior command, he was awarded the C.B. for his services as Flag Officer Carriers and Amphibious Ships in the late 1960s and was elevated to K.C.B. in 1974 for like services as Flag Officer Naval Air Command, the most senior appointment in Naval Aviation. Having then taken early retirement in the latter year - in order to allow a younger officer to take up the reins of senior command - the undoubtedly modest Fell pursued such hobbies as flying, gliding, fishing, shooting and ‘messing around in boats’
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, K.C.B. (Military) Knight Commander’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, with gold, silver-gilt and enamel appliqué centre, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.VI.R., silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse of the suspension bar officially dated ‘1944’; Distinguished Service Cross, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar, hallmarks for London 1947, the reverse of the Cross officially dated ‘1945’ and the reverse of the Bar ‘1952’; 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star, clasp, Atlantic; Africa Star; Italy Star; War Medal 1939-45, M.I.D. oak palm; Korea 1950-53 (Cdr. M. F. Fell, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.); U.N. Korea 1950-54; Naval General Service 1915-62, 1 clasp, Near East (Cdr. M. F. Fell, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N.); Coronation 1953, mounted as worn where applicable, enamel wreaths on the D.S.O. slightly chipped, otherwise generally very fine or better (13)


K.C.B. London Gazette 1 January 1974.

London Gazette 26 May 1944. The original recommendation states:

‘This officer performed his duty as Wing Leader of No. 7 Wing escorting the second strike in the attack on the German battleship
Admiral von Tirpitz on Monday 3 April 1944, with skill and efficiency and in the face of anti-aircraft fire directed his fighters in a manner that effectively drew and distracted the anti-aircraft fire from the bomber force attacking the ship. His ultimate success was largely due to the prominent part he took in the training and preparation of the operation.’

London Gazette 14 August 1945:

‘For distinguished service, efficiency and zeal whilst serving in H.M.S.
Searcher in the clearance of the Aegean and the relief of Greece during the period 1944-45.’

Bar to D.S.C.
London Gazette 28 October 1952:

‘For distinguished service in operations in Korean Waters.’

Michael Frampton Fell was born in January 1918 and was educated at Harrow. Entering the Royal Navy as a Midshipman in July 1938, he trained as a Fleet Air Arm pilot and was commissioned Sub. Lieutenant on qualifying for his ‘Wings’.

In November 1939, owing to the potential threat of Luftwaffe attacks on the Fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy formed 804 Squadron, which unit Fell joined in the same month. Equipped with Gladiators and based at H.M.S.
Sparrowhawk, R.N.A.S. Hatson, the Squadron came under Fighter Command’s control and remained so during the Battle of Britain period. As a consequence, Fell and his fellow Gladiator aircrew flew alongside such unit’s as Peter Townsend’s “Fighting Cocks” of No. 43 Squadron.

First Blood - a rare biplane victory

With the German invasion of Norway and Denmark in April 1940, and the resultant deployment of elements of the Home Fleet off Norway, the Luftwaffe commenced a series of reconnaissances and raids against our most northern naval bases and it was in the course of one such incursion on 10 April 1940 that Fell shared in the destruction of an He. 111 over Copinsay.

As recalled by Lieutenant Donald Gibson, a fellow F.A.A. pilot, ‘In our Gladiators we had several alerts after German reconnaissance aeroplanes; there was an R.A.F. Hurricane Squadron at Wick [No. 43], which had success and our first blood was partly by courtesy of this squadron. I think we both intercepted more or less together and somehow we became involved and shot it down.’

804‘s Squadron’s war diary entry elaborates further:

‘A tremendous day for H.M.S.
Sparrowhawk, the first and we hope by no means the last. 804 began their fun at 16:05 hours when Yellow Section flew off to Copinsay. There were a great many plots on the board, the weather fine with layers of cloud varying in density up to about 10,000 feet. About 16:40 hours Yellow 3 saw a Do. 17 [sic] and the Section gave chase. Sub.-Lt. Fell got in a burst at about 500 yards as the Do. 17 disappeared into the cloud: but followed him in. Yellow 2 went in above the cloud and as he came out so did the Do. 17 some 400 yards away. Peacock got in a burst before the e./a. dived away back into the clouds. We were later informed that Do. 17 was crying S.O.S. with a leaking petrol tank and did not reach his base.’

There were no Do. 17s involved in these actions, only He. 111s and it seems probable that their victim was a Heinkel from
1/KG 26 that ultimately crashed into the sea off the island of Sylt: Oberleutnant Otto Houselle, Unteroffizier Franz Gruber and one other member of the crew were drowned.

H.M.S. Ark Royal - Skuas - Western Mediterranean - brace of Cant seaplanes

Shortly after gaining his first ‘kill’, Fell joined No. 800 Squadron, bound for the Western Mediterranean in the Ark Royal. It was here, in July 1940, as Ark Royal undertook operations as part of Admiral Somerville’s Force ‘H’, that Fell gained his next victories, this time piloting Skuas.

First up was an Italian Cant Z.506 (B.) on the 9th, 800 Squadron catching up with the prowling enemy aircraft after it had been on patrol for three hours. Following a determined attack, mounted by Fell and his Observer/Gunner, Naval Airman D. H. Lowndes, and two other Skuas, the stricken Cant fell into the sea; Capitano Domenico Oliva, the pilot, appears to have survived the ordeal, but his Observer and Radio Operator were mortally wounded.

On 2 August 1940,
Ark Royal took part in Operation “Hurry”, when the carrier Argus launched twelve Hurricanes and two Skuas for Malta. As the Fleet turned back towards Gibraltar, fighter patrols from Ark Royal engaged enemy ‘shadowers’ from Sardinia. Five Skuas from 800 Squadron, one of them piloted by Fell, once more in partnership with Lowndes, claimed another Cant Z.506 (B.) shot down. Italian records reveal that the aircraft in question limped back to Cagliari with one dead and three wounded aboard.

Land-based operations - Hurricanes and Martlets - Western Desert - another shared destroyed and two probables

In late 1941, Fell joined the R.N. Fighter Squadron in the Western Desert, which operated in Hurricanes alongside the R.A.F. At 16:40 hours on 23 November, the unit’s Hurricanes intercepted Italian Fiat G.50s 20 miles south-east of Gubi. In the ensuing dogfight, Fell - piloting Hurricane I Z4189 - claimed a probable.
A little over a month later, and having in the interim been posted to another land-based Hurricane unit - 806 Squadron - he claimed an He. 111 as probably destroyed in a dogfight over Tobruk.

Advanced to the acting rank of Lieutenant-Commander, Fell was next appointed C.O. of 805 Squadron, another desert unit, equipped with Martlets. He remained similarly employed until January 1943, in which period he shared in the destruction of a Ju. 88 off the coast on 28 February 1942.

His score now stood at four enemy aircraft shared destroyed and two probably destroyed. Their Lordships at the Admiralty appear to have deemed such gallant service as unworthy of reward: it was a shortcoming that was about to be put right in spectacular fashion, a D.S.O., D.S.C. and two “mentions” following in rapid succession.

H.M.S. Illustrious - Martlets - Sicily and Salerno - first “mention”

Returning to the U.K. in early 1943, Fell took command of a new unit, 878 Squadron, equipped with Martlet IVs. Going aboard
Illustrious, the Squadron set sail for his old hunting ground, the Mediterranean, in time to support the Sicily and Salerno landings in July-August 1943. He was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 1 February 1944, refers), the recommendation stating:

‘By unfailing attention to duty and zeal this officer has produced in his squadron a high standard of efficiency which contributed largely to the successful carrying out of a most arduous programme.’

During a three day period in Operation “Avalanche” - the Italian landings - that programme required Fell and his fellow pilots to fly six hours a day. This was in addition to two hours standing at ‘readiness’.

H.M.S. Searcher - Operation “Tungsten” and the Tirpitz - D.S.O.

Fell next became an Air Group Commander in the carrier
Searcher and it was in this capacity that he served as Wing Leader of No. 7 Wing during the Fleet Air Arm’s celebrated attack on the Tirpitz in her Norwegian lair on 3 April 1944.

As cited above, in the face of a fully alerted enemy, he led the second strike ‘with skill and efficiency and in the face of anti-aircraft fire ... he directed his fighters in a manner that effectively drew and distracted the anti-aircraft fire from the bomber force attacking the ship.’ Accounts differ but it would appear five hits were obtained by his Wing for the loss of two aircraft; certainly Fell carried out an attack on the
Tirpitz himself, being one of a handful of pilots to actually gain a proper visual on the enemy battleship, owing to thick smoke.

As a consequence of “Tungsten”,
Tirpitz’s crew suffered 438 casualties, over 120 of them killed, and the battleship was put out of action for three months; but for the Fleet Air Arm’s preferred mode for low-level attack - which reduced the effectiveness of their armour-piercing bombs - Tirpitz may well have been put out of action for good.

Official reports - and recommendations - in respect of “Tungsten” clearly reveal that Their Lordships of the Admiralty considered the attack equal to that enacted by the Fleet Air Arm at Taranto. Fell was awarded an immediate D.S.O.

H.M.S. Emperor - Hellcats - South of France - second “mention”

Following “Tungsten”, Fell removed to the carrier
Emperor and was actively employed in Hellcats during operations over the South of France in August 1944. He was put forward for a decoration but in the event - probably on account of his recent award of the D.S.O. - this was reduced to a mention in despatches (London Gazette 27 March 1945, refers). The recommendation states:

‘During Operation “Dragoon” Lieutenant-Commander Fell lead 10 fighter bomber attacks and armed reconnaissances against enemy positions and transports. Throughout the nine days operations his courage, enthusiasm and skill were an inspiration not only to the pilots who flew with him but to those whose job was to get the aircraft into the air and provide them with a base for operations.’

H.M.S. Emperor - the Aegean and Greece - D.S.C.

Following “Dragoon”, Fell was quickly back in action in Hellcats in the Aegean, not least over a three day period in October. By way of example, he led force in a strike against enemy shipping in harbour at the northern end of Khios; so, too, against caiques off Kos on 10 October 1944 - five of them were sunk.

However, as verified by official reports, Fell carried out his most notable attack on the following day, ‘the most destructively successful day that
Emperor’s aircraft have had since the ship was commissioned’:

‘At 1100 hours Lieutenant-Commander Fell lead a force of 12 fighter bombers to attack the targets reported by Lieutenant Devitt. All bombs were dropped accurately into the middle of dense concentration of about 30 caiques and small craft at Khalkis, but results could not be assessed owing to the smoke. Two large landing craft were also strafed four times and left stopped, one E- Boat was blown up and another sunk.’

Later that day, Fell carried out strikes against trains moving between Larisa and Katerini; three of them ‘blew up’.

He was awarded the D.S.C.

Post-war - King’s Commendation

Remaining in the Fleet Air Arm after the War, Fell added a King’s Commendation for Valuable Services in the Air to his accolades for experimental and other work at the Empire Flying School (
London Gazette 1 January 1947, refers). The recommendation states:

‘This Naval officer holds the appointment of tutor. He has at all times displayed outstanding qualities of leadership and enthusiasm for flying which, coupled with the highest standard of flying ability, have gone far to enhance the reputation of the Service at the Empire Flying School. Lieutenant-Commander Fell’s ability and keenness for his flying duties, which are often of an experimental nature, and in a wide variety of aircraft, have set a fine example to all.’

H.M.A.S. Sydney - Sea Furies - Korea - Bar to D.S.C.

Advanced to Lieutenant-Commander in February 1949, a further stint of active service ensued aboard the carrier H.M.A.S.
Sydney off Korea, where once again - in the period September 1951 to January 1952 - he acted as an Air Group Commander.

As verified by official reports from the same period, he regularly flew ‘milk runs’ against targets on the west coast and, in fact, led
Sydney’s very first operation - a strike with six Sea Furies and five Fireflies flown on 5 October 1951. By the 10th, Sydney’s aircraft had dropped a total 152 500lb. bombs, and fired 1076 rockets and 47,135 rounds of 20mm. ammunition. Nor were such sorties flown without opposition, Fell’s Sea Fury taking two hits in its starboard wing-root on the 10th, and three further hits during the course of operations on the 10th.

Fell’s targets varied from enemy troop movements to shipping and junks, a memorable strike being carried out against the latter on 21 October, when six of them - lying in readiness to invade the island of Taehwa - were taken taken out on the beaches of the enemy mainland coast.

In one attack undertaken by
Sydney’s Fireflies on a railway bridge near Chaeryong, Sub. Lieutenant N. D. MacMillan was downed by flak and made a skilful crash landing in a field three miles from the target in enemy territory. He and his Observer were not injured but their position was ‘far from pleasant’. With the Carriers in Korea continues:

‘It was extremely doubtful if
Sydney’s helicopter could reach them and get clear of enemy territory before nightfall; but Captain Harries decided to make the attempt - a decision ‘received with enthusiasm’ by the American crew. Aviation Device Chief A. K. Bobbit, U.S.N., and Aviation Technician’s Mate C. C. Gooding, U.S.N. This welcome news was convened to MacMillan by Lieutenant-Commander Fell, who in flying low over him to tell him that the helicopter was on its way, was hit by flak, but succeeded in reaching Kimpo airfield ... ‘

Following Fell’s gallant message-delivery sortie, the
Sydney’s helicopter carried out a remarkable rescue mission, one of the American gunners accounting for two enemy troops who closed to 15 yards as MacMillan and his Observer leapt aboard.

As already mentioned, Fell’s Sea Fury returned to
Sydney - or Kimpo airfield - with flak or small arms damage on numerous occasions, the second part of his tour in late October 1951 including a bullet hole in the leading edge of his rudder-fin on the 19th, and flak damaged controls on the 25th; in the following month his Sea Fury was again listed as damaged, this time being holed in the port mainplane.

Tour-expired, he was awarded a Bar to his D.S.C., which distinction he received at a Buckingham Palace investiture held on 24 March 1953.

Senior Command - C.B. and K.C.B.

Following the Korean War, Fell served a tour of duty as Commander (A.) aboard Ark Royal 1954-56, prior to a year in the Mediterranean as Staff Officer (A.) on the Staff of the Flag Officer Second-in-Command. In 1957-58 he returned to sea with command of the anti-aircraft frigate Puma and, having then attended a Senior Officer’s War Course, was advanced to Captain in June 1958.

Appointed C.O. of R.N.A.S Lossiemouth on his promotion, Fell commanded
Loch Killisport in the Third Frigate Squadron 1961-63 and served as Chief of Staff to the C.-in-C. Portsmouth 1963-65. In the latter year, he reached the pinnacle of Fleet Air Arm seagoing appointments, when he took command of Ark Royal.

In 1966-68, he served as Flag Officer Gibraltar, Admiral Superintendent H.M. Dockyard, gaining advancement to the substantive rank of Rear-Admiral in January 1967. In 1968-70, he served as Flag Officer, Carriers and Amphibious Ships, namely as C.O. of the Navy’s main striking force of three aircraft carriers, two Commando carriers and two assault ships, a force comprising some 10,000 personnel with world wide commitments. He was awarded the C.B. (
London Gazette 1 January 1969, refers).

Having then been promoted to Vice-Admiral, Fell served as Flag Officer Naval Air Command, the most senior appointment in Naval Aviation with responsibility for all Naval Air Stations and Air Training Establishments, a command comprising 2,000 officers, 20,000 men and civilian technicians.

Fell’s final appointment was as Chief of Staff to the Commander Allied Naval Forces in Southern Europe 1972-74. He was raised to K.C.B. on being placed on the Retired List - at his own request - in the latter year.

The Admiral settled at Stoughton, Chichester, where he enjoyed pursuing such hobbies as gliding, shooting and fishing - and ‘messing around in boats’. Sadly his well-earned retirement was short-lived, for he died in December 1976.

Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including the recipient’s C.B. warrant and related Statutes, M.O.D retirement letter, with statement of services, certificate in respect of services at H.Q. Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe (1972-74), and a quantity of career photographs (approximately 20); together with his gold pocket watch chain, three pairs of F.A.A. gilt bullion “Wings”, an old Empire Flying School badge and a set of mounted tunic ribands.

Also see Lot 962 for the recipient’s miniature dress medals.