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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 May, 2005, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
War veteran returns to the field
Steve Stevens
Steve Stevens in front of the iconic image of his plane
A World War II veteran is returning to the scene of his exploits for the first time in 60 years to mark VE Day.

Steve Stevens, 85, will present the mayor of Campomarino in Italy with a picture of his Beaufighter plane attacking a Nazi stronghold.

The photograph, taken on 13 February 1945 in Yugoslavia, has become an iconic image of the air campaign.

Mr Stevens, who was part of the South African Air Force, served in the multi-national Balkan Air Force.

A series of events are being held this year to mark VE Day (8 May), the end of hostilities in Europe, and VJ Day (15 August), when the war in Japan ceased.

Point blank

Mr Stevens was born in England but spent the early years of his life in South Africa.

Mr Stevens served as a lieutenant in the 19th Squadron of the South African Air Force in both Yugoslavia and Italy.

He was last in Campomarino in 1945 when it was known as Biferno.

During his regular flying expeditions, which involved providing aerial support for troops and anti-Nazi partisans on the ground, Mr Stevens had several brushes with death.

We've got to stop these terrible wars, I believe there are about 40 taking place around the world.
Steve Stevens
On one of his first missions he was looking straight into a 12in-square armour plated windscreen, the only piece of armour on the plane, when it was hit at point blank range by an aircraft gun.

He said: "It went in about three quarters of the way through and then stopped.

"It exploded my windscreen. Had it been about two or three inches to the right my head would have been blown off."

But he said his most horrific experience came during the last winter of the war ahead of a mission over southern Europe when an Italian plane, fighting with the allies, prepared to take off.

"A bomb exploded and I've never seen anything like it in my life," Mr Stevens recalled.

"One of the bodies was hurled into the air. As it went up the parachute that was strapped to his body opened itself and before the explosion died away it was virtually fully opened.

"It was a most horrific thing to see," he said.

Peace call

He is due to give an address as part of three days of VE Day commemorations and present the town's mayor, Professor Anita Di Giuseppe, with a large framed archive photograph showing his Beaufighter plane firing its cannons and rockets at a Nazi stronghold.

The image, taken from the nose of another Beaufighter as Yugoslav partisans retook the town of Zuzemberk, has become recognised as one of the most distinctive air-strike photographs of the Balkan Air Force campaign.

Despite his wartime heroics Mr Stevens's address to surviving veterans and local people is expected to centre on a call for peace.

He said: "Between 50 and 55 million people died in World War II, that's the population of Britain.

"We need to get that across ... we've got to stop these terrible wars, I believe there are about 40 taking place around the world."

Mr Stevens's own photographs, as well as his role in 35 rocket-firing missions, earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. He now lives in Worthing, West Sussex.

On Sunday, the Prince of Wales will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London and the Royal Artillery Band will play at a short service at the national war memorial in Whitehall.

The Prince, accompanied by his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, will later take the salute at the annual parade and service of the Combined Cavalry Old Comrades' Association in Hyde Park.

At 2000 BST, a Dakota DC3 will fly over Big Ben, Whitehall and Trafalgar Square to signal the start of a BBC VE Day concert.

The Queen will lead celebrations on 10 July - designated the principal day of commemoration - to mark the end of the war.

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