Bomber Command – Origins and Doctrine

Only 15 Fairey Hendons were built, serving with 38 and 115 Squadrons between November 1936 and January 1939. Before the famous early wartime trio of medium and heavy bombers (classified as such by the standards of the time) were to appear – the Whitley, Wellington and Hampden – an assortment of monoplanes appeared, most of which were destined to enter limited production and service. If they served no better purpose, they certainly subsidized the growth and training of both the RAF and the aircraft industry. To these should be added the Fairey Hendon monoplane, whose origins lay in a 1927 Specification but which was eventually rewarded by a token consolation order in the mid-1930s.

During the Second World War Bomber Command flew around 390,000 sorties for the loss of 8,953 aircraft on operational missions; that number does not include another almost 1,400 that crashed in the UK whilst airborne on an operational mission. The cost in aircrew lives was over 47,000, to which must be added those killed in accidents or training – a further 8,000 plus; it is generally accepted that the total of lives lost is around 55,000. What did the six years of the bombing offensive achieve? Supporters and critics were active at the time and in the 60 years since the end of the war the argument has raged even more fiercely. As with all history the benefits of hindsight and access to previously classified documentary sources has to be balanced by the researcher’s removal in time and context from the period under study. To understand truly decisions, policies, actions and attitudes is all but impossible.

It seems appropriate to open this overview with a few words from the most famous of Bomber Command’s leaders, Sir Arthur Harris: ‘There are no words with which I can do justice to the aircrew under my command. There is no parallel in warfare to such courage and determination in the face of danger over so prolonged a period.’ These words from Bomber Command’s wartime leader, Air Marshal Arthur T. Harris are a fitting tribute to the sacrifice made by the Command in six years of war. Only one force on the Allied side was continuously involved with active operations against the German homeland – RAF Bomber Command. The day the war started a Blenheim of 139 Squadron flew a reconnaissance sortie to locate German shipping and for the next six years the Command took the war to the enemy, at first with limited effect but from 1942 with increasing resources and greater accuracy, and with an ever greater impact.

Strategic bombing theory was developed in the latter years of the First World War and was a combination of the German raids on England and the Allied, especially Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force, bombing campaign, although this was only just starting to get into its stride when the Armistice was signed in November 1918. Despite the fact that strategic bombing had not really been evaluated in the First World War it became a central tenet of air power theory in the post-war period. In part this was because it was the one independent decisive (potentially) role that the air forces could perform. For the RAF this was enshrined as the Trenchard Doctrine: ‘the nation that would stand being bombed longest would win in the end … to win it will be necessary to pursue a relentless offensive by bombing the enemy’s country, destroying his sources of supply of aircraft and engines, and breaking the morale of his people.’ This doctrine of a war winning bomber force remained the focus of doctrine with the major air forces throughout the 1920s. In May 1928 Trenchard, whose views still carried great weight, circulated a forceful memo to counter: ‘an unwillingness on the part of the other Services to accept the contention of the Air Staff that in future wars air attacks would most certainly be carried out against the vital centres of commerce and of the manufacture of munitions of war of every sort no matter where these centres were located.’ He stated that the RAF doctrine was to ‘break down the enemy means of resistance by attacks on objectives selected as most likely to achieve this end’ it being better to attack munitions at source (the factory) than on the battlefield – this would become a well-rehearsed argument by Bomber Command throughout the Second World War. It would, he believed, have greater effect for less effort, and would include dissuading workers from working in the factories. ‘The Hague Convention allows for military targets, including production centres. What is illegitimate, as being contrary to the dictates of humanity, is the indiscriminate bombing of a city for the sole purpose of terrorising the civilian population.’ Bomber Command would later take great care to stress the military significance of its city targets, whilst the German propaganda machine would refer to the Terrorflieger. The other Chiefs of Staff in their respective memos were not convinced, and also expressed concern over being bombed in return; it must be remembered that this was a period when the independence of the RAF, in part budget-driven, was under threat and the arguments, as such tri-Service ‘debates’ usually are, was writ large with vested interest.

The debates were largely hypothetical at the time as the RAF’s bomber strength in the early 1930s was pitiful with five night- and six day-bomber squadrons, all with slow biplanes with very limited bomb loads, hardly the material with which to deliver an aerial bombardment of any significance.

Although the stagnation of the 1920s, which in military terms had been a dismal decade for all of Britain’s armed forces, had started to change in the early 1930s both doctrine and equipment were outdated and with little immediate prospect of improvement. In terms of aircraft there was a glimmer of hope with the issue of Specification B.9/32 for a ‘twin-engined medium bomber of good performance and long range’, although the requirement for a 720 mile range and 1,000 lb bomb load was not particularly inspiring! Two of Bomber Command’s early stalwarts – the Wellington and the Hampden – were a result of this Specification. The following year saw Britain wake up to the realities of a changing Europe. A Foreign Office appraisal of 1933 stated that Germany ‘… controlled by a frenzied nationalism and resolved to assert her rights to full equality, will proceed to the building of formidable armaments on land and especially in the air.’ The Government suggested that the Services draw up expansion plans; the Defence Requirements Committee sat from November 1933 to February 1934 and in its report gave priority to the establishment by the RAF of a Home Defence force (including bombers) strong enough to counter any attack. Expansion Scheme A was announced in July 1934 to provide the basis for a deterrent force and a training establishment on which future expansion could be based; under this scheme the RAF would be ready for war in eight years (1942). The old One-Power standard, which had seen planning based on France as the ‘enemy’ had to shift to reflect the reality of the growth of German power and belligerence. It was all very well to talk of an offensive bomber force capable of attacking targets in the Ruhr and Rhineland districts of Germany, the two main industrial areas, but quite another to make it a reality (even on paper). The initial solution was one of numbers over capability; create the squadrons even though the equipment might not be right as better aircraft could follow in due course. This was a mixture of financial constraint and lack of suitable aircraft; the latter would continue to plague the Command into the middle years of the war. As an indication, it cost £245,000 to acquire twelve Hawker Hart light bombers and £83,000 to operate them; in comparison it cost £375,000 to acquire ten Vickers Virginia heavy bombers and £139,000 a year to operate them. The financial aspect became a secondary consideration with Expansion Scheme C (May 1935) stating that: ‘Financial considerations were to be secondary to the attainment of the earliest possible security.’ In July the Air Staff confirmed the strategic doctrine: ‘Provided a sufficient weight of air attack could be brought to bear on the Rhineland-Ruhr-Saar area, Germany’s armament industry would be paralysed, which would in turn preclude her from maintaining an army in the field.’

The bomber force was organised into regional commands, such as the Wessex Bombing Area, and all were part of the Home Defence organisation, fitting neatly with the bombing offensive being seen as ‘attack as the best means of defence.’

By the time that Bomber Command formed on 14 July 1936, Expansion Scheme F (dated February 1936) was on the table. This called for a bomber force of 68 squadrons, with 990 aircraft, and was scheduled for completion by March 1939. Like the previous Schemes, and those that followed over the next two years, it was overly optimistic. Paper squadrons don’t fight wars and when Expansion Scheme H called for 1,659 bombers in ninety squadrons it was obvious even to the optimists that it was unrealistic, even though it was not scheduled for completion until 1943. For the first Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, Sir John Steel, aircraft were only one of the problems to be faced; of equal importance was personnel – aircrew and ground crew – as well as equipment, including bombs, and airfields. Lack of suitable weapons was to prove a major embarrassment to Bomber Command in the early part of the war and the problem could be traced back to a 1932 Air Staff decision that there would be no requirement for a bomb heavier than 500 lb and that the 250 lb bomb would be the standard weapon. The need for airfields further north to cater for Germany as the main target led to Expansion Period airfields from Norfolk to Yorkshire, with the latter county, along with Lincolnshire, becoming the heartland of Bomber Command. This expansion did not really start until 1935, with old First World War sites being looked at as part of a major search for airfield sites. The basic requirement was for a large patch of level ground for a grass airfield, the current bombers requiring little in the way of prepared surfaces, along with support facilities such as hangars, technical, administration and domestic buildings.

The impressive C-Type hangar became typical of bomber airfields of this period, although the exact facilities varied between locations. The provision of aircrew, and training in general is covered in a separate chapter. By the mid 1930s aircraft manufacturers who had been finding it hard to survive official disinterest in the 1920s were being called on to produce large numbers of new aircraft and it is remarkable that they were able to respond as well as they did. A great deal of criticism has been levelled by some commentators on the poor quality of equipment with which the RAF entered the war, an argument that could equally be aimed at the likes of tanks and other military equipment, but it takes time to design, develop and produce advanced items such as aircraft. It was only in 1935 that a medium/heavy bomber philosophy was adopted, based on the bomb lift of the proposed new types, and there was much debate on the subject at Air Staff and Government level. However, on the outbreak of war the Command was still substantially composed of light bombers and it would be 1943 before it lost the last of these. Indeed it was only in 1936 that two of the Command’s most advanced types – both light bombers, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim, entered service. Perhaps the most significant decision was the issue of Specification B. 12/36 for a four-engined bomber of 250 mph cruise, 1,500 mile range and 4,000 lb bomb load. It was also to have the latest navigation equipment, plus power-operated gun turrets, including a four-gun rear turret. This was starting to sound like a real strategic bomber – but the war would be well underway before the products of this Specification were ready for service. In the meantime, the expansion plans had to go ahead with whatever was to hand. Continued examination of overall air doctrine and assessment of the enemy air strength and employment, including tactical and strategic air operations in the 1936 Spanish Civil War, led to a revision in the expansion plan. In October 1938, Expansion Plan M was approved, which envisaged a strength of eighty-two bomber squadrons (1,360 aircraft) by April 1941, and with renewed focus on defensive requirements by increasing the number of fighter squadrons. Meanwhile, doctrine was being turned into reality and the Joint Planning Committee (JPC), with its eyes firmly fixed on offensive bombing, envisaged a three-phase campaign:

Countering the all-out German air offensive by attacking Luftwaffe installations.

2. Countering the German land offensive by attacking ground forces.

3. A war-winning air offensive against German industry and transport.

The JPC also stated that: ‘the offensive employment of our own and Allied bombers is the only measure which could affect the issue during the first weeks of the war. The three classes of objective are:

1. Demoralise the German people, by methods similar to those we foresee the Germans themselves using against us, [so that] their Government might be forced to desist from this type of attack.

2. Discover and attack some target, the security of which was regarded by Germany as vital to her survival during the limited period within which she hoped to gain a decision over us, [so that] she would be forced to divert her air attacks to our own aerodromes and maintenance organisation.

3. Inflict direct casualties upon the German bombing aircraft, either in the air or on the ground, or upon their maintenance organisation; the intensity of German attacks would be directly and quickly affected.

The overall philosophy was translated into ‘Planning for a War with Germany’ and in late 1936 the Air Targets Intelligence sub-committee developed the Western Air (WA) plans and these became the focus for Bomber Command’s strategic planning. On 13 December 1937 the Command was instructed to commence detailed planning for WA1 (German Air Force), WA4 (German Army concentration areas and lines of communication) and WA5 (manufacturing centres), with planning to be complete by 1 April 1938. It was a massive task and was carried out with incomplete information on the targets and an over-optimistic appreciation of bombing capability. A Bomber Command appraisal of the list suggested that only the third was realistic as the others comprised targets of an inappropriate nature for offensive strategic bombers, a stance that would be taken by bomber leaders, especially Arthur Harris, at various times throughout the war.

The WA Plans underwent a number of modifications over the next few months but by mid 1938 had settled down as:

WA1        German Air Force organisation and associated industries.

WA2        Reconnaissance of Home Waters and East Atlantic, in co-operation with the Royal Navy.

WA3        Convoy protection in Home Waters and East Atlantic.

WA4        German Army concentration areas and lines of communication.

WA5        Manufacturing Resources; WA5(a) Ruhr, WA5(b) Inland waterways, Ruhr, Baltic, North Sea ports, WA5(c) Outside of Ruhr.

WA6        Stores, especially oil.

WA7        Counter-offensive in co-operation with Royal Navy in defence of sea-borne trade.

WA8        Night attacks.

WA9        Kiel Canal and associated waterways.

WA10      Shipping and facilities, especially the Baltic.

WA11      Forests and crops.

WA12      German fleet in harbour or at sea.

WA13      Administrative centres, especially Berlin.

An indication of the optimism of the bomber theorists was a suggestion that an offensive against the Ruhr, especially the coking plants and power stations, would, ‘Prevent Germany waging war on a large scale in less than three months.’ This outcome could be achieved with 3,000 sorties, at a cost of 176 bombers, by knocking out twenty-six coking plants and nineteen power stations. With hindsight of the first years of the war this level of optimism seems incredulous!

Whilst plans were being prepared, the Command was undergoing a major reorganisation as aircraft types and roles were concentrated into individual Groups and units moved to more appropriate airfields within the new structure. The progress made in the two years since the Command was formed was incredible and those who criticise Bomber Command’s performance in the first years of the war fail to recognise just how much had been achieved in such a short period. Despite the optimism expressed above, Ludlow-Hewitt (C-in-C since September 1937) clearly stated that his Command was: ‘Entirely unprepared for war, unable to operate except in fair weather and extremely vulnerable in the air and on the ground.’ These words proved to be far more prophetic. However, the military always has to play with the cards it has and Bomber Command was to enter the war with a far from ideal hand. The arrival of the Wellington, the first squadron equipping in late 1938, was one positive indication but by the outbreak of war there were only six operational squadrons with this type. It could have been worse; Bomber Command may have gone to war in September 1938 when the Munich Crisis took Europe to the brink of war. Most parties knew that the Allied ‘sell-out’ provided only a respite and that war with Germany was inevitable; for the RAF the extra year was crucial.


Mosquitoes Bite and Beaufighters Punch I

Almost a year would elapse before the Luftwaffe returned in strength for the next phase of their attacks on the Midlands, this time with Kampfgeschwader 2 (KG2) – the Holzhammer Gruppe – in the van. From April until September/October 1942, Dornier Do217s spearheaded the notorious Baedeker air raids against historical British towns and cities. Mounted in retaliation for the RAF’s escalating attacks on the great cities of Germany, these raids were stimulated in particular by those upon the Baltic ports of Lübeck and Rostock in March and April 1942. Dornier Do217s of KG2, together with other units, were heavily involved in the Luftwaffe plan but by the end of that summer would, once again, suffer heavy losses to the RAF’s night defences.

Almost coinciding with the beginning of the Baedeker phase, 151 Squadron – still based at Wittering – became only the second squadron to re-equip with the de Havilland Mosquito NF II and made its first Mosquito patrol on April 30. The last of 151’s pilots went solo on the Mossie on June 20 and that day its diarist recorded confidently that, “the whole squadron can now be left to its own devices”, and in common with other night fighter units, soon got to grips with the enemy once more.

Plt Off Wain in DD608 and Flt Lt Pennington in DD628 reported some AI contacts in their patrols on the night of May 28/29 but it was during enemy mining sorties to The Wash and anti-shipping raids in the Great Yarmouth area on May 29/30 that the squadron’s first real engagement occurred with the new fighter. First up from Wittering were Pilot Officer John Wain and Flt Sgt Thomas ‘Jock’ Grieve in DD608 who tackled a Dornier 217 but could only claim it as damaged. The same night the A Flight commander, Flt Lt Denis Pennington and his RO Flt Sgt David Donnett in DD628, intercepted and fired at what he thought was a Heinkel He111 out over the North Sea but spirited return fire made him break off with an inconclusive result for him, too.

With faster fighters and more effective radar cover, the profile of night air combat was changing distinctly, but because defending fighters were now intercepting more enemy raiders out over the sea, it would also become more difficult to verify some of the results of their combats and subsequent claims.

On Wittering’s patch it was the CO of 151 Squadron, New Zealander Wg Cdr Irving Smith, who led the way to success with the new Mosquito. Airborne at 22.45 hours in W4097 for the first patrol of the night of June 24/25, he and his RO Flt Lt Kerr-Sheppard were vectored by Neatishead GCI out to sea from The Wash towards an incoming raid. At 12,000 feet altitude, Kerr-Sheppard soon picked out a contact and guided the wing commander into visual contact at one hundred yards range. It was a Heinkel He111 and in his combat report, he said it looked to be carrying “two torpedoes under the wings.” The crew of the Heinkel spotted the incoming Mosquito for it suddenly dived vertically but not before Wg Cdr Smith put a burst of cannon fire into the port engine, which started to blaze and the starboard torpedo – if indeed that’s what it was – dropped away. Smith clung to the bomber, firing more short bursts at it from his machine guns as it first dived then pulled up into a stall turn, shedding pieces as the rounds hit home. Now the Heinkel dived again with the Mosquito still on its tail, this time firing another burst of cannon. Diving hard, the two aircraft were enveloped by cloud and although Kerr-Sheppard followed it on the AI set it gradually went out of range. Smith continued to follow the descending track of the Heinkel and at 7,000 feet altitude Kerr-Sheppard regained a contact off to port still losing altitude but again the target disappeared off the display. Wg Cdr Smith claimed a ‘probable’ for this one and climbed back up to look for more trade. Control put him onto the track of another bandit and at 7,000 feet altitude in bright moonlight he saw the aeroplane two miles distant, in fact just a few seconds before Kerr-Sheppard called out the AI contact. Smith opened up the throttles to close the range and then eased the Mosquito in to 300 yards behind and below another Heinkel He111, also carrying what he also described as “a torpedo under each wing.” He just managed to get in a one-second burst of cannon that brought hits on the underside of the wings and fuselage before the Heinkel dived vertically. This time, with its port wing on fire, the enemy bomber continued to dive until it struck the water, where it left a circle of burning wreckage. Claim one He111 destroyed.

The patrol was hotting up indeed and Wg Cdr Smith was directed towards a third bandit on which AI contact was made but then lost at extreme range. Circling at 7,000 feet, control put him onto a fourth bandit, which this time was held on AI right down to visual contact at 300 yards on a Dornier Do217. Smith fired all his remaining cannon ammunition in one long burst at this target, spraying it with hits until wings and fuselage were blazing and parts of the engine cowlings were seen to fall away. The Dornier crew put up a fight, though, and fired back at their tormentor from the dorsal guns but calmly closing the range to a hundred yards, Wg Cdr Smith silenced the return fire with several short bursts from his own machine guns. With the Mosquito windscreen covered in oil from the stricken bomber he was obliged to break off the attack, but by now the Dornier was flying very slowly and losing height rapidly. Wg Cdr Smith drew alongside the bomber and his last view of it was as it flew into cloud, burning fiercely and eerily illuminating the cloud from within. Out of ammunition he headed back to Wittering, landing at 00.52 hours to claim two E/A destroyed and one probable. On the question of the torpedoes under the wings, while it is true that the Heinkel He111 could carry such ordnance, it is possible that on this occasion – and in view of Plt Off Wain’s combat report below – Wg Cdr Smith mistook a pair of large calibre bombs loaded on the two bulbous hard points situated at the wing roots, for torpedoes. The He111 had to carry bombs larger than the SC500 externally and two SC1000 or alternatively, two parachute mines – the latter might bear some resemblance to torpedoes when seen in poor light – and these could be what Wg Cdr Smith saw. Furthermore, the squadron diarist didn’t do modern researchers any favours when he logged two sorties by Mosquito W4097 at the same time on the night of 23/24 – but flown by two different crews: Plt Off Fisher and Wg Cdr Smith. It seems clear, though, that Wg Cdr Smith’s sortie date was flown on that hectic night of 24/25.

Plt Off Wain and Flt Sgt Grieve left Wittering in DD616 shortly after the WingCo. They were handed over to Happisburgh CHL control where trade was still brisk and sent off towards an inbound bandit fifty miles out from The Wash. Wain’s combat report was equally brisk, stating:

A visual was obtained against Northern Light at one mile and identified at 600 yards as a Heinkel 111 with two bombs stowed externally. Fire was opened at 250 yards with cannon and machine gun. One long burst caused starboard wing to explode and one third of the wing came off. E/A went into vertical dive leaving a trail of smoke. Time 23.40 hours. An aircraft burning on the sea was seen by Wg Cdr Smith, who was in the vicinity. It is claimed as destroyed.

The night was still young and next off was Sqn Ldr Donald Darling with Plt Off Wright (RO) in DD629 at 00.25. At 01.15 Neatishead GCI put him onto the track of a raider heading south-east at 6,000 feet and shortly afterwards Wright got a blip below and to starboard. Darling got a visual at 700 yards range on a Dornier Do217 but while closing to 200 yards the Mossie was spotted and the bomber dived towards the clouds. Darling put in a short cannon burst as the Dornier entered the cloudbank and with Wright following it on AI he loosed off another burst as they emerged from the cloud. Return fire came from the dorsal turret but this stopped when more bursts of cannon fire from the Mosquito brought hits on the fuselage. Sqn Ldr Darling was unable to stay with the Dornier as it dived hard into the cloud once more so he abandoned the chase and climbed for more trade. After another unproductive chase Plt Off Wright held a new contact, which they turned into a sighting of a Ju88 but once again in the good light conditions the Mosquito was seen and this bomber, too, dived away to sea level where contact was lost. Claim one damaged. Flt Lt Moody flew the last, uneventful, patrol of the night.

Moody was on ops next night when the bright moonlight of June 26/27 brought bombers from Holland in over The Wash in an effort to creep up on Norwich from the least expected direction. A Do217E-4, wk nr 4266, of I/KG2, was lost when Flt Lt Moody and his RO Plt Off Marsh in Mosquito NFII, DD609, caught up with it over The Wash.

Neatishead put Moody on to what turned out to be a friendly then directed him towards a bandit dead ahead. As Marsh was trying to pick out a contact they got quite a fright when a stream of tracer fire zipped past them. Moody dived out of danger and started again. GCI gave him another target at 10,000 feet altitude and Marsh got an AI blip at maximum range. The Mosquito was easily able to overhaul the bandit and in less than a minute Moody had a Dornier 217 in his sight at 800 yards range. He closed in from down-moon and opened fire as the Dornier began a gentle turn to port. Hits on the fuselage were followed by a faint glow and suddenly the bomber blew up, falling into the sea where it exploded again. The aircraft was U5+ML flown by Fw Hans Schrödel, who died with his crew in this engagement.

With the arrival of the Mosquito NFII the science of night fighting had taken great strides since the days of the Blenheim just two years earlier.

During the process of re-equipment, B Flight of 151 Squadron soldiered on with Defiants well into that summer and the tenacity of those Defiant crews – working mainly with the ‘eyeball Mk 1’ – had fulfilled an important job in plugging gaps in the night defences.

Although by now usually relegated to pottering around on searchlight cooperation sorties, it is interesting to find a few Defiants – described by the squadron itself as “Old Faithfuls” – still around on 151 Squadron in June 1942 – for example AA425, AA436 and AA572 and on the 26th one of these, believed to be AA572, even managed to muscle in and take a slice of the Mossies’ action.

Flt Lt Colin Robertson with air gunner Flt Sgt Albert Beale left Wittering at 00.56 hours on the 26th for one of the regular searchlight cooperation sorties with sites around The Wash. They were old hands on the Defiant and when flashes from exploding bombs and fires over in the Norwich direction grabbed Robertson’s attention, with the turret fully armed, he could not resist the opportunity to go and investigate. Five miles west of Coltishall Flt Sgt Beale saw a Dornier Do217 coming up behind them at 2,000 feet altitude. Calling for “turn port!” he brought the turret round and opened fire at the bomber from just eighty yards range. Beale saw his fire hit the rear fuselage and this was answered by a stream of tracer from the Dornier’s guns as it went into a steep dive under the Defiant, where it was lost to sight.

Turning south-east Robertson saw another Dornier silhouetted against the moon, almost stern on but turning towards them. The Defiant was still only at 1,000 feet altitude when Beale asked for “starboard!” to close the range to 150 yards. Opening fire, he scored hits on the nose and fuselage and stopped return fire from the dorsal gun position. Then Beale’s guns chose this moment to jam and the bomber escaped. Landing back at Wittering at 03.14 hours they filed a claim for two Do217s damaged and the Squadron ORB noted: “As Defiants have not been used operationally for some time, this is likely to be the last combat in which this type will engage.” Or so they thought.

Always keen to keep his hand in with ‘his’ squadrons, Wittering station commander Gp Capt Basil Embry borrowed a 151 Mosquito for a dawn patrol to try his luck at catching the ‘regular’ German PRU Ju88. Much to his disgust he was unsuccessful and since the Luftwaffe looked like staying away for the rest of the month, when the weather clamped in, a squadron party was organised on the 30th to celebrate the month of June successes. But Jerry managed to spoil Robertson and Beale’s party by sending a single raider in the wee small hours of June 29/30.

Ground radar tracked an incoming raid across the southern Fens and Flt Lt Robertson with Flt Sgt Beale were scrambled from RAF Wittering. Lashed by rain and hail, their Defiant soon emerged from heavy cloud at 5,000 feet and after twenty minutes, at 03.21 hours, Robertson called “tallyho” on a Ju88. Closing on the Junkers, it was seen flitting in and out of the cloud tops until, when it emerged for a third time, Flt Sgt Beale let go a five-second deflection burst of 200 AP and 200 de Wilde incendiary rounds at the bomber from a range of one hundred down to fifty yards. Later he was of the opinion that the enemy aircraft flew right into his gunfire but it dipped into cloud again and did not re-emerge. The Defiant crew could only claim one Ju88 damaged and a radio fix put them in the vicinity of the town of March in Cambridgeshire.

While much has quite rightly been written about the air war from a pilot’s perspective, the achievement of Flt Sgt Albert Beale DFM, in being personally credited with three enemy aircraft destroyed and four damaged while flying in Defiants, is a fine example of the contribution made by air gunners to the night air defence campaign.

151 Squadron continued to make successful interceptions with its new Mosquitoes, even though Luftwaffe incursions were reducing in size and frequency again and thus there were fewer targets to find in the same volume of sky. Apart from the obvious factor of an individual crew’s skill in closing a kill, that the squadron could still shoot down the enemy is the most obvious demonstration of the complete effectiveness of the GCI/AI system – it didn’t matter how many of them came, radar would find them.

While seeking a target of opportunity along the north Norfolk coast on July 21/22, Ofw Heinrich Wolpers and his crew, including the staffelkapitän Hptmn Frank from I/KG2, ran into a 151 patrol just after midnight. Controlled by Flt Lt Ballantyne of Neatishead GCI, Plt Off G Fisher and Flt Sgt E Godfrey in Mosquito W4090 (AI Mk V) chased the Dornier in and out of cloud cover from The Wash to fifty miles off the Humber estuary, before finally despatching it into the sea. The fight was not all one-sided either. Fisher got in several bursts of cannon and machine-gun fire that eventually put both the ventral and dorsal gunners out of action, but not before their own fire had peppered the Mosquito under the fuselage and engine nacelles and damaged one of the cannon spent-round chutes. Both aircraft were twisting and turning; climbing and diving steeply from 9,000 down to 5,000 feet and back again and it was during one of these dives towards patchy cloud cover that Fisher fired a telling burst and the Dornier’s starboard engine caught fire. Going down in an ever steepening dive the flaming engine was suddenly swallowed up by the sea and Fisher who, in all the excitement had not registered his own rapid approach to that same patch of sea, heard Godfrey yelling at him to pull up. He pulled out of the dive at 200 feet – and went home. It had taken twenty-five minutes of hard manoeuvring; 197 rounds of 20mm cannon and 1239 rounds of .303 machine-gun ammunition to despatch Dornier Do217E-4, U5+IH, wk nr 4260.

One particular night in July 1942 can be seen as indicative both of the success of the defensive night fighting force guarding The Wash corridor, of the continuing wide-ranging radius of the sorties and of the recurring problem of confirming combat kills in darkness, often over water. Because of the intensity of air activity over the whole region on this night of July 23 1942, in contrast to the usual rigid censorship and no doubt to bolster civilian morale, the Lincolnshire Free Press newspaper was, on the occasion of the night’s outstanding events, allowed to print an unusual amount of detail.

For the RAF, while – loosely speaking – Beaufighters of 68 Squadron covered the Norfolk/Suffolk region from RAF Coltishall, 151, having recently completed its conversion from Hurricanes and Defiants to Mosquitoes at RAF Wittering, was assigned The Wash area while the Canadians of 409 Squadron at Coleby Grange (Lincoln), also equipped with Beaufighters, watched over the rest of Lincolnshire towards the Humber. These then were the primary night fighter units in the region in mid 1942. In addition, though, other squadrons added support, so that the umbrella over the approaches to the Midlands by night left few holes for the enemy to pass through unmolested. Not least of the other units were the radar-equipped flying searchlight Turbinlite Havocs of 1453 and 1459 Flights (later 532 and 538 Squadrons) that flew variously from Wittering and Hibaldstow. Until September 1942, when they were re-formed into integrated squadrons, comprising one flight of Havocs and another of Hurricanes, the Havoc flights drew their satellite fighters from Hurricane units with whom they shared a base. In the case of 1453 Flight at Wittering, when 151 re-equipped with Mosquitoes, it called upon the Hurricanes of 486 (NZ) Squadron to make up their Havoc/Hurricane teams. However, in addition to its Turbinlite commitment, 486 Squadron also mounted independent Fighter Night patrols of its own. Generally speaking, though, the twin-engine fighters patrolled about fifty miles out to sea and the singles inland from the coast but inevitably, once the action started, it will be seen there were no rigid areas and overlaps by all units occurred frequently.

Including the two being discussed in detail here, claims for a total of seven enemy aircraft destroyed over East Anglia were submitted for the night of July 23/24 1942. Five of these were made by Beaufighter crews of Wg Cdr Max Aitken’s 68 Squadron based at RAF Coltishall, their victims apparently falling either in the sea off the Norfolk coast or in Norfolk itself. Wg Cdr Aitken claimed two, Sgt Truscott one and two Czech crews one each. The other two claims were made by Flt Lt E L (Peter) McMillan of 409 Squadron and Flt Lt Harvey Sweetman of 486 Squadron. Examination of German records in recent years, however, indicates only three enemy aircraft were lost over England that night, while a fourth – almost certainly the result of McMillan’s second combat – crashed on landing back at its base. Such is the benefit of hindsight!

With the likelihood of some or all of these defending aircraft chasing around the night sky after declining numbers of enemy aircraft, inevitably duplicate claims were bound to happen. On this night, just such an event occurred.

Oblt Heinrich Wiess of II/KG40 was briefed to attack an aircraft factory in Bedford with four 500kg bombs. With his crew, Fw Karl Gramm, Fw Hermann Frischolz and Ofw Joseph Ulrich, he took off from Soesterberg in Dornier Do217E-4, wk nr 4279, coded F8+CN, just as the moon was beginning to rise. His route from Soesterberg airfield in Holland took him across the North Sea, down the length of The Wash, making landfall over Boston at 10,000 feet before turning south towards the target. It was only five minutes after this point that the Dornier was caught in a searchlight beam and one of the crew saw a single-engine fighter below them about 1,000 yards away to starboard. Oblt Wiess took evasive action by diving the Dornier, first to starboard then curving to port to get back on course. The fighter seemed to have been shaken off but soon another single-engine fighter was spotted below, on the port side this time, flying on a roughly parallel course. After being interrogated later, the transcription of flight engineer Ofw Ulrich’s recollection of events went as follows.

He said he fired a few machine-gun rounds in its direction and the fighter turned in to attack the Dornier from below. The first burst from the fighter set the port wing on fire and the crew baled out. During his parachute descent he saw a twin-engine fighter fly past but he was positive that the aircraft at which he fired and which then shot them down was a single-engine.

Flt Lt Harvey Sweetman, a New Zealander from Auckland, commanded a flight of 486 (NZ) Squadron at RAF Wittering and was a founder member of the squadron in March 1942. The Hurricane IIbs of 486 were usually tied, at night, to the apron strings of the Turbinlite Havocs, but the results of this technique of night interception had been singularly unimpressive so far. On this night, however, it was Harvey’s turn to go off chasing the Hun on his own freelance patrol and from his combat report we can piece together his version of events.

Sweetman eased Z3029, SA-R, gently off Wittering runway at a quarter to midnight on July 23 1942. According to his recollections after this sortie, at first he headed north before turning on a reciprocal course that brought him to the vicinity of Spalding. There, outlined against a cloud layer below and to starboard of him, he spotted the menacing shape of a Dornier Do217, flying south. As he closed in, Sweetman’s Hurricane was spotted by the Dornier crew and its dorsal turret gunner let fly with a burst of machine-gun fire. The bright red and white tracer rounds were way off target though. Banking to starboard, Sweetman closed to seventy yards, loosing off a deflection burst at the nose of the Dornier from his eight machine guns, but without any visible effect. The Dornier dived rapidly in an effort to escape the line of fire but Sweetman hung on down to 5,000 feet altitude, firing two more bursts as he followed his prey. These seemed to produce an immediate result as “twin streams of thick smoky vapour flowed from the enemy aircraft.” Furthermore Sweetman reported that the Dornier “turned right over on its back and dived vertically down out of sight.” Although it was bright moonlight, there was some broken cloud around at 3,000 feet and as he orbited the spot, Sweetman saw “the flare of an explosion below”, which he took to signal the end of his victim. Calling up Wittering sector operations, his position was fixed to within six miles of the crash site and he set course for base, landing back at 01.00 in an elated mood.

It was established that an enemy aircraft had crashed in a field at Fleet Fen south of Holbeach and according to 58 Maintenance Unit (58 MU) inspectors, it was a Dornier Do217E that was entirely destroyed, with wreckage strewn over twenty acres. It was their task to salvage as much material as possible and gather intelligence about this latest model.

The German crew had baled out and landed in a string between Fleet Fen and Holbeach itself and the occupants on duty in an Observer Corps post just outside the town had quite a shock when a German airman walked in and gave himself up! He was left in the care of two slightly bewildered observers while a colleague, quickly picking up the only rifle in the hut, ran outside and rounded up another of the crew a short distance away. A third German was found hiding in a farmyard and the fourth was apprehended nonchalantly walking down the road in his stockinged feet, having lost his boots when he abandoned the aeroplane.

Flt Lt Sweetman duly submitted a claim for one Dornier 217 destroyed but that signalled the beginning of another battle, this time with one of his own side. When the 486 Squadron Intelligence Officer made enquiries to support Sweetman’s claim, the crash having been confirmed by a searchlight battery at Whaplode Drove, he was told that a 409 Squadron Beaufighter crew, Flt Lt E L (Peter) McMillan (pilot) and Sgt Shepherd, had submitted a claim for the same aircraft. It was also verified that there was only one enemy aircraft shot down in that district that night.

In an article written by Bill Norman and published in the December 2000 issue of FlyPast magazine former night fighter pilot Peter McMillan recalled his two particular air combats with the enemy in July 1942 and remembered how he had to share his success with another squadron. Flying 409 Squadron Beaufighter VI, X8153, it was the first of his claims that he believed was the Fleet Fen aircraft – the one he, too, claimed as destroyed. Peter claimed only a damaged for his second engagement. From the details contained in McMillan’s combat report – just as with Sweetman’s – it is impossible to reconstruct clearly his precise location at the time of the Fleet Fen combat. However, a D/F bearing put him in the vicinity of Holbeach, and having fired off 339 rounds of 20mm cannon ammunition, he most certainly had a go at something that night.

McMillan’s combat report outlines his version of events. He wrote: “Take-off from RAF Coleby Grange was at 23.05 on the 23rd and after a short while the Beaufighter was handed over to Orby radar station to begin a GCI exercise.” This was a quite normal procedure during a patrol so that the night fighter crews could get in as much practice in the air as possible, at the same time as being instantly available if ground control detected a potential target. On this occasion, very soon GCI reported trade and McMillan was vectored northwards. Anticipating imminent action, he told Sgt Shepherd to set the cannon armament to ‘fire’ which involved Shepherd leaving his seat to go forward to the central weapons bay, between himself and his pilot. While he was doing so his intercom failed owing to a broken headset lead. Fortunately McMillan could still hear Shepherd – vital for the interception – but Shepherd could not hear his pilot’s responses. There was a buzzer link between the cockpits, however, and they found by speedy improvisation of a simple code they were able to continue with the interception.

Orby GCI put them onto a vector of 100° and warned McMillan he would have to turn quickly onto the reciprocal of 280°. When the instruction to turn came he brought the Beaufighter hard round and there on Shepherd’s display tubes was the blip. But the target was jinking around and the contact was lost just as quickly. The Orby controller gave a quick course correction and Shepherd was back in business and this time he held on to it.

McMillan opened the throttles to 280mph at 9,000 feet altitude and began to close in on the target. At 650 yards range he obtained a visual to port and above and thought it to be a Dornier Do217 that was weaving and varying altitude. Calmly McMillan slid the Beaufighter over to bring his quarry slightly to starboard then closed to 250 yards range to make quite sure it was a hostile.

Confirmation was soon forthcoming because at this point the enemy opened fire, fortunately inaccurately. Slight back pressure on the yoke brought the gunsight on and McMillan let fly with three short bursts of cannon fire of two or three seconds each. After the third burst, a white glow appeared on the port engine and the target began to slow down. This caused the Beaufighter to overshoot its prey but as he passed below the Dornier McMillan saw the port engine was on fire. He hauled the Beaufighter round in a tight orbit and regained visual contact with the enemy aircraft silhouetted against the moon. He was in time to see two parachutes detach themselves from the aircraft just before it went straight down with the port engine blazing fiercely. He wrote: “My observer saw it explode on the ground and I claim this as destroyed.” This is a much more visually positive result than Sweetman was able to offer.

Now 486 Squadron would have nothing to do with this ‘sharing’ rubbish and the whole squadron closed ranks to validate Sweetman’s claim. Sweetman himself, accompanied by Sqn Ldr Clayton from Wittering operations and Plt Off Thomas (the squadron intelligence officer), visited the crash site the next morning where they consulted with Flt Lt Morrison of 58MU from Newark. The latter was responsible for examination and removal of the debris. 486 Squadron documents record that Flt Lt Morrison declared that, despite searching for evidence of cannon strikes, he could find none. It was known of course that Sweetman’s Hurricane was armed only with .303 machine guns. However, on this latter point, the recollections of two former 58MU recovery team NCOs, interviewed by Sid Finn for his book Lincolnshire Air War, provide a contrary view as they said they worked at the site for many days and found evidence of 20mm cannon strikes on the wreckage.

The New Zealanders did not let it rest there and proceeded to interview the police constable who had arrested the German crew. He stated that one member of the crew said they had been shot down by a Spitfire. This remark was taken to indicate that a single-engine, rather than a twin-engine, aircraft was seen which lent support to Sweetman’s claim, it being easy to confuse a Spitfire with a Hurricane in the turmoil of a night battle. In their opinion, a final corroboration of 486’s claim came when Captain G A Peacock, a Royal Artillery officer stationed at Wittering, made a formal written declaration, carefully witnessed by an army colleague and Plt Off Thomas. In his statement Capt Peacock wrote:

At about midnight I was walking in the garden of a house at Moulton Chapel, where I was staying on leave. My attention was attracted by the sound of machine-gun fire in the air. I saw two bursts of fire. . . after which an aeroplane caught fire and dived steeply. It passed across the very bright moon, making the perfect silhouette of a Dornier. The aircraft crashed, a mile from where I stood, in a tremendous explosion… looking up again I plainly saw a Hurricane circling and it was from this aircraft that the gunfire originated. No other aeroplane fired its guns in the vicinity at the time of this action.

The lengths to which 486 Squadron went to back up their claim graphically illustrates the high degree of morale and camaraderie existing in RAF night fighter units at this time. The outcome was that 486 Squadron believed Harvey Sweetman had proved his case conclusively, yet ironically his original combat report does not carry the usual HQ Fighter Command ‘claim approved or shared’ endorsement. Peter McMillan’s report on the other hand is endorsed ‘shared 1/2 with 486 Sqdn’.

What seems clear now is that there were several enemy aircraft and RAF fighters in close proximity that night for, in addition to the Fleet Fen Dornier, at least one more Dornier was lost from each of KG40 and KG2 at unknown locations. The “twin streams of vapour” reported by Flt Lt Sweetman do not necessarily mean the Dornier had been hit, since it was known that aviation fuel had a propensity to produce black exhaust smoke when engine throttles were suddenly rammed open. It might be felt significant that Flt Lt Sweetman also lost sight of his target – last seen in a radical manoeuvre quite in keeping with its design capabilities – at a critical moment, while Flt Lt McMillan recorded that his gunfire set one engine of his target on fire and Sgt Shepherd had it in view down to impact. On the other hand, when questioned by 486 Squadron, the MU officer – without, it has to be said, the benefit of a lengthy inspection – is reported as saying he “found no evidence of cannon strikes”, yet his recovery team senior NCO, who spent more than a week at the site, firmly expressed the opposite view. Even one of the German crew admitted seeing a twin-engine aeroplane fly past him as he fell from the bomber.

Well, in the historian’s ‘paper war’, evaluation and accreditation may seem important – and there are certainly puzzles enough in this incident! But in the ‘shooting war’, while there was clearly a healthy element of unit pride involved, the only important thing in the end is that someone actually shot down a raider when the enemy was at the gate.

This busy night was not yet over for Peter McMillan though, and once again with the advantage of hindsight, the outcome of his second combat was not quite as he thought.

As soon as he had reported the first kill to Orby he was passed to sector control for position fixing and then back to Orby GCI. More trade was reported to the east. McMillan was vectored onto 100° and advised of a target at four miles dead ahead at 8,000 feet altitude. McMillan increased speed to 280mph to close the gap and calmly asked Orby to bring him in on the port side as the moon was to starboard. A stern-chase followed and when he got within one and a half miles range of his quarry Orby GCI advised him they could not help him any more and told him to continue on 110°. After a while Sgt Shepherd picked out and held an AI contact although the target jinked around before settling on a course of 090°. McMillan’s vision was hampered by cloud now but Shepherd neatly brought him down to 1,500 yards range and there, off to port and slightly above, was the silhouette of an aircraft. Keeping it in sight he crossed over to approach with it slightly to starboard. With the lighter sky behind him and fearful of being spotted, McMillan swiftly closed to 500 yards, eased up behind it, identified it as a Dornier Do217 and let fly with his cannons, all in a series of smooth, decisive movements. He saw flashes of his fire hitting the enemy aircraft, which immediately did a quarter roll and dived away. McMillan endeavoured to follow but lost sight of the Dornier and it disappeared into the ground returns (electronic ‘noise’) on Sgt Shepherd’s screens. When they reached 4,000 feet with 320mph on the clock he pulled out and returned to base, claiming the Dornier as damaged.

Peter McMillan’s second adversary that night was Feldwebel Willi Schludecker, a highly experienced bomber pilot who flew a total of 120 ops, of which thirty-two were made against English targets. Survivor of nine crash-landings due to battle damage, Willi came closest to oblivion the night he ran into Peter McMillan. Willi Schludecker was briefed by KG2 to attack Bedford with a 2,000kg bomb load carried in Dornier Do217, U5+BL, wk nr 4252. Approaching The Wash, Fw Heinrich Buhl, the flight engineer and gunner, had trouble with one of his weapons and let off a burst of tracer into the night sky. Willi thought that may have attracted a night fighter because a little later the crew spotted an aircraft creeping up from astern. This is believed to be McMillan’s Beaufighter. Displaying a considerable degree of confidence, Willi decided to hold his course and allow it to come within his own gunners’ range. Both aircraft opened fire simultaneously with the greater muzzle flash of the Beaufighter cannons preventing McMillan from seeing return fire and the Dornier crew thinking their own fire had made the Beaufighter explode! When the Dornier made its violent escape manoeuvre – bear in mind it was an aeroplane designed and stressed for dive-bombing – they never saw each other again.

In fact Peter McMillan would have been justified in claiming two Dorniers as destroyed that night because Schludecker’s aircraft was so badly damaged in the encounter that he had to jettison the bomb load and head for home. It was with the greatest of difficulty that he made it back to Gilze-Rijen in Holland, where he crash-landed the Dornier at three times the normal landing speed after making three attempts to get the aircraft down. That was Willi’s ninth – and last – crash-landing because he spent the next six months in hospital as a result of his injuries and it put an end to his operational flying career.

On March 9 2000 Peter McMillan, Willi Schludecker and Heinrich Buhl came face-to-face for the first time when they met in Hove at a meeting arranged by Bill Norman. This time it was a friendly encounter between men who, in Heinrich Buhl’s words, “had been adversaries but never enemies” and who found they had much in common.

Mosquitoes Bite and Beaufighters Punch II

Neatishead GCI was involved with so many interceptions at this time, to the extent that occasionally, in its own words, it became “overcrowded”. Just such a situation occurred on July 27/28, a night of lively action when Wittering’s Mosquitoes claimed two more Do217s off the north Norfolk coast, part of a raid heading for Birmingham. Neatishead GCI took on 151’s Sqn Ldr Dennis Pennington and Flt Sgt David Donnett (RO), then handed them back to Coltishall sector control because of too many plots. Fortunately, while waiting for Coltishall to start the ball rolling Donnett picked out a contact for himself – freelancing, as it was called, which was something all night fighter crews trained to do for these circumstances. They tracked down a Dornier Do217 and although it was hit hard and seen going down, Pennington’s night vision was suddenly impaired when an instrument light shield fell off in his cockpit and he lost sight of the target. In action nearby was Mosquito DD629, flown by Plt Off Ernest Fielding and Flt Sgt James Paine (RO) who confirmed they saw an aircraft burning on the sea in Pennington’s vicinity. This is believed to be U5+FL from I/KG2 flown by Lt Hans-Joachim Möhring who, with his crew, was lost that night. About the same time, Fielding and Paine, patrolling the swept channel coastal convoy route under the control of Neatishead GCI’s Flt Lt Ballantyne, themselves exchanged fire with another Do217, claiming to have hit it hard. The bomber was last seen trailing sparks and flames that disappeared suddenly at sea level east of Cromer, prompting them to claim one Do217 destroyed. Fw Richard Stumpf and his crew from KG2 failed to return that night and it is possible that Fielding was the cause of his demise.

If there needed to be yet further evidence of the high state of morale among RAF night fighter crews at this time, it was emphatically demonstrated yet again on the night of July 30/31 1942, in a war-torn night sky over Peterborough. That night saw a heavy raid on this engineering and railway centre, from which the Luftwaffe did not emerge unscathed, two aircraft falling to the defences, one to AA and another to the RAF.

In the first incident a Junkers Ju88A-4, wk nr 2086, 1T+CR, of III/KG 26 is believed to have been hedge-hopping its way back to a base in Holland (although the unit was actually based at Rennes) when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Peterborough. It was seen heading north-east away from the city, at low level and on fire. So low was it that the Junkers collided with overhead electricity cables near the village of Thorney. It staggered and as the pilot fought to keep it airborne, it was hit repeatedly by fire from a .303 machine gun wielded by Sgt Fox, one of the crew of a nearby searchlight post. 1T+CR crashed in Green Drove, Thorney, killing all on board – Ofw V Bechthold, Fw L Drees, Ogfr K Heberling and Gefr H Bredemeier.

That same night a Mosquito crew of 151 Squadron had several lively encounters with enemy raiders, believed to be en route to attack Birmingham, despatching one Dornier Do217 into the cold waters of the North Sea, sixty miles off the north Norfolk coast and another, nearly as far inland, into the depths of the peaty Fenland soil.

It was 22.30 when Fg Off Alex McRitchie, an Australian pilot with 151 Squadron, lifted his Mosquito NFII, DD669, from the runway at RAF Wittering and set course for Cromer in company with his Nav/RO Flight Sergeant E S James. They were briefed to carry out a patrol some sixty miles off the north Norfolk coast. It will be remembered that Alex had cut his teeth flying Fighter Nights on Defiants with the squadron a year earlier and now he had a chance to add to the success that 151 Squadron was enjoying with its new Mosquitoes.

There was just time to get in one practice interception before Neatishead GCI passed McRitchie over to the Chain Home Low (CHL) station at Happisburgh on the north Norfolk coast, which had plotted an incoming raid. After being put onto a chase that turned out to be a false alarm, five bandits were detected heading towards the English coast. McRitchie was vectored onto a course for a stern-chase on one of these incoming aircraft. His target was quickly overhauled and identified as a Dornier Do217 that, after two brief but devastating bursts of cannon and machine-gun fire, caught fire and plunged into The Wash below. Alex McRitchie’s victim was Dornier Do217E-4, wk nr 5469, U5+GV flown by Ofw Artur Hartwig of IV/KG2 who, along with his crew, died in the encounter.

At this point McRitchie’s radio was playing up and without guidance from ground control it seemed pointless to continue the patrol so he decided to return to Wittering. It seemed he was actually following the raiders since, as he approached the coast, his course was taking him towards some distant AA fire. Almost immediately Flt Sgt James, peering hopefully at his AI Mark V screens, picked out a target at extreme range but lost it equally quickly. Well satisfied with the night’s work Fg Off McRitchie turned again for home and was in the Wittering circuit when he noticed yet more AA fire and searchlights probing the sky to the south, over Peterborough. Keen to have another crack at Jerry, he climbed back up to 12,000 feet, and above the prescribed AA level and with the aid of searchlights, worked his way into the vicinity of the raid. This was, to say the least, somewhat hazardous since AA crews were inclined to bang away at anything and ask questions later.

Before long Flt Sgt James detected a target, again at maximum range, about three miles away.

This time they hung on to it.

McRitchie sighted his quarry in the flickering light half a mile away and slightly above him. Suddenly a searchlight lit up both the Mosquito and the enemy, moving alternately between them. The alert enemy crew spotted the Mosquito and their aircraft was thrown into a spinning dive down to 6,000 feet. Despite diving after it, with 400mph on the clock, McRitchie could not keep it in sight. Once again this tenacious Mosquito crew climbed back to 12,000 feet to have another try, AA gunners or no. Their persistence paid off, for it was quite a sustained raid on this engineering and rail centre and there was still some trade about.

One of the raiders was caught in a searchlight beam and McRitchie turned towards it. Flt Sgt James was no doubt by now sweating in his helmet and oxygen mask, with his face pressed against the radar display visor, trying to sort out from the clutter of signals anything that looked remotely like a target. Again he found one. It was head on this time and closing fast. McRitchie judged his moment, hauled the Mosquito round in a tight turn and James had it firmly on the tubes. The searchlights chose a good moment to light up the bomber and McRitchie went in for the kill.

Although closing very fast, the searchlights now worked against him, for his aeroplane was spotted again. This time the enemy, identified as a Dornier Do217, corkscrewed violently several times but the Australian clung to its every move. This particular Dornier had been caught before it could deposit its lethal cargo and now, faced with a tenacious adversary, that bomb load was jettisoned almost on top of the Mosquito. At the same time, one alert gunner among the crew drew first blood by directing a burst of machine-gun fire at the Mossie, peppering its starboard wing. McRitchie closed the throttles, dropped astern and let the Dornier feel the weight of his own armament in reply. Cannon strikes rippled along the enemy’s starboard wing. Still jinking like a cornered animal the Dornier posed a difficult full deflection target but McRitchie fired again and his cannon shells were taking more effect now, on both the wings and fuselage of the enemy aircraft.

By this time the dogfight had brought both aircraft down to 1,500 feet and McRitchie had great difficulty in keeping the Dornier in sight against the darkness of the ground. Having expended all his ammunition and being very low on fuel, he had no option but to break off and return to Wittering. He had been in the air for four hours; had flown hundreds of miles; fired all his ammunition and had engaged and beaten the enemy at least once. This most eventful patrol illustrates graphically the skill, aggressive spirit and teamwork that were the hallmark of the RAF night fighter crews.

And what of the second Dornier?

At 02.00 on July 31, Dornier Do217E-4, wk nr 5470, U5+ET of III/KG2, with its unfortunate crew, Fws K Laub, K-A Gussefeld, H Werner and Uffz H Hammelmann plunged deep into the peaty fen soil near the village of Conington, five miles south of Peterborough. They now rest together in the tranquillity of the German war cemetery in Cannock Chase.

In 1978 members of the Derbyshire Historic Aviation Society excavated the scene of this ferocious battle. Despite the soft, peaty soil, the speed at which the Dornier impacted, and the subsequent explosion, shattered the aeroplane into many fragments, much of which seems to have been removed at the time. Of the parts recovered in 1978, most recognisable were propeller blades, a crew seat, the tail wheel and some cylinder barrels from a badly smashed engine. The whereabouts of even these few relics is, however, in doubt, as much of the DHAS collection was stolen some years ago.

Although McRitchie and James claimed only a damaged, it is almost certain this was ‘their’ Dornier, even though its downfall was subsequently credited to the anti-aircraft gun defences.

Shortly afterwards, Kampfgeschwader 2 took quite a mauling on anti-shipping operations during the Dieppe raid in August 1942, losing another quarter of its already depleted strength. This unit was now only capable of mounting sporadic attacks on Britain and a few aeroplanes were being sent out, in ones and twos, on nuisance raids.

Oberleutnant Graf (Count) Romedio Thun-Hohenstein was staffelkapitän of III/KG2 and it was up to him to try to raise the flagging spirits of his hard-pressed crews. With declining resources, no one was exempt from flying. On the evening of August 7 1942, therefore, Thun-Hohenstein assembled his crew, Fw H Kunze, Uffz H Arnscheid, Uffz P Bremer and took off in Dornier Do217E-4, wk nr 5455, U5+DR, from their base in Holland. It would not be long before U5+DR and its crew joined the growing list of losses sustained by KG2.

At this time RAF Coltishall was home to Wg Cdr Max Aitken’s 68 Squadron Beaufighters and six of these were on patrol that night guarding the Norfolk coast, waiting for incoming raiders, some of whom were bound for Cambridge. Although 68 was from a neighbouring sector this combat is mentioned here as it was brought to a conclusion in the middle of Wittering sector.

Around midnight of August 7/8, patience was rewarded as several bandits were called. Among the six Beaufighters was X7553, a Mark I crewed by Plt Off Peter Cleaver and his Nav/RO Flt Sgt Bill Nairn. Originally, this crew was sent off on patrol between Coltishall and The Wash at 22.25 hours but it was recalled and sent out twice more before a raid threatened the sector. At 00.45 hours GCI advised Cleaver of a bandit and vectored him westwards towards it. Then, over The Wash, another better target was offered and Sgt Nairn picked this one up on his AI Mark IV set at 10,000 feet altitude. Plt Off Cleaver obtained visual contact and saw the target was…

jinking violently and it may have spotted our aircraft. We turned to port and closed to 200 yards at which range the bandit was identified as a Dornier. I opened fire and saw strikes on the E/A. It dived with flames coming from the port wing between the engine and fuselage and there was some slight return gunfire. I followed the E/A down through cloud and saw it dive into the ground with a large explosion.

They had caught up with Thun-Hohenstein not far from RAF Coningsby and the Dornier crashed in flames into the middle of Shire Wood, Revesby, in Lincolnshire, but all the crew managed to bale out, even though Arnscheid and Kunze were injured. A gamekeeper, assisted by stalwarts of the local Home Guard, quickly rounded up the Germans. All, that is, except one. He, his identity perhaps fortuitously unknown, reversed that unspoken rule among military captives by actually parachuting into the middle of Moorby prisoner of war camp, whereupon he was pounced on by camp guards, thus no doubt saving everyone a great deal of trouble!

In 1983 that same gamekeeper who, years before, had helped round up the Germans, retold this story to a member of the Lincolnshire Aviation Society. A visit to Shire Wood revealed little sign of the result of this skirmish, beyond some damage to mature trees at the edge of a slight water-filled depression. Closer inspection among the detritus, however, showed the ground to be fairly littered with small fragments of twisted alloy, proving that local reports of a violent explosion were correct.

Further careful searching of the surface produced one or two serial number plates and small identifiable components. Then came the first important find – a crumpled piece of alloy with the all-important aircraft type and wk nr stencilled on it, confirming it as a Dornier Do217E-4 wk nr 5455. Of even more interest was part of a radio tuning dial with not only the werke nummer stamped on it but also the date of manufacture: April 8 1942. Allowing for a short period of time to elapse before this Dornier reached KG2 from the factory, it seems to indicate that it was in Luftwaffe service for only about three months. The RAF was indeed exacting a heavy toll upon this unit.

25 Squadron had moved from Wittering to Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland in January 1942, then back to England in May of the same year. Fg Off Joseph Singleton, in a Beaufighter IV, X7643 from 25, now based at Church Fenton, caught another of these bandits on the night of August 23/24, about ten miles east of Bourne in Lincolnshire. He and his RO, Plt Off Chris Bradshaw, operating under the control of Neatishead GCI, attacked a Dornier Do217 near the village of Cowbit, a few miles south of Spalding. They found 10/10ths cloud from 800 feet up to 3,000 feet, 5/10ths up to 10,000 feet, then it was clear above that.

The enemy bomber was flying in and out of broken cloud and difficult to track visually. While trying to get within range Fg Off Singleton’s fighter was spotted and he was fired upon from both the dorsal and the ventral guns of the bomber as it took violent evasive action. As it dived for thicker cloud cover at 3,000 feet Singleton stayed with the elusive target, firing short bursts at it and getting several back in reply. He lost it for half a minute then saw it well below him and dived into the attack again. The flash of cannon shell strikes could be seen hitting the port wing of the Dornier but the kill was frustrated when his ammunition ran out. The E/A disappeared into thick clouds at 3,000 feet so he had to settle for this one as damaged. It is interesting to note the way that interceptions were being set up now, with for example, this fighter from Yorkshire being guided by a GCI station in mid-Norfolk to a target flying over south Lincolnshire.

There was a cluster of searchlight posts in the vicinity of this combat and speaking in 1990, Joe Singleton recalled that, although they helped at first to indicate the direction of the enemy, they ended up blinding him and illuminating his own fighter. It was at that point, he thought, when Jerry spotted him and began to get nasty. This was his first night engagement and although on this occasion he fired off a lot of ammunition for little result, his future combat record shows he soon mastered his craft. Joe remained with 25 Squadron, subsequently being credited with the destruction of seven enemy aircraft at night and rising to command the squadron after the war, as a Wing Commander with the DSO, DFC and AFC.

Despite the poor weather over 12 Group that night of August 23/24 the Luftwaffe was still active, putting the Group’s night defences under some pressure. In an effort to cope with the situation, 96 (RAF Wrexham) and 256 (RAF Woodvale) Squadrons from 9 Group were ordered to mount patrols towards 12 Group’s area, as also was 255 Squadron, from RAF Honiley, in Warwickshire.

255 Squadron put up four aircraft, of which two patrolled locally and two other Beaufighter Mk VIs, X8266 and X7944, were handed over to the control of Digby sector. One of these, X7944 with AI Mk IV, flown by Fg Off Hugh Wyrill with Flt Sgt John Willins as RO, according to the 9 Group diary, “effected no less than six interceptions resulting in one enemy aircraft destroyed and one damaged.”

Taking off from Honiley at 22.10 hours, Fg Off Wyrill was ordered to reinforce Digby sector and then passed along the control system to Wittering sector. At 22.45 Langtoft GCI senior controller, Sqn Ldr Grace, instructed him to patrol at 12,000 feet on a north/south line near Wittering. A transcript of his combat report is contained in an intelligence form dated 24/8/42 submitted to HQ Fighter Command. The date of the interception is shown clearly as ‘23/24/8/42’ and Wyrill wrote:

I was given several vectors towards a bandit, finally turning onto 120º at which point Flt Sgt Willins picked up a contact well to starboard at maximum range of 4,000 yards. He held the contact as the bandit did hard turns to port and starboard. At 240mph I closed in and obtained a visual at 1,000 yards range on an aircraft flying at 11,500 feet altitude – slightly above and to starboard of me. I closed to 300 yards to identify but the bandit opened fire, made a vertical bank to port and dived away. It presented a good silhouette against the bright moonlit sky and I identified it as a Dornier Do217. I was south of Peterborough and opened fire with all guns

[four 20mm cannon and six .303 machine guns]

at 200 yards range and I continued firing as the E/A took extremely violent evasive action, consisting of stall turns and half rolls. At one time I was firing almost vertically downwards. Return fire ceased after my second burst and the Beaufighter sustained no damage. Cannon strikes were seen on the E/A and several good bursts were fired while it was held in sight. After the third burst Flt Sgt Willins saw a large piece of the E/A break away. Visual and AI contact on the bandit were finally lost in haze at 3,000 feet altitude.

This frantic exchange had taken just four short minutes.

Hugh Wyrill’s night was far from over, as no sooner had he disengaged from the Peterborough combat than he was directed east to chase the last vestiges of the attacking Luftwaffe force from the mainland. He had another inconclusive encounter with a retreating Dornier Do217 near Ipswich but, like Joe Singleton earlier, exhausted his ammunition – in all 700 x 20mm shells and 2700 x .303 machine-gun rounds – before he could complete a second kill.

Meanwhile, the sequel to this busy night was played out back near The Wash. Mortally wounded, Wyrill’s first Dornier staggered towards the coast. No one will know the actual effect of the devastating firepower of the Beaufighter upon the aircraft or its crew, although return fire ceased early in the conflict. Shortly before midnight an explosion lit the sky around East Walton wood, six miles east of King’s Lynn. Dornier Do217E-4, wk nr 4267, U5+CK of I/KG2 was totally destroyed and its passing is marked now only by scarred trees and lumps of molten alloy in the soil. The unfortunate crew, all of whom perished, were Ofw R Bodenhagen, Hptmn R Hellmann, (staffelkapitän), Ofw G Ruckstruh and Ofw T Romelt.

In some accounts ‘Wyrill’s Dornier’ is credited to the 25 Squadron Beaufighter team of Sqn Ldr William Alington and Fg Off D Keith but this is believed to be inaccurate since the date of their combat is one day earlier. Furthermore, the Langtoft GCI controller who tracked this interception is quoted thus: “Sqn Ldr Brace [sic] considers this Dornier was the one attacked by Fg Off Wyrill, as it was finally lost by them flying in the direction of King’s Lynn at 1,000 feet.”

It is perfectly reasonable that Sqn Ldr Alington submitted a claim for the previous night’s work but at best he could only claim a damaged – and from the following description it appears he and Keith were lucky to be alive to do even that!

Airborne from Church Fenton on August 22/23 in V8329, Alington and Keith came under Easington CHL control who sent them towards a bandit near The Wash. Initially the controller’s instructions made them overshoot without Keith picking up an AI contact. More directions put Alington’s Beaufighter on a course to cut across the bandit’s track and this time Keith found a blip off to starboard. A tight S-turn brought the AI blip to 1,200 yards in front of the Beaufighter and as Alington closed the range he got a visual of the target 1,000 yards dead ahead and slightly below. Fg Off Keith watched what happened on his Mark IV AI set and described the rest of the interception:

At this point the chase was greatly complicated and nearly terminated by the appearance of another Beaufighter that approached from the left and turned in behind. The blip of this aircraft, which showed IFF, then completely obscured that of the E/A. Pilot got in a one-second burst on the E/A and saw strikes on fuselage and wings, E/A turned very steeply to port and dived straight into cloud. Immediately the third aircraft opened fire on us from point blank range behind but his shooting fortunately was of the same standard as his recognition [!] When the blips separated, instructions were given to us at first to chase the wrong one, by which time E/A was behind, on left and below and too far round to pick up again satisfactorily.

CO of 25 Squadron, Wg Cdr Harold Pleasance, with Flt Lt Dennis Britain (RO), was also airborne on the night of 23/24 and he, too, submitted a claim – dated one day later than that of Sqn Ldr Alington – for a Dornier Do217 destroyed twenty miles east of Mablethorpe. He saw one of the Dornier’s crew exit the blazing aircraft and a parachute open, then the bomber exploded and dived into the sea.

Some of the most significant factors to emerge from the events of both these nights are the quantity of night fighter squadrons at Fighter Command’s disposal to cope with Luftwaffe incursions at this stage of the war, and the scale and flexibility of organisational control. This latter was clearly able to move aircraft around the country, like chessmen to relieve pressure, reminiscent of the Battle of Britain days. Concentrating so many night fighters into the blackness of a relatively small aerial arena, each picking up and losing both radar and visual contacts, inevitably led to multiple claims – even to accusations of ‘poaching’ or attack from one’s own side. In view of the relatively small numbers of enemy aircraft involved at this stage of the war, this scenario does not of course compare with the scale of the Luftwaffe’s own night defence of the Reich later on, but it is a far cry from the lone Blenheims and Fighter Night aircraft stumbling about the sky in 1940 and a portent of what destruction could be wrought on a bomber force by organised defenders with the right equipment.

Towns around The Wash, however, had still remained subject to sporadic air attacks since the middle of 1942, with Stamford being hit on June 13, Skegness (six killed) and Boston in the daylight of July 27. Spalding was relaxing on August 2, the Bank Holiday Sunday, when around tea-time a lone bomber – a Dornier 217 according to reliable eye-witnesses – popped out of low cloud and laid a stick of HEs along the High Street, Church Street and into Ayscoughfee Hall public gardens, causing considerable property damage but fortunately few casualties – except in the case of the public gardens, where a bomb annihilated the entire population of the bird-house! Those same eyewitnesses cheered out loud when the sound of gunfire was heard and the unmistakable shape of a Beaufighter could be seen dipping in and out of the cloud in hot pursuit of the enemy bomber. The accuracy of this tale was confirmed years later by reference to the 68 Squadron ORB. Examination of the records of all twin-engine fighter units in or near the region showed 68 Squadron as the only unit in eastern England to have scrambled an aircraft that day. It was quite usual to have radar-equipped night fighters on standby during daytime bad-weather conditions as, naturally, their interceptions were unaffected by thick cloud. The incident is described thus:

2 August 1942. 68 Sqn, Coltishall. Beaufighter R2248.

Pilot: Plt Off D P Paton. Nav/RO: Plt Off G E Bennett.

Airborne 15.05. Landed 17.50.

Scrambled, very cloudy. After lunch an E/A approached off sector in 10/10 cloud conditions. P/O Paton had four visuals during a chase of over 300 miles in and out of the cloud but the enemy bomber managed to escape.

Eleven HE bombs caused four deaths in yet another raid on Boston during the night of August 22/23, but these raids finally petered out in the Fenland region after brave little Skegness was hit yet again on the nights of September 15/16 and October 24/25. Three people were killed in the first of these attacks and fourteen in the second.

With little enemy air activity over the UK during the previous ten days, night fighter Mosquito NFIIs of 151 Squadron, Wittering, at last found some trade during the late evening of September 17, in what appears to have been a final fling by the Luftwaffe – at least for a while. KG2, for example, had taken quite a beating during the past six months and needed time to draw breath and rebuild. On some occasions the teamwork of RAF night fighters and GCI stations could be almost clinical in its effectiveness as a killing machine and is well illustrated by an incident on this date.

With just scattered light clouds, a half-moon promised good visibility as Flt Lt Henry Bodien and Sgt George Brooker (RO) eased off Wittering’s runway at 21.43 hours. Flt Lt Bodien’s name will be remembered from 151’s early Defiant days. He had come a long way since then, rising through the ranks and earning an enviable reputation on the way and certainly with a more potent weapon in his hands now.

Flying Mosquito NFII, DD610, they were taken over by Sqn Ldr Grace, CO and senior controller at the nearby Langtoft GCI station, who guided them to the vicinity of nine raiders coming in over The Wash, heading for King’s Lynn. Brooker, head down under the visor of the latest AI Mk V set, got a momentary contact to port then lost it, but despite there being a lot of interference on the set, picked out another target slightly to starboard. It was 1,000 yards ahead, level with them at 7,000 feet altitude and going in the same direction. In a classic interception, Henry Bodien obtained a visual when the enemy’s outline took shape as it turned to port in front of him. It was a Dornier Do217, one of the enemy aircraft attacking King’s Lynn and it had just released part of its bomb load. Bodien eased closer from astern and slightly below. From the way the Dornier began to make diving turns to right and left, losing height to 4,000 feet, the German crew may have spotted the Mosquito but there was no defensive fire during the engagement. Bodien came in from slightly below and let fly with several short bursts of cannon from 200 to 300 yards range as the target jinked in and out of his gunsight, first hitting the port wing then the engine, which caught fire. His cannon fire now raked the Dornier’s fuselage as it darted from side to side trying to escape the hail of shells that sprayed into the starboard engine. The port engine blew up and now going down with both motors on fire, pilot Fw Franz Elias jettisoned the remaining bombs and ordered his crew, Gefrs G Buchner and W Berg and Uffz F Leibrecht, to bale out. The stricken bomber, U5+UR, wk nr 4265 of III/KG2, plunged to earth between the villages of Fring and Shernborne about ten miles east of King’s Lynn and the crew were all taken prisoner. Local inhabitants’ memory of this incident has faded now and few realise why the final resting place of this Dornier was known locally as ‘the aeroplane field’.

By September 1942 KG2 had lost so many crews that it was reduced to twenty-three out of its original complement of ninety and the remainder of the year was spent in mounting occasional nuisance raids. Once again RAF night fighters had given the Luftwaffe enough of a bloody nose to make it necessary for it to withdraw and regroup its resources. But it was not through yet.

Coastal Command Requirements

‘Caught on the Surface’.  The sinking of U-461 by RAAF Sunderland “U” of 461 Squadron RAAF, in the Bay of Biscay in July 1943.  [As depicted by aviation artist Robert Taylor.]


At the outbreak of war in September 1939 Air Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, the Air Officer-in-Chief of Coastal Command, had forces of ten Anson squadrons, including four Auxiliaries, one Hudson squadron, and two strike squadrons of Vildebeests. The flying-boat units were two squadrons of Sunderlands, three with Saro Londons, and one equipped with Supermarine Stranraers. The Vildebeest strike-aircraft and the London and Stranraer flying-boats were all obsolescent.

The Ansons represented the equipment for more than half his total force, but with insufficient range to undertake the reconnaissance required, and four out of the six flying-boat squadrons were equipped with obsolescent aircraft. Sir Frederick was thus left with just three squadrons with modern aircraft, namely Hudsons and Sunderlands, that were considered able to operate effectively.

In the early months of 1939 supplies of engines for the Avro Anson aircraft were limited, and there was a need to restrict the flying of Ansons on that account. It was necessary also to conserve even the outdated Vildebeests, as there were only six in store to supply both home and abroad. At that time the Command had ten Stranraers, seventeen Londons, four Short Singapore flying-boats, and two Sunderlands. Deliveries of the latter to the Command were given as only two per month.

The Director of Organisation at the Air Ministry, then Charles Portal, following the Munich crisis, foresaw what was to be a problem in respect of the availability of aircraft throughout the war. That was that aircraft could be weather-bound for days at various places round the coast. Coastal Command was required to operate throughout the twenty-four hours, and to do that bases were required for both take-off and landing with some degree of safety. This applied particularly to flying-boats. The new twin-engined flying-boat, the Saro Lerwick, had not been expected to be delivered before April 1939, and therefore was unlikely to be operational before the end of the year, but then it was to be found unsuitable for operations.

There was a need, therefore, for land-based aircraft to cover the South-Western Approaches, and significantly, in the same memo of 25 October 1938, Portal refers to having Newquay (St Eval) laid out to take two squadrons.

Between December 1939 and August 1940 the following reinforcements were received by Coastal Command: No. 10 Squadron RAAF Sunderlands in December 1939, four Blenheim squadrons on loan from Fighter Command in February 1940 (Nos 235, 236, 248 and 254); in June 1940 Nos 53 and 59 Squadrons with Blenheims on loan from Bomber Command, and in August 1940, No. 98 Squadron’s Fairey Battles, also on loan from Bomber Command, the latter to be based in Iceland.

These additions had followed an agreement by the Air Ministry with the Admiralty for Coastal Command to have an additional fifteen squadrons by June 1941. By 15 June, that had only been achieved by the loan of seven squadrons from other Commands, with aircraft unsuited to the maritime role, and with a daily average availability of 298 aircraft.

Just a month later, the Command had 612 aircraft with thirty-nine squadrons, but by then it was estimated that future requirements would be sixty-three and a half squadrons with 838 aircraft. The 612 aircraft then available included eleven types, and that would have produced problems in training for aircrew when they converted to a different type of aircraft. At Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferté’s first staff meeting on 30 June as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Coastal Command, the number of aircraft available was not stated, but rather that there were only four strike squadrons.

By 1 December 1941 reconnaissance aircraft available to Coastal Command included eighteen Catalina flying-boats, nine Sunderlands, twenty Whitleys and 170 Hudsons. The Command’s strike aircraft comprised sixty Beaufort torpedo-bombers, twenty Beaufort bombers and forty Beaufighters. Additionally, Coastal had sixty of the Blenheim fighter version. The total of 397 aircraft was available to equip eighteen squadrons.

The total number of aircraft available to Coastal Command in June 1942 was 496, and would have included aircraft of four squadrons on loan from Bomber Command, but for Sir Philip, there was a shortage of three landplane squadrons, and ten flying-boat squadrons; and in his report to the Air Ministry he added: ‘I therefore cannot accept your view that we are comparatively well off, nor do I feel that we have sufficient strength to carry out our job.’

Although, in November 1942, Coastal had 259 Hudsons, Sir Philip was concerned about their availability, due to ten squadrons plus other units still operating them, and stated that with the ‘present Hudson commitment … continuance of the present numbers of squadrons is impossible’.

Sir Philip was still concerned about the two types from Bomber Command, such as the Whitley, ‘… on the whole, given unsatisfactory service’ and the Hampden, which was ‘incapable of operating in daylight … off the enemy coast … without a very strong escort of long-range fighters’.

There were no Beaufort-equipped squadrons left with Coastal Command (they were posted overseas), and no trained Beaufighter squadron, and it was known that German Fw190 fighters were 50 mph faster than the Beaufighter, which was therefore hardly suitable as escort to the Hampdens even if available.26 De Havilland Mosquitoes had been made available for Photo-Reconnaissance in 1942, but for the Mosquito Mark VI fighter-bomber priority was given to Fighter Command.

When Air Marshal John Slessor assumed command of Coastal Command in February 1943, the strength was sixty squadrons with ‘some 850 aircraft’. Although he appeared largely content with the aircraft available to him, in respect of both quantity and quality, he wrote to the Air Ministry in September stating, ‘I now find that there are 120 first line Mosquitoes going into photo-reconnaissance in this country, and over 200 first line Mosquitoes going to the Army support in the Tactical Air Force’.

Thus, despite the need for reconnaissance, priority was given to the TAF. He refers, however, to the ‘unforeseen requirement for modification of certain four-engined types to Very Long Range [VLR]’ coinciding with the introduction of a system of ‘planned flying and maintenance … in what was a “difficult period of availability”’.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas succeeded Air Marshal Slessor in January 1944, when, in respect of numbers of aircraft, equilibrium had obviously been reached. The Command’s records written during his tenure refer to equipment of aircraft such as ASV, and modifications to aircraft rather than the need for more aircraft. Forces for Sholto Douglas included (again, as was the case for Slessor) 430 aircraft for anti-submarine operations.

The 430 aircraft, however, were the equipment for ten squadrons of Liberators, including three of the United States Navy; five Leigh-Light Wellington squadrons, and two squadrons each equipped with Halifaxes, Hudsons and Fortresses. There were also seven Sunderland and two Catalina squadrons. The heavy four-engined aircraft that Sir Sholto then had available did, however, raise another requirement–the need for runways of sufficient length to take such as the Liberator, Fortress and Halifax.

Thus, on 7 February 1944, the Air Ministry was asked to approve the lengthening of the runways at Brawdy, Chivenor, Aldergrove and Leuchars. Although Sholto Douglas expressed no need for more aircraft, he referred to the ‘Bomber Baron’s decision finding the Liberator unsuitable for night operations’, such that Coastal Command’s near starvation came to an end’. He added, ‘By the time that I became C-in-C of Coastal we were using twelve squadrons of them.’

However, by 27 April the Command was obviously preparing for Operation Overlord–the invasion of Europe, and a signal was sent to No. 19 Group regarding the necessity for ‘reducing wastage to conserve aircraft for forthcoming operations’. Specifically mentioned were Mosquitoes and Liberators.

In November the re-equipment of Halifax squadrons with Liberators was again mooted, although these were all bombers that had to be modified for Coastal Command.

In 1945 the Air Ministry agreed to thirty Mark V Sunderlands (those with Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines), which had been intended for overseas service, to be allocated to Coastal Command. This was in sharp contrast to Sir Philip Joubert’s experience three years earlier, when he was losing both aircraft and crews to overseas. During Sir Sholto’s final meetings, a whole spectrum of aircraft types had to be considered. Thus, during the 4 May meeting he asked the Senior Air Staff Officer to find from the Air Ministry what the Command’s commitments might be for modifying fifty Gloster Meteor jet aircraft for photo-reconnaissance, and those required for the Supermarine Sea Otter.


Until the outbreak of the Second World War the number of aircraft considered necessary for Coastal Command to provide trade protection in Home Waters was 281. This number assumed a war by Britain alone against Germany. The prime duty was then to cover the exits from the North Sea.

The capitulation of France, the over-running of the Low Countries and the occupation of Norway and Denmark resulted in a vast coastline from the French Biscay ports to North Cape to be covered. The entry of Italy into the war in addition to a possible hostile French fleet made further demands on Coastal Command. Thus, in addition to covering the North Sea exits, three additional flying-boat squadrons were considered to be immediate requirements to cover the Irish Sea, Faeroes areas, and Western Approaches, plus an additional general reconnaissance landplane squadron and two long-range fighter squadrons–say, another 100 aircraft.

For overseas, an additional five flying-boat squadrons and one landplane squadron were specified; thus, for additional home and overseas commitments, possibly 200 aircraft above the 281 already stated were needed. This assumed that other forces would cover the Caribbean and Newfoundland areas. In December 1939, however, the Command was concerned with close escort of coastal convoys and the chain of patrols to the Norwegian coast.

For those duties reference was made specifically to two types of aircraft, the Avro Anson and the Lockheed Hudson, the reconnaissance landplanes then available. With those two types, a total of 273 aircraft was anticipated, following an agreement to increase the requirements of each squadron to twenty-one aircraft. Other landplanes for reconnaissance then being considered about that time were the Blackburn Botha, the Bristol Blenheim and Bristol Beaufort, with the comments that the Botha was ‘specially designed for reconnaissance’, but that the Blenheim was ‘adversely reported’. It was hoped that twenty Bothas would be delivered to the Command by the end of 1939, and twelve Beauforts were expected in October/November.

The Bothas, however, were found unsuitable for operations, and no more of the Mark IV Blenheims were being allocated to Coastal Command.

In October 1941 the Prime Minister became aware of U-boats operating further afield, and suggested to the First Lord of the Admiralty that it was probably due to our air operations. Following this, Coastal Command’s requirement programme was considered to be 150 Catalinas and seventy-two Sunderlands for twenty-six flying-boat squadrons; thirty-two Liberators and thirty-two Wellingtons or Whitleys to equip four long-range GR squadrons; sixty-four Mosquitoes and 180 GR Hudsons for fifteen and a half medium- and short-range squadrons; 128 Beauforts for eight torpedo-bomber squadrons; and 160 Beaufighters for ten long-range fighter squadrons. However, four flying-boat and two GR short-range squadrons were to be earmarked for West Africa, and three flying-boat squadrons for Gibraltar.

By December 1941 the types of aircraft required were stated as a long-range flying-boat, a long-range landplane, a medium-range landplane, a high-speed reconnaissance landplane, a long-range fighter, and a torpedo- bomber. Changes had been made to requirements following the previous three months’ experience and an analysis of U-boat attacks. At that time it was considered that extra-long-range aircraft should have a range of 2,000 miles because some U-boat attacks had been 700 miles from British bases, and if air patrols were deployed 350–600 miles, the enemy would move to the 600–700-mile area (600 miles from a United Kingdom base would be up to 20’E 15’W; from Iceland, up to 40’E 12’W).

Reconnaissance aircraft were then expected to have ASV (Aircraft-to-Surface Vessel) radar for homing; long-range planes were to be able to operate in all weathers and have a short take-off and landing distance. For high-speed reconnaissance aircraft the Air Ministry suggested the Mosquito, but other services were given priority in their supply.

Three types were suggested to undertake the task of a torpedo bomber: the Handley-Page Hampden, the Bristol Beaufort and the Vickers Wellington III.

All three were to operate as such, despite the lack of forward armament in the Hampden and Beaufort, and the Wellington and Hampden had not been designed for maritime work.

In early 1942 the functions of the Command’s operational aircraft were clearly stated in six categories. Anti-submarine warfare was first in order of importance, covering reconnaissance, depth-charging and bombing. Second and fifth were torpedo warfare (reconnaissance and the attack on large merchant vessels and enemy naval forces) and anti-shipping warfare (reconnaissance and bombing). Third, fourth and sixth in order of importance were photo-reconnaissance, meteorological reconnaissance and coastal fighter warfare.

Coastal fighter and anti-shipping warfare were rated former RAF peacetime functions; anti-submarine warfare had become a highly specialised category, as also torpedo warfare. Little consideration had been given to the latter, as it was ‘uneconomical to have torpedo squadrons locked up for a target which may never materialise so may find ourselves making more use of the GR/TB squadrons for GR work’, as was the case with Beauforts.

At the time of Air Marshal John Slessor assuming command of Coastal in February 1943, the trend (which is reflected in the Command’s records) was concerned about the equipment then being added to aircraft, rather than the aircraft itself. This was resulting in an effect on the aircraft’s range due to the additional loads–a matter of concern throughout the war. Slessor addressed this matter in a letter to all his Group’s headquarters in May 1943.


Range of aircraft for a given design is affected by many factors, such as the all-up weight, the quantity of fuel carried and the type of engine(s). When airborne, other factors include the height at which the aircraft is flown (this because the engines would be designed for an optimum height for greatest efficiency).

Other factors for Coastal Command’s aircrew to consider were whether they should deploy side guns in, for example, Wellingtons or Hudsons; and in the case of the Sunderland flying-boats, whether they should run out their depth charges onto the wings from the bomb-bay.

These were continuing tactical problems in addition to the reduction of speed and range. All four of Coastal Command’s Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief show their awareness of the importance of range for aircraft in the Second World War–notably Sir Philip Joubert –who imposed a limit on the endurance for crews of eighteen hours; and even that figure was to be under exceptional circumstances. At RAF Waddington in April 1998, it was understood that the endurance of aircrew is still the deciding factor in maritime operations, albeit due to toilet facilities.

Although given as having an endurance of 5½ hours at 103 knots, the Anson represented the operational equipment for Coastal Command’s land-based reconnaissance squadrons at the outbreak of war, excluding No. 224, which had just rearmed with Hudsons. The Anson’s lack of range precluded it being effectively used, even for the Command’s prime task on the outset of war, reconnaissance from Britain to Norway. As Capt T. Dorling, RN, stated: ‘Ansons were unable to reach Norway and blockade the North Sea. Only flying-boats and Hudson squadrons were able to do so.’

The Air Ministry, when writing to the C-inC of Coastal Command in September 1941, stated that a limit should not be set on the range of reconnaissance aircraft, but that the matter would be pursued with the Admiralty with a view to limiting the maximum operating distance from base of 600 miles, as convoy escorts beyond that would be uneconomical. Range was necessary to cover, in particular, convoy routes, notably out into the North Atlantic as far as the ‘prudent limit of endurance’, or ‘PLE’.

If on a ‘sweep’, that would have sufficed; but if a convoy was to be escorted, say, at 12°W, it was essential also to have some hours in that area circling the convoy; endurance was therefore also required. Opinions vary in what was considered a useful time with a convoy, but typically two to three hours. In a letter dated 28 July 1941, however, from Air Commodore Lloyd, the Deputy SASO, it was recommended that at least one-third of sorties should be with the convoy.

In Coastal Command, it was decided that the limit of long-range aircraft should be the endurance of the crew rather than the fuel supply. This was decided at a Command meeting on 7 January 1942, when Catalinas were considered able to have a radius of 600 nautical miles, ‘on the fringe of the U-boat area’, with a sortie of eighteen hours’ duration.

Sir Philip Joubert decided that routine patrols should not exceed fourteen hours, but in cases of emergency could be extended up to eighteen hours due to ‘conditions of cold and cramp in which the crews are called upon to operate, and the need for sparing their endurance and not stretching it to the limit unless an emergency arises’.

As an economy measure in Coastal Command’s use of Catalinas in respect of long-range work, it was suggested by the Deputy Senior Air Staff Officer (D/SASO) that Sunderlands could be used for sorties between 250 and 440 nautical miles along convoy routes. It is not clear, however, if that idea was followed.

Range was considered so important that the question of Liberators with or without self-sealing fuel tanks was raised, as without them there would be a reduction of unladen weight but an increase in fuel capacity. In January 1942, however, the Mark I Liberator’s maximum range is stated as 2,720 miles, but with the crew’s endurance limiting it to 2,240 miles.

When the Liberator was just coming into service with Coastal in June 1941 for antisubmarine warfare, the C-in-C wrote to the Air Ministry:

For duties of this nature, which involve flying for long periods by day and night, out of sight of land in all conditions of weather, the Long Range bombers do not provide the same amenities and freedom of movement to the crew as a flying-boat. The Liberator, which is being provided for one squadron, meets these requirements to a greater extent than any existing British bomber ….

He added, however, that more attention should be given to their layout for reconnaissance rather than bomb load.

The long range of 2,240 miles enabled the Liberator in Coastal Command to help close the ‘Mid-Atlantic Gap’ south of Cape Farewell with such as a shuttle service between Newfoundland and Iceland.

Sir Philip Joubert stated that his first problem when he succeeded Sir Frederick Bowhill in 1941 was ‘the need to fill the Gap’, and here the only land-based aircraft that could do the job was the American B24, the Liberator. The C-in-C Coastal Command in a review of the Command’s expansion and re-equipment programme dated 12 June 1941 wrote: ‘The extension of unrestricted U-boat warfare against shipping in the Atlantic to areas outside the range of MR [medium-range] aircraft has necessitated the use of LR


bombers such as the Whitley and Wellington as anti-submarine aircraft.’

The twin-engined medium bombers that came from Bomber Command, the Wellington 1C and Whitley V, were both serving in Coastal by late 1940. Although they helped to fill a gap in the Command’s general reconnaissance requirements, Air Commodore I.T. Lloyd, the D/SASO, wrote to the C-in-C Coastal Command on 28 July 1941: ‘Whitleys and Wellingtons are uneconomical at their speed and with only nine-hour sorties; we require a replacement for these types to give range up to 600 miles … or at least 440 miles.’

Four-engined bombers that were loaned or allocated to Coastal Command included the British Handley-Page Halifax and the Avro Lancaster, but the Halifax when used for meteorological flights was provided with drop tanks to increase the range.

By 30 November 1944 Coastal Command was due to receive Pathfinder-type Mk III Halifaxes from Bomber Command’s production, but it was considered necessary for the first one to be examined and modified at Gosport to bring it up to the Command’s standard. When No. 502 Squadron was due to re-equip with Halifaxes they were to be fitted with long-range tanks, compensated, apparently, in respect of all-up weight, by having the front turret removed.

This was despite the fact that when considering the provision of Halifaxes for No. 58 Squadron, it was stated that for operations in the Bay of Biscay front turrets were needed, largely against enemy fighters.

These essentially bomber aircraft were nevertheless operated by Coastal Command in anti-submarine warfare, and for meteorological flights and anti-shipping sorties. The Avro Lancaster, another four-engined bomber, was only on brief loan to Coastal Command during the war, and does not feature in the RAF’s official history as a Coastal Command aircraft. With a range of 2,350 miles it could have been invaluable, but the Chief of Air Staff was strongly opposed to Lancasters being transferred to Coastal Command, as it was the only aircraft able to take an 8,000 lb bomb to Berlin.

The American-built B17 Flying Fortress was rated a long-range aircraft, but was selected for Coastal Command because it was considered unfit for Bomber Command’s night operations. The Fortress served as a useful reconnaissance aircraft with such as Nos 59, 206 and 220 Squadrons; fortunately it was not required by Bomber Command, and it was reported on 27 January 1942 that all Fortress aircraft from America would go to Coastal Command.

The C-in-C Coastal Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert, wrote to the Air Ministry on 7 January 1942 of his concern that his long-range aircraft, ‘except the Liberator, fall far short of Coastal Command’s needs … when U-boat attacks on shipping were about 700 miles westwards with Catalinas at 600 miles only on the fringe of the U-boats’ area’. In that same letter, Sir Philip referred to the medium-range Hudson as a ‘stop gap’ with the Ventura [a development of the Hudson] of lesser range; that a medium-range aircraft should have a range of 1,200 nautical miles, while the Wellington and Whitley ‘more nearly meet requirements’. The Air Ministry’s ultimate response was in a letter dated 7 March 1942, which stated:

It would be uneconomical to divert a successful heavy bomber type to a Coastal Command role particularly if … a less successful type of heavy bomber is available … the Fortress … is unfit for night bomber operations and weather conditions strictly limit its employment … in high altitude bombing … for these reasons it was selected for … Coastal Command.

The Air Ministry did show some appreciation of Coastal Command’s requirements, but indicated the priority given to Bomber Command with:

We should hamper the normal evolution of GR [general reconnaissance] aircraft by setting a limit to their range. It is now apparent that our requirements for heavy bomber types are unlikely to be realised in full for a very long time. It will therefore be impracticable to provide many squadrons equipped with this type for general reconnaissance work. Consequently this role will have to be fulfilled by normal GR landplanes for some time to come.

The Air Ministry added that the matter would be pursued with the Admiralty, with Coastal Command aircraft limited to a radius of 600 miles; greater distances ‘should be the responsibility of surface forces’.

At Sir Philip Joubert’s fifth staff meeting, photo-reconnaissance aircraft were said to be Coastal’s ‘weak point’, and he stated, ‘We must have long-range Spitfires.’ For both the Beaufighter, and later the Mosquito, attempts were made to increase their endurance and range by the addition of drop tanks. For the Mosquito, modifications are recorded from November 1941 until towards the end of the war.

No.311 Squadron (Czech) Coastal Command

At the end of April 1942 the squadron was transferred from Bomber Command to Coastal Command in to undertake maritime patrols. It moved to RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland on 28 April and began maritime patrol training on 1 May. The squadron was made part of No. 19 Group RAF, moved to RAF Talbenny in Wales on 12 June and undertook its first anti-submarine patrol on 30 June. Its Wellingtons lacked air to surface vessel (ASV) radar, but despite this between June 1942 and April 1943 the squadron achieved the highest success rate of any Coastal Command squadron.

Throughout July and August the squadron’s Wellingtons remained in Bomber Command’s Temperate Land Scheme camouflage: dark green and dark earth above, and black below. This was unsuitable for maritime patrols, but not until September 1942 were the aircraft repainted in Coastal Command’s Temperate Sea Scheme: dark slate grey and extra dark sea grey above, and white below.

In April 1943 the squadron was partly re-equipped with five Wellington Mark X aircraft. This could carry two torpedoes or 3,999 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs, but it was primarily a Bomber Command variant, not designed for maritime patrol work. Air Vice-Marshal Karel Janoušek, Inspector-General of the Czechoslovak Air Force, eventually convinced the UK Air Ministry to re-equip the squadron with Consolidated Liberator heavy bombers, as these had radar and a longer range, both of which made them more suitable for maritime patrols. Retraining flights began on 25 May and continued until August.

Towards the end of May 1943 squadron personnel began to move to Beaulieu in Hampshire, where the unit would begin its work-up on Liberators. Coastal Command had set up a training unit at Beaulieu (No. 1 Operational Training Unit) under the command of Sqn/Ldr Everest, to convert 311 Squadron onto the new aircraft. Both June and July were wholly taken up with conversion to the Liberator, thus no operational sorties were carried out. The Operational Training Unit had a number of Liberator Mk. III/IIIAs at its disposal; FK219 `9′, FK220 `3′, LV339 `4′, LV343 `12′, LV344 `8′ and LV342 `5’and they were later joined by two more Lib’ Mk. IIIs, FK215 and FK224 together with a Liberator Mk. V FL971 `7′ (Once the initial training of 311 Squadron had been completed the training unit moved to Aldergrove in September and eventually merged with 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit. Aircrew from the squadron were still undertaking training into at least October at Aldergrove using Liberators such as LV344 `8′. During the conversion period at Beaulieu, AVM Janousek paid a visit to observe the unit’s progress and the unit on parade he presented the CBE to Gp/Cpt Kubita. Life for the aircrews became a succession of training and operational exercises with rockets and bombs. Initially there were problems with the availability of aircraft, but by the end of July Liberators BZ773 `A’, BZ774 `D’, BZ775 `G’, BZ779 ‘J’, BZ782 `K’ and BZ785 `L’ were all in use. The additional aircraft allowed the training to be intensified, with special exercises being undertaken covering, familiarisation flying, navigation, bombing practice, air-to-air and air-to-sea firing, and with lectures and demonstrations being delivered if the weather was unfit for flying.

The month of August was to prove hugely significant for the squadron and it began on a proud and confident note. The unit hosted a visit from a number of high ranking individuals, who attended the celebrations on the 4th of the month, commemorating the third anniversary of the squadron’s foundation. The President Dr Beneš; the Minister of National Defence General Sergej Ingr; The Minister for Foreign Affairs Jan Masaryk; The Czechoslovak Liaison Officer at Coastal Command Gp/Cpt Kubita all attended together with the AOC Coastal Command AM Slessor and the AOC 19 Gp Coastal Command, AVM Bromet. The squadron paraded and a memorable time was had by all. By the middle of the month the squadron was deemed ready to resume operational status and the first anti-submarine sweep was organised. This took place on the 21st and involved the two crews of the Commanding Officer, Wg/Cdr Jindřich Breitcetl and Sqn/Ldr Václav Korda. Unfortunately the start of the new phase was to be marred, Breitcetl’s Liberator failed to return from the sweep. At the time the reason for the disappearance of Liberator BZ780 ‘O’ was not known, but it was thought to have been lost in combat with enemy long range fighters over the Bay of Biscay. German records appear to indicate that the Liberator was shot down by a group of Me.IIO fighters from 4ZG1 about 120 miles north west of Brest at approximately 1820 hours. Fw. Lothar Uhlig carried out two attacks on the Lib’ and was apparently credited with the victory. A second Me.IIO (No.6406 SG+GN) from the unit failed to return to base and it is thought that it may have been shot down by the Liberator’s gunners. The German airmen Uffz Georg Planer and Uffz Horst Hofman are listed as missing on this date. Amongst the crew of BZ780 was Air Gunner W/O Vilém Jakš , a pre-war boxer of international repute. The others listed as missing were second pilot Flt/Lt František Fencl, navigator P/O Eduard Pavelka, gunners P/O Emilián Mrázek, F/Sgt Josef Halada, Sgt Josef Felkl and wireless operator Sgt Michal Pizur.

This tragic event was not allowed to affect the unit’s routine and Sqn/Ldr Vladimír Nedvěd (who would shortly be appointed as the squadron’s next commanding officer) took off with F/O Karel Schoř and his crew in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’ at ten minutes after six the next morning, to carry out a morale boosting patrol. It was the aircraft’s first operational patrol. During the sweep a submerging U-Boat was sighted, but the Liberator was not in a position to attack before the submarine disappeared. The aircraft returned to Beaulieu later in the day having carried out a patrol of eleven hours and twenty minutes duration. Further tragedies were in store before the end of the month, almost certainly due in no small measure to lack of familiarity with the new aircraft. On the 29th F/O Adolf Musálek perished with his crew when Liberator BZ775 ‘G’ failed to gain height, struck trees and crashed on take-off for an operational patrol. The subsequent investigation came to the conclusion that insufficient runway had been used before the pilot attempted to get airborne with the fully loaded aircraft. The Liberator burst into flames on impacting with the ground and all eight crew members died in the inferno (pilot F/O Adolf Musálek, second pilot Sgt Stanislav Jelínek, navigator Flt/Lt Bruno Babš and wireless operator/gunners Sgt Eduard Blaháček, Sgt Hanuš Polak and Sgt Jiří Rubín together with gunners F/O Miroslav Čtvrtlík and Sgt Václav Blahna). On the 29th of August F/O Metoděj Šebela and his crew, had to divert to Gibraltar following engine trouble while on patrol in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’. They were forced to throw surplus equipment overboard to rid themselves of unnecessary weight, managing to reach Gibraltar with only 70 gallons of fuel remaining. The Lutwaffe were again making their presence felt on the 30th of August, when P/O Josef Stach and his crew in Liberator FL948 ‘M’ were attacked at 1100 hours by a Ju.88 in position 45.28N 08.32W. The Ju.88 opened fire from 500 yards and closed on the Liberator. In all the Liberator was hit some twenty times and the gunners became involved in a protracted duel with the fighter. Their gunnery was of the highest standard and the engines of the Ju.88 were set on fire and it crashed into the sea at 45.48N 09.32W. During the fight the mid-upper gunner (Sgt František Benedikt) had fired 750 rounds and the rear gunner (Sgt František Skalík) 600 rounds. During the fifteen minute combat one of the beam gunners Sgt Andrej Šimek (it was his first operational flight) was killed, although the rest of the crew were unharmed. The Ju.88 was probably Ju.88C-6 No.750399 (F8+FX) of 13/KG40 crewed by Uffz E Itzegehl, Uffz U Lentz and Gefr H Hobusch, all of whom are recorded as missing. Later on the same day, Flt/Lt Emil Palichleb’s Liberator BZ785 ‘L’ crashed and burst into flames, causing the death of all on board (Flt/Lt Emil Palichleb, Sgt Josef Bittner, Sgt Zdeněk Řezáč, Sgt Theodor Schwarz and Sgt Emil Szeliga). The aircraft stalled off a steep turn close to the base during a practice evasion flight and crashed at 1542 hours. It spun into the ground from a height of around 1,000 feet and came to earth at Dilton Copse, near Brockenhurst. It was thought that the aircraft had exceeded the normal all up weight laid down by flight limitations and that this together with poor handling had contributed to the crash. By the end of the month the squadron had carried out ten operations, 21 sorties and covered 31,000 nautical miles in some 200 hours of operational flying.

Life throughout September was fairly quiet, although a number of fighter affiliation exercises were conducted with 310 (Czech) Squadron Spitfires, which was based at nearby Ibsley. A parade was held on the 15th at which the CO Wg/Cdr Nedvěd was decorated with the DFC by the AOC 19 Group. Wg/Cdr Nedvěd had some additional excitement the next day (the 16th). He and his crew were on patrol from early morning having taken off at 0653 hours in Liberator BZ779 ‘J’, when they sighted a U-Boat. Unfortunately they were unable to get into an attacking position before the submarine dived to safety. The aircraft returned to base after a patrol lasting ten hours and forty three minutes. Things got a good deal ‘hotter’ on the 27th September when P/O Jan Irving in newly delivered Liberator BZ786 ‘G’, attacked an unidentified U-Boat shortly before 1115 hours. The submarine appeared to have escaped and no indications of damage were seen. Irving made sure that a sea marker was dropped at the scene. Some time later at 1520 hours, a periscope was sighted at position 49.30N 09.45W and again Irving went into the attack. On this occasion rocket projectiles were fired (believed to be the first time they had been used by an aircraft of the squadron on a submarine. BZ786 had external rocket rails fitted to the forward fuselage, carrying eight 60lb rockets with armour piercing warheads). Three to four minutes after the attack oil began to rise to the surface, spreading rapidly along the submarine’s track. After ten minutes of circling the Liberator had reached its ‘prudent limit of endurance’ (PLE) and the captain decided to head for home. At that time the oil patch had ceased to move forward, but was still spreading. All the indications were that the U-Boat was either sunk or severely damaged. At the end of the month the squadron had accomplished 26 operations with 54 sorties and had covered approximately 87,000 nautical miles in 560 hours of operational flying.

The Liberator’s ability to defend itself was severely tested on at least two occasions in October 1943. F/Sgt Josef Kuhn was at the controls of Liberator BZ779 ‘J’, when the aircraft was attacked by four Ju.88s in position 47.28N 10.17W. The enemy fighters were first sighted at a distance of three miles and they changed formation into ‘line astern’ in readiness to carry out a series of attacks on the Liberator. The first of the Junkers opened fire from a distance of 1,000 yards and together with the others closed in on the Lib’. Kuhn continually corkscrewed the aircraft to present as small and as difficult a target as possible to his attackers. The gunners wreathed in cordite fumes returned fire at every possible opportunity. The aircraft suffered considerable damage; the radar was put out of action and fuel and hydraulic tanks were holed and leaking. Several of the crew were wounded; Sgt Alois Matýsek, the radar operator, had splinter wounds in his leg and shoulder; F/Sgt František Veverka, one of the gunners, had splinter wounds in his leg and face (he had been wounded firstly when manning the rear turret and had moved to the starboard beam gun where he was wounded for the second time). Regardless of his injuries he continued to engage the enemy fighters throughout. One of the enemy fighters was claimed as damaged, probably shot down. The aircraft in question was probably JU.88C-6 No.750434 of KG40, which was listed as missing. The missing crew members were Oblt G Christner, Few E Leubner and Uffz A Knefel. After the attack Kuhn managed to nurse the Liberator back to the airfield at St. Eval for a ‘no flaps’ landing on the nose wheel and one main wheel. Both Kuhn and Veverka were to later receive the DFM in recognition of the courage and skill that they displayed during the incident. On the 23rd it was the turn of P/O Josef Stach to come under attack this time from seven enemy fighters! Liberator BZ774 ‘D’ was bounced at 1315 hours in position 45.00N 10.08W. The gunners put up a spirited defence and the German airmen soon realised that they had picked on a rather tough adversary. During the 45 minute combat that followed, one of the enemy fighters was claimed as shot down and two damaged. Stach manoeuvred the Liberator masterfully and despite the efforts of the enemy fighters the aircraft was not damaged and none of the crew were injured. An exhausted and thankful crew reached base after a flight lasting over 12 hours. This was another classic instance that served to emphasise the squadron’s motto ‘Never Regard their Numbers’. No matter what the odds the airmen of 311 were always ready to give battle. Stach was later to receive the DFC in recognition of his piloting skills. Despite the outside interference, the squadron carried out 23 operations and 54 sorties in 550 hours and covered 86,000 nautical miles during the month.

On 26 May 1943 the squadron moved to RAF Beaulieu in Hampshire. On 4 August it celebrated its third anniversary. Guests again included President Beneš and Foreign Minister Masaryk. They included also General Sergej Ingr, who had succeeded General Hasal-Nižborský as Defence Minister, and the head of Coastal Command, Air Marshal John Slessor.

On 21 August 1943 the squadron began maritime patrols with Consolidated Liberator GR Mk V aircraft and continued anti-submarine work, but now over the Bay of Biscay. On 10 November Liberator BZ774/D, led by Flt Sgt Otto Žanta, attacked German submarine U-966 with rocket projectiles (RP’s) off the Galician coast. The submarine ran aground and her crew abandoned her.

On 27 December 1943 Liberator BZ796/H, led by Plt Off Oldřich Doležal, attacked the German blockade runner Alsterufer in the Bay of Biscay. Doležal’s crew set the cargo ship on fire with five RP’s and a 500 lb (230 kg) bomb, and she sank the next day.

In February 1944 the squadron was re-equipped with nine Liberator C Mk VI aircraft.[5][28] On 23 February it moved to RAF Predannack in Cornwall. On 24 June Liberator FL961/O led by Fg Off Jan Vella, along with the Tribal-class destroyers HMS Eskimo and HMCS Haida, attacked and sank U-971 just west of the English Channel.

On 7 August 1944 the squadron transferred to RAF Tain in Scotland[31] and its area of operations changed from the Bay of Biscay and Western Approaches to the North Sea. In September its rôle was changed from day to night anti-submarine patrols. On 27 October Fleet Air Arm aircraft from HMS Implacable damaged U-1060, forcing her to run aground on the coast of German-occupied Norway. Two days later two 311 Squadron Liberators, FL949/Y led by Fg Off Josef Pavelka and BZ723/H led by Sqn Ldr Alois Šedivý, damaged the grounded submarine with salvos of RP’s. Later two Halifax heavy bombers of No. 502 Squadron RAF finished off U-1060 with depth charges.

In February 1945 the squadron was re-equipped, again with Liberator C Mk VI aircraft but now equipped with anti-submarine Leigh Lights. In March the entire squadron took part in the “Chilli-II” and “Chilli-III” raids on German submarine training areas in the Baltic.

Grave of Sgt Rudolf Scholz in St John’s parish churchyard, Stoke Row, Oxfordshire. Sholz was the flight engineer of Liberator IV EV995 when it crashed on the beach at Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, on 10 April 1945. Six of its crew were killed and three injured.

311 Squadron was with Coastal Command for 38 months, in which time it flew 2,111 sorties. By the end of the war 247 of its men had been killed, either in combat or in accidents. 33 of its members were released from German prisoner-of-war camps. One PoW, Plt Off Arnošt Valenta, was murdered by the Gestapo in March 1944 for taking part in the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III.


Finnish Air Force – Suomen Ilmavoimat

Early Years

The Ilmailuvoimat, Finland’s air force, is one of the oldest official independent aviation forces in the world. During the revolution in 1917, the Finns saw a chance to break away from the Russian empire and become an independent country. Their war of independence began in December 1917 under General Gustaf Mannerheim. In February 1918, the first of two donated aircraft arrived to assist Finland’s White Army. The first aircraft was a Nordiska Aviatik-built Albatros two-seater. It arrived in Kokkola from Sweden on 25 February 1918. The second donated aircraft, a Thulin D, came from Count Eric Von Rosen, a Swedish explorer. His donation, flown by Lieutenant Nils Kindberg, arrived on 4 March 1918. Rosen had painted a blue swastika, his personal good-luck symbol, on the fuselage of the plane. This blue swastika became the Ilmailuvoimat’s official insignia, an unfortunate resemblance to Nazi Germany’s black swastika. By 10 March 1918, the Ilmailuvoimat was officially formed and given its own commander.

Shortly thereafter, the Ilmailuvoimat acquired a rather motley collection of aircraft, but enough to complete two flying divisions. These aircraft were Thulin Ds, Nodiska-built Albatros B. Is and C. IIIs, several captured Russian Nieuport 10 and 23s, as well as Shchetinin M5, M9, M15, and M16 hydroplanes-a total of 47 aircraft of 19 different types. During World War I, the aircraft were used for reconnaissance and limited bomb-dropping. Recruits went to Germany for training until June 1919, when a French military mission arrived with 12 pilots under the command of Major Raoul Etienne to initiate training at home.

The Finns spent 20 million Swiss francs to purchase 20 Breguet 14 B-2 reconnaissance planes and 12 Georges Levy hydroplanes, but they soon recognized the need for an indigenous aircraft factory. In 1920, the same year as the peace treaty with Russia, the Ilmailuvoimien Lentokonetehdas (Aviation Force Aircraft Factory) was created and concentrated on Hansa Brandenburg W 33 monoplane floatplanes. Floatplanes and hydroplanes predominated during the years between the wars, upon the advice of a British mission that arrived in 1924. Early in the 1920s, the Ilmailuvoimat was also tasked with aerial photographic survey duties, a mission it carries out today.

Towards War

Finland’s military commanders realised during the 1930`s that the deteriorating situation in Europe was putting a lasting peace in jeopardy and so it was necessary to draw up a series of arms purchasing plans in precaution against war. Aircraft used by the Finnish Air Force during its first few years of existence were of a wide variety and were unsuitable for joint operations.

After many years a basic 5-year plan was drawn up in 1937 to include 11 flying squadrons and 4 ground liaison squadrons totalling 52 aircraft. 1 sea liaison squadron with 13 aircraft, 3 long range squadrons totalling 27 aircraft and 3 fighter squadrons with 81 aircraft. Insufficient funds meant that even as late as the autumn of 1939 very few units had been equipped with new aircraft. Worst of were the fighter squadrons where one unit was fully equipped and the other two were only partially equipped.

After the fall of Poland the Soviet Union started to better its positions in the Baltic direction. Russia had already occupied half of Poland in accordance to a secret pact with Germany. Now the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania soon found themselves under Soviet control. By mid-October Soviet troops and part of the Baltic Red Banner Fleet had moved to the Southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Finland’s military position with respect to the Soviet Union had taken severe setback.

On October 5th the Soviet Union proposed negotiations to the Finnish Government on questions relating to the defence of Leningrad. It was put to the Finns that the border be moved back a considerable distance towards the west on the Karelian Isthmus, four outlying island in the Gulf of Finland be surrendered and the Hanko Peninsula in Finland’s south western tip be leased to the Soviets. All this in exchange for territorial concessions offered in Petchenga and Eastern Karelia.

The negotiations held between the two countries proved fruitless and were discontinued on November 28th. The Soviet Union annulled the non-aggression pact signed between the two countries in 1932. Two days later on the 30th November 1939 the Soviet Union invaded. The Winter War was about to begin.

The Finnish Forces centred along the border with the Soviet Union was made up of three Army Corps stationed between the Gulf of Finland and Ilomantsi, while the area from Ilomantsi to the Arctic Ocean was covered only by small separate detachments. The armed forces were commanded by Marshall Mannerheim.

The Air Defence, commanded by Major General J F Lundqvist, included the Air Force together with the Anti-aircraft and the Air SurvellanceTroops. At the outbreak of the Winter War, the Air Defence was divided into two Flying Regiments.

Lentorykmentti 2 (2nd Flying Regiment, LentoR.2)

36 Fokker D.XXIs in Lentolaivue 24 (24th Flying Squadron, LLv.24)

10 Bristol Bulldogs in LLv.26.

LLv.24 was based at Immola and LLv.26 was based at Raulampi.


8 Bristol Blenheim Mk.Is in LLv.44

8 Bristol Blenheim Mk.Is in LLv.46 both based at Luonetjarvi.

The two fighter squadrons were to be used for mainly intercept missions behind the front lines on the Karelian Isthmus.

LentoR.l was the main reconnaissance regiment and consisted of LLv.12 with 13 Fokker C.Xs based at Suur-Merijoki and LLv.14 with 4 Fokker C.Xs and 7 Fokker C.Vs based at Laikko.

LLv.12 was to be used to support the 2nd Army Corps on the western side of the Karilean Isthmus while LLv.14 supported the 3rd Army on the eastern side. LLv.10, which had received dive-bomber training, was placed at disposal and was equipped with 12 Fokker C.Vs.

The 4th Army Corps was entrusted to defend the area between Lake Ladoga and Ilomantsi with a total of 2 infantry divisions. Five separate battalions were placed along the border in front of these as front line protection.

LLv.16 from LentoR.1 was subordinated to the 4th Army Corps. Two of the squadron’s flights were based at Varssila and were equipped with a total of 8 Blackburn Ripons. Another flight with 4 Junkers K-43s was subordinated to Ladoga Sea Defence based at Lahdenpohja, from where it moved to northern Finland in late December.

The area from Ilomantsi and the Arctic Ocean was defended by a few separate detachments only. These consisted of two battalions east of Lieksa, one battalion in the Kuhmo-Suomussalmi-Kuusamo-Salle area and a strengthened company at Petsamo. There were no Air Force units in these areas.

LLv.36 was subordinated to the Navy and operated in the Gulf of Finland from its base at Kallvik, east of Helsinki equipped with 6 Ripons. Additionally the Navy had 2 Junkers K-435 based at Marichamn inland.

At the outbreak of the Winter War the Finnish Air Force possessed some 301 aircraft of all types, of these about 114 were war worthy aircraft. Against them the Soviet Union could call upon well over 3,500 aircraft most of which were far superior to anything the Finns operated. The principal aircraft types used by the Soviet Air Force in the Winter War were, Polikarpov 1-15, 1-153 and 1-16 fighters, Tupolev SB, TB-3 and Ilyushin DB-3 bombers, Polikarpov R-5 and U-2 reconnaissance, with Beriev MBR-2 for maritime reconnaissance.

At the outbreak of the war on 30th November 1939, the Soviet ground forces launched an offensive along the whole of the eastern border between the two countries. The Soviets attacked in three main areas, the first was in the south on the Karelian Isthmus but their advance was soon stopped by Finland’s Isthmus Army. The second line of attack was in Eastern Karelia, N of Lake Ladoga. The Soviet troops had driven as far as Kollaa and Tolvajarvi but were forced back to Aittojoki, where the front line was to remain unchanged for the rest of the war. The third push was intended to cut the country in half at its narrowest point. The offensive by the Soviet 9th Army in the Kuhmo, Suomussalmi and Salla areas soon ground to a halt after fierce defensive battles by the Finns.


Why did the Finnish Air Force use the swastika as the national marking between 1918 and 1945?

Why is the swastika still part of badges of Air Force units?

The swastika has been used since ancient times both as an ornament and a motif. It is known to appear, among other applications, in the sewing works of the Finno-Ugric peoples until the modern days. The swastika is very often construed as a symbol of good luck.

The first publicly displayed swastika motif in Finland is probably the swastika ornament around Akseli Gallen-Kallela s Aino triptych from 1891. This painting is currently hung in the stateroom of the Bank of Finland in Helsinki. The armed forces of Finland adopted the swastika during the Civil War in 1918. Swedish Count Eric von Rosen donated the White Army a Thulin type D airplane in Vaasa on March 6, 1918. On the wings he had painted blue swastikas, his personal motif of good luck, in Umee on March 2, before the airplane took off for the crossing of Gulf of Bothnia. After landing in Vaasa the airplane was incorporated as Aircraft Number 1 in the parc d avions of Finland, later to be renamed the Aviation Force. It was therefore decided to adopt the blue swastika on a white circular background as the national marking, and this was retained until 1945 when it was superseded by the current roundel due to a directive issued by the Allied Control Commission. The directive, however, did not require that the symbol be replaced in other Air Force symbols and flags where it remains in use.

Students of interwar (1920-30s) period air units probably know that Latvia also used a similar version of the svastika as a marking on aircraft of the Latvian air-service from ca. 1918-1934. The Letts referred to the swastika as both the Thunder Cross and Fire Cross (Perkonkrusts, and Urgunskrusts), the former also the name of an indigenous Latvian fascist movement before the Second World War. During the tumultuous period of the Russian Civil War, and the Finnish and Latvian Wars of Independence, many Finns, joined by Swedes, Letts, Estonians, and German Freikorps volunteers, fought the Red Bolsheviks all across the Baltikum, some with flags and unit crests emblazoned with the *lucky* swastika as a symbol of independence rather than the racist genocidal aryanism it later assumed under the Nazis.

USAF Reconnaissance during the Korean War I

The date was June 25, 1950. The American people were shocked to learn that the North Korean army had massed its forces and rolled across the 38th parallel, which since World War II had served as the artificially devised demarcation line, into South Korea. President Harry Truman responded forthrightly to the surprise assault by having our ambassador to the United Nations (U. N.) urge the Security Council to respond to this unprovoked aggression. With the council’s unanimous approval, the United Nations engaged in a police action to stop the belligerent force. Fortunately, the USSR representative was absent from the Security Council and unable to stop the resolution; unfortunately, the United States was ill-prepared for war.

In Japan, our armed forces were engaged in occupation of the Japanese mainland after Japan’s formal surrender in September 1945. Essentially, no preparation had been made for war. The overall commander of our forces, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was primarily engaged in the formidable task of transforming the Empire of Japan into a democratic society, was quickly named commander of the U. N. forces. Ground troops were immediately committed to the Korean peninsula to bolster the rapidly retreating South Korean and U. S. military forces. The situation was critical, and the North Koreans rapidly drove back the South Korean army and the U. S. Army forces (deployed from Japan) to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, which became known as the Pusan perimeter.

U. S. Air Force airlift, well experienced after the massive effort to relieve besieged Berlin, swung into action and delivered the most urgent supplies from the United States. A sealift effort followed as well. Those early forces were desperately buying time, maintaining a foothold in Korea, until the major deployment of forces and logistics came on-line.

Critical to our military response was information regarding the disposition of the attacking forces, their major lines of attack, the size of their forces, and their major military equipment, armor, artillery, and supply lines. The North Korean attack moved so swiftly that response plans were overtaken by events. Intelligence information was desperately needed, so USAF reconnaissance aircraft were quickly deployed from central Japan to Itazuke Air Base (AB) on Kyushu Island, Japan, the base closest to Korea.

The only tactical reconnaissance unit based in Japan was the 8th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS) equipped with twenty-five RF-80 single engine jet aircraft. The RF-80, derived from the F-80 (the first truly operational jet aircraft of the USAF), was well-equipped with cameras adequate to the task. The first combat mission of the Korean War fell to Lt. Bryce Poe II, who flew from Itazuke AB across the straits to South Korea. Lieutenant Poe was no novice to reconnaissance, having flown his RF-80 in Top Secret missions over the Vladivostok area of the Soviet Union. Immediately, the RF-80s began to photograph every airfield in North Korea.

The demand for accurate intelligence information was a top priority. In the fast-moving and fluid operations, reconnaissance included visual as well as photographic collection. Rapid film processing and immediate photo interpretation were critical, but the sheer amount of work quickly exceeded the capabilities of the 548th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron. Joint doctrine established that the Army would provide their own photo interpreters to provide intelligence analysis specific to Army needs within a joint organization. However, the army had no available photo interpreters, and the joint organization did not exist. Therefore, individuals throughout every area of operations, Army and Air Force, handled the initial operations in an ad hoc, emergency manner, which required extraordinary initiative.

It is difficult today to imagine the confusion, and yet determination and commitment of our armed forces. The understrength, ill-equipped, and insufficiently trained Army troops were determined to hold the perimeter against overwhelming odds and not be driven into the Sea of Japan. The USAF was involved with close air support and interdiction missions attempting to stem the flow of North Korean men and equipment that were besieging the perimeter. A major problem was the short range of the F-80 and RF-80 aircraft that had to operate from Japan because no suitable bases were available within the perimeter.

In the demobilization subsequent to World War II, the USAF had declined to forty-eight groups by the time the Korean War broke out. Its personnel strength of 411,277 officers and men represented less than 18 percent of its wartime strength. Later, the USAF chief of staff, Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg called it a shoestring Air Force. Requests for more F-80Cs, F-82s, B-26s, B-29s, C-54s, F-51s, C-47s, RF-51s, and RF-80s could be met only piecemeal.

One can only marvel at the ability of U. S. forces to hold the perimeter, while forces were being moved from the United States by ship and air to provide more muscle to our limited capabilities. Meanwhile, General MacArthur developed an audacious plan involving a strategic envelopment of the North Koreans that, although exceedingly risky, proved to be masterful in planning and execution. The very high tides at Inchon, on the west coast of Korea, a few miles from Seoul, made the planned amphibious operation problematic. RF-80 aircraft took dicing shots (low-level photo missions with cameras aimed obliquely through the nose of the aircraft) that enabled our skilled photo interpreters to determine accurately the height of the sea wall and the exact times and extent of the tides. The amphibious operation proved a stunning success. U. S. forces broke out of the Pusan perimeter, and the combined penetration and successful envelopment from the Inchon beachhead broke the North Korean attack, allowing U. N. forces to push repel enemy, northward up the peninsula.

USAF reconnaissance assets now included the Strategic Air Command (SAC) reconnaissance bombers, RB-29s, relegated to medium status with the now-operational B-36 heavy bomber. Navy reconnaissance jet aircraft operated from aircraft carriers, and Marine Corps reconnaissance aircraft were later based on land. The traditional reconnaissance effort was augmented by other intelligence-gathering efforts from slower flying C-47s and C-46s, which were sometimes operated openly by the USAF and at other times, by clandestine organizations. Prisoner interrogation provided another form of collecting useful information, fitting into the effort to produce an accurate picture of the enemy’s capabilities. Nevertheless, the bulk of all intelligence information was collected, produced, and interpreted by the USAF.

Principal USAF reconnaissance assets included the RB-29, RB-45, RF-80, RF-51, and RB-26. With the exception of the RF-80 and RB-45, these aircraft had major roles in World War II. Providing airfields suited for these jet aircraft posed a major problem that proved so serious that one F-80 fighter squadron converted to F-51 Mustangs simply to provide close air support flying from the short, dirt runways available in Korea. The construction of adequate runways and support facilities was a major activity.

RB-29s provided photoreconnaissance that allowed the B-29s to bomb strategic targets in North Korea. In a short time, it was determined that strategic bombing was no longer needed because no more targets remained. This was before dams and hydroelectric generating plants became targets later during the war. After September 26, 1950, all B-29 bombing missions were directed against tactical targets.

The demobilization of the armed forces in the five years after World War II had significantly reduced our capabilities to effectively wage war. New aircraft were entering production-the F-86, F-84, RF-84F, B-47, and RB-47-but we began fighting the war with World War II equipment. Already, we had forgotten the lessons learned in that war. All the tactical training and coordinated efforts relating to tactical air forces in the support of army units had to be relearned. Individual units had established standards of proficiency, but the bare-bones budget did not allow for joint exercises. The call-up of reserves with World War II experience lessened the learning curve, but time for training was not available; experience in combat and necessity accelerated coordination of the required team effort.

Another major factor limited our fighting capabilities in Korea. The invasion of South Korea seemed to presage an all-out communist effort in Europe. Consequently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to limit the movement of men and equipment to fight in Korea. All subsequent military events in Korea needed to be viewed through the prism that Korea was considered as likely to be only the first phase of a major conflict with communist forces worldwide.

Deployment of tactical reconnaissance units to Korea had the 8th TRS (RF-80s) arriving at Taegu, South Korea, on October 2, 1950, and the 162d TRS (RB-26s) arriving from Langley AFB on October 8, with both supported by the 363d Reconnaissance Technical Squadron, which had also urgently deployed from Langley. These units formed the 543d Tactical Support Group. In November 1950, the 45th TRS, recently activated with RF-51 Mustangs, joined the 543d Group.

Besides the critical shortage of reconnaissance aircraft, the shortage of experienced intelligence experts, that is, photo interpreters, posed a daunting task. Since no reserve photo interpreter organizations had been created after World War II, training new photo interpreters was the only way to reduce the workload.

General Vandenberg told Lt. Gen. George Stratemeyer, commander of Far East Air Forces (FEAF), that to be effective, tactical operations required the interdiction of targets that were the sources for supplies, ammunition, and troops. B-29s of the 22d and 92d Bombardment Groups deployed to Japan for operations against North Korea, augmenting three other groups already available. Industrial centers of Wonsan, Pyongyang, Hungnam, Ch’ongjin, and Rashin were identified as targets. Their selection was based on their falling into one or more of the following categories: port facility, railroad head, petroleum production and storage site, aircraft factory, armament manufacturing, chemical and light-metal plant, and hydroelectric facility.

Three of the bombardment groups were dedicated to strategic targets; the other two were used for interdiction. The FEAF Target Section had not prepared target folders for North Korea prior to the Korean War. Old target folders and photography were discovered at Guam, and these materials, combined with the efforts of the RB-29s of the 31st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, produced the radarscope photography to meet the demand. The 548th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron handled the photofinishing and photo interpretation. Of forty-six strategic bombing attacks, bomber crews lacked adequate photography and radarscope intelligence for only one target.

After the bombing of the Fusen hydroelectric plant on September 26, 1950, the Joint Chiefs of Staff informed General MacArthur that all the strategic targets had been eliminated and that all further medium bomber missions would be for interdiction supporting his tactical operations in the field.

On October 18, 1950, the 31st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron reported that some seventy-five fighters were seen at Antung, the Manchurian air base immediately across the Yalu River, which formed the border between China and Korea. An RF-80 pilot spotted fifteen propeller-driven Yak aircraft at Sinuiju, in North Korea, and these were quickly attacked by F-80 fighter-bombers which strafed the field and destroyed or damaged seven of the aircraft. One of the F-80s was shot down by gunfire from across the Yalu. Before another attack by F-80s, the surviving Yaks had flown north. At this time, six Russian-made MiG-15s flew into Korea, the first sighting of these jets. Shortly thereafter, U. S. Army and Republic of Korea units approached the Yalu.

As the result of a paper transaction, the 31st Squadron returned to the United States and the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron replaced it on November 16, 1950. According to historical analysis, neither air nor ground reconnaissance hinted at the major deployment of Chinese troops immediately north of the Yalu as they grouped for an assault on U. N. forces. Much of this oversight is explained by the severe limitations placed on photoreconnaissance after the attack by two MiG-15s on an RB-29 of the 31st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron near Sinuiju on November 9, 1950. The aircraft crash-landed at Johnson AB, Japan, killing five crewmembers. After this incident, RB-29s were ordered not to approach the Yalu, leaving those missions to the RF-80s flown by the 8th TRS, which was operating from Taegu, well down the peninsula. Gen. George C. Kenney had speculated that the first sign of Chinese communist entry into the Korean War would be observed through air operations. The introduction of the MiG-15s proved his prescience.

As General MacArthur’s forces approached the Yalu, the prevailing intelligence assumptions were that the deployment of Chinese forces on the border were to ensure no incursions into Manchuria. However, on November 26, Chinese forces aggressively attacked in an effort to envelop and destroy the U. N. forces.

Various explanations have been given for this intelligence failure. RB-29 reconnaissance flights had been prohibited from approaching the Yalu since November 9, leaving photo coverage to the 8th and 12th TRSs. Joint doctrine called for three daytime reconnaissance squadrons: two would provide visual reconnaissance, and one, photography in advance of an army. Although demands from the Army and Air Force were extensive, the 8th TRS was not overtaxed, as neither the Army nor the Air Force was capable of interpreting all photography speedily because of the shortage of qualified photo interpreters. In fact, the Air Force provided photo interpretation for the Army, which was actually an Army responsibility. The 8th TRS photography focused on the Yalu River crossings, with the 12th TRS flying a few night reconnaissance missions. Fog greatly hindered night photography.

Photo interpreters analyzing reconnaissance missions were frustrated over a reported intelligence failure. They had reported on masses of Chinese troops crossing the Yalu River in the vicinity of Sinuiju, and they noted major stockpiles of equipment concentrated there. Although they had submitted these findings as special intelligence reports, to their chagrin, no bombing raids were scheduled.

On December 15, the first F-86s arrived in Korea, forming the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing stationed at Kimpo AB (K-14) outside Seoul. The F-86s escorted RF-80s that flew photo missions in the Sinuiju, Sinanju, and Antung areas of operations. Throughout December, reconnaissance confirmed the extension and improvement of runways at Antung in North Korea. At Dairen AB, the Soviets had some 400 to 500 aircraft. The RF-80, limited to Mach 0.8-considerably slower than the speed attainable by the MiG-15s-had to be escorted by F-86s on missions along the Yalu in the area now being called MiG Alley. On December 4, MiGs boxed in an RF-80 and its F-80 escort and damaged both aircraft with 23-mm cannon fire; both planes were fortunate to return to base.

As a result of MiG attacks on RB-29s, the 91st Squadron took control of two RB-45 jet reconnaissance aircraft on January 31, 1951. They had been assigned to Reconnaissance Detachment A of the 84th Bombardment Squadron. Although at first successful in outrunning the MiGs, they too had difficulties. In one attack on April 9, an RB-45 sustained a number of hits, but it successfully returned to base. On June 1, all unescorted Bomber Command aircraft were prohibited from operating in the vicinity of the Yalu and MiG Alley. Then in October, all RB-29s were prohibited from operating in northwest Korea, and the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing (TRW) assumed that photoreconnaissance responsibility. All RB-45 daylight operations ceased after another close call from MiGs on November 9.

During the early part of the Korean War, just two squadrons were performing the tactical missions of visual reconnaissance and photoreconnaissance: the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance, Photo-Jet; and the 12th TRS, Night-Photo, operating from Taegu. By December 1950, the 45th TRS (flying RF-51 Mustangs) joined the reconnaissance effort.

As the demand for reconnaissance grew, it became apparent that the effort had to be coordinated. Some of the supporting units were in Japan. Col. Karl L. “Pop” Polifka, a noted reconnaissance expert from World War II, was brought in to form the newly activated 67th TRW on February 25, 1951. The 8th TRS was redesignated the 15th TRS, while the 12th TRS continued on, as did the 45th TRS. The support elements making up the wing were brought in from Japan.

The 15th TRS was responsible for covering all airfields and lines of communication in the northern part of North Korea, responding to tasking by the Army as well as the USAF. The 12th TRS had the same responsibility, but it was limited to night operations. The 45th TRS provided reconnaissance forward of the Army’s front lines. Their job was to learn the features and terrain in front of Army units and, from that familiarity, identify changes signifying enemy movement and emplacements.

In March 1951, Fifth Air Force devised a target location system implemented by the 45th TRS which operated at first light every morning. Night operations would suggest possible locations of enemy trucks and troops that would be trying to conceal themselves as dawn broke. The RF-51s would then be on hand to direct fighter-bomber attacks. These were called Circle 10 missions because the Mustangs flew in a circle roughly ten miles in diameter around the suspected area. When the Mustangs identified the targets, they called in F-80 and F-84 attacks.

By mid-April, RF-51s flew in pairs with one providing top cover to clear the lower-flying aircraft and provide early warning on any enemy antiaircraft fire. This useful tactic was later employed by the 15th TRS and was continued by the 45th TRS when they relinquished their Mustangs for RF-80s.

Throughout February, March, and April, reconnaissance confirmed that North Korean airfields had been readied for aircraft arriving from Manchuria. Photo interpreters discovered that the North Koreans were destroying buildings on either side of a paved road running through Pyongyang and turning it into a 7,000-foot runway. The RF-80s also identified a rapid effort to improve the airfield at Sinuiju. Attacks soon left the runways cratered.

On July 1, Colonel Polifka was killed while flying a combat mission. In his short time as wing commander, he had coordinated the various tactical reconnaissance elements, enhancing their ability to respond rapidly to the reconnaissance requirements called for by the USAF and U. S. Army. In late August, the 67th TRW was able to deploy to Kimpo AB from Taegu, from southern to central Korea, which reduced the time and distance it needed to operate in the northern reaches of the peninsula, up to the Yalu. This reduction was of particular significance for the jet aircraft.

One squadron, the 15th TRS flying the RF-80, was now conducting all the daylight photography in North Korea above the battle line. The missions in MiG Alley to determine the status of airfields were increasingly hazardous despite escorts of sometimes as many as sixteen F-86s. The faster F-86s would provide top cover by weaving back and forth over the slower RF-80s, but MiG-15s diving from higher altitude often penetrated the protective screen of F-86s and were able to fire upon the RF-80s. Additionally, FEAF was tasking the 15th TRS with Top Secret missions which required overflights of Manchuria and mainland China across the Yellow Sea.

By June 1951, the communists realized the futility of operating aircraft from their airfields in North Korea and proceeded to build additional airstrips near Antung, just north of the Yalu River. Soon, some 300 MiG fighters were operating from these bases. Intelligence, based on photography, determined that the MiG-15 buildup of 445 aircraft in June 1951 had increased to 525 by September. For comparison, only 89 F-86s were based in Korea at the same time. By December, however, 127 F-86s were in Korea, the 51st Fighter Wing now having joined the 4th Fighter Wing in combat.

In July 1951, fighter-bombers, though escorted by F-86s, were attacked by MiGs. They escaped, but that same month one RF-80 was badly damaged during an attack. Photo missions were rescheduled time and again to secure coverage in MiG Alley. In November, pilots of the 15th TRS were attacked eleven times by MiGs, all, while being escorted by F-86s. In September, an RF-80 pilot spotted construction of a new airfield at Samcham, about thirty miles northeast of the Sinanju airfield, and the new airfield was immediately targeted for attack by B-29s. RF-80 pilots of the 15th TRS were taking prestrike photos and following up with poststrike photography immediately after bombing missions. The processed film was delivered immediately, with mission results, to allow for a subsequent air strike the same day, if one were needed.

It is difficult today to appreciate the conditions that reconnaissance pilots were subjected to when flying the RF-80. The engine thrust was just over a paltry 3,800 pounds. Additional thrust was obtained during takeoff by spraying a water-alcohol mixture over the centrifugal flow engine, but this lasted for only a few seconds. Navigation was strictly nap-of-the-earth piloting, with pilots using map of various scales to locate assigned targets; the scales included 1:500,000, 1:250,000, and 1:62,500. A radio compass was useful for navigation over South Korea and Japan. Some of the RF-80s had manual canopies; others had no ejection seats. At times, the sliding canopies had to be closed by the crew chief. Cabin pressurization was notoriously poor with these older aircraft, and the cabin pressure at times gave a higher reading than the altimeter. There were no viewfinders to identify targets; pilots aligned themselves directly over the target by banking the aircraft, looking down, and maneuvering the aircraft visually for alignment.

Pilots used forecast winds at altitude to determine ground speeds and to establish the intervalometer settings for the camera to provide adequate overlap of exposures. All this required excellent pilotage to reach the target and good aircraft handling. The requester determined the scale of photography. This required that the necessary focal length of the camera be selected as well as the altitude flown. Usually another pilot, in a companion RF-80 or F-80, would fly above and slightly behind to spot enemy aircraft and antiaircraft artillery fire.

USAF Reconnaissance during the Korean War II

The commander of the 67th TRW requested that a few F-86s be modified to carry cameras. When forwarded to the United States, these requests were rejected because RF-84Fs were to replace the RF-80s. But the RF-84s never came. The 15th TRS commander, working with other pilots in the squadron, prepared a mockup of the nose section of an F-86 fitted with a horizontally mounted camera shooting through a mirror angled at 45 degrees for vertical photography.

The wing commander supported this effort to FEAF, and six F-86As were identified in a project called Honey Bucket for modifications in Japan. General Vandenberg, during a visit to the Far East, strongly supported the effort and directed that kits be prepared by North American Aviation to expedite the conversion of these F-86As to a reconnaissance version. The first RF-86A arrived at Kimpo AB in December 1951 and was flown by a 15th TRS pilot who had previously flown the F-86. Following several camera test flights in South Korea, the first RF-86A combat missions were flown in January 1952. Early photography was not very satisfactory for two basic reasons: the vibration of the mirror, and the reversed image. These factors demanded that the film receive special handling for processing and expert photo interpretation because of the blurred images.

Other reconnaissance elements transferring to the operational control of the 67th TRW in May 1951 were Firefly C-47s. These aircraft had been first used in January 1951 to drop flares to help identify trucks and trains. Their efforts were combined with the flare drops of RB-26s searching for targets at night, bringing in B-26s for night interdiction.

At one time, Firefly aircraft with RB-26s operated at night in MiG Alley to identify trucks and trains. The slow C-47 Firefly aircraft were quickly restrained to a lower latitude, away from the area of MiG operations, because the risk was considered too great. Another time, the Firefly aircraft flew north, armed with specially designed tacks to drop at extremely low altitudes over roads used by enemy trucks. One C-47 almost ran into three enemy tanks after dropping eight tons of these roofing nails. Calling in B-26s, the C-47 pilot overflew the road again, dropping flares for the attack. The trucks stalled by punctured tires were then attacked. On one such mission, thirty-eight trucks were destroyed.

The Firefly C-47s were so successful that twenty C-46s were requested to be assigned to the 67th TRW. This was denied because of a shortage of flares. Sometimes the Marine Corps night fighters would work with the USAF Firefly aircraft and, after the trucks were illuminated, would attack with 500-pound bombs and 20-mm cannon.

Both the RB-26s and RB-29s had problems with the flash bombs used to illuminate targets for night photography. A new system of cartridge-ejection illumination was problematic because the defect rate was high. This system required flying at 3,000 feet, but, given the mountainous terrain and intense ground fire, this was too low for sustained operations. Subsequently, the combination of the M-46 photoflash bomb and night cameras solved the problem when photographs were taken at 7,000 to 8,000 feet. However, to use SHORAN navigational aids, the aircraft needed to operate at still higher altitudes. The M-120 photoflash bomb was then introduced to provide illumination up to 25,000 feet, but when photography was attempted at 14,000 feet, the cameras did not produce the desired results. Thus, the RB-26s had to fly at lower altitudes without the benefit of SHORAN for navigation.

The RB-29s operated at 20,000 feet for safety as well as effective use of the SHORAN navigation equipment. The M-120 photoflash bombs were supposed to be effective, but large-scale photography could not be obtained with the focal length of the cameras that the planes carried. Finally, a camera with a shorter focal length was used and exposures were triggered by the light of the photoflash bombs.

The RB-45s were not effective at night because opening the bomb bays to drop the photoflash bombs produced vibrations that made the photography ineffective.

Essentially, by June 1952, the 67th TRW was providing all the prestrike and poststrike photography required by the strategic bombers.

A decision was made to strike North Korean power complexes virtually simultaneously, but initially planners hesitated to target the dam at Suiho because it was so close to MiG Alley. Other dams to be attacked included Chosen 3 and 4, Fusen 1 and 2, and Choshin 1 and 2. This effort necessitated USAF and Navy fighter-bombers as well as B-29s attacking at night. Two RF-80s, escorted by F-86s, photographed the results two hours after the attack and confirmed extensive damage. North Korean electric power had been reduced by 90 percent when eleven of the thirteen plants were rendered unserviceable. MiGs had not entered the fray.

The 67th TRW established a targets section in the Technical Reconnaissance Squadron. Targets were not in short supply, as evidenced by the fact that the squadron had a backlog of 300 sites by November 1952. Daily intelligence reports and photographs were provided to Fifth Air Force Intelligence from both the 67th TRW and the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron. In fact, the greatest problem was the ability of Fifth Air Force to properly interpret, process, and assign target missions.

The 67th TRW was responsible for keeping close watch over all major airfields and main lines of communication in North Korea, for identifying targets for interdiction, and for providing visual and photoreconnaissance in front of Eighth Army units, including mosaic coverage in depth of the front, prestrike photography, and poststrike (bomb damage) photography. Photography for the Eighth Army extended fifteen to twenty miles in front of each corps. Visual reconnaissance sightings were reported directly by the pilot to fire-support coordination centers.

The biggest problem for providing adequate, timely photo intelligence to forward Army units was the shortage of qualified Army photo interpreters. The breakdown of responsibilities between the Army and the Air Force was clearly spelled out in joint documents, but the Army could not produce the photo interpreters. It fell to the Air Force to supply the personnel, within its own limitations of qualified photo interpreters.

The 67th TRS continued to produce more photography and intelligence information than could be used, despite being handicapped with older aircraft. After losing five RF-51 Mustangs to ground fire while conducting visual reconnaissance missions, the Mustangs were restricted to 6,000 feet. The Mustang, with its radiator slung on the fuselage beneath the aircraft, was particularly vulnerable to ground fire because a single enemy round that penetrated the radiator could drain all the coolant and cause the engine to seize.

In July 1952, the Eighth Army introduced the 98th Engineer Aerial Photo Reproduction Company, giving it a capability of handling 5,900 negatives and producing 25,000 prints daily. Eighth Army stated that it needed from Air Force reconnaissance 4,900 negatives daily when it was engaged in fighting, and 3,600 negatives when it was static. In September 1952, Eighth Army agreed to the establishment of a Reconnaissance Branch in the joint operations center, which eventually resulted in the Army’s reducing its need for photographic coverage.

The Eighth Army demand for photographs did not vary regardless of weather or the fewer daylight hours during winter. This resulted in 30 percent of the Fifth Air Force effort being dedicated to Army front lines. The Army wanted 3,600 daily negatives at a scale of 1:6,000 or 1:7,000. These had been the preferred scales during World War II, but they proved problematic for the faster jet aircraft still equipped with World War II cameras. Installation of image motion compensators on the cameras provided a workable solution. The army requested oblique photography at a scale of 1:3,000, but because of the high aircraft loss rate, Lt. Gen. Glenn O. Barcus in October 1952 prohibited reconnaissance aircraft from operating below 9,000 feet when within 30,000 yards of the front lines. Over heavily defended areas, such as Pyongyang, aircraft would have to remain above 12,000 feet.

The Far East communist aerial order of battle in mid-1952 included some 7,000 aircraft: 5,000 Soviet, 2,000 Chinese, and 270 North Korean. Antung was the principal airfield, but several satellite airfields were located nearby. Other aircraft were located in the Mukden and Changchun area as well as the Port Arthur-Dairen group, and Peiping-Tientsin and Tsingtao group.

These airfields were photographed not only by RF-80s but also by the RF-86s assigned to the 15th TRS. One pilot, Lt. Mele Vojvodich, flying an RF-86 Sabre, spoke of flying an almost weekly coverage of the MiG-15 airfields in the Antung complex. He also flew at least one mission up to the Harbin area. Although spotted by MiGs, he was able to outrun them, first at altitude, and then down on the deck. Subsequently, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his RF-86 missions. Lt. Tom Gargan, who also flew both the RF-86 and the RF-80, was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for an RF-80 mission after completion of his tour, ending with the armistice on July 27, 1953.

Although F-86s from the 4th and 51st Fighter Wings escorted some of these reconnaissance missions, the number of aircraft drew too much attention and led to photo mission aborts. Tactics varied. Sometimes an RF-86 was accompanied by a single F-86, and at other times, by more escorts. Occasionally, the escort had to break off to engage a MiG, leaving the RF-86 behind.

When the F-80 fighter wings gave up their aircraft for more modern straight-winged F-84s, the 15th TRS was able to incorporate a number of F-80Cs into the squadron. These aircraft were modified to carry one vertical camera with a 24-inch focal length. In August 1952, the 45th TRS gave up its RF-51 Mustangs, and RF-80s from the 15th TRS were made available. Then both the 15th and 45th had a mixture of RF-80As and RF-80Cs, with the 15th TRS also having some five RF-86As. Both squadrons then participated in visual and photo missions.

Covert intelligence reported the presence of a political school in North Korea for training subversives to penetrate into South Korea. The facilities were confirmed through photography, and on October 25, 1952, the 1,000-man school providing a six-month training course was attacked and virtually destroyed.

In December 1952, RB-26s worked with B-26s to locate train traffic. When RB-26s spotted trains, they would illuminate them with flares, and the B-26s would attack. In Operation Spotlight on December 30, four locomotives were destroyed and one was damaged in a marshaling yard. Firefly aircraft also participated in these operations. Thirty-three locomotives were destroyed in January 1953, and twenty-nine, in February. Roads were also blocked, and the vehicles in the resulting traffic jam would be destroyed. In January and February of 1953, 5,432 vehicles were destroyed.

General Barcus, commander of Fifth Air Force, expressed concern over the possibility of an enemy air offensive on January 5, 1953, when Il-28 twin-jet medium bombers were introduced into Manchuria. These aircraft occasionally flew parallel to the Yalu River within Manchuria, not crossing into Korea, and they could have provided an important night attack capability.

On January 12, 1953, an RB-29 was shot down during a night mission while it was dropping leaflets along the Yalu. MiG aircraft carrying external fuel tanks engaged U. S. Marine Corps fighter-bombers, Royal Australian Air Force Meteors, and RF-80s in late March 1953 in the Chinnampo area south of Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. This was an unusual departure from their typical sorties, when they stayed within MiG Alley, close to Manchuria.

In the spring of 1953, the 15th TRS exchanged its RF-86A models for the newer version, the RF-86F. Its ability to carry four drop tanks (instead of the previous two) significantly increased its range and made it much easier to make deep penetrations into Manchuria to overfly and photograph airfields.

In April 1953, reconnaissance revealed communist efforts to make a number of airfields operational, undoubtedly in preparation for the truce. Gen. Otto P. Weyland, commander of the Far East Forces, also anticipating an imminent truce, waited until June 10 before ordering attacks. Foul weather created delays before the airfields could be attacked, but every airfield except one was considered unusable by June 23. Clearing weather revealed rapid progress by the communists to again make these airfields serviceable. Forty-three MiGs were photographed at Uiju, a sod field, and twenty-one conventional aircraft were discovered at Sinuiju.

On July 12, 1953, an RF-80 reconnaissance flight revealed the communists’ preparation for an attack on the relatively stabilized front. They had chosen the cover of bad weather, but all Fifth Air Force resources were available to respond. B-29s used SHORAN to attack eighty-five targets that had been previously identified through reconnaissance photography. Forty-three percent of air sorties flown in July, involving 3,385 sorties, provided close air support for the Army. On July 20 and 21, B-29s in night sorties attacked all these airfields. These were followed by fighter-bomber attacks continued until July 23.

The truce was to take effect at 2200 on July 27, 1953. The 67th TRW mounted a maximum effort to photograph every airfield in North Korea and in Manchuria that posed a potential threat to U. N. forces. All the airfields in North Korea were shown to be unserviceable for jet aircraft. Several RF-86 missions were flown into Manchuria to determine the aerial order of battle. One mission photographed airfields in the distant Harbin area.

A pilot of the 45th TRS, flying an RF-80, was killed flying a sortie near the Yalu River. He was the last man killed in combat during the Korea War. The mission he was unable to complete was quickly undertaken by pilots in the 45th TRS, who returned to Kimpo at dusk. An RB-26 flew the last combat sortie of the Korean War.

The first combat mission of the Korean War was flown by Lt. Bryce Poe II of the 8th TRS in an RF-80. The last was flown by an aircrew of the 12th TRS, who returned to base by 2200 on July 27, 1953. Tactical reconnaissance had fulfilled its enduring motto, First and Last Over the Target.

Robert F. Futrell, in his outstanding book, The United States Air Force in Korea, sums up the contribution of tactical reconnaissance:

Despite the fact that the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing was handicapped by the failure of USAF reconnaissance systems to keep pace with the requirements of the jet air age, it nevertheless far outstripped all existing reconnaissance performance records. In Europe during World War II the highest number of sorties flown in any month by a Ninth Air Force reconnaissance group was 1,300 in April 1945. In Korea the 67th flew 2,400 sorties in May 1952.

From D-Day to V-E Day in Europe, the sortie rate of the average Ninth Air Force reconnaissance group was 604 sorties a month, but in the twelve-month period of April 1952 through March 1953 the 67th Group averaged 1,792 sorties per month. During comparable periods, the photo group that supported the U. S. Third Army in Europe made 243,175 negatives; the 67th Group in Korea made 736,684. Still, the Eighth Army stated that only 75 percent of their needs were being met, even though more reconnaissance missions were flown during the Korean War than ever before.

USAF reconnaissance played a vital role in securing the intelligence that was so crucial to both Eighth Army and USAF operations in Korea. The political constraints that prevented the allies from pursuing military operations into Manchuria against the Chinese, effectively providing them a sanctuary, placed a significant burden on all planning and was a challenge to intelligence collection. This was only mitigated by the Top Secret overflights of RF-80s and RF-86s from the 15th TRS. Despite extraordinary burdens resulting from the rapid downsizing of reconnaissance units after World War II, USAF reconnaissance more than met the needs of the Eighth Army and the bombing requirements of the U. S. Air Force.

Independent of what could be identified as conventional missions, USAF reconnaissance activities were Air Force special operations during the Korean War. Typically, their activities were so shrouded in secrecy that only recently have the security wraps been removed. These activities were directed by Far East Command and included selected elements of the USAF. Often activities were melded into or were provided the cover of secrecy by association with normal or routine combat operations.

Various units provided a variety of clandestine activities. These included the training in intelligence reporting and subsequent insertion into North Korea of parachute-dropped Koreans from C-46 and C-47 aircraft. Low, night-flying C-46s and C-47s provided direct intelligence on Chinese forces moving from Manchuria to attack Army forces in early December 1950. Other units prepared and dropped leaflets in psychological warfare programs. Firefly operations previously described were subsequently assigned to the Special Forces. The USAF activities in these operations were organized as B Flight, 6167th Operations Squadron, Fifth Air Force, on April 1, 1952. The flight was equipped with B-26s, C-46s, and C-47s.

Another unit was Subdetachment K of the 607th Counter Intelligence. While stationed at Kimpo AB in 1950, MSgt. Don Nichols trained and worked with South Koreans who successfully penetrated North Korea and persuaded a North Korean pilot to defect with an Il-10. Nichols successfully completed a number of intelligence operations that could only be considered coups, such as securing a Russian T-34 tank and parachuting men into North Korea to acquire target information. By March 1951, Nichols’s unit was redesignated the 6004th Air Intelligence Service Squadron. Other USAF units were involved in helicopter and crash rescue boat activity that at times could serve as further means of providing valuable intelligence.

In July 1952, the 581st Air Resupply and Communications Wing arrived at Clark AB in the Philippines from Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. The wing flew twelve modified B-29s, four C-119s, four SA-16 amphibian aircraft, and four H-19 helicopters. Its mission was aerial introduction, evacuation, and resupply of guerrillas, and aerial delivery of psychological warfare propaganda. All units maintained a high degree of readiness and alertness after the July 27, 1953, truce. Reconnaissance units were kept busy flying along the eastern and western coasts of North Korea. RF-80s and RF-86s used oblique photography to record ground activity, and RB-45s were also very much involved. Although these flights were maintained three miles off the coast of North Korea, on occasion they tangled with MiGs.

The success of the RF-86 in combat and its ability to take photographs deep into Manchuria and China led to an improved version of the RF-86F capable of carrying twin forty-inch cone vertical cameras. On March 1, 1954, the 15th TRS deployed to Komaki with its RF-86Fs and RF-80s. There, eight of the newly modified RF-86Fs were waiting. Within a few short weeks, the 15th TRS was involved in a series of Top Secret missions that carried over into 1956. More than forty successful sorties were flown over various airfields in the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea, without a single loss. Each of these Top Secret missions was personally approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.