After the outbreak of war, it took time to sort out airfield assets, consequently RAF activity at Gatwick did not begin until February 1940, when Croydon based 92 sqn set up a training element, and 18 and 53 sqns arrived as withdrawals from France. The airfield then played an increasingly important part in the war effort, indeed this effort went beyond the end of the war with VIP movements continuing until mid 1946, Gatwick finally being de-requisitioned on 31st August 1946.
The Public Records Office at Kew retains each squadron's Operational Records Book (ORB) and these can be inspected by members of the public. They are kept on microfilm reels and may be read, after registration, during normal office hours. For each individual squadron the record consists of the RAF Form 540, which is a daily summary of squadron activity submitted monthly, and the RAF Form 541, which is the daily detail of operational aircraft activity. There is a wide variation in the condition of these records, which reflects the variation in the people writing them. Some are well laid out and typed, making them easy to read, others are hand written and faded, these are the opposite! Also, there is little standardisation in the contents, again individual leeway seemed to be allowed, and for us this means that while some contain full serial numbers, others only have the numbers without prefix letters, while some only have the aircraft's individual letter codes.
These are the squadrons that were based here at various times during the conflict;
2 Squadron April to June 1944 Mustang I
4 Squadron April to June 1944 Spitfire XI
14 Squadron August to October 1945 Mosquito VI
18 Squadron May to June 1940 Blenheim IV
19 Squadron October 1943 Spitfire IX
26 Squadron Various times from 9/40 to 6/43 Lysander I, then Tomahawk I
then Mustang I
53 Squadron June to July 1940 Blenheim IV
57 Squadron May to June 1940 Blenheim IV
63 Squadron June to July 1942 Mustang I
65 Squadron October 1943 Spitfire IX
80 Squadron June to July 1944 Spitfire IX
92 Squadron Detachment only January to May 1940 Blenheim I
98 Squadron June to July 1940 Battle I
116 Squadron August to September 1944 Anson I
141 Squadron Several detachments late 1940 Defiant I
168 Squadron March 1944 Mustang I
171 Squadron August to September 1942 Tomahawk I, then Mustang I
175 Squadron December 1942 to January 1943 Hurricane IIb
183 Squadron April to May 1943 Typhoon Ib
229 Squadron June to July 1944 Spitfire IX
239 Squadron Various times from 9/40 to 4/43 Lysander I, then Tomahawk I,
then Mustang I
268 Squadron April to June 1944 Mustang Ia
274 Squadron June to July 1944 Spitfire IX
287 Squadron Several detachments mid 1944 Spitfire Vb
309 Squadron Several detachments 1941 to 1943 Lysander III, then Mustang I
400 RCAF Sqn Various times from 3/41 to 6/42 Lysander III, then Tomahawk I
414 RCAF Sqn Various times from 7/43 to 4/44 Mustang I
430 RCAF Sqn Various times from 7/43 to 4/44 Mustang I
655 AOP Sqn March to April 1943 Auster III
Naturally, many other support units were based here or passed through, these included, for example, Nos. 123, 129 and 130 Airfield Wings; 49 MU; No.404 Aircraft Stores Park; No.1 Aircraft Delivery Unit; No.1 AA Calibration Unit; No.71 Group (Army Co-op); Nos. 35 and 36 Army Co-operation Wings.
Below we have included a brief look at some of the aircraft these squadrons brought through Gatwick with them.
2 SQUADRON arrived at Gatwick from Sawbridgeworth on 4.4.44 along with No.4 Squadron and their parent unit, No.130 Airfield. They brought with them their Mustang mounts, and were busily engaged on operational sorties from 7th April almost continually until the end of June. These dates, of course, represent the run-up to, and execution of the Normandy landings. (D-Day being June 6th).
During April, 44 photo-reconnaissance sorties were flown, and further work featured 34 Air-Sea rescue flights after a dinghy was spotted with an occupant in the Channel on the 13th. There were also 2 tactical reconnaissance sorties, and 4 so-called 'Noball' sorties, which were attacks against V1 rocket sites. Much training was done, a short detachment to Harrowbeer took place, and flying was only curtailed by bad weather on 4 days.
The pace was increased in May. 60 photo/recon sorties were made, plus 12 tac/recon trips, more training, and another visit to Harowbeer for 'naval spotting'. In June, the emphasis changed with 36 photo/recon flights made on D-Day itself, followed over the next 21 days by a grand total of 318 tac/recon sorties. on 27th June the squadron moved on to its next base, Odiham, and the record is unclear on whether the 10 trips on that day were flown from Gatwick or Odiham.
Aircraft serial numbers do appear in this squadron's record, and those used during the period in question included these;
FD444 FD472 FD474 FD476 FD477 FD478 FD480 FD483 FD484 FD488 FD494 FD499 FD500 FD501 FD502 FD527 FD529 FD530 FD531 FD557 FD562 FD565 FD566 FD567 FR873 FR891 FR892 FR899 FR900 FR902 FR906 FR907 FR908 FR909 FR919 FR923 FR924 FR926 FR928 FR930 FR931 FR934 FR935 FR936 FR937 FR938 FR939 FR951 FR956
As is the nature of such things, in such a hostile environment casualties were sustained, and 2 sqn. was one of the more heavily affected Gatwick based units due to their significant effort in one of WWIIs biggest battles.
On 26th April FD478, flown by FO D.S.Buckie was airborne with his No.2 on a photo-recce over France when he was hit in the engine by flak, but he landed safely back at Gatwick at 1155L.
On 28th April both FL F.J.Reahil in FD567 and FL P.W.Leah in FD502 returned safely at 1608 and 1643 respectively after being hit by rounds from an enemy aircraft.
On 23rd May FL J.D.Furneaux was hit in FD530, he bailed out safely just south-west of Etretat.
On 28th May FL I.W.Harris was hit by flak in FD500 and baled out near Neufchatel, while Leah in FD502 and FL R.G.Gent in FD484 were attacked by a flight of eight Fw190s, though they completed their flight safely. Harris was posted missing.
On D-Day itself FO A.P.Crane was hit in the wing by flak while flying FR924, but he returned safely to Gatwick, while the following day saw the unlucky Furneaux crash on landing at the end of his sortie at Gatwick while in FD529, he was uninjured.
There followed a series of encounters with enemy aircraft, for example on 12th June Corrigan and Crane in FR919 and FR907 were fired on by two unidentified enemy aircraft, on the 13th Hope and Williams in FD565 and FR930 had to abandon their planned mission after coming under attack from four Me109s. Sadly, not all incidents ended with the safe return of the crews. On the 15th June FO D.G.Reich failed to pull out of a dive and crashed at Cauderec in FD565, and although only posted as 'missing' the assumption at the time was that he had been killed. Unfortunately just the next day a further loss was recorded when FO B.C.Tasker in FR892 failed to return after he and his wingman (FO R.C.Williams in FR919) were attacked by a force of 24 Fw190s. He was also posted as missing. On the 22nd FO P.G.Wilson in FR934 was hit by flak south of Versailles and was lost, reportedly possibly baling out. A difficult month ended badly on the 27th when Black was shot down in flames by flak at map ref. Q4606 while flying FR902. He was listed as 'missing, presumed killed'.
Proving that crews had to be alert at all times, a note appended to the sortie on the 16th June involving FO G.A.Percival and FO Kay-Hai Tan flying FR938 and FR934 respectively reads 'No.2 (Tan) was attacked and fired on by three Spitfires on return while passing the French coast after being followed for three minutes. Firing was inaccurate. (!).
Although only Gatwick based for a short period, 2 squadron is one of the more interesting records to look at because of their activity during the period.
4 SQUADRON arrived in company with 2 Sqn, with whom they were linked under No.130 Airfield. Their record is also well preserved, but the writer of the Form 540 was more diligent, summarising the daily activities in more detail than the officer writing the 2 Sqn record. Although the squadrons undertook similar duties, ie photo- and tactical reconnaissance, 4 was equipped with Spitfires and Mosquitoes, rather than the Mustangs that were with 2 sqn. The two types were formed up in separate flights, 'A' flight featured the Spitfire, 'B' flight had the Mozzies. As we mentioned before, the two squadrons were at Gatwick during the very busy period each side of the D-Day landings in Normandy, but even with all the action going on, 'B' flight managed to re-equip with Spitfires in mid May.
The squadron arrived at Gatwick from Sawbridgeworth on 4.4.44 and began their operational flights over France on the 10th with 6 photo-recon sorties, 5 by Spitfire. 51 more operational sorties were flown during the month. Interestingly, the writer has noted his impressions of the airfield on his arrival, commenting that 'the runways are only just big enough for the Mosquito XVI, being 1400 yds, 1200 yds and 1000 yds, all with obstructions, eg buildings and the railway embankment'. These words were prophetic, for even before ops began Mosquito HJ756/X was written off on 9th April after an engine failure on take-off when it hit a dispersal hut, the crew were OK. Although enemy aircraft were encountered on occasion they were unable to engage with 4 squadron, though one operational loss is recorded on the 10th April when FO I.A.Turnbull 'did not return' in Spitfire PA901/J when flying as No.2 to Draper in PA857/F.
The more detailed nature of the record allows us to learn also that on 5th April three new Mosquitoes were delivered to the squadron from Benson, while on 23rd Mosquito MM299 flew to Northolt for some work on its pressure cabin, MM303 following the next day, this work only taking one day for each aircraft.
In May, of course, the operational pace increased, with 111 operational sorties being flown. In addition, nine aircraft plus the squadrons Oxford hack flew to Hartford Bridge for night flying practice on the 1st and 2nd, while the conversion of 'B' flight to Spitfires took place from 11th to 18th inclusive. Presumably this was mainly by the transfer of aircraft from 'A' flight, for only three 'new' deliveries are noted with one aircraft arriving from Benson and two from Aston Down. Over at 2 sqn losses had already begun, but at 4 the only particularly noteworthy incident was on 12th May when Spitfire PA891/D with FL B.A.J.Draper at the controls returned with hydraulic failure and ran off the runway, the pilot was uninjured. Friendly forces were also a problem for 4 sqn, FL E.J.Lischke was intercepted on 30th May by four USAAF P-47s, though he was not fired upon.
Having flown more ops than 2 sqn in May, 101 sorties were managed in June, fewer than 2 sqn. This seems to be because 4 were only detailed photo-recon sorties, 2 were doing both photo- and tac-recons, and had a much bigger 'fleet'. In the first half of the month at least half of the sorties returned without having taken any pictures, presumably because of weather conditions. Happily, no losses were recorded, though one interesting incident on the 4th June saw FL R.M.Cowell suffering oxygen supply difficulties, he spent an hour semi-concious over France at varying altitude before recovering to land back safely in PL787/Y with no memory of events. 4 squadrons sojourn at Gatwick ended on 27.6.44 when they flew off to Odiham with 2 sqn, 130 Airfield Wing, and 35 Wing HQ.
Aircraft allocated to 4 squadron and noted at Gatwick during their stay included these (unfortunately the Oxford serial is not noted);
Spitfires; EN680 PA852/E PA857/F PA884/A PA887/B PA891/D PA893 PA897/G PA899/H PA901/J
PA931/K PA949/O PL746 PL759 PL761/N PL762/L PL764/T PL765/P PL786/X PL787/Y
PL792 PL793 PL794/Z PL795 PL796/V PL831/S PL832 PL843 PL847 PL878
Mosquitoes; HJ756/X MM273/P MM286/S MM299/Q MM303/N MM309/O MM313/T MM350/U
The 'RAF Squadrons' reference shows 14 SQUADRON based at Gatwick from 29.8.45 to 1.10.45 (ie after the end of the war) with a fleet of Mosquito VIs, but the Operational Records Book ends with the end of the war on 8.6.45. We have yet to find a way to recover details for the relevant period, and await an opportunity for further research.
18 SQUADRON was one of the two squadrons which arrived at Gatwick having been evacuated from France in 1940. A note for April 1940 reads 'Records lost during the evacuation from France', so little is available for events prior to their arrival, and the record therefore opens in May 1940, and shows that the squadron's aircraft arrived from Watton on 26th May, the ground party arriving direct from France the following day.
The squadron moved on to West Raynham on 12th June where it was re-established to its proper numbers, but because of the dire condition the squadron was in while at Gatwick only one operational sortie was flown from here, this being a reconnaissance flight over France on 27th May in Blenheim IV R3734.
Although no serials other than this one can be confirmed, looking at the notes for prior to the Gatwick arrival and for ops from West Raynham in late June, these Blenheims were probably on strength during the period;
K3798 L1405 L6340 L8860 L8861 L8863 L8866 L9185 L9192 L9255 L9325 L9472 R3590 R3598
Though the first is difficult to be certain of in the record, and we would rather record it as K3(7)98 for the moment.
19 SQUADRON arrived on 15.10.43 from its previous base at Weston Zoyland with its fleet of Spitfire IXs to join similarly equipped 65 sqn under 129 Airfield. Of particular note in the record is the fact that the Form 540 is very wordy indeed, entries recording items such as weather conditions in detail.
[Compare, for example, an entry in the 4 sqn record for an accident which reads thus; 'Spitfire 'D' returned with hydraulic failure and ran off the runway. Pilot (Draper) OK.' A similar incident in the 19 sqn record reads thus; 'F.Lt. Drinkwater returned early with undercarriage trouble. When attempting to land only the port wheel would lock down and in spite of all his efforts to release the starboard one from the up position he was forced to land the aircraft on one wheel. This he did perfectly with minimum damage to the aircraft and without sustaining injury to himself'.].
The squadron also bought at least one Tiger Moth with them and some of its movements are noted, for example it flew Gatwick-Gravesend and return on 16th October. Only Gatwick based for ten days, the squadron undertook bomber escort and fighter sweep sorties over France. 16th October saw a wing practice undertaken with 65 sqn, on the 17th the first fighter sweep was undertaken in the Dieppe area, interestingly the 'whole' squadron participated in these sweeps with ten aircraft up together on this occasion. Further similar efforts were undertaken on the 18th (twice), 20th, and the 21st.
Bomber escort duties undertaken while at Gatwick began on 18th October when top cover was flown for 72 Marauders bombing Evreux, on the 20th to escort Fortresses to Douai and on the 22nd, with 72 more Marauders over Evreux. The squadron's last day at Gatwick was 24th October, on this day 12 Spitfires got airborne to act as top cover to 72 Marauders bombing Beauvais and then landed at their new base, Gravesend, while the balance of the squadron, seven more Spitfires, flew across from Gatwick to Gravesend at 1140.
A total of 121 operational sorties are recorded during the unit's short time here. While at Gatwick the squadron seemed to have a relatively peaceful time over France, no flak was experienced, nor were any enemy aircraft seen on any of the above mentioned operations. Aircraft used on ops while Gatwick based were these;
BS409 BS512 MA365 MA806 MA815 MA818 MA819 MA837 MA841 MA842 MH316 MH319 MH320 MH330 MH352 MH354 MH355 MH871 MJ215
26 SQUADRON was one of two squadrons that can be considered 'our' own, being based here almost continuously from September 1940 to June 1943. 239 Sqdn. was the other, and with similar roles and equipment they later became linked and operated together as an Airfield unit.
Since the length of stay for these two squadrons was far in excess of that achieved by any other units based here, they merit a separate article to themselves rather than the brief round-up that they would receive in this format, therefore both will be omitted pending further research at a later date.
We will note, however, that the squadron arrived at Gatwick from West Malling on 3rd September 1940, bringing with them a fleet of Lysander Is. The Form 541 (see explanatory notes in the previous editions) records a far greater proportion of flights than in other ORBs looked at, including many ferry flights and other non-operational duties, at least in the early part of its time at Gatwick.
For the moment, we list here the Lysanders which were delivered in from West Malling on the day the squadron arrived, these being;
L4778 L4788 L4790 L4810 P1695 P1697 L1698 P1726 P9131 P9135
and, unusually, some of the squadron 'hacks' are recorded individually, these included Tiger Moth R4859, Magister L6898 and two Moth Minors, X9298 and X6460.
53 SQUADRON was with us for just twenty-one days during 1940, arriving from Eastchurch on 12th June, and departing again for Detling on 3rd July. Despite the brevity of this visit twelve recce sorties over France were flown during this period using Blenheim IVs. These comprised a single sortie on the 13th June, another on the 14th, two more on the 16th and eight trips on the 18th. Of these last eight, three were flown together as a formation. Although this record is hand-written, Blenheims used on these missions can be deciphered as;
L9460 L9474 L9475 R3662 R3677 R3679 R3909 R3911
The ORB does note that on departure on the 3rd July the squadron took 20 Blenheims with it. Inspection of the record while the squadron was at Detling and at Eastchurch shows the following Blenheims were on squadron strength over the period and the Gatwick allocation MAY have included some of these;
L4841 L4842 L4843 L4847 L4848 L4849 L4850 L4852 L4860 L4861 L8853 L8863 L8735 L9329 L9330 L9331 L9332 L9339 L9459 L9466 L9616 L9735 N3551 R3596 R3605 R3634 R3691 R3700 R3703 R3715 R3733
One novelty item in the paperwork is the distribution of squadron personnel around the base and elsewhere, and the men were allocated as follows;
Squadron HQ offices, Ops office and Flight offices - In the terminal building.
Duty Pilot Office - Wooden building near north hangar
Personnel of A, B and C Flights - In the racecourse grandstand.
Officers - Messing at the Chequers Hotel, and living
in tents and various houses around the
Personnel of HQ Flight - In tented camp in a field on the
SW side of aerodrome
Thanks to some sterling further work on our behalf by Jock Manson at the 53 squadron association, it is now thought that the twenty Blenheims which left Gatwick for Detling at the end of the unit's stay comprised these;
L4849 L8789 L8794 L9238 L9460 L9474 L9475 N3551 R3605 R3660 R3661 R3677 R3678 R3679 R3699 R3779 R3819 R3849 R3909 R3911
It is just possible that L4847 and R3596 may have been on strength.
You will note that R3662, which flew an operation for 53 while at Gatwick does not appear on the list, this is because it has emerged that it was an 18 Sqdn aircraft presumably loaned for the occasion.
Like 18 Sqdn previously mentioned, 57 SQUADRON is one of the units that had recently been evacuated from the continent, and an early note in the record reads, ominously, 'April 1940 : Records lost during evacuation from France'. During May 1940 the units operational element was based at Hawkinge, and other personnel were re-equipping at Wyton. The Gatwick sojourn began when Blenheim IVs arrived from Wyton on 27th May, to be followed by the Hawkinge element the following day.
This unit was another which stayed just a short while, departing again just fifteen days later back to Wyton. No operational sorties were undertaken from Gatwick, although on 28th May one aircraft carried out a dawn recce over France taking off from Hawkinge, encountering enemy aircraft, and returning there before ferrying over to Gatwick with the rest of the fleet. Time was not wasted though, with a visit received from AVM C.H.B.Blount, defence practice, cross-country flying and delivery of seven replacement aircraft on the 3rd June undertaken.
Unfortunately no aircraft serial numbers are noted during the time the squadron was at Gatwick, but by July the unit was based at Lossiemouth, and Blenheims on strength there, and therefore possibly on strength while at Gatwick, included these;
N3589 N3598 N3832 R3608 R3750 R3751 R3847 R3883 R3925 R3930
Very interesting, this squadron, because they had the distinction of being formed at Gatwick! Official formation date was 15th June 1942, when elements of 239 and 241 squadrons were allocated to the new 63, the first aircraft arrived for them two days later when three Mustangs landed from 414 Sqdn. Wing Commander T K Lacey was posted in as CO on 20th June. Further notes provide an insight into the formation of new units such as this, with elements arriving piecemeal. The squadrons first flying had been undertaken on the 18th, before a CO had been allocated, when demonstration aerobatics were undertaken to mark a visit from AM Sir Arthur Barrett, then two more Mustangs were transferred from 26 Sqdn to allow the commencement of flying training.
In early July expansion accelerated, with four Mustangs delivered in from 4 Sqdn at York on the 4th, followed by two more the following day and six more on the 6th. On the 8th three fully modified Mustangs were collected from Speke. The squadron was, by now, slated to move on to Catterick shortly, and to this end eleven more Mustangs were delivered from Speke to Catterick on 10th and 11th July to await the units move up from Gatwick, which was achieved on 16th July.
Thus the new squadron had been formed up at Gatwick and had accomplished its first move all in just one month. Sadly the record does not include aircraft serials for the Gatwick period. Indeed, operational flights did not begin until February 1943 using Mustangs AG575, AM150 and AM154, but there is no evidence that these were on strength while 63 was at Gatwick.
At Gatwick for a mere ten days, 65 SQUADRON packed a lot into this short period. The squadron was equipped with Spitfire IXs, and arrived from Ashford on 15th October 1943 as part of 129 Airfield which also included 19 squadron (see March 2003), but sadly the move did not go particularly smoothly with two aircraft lost, these being BS452/L (WO Gillham) on take-off at Ashford and MH362/N (F/Sgt Pittock) on landing at Gatwick, though both pilots were safe.
Ops from here began in earnest two days later when, after 13 aircraft were launched and recalled, 12 Spitfires launched for a fighter sweep over France at 1500 in company with a similar number of 19 Sqdn aircraft. The 18th had three operations flown, at 0830 eleven aircraft flew top cover, with 19, for 72 Marauders bombing Evreux, at 1340 thirteen aircraft, again with 19, flew top cover for Fortresses over France, then at 1610 thirteen more flew a fighter sweep over France. The next few days saw similar activity, with further fighter sweeps, and top cover for Marauders bombing targets in France such as Evreux (again), St. Andre and Beauvais. The Gatwick period ended on 24th October when twelve Spitfires flew top cover for bombers over France and then landed at their new base, Gravesend, where they joined 122 Airfield, having been only temporarily attached to 129 Airfield.
This period of operations turned out to be relatively routine, with no enemy aircraft encountered, but on landing at Gatwick after a fighter sweep on the 18th October FO Sutherland had his tailwheel torn off on arrival in MH848, damage being assessed as 'Cat A'.
These Spitfires were used by the unit while based at Gatwick;
BS144 BS286 BS347 EN473 MA420 MA628 MA812 MA832 MA835 MA845 MH328 MH358 MH372 MH373 MH376 MH378 MH388 MH824 MH851 MH873 MH908
This squadron were very short term basees, only here for nine days in the summer of 1944. They left their previous base of Merston on 27th June but only as far as Tangmere, because the ground party was not ready to receive them until the 29th when they completed their transfer here with a complement of nineteen Spitfire IXs and a single Tiger Moth. They left again on 5th July to West Malling.
Aircraft serials for the aircraft arriving from Tangmere are given in the record, and were as follows;
BS392 BS409 BS512 BS556 EN127 JL227 MA226 MA230 MA301 MA376 MA639 MA806 MA845 MA899 MH378 MH828 MH873 MH881 MJ311
The squadron was very active during its short stay, however. Three operations were flown from Tangmere on the 27th before they even arrived at Gatwick, with pressure on them to support the relatively recent allied invasion of Europe now underway and making progress off the beaches of Normandy. This was followed on the 28th with the despatch from Tangmere of twelve aircraft to cover Lancasters bombing St Omer. On the 29th, now safely ensconced at Gatwick, two twelve-aircraft fighter sweeps were carried out over the Evreux-Alencon area, and on the 30th twelve aircraft, together with a similar number from 247 Sqdn escorted 22 Stirlings attacking Caen.
On 1st July low cloud restricted them to another escort, again with 247, this time to Halifaxes south of Amiens. Weather deteriorated on the 2nd and only five aircraft of ‘A' flight were able to accompany Lancasters to Domleger and Beauvoir. With the worsening weather on the 3rd only eight aircraft could complete a single escort mission in the late evening with Mitchells to Argentan, though it was much better on the 4th when 25 sorties were flown , escorting Halifaxes to Domleger and later carrying out a fighter sweep once more to the Evreux-Dreux-Alencon area. The squadron departed at 1100 on the 5th July 1944.
Little resistance was reported over France. Some AA fire was encountered on the 29th July, light damage to one (unspecified) aircraft caused it to make a precautionary landing at the beach head. During the sweep later in the day a single Me.109G was seen and attacked, but no claim was made.
These were exciting and dangerous times for the RAF, and it is interesting to see Gatwick units so heavily involved in one of the most significant battles of WWII (see 2 and 4 Squadron notes for other examples of Gatwick's contribution to D-Day).
In the early months of 1940 this unit was based at Croydon, and during January, February and March its Blenheims were regularly detached to Gatwick. Although the ORB mainly features Croydon activity happenings at Gatwick are outlined, but since there were no operations flown during this period only the day to day diary in the Form 540 was completed.
There are one or two interesting notes to make, though, for example the Squadron definitely also used a Master and a Magister during the period. An advanced training base was established by the squadron at Gatwick on 24th January, though due to bad weather and waterlogging it was not used until 10th February when the units Blenheims appeared for the first time, the whole squadron staying here all day for training. Local flying took place from here over the next few days, and AA exercises were also carried out. The detached aircraft flew back to Croydon on the 21st, leaving a single aircraft here for one more day undergoing repairs.
The unit remained at Croydon for the next four weeks. On 20th March the squadrons pilots were loaded onto three Blenheims and flown to Shawbury tasked to collect the second batch of Spitfires allocated to 92, nine were picked up. On that same day, though, HQ Fighter Command ordered 92 to disperse all its serviceable aircraft to Gatwick, consequently many of these flew directly to Gatwick, others arriving here via Croydon. By that evening, fourteen Spitfires, 2 Blenheims and the Magister were here. Over the next few days various ferry flights between the two airfields were flown, mainly for maintenance tasks to be carried out, until 27th March, when Gatwick became waterlogged again and the Squadron went back to Croydon for the last time.
Although at war, over this period the pressure on units of the RAF at Gatwick was yet to build up to the levels reached later in the conflict. This is reflected in some of the fairly laconic notes in the diary, for example on 24th January it reads ‘PO Williams had his [Blenheim] port engine and reduction gear fall off over Brighton, and he carried out a successful emergency landing at Gatwick' ( .....some 30 miles away!) Similarly on 27th March ‘no flying possible today since the Gatwick race meeting was in progress'.
Since no Form 541 was completed no aircraft details are available, but two months later the squadron found itself based at Northolt, and Spitfires definitely on strength by then included these, which could possibly have been on the books while at Gatwick;
N3192 N3193 N3194 N3248 N3249 N3250 N3285 N3290 P9316 P9367 P9368 P9370 P9371 P9374
Eagle-eyed readers will recognise N3194 as the serial number carried by the plastic replica Spitfire guarding the gate at Biggin Hill, it would be nice to know for certain whether this was ever Gatwick based.
This unit makes an appearance in the column although their records are sadly very incomplete. 98 was attached to the British Expeditionary Force with Fairey Battles during May 1940 and was based at Chateau Bougon, but during the retreat from France these records were lost, as were those for June 1940 which had been logged with HQ No.2 Base Area at Nantes. On the 8th June 1940 orders were given to return to the UK, and during the following week all the remaining aircraft departed to Lossiemouth and then on to Gatwick. Several Bombay and Ensign aircraft were used to ferry out stores, documents and some personnel, and the CO left Chateau Bougon in the last aircraft on 15th June.
Worse was to come though, for many personnel were transferred to St Nazaire and were embarked in the SS Lancastria to return by sea, but this was sunk by enemy bombing on the morning of 17th June 1940, among those lost were approximately 90 members of 98 Squadron.
After gathering those remaining personnel and Battles together at Gatwick, it had been thought that the Squadron would be disbanded, but instead in the early part of July 1940 98 was reformed for new duties in Iceland. The squadron therefore set off for Newton on 24th July where it added Battles to bring its total up to nineteen aircraft before continuing its journey to Kaldadarnes on 27th August. Only nine pilots with the unit in France were still with it when it transferred to Iceland. The aircraft left Newton in two flights, one of nine aircraft and one of ten, and serial numbers of the first nine were noted, and these are shown here as they could include some which made it from Gatwick;
L5063 L5066 L5073 L5099 L5331 L5332 L5343 L5505 L5554
This squadron was a short term visitor, arriving from North Weald on 27th August 1944 with a fleet of Avro Ansons. By the time they arrived they had been titled 116 (Calibration) squadron, and the difficult to read ORB features some very detailed and tedious weather reports, while the aircraft operations pages read along the lines of the entry for 1st September, for example;
01.09.44 SLC completed No.5 AA group; 1 HU site; 8 CS sites; GL carried out No.3 AA Group; Bristol 7 ended No.4 AA group; Birmingham ZH1 begun, Newport 71 completed, No.1 AA group; London S19 ended, Colchester CL5 ended, No.6 AA group; South Coast H7 begun, Portsmouth P50 completed, Southampton SC begun, Slough SM10 begun.
As you can see a lot of jargon and calibration short-hand has been used which will require more research than I am willing to put in to understand the squadron activities further. It continues in the same vein until 5th September, when the squadron moved on to Redhill. The record was inspected for several months before and after this visit, but no aircraft serials were noted.
By chance I happened to glance at the page for 14th January 1945, when the squadron was Redhill based, where it was noted that Flight Sergeant R.H.Flanders belly-landed Airspeed Oxford HN437 at Gatwick.
In September 1940 this squadron detached its ‘B' flight south from Turnhouse, first to Biggin Hill and then to Gatwick. Later, the whole squadron arrived from Drem. On strength were Boulton-Paul Defiant Is, and at least one Miles Magister, and the timetable for the period in question was as follows;
12.09.1940 ‘B' Flight leaves Turnhouse to Church Fenton where bad weather delays them.
13.09.1940 ‘B' Flight arrives at Biggin Hill from Church Fenton.
16.09.1940 First patrols are flown from Gatwick by aircraft detached from Biggin Hill.
18.09.1940 ‘B' Flight transfers from Biggin Hill to Gatwick, now sending aircraft on detachment to Biggin.
21.10.1940 The whole squadron receives instruction to transfer from Drem to Gatwick, the ground party leaves on this date.
23.10.1940 The aircraft leave Drem, but are once again held at Church Fenton by bad Weather.
24.10.1940 The aircraft leave Church Fenton and arrive at Gatwick via Reading and Farnborough
27.10.1940 The squadron receives instructions that it is to transfer to Gravesend on 29.10
28.10.1940 Yesterdays instructions to move are cancelled!
03.11.1940 The move to Gravesend is on again and the ground party departs, but weather delays the aircraft.
04.11.1940 The aircraft leave Gatwick for Gravesend.
Being night-fighter types, the Defiants flew over 60 night patrols from Gatwick during this short period and saw a bit of action, with enemy aircraft sightings reported on four nights, and even a pair of victories being claimed on the night of 16th September when pilot P.O. Waddingham and his gunner Sgt Cumbers shot down two He111s. On the other side of the coin they also had to take a bit of punishment, for on the nights of 29th October and 31st October P.O. Constantine and P.O. Russell were both shot at by their own anti-aircraft defences! Registrations are given only for some of the operational flights, implying that these were some of the Defiants at Gatwick at this time;
L6988 L6999 L7000 L7014 N1537 N1549 N1552 N1566 N1622 N1625 N1725
One or two operational incidents are noted, for example on 28th September Waddingham crash landed at Gatwick in L7014 without injury to either crew, after damaging the wing tip of N1549 while landing just four nights earlier. An unidentified Defiant crashed on landing on the night of 29-30th October with Sgt Laurence at the controls.
Transferring the squadron around was also not without its problems, for when leaving Church Fenton for Gatwick on 24th October P.O.s West and Lammers had to catch a train because their aircraft were unserviceable, and during the ferry flight P.O. Edwards suffered undercarriage trouble and damaged his aircraft in a precautionary landing at Cottesmore. Similarly, departing to Gravesend in bad weather at the end of their stay, many aircraft had to land elsewhere, and P.O. Marsland crashed near Kenley, he was fortunately unhurt.
This unit spent the best part of a month at Gatwick during the build-up to D-Day and was equipped with Mustang Is operating in the PR role. They arrived at Gatwick from Odiham on 6th of March 1944, one section having taken off from Odiham, flown a sweep over France, and landing at its new base here. They became part of the 139 Airfield Group while they were at Gatwick. They flew their first ‘ops' the following day when AP167 and AM159 carried out a PR flight over France, and this type of activity continued during the stay, mainly consisting of a daily two-aircraft sweep over France, though on the 23rd March, for example, six aircraft flew a formation PR sortie departing at 1330 and returning at 1500.
These flights were not entirely unopposed, for on 9th March FO J D Stubbs was hit by AA fire in AP167 though he returned safely, while on 16th March FO J S Wright was not so lucky, he was posted missing in AM209 having failed to return.
The Form 540 gives details of several training tasks undertaken, for example it seems that a detachment to Bircham Newton had taken place while the Squadron was still at Odiham, and this detachment returned to join them at Gatwick on 11th March, while two officers and their aircraft positioned to Westhampnett from 22nd to 25th March. The squadron returned to Odiham on 31st March, seventeen aircraft departing at 1400, ‘the remainder departing later'.
Slightly unusual is a mention in the ORB of the situation relating to the Squadron ‘hacks'. Clearly while at Gatwick they were due to exchange their Miles Master for an Auster III, for on 8th March it is recorded that FO Stubbs ‘collected the new Auster III from Ipswich', but unfortunately it was used to ferry a pilot collecting a new Mustang I to Odiham on 11th March where it crashed, being declared Cat.B. Sadly that didn't stop the disposal of their Miles Master, this was collected by Delivery Flight from Hendon on 12th March. Unfortunately no serial numbers are recorded.
The Form 541 does record serial numbers, and aircraft noted as having carried out operational flights while at Gatwick are;
AL969 AM141 AM159 AM194 AM197 AM204 AM209 AM210 AM225 AM244 AP167 AP195
This unit was only short-lived, though it did have the distinction of being actually formed at Gatwick in June 1942. It stayed here until early December of that year before moving on to Hartford Bridge, though it was disbanded again shortly after, in February 1943, when it became the nucleus of 430 Sqdn, one of the Canadian units which later re-appeared at Gatwick. In fact 171 Sqdn was also revived later, in September 1944 as a bomber squadron.
15 th June 1942 was the day it came into existence, initially equipped with 12x Tomahawk IEs and 2x Tomahawk IRs, and it was quickly headquartered at the Gatwick Jockey Club. Strangely, orders were received almost immediately that the unit would transfer to Odiham, so they set to getting organized, their first three aircraft were delivered in from 414 (RCAF) Squadron on 16th June (followed by five on the 4 th July and three more on 5th July). HRH the Duke of Kent was entertained on 23rd June, presumably as part of the commissioning process. The order to move to Odiham came on 9th July but could not be executed until the 11th due to inclement weather, when seven Tomahawks were serviceable enough to make the transfer.
The unit was only away for six weeks, returning from Odiham to Gatwick on 25th August. Although the unit was still not committed to operational flying they did seem to have a fairly busy time training, for it is known that accidents to AH863, AK181, AH781 and AH932 all occurred during July while away at Odiham. They had also taken delivery of an unspecified Tiger Moth on 26th July.
Having returned, the training effort continued, as did the accidents, The ORB records that AH831 was damaged on landing on 27th August and was repaired by 49MU at Faygate, AH946 did likewise the following day, while on the 30th AH930 had an engine failure and force landed at Sussex House Farm in Cowden. 1st September saw AH895 force landed in a field nearby and it was also sent to Faygate for repair. Several detachments were made for gunnery practice, four aircraft went to Madley (for the Sennybridge ranges) on 6th September, while eight more flew off to Weston Zoyland on the 10th . On the 16th September the Squadron's Miles Master, this time ‘named' as DL646, was visiting the Weston Zoyland detachment when it had an undercarriage collapse while taxying there, and it joined the queue of jobs at 49MU and was replaced when, on 23rd September, Master W8518 was allocated to 171. Mustang Is now came on strength as Tomahawk replacements, the log shows 76 hours flown in Mustangs during September (compared to 228 hours by Tomahawks), and although the ORB does not record any delivery details things must have changed fairly fast, because in October, when operational flying began, all ‘ops' were carried out in Mustangs.
This was not the end of the Tomahawk with 171, for the October figures show 73 Mustang hours as opposed to 239 still by Tomahawk, many of these latter trips were made as training flights for attached Belgian Air Force pilots who were in for work-up on the type, this activity continued into November.
Initially, operations consisted of patrols along the south coast, the first being flown by Wing Commander P Hadfield in Mustang AG184 with PO J A Atkinson alongside in AG555. The first photo-recce mission came on the 18th October, and these types of mission continued for the rest of the time the Squadron was at Gatwick, though these were run down after 2nd December, the unit departing to Hartford Bridge as described earlier on 7th December 1942. Serial numbers are given for the Mustangs involved in operational flying and these are recorded;
AG110 AG184 AG364 AG400 AG441 AG538 AG545 AG555 AG579 AM110 AM184
In addition, a further Tomahawk accident is noted on 20 th November when AH932 landed with its wheels up at Gatwick, so Tomahawks definitely on strength at Gatwick included all the casualties mentioned i.e., AH831 AH895 AH930 AH932 and AH946, together with the two Masters mentioned in the text and at least one Tiger Moth.
This unit was here for a two month stay at the end of 1942, and brought with them a type which turned out to be unusual for Gatwick, the Hurricane II. The differing styles of the officers responsible for record keeping is well illustrated here, with the Form 540 written in a very chatty narrative style, and operations recorded include some which would not rate as operational flights in other records, for example local familiarisation flights and low flying practice. So much the better for us though, as serial numbers are recorded and therefore a ‘proper' full log could be compiled.
The squadron arrived from its previous base at Harowbeer on 9th December 1942 with nineteen aircraft landing before lunch, and local flying began on the 11th , continuing throughout the month with some breaks due to bad weather. (Indeed it is recorded that two aircraft landed at Redhill due to weather on 14th December, though these serials are not specified). The end of December saw three days of participation in exercise ‘Ghost', an Army Co-Operation Exercise happening in the area.
January 1943 began in much the same vein but, as seems usual at the time, orders were soon forthcoming to move on, and the Squadron left for Odiham, taking nineteen aircraft with it, on 13th January after a stay of just four weeks.
The aircraft involved in the delivery flight in from Harowbeer were;
BE394 BE417 BE478 BE489 BE492 BE502 BE668 BE679 BP295 BP705 BP737 HV555 HV556 HV839 HV840 HV844 HV882 HW118 HW140
Straggler BE404 followed on the 12th . Those of you counting will notice that this makes twenty while only nineteen left, and this is because, sadly, on 5th January PO I S Galbraith crashed and was killed during a cross-country flight near Wroughton in BP705. Indeed further tragedy struck when another pilot, Sgt. W J Perry fell into a ditch on his way to lunch on 4th December, he died of his injuries on the 7th .
183 Squadron were again only short-term visitors, but they seemed to pack a lot in to their stay of less than one month. They arrived from Colerne with their Typhoon IBs on 8th April 1943, joining longer term residents 26 and 239 Squadrons (both Mustang equipped), who formed 123 Airfield Group here. A rather downbeat squadron author noted on arrival that day that their first job was to put up the tents in which they were to live, though he did record that their pay increased by 5 shillings a day for the inconvenience, and that visiting London would be much easier!
This record is much stricter in its definition of operational flights, which began on the 14th with several standing patrols. On 17th April ten aircraft flew to Ford to get ‘bombed-up' for the squadron's first bombing operation over France, though in fact they didn't go until the 19th due to bad weather the previous day, and this consisted of an eight aircraft sortie against a power station at Yarnville, escort being provided by 1 Wing at Kenley. Flying training then continued, and included ‘Operation Curly Kate' another Army Co-Operation event, until ten aircraft were detached to Exeter on the 28th to prepare for an anti-shipping strike which was then cancelled due to bad weather, the aircraft returned the following day.
Orders had by this time come through for another move, and the unit consequently departed on 3rd May 1943 to Lasham, taking their fourteen Typhoons with them.
Aircraft serial numbers (only thirteen, unfortunately) recorded for the operational flights were;
R8884 R8885 R8944 DN242 DN249 DN257 DN263 DN268 DN273 DN275 DN297 DN344 DN377
The record for this units time at Gatwick is disappointingly incomplete. It does record that in the ten days prior to their arrival they had been at Tangmere and Detling, and then Merston, from whence they flew in on 28th June 1944. The aircraft on strength was the Spitfire IX, and on the 28th six aircraft flew as cover for a Halifax raid on St. Omer landing back at Gatwick, while the rest of the Squadron proceeded directly. On the 29th eleven Spitfires carried out a sweep over Lisieux and Evreux , and on the 30 th twelve aircraft escorted Lancasters and Halifaxes bombing Villers Bocage.
Sadly, this is where wartime record keeping is shown to be a bit hit and miss, for the Form 541 for June 1944 is not on the microfilm at PRO so aircraft details cannot be reported. After just the four day stay, one of the shortest noted in this series, the squadron packed up and flew out to Coltishall on 1st July 1944 taking seventeen Spitfires with them. Form 541 is present for this month but this historian only recorded code letters rather than serial numbers, for what its worth these were A B C D F H J K L M N P Q R X Y and Z ! It is also noted that the Squadron took a ‘hack' Tiger Moth with them.
I did look further back in the record and some serial numbers, without letter code tie-ups, were recorded in April 1944, two months prior to their Gatwick arrival during a very busy period, so some of these MAY have been among the Gatwick residents;
BS340 BS393 MA220 MA817 MH372 MH835 MH855 MH909 MJ310. Also the Tiger Moth may have been DF182, which was noted with the Squadron in August 1944.
This unit, recorded in the ORB as 268 (FR) Squadron, arrived at Gatwick from Gailes on 8h April 1944 with its allotment of Mustang Is to be greeted by tented accommodation. Amongst the early comments is a note that little flying was undertaken while on standby since the unit was suffering from poor serviceability. Flying started on the 9 th , and the first operational flights from Gatwick occurred on the 11th , when a pair of Mustangs flew a photo-recce trip over France.
Over the next two days a further sixteen such operations were carried out, but one of these, on the 13th , saw Group Captain P.L.Donkin DSO hit by intense flak. His aircraft, FD448, was so badly damaged that he baled out into the English Channel on the way back, and was seen to climb into his dinghy, which resulted in the squadron flying 36 air-sea rescue sorties over the next two days in an attempt to help recover him. No result is recorded. The rest of the month saw a series of photo-recce and ‘noball' (anti V-1 site) sorties undertaken, although not without incident, for on 27 th April F/L T.B.Winslow was hit by flak, fortunately returning safely, and F/O B.R.Spooner was injured in a forced landing just 150 yards from the airfield perimeter, his aircraft is not specified.
The squadron hack was an Auster, and although its serial number is not recorded its activities are, and it was very busy in the local area, visiting Odiham three times and Windsor in the second half of the month, followed by trips to Manston, Newchurch and High Post at various times, usually carrying pilots to collect stranded Mustangs though it did also undertake air experience flights.
May 1944 saw the build-up towards D-Day gathering momentum, and 268 played a big part in reconnaissance missions over France, 78 operational flights being recorded despite indifferent weather. Much of this work seems to have been unopposed until the 19th , when F/O Conway in FD559 was hit by light flak, returning safely. Then on the 24th F/L Winslow was hit again and had to make a forced landing at Brenzett, while F/O Ashford in FD505 sustained injuries to flak but managed to return to Gatwick safely. Worse was to come on the 27th May however, when F/O A.D.Fraser and F/L R.W.Hall had a mid-air collision in the Gatwick circuit and Hall (a Trinidadian) was killed. The aircraft involved are not specified.
June of 1944 saw much action, though strangely nothing of an operational nature (except for a single op. with a pair of aircraft on the 4th ) between 1st and 5th . The weather at the time was famously poor, though the lack of operational sorties is not attributed to this in the record, and the entry for the 5 th reads ‘training flights only'. This all changed on D-Day itself, the 6th , when 8 ops were flown, and from then until the departure of the unit on the 27th 170 more operations were carried out. At least twelve aircraft were detached to Lee on Solent on D-day to carry out their tasks from there, a practice which continued on a daily basis at least until the 10th . The unit continued to suffer casualties during this period, on D-Day itself F/L C.D.Woodward is simply reported as ‘missing' in FD477, his wingman could shed no light on his fate, and then on 14th June a two-aircraft formation was attacked by Fw190s near Louviers, after which action F/O M.H.Cullen was posted missing in FD552. 18th of June proved particularly traumatic, with the two ship flight of FD576 (F/L F.J.Reahil) and FD531 (F/O Howe) both lost in unknown circumstances and F/L R.G.Brown posted missing later in the day in FD532. It wasn't all one way however, with F/O W.N.Tuele claiming one Fw190 destroyed in FD561. Later on in the month 22nd June also proved lively, with F/L V.E.Lewis attacked by Fw190s and, having been wounded, he had to make an emergency landing on a beach in FD552, while on the same day Yearwood (FD471) and Lavender (FD474) were hit by ‘friendly fire' from P-47 Thunderbolts and both made safe emergency landings at B3.
The units time at Gatwick ended on 27th June 1944 when they upped sticks and flew off to Odiham in conjunction with the rest of the 130 Airfield team. The squadrons time at Gatwick had been marked by losses, and by an air-to-air victory claim, very unusual for a Gatwick unit for they were rarely involved in ‘fighter' type missions, and also for poor serviceability which can be illustrated by the mechanical hiccups noted during May 1944 thus;
||Returned – engine trouble
||Landed West Malling – engine trouble
||Landed Manston – engine trouble
||Landed Manston – engine trouble
||Returned – engine trouble
||Landed Manston – hydraulic failure
||Landed Newchurch – engine trouble
As you can see, the Form 540 records aircraft by code, the Form 541 by serial number. Aircraft noted as being at Gatwick with this unit over the relevant period are;
FD447 FD448 FD471 FD472 FD474 FD475 FD476 FD477 FD479 FD480 FD484 FD486 FD493 FD495 FD496 FD497 FD498 FD502 FD503 FD504 FD505 FD506 FD507 FD512 FD526 FD528 FD531 FD532 FD535 FD541 FD543 FD544 FD545 FD546 FD548 FD549 FD551 FD552 FD557 FD559 FD560 FD561 FD562 FD564 FD566 FD576 FD597
This unit arrived at Gatwick in late June 1944 equipped with Spitfire IXs and a single Tiger Moth which, unusually, is specified as T7694. They had been moved frequently just before their arrival, for on 26th June they were based at Merston, and indeed weathered in there by continuous heavy rain. On the 27th all eighteen of the Spitfires and the Tiger Moth left there for Tangmere, from where they had planned to carry out some operational missions, leaving their surplus pilots, ground crews and equipment at Merston, who then transferred by surface transport to Gatwick. On the 28th the Spitfires continued to operate from Tangmere, and they then joined there ground party at Gatwick the following day, the 29th , when they flew in from there. They didn't hang about, for later on the same day twelve aircraft carried out an offensive sweep in the Falaise area, a further sortie seeing another twelve on a similar operation to Laigle. On the 30th only one mission could be carried out due to poor weather, this being an escort to Stirlings dropping supplies north of Caen.
Early July was also plagued by bad weather, though the 1st saw escort supplied to Halifaxes bombing a V1 site south of Amiens, on the 2nd they did the same for Lancasters bombing north-west of Doullens, on the 3rd it was Mitchells to Argentan, while on the 4th they managed two operations, one with Halifaxes to a V1 site near Cageux, the other an offensive sweep to Evreux. On the same day they received orders to move on once more, and the 5th July saw them fly out en masse to their new base at West Malling.
The unit seems to have had a relatively routine time whilst at our airfield, with no losses recorded either to enemy action or accidents. To illustrate the quixotic nature of record keeping at the time, twenty Spitfires are noted arriving with the squadron at Gatwick, while the entry for their last day here reads ‘all twenty-one Spitfires flew out to West Malling' and then promptly goes on to list twenty-two! Anyway, in addition to the aforementioned Tiger Moth the ORB shows these Spitfires here during the units brief seven day visit which, you may not be surprised to see, numbers twenty-six aircraft. Undoubtedly there will be some transcription errors, but a correspondent has also pointed out to me that it was common practice for squadrons to borrow aircraft from other units if required, and the movement would have been recorded as a 274 operation if the pilot was from 274, so in all of these lists it may be that some aircraft have in fact been borrowed rather than allocated.
BS116 BS128 BS227 BS284 BS345 BS353 BS395 BS474 LZ919 MA579 MA742 MA747 MA810 MH314 MH331 MH345 MH349 MH379 MH395 MH603 MH616 MH818 MH853 MH869 MH876 MH939
This units records were amongst the most complex looked at. In August 1944 the squadron was headquartered at North Weald, and had three detachments, based at Farnborough, Colerne and Southend, all equipped with Hurricanes and Airspeed Oxfords which were used in the Army co-operation role. On the 2nd of August HQ 70 Group issued orders for the Southend detachment only to be moved to Gatwick, and this was followed on the 4th by an amendment specifying the transfer of seven Hurricanes with pilots and ground crews. This move was duly accomplished on the same day, although only six Hurricanes are recorded transferring, accompanied by two Oxfords.
Army co-operation flights do not seem to have been classified as ‘operational' by the squadron as they are not recorded in the ORB but ferry flights between the four airfields were noted for some reason, and the log therefore reads like a continuous round of aircraft changing airfields as required, consequently the strength at Gatwick was presumably increased to the planned seven Hurricanes, but it is impossible to decide which, if any, were based with the Gatwick detachment, or whether they were operated from a pool which served all the detachments.
Toward the end of August the decision was taken to move the squadron headquarters from North Weald to Gatwick and this move was accomplished on 27th August 1944, from which date the ORB shows the squadron now based at Gatwick, with its detachments at North Weald, Farnborough and Colerne. This arrangement continued until January 1945 when, on the 20th January, it moved on to Redhill. Note that these dates do not match the data in ‘RAF Squadrons', which has them moving out earlier.
During its stay at Gatwick the complement became quite varied as different types were tried out for the army co-operation task, at the end of September their first Beaufighter had arrived, in mid-November Spitfire Vbs were added while some of the Hurricanes moved on to 567 Squadron at Hornchurch and early December saw the arrival at Gatwick of the first five Tempest Vs from 20MU. A 70 Group memo dated 5th November 1944 gives the complement as 11x Tempests, 11x Spitfires, 3x Beaufighters, 10x Oxfords and 1x Tiger Moth. Presumably therefore the Tempests were based with one of the other detachments before they were seen here.
Although only the ferry flights are detailed, these do show up their fair share of accidents and incidents as follows;
9th September Oxford BG552 F/Sgt Challis was involved in a taxying accident
13th September Oxford HN142 Damaged on the ramp in a collision with a Hillman van
20th September Oxford HN140 Damaged during inspection due to carelessness of an airman
25th September Oxford BG155 F/Sgt Andrews selected undercarriage up while taxying
6th January Spitfire EP116 Emergency landing at Biggin Hill – engine trouble
19th January Tempest JN766 F/Sgt Suttie had an unspecified accident
19th January Tempest JN796 W/O Cowan had an unspecified accident
These aircraft were noted at Gatwick on the squadrons roster during the period but, as explained before, may have been based here or at Colerne, Farnborough or North Weald;
Tiger Moth N9399
Oxfords BG155 BG552 ED298 DF261 DG155 HN140 HN142 HN143 HN163 HN165 HN179
HN201 HN694 HN695 HN843 HN872 HM953 NM788 PH128 PH447
Hurricanes KX703 KX822 KZ186 KZ226 KZ301 KZ319 KZ405 KZ573 KZ608 KZ654 KZ655
KZ665 KZ703 KZ715 KZ725 KZ822 LD974 LE134 LE396 LE505 LE506 LE507
LE567 LE571 LE749
Beaufighters N8345 V8345 V8519 X7574 X7626
Spitfires W3249 W3606 AB849 AD266 BM344 EN765 EP116 EP283 EP496
Tempest JN731 JN734 JN737 JN751 JN760 JN764 JN766 JN769 JN796 JN88?
‘RAF Squadrons' shows 309 sending detachments to Gatwick from its base at Dunino in Scotland from May 1941 over various dates until March 1943 though there is little to back this up in the ORB. After a fairly extensive search a single mention of Gatwick was found on 13th August 1942, when P/O Jarema (this was a Polish squadron) landed after an operation over Abbeville in unspecified Mustang I, though it is doubtful that this was his home base. There was a brief period, from 5th to 15th December when sixteen ops were carried out from Gatwick, presumably during a detachment, all being photo-recce or ‘popular' flights. These all passed off without incident, although several were curtailed by unfavourable weather conditions.
Aircraft serials are recorded for these Mustangs in the ORB, but unfortunately the author gives all the serial numbers as AM***, and this is certainly incorrect, and, unusually, letter codes are also given. I have amended them as required, but would be pleased to receive confirmation. Aircraft noted with the Squadron during this ten day period based at Gatwick were;
AM119/H AM211/B AM213/? AM214/C AM221/A AP217/F AP240/G
400 (RCAF) SQUADRON
Only the Form 540, the monthly summary, is filed for the 1941/42 period, which seems to have been a cause for concern for the RAFs paper pushers, and indeed some of the correspondence enclosed includes memos from the Historical Branch, RAF, to the RCAF Overseas HQ complaining of the lack of accuracy of the 400 Squadron ORB. This seems to have been systemic amongst the RCAF Squadrons, see later.
In 1941 the unit was known as 110 Canadian Squadron, RCAF, and it became 400 (RCAF) Squadron on 1st March 1941. On that date it was based at Odiham, but they made detachments to Gatwick for two days in February '41, for two days in April '41, for a week in June '41 and for four days and then two days in August '41. They had Lysander IIIs on strength, but added Tomahawks of several marques to their armoury from April of 1941, so both types were represented on their visits.
A longer stay was made in May 1942 when a ten day visit was the last outing for their Tomahawks. In June of that year they received Mustang Is which visited Gatwick for a two day detachment in August, the last squadron visit to Gatwick which could be found in the ORB.
Only brief notes are offered regarding their activity. On 11.2.41 seven Lysanders from A, B and C flights flew from Odiham to Gatwick to exercise with Canadian Army units in training to resist enemy invasion, and although the weather was poor sorties were flown over the next two days simulating enemy action until the aircraft successfully retuned to Odiham on the 13th . On 24.4.41 ‘A' flight only transferred from Odiham to Gatwick for a two day exercise with 4 Corp., again acting as ‘the enemy'. On 13.6.41 ‘A' flight again set off for Gatwick with 2x Tomahawks and 4x Lysanders. They returned on the 20th at 1800 having undertaken sorties over the seven day period in relation to exercises ‘Waterloo' and ‘Wellfox' which involved providing Tac/R, Photo/R and contact missions for 4 Corp. Finally on 4.8.41 the whole squadron transferred to Gatwick at 1500 to be involved with 12 Corp. in the extravagantly named exercise ‘More Binge'. This meant 38 sorties by both types of aircraft until bad weather curtailed events early and they returned to Odiham on the 8th . On 16.8.41 three Tomahawks were sent to Gatwick for two days involved in exercise ‘Avenge' which was enlivened by F/Lt Woods who had to make an emergency landing at Gatwick when an oil line broke.
The Squadron's longest Gatwick stay began on 19.5.42, when both ‘A' and ‘B' flights flew from Odiham to Gatwick for exercises which involved more than 150 sorties being flown between the 19th and the 30th , when both flights went back to Odiham at 2000. The stay was marked by tragedy though, for on 25th May PO Faunt was killed when his aircraft, noted as ‘889', spun in and crashed while engaged on a tactical reconnaissance sortie. Back at Odiham the squadron transferred to the Mustang I, and this latter type visited for a two day exercise from 18th to 19th August 1942 when thirteen aircraft arrived to participate in ‘Operation Jubilee'. This latter operation was flown in conjunction with 26, 239 and 414 Squadrons which flew together as 35 Wing.
Aircraft serial numbers, if recorded, were usually noted in the Form 541 which is absent as already mentioned, but a bit of luck for us has seen an appendix added to the data available giving details of the aircraft used during the 4-8.8.41 ‘More Binge' exercise which specifies these aircraft visiting us;
Tomahawks; AH758, AH789, AH824, AH839, AH848, AH863.
Lysanders; T1434, T1443, T1564.
414 (RCAF) SQUADRON
Unlike many of the other squadron records at Kew, the ORB for 414 is immaculately kept, with both the Forms 540 and 541 typed, legible and descriptive. Unfortunately, there is no mention in them of Gatwick!! Bearing in mind comments on accuracy made by the Historical Branch elsewhere one feels that much of this ORB must have been typed up retrospectively and is therefore of doubtful value.
‘RAF Squadrons' claims that 414 was at Gatwick with various detachments between 5.7.43 and 1.4.44 using Mustang Is, and references from other squadron ORBs back this up, but the official 414 ORB record claims that during the period mentioned 414 was operating from Redhill, Staplehurst, Biggin Hill, Tangmere and then Fairwood Common, while advanced bases were maintained at Manston, Ford and Bradwell Bay. Very disappointing.
430 (RCAF) SQUADRON
As with 400, there is correspondence on file criticizing the accuracy of 430s record keeping. The Form 540s are very descriptive in nature but the Form 541s, although present, do not contain aircraft serial numbers until well into the units stay at Gatwick. Mustang Is were on strength when they arrived, although Auster and Tiger Moth movements are also mentioned in due course.
5.7.43 saw the unit arrive from Dunsfold. The record's author records that ‘in the evening, the boys went to The Chequers, Horley's leading pub, [now the Air Balloon, ed.] to see what the new place tastes like. Verdict; very good!' Additionally, he describes their disposition on the airfield, ‘with ‘B' flight on the site east of the control tower, ‘A' flight has the west, and 414 Squadron is across the field'.***
*** This is one of several references to 414 Squadron being based at Gatwick while 430 was here also, although, as already described above, 414s records do not record this.
The rest of July and August saw a long series of practice flights interspersed with operational ‘rhubarb' sorties over the near continent. The weather was seldom suitable, for the unit did require some cloud cover to carry out successful returns from their tactical reconnaissance efforts, the most worthwhile of which was on 24th July when five trains were claimed destroyed and gun positions were shot up. These efforts continued until 7th August when the squadron moved to Attlebridge. Although aircraft identities are unspecified at this stage, a note made on 24th July 1943 does give the squadron strength as 14x Mustang Is, 1x Miles Master and 1x Tiger Moth. One of the Mustangs was certainly AG522/P which was written off in a landing accident at Ashford on 22 nd September 1943.
Shortly after this the unit passed through again, albeit briefly, for on 11th August they returned from Attlebridge before moving on to their next base at Ashford just two days later, the formation including a Tiger Moth which came in via Watton. Ashford was classified as an advanced landing ground (ALG) at the time and was unsuitable for winter operations, and 430therefore returned from Ashford to Gatwick on 15th October, when it was recorded that seventeen aircraft moved across. An Auster and a Tiger Moth are once again mentioned as on the squadron strength at this time. This was the start of a relatively long stay at Gatwick, for the unit was based until the end of the year, finally leaving on 4th January 1944 to Peterhead. Despite this stability little of particular note was achieved because the weather took a turn for the worse with long sequences of days when the unit was completely idle. Successful ‘rhubarb' sorties were accomplished however between 2 nd and 11th November with several locomotives claimed as destroyed, although several of the participants were hit by flak, fortunately without any losses. Two pilots were lost, however, when on 6th November PO Wardrope became separated from his formation in fog during a ‘rhubarb' and was posted missing, while on 25th November FO Emmerson crashed into the sea as a result of engine failure on return from a sortie over the Dutch coast which had begun after a landing at Martlesham Heath. The bad weather precluded operations over the Christmas period, when the opportunity was taken to give air experience flights to the ground crews in the Auster and the Tiger Moth.
The stay at Peterhead was short, 430 arrived back at Gatwick from there on 21st January 1944 after a protracted ferry which had begun on the 19th , during which various aircraft had stopped at Acklington because of bad weather. A note at the time records the squadron strength as 19x Mustang Is together with single examples of Master, Tiger Moth and Auster. After a bit of training, the squadron then became a bit nomadic as follows;
Moved to Andover for a one week training session.
Returned from Andover to Gatwick.
Moved to Clifton.
Returned from Clifton to Gatwick.
Moved to Odiham to end their association with Gatwick.
The first two weeks of February saw a lot of uneventful sorties over France without losses, while on return from Clifton the unit became even more active, on most days up to ten photo reconnaissance flights being undertaken over the continent. The only noteworthy accident occurred on 6th March when PO Geddes, who had sustained engine damage from flak, crash landed just outside the airfield perimeter sustaining Cat.B damage, luckily he was unhurt.
Oddly the Form 541 shows aircraft serials only for the brief time at Clifton and for two days (28th and 29th February) at Gatwick, which seems strange, but we are grateful for it. The following Mustangs, therefore, are claimed to be based by the ORB, which also gives code letters;
AG377/D, AG397/X, AG488/V, AG664/M, AM103/O, AM139/T, AM230/B, AM237/K, AM253/N, AP179/F, AP180/E, AP186/Y, **145/H, **178/S, **194/C
Aircraft Z is shown as both **558 and **588…..
Over a period of six years (!) we have now provided a very brief insight into Gatwick's wartime service. Several final points should be stressed here;
We have so far not touched the records for Gatwick's longest serving squadrons. Both 26 and 239 Squadrons were Gatwick based for long periods between September 1940 and April 1943 engaged on Army co-operation duties, often flying together as an ‘airfield wing'. They both used Lysanders, then Tomahawks, then Mustangs, with 239 also having a brief flirtation with Hurricanes. Searching through their ORBs is a very long winded affair, and will be left as a retirement project. Expect to read about them in 2018!
One more squadron whose records we have still to locate is 655 AOP Squadron, present in March and April 1943 with Austers
Do not forget the many other units involved in war work here at Gatwick which were not operating aircraft in their own right, those such as 49 MU, No. 404 Aircraft Stores Park, No. 1 Aircraft Delivery Unit, No. 1 AA Calibration Unit etc etc, to name just a few and all of whom ‘did their bit'.
Finally, all the articles have shown the aircraft serial numbers as they have appeared in the original texts i.e. including typographical errors made at the time, and including aircraft which may well have been ‘borrowed' from other units to carry out tasks as required.
More Gatwick records will be reviewed in future editions of 'Hawkeye'. If you are not a member and would like to learn more, why not join the Gatwick Aviation Society and receive the 'Hawkeye' continuation.
Meanwhile, any further comment or correspondence would be welcomed electronically.
Please EMail: Harry Hawkins.