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How RAF West Malling Became The Home of Night Fighter Operations

How RAF West Malling Became The Home of Night Fighter Operations

By the end of the night blitz of 1941, Britain’s defences were just starting to get to grips with the German night raiders. With the coming of the shorter nights, the Luftwaffe’s effort eased off, combined with the assault upon Russia.

However, the Bristol Beaufighter with airborne radar had now become established. Training and expansion continued over the summer of 1941 in readiness for the winter, when the next round of night attacks was expected. At RAF West Malling the station began to specialise in night-fighter operations, with resident squadrons operating Defiant, Beaufighter and Havoc aircraft.

The airfield established at West Malling, set in the Kent countryside, amidst the orchards and hop gardens in 1937. The clubhouse and two hangars are located in the far left corner of the airfield. Image source: Aerofilms Ltd.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson DSO.DFC was initially based at RAF West Malling, with No.29 Squadron flying the Beaufighter as a Night-Fighter in 1941. This was long before he would be forever remembered for the Dam Buster raids of 1943.

Experience with the Beaufighter in the night-fighter role since the autumn of 1940 had been slow to render significant results and it is now known that British night fighters inflicted less than 2% casualties during the German night blitz between September 1940 and May 1941.

Mixed results

The appearance of the Mosquito night-fighter, with a performance greatly superior to that of the Beaufighter, Defiant and Boston/Havoc, promised much improved results. The prototype, W4052, was first flown by Geoffrey de Havilland on 15 May 1941 and differed from the bomber in having an optically flat bullet-proof windscreen for better vision, and AI (Air Interception) Mk. IV radar.

An excellent view of post-war RAF West Malling, showing most of the buildings and hangars constructed on the site, including some married quarters and blast pens. Image source: Skyfotos Ltd.

While this training was in progress, there were several novel schemes devised to augment the night fighter force. One was the Turbinlite idea by Wing Commander W. Helmore. Like many schemes, it was long on theory but short on practical results.

The principle was that a twin-engine aeroplane fitted with AI (Air Interception) Radar would be vectored towards a hostile radar plot from the ground, and when the crew located the raider, it would close in and then switch on a huge airborne searchlight.

The searching aircraft would be accompanied by a Hawker Hurricane, whose pilot, seeing the illuminated ‘hostile’ in the searchlight beam would attack and destroy it. At least, that was the theory, but this experiment produced negative results and was abandoned in 1943.

Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIB Z3263 of No. 402 Sqn at West Malling during 1942, flown by Sergeant E.W. Rolfe. This aircraft was gifted by the native chiefs of various tribes in Kenya and christened Mau Molo Ruri. It later went to Russia. Image source: IWM CH 7676.

Mosquito variants

Production of the Mosquito N.F. II amounted to 488 aircraft and first deliveries were made in January 1942 to Nos. 23 Squadron at Ford and No. 157 at Castle Camps.

Towards the end of the variant’s life, aircraft were used for a wide variety of duties, and there can be few RAF light bomber pilots of the 1948-53 period who did not spend several months learning their trade on Mosquito VI trainers. A direct development of the Mosquito VI was the F.B. Mk. XVIII, armed with a 57 mm. Molins quick-firing gun mounted offset in the nose.

A Mark VI was so modified and first flown on 25 August 1943. The next version to achieve operational status was the Mark XII Night Fighter and, equipped with low-looking AI Mk. VIII radar, largely replaced the initial Mark Us with the night squadrons.

The Mosquito N.F. XIII, of which 270 were newly-built, was similar in most respects to the earlier Mark, but carried its AI VIII radar in a universal nose mounting of a design which retained the four 20 mm. guns and was to remain virtually unchanged throughout the adaptation of all subsequent night-fighter variants.

No. 29 Squadron at Ford and No. 488 at Bradwell Bay were the first to equip with Mark XIIIs, and were followed by Nos. 96, 108 (in Malta), 151, 256, 264, 409, 410 and 604. It was a RAF West Malling that the newly equipped squadrons with Mosquito Night Fighters, were to achieve many successful interceptions under the cover of darkness.

Mosquito NF.36 MT487 ‘ZK-Y’ of No. 25 Sqn, gets a major service. Note the flame-damping exhaust on the engine and the Mk. X Air Interception (AI) radar in the transparent nose.

Though scarcely a true night-fighter, the NF XV was an interesting exercise in hurried yet efficient adaptation.

Some consternation had been evinced by the supposed threat of the high-flying Junkers Ju 86P, and in much the same context as the development of the Spitfire VI and VII had taken place, a Mosquito IV, MP469, was prepared for high altitude interception duties by extending the wings, fitting small landing wheels and removal of 2,300 pounds of armour.

Armament was confined to four .303 in. machine guns – considered to be perfectly adequate to puncture the pressure cabin of the enemy aircraft. John Cunningham took this Mosquito to a height of 43,500 feet. Five other Mark IVs were converted (with the four machine guns carried in a ventral tray) and some of these were issued to No. 85 Squadron in March 1943.

Hitherto all night interceptions using AI radar had been performed with the early Mark IV, the pilot interpreted Mark V and the low-looking Mark VIII radars, but it was in mid-1943 that the first American AI Mark X was introduced into Britain.

In the summer of 1940, Britain battled for survival against Hitler’s war machine; the result would define the course of the Second World War. It is known simply as The Battle of Britain.

Watch Now

The first operational Mosquito night-fighter to be so equipped was the Merlin 23-powered Mark XVII, one hundred of which were converted from Mark IIs already delivered to maintenance units early in 1943.

Equipped with either AI Mark VIII or X the first entered service with No. 157 Squadron in May 1944, based at RAF Swannington. With the massive build-up of Allied air power for the invasion of Northern Europe and the growth of pressure in the Mediterranean and Far Eastern theatres, deliveries of Mosquito night-fighters increased considerably during 1944.

The principal wartime night-fighter/intruder variant was the Mark 30, first delivered in July 1944 to the Canadian squadron, No. 406 (Lynx) Squadron. It possessed a maximum speed of 407 m.p.h. and could operate up to an altitude of 38,500 feet. A total of 506 Mark 30s was taken on charge by the RAF, of which about half were built at de Havilland’s Leavesden factory.

The doodlebug campaigns

The V1 bombs caused huge amounts of damage in British towns. Image source: Bundesarchiv/ CC BY-SA 3.0 de.

When the V1 flying bomb or Doodlebug campaign began in June 1944, squadrons at RAF West Malling were heavily involved in destroying the new menace with great success.

Alongside Nos.91, and 322 (Dutch), No.316 (Warsaw) flying Spitfires and the Mustang Mk.3, the Mosquito proved a deadly weapon against the V1.

Later on after the war, they made RAF West Malling there home until it was disbanded in March 1956. During the Cold War years, the base continued to be a Night Fighter base, and later was used for gliding and civil aviation. The Warbirds Air Shows of the 1980s helped to keep the airfield alive.

Apart from a small number of NF 38s the NF 36 remained in service as the RAF’s only Night- Fighter until the early nineteen-fifties when it was replaced by jet-powered Vampire NF 10s and Meteor NF 11, 12, &14s. They flew with Nos. 23, 25, 29, 85, 141,153 and 264 Squadrons.

A classic line-up of aircraft at West Malling. The nearest is Meteor NF.11 WD620 of No. 85 Sqn. Behind is a row of Vampire NF.10s of No. 25 Sqn, WP233, WP245, WP239 and WP240.

The airfield at West Malling, which sprang from its early days in the 1930s, as a Municipal Airport and Flying Club, survived until the 1990s, when as with many Airfields was sold for development as a Business Park and is better known as Kings Hill.

There is however a magnificent memorial on the site and many of the original buildings have survived, it is hoped that this new book RAF West Malling – The RAF’s first Night Fighter Airfield, will help keep the airfields history alive.

RAF West Malling by Anthony J Moor tells the story of the airfield from its early days, through its role in the Second World War – when several dramatic and tragic events occurred – and beyond into the Cold War. It is available now, and published by Pen & Sword Books.

Featured Image: D.G. Collye.


No. 255 Squadron RAF

No. 255 Squadron RAF was a Royal Air Force Squadron formed as an anti-submarine unit in First World War and a night-fighter unit in Second World War. The First World War squadron was formed from former Royal Naval Air Service coastal flights and was responsible for coastal anti-submarine patrols. It was disbanded after the war.

During the Second World War the squadron operated as a night fighter unit, at first with the Boulton Paul Defiant and later the Bristol Beaufighter. It served in the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1942 when it moved to operate in North Africa and then Italy, where it remained until the end of the war. It subsequently served in Malta, and then Egypt, before being disbanded in 1946.


How RAF West Malling Became The Home of Night Fighter Operations - History

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This is the story of West Malling airfield, from its earliest days through its role in the Second World War &ndash when several dramatic and tragic events occurred &ndash and beyond into the Cold War.

Opened as a private landing ground after the First World War, the airfield at West Malling, then known as Kings Hill, became home to the Maidstone School of Flying in 1930. It was then renamed West Malling Airfield, and, in 1932, Maidstone Airport.

The airfield's RAF role came to the fore in June 1940, by when the station had been fitted with a concrete runway. The first aircraft arrived on 8 June 1940. As the UK&rsquos first designated night fighter base, over the years that followed RAF West Malling was home to many famous pilots, men such as John Cunningham, Peter Townsend, Bob Braham and even Guy Gibson, later of Dambusters fame. During the summer of 1944, Mosquitoes, Spitfires and Mustang Mk.3s successfully destroyed many V-1s, as well as played their part in the D-Day landings.

Following the war, units such as Nos. 25 and 85 squadrons were equipped with Meteor NF fighters and de Havilland Vampires and Venoms, continuing West Malling&rsquos strategic night fighter role into the Cold War. No.500 (Kent&rsquos Own) Squadron also adopted RAF West Malling as its home in this period. A US Navy Facility Flight was also based at the airfield in the 1960s.

After closure as an operational air station in 1969, West Malling re-acquired its civilian guise, hosting a Gliding School, Short Brothers and several major Great Warbirds Air Displays during the 1970s and 1980s, until eventually closing completely as an airfield, for re-development.

Anthony J. Moor's exhaustively researched and highly-illustrated book is the first to tell the full story of the part West Malling played in the defence of the United Kingdom, and how it served the RAF for twenty-eight action-packed years.

As featured by

The de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School newsletter

An interesting work for aviation lovers who like well-documented stories.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

The RAF West Malling airfield started life as a private aerodrome in the 1930s, known as Kings Hill. This is a comprehensive history of an important RAF airfield in WWII and through the Cold War. – Highly Recommended.

What an amazing and insightful book this is. It really does have a wealth of I teresting stories from the bases origins through to the cold War and has alot of photos throughout.
This should be on the shelf of every aviation enthusiast and will be a reference book every collected will return to for years to come.
Written amazing and with such a Labour of love and it clearly shows throughout.

Amazon Customer, Richard Domoney-Saunders

Inspiring history of the first designated night fighter base - Anthony Moor's history of West Malling in Kent is an important piece of social and military history. Brilliant illustrations make this a must-read!

Books Monthly

Watch the full video review here

Scale Modelling Now

Anthony John Moor was educated at the Royal Naval School, Tal Handaq, Malta GC. On his return to the UK he served a five-year apprenticeship with Hawker Siddeley Aviation, which began at the De Havilland Technical School at Astwick Manor, shortly after De Havilland Hatfield had been taken over by HSA. He later worked in Germany as a draughtsman with AEG Gas Turbines, and engineering companies in the UK. In the 1980s Anthony worked with Metair Aircraft Equipment at West Malling. He is the author of five previous books on former airfields in Kent, namely Brenzett ALG, the Home Defence airfield at Throwley, near Faversham, Detling, Lympne, and Ramsgate Airport, and has written numerous aviation articles. He lives in Ashford, Kent, with his wife.


Contents

Johnson was born 9 March 1915 in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, to Alfred Johnson and Beatrice May Johnson. He lived and was brought up in Melton Mowbray, where his father was a policeman. Alfred Johnson was an inspector by the mid-1930s. One evening Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, held a meeting in the town. The license for the meeting expired at 22:00 at which time Alfred Johnson went alone and ejected the Fascists from the building. [11]

Johnson was educated at Camden Street Junior School and Loughborough Grammar School. Johnson's uncle, Edgar Charles Rossell, who had won the Military Cross with the Royal Fusiliers in 1916, paid for Johnson's education at Loughborough. [12] According to his brother Ross, during his time there, Johnson was nearly expelled after refusing punishment for a misdemeanour, believing it to be unjustified: "he was very principled and simply dug his heels in". [13] Among Johnson's hobbies and interests were shooting and sports he shot rabbits and birds in the local countryside. [14]

Johnson attended the University College Nottingham (later the University of Nottingham,) where he qualified as a civil engineer, aged 22. [14] Johnson became a surveyor at Melton Mowbray Urban District Council before progressing to assistant engineer with Chigwell Urban District Council at Loughton. [11] In 1938, Johnson broke his collarbone playing rugby for Chingford Rugby Club the injury was wrongly set and did not heal properly, which later caused him difficulty at the start of his flying career. [15]

Johnson started taking flying lessons at his own expense. He applied to join the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) but encountered some of the social problems that were rife in British society. Johnson felt he was rejected on the grounds of his class status. [16] Johnson's fortunes were to improve. The prospect of war increased in the aftermath of the Munich Crisis, and the criteria for applicants changed as the RAF expanded and brought in men from ordinary social backgrounds. Johnson re-applied to the AAF. He was informed that sufficient pilots were already available but there were some vacancies in the balloon squadrons. Johnson rejected the offer. [16]

Inspired by some Chingford friends who had joined, Johnson applied again to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). The RAFVR was a means to enter the RAF for young men with ordinary backgrounds. All volunteer aircrew were made sergeant on joining with the possibility of a commission. Once again he was rejected, this time on the grounds that there were too many applicants for vacancies and his injury made him unsuitable for flight operations. His ambition frustrated, Johnson joined the Leicestershire Yeomanry, where the injury was not a bar to recruitment. He joined the Territorial Army unit because, though he was in a reserved occupation, if war came, he had "no intention of seeing out the duration building air raid shelters or supervising decontamination squads". [17] Johnson was content in the Yeomanry. One day while riding through Burleigh, Berkshire on annual camp Johnson took a detour to RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire. Upon seeing a line of Hawker Hurricane fighters Johnson remarked "If I've got to fight Hitler I'd sooner fight him in one of those than on a bloody great horse!". [18]

Flight training Edit

In August 1939, Johnson was finally accepted by the RAFVR and began training at weekends at the airfield Stapleford Tawney, a satellite airfield of RAF North Weald. There he received ground instruction on airmanship. [19] Taught by retired service pilots of 21 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Johnson trained on the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane. Upon the outbreak of war in September 1939, with the rank of sergeant, Johnson entrained for Cambridge. He arrived at the 2nd Initial Training Wing to begin flight instruction. He was interviewed by senior officers in which he said his profession and knowledge of topography, surveying and mapping would make him more useful in a reconnaissance role. The wing commander agreed, but nonetheless, Johnson was selected for fighter pilot training and given the service number 754750 with the rank of sergeant. Johnson and several hundred others were entrained for Cambridge and the 2 initial Training Wing. While assigned here Johnson learned basic military drill, sometimes given the slang name "square bashing". [20]

By December 1939, Johnson began his initial training at 22 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School), Cambridge. He flew only three times in December 1939 and eight in January 1940, all as second pilot. On 29 February 1940, Johnson flew solo for the first time in Tiger Moth N6635. On 15 March and 24 April, he passed a 50-minute flight test followed by two night flights the following day. The chief flying instructor passed him on 6 May. [21] He then moved to 5 FTS at Sealand before completing training at 7 OTU (Operational Training Unit) – RAF Hawarden in Wales flying the Miles Master N7454 where he earned his instrument, navigation, night-flying ratings and practised forced landings. After training was complete on 7 August 1940, Johnson received his "wings" and was immediately inducted into the General Duties Branch of the RAF as a pilot officer with 55 hours and 5 minutes solo flying. [22]

On 19 August 1940, Johnson flew a Spitfire for the first time. Over the next weeks he practised handling, formation flying, attacks, battle climbs, aerobatics and dogfighting. [23] During his training flights, he stalled and crashed a Spitfire. Johnson had his harness straps on too loose, and wrenched his shoulders – revealing that his earlier rugby injury had not healed properly. The Spitfire did a ground loop, ripping off one of the undercarriage legs and forcing the other up through the port main plane. The commanding officer (CO) excused Johnson, for the short airfield was difficult to land on for an inexperienced pilot. Johnson got the impression, however, that he would be watched closely, and felt that if he made another mistake, he would be "certainly washed out". [24] Johnson tried to pack the injured shoulder with wool, held in place by adhesive tape. He also tightened the straps to reduce vibrations while flying. The measures proved useless and Johnson found he had lost feeling in his right hand. When he dived the pressure aggravated his shoulder. He often tried to fly using his left hand only, but Spitfires had to be handled with both hands during anything other than simple manoeuvres. [25] Despite the difficulties with his injuries, on 28 August 1940, the course was complete. Johnson had 205.25 hours on operational types including 23.50 on the Spitfire. [23] [26]

Injury resurfaces Edit

After training, in August 1940, he was briefly posted to No. 19 Squadron as a probationary pilot officer. Due to equipment difficulties, 19 Squadron were unable to complete Johnson's training and he left the unit. On 6 September 1940 Johnson was posted to No. 616 Squadron at RAF Coltishall. Squadron Leader H.L "Billy" Burton took Johnson on a 50-minute training flight in X4055. After the flight Burton impressed upon Johnson the difficulties of deflection shooting and the technique of a killing shot from line-astern or near line-astern positions the duty of the number two whose job was not to shoot down enemy aircraft but to ensure the leader's tail was safe. Burton also directed Johnson to some critical tactical essentials the importance of keeping good battle formation and the tactical use of sun, cloud and height. [27] Five days later, Johnson flew an X-Raid patrol in Spitfire X4330, qualifying for the Battle of Britain clasp. [28]

Johnson's old injury continued to trouble him and he found flying high performance aircraft like the Spitfire extremely painful. RAF medics gave him two options he could have an operation that would correct the problem, but this meant he would miss the Battle of Britain, or becoming a training instructor flying the light Tiger Moth. Johnson opted for the operation. [29] He had hoped for discreet treatment, but word soon reached the CO, and Johnson was taken off flying duties and sent to the RAF hospital at Rauceby. He did not return to the squadron until 28 December 1940. [30] CO Burton took Johnson up for a test flight on 31 December 1940 in Miles Magister L8151. After the 45-minute flight, Johnson's fitness to fly was approved. [31]

Johnson returned to operational flying in early 1941 in 616 Squadron, which was forming part of the Tangmere Wing. Johnson often found himself flying alongside Wing Commander Douglas Bader and Australian ace Tony Gaze. On 15 January 1941, Johnson, the recently appointed Squadron Leader Burton and Pilot Officer Hugh Dundas, who arrived back at the squadron on 13 September 1940, took off to offer cover for a convoy off North Cotes. The controller vectored the pair onto an enemy aircraft, a Dornier Do 17. Both attacked the bomber and lost sight of it and each other. Although the controllers intercepted distress signals from the bomber Johnson did not see it crash. They were credited with one enemy aircraft damaged. It was the only time Johnson was to engage a German bomber. By the end of January, Johnson had added another 16.35 flying hours on Spitfires. [32]

In the opening months, Johnson flew as a night fighter pilot. Using day fighters to act as night fighters without radar was largely unsuccessful in intercepting German bombers during the Blitz Johnson's only action occurred on 22 February 1941 when he damaged a Messerschmitt Bf 110 in Spitfire R6611, QJ-F. [32] A week later, Johnson's squadron was moved to RAF Tangmere on the Channel coast. [32] Johnson was eager to see combat after just 10.40 operational hours and welcomed the prospect of meeting the enemy from Tangmere. If the Germans did not resume their assault the wing was to take the fight to them. [33]

In November 1940 Air Marshal Sholto Douglas became Air Officer Commanding (AOC) RAF Fighter Command. On 8 December 1940 a directive from the Air Staff called for Sector Offensive Sweeps. It ordered hit-and-run operations over Belgium and France. The operations were to be conducted by three squadrons to harass German air defences. On 10 January 1941 Circus attacks were initiated by sending small bomber formations protected by large numbers of fighters. The escalation of offensive operations throughout 1941 was designed to draw up the Luftwaffe as Douglas' command took an increasingly offensive stance. These operations became known as the Circus offensive. [34] Trafford Leigh-Mallory, AOC 11 Group, penned Operations Instruction No. 7, which he had written on 16 February. Leigh-Mallory outlined six distinct operations for day fighters: Ramrod (bomber escort with primary goal the destruction of the target) Fighter Ramrod (the same goal where fighters escorted ground-attack fighters) Roadstead (bomber escort and anti-shipping operations) Fighter Roadstead (the same operation as Roadstead but without bombers) along with Rhubarb (poor weather ground attack operation) and Circus operations (see glossary). [35]

Circus offensives Edit

Johnson's first contact with enemy single-engine fighters did not go as planned. Bader undertook a patrol with Dundas as his number two. Johnson followed in his section as number three with Whaley "Nip" Heppell guarding his tail as Red Four. Johnson spotted three Bf 109s a few hundred feet higher and travelling in the same direction. Johnson, forgetting to calmly report the number, type and position of the enemy, shouted, "Look out Dogsbody!" (Bader's call sign). Such a call was only to be used if the pilot in question was in imminent danger of being attacked. The section broke in all directions and headed to Tangmere singly. The mistake brought an embarrassing rebuke from Bader at the debriefing. [36]

Johnson flew various operations over France including the Rhubarb ground attack missions which Johnson hated—he considered it a waste of pilots. [37] Several successful fighter pilots had been lost this way. Flight Lieutenant Eric Lock and Wing Commander Paddy Finucane were killed on Rhubarb operations in August 1941 and July 1942 respectively. Squadron leader Robert Stanford Tuck would be captured carrying out a similar operation in January 1942. During this time, Dundas and other pilots also expressed dissatisfaction with the formation tactics being used in the wing. After a long conversation into the early hours, Bader accepted the suggestions by his senior pilots and agreed to the use of more flexible tactics to lessen the chances of being taken by surprise. The tactical changes involved operating overlapping line abreast formations similar to the German finger-four formation. The tactics were used thereafter by all RAF pilots in the wing. [38]

The first use of these tactics by the Tangmere Wing was used on 6 May 1941. The wing engaged Bf 109Fs from Jagdgeschwader 51 (Fighter Wing 51), led by Werner Mölders. Noticing the approaching Germans below and behind them, the Spitfires feigned ignorance. Waiting for the optimum moment to turn the tables, Bader called for them to break, and whip around behind the Bf 109s. Unfortunately for the Tangmere Wing, while the tactic had been successful in avoiding a surprise attack, the break was mistimed. It left some Bf 109s still behind the Spitfires. In the battle that followed the wing shot down one Bf 109 and damaged another, although Dundas was shot down for the second time in his career—and once again by Mölders, who had remained behind the British. Dundas was able to nurse his crippled fighter back to base and crash-land. [39]

One month later, Johnson gained his first air victory. On 26 June Johnson participated in Circus 24. Crossing the coast near Gravelines, Bader warned of 24 Bf 109s nearby, southeast, in front of the wing. The Bf 109s saw the British and turned to attack the lower No. 610 Squadron from the rear. While watching three Bf 109s above him dive to port, Johnson lost sight of his wing commander at 15,000 feet. Immediately a Bf 109E flew in front of him and turned slightly to port at a range of 150 yards. After receiving hits, the Bf 109's hood was jettisoned and the pilot baled out. Several No. 145 Squadron pilots witnessed the victory. He had expended 278 rounds from P7837's guns. The Bf 109 was one of five lost by Jagdgeschwader 2 (Fighter Wing 2) that day. [40]

A flurry of action followed. On 1 July 1941 he expended 89 rounds and damaged a Bf 109E. Bader's section was attacked and Johnson out-turned his assailant. Firing, he saw glycol streaming behind it. On 14 July, the Tangmere Wing flew on Circus 48 to St Omer. Losing sight of the squadron, Johnson and his wingman proceeded inland at 3,000 feet after spotting three aircraft. Turning in behind them, he identified them as Bf 109Fs. Johnson dived so as to come up and underneath into the enemy's blind spot. Closing to 15 yards, he gave the trailing Bf 109 a two-second burst. The tail was blown off and his windshield was covered in oil from the Messerschmitt. Johnson saw the other Bf 109s spinning down out of control. Having also lost his wingman, Johnson disengaged. Climbing and crossing the coast at Etaples, Johnson bounced a Bf 109E. Giving chase in a dive to 2,000 feet and firing at 150 yards, he observed something flying off the Bf 109's starboard wing. Johnson could not see any more owing to the oil-covered windscreen and did not make a claim. His second victory was probably Unteroffizier (corporal) R. Klienike, III./Jagdgeschwader 26 (Third Group, Fighter Wing 26) who was posted missing. [41]

On 21 July, Johnson shared in the destruction of another Bf 109 with Pilot Officer Heppell. Johnson's wingman disappeared during the battle. Sergeant Mabbet was mortally wounded but made a wheels-up landing near St Omer. Impressed with his skilful flying while badly wounded, the Germans buried him with full honours. On 23 July, Johnson damaged another Bf 109. During this battle Adolf Galland, Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of JG 26 was wounded his life was saved by a recently installed armour plate behind his head. [42]

Johnson took part in the 9 August 1941 mission in which Bader was lost over France. On that day Douglas Bader had been without his usual wingman Sir Alan Smith who was unable to fly due to having a head cold. During the sortie, Johnson destroyed a solitary Messerschmitt Bf 109. [43] Johnson flew as wingman to Dundas in Bader's section. As the wing crossed the coast, around 70 Bf 109s were reported in the area, the Luftwaffe aircraft outnumbering Bader's wing by 3:1. Spotting a group of Bf 109s 1,000 feet below them, Bader led a bounce on a lower group. The formations fell apart and the air battle became a mass of twisting aircraft

It seemed to me the biggest danger was a collision rather than being shot down, that's how close we all were. We got the 109s we were bouncing then (Squadron Leader) Holden came down with his section, so there were a lot of aeroplanes . just 50 yards apart. It was awful . all you could think about was surviving, getting out of that mass of aircraft. [44]

Johnson exited the melee and was then immediately attacked by three Bf 109s. The closest was 100 yards away. Maintaining a steep, tight, spiralling turn, he dived into cloud and immediately headed for Dover. Coming out of the cloud, Johnson saw a lone Bf 109. Suspecting it to be one of the three that had chased him, he searched for the other two. Seeing nothing, Johnson attacked and shot it down. It was his fourth victory. [45] Johnson ended his month's tally by adding a probable victory on 21 August. But it had been a bad day and month for the wing. The much loathed Circus and Rhubarb raids had cost Fighter Command 108 fighters. The Germans lost just 18. On 4 September 1941 Johnson was promoted to flight lieutenant and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). [46]

Johnson's last certain victories of the year were achieved on 21 September 1941. Escorting Bristol Blenheims to Gosnay, the top cover wings failed to rendezvous with the bombers. Near Le Touquet at 15:15 and around 20,000 feet, Johnson's section was bounced by 30 Bf 109s. Johnson broke and turned in and behind a Bf 109F. Approaching from a quarter astern and slightly below, Johnson fired closing from 200 to 70 yards. Pilot Officer Smith of Johnson's section observed the pilot bail out. Pursued by several enemy aircraft, Johnson dived to ground level. About 10 miles off Le Touquet, other Bf 109s attacked. Allowing the Germans to close within range, Johnson turned into a steep left-hand turn. It took him onto the tail of a Bf 109. Johnson fired and broke away at 50 yards. The Bf 109 was hit, stalled and crashed into the sea. Johnson was pursued until 10 miles south of Dover. The two victories made Johnson's total to six destroyed, which now meant he was an official flying ace. In winter 1941, Johnson and 616 Squadron moved to training duties. The odd convoy patrol was flown but it was an idle period for the squadron which had now concluded its "Tangmere tour". [47]

Squadron leader to wing commander Edit

On 31 January 1942, the squadron moved to RAF Kings Cliffe. After an uneventful few months, RAF Fighter Command resumed its offensive policy in April 1942 when the weather cleared for large-scale operations. Johnnie flew seven sweeps that month. But the situation had now changed. The Spitfire V, which was flown by the RAF had been a match for the Bf 109F, however, the Germans had introduced a new fighter: the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. It was faster at all altitudes below 25,000 feet, possessed a faster roll rate, was more heavily armed and could out-dive and out-climb the Spitfire. Only in the turn could the Spitfire outperform the Fw 190. The introduction of this new enemy fighter resulted in heavier casualty rates among the Spitfire squadrons until a new mark of Spitfire could be produced. Johnson claimed a damaged Fw 190 on 15 April 1942 but he witnessed the Fw 190s get the better of the British pilots consistently throughout most of 1942:

Yes, the 190 was causing us real problems at this time. We could out-turn it, but you couldn't turn all day. As the number of 190s increased, so the depth of our penetrations decreased. They drove us back to the coast really. [48]

On 25 May, Johnson experienced an unusual mission. His section engaged a Dornier Do 217 carrying British markings, four miles west of his base. Johnson allowed the three inexperienced pilots to attack it, but they only managed to damage the bomber. Days later, on 26 June 1942, Johnson was awarded the bar to his DFC. More welcome news was received late in the month as the first Spitfire Mk. IXs began reaching RAF units. On 10 July 1942, Johnson was promoted to the rank of squadron leader, effective as of the 13 July, and given command of 610 Squadron. [49]

In rhubarb operations over France, Johnson's wing commander, Patrick Jameson, insisted that the line-astern formation be used which caused Johnson to question why tactics such as the finger-four had not been universally adopted. Johnson criticised the lack of tactical consistency and when his squadron flew top cover, he often changed to the finger-four as soon as they reached the French coast, hoping his wing leader would not notice. [50]

By August 1942, preparations were begun for a major operation, Jubilee, at Dieppe. The Dieppe raid took place on 19 August 1942. Johnson took off at 07:40 in Spitfire VB. EP254, DW-B. Running into around 50 Bf 109s and Fw 190s in fours, pairs and singly. In a climbing attack Johnson shot down one Fw 190 which crashed into the sea and shared in the destruction of a Bf 109F. While heading back to base, Johnson attacked an alert Fw 190 which met his attack head on. The dogfight descended from 8,000 to zero feet. Flying over Dieppe, Johnson dived towards a destroyer in the hope its fire would drive off the Fw 190, now on his tail. The move worked and Johnson landed back at RAF West Malling at 09:20. For the remainder of the year, the squadron was moved to RAF Castletown in September 1942 to protect the Royal Navy fleet at Scapa Flow. [51] [52]

Johnson took command of No. 127 Wing RCAF based at RAF Kenley after Christmas and they received the new Spitfire IX: the answer to the Fw 190. After gaining a probable against a Fw 190 in February 1943, Johnnie selected Spitfire EN398 after a 50-minute test flight on 22 March 1943. [53] It became his regular mount. Being a wing commander now meant his initials could be painted on the machine. His Spitfires now carried JE-J. He was also allotted the call sign "Greycap". [54] [55]

Johnson set about changing the wing's tactical approach. He quickly forced the wing to abandon the line-astern tactics for the finger-four formation which offered much more safety in combat enabling multiple pilots to participate in scanning the skies for enemy aircraft so as to avoid an attack, and also being better able to spot and position their unit for a surprise attack upon the enemy. Johnson made another alteration to his units operations. He loathed ground-attack missions which highly trained fighter pilots were forced to participate in. He abandoned ground attack missions whenever he could. [54] During these weeks, Johnson's wing escorted United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) bombers to targets in France. On a fighter sweep, Ramrod 49, Johnson destroyed an Fw 190 for his eighth victory. Unteroffizier Hans Hiess from 6. Staffel bailed out, but his parachute failed to open. [56]

The spring proved to be a busy one Johnson claimed three Fw 190s damaged two days later. On 11 and 13 May he destroyed an Fw 190 to reach ten individual air victories while sharing in the destruction of another on the later date and a Bf 109 on 1 June. [57] A further five victories against Fw 190s were achieved in June. Two were claimed on the 15 June. On the 17 June while leading the wing over Calais Johnson bounced one of JG 26's Gruppen led by Wilhelm-Ferdinand Galland. He shot down Unteroffizier Gunther Freitag, 8./JG 26 who was killed. On 24 June he claimed one destroyed and one damaged on and another victory on the 27th to bring his total to 15. [58] [59]

Johnson scored more success in July. The USAAF began Blitz Week a concentrated effort against German targets. Escorting American bombers, Johnson destroyed three Bf 109s and damaged another, the last being shot down on 30 July his tally stood at 18. [60] There was still no standard formation procedure in Fighter Command, and Johnson's use of the finger-four made the wing distinct in the air. It earned 144 Wing the nickname "Wolfpack". [61] The name remained until 144 Wing was moved to an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Lashenden and was renamed No. 127 Wing RCAF, part of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force under the command of No. 83 Group RAF.

The tactics proved successful in the Canadian wing. Johnson scored his 19th to 21st victories on 23 and 26 August, whilst claiming yet another Fw 190 on 4 September 1943. Johnson's 19th victory was gained against Oberfeldwebel (First-Sergeant) Erich Borounik 10./JG 26, who was killed. [62] Johnson's 21st victim, Oberfeldwebel Walter Grunlinger 10./JG 26, was also killed. [63]

Johnson's portrait is included in a montage of eighteen pilots painted by Olive Snell at RAF Westhampnett in 1943 it is now in the Goodwood collection on the same site. [64]

Normandy to the Rhine Edit

In the lead up to the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings Johnson continued to score regularly. His 22nd and 23rd victories were achieved on 25 April 1944 and Johnson became the highest scoring ace still on operations. These victories were followed by another Fw 190 on the 5 May (no. 24) III./JG 26 lost Feldwebel Horst Schwentick and Unteroffizier Manfred Talkenberg killed during the air battle. [65] After the landings in France on 6 June 1944, Johnson added further to his tally, claiming another five aerial victories that month including two Bf 109s on 28 June. The mission in which Johnson recorded his 26th victory on 22 June was particularly eventful four more Fw 190s fell to his wing. After bouncing a formation of Bf 109s and Fw 190s, he shot down a Bf 109 for his 29th victory. Five days later, Johnson destroyed two Fw 190s to reach his 30th and 31st air victories. [66]

Johnson's wing was the first to be stationed on French soil following the invasion. With their radius of action now far extended compared to the squadrons still in Britain, the wing scored heavily through the summer. [67] On 21 August 1944, Johnson was leading No. 443 Squadron on a patrol over the Seine, near Paris. Johnson bounced a formation of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, shooting down two, which were recorded on the cine camera. [68] Climbing back to his starting point at 8,000 ft, Johnson attempted to join a formation of six aircraft, he thought were Spitfires. The fighters were actually Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Johnson escaped by doing a series of steep climbs, during which he nearly stalled and blacked out. He eventually evaded the Messerschmitts, which had been trying to flank him on either side, while two more stuck to his tail. Johnson's Spitfire IX was hit by enemy aircraft fire for the only time, taking cannon shells in the rudder and elevators. [69] Johnson had now equalled and surpassed Sailor Malan's record score of 32, shooting down two Fw 190s for his 32nd and 33rd air victories. [70] However Johnson considered Malan's exploits to be better. Johnson points out, when Malan fought (during 1940—41), he did so outnumbered, and had matched the enemy even then. Johnson said:

Malan had fought with great distinction when the odds were against him. He matched his handful of Spitfires against greatly superior numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and bombers. He had been forced to fight a defensive battle over southern England and often at a tactical disadvantage, when the top-cover Messerschmitts [Bf 109s and Bf 110s] were high in the sun. I had always fought on the offensive, and, after 1941, I had either a squadron, a wing or sometimes two wings behind me. [71]

In September 1944 Johnson's wing participated in support actions for Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. On 27 September 1944, Johnson's last victory of the war was over Nijmegen. His flight bounced a formation of nine Bf 109s, one of which Johnson shot down. During this combat Squadron Leader Henry "Wally" McLeod, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and his squadron had joined Johnson. [72] During this action McLeod went missing, possibly shot down by Siegfried Freytag of Jagdgeschwader 77 (Fighter Wing 77). [73]

The wing rarely saw enemy aircraft for the remainder of the year. Only on 1 January 1945 did the Germans appear in large numbers, during Operation Bodenplatte to support their faltering attack in the Ardennes. Johnson witnessed the German attack on his wing's airfield at Brussels–Melsbroek. He recalled the Germans seemed inexperienced and their shooting was "atrocious". [74] Johnson led a Spitfire patrol to prevent a second wave of German aircraft attacking but engaged no enemy aircraft, since there was no follow-up attack. From late January and through most of February, Johnson reduced his flying time. [74]

In March 1945, Johnson patrolled as Operation Plunder and Operation Varsity pushed Allied armies into Germany. There was little sign of the Luftwaffe. Numerous ground-attack operations were carried out instead. On 26 March Johnson's wing was relocated to Twente and he was promoted to group captain. Days later Johnson took command of No. 125 Wing. On 5 April, after returning from patrol in Spitfire Mk XIV MV268, he switched off the engine just as a Bf 109 flew overhead. Seeing the Spitfire, it turned in for an attack Johnson took cover under his fighter while the airfield defences shot down the 109. On 16 April 1945 Johnson's wing moved to RAF Celle in Germany. [74]

During the last week of the war, Johnson's squadron flew patrols over Berlin and Kiel as German resistance crumbled. During a flight over central Germany looking for jet fighters, Johnson's squadron attacked Luftwaffe airfields. On one sortie, his unit strafed and destroyed 11 Bf 109s that were preparing to take off. [75] On another sortie, an enemy transport was sighted, but took evasive action and retreated back to German held territory but Johnson's pilots shot it down. On another occasion, Johnson intercepted a flight of four Fw 190s. The German fighters, however, waggled their wings to signal non-hostile intent and Johnson's unit escorted them to an RAF airfield. [76]

After the German capitulation in May 1945, Johnson relocated with his unit to Copenhagen, Denmark. Here, his association with the Belgian No. 350 Squadron RAF led him to be awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the rank of officer of the Order of Léopold with Palms. [77]

Johnson was given a permanent commission by the RAF after the war initially as a squadron leader, on promotion to wing commander (his wartime rank) becoming OC Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment at RAF West Raynham in Norfolk.

Korean War Edit

During an exchange posting to the US Air Force, in 1950 he served in the Korean War flying the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star, and later flew the North American F-86 Sabres with the US Air Force Tactical Air Command. Johnson did not leave any written record of his experiences but at the end of his tour received the US Air Medal and Legion of Merit. [77]

Further RAF Service Edit

In 1951, Johnson commanded a wing at RAF Fassberg, [77] a station in the RAF Second Tactical Air Force in West Germany.

In 1952, he was promoted to group captain and commanded RAF Wildenrath in West Germany until 1954.

From 1954 to 1957 he was deputy director operations (DD(Ops)) at the Air Ministry in London.

In 1956 his wartime memoir, Wing Leader was published.

On 20 October 1957, Johnson became commanding officer of RAF Cottesmore in the UK, commanding a station operating the Victor V bomber.

In 1960 he was promoted to air commodore and attended the Imperial Defence College (IDC) course in London and in June 1960 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his work as station commander at Cottesmore.

After the course he was posted to the headquarters of No. 3 Group RAF of Bomber Command at RAF Mildenhall.

On 1 October 1963 he was promoted to air vice marshal and served as air officer commanding (AOC) RAF Middle East based at Aden. [78] [77]

In 1964 he published his book Full Circle, a history of air fighting, co-written with Percy "Laddie" Lucas, a former Member of Parliament and Douglas Bader's brother-in-law. [79]

In 1965 on retirement from the RAF he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). [77]

Later life Edit

Johnson was a deputy lieutenant for the County of Leicestershire in 1967. [80] He established the Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust. In 1969 and by 2001 the housing association managed over 4,000 properties. [79]

After the death of the WW2 RAF fighter pilot Douglas Bader in 1982, Johnson, Denis Crowley-Milling and Sir Hugh Dundas set up the Douglas Bader Foundation, to continue supporting disabled charities, of which Bader was a passionate supporter. [81]

Johnson was also the first to recognise the skills of Robert Taylor, aviation artist, in the 1980s. Depictions of aircraft and battle scenes in print began to become popular and he helped Taylor promote them. The venture was successful and Johnson's sons set up their own distribution networks in the United States and Britain. [79]

Johnson spent most of the 1980s and 1990s as a keynote speaker, fundraiser and spending time on his hobbies travelling, fishing, shooting and walking his dogs. [82] Johnson appeared on the long–running British television show This Is Your Life on 8 May 1985, the 40th anniversary of VE Day. [83] Among the programme's guests was German fighter ace Walter Matoni. British wartime propaganda had alleged Johnson had challenged Matoni to a personal duel a version of events denied by Johnson. The two men arranged to meet after the war but were unable to do so until the TV programme. Among other guests was Hugh Dundas, "Nip" Heppel, who flew alongside Johnson on his first operation—in which he earned a rebuke from Bader—Crowley-Milling, Johnson's former wing commander Patrick Jameson and his uncle, Charlie Rossell who was over 100 years old at the time. [84]

As a teenager, Johnson became fascinated by speed and joined the Melton Car Club with two boyhood friends. Johnson enjoyed the lifestyle of cars and "pacey women". [13] Although he had many early interests, Johnson later settled and added to his family. On 14 November 1942, Johnson married Pauline Ingate in Norwich during home leave. Hugh Dundas acted as best man and Lord Beaverbrook's son, Wing Commander Max Aitken also attended. [85] [86] During the war Pauline worked for the Fire Service. [77] They had two sons: Michael (16 October 1944) [87] and Chris (born 1 December 1946). After the couple split up, Johnson lived with his partner, Janet Partridge. [88]

On 30 January 2001, Johnson, aged 85 years, died from cancer. A memorial service took place on 25 April 2001 at St Clement Danes and the hymns Jerusalem and I Vow to Thee, My Country were played. [89] His children scattered his ashes on the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire. The only memorial was a bench dedicated to him at his favourite fishing spot on the estate the inscription reads "In Memory of a Fisherman". [90]

Johnson's wartime record was 515 sorties flown, 34 aircraft claimed destroyed with a further seven shared destroyed (three and one shared victories), three probable destroyed, 10 damaged, and one shared, destroyed on the ground. [9] All his victories were fighters. As a wing leader, Johnson was able to use his initials "JE-J" in place of squadron code letters. He scored the bulk of his victories flying two Mk IXs: EN398/JEJ in which he shot down 12 aircraft and shared five plus six and one shared damaged, while commanding the Kenley Wing MK392/JEJ, an L.F Mk. IX, 12 aircraft plus one shared, destroyed on the ground. His last victory of the war was scored in this aircraft. Johnson ended the war flying a Mk XIVE, MV268/JEJ. [91] His post-war mount was MV257/JEJ it was the last Spitfire to carry his initials. [92]

The ability to verify British claims against the British' main opponents in 1941 and 1942, JG 26 and JG 2, is very limited. Only two of the 30 volumes of War Diaries produced by JG 26 survived the war. Historian Donald Caldwell has attempted to use what limited German material is available to compare losses and air victory claims but acknowledges the lack of sources leave the possibility for error. [93]


From Moths to Merlins: RAF West Malling: Premier Night Fighter Station

As a small club airfield during the 1930s, West Malling was very popular with flyers. Taken over by the RAF in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War, West Malling became a forward landing airfield to Biggin Hill. Unfinished at the start of the Battle of Britain, it played no operational part during the conflict. However, due to faulty German intelligence, it was bombed on several occasions delaying completion even further. From 1941, it became the home of many night fighter squadrons within the umbrella of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command. During the flawed Dieppe operation, it became a forward base for day fighter squadrons, after which it reverted to its primary role.

One of the main anti-diver bases during the V1 campaign during 1944, it continued in its defensive role during peacetime until 1960 when the MOD leased the airfield to the American Navy. After two years, it returned to the MOD who sold the site to the Kent County Council for development as an industrial park together with housing. As a result, all civil flying and Air Cadet gliding ceased despite much local opposition to the plans.

THE AUTHOR
Robin Brooks is an aviation historian and writer. His interest in aviation began as an Air Cadet with No. 2158 (Sevenoaks) Squadron. Following two years’ National Service in the RAF writing aircraft servicing schedules with CSDE, he continued writing as a hobby and is now the author of ten books on airfield histories and a regular contributor to the aviation journals. He is the publicity director for Medway Aircraft Preservation Society and is chairman and treasurer of the Kent Aviation Historical Society. He is married with a son and lives in Maidstone.


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Lympne Airfield At War and Peace

Tempsford Academy: Churchill's and Roosevelt's Secret Airfield

SBAC Farnborough: A History

Northern ‘Q’: The History of Royal Air Force Leuchars (paperback edition)

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A Detailed History of RAF Manston 1941-1945: Invicta - The Undefeated

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The Perfect Aerodrome: A History of RAF Chivenor 1932-1995

The History of the Biggin Hill International Air Fair

De Havilland and Hatfield: 1910-1935

Kent's Own: The Story of No. 500 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force

A Detailed History of RAF Manston 1916-1930: The Men Who Made Manston

From Moths to Merlins: RAF West Malling Airfield: Premier Night Fighter Station

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After the war

Night fighters, 1950s and 1960s

In use throughout the 1950s and early 1960s as Britain's premier night fighter station, [7]

United States Navy until 1967

RAF West Malling then became home to several squadrons of the US Navy, until 1967.

Care & Maintenance

It was then placed on Care & Maintenance, used by several air-industry related businesses.

In March 1965, Air Cadet 618 VGS (Volunteer Gliding School) moved to West Malling from RAF Manston, setting up its headquarters in the old dispersal area near the runway threshold. Its aircraft (cable-launched Vanguard TX1 gliders) and equipment were stored into one of the large T.2 Type hangars where they remained until 1992.

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, new build Saab 340 were sent to an aircraft finishing company established here, routing via London Southend Airport, in order to be sprayed into the colour schemes of customer airlines.


Kent Airfields in the Second World War

After becoming a prisoner of war , Leutnant Fritz Setzer little thought that he
would ever see West Malling again . Fate however was to play a hand , for in
1997 he returned to the former RAF station , now a housing and industrial estate ,
as a .

Author: Robin J. Brooks

Publisher: British Airfields of World War

ISBN: IND:30000132074224

A full account of the part played by Kent's airfields during the Second World War. The history of each airfield is described with the aircraft based at them and the main operations flown. The effects of the war on the daily lives of civilians, and the constant dangers from raids and night bombing are also detailed. Fully illustrated.


Contents

First World War Edit

No. 25 Squadron was initially formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at Montrose, Scotland on 25 September 1915, from a nucleus provided by No. 6 (Reserve) Squadron. [5] Upon its formation, the Squadron operated numerous types such as the Maurice Farman MF.11 Shorthorn and the Avro 504. [6] No. 25 Squadron relocated to Barnham, Norfolk on 31 December and shortly after were equipped with the Vickers F.B.5, these however were exchanged for the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b by February. [7] [8] The Squadron was deployed to the RFC HQ at Saint-Omer, France on 20 February, as a long-range reconnaissance and fighter unit. [7] No. 25 Squadron was initially tasked with intercepting German aircraft, operating in the routes taken by the Luftstreitkräfte on their way to raid England. However this was proven to be ineffective and the Squadron was transferred in order to protect General Headquarters and Audruicq, flying sorties with No. 21 Squadron. [7]

On 1 April, the Squadron relocated to the aerodrome at Auchel, operating alongside No. 18 Squadron and No. 27 Squadron. [9] From here the Squadron supported the British 1st Army near Fromelles and Souchez. [7] In June 1916, in preparation for the Somme Offensive, the Squadron had its ranked bolstered to 18 machines, 20 pilots and 18 observers. In the prelude to the battle, No. 25 Squadron flew reconnaissance and bombing missions behind enemy lines. [7] On 18 June, Cpl. James Henry Waller, and his pilot 2nd Lt. George Reynolds McCubbin, shot down famous German ace Max Immelmann. This occurred during No. 25 Squadron's second encounter with Immelmann that day, after he previously shot down Lt. C. E. Rogers for his 16th victory. Immelmann, flying a Fokker E.III, engaged No. 25 Squadron over Lens and subsequently shot down Lt. J. R. B. Savage before closing in on McCubbin's F.E.2b, whose gunner, Waller, opened fire and shot him down. [10] For their accomplishment, McCubbin was awarded the Distinguished Service Order while Waller was promoted to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Service Medal. [11] When the offensive started on 1 July, No. 25 Squadron started flying night time bombing missions. It started operating D.H.4 bombers in June 1917. [12]

Interwar years Edit

After the war the squadron acquired D.H.9s. The unit was disbanded on 31 January 1920 at RAF Scopwick. The squadron reformed the next day at RAF Hawkinge, flying Snipes, and went to Turkey in 1922/23 during the Chanak Crisis. After returning to the UK the unit stayed for a number of years at Hawkinge. The Snipes gave way to Grebes and later Siskins, while in December 1936 the squadron became the first unit to receive the Hawker Fury Mk II, having already flown the Fury Mk I since 1932. The Fury was replaced by the Hawker Demon when the squadron was given a night-fighter role. For night-flying training purposes the squadron also received Gloster Gladiators. [15]

Second World War Edit

No. 25(F) Squadron moved to RAF Northolt on 12 September 1938. During World War II it flew Blenheims on night patrols, which were replaced by Beaufighters and later Mosquitos. By the closing stages of the war, the squadron was almost entirely committed to bomber escort missions. [16] The squadron was particularly successful during Operation Steinbock from January to May 1944. [17]

Cold War Edit

After the war No. 25 Squadron continued to operate the Mosquito NF.30 night fighter from their base at RAF West Malling until November 1951, when they were replaced by jet powered De Havilland Vampire NF.10, conversion to type having commenced in February 1951. The Vampires were then replaced by Gloster Meteor NF Mk.12 and 14s in March 1954. In 1957 the squadron moved from West Malling to RAF Tangmere, where it disbanded on 23 June 1958. [12] On 1 July 1958 No. 153 Squadron RAF was renumbered No. 25 Squadron and the squadron flew Meteors until their replacement in 1959 by the Gloster Javelin FAW Mk.7s. [12]

The Bloodhound missile years Edit

No. 25 Squadron disbanded again on 30 November 1962, reforming a year later as the RAF's first Bristol Bloodhound SAM unit, based at RAF North Coates. [12] In this role the squadron moved to RAF Bruggen in 1970, with detachments also protecting RAF Laarbruch and RAF Wildenrath. [12] In 1983 the squadron moved to RAF Wyton, similarly protecting RAF Barkston Heath and RAF Wattisham. [12]

On Tornados Edit

The RAF withdrew the Bloodhound from 25 Squadron in October 1989 and the squadron immediately reformed at RAF Leeming as a RAF Tornado F3 fighter squadron, which became operational in January 1990, alongside 11 Squadron and 23 Squadron as part of No. 11 Group RAF. [4] Between September – December 1993 and May – August 1995, No. 25 (F) Squadron aircrew and groundcrew took part in Operation Deny Flight, a NATO-led operation enforcing the United Nations (UN) no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Operating out of Gioia del Colle Air Base near Bari, Italy, on each occasion the squadron took over responsibility for supporting the no-fly zone from 23 Squadron before being relieved by 5 Squadron from RAF Coningsby. In the late 1990s the squadron deployed operationally to Saudi Arabia to protect the Shi'ite Muslims of southern Iraq by flying Combat Air Patrol missions below the 33rd parallel, enforcing the southern no-fly zone imposed by Operation Southern Watch. [18] Between October 2004 and January 2005 a contingent of 4 aircraft from 25(F) Sqn was deployed to Siauliana Air Base in Lithuania to provide NATO Air Defence cover to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, following their membership of NATO. Within the United Kingdom the Squadron's primary role, along with 11(F) Sqn prior to their disbandment, was QRA(S), Quick Reaction Alert (South), providing air defence for the Southern UK. Most publicly the Squadron intercepted eight Russian Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bombers and two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in July 2007. The squadron disbanded on 4 April 2008, its Tornados relocating to RAF Leuchars to join the remaining active Tornado F3 squadrons stationed there. [12]

Advanced flying training Edit

In August 2018, it was announced that, due to the increased demand for fast jet pilots in both the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm following the entry into service of the F-35B Lightning, the existing Hawk T.2 squadron at 4 FTS would be split into two, with No. IV (AC) Squadron to be joined by a newly reformed No. 25 Squadron by the end of 2018. No. 25 Squadron will takeover the jet conversion tasks, with No. IV Squadron focusing on tactics and weapons training. [19]


Contents

First World War Edit

No. 25 Squadron was initially formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at Montrose, Scotland on 25 September 1915, from a nucleus provided by No. 6 (Reserve) Squadron. [5] Upon its formation, the Squadron operated numerous types such as the Maurice Farman MF.11 Shorthorn and the Avro 504. [6] No. 25 Squadron relocated to Barnham, Norfolk on 31 December and shortly after were equipped with the Vickers F.B.5, these however were exchanged for the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b by February. [7] [8] The Squadron was deployed to the RFC HQ at Saint-Omer, France on 20 February, as a long-range reconnaissance and fighter unit. [7] No. 25 Squadron was initially tasked with intercepting German aircraft, operating in the routes taken by the Luftstreitkräfte on their way to raid England. However this was proven to be ineffective and the Squadron was transferred in order to protect General Headquarters and Audruicq, flying sorties with No. 21 Squadron. [7]

On 1 April, the Squadron relocated to the aerodrome at Auchel, operating alongside No. 18 Squadron and No. 27 Squadron. [9] From here the Squadron supported the British 1st Army near Fromelles and Souchez. [7] In June 1916, in preparation for the Somme Offensive, the Squadron had its ranked bolstered to 18 machines, 20 pilots and 18 observers. In the prelude to the battle, No. 25 Squadron flew reconnaissance and bombing missions behind enemy lines. [7] On 18 June, Cpl. James Henry Waller, and his pilot 2nd Lt. George Reynolds McCubbin, shot down famous German ace Max Immelmann. This occurred during No. 25 Squadron's second encounter with Immelmann that day, after he previously shot down Lt. C. E. Rogers for his 16th victory. Immelmann, flying a Fokker E.III, engaged No. 25 Squadron over Lens and subsequently shot down Lt. J. R. B. Savage before closing in on McCubbin's F.E.2b, whose gunner, Waller, opened fire and shot him down. [10] For their accomplishment, McCubbin was awarded the Distinguished Service Order while Waller was promoted to Sergeant and received the Distinguished Service Medal. [11] When the offensive started on 1 July, No. 25 Squadron started flying night time bombing missions. It started operating D.H.4 bombers in June 1917. [12]

Interwar years Edit

After the war the squadron acquired D.H.9s. The unit was disbanded on 31 January 1920 at RAF Scopwick. The squadron reformed the next day at RAF Hawkinge, flying Snipes, and went to Turkey in 1922/23 during the Chanak Crisis. After returning to the UK the unit stayed for a number of years at Hawkinge. The Snipes gave way to Grebes and later Siskins, while in December 1936 the squadron became the first unit to receive the Hawker Fury Mk II, having already flown the Fury Mk I since 1932. The Fury was replaced by the Hawker Demon when the squadron was given a night-fighter role. For night-flying training purposes the squadron also received Gloster Gladiators. [15]

Second World War Edit

No. 25(F) Squadron moved to RAF Northolt on 12 September 1938. During World War II it flew Blenheims on night patrols, which were replaced by Beaufighters and later Mosquitos. By the closing stages of the war, the squadron was almost entirely committed to bomber escort missions. [16] The squadron was particularly successful during Operation Steinbock from January to May 1944. [17]

Cold War Edit

After the war No. 25 Squadron continued to operate the Mosquito NF.30 night fighter from their base at RAF West Malling until November 1951, when they were replaced by jet powered De Havilland Vampire NF.10, conversion to type having commenced in February 1951. The Vampires were then replaced by Gloster Meteor NF Mk.12 and 14s in March 1954. In 1957 the squadron moved from West Malling to RAF Tangmere, where it disbanded on 23 June 1958. [12] On 1 July 1958 No. 153 Squadron RAF was renumbered No. 25 Squadron and the squadron flew Meteors until their replacement in 1959 by the Gloster Javelin FAW Mk.7s. [12]

The Bloodhound missile years Edit

No. 25 Squadron disbanded again on 30 November 1962, reforming a year later as the RAF's first Bristol Bloodhound SAM unit, based at RAF North Coates. [12] In this role the squadron moved to RAF Bruggen in 1970, with detachments also protecting RAF Laarbruch and RAF Wildenrath. [12] In 1983 the squadron moved to RAF Wyton, similarly protecting RAF Barkston Heath and RAF Wattisham. [12]

On Tornados Edit

The RAF withdrew the Bloodhound from 25 Squadron in October 1989 and the squadron immediately reformed at RAF Leeming as a RAF Tornado F3 fighter squadron, which became operational in January 1990, alongside 11 Squadron and 23 Squadron as part of No. 11 Group RAF. [4] Between September – December 1993 and May – August 1995, No. 25 (F) Squadron aircrew and groundcrew took part in Operation Deny Flight, a NATO-led operation enforcing the United Nations (UN) no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Operating out of Gioia del Colle Air Base near Bari, Italy, on each occasion the squadron took over responsibility for supporting the no-fly zone from 23 Squadron before being relieved by 5 Squadron from RAF Coningsby. In the late 1990s the squadron deployed operationally to Saudi Arabia to protect the Shi'ite Muslims of southern Iraq by flying Combat Air Patrol missions below the 33rd parallel, enforcing the southern no-fly zone imposed by Operation Southern Watch. [18] Between October 2004 and January 2005 a contingent of 4 aircraft from 25(F) Sqn was deployed to Siauliana Air Base in Lithuania to provide NATO Air Defence cover to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, following their membership of NATO. Within the United Kingdom the Squadron's primary role, along with 11(F) Sqn prior to their disbandment, was QRA(S), Quick Reaction Alert (South), providing air defence for the Southern UK. Most publicly the Squadron intercepted eight Russian Tu-95 Bear-H strategic bombers and two Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in July 2007. The squadron disbanded on 4 April 2008, its Tornados relocating to RAF Leuchars to join the remaining active Tornado F3 squadrons stationed there. [12]

Advanced flying training Edit

In August 2018, it was announced that, due to the increased demand for fast jet pilots in both the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm following the entry into service of the F-35B Lightning, the existing Hawk T.2 squadron at 4 FTS would be split into two, with No. IV (AC) Squadron to be joined by a newly reformed No. 25 Squadron by the end of 2018. No. 25 Squadron will takeover the jet conversion tasks, with No. IV Squadron focusing on tactics and weapons training. [19]


Watch the video: RAF West Malling #2 (January 2022).