No. 37 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 37 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 37 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

No.37 Squadron had been reformed in 1937 as a heavy bomber squadron equipped with the Harrow bomber. It received more modern aircraft, in the shape of the Vickers Wellington I on May 1939, giving the squadron just over three months to get used to the new aircraft.

The squadron went into action seven hours after the British ultimatum to Germany expired, flying a sweep over Heligoland Bight. Heavy loses soon forced Bomber Command to abandon this sort of daylight raid, and the squadron became a night bomber unit.

In November 1940 the squadron was transferred to Egypt, via Malta, from where it carried out a number of sorties. Once in Egypt the squadron took part in the campaign in the western desert, supporting the Eighth Army against Rommel and the Afrika Korps. It also took part in the suppression of the Iraqi revolt and sent a detachment to Greece (March 1941).

In 1943 the squadron took part in the Allied advance, moving to Libya in February and to Tunisia in May. This allowed its bombers to range further across occupied Europe. Finally in December 1943 the squadron moved to Italy, staying at Tortorella from 29 December 1943 until 2 October 1945. While in Italy the Wellingtons were finally replaced with Liberator VIs. From its base in Italy the squadron attacked targets in Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania, as well as dropping supplies to the Yugoslav partisans. The squadron also took part in Allied operations to mine the Danube, blocking it to Axis shipping.

Aircraft
May 1939-November 1939: Vickers Wellington I
September 1939-October 1940: Vickers Wellington IA
October 1940-March 1943: Vickers Wellington IC
March 1943-April 1943: Vickers Wellington III
March 1944-December 1944: Vickers Wellington X
October 1944-March 1946: Consolidated Liberator VI

Location
26 April 1937-30 November 1940: Feltwell
8-14 November: Malta while in transit
30 November-17 December 1940: Fayid
17 December 1940-25 April 1942: Shallufa
March 1941: Detachment sent to Greece
25 April-27 June 1942: LG.09
27-29 June 1942: LG.224
29 June-6 November 1942: Abu Sueir
6-13 November 1942: LG.224
13-30 November 1942: LG.106
30 November 1942-23 January 1943: LG. 140
23 January-14 February 1943: El Magrun
14-25 February 1943: Gardabia East (Libya)
25 February-30 May 1943: Gabdabia West
30 May-15 November 1943: Kairouan/ Temmar(Tunisia)
15 November-14 December 1943: Djedeida
14-29 December 1943: Cerignola (Italy)
29 December 1943-2 October 1945: Tortorella

Squadron Codes:

Group and Duty
26 September 1939-Novmber 1940: Bomber squadron with No. 3 Group
November 1940-December 1943: Bomber squadron, North Africa
December 1943-1945: Italy

Known Raids
3 September 1939: Sweep over Heligoland Bight seven hours after the expirary of the British ultimatum to Germany.

Books


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The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (400312) Sergeant Henry Norman Walker, No. 37 Squadron RAF, Second World War

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (400312) Sergeant Henry Norman Walker, No. 37 Squadron RAF, Second World War.

400312 Sergeant Henry Norman Walker, No. 37 Squadron RAF
KIA 8 March 1942
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 18 April 2014

Today we remember and pay tribute to Sergeant Henry Norman Walker.

Born on 23 October 1918, Henry Walker was the youngest son of Henry and Daisy Walker of Burwood, Victoria. He went to school at Scotch College and Box Hill High School, and played tennis and golf. After school he gained employment at Melford Motors and studied accountancy by correspondence.

Walker enlisted for the Royal Australian Air Force in August 1940. He underwent training in Australia and Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme before being sent to England. From there he was transferred to No. 37 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force, which had been operating in North Africa out of Egypt and Malta. He joined his new squadron as a wire operator air gunner late in 1941.

No. 37 Squadron flew Wellington bombers: long-range, medium bombers that remained in use in the Middle East for much of the campaign there. In March 1942 Walker was part of a Wellington DV.483 crew preparing to depart the airfield at Luqa, Malta, with a full bomb load. They were almost airborne when they hit another Wellington which had been approaching the end of the runway. Both planes had been operating with their lights off in order to minimise the risk of enemy bombing, and one had been moving without permission from flight control. As they collided, both aircraft burst into flames, setting off the bombs and mines on board. Rescue work was carried out straight away, and most of the crews survived. Three men were killed in the accident, one died in hospital later, and another man suspected of being on board was never found.

One of the men killed outright was Sergeant Henry Walker. He was buried in a nearby cemetery, described to his parents in Australia as "a beautiful little garden set at the top of a hill overlooking the sea . filled with cedars, fir trees and flowering shrubs". A photograph of this grave is today displayed beside the Pool of Reflection. Henry Walker was 23 years old.

His name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, along with around 40,000 others from the Second World War. There is no photograph in the Memorial's collection to display beside the Pool of Reflection.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Sergeant Henry Norman Walker, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in the service of our nation.


Contents

No. 452 Squadron RAAF was the first Australian squadron formed in Britain during the Second World War. Its first personnel gathered at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey on 8 April 1941 and the squadron became operational there on 22 May of that year, flying Supermarine Spitfires. No. 452 Squadron rapidly developed a formidable reputation in operations against German forces. They were involved in many different kinds of operations. One of the most unusual was escorting a bomber that — with the co-operation of the Germans — dropped an artificial leg by parachute into Europe, for the use of the British ace Douglas Bader, who was a prisoner of war. The bombers flew on to bomb a factory.

Another notable operation was the attack on the German warships Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau which were attempting the "Channel Dash", from their French harbour. Allied aircraft inflicted severe damage to these ships, despite intense anti-aircraft fire. The squadron did not lose an aircraft or suffer any damage to it on this occasion. Truscott was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for this action. Keith "Bluey" Truscott was perhaps the best-known of the squadron's fliers. Although it was an RAAF unit, while it was in Europe, 452 Sqn also had some British personnel, from the Royal Air Force as well as other British Commonwealth air forces and other nationalities. One of these was the Irish ace Paddy Finucane. A number of Polish pilots also flew with the squadron and proved to be formidable pilots, despite occasional language problems.

452 Squadron withdrew from operations in Britain on 23 March 1942 to return to Australia. It sailed for home on 21 June, arriving in Melbourne on 13 August and re-assembled at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales on 6 September. The squadron began a refresher training at Richmond, using a varied collection of aircraft because its Spitfires had being commandeered in transit by the Royal Air Force in the Middle East.

452 Squadron became operational again on 17 January 1943. Re-equipped with Spitfires, it was based at Batchelor Airfield in the Northern Territory and there joined No. 1 Wing RAAF, which defended Darwin from Japanese air raids. The squadron was relocated to Strauss Airfield on 1 February and, with the exception of a brief period between 9 and 27 March 1943 when it was deployed to RAAF Base Pearce to reinforce the air defences of Perth, it remained there (Strauss Airfield), protecting Darwin, until 30 June 1944, in May 1944 having become part of No. 80 Wing RAAF.

On 1 July 1944 the Squadron moved to Sattler Airfield in the Northern Territory. The protection of Darwin had been handed over to two Royal Air Force squadrons, allowing 452 Squadron to be employed in a ground attack role for the rest of the war. Initially the squadron operated against targets in the Dutch East Indies from Sattler Airfield, but on 11 December 1944 it joined the 1st Tactical Air Force and was relocated to Morotai in the Dutch East Indies, to support the Australian operations in Borneo (Kalimantan). The ground staff established themselves quickly at the newly captured Juwata airfield on Tarakan on 10 May 1945, but the state of the landing field was such that it was not fit for the aircraft of the squadron until 29 June. Following the landing at Balikpapan on 1 July a detachment of 452 Squadron Spitfires moved there on 15 July, to support the land campaign. The squadrons last sortie of the war was flown on 10 August 1945 and it disbanded two months later at Tarakan on 17 November 1945.

No. 452 Squadron was re-raised as an air traffic control unit on 16 February 2011. It forms part of No. 44 Wing and is headquartered at RAAF Base Darwin. It maintains subordinate flights at RAAF Base Darwin, RAAF Base Tindal, RAAF Base Amberley, RAAF Base Townsville and the Oakey Army Aviation Centre which provide air traffic control for these bases. [ 5 ]


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Focus on Technology

Both sides recognized the value of new technology, but the technology available to them varied.

The most significant new British technology was radar. A network of listening posts across the south of England allowed them to detect incoming German air raids. It meant pilots could set out as the enemy were approaching, rather than exhausting themselves in air patrols or setting out too late.

The Germans lacked radar. For them, one of the key breakthroughs was beam-based bomb targeting, which they used early in the war. The Allies learned about it and found ways to counter it. The Luftwaffe lost what technological edge they had.

Heinkel He 111 bombers during the Battle of Britain


AN EYE WITNESS REPORT TO THE CRASH OF R1268


The following is an eye witness account from one of two teenage boys (Tom and Jacky Lamb) who were present at the time of the crash this is a verbatim account and all spelling and grammatical mistakes have been faithfully copied except that the original was in block capitals and contained a sketch of the scene. The author, Tom Lamb, went on to become a very well respected pitman artist.

“It was December 14th 1.30pm 1940.
My brother and I were in Millwood to gather holly for Xmas. We suddenly heard a sound. It’s a plane. There she is Jacky shouted, coming over our village just above the trees. It seemed to be coming straight above us rocking from side to side and losing height. We became aware the huge bomber was heading for West Edmondsley Farm. It was a very dark colour except for the very bright ring markings in the dull light of the December afternoon.

The pilot turned a hard right to avoid the farm, and with, a loud crash dropped into a wooded riverine with a stream running through. ‘Wardels Wood’. My stomack felt sour as I remembered the last plane crash. Oh please don’t let them die! We soon arrived at the crash. A sorry sight met us. The first thing we saw was the huge tail fin. The plane had brocken its back, leaving the tial- fin and the main part of the fuselarge on the slope of the [deletion] riverine its wings spreading out in the valley, and its nose broken open in the stream, with the pilot strapped in his seat, open to the air. Only one of the four airman could walk. He had injured his forhead. The others were alive but badly injured.

Jacky and the farm workers carried the airmen to the farm house, using an old door, as a stretcher. The airman who could walk got the maps and other various documents from the plane, and came up the slope towards where I was standing near the tal-fin. He turned and looked back at the crash. He asked me, where are we? I told him County Durham. I walked with him to the farmhouse, and was met by Mrs Lawton who said the doctor had arrived, and was given morphian to the other airmun, and dressing their wounds. The airman was in a state of shock and mumbling that they were on a training flight and got [deletion] short of fuel.

Soldiers arrived from their camp at Edmondsley to guard the aeroplane. And to take the airmun to Chester-le-Street Hospital. The Polish airman all survived. The bomber was a Vickers Wellington No R1268 604 Sqn. [error should be 304] Some of the ladys of the village would visit the airmun in hospital.”

All in all, this is an excellent, and mainly accurate, description – not sensationalised (as you might expect) by a teenage boy. The sketch is also very good and clearly shows the geodetic framework. Unfortunately, the copy I have is a very poor quality photocopy and cannot be reproduced here.


Location information

Brookwood is 30 miles from London (M3 to Bagshot and then A322). The main entrance to Brookwood Military Cemetery is on the A324 from the village of Pirbright. There is a direct train service from Waterloo to Brookwood Station from which there is an entrance to the cemetery. The postcode for Brookwood is GU24 0JB.

Visiting information

OPENING TIMES: 0800-1930 weekdays, 0900-1930 weekends and bank holidays. The cemetery is CLOSED on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Vehicles, pedestrians and wheelchair access is through the main gate off Dawney Hill Road, Pirbright, during the official opening times. The gates are automated therefore access after 7:30pm can be sought by driving up to the main entrance gate.

Please be advised that additional items which have been placed on graves, such as stone vases, have been removed by Commission staff to storage and can be collected by relatives.

Enquires at the office or to a member of staff in the grounds (Monday to Fridays) for assistance in collection.

It is the Commission policy not to allow additional items, such as vases, to be placed in the headstone borders of Commission plots. There have been lapses in implementing this policy which has seen an increase in the number of additional memorials, being placed. Any items placed in the borders impact on our ability to plant and maintain them to the standard of excellence we seek to achieve.

Floral tributes and Remembrance Crosses can be left and will be removed by our staff after a time.

Brookwood MC: 01483-474093 for grave items.

With effect from 8 October 2011 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is prepared to allow the placing of cut flowers in a vase on new graves within the Military Annex subject to certain provisions.

New graves will be considered those in respect of burials that have taken place within the last three years. At the end of this period each case will be reviewed and allowed to continue for further two years if the family is still placing floral tributes on a regular basis. After five years the traditional uniformity of the military cemetery will be restored by the removal of the vase.

The request must be made by next of kin and the cut flowers must be placed in a vase provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in order to ensure uniformity and easy replacement should one be broken during maintenance.

The vases, which are free of charge, are available from the staff on site and will be placed by them on behalf of the next of kin.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter please contact Enquiries on 01628-634221 or via our email [email protected]

History information

BROOKWOOD MILITARY CEMETERY is owned by the Commission and is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the United Kingdom, covering approximately 37 acres.

In 1917, an area of land in Brookwood Cemetery (The London Necropolis) was set aside for the burial of men and women of the forces of the Commonwealth and Americans, who had died, many of battle wounds, in the London district.

This site was further extended to accommodate the Commonwealth casualties of the Second World War. There is a large Royal Air Forces section in the south-east corner of the cemetery (which also contains the graves of Czechoslovakian and American airmen who served with the Royal Air Force) and the Air Forces shelter building nearby houses the register of the names of those buried in the section. A plot in the west corner of the cemetery contains approximately 2,400 Canadian graves of the Second World War including those of 43 men who died of wounds following the Dieppe Raid in August 1942. The Canadian Records building, which was a gift of the Canadian government in 1946, houses a reception room for visitors and other offices.

In addition to the Commonwealth plots, the cemetery also contains French, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Belgian and Italian sections, and a number of war graves of other nationalities all cared for by the Commission. The American Military Cemetery is the responsibility of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Brookwood Military Cemetery now contains 1,601 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 3,476 from the Second World War. Of the Second World War burials 5 are unidentified, 3 being members of the R.A.F. and 2 being members of the R.C.A.F.

The war graves of other nationalities in the Commission's care number 786 including 28 unidentified French.

As an agency service on behalf of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the Commission also maintains a plot of the graves of Chelsea Pensioners, which is situated adjacent to the Military Cemetery, and a small plot containing the graves of 12 members of the nursing services in the adjoining Brookwood Cemetery is also in the Commission's care.

The BROOKWOOD 1939-1945 MEMORIAL stands at the southern end of the Canadian section of the cemetery and commemorates 3,500 men and women of the land forces of the Commonwealth who died during the Second World War and have no known grave, the circumstances of their death being such that they could not appropriately be commemorated on any of the campaign memorials in the various theatres of war. They died in the campaign in Norway in 1940, or in the various raids on enemy occupied territory in Europe such as Dieppe and St Nazaire. Others were special agents who died as prisoners or while working with Allied underground movements. Some died at sea, in hospital ships and troop transports, in waters not associated with the major campaigns, and a few were killed in flying accidents or in aerial combat.

The new BROOKWOOD 1914-1918 MEMORIAL was built in 2015. It commemorates casualties who died in the United Kingdom during the First World War but for whom no graves could be found.


Fighter Command Groups

Fighter Command was divided into fighter groups that had a specific part of Britain to guard during the Battle of Britain. However, it was perfectly feasible for sectors from one group to be sent to another sector of another group to support that group need during a heavy attack.

Fighter Command was divided into four groups for the duration of the Battle of Britain. Hugh Dowding was in overall charge of Fighter Command.

No 10 Group had two sectors in it – Middle Wallop and Filton. No 10 Group covered South-West England, the Bristol and Bath area and South Wales.

In August 1940, Middle Wallop was home base for No 238 Squadron (Hurricanes), No 604 Squadron (Blenheims), No 609 Squadron (Spitfires) and No 152 Squadron (Spitfires), which was based at RAF Warmwell.

Filton was home base for No 87 Squadron (Hurricanes), No 213 Squadron (Hurricanes, No 92 Squadron (Spitfires) and No 234 Squadron (Spitfires). 87 and 213 were based at Exeter, 92 was based at RAF Pembrey and 234 was based at RAF St. Eval.

No 11 Group was made up of seven sectors – its size was representative of the significance of where it was based. The seven sectors were North Weald, Hornchurch, Biggin Hill, Kenley, Northolt, Tangmere and Debden.

No 11 Group covered Southeast England including London.

North Weald had two bases – RAF North Weald and RAF Martlesham. No 56 Squadron was based at North Weald (Hurricanes) as was No 151 Squadron (Hurricanes). No 25 Squadron (Spitfires) and No 85 Squadron (Spitfires) were based at RAF Martlesham.

Nos 41, 65 and 74 Squadrons were all based at Hornchurch. All three squadrons flew Spitfires.

Biggin Hill had three bases – Biggin Hill (used by No 32, No 600, No 610), Gravesend (used by No 501) and Manston (used by No 600)

32 and 501 flew Hurricanes 610 Spitfires and 600 Blenheims.

Kenley had two bases – RAF Kenley and Croydon. Nos 64 and 615 Squadrons flew out of RAF Kenley while No 111 Squadron flew out of Croydon. 615 and 111 flew Hurricanes while 64 flew Spitfires.

Nos 43 and 257 Squadrons flew out of Northolt (including Hendon) and both flew Hurricanes.

Tangmere was the host to Nos 1, 266, 601 and 145 Squadrons. 266 flew Spitfires while the others flew Hurricanes.

Debden was home to No 17 Squadron, which flew Hurricanes.

No 12 Group had five sectors in it – Kirton in Lindsey, Digby, Wittering, Duxford and Coltishall.

No 12 Group covered the Midlands and East Anglia

RAF Kirton was home to No 222 Squadron, which flew Spitfires and No 264 Squadron, which flew the Boulton Paul Defiant.

RAF Digby hosted three Squadrons – 29, 46 and 611. No 29 Squadron flew Blenheims, No 46 flew Hurricanes and No 611 flew Spitfires.

RAF Wittering was home to No 23 Squadron, which flew Blenheims and No 229 Squadron that flew Hurricaanes.

RAF Duxford hosted No 19 Squadron, which flew Spitfires.

RAF Coltishall was home to No 66 Squadron (Spitfire) and No 242 Squadron (Hurricanes)

No 13 Group was made up of six sectors – Wick, Dyce, Turnhouse, Usworth, Catterick and Church Fenton.

No 13 Group covered Scotland and Northern England.

Wick was home to Nos 3 (Hurricanes), 804 (Gladiators), 232 (Hurricanes), 504 (Hurricanes), 808 (Fulmars) and 141 (Defiant) Squadrons.

Wick itself was comprised of four different bases – Wick, Sumburgh, Castletown and Prestiwck.

Dyce, based at RAF Grangemouth, was home to 263 Squadron, which flew Hurricanes.

Turnhouse was home to Nos 253 (Hurricane), 603 (Spitfires), 602 (Spitfires) and 605 (Hurricanes) Squadrons. 253 and 603 flew out of RAF Turnhouse while 602 and 605 flew out of RAF Drem.

Usworth hosted Nos 72 (Spitfires), 79 (Hurricanes) and 607 Squadrons and had bases at Usworth and Acklington.

RAF Catterick was home to Nos 54 and 219 Squadrons. 54 flew Spitfires while 219 flew Blenheims.

Chruch Fenton, including RAF Leconfield, hosted Nos 73 (Hurricanes), 249 (Hurricanes) and 616 (Spitfire) Squadrons.


No. 37 Squadron (RAF): Second World War - History

Updated: 2 Jan 2013

For the Royal Air Force, Lincolnshire can be considered as the spiritual home of military aviation. During the Great War, units flew from here to defend the Midlands against the Zeppelin threat. In the Second World War the county became known as Bomber County because of the concentration of British and allied air assets which defended and attacked from Lincolnshire airfields. During the Cold War the county was home to the British independent nuclear deterrent in the form of Thor missiles and the Vulcan bomber. In the current era stations such as RAF Waddington are generating air power on ongoing operations.

Early days

The first recorded lighter-than-air flight in Lincolnshire took place in October 1811 when the first Englishman to ascend in a balloon, James Sadler, landed at Heckington, near Sleaford in a hydrogen filled balloon, thus ending an 85 mile flight from Birmingham. Two years later he returned again, this time landing at Dekin Lodge near Stamford.

British military aviation has its roots in the Army. In April 1910 the War Office's Air Battalion was formed, absorbing the Royal Engineers' Balloon School and also having an airplane company. The concept of a British military air force was born in 1911 when Prime Minister Herbert Asquith instructed the Committee of Imperial Defence to examine the questions of naval and military aviation and to suggest measures to create an efficient air force. The Committee recommended the formation of a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) comprising a Military Wing, a Naval Wing, a Reserve, the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough and the Central Flying School (CFS). Thus on 13 Apr 1912 the RE Air Battalion was assumed into the new Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The Senior Service soon formed its own, unauthorised, flying branch with a training centre at Eastchurch as it was not happy with this new arrangement. The political power of the Admiralty's supporters enabled it to escape sanction and the Royal Naval Air Service was officially recognised on 1 Jul 1914.

preparing aircraft for military service

Lincolnshire's association with military aviation of a heavier-than-air nature dates from the Great War and the units of the British Army's Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. In Aug 1913 the Admiralty ordered the construction of a handful of coastal air stations to include a sub-command and station to be based at Cleethorpes. However this did not materialise and the first military aerodrome in Lincolnshire was established at NAS Killingholme in Jul 1914. Meanwhile Lincolnshire’s first civil aviator, Montague F Glew of South Kelsey had given a flying demonstration in his Blackburn Monoplane at Market Rasen in 1913, soon followed by series of exhibition flights at Horncastle.

The Great War (1914 - 1918)

During the Great War Lincolnshire was of strategic importance to the air campaign in two ways. In addition to flight operations from 37 military aerodromes by the end of the War the county was also a major centre of aircraft production, focussed around Lincoln. This included the manufacture of over 5 000 aircraft by Clayton and Shuttleworth, Ruston and Proctor and Robey & Co.

Lincolnshire was an early centre of military air bases due to its geography and the nature of the terrain. The Lincoln Edge is a high limestone escarpment that runs through the centre of the County, along the edge of the Trent Valley. The land rises here from 22ft to 200ft above sea level, a significant land feature when set against the pancake-flat fens of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and East Anglia. Theis feature was used by the early Air Force which built airfields along the Edge to help provide extra lift for aircraft. In the north-east there are also the uplands of the Lincolnshire Wolds, where other airfields were built during both Wars.

At the outbreak of war, on 4 Aug 1914, the RFC had 5 squadrons. All but No 1 Sqn RFC were sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. The RNAS had more aircraft than the RFC and its main role at the onset of war was fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air-raids. Lincolnshire locations for maritime patrol included NAS Killingholme. Aircraft from here were pressed into Zeppelin intercepts during Sep 1914 raids on Lincolnshire. Zeppelin raids caused a public outcry as they were attacks far behind the traditional conflict zone of oppposing front lines. Some damage was caused in Lincolnshire and aircraft were scrambled from both RNAS and RFC aerodromes in response to the threat, from RNAS Killingholme and Cranwell and RFC Home Defence Squadrons from Leadenham, Scampton, Kirton in Lindsey, Gainsborough, Elsham Wolds and Tydd St Mary. In Jan 1916 three civilians died in Scunthorpe as the result of a Zeppelin bombing raid. A few weeks later an attack on Humberston and Cleethorpes resulted in the death of 31 soldiers. In this raid it transpired that it had not been possible to contact the fighter aircraft at Cranwell because the phonelines were down.

The inauspicious end of a Zeppelin

Failure to prevent the Zeppelin bombing raids led to the RFC being given responsibility for home air defence in Feb 1916. Three squadrons given the responsibility for Home Defence were based in Lincolnshire. 33 Sqn RFC was the first Sqn to be formed in Lincolnshire to counter the Zeppelin Raids on the Midlands over north Lincolnshire in 1915/16. It operated out of Elsham Wolds, Kirton in Lindsey and Brattleby (Scampton). 38 Sqn RFC operated in the south from Leadenham Aerodrome and Buckminster. In addition to their home bases the squadrons could call on emergency landing strips at Anwick, Braceby, Bucknall, Cockthorne, Cuxwold (nr Grimsby), Grimsthorpe Park, Kelstern, Market Deeping, New Holland, Swinstead, and Winterton. The network of emergency landing grounds was the best available solution to keeping the fighters airborne as long as possible to engage enemy aircraft and dirigibles.

The size and number of bombing raids increased during 1916 as the new, larger L-30 class airships were delivered to the German navy.

While the Home Defence Squadrons patrolled the skies to defend against Zeppelin and Gotha, the Squadrons at Killingholme, Greenland Top and North Coates Fitties continued to defend the sealanes and convoys against the submarine threat.

As the offensive employment of aircraft became more important on the Western Front and casualties mounted the RFC grew to fill the new role. It was natural for Lincolnshire to be selected to be home to many of the new airfields as it was flat and sparsely populated. Nov 1916 saw RFC aerodromes open at Brattleby (soon renamed Scampton), Harlaxton, South Carlton, Waddington and Grantham (the later RAF Spitalgate). Meanwhile the Reserve Squadrons which were to train pilots for 15 hours solo, bombing, air fighting and formation flying moved into the new airfields in Nov 1916: 37 Sqn to Scampton, 44 Sqn to Harlaxton, 45 Sqn to South Carlton, 47 Sqn to Waddington and 49 Sqn to Spitalgate. These Sqns were renamed from Reserve Sqns to Training Sqns in May 1917.

With almost all of the operational flying units in France none could be spared for home defence. The training organisation was therefore called on to supply the bulk of the home-defence aircraft and aircrews for the duration of the war. Night flying and fighting was in effect a secondary duty. Combat missions were often flown by instructors at the end of long days of flying training in aircraft already worn-out and often obsolete. A minor mitigating factor was that the pilots selected as instructors were among the best trained and qualified in the RNAS and RFC. With the most up to date equipment disappearing from Lincolnshire factories and across to the troops in France, training units got cast-offs, obsolete types and types designed for other roles eg seaplanes. Up to 1916 these were largely pre-war in design and often French, eg Blériot, REP, and Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, with Bristol Scouts and the Sopwith Schneider and Sopwith Baby seaplanes serving in that role. In the early years none of these types were optimised to climb to Zeppelin operating altitudes, orbit in search and then intercept the silent threat. The German Zeppelins were in fact not much slower than their British interceptors. For more details on the problems of intercept and why aircraft were failing, see the RAF BE2c page in the aircraft section.

In 1917, three years into the Great War, the British War Cabinet decided to increase the number of squadrons in the Royal Flying Corps to 200.

The growing role of air power over the Western Front led the War Office to consider the role of air bombing of factories, lines of communication and enemy targets. This specialised task was to be the driving force behind the creation of the Independent Air Force commanded by General Sir Hugh Trenchard. With the Royal Navy unable to equip the RNAS for its mission the air services were combined the Royal Air Force and the Womens Auxiliary Air Force came into being on 1 Apr 1918, subsuming the Army's Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. RNAS squadrons were renumbered to avoid numerical conflict, with 1 Sqn RNAS becoming 201 Sqn RAF, etc. More details on squadron numbering are on this site.

The United States and Australia were among those who sent squadrons to the Western Front, via training in the United Kingdom. There was a US Navy flying presence at Killingholme, and the Australian RFC staged 2 Sqn AFC and 3 Sqn AFC via local aerodromes.


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