By John Lowe

206 Squadron: Coastal Command - Historical Manuscript | John Lowe

206 SQUADRON HISTORICAL MANUSCRIPT

 

(Last updated: 09.04.09)

 

This manuscript was brought to my attention by Paul Banks during his investigation into Joe Doyle's (his neighbour) RAF History. This manuscript is attributed to Joe Doyle and Jim Glazebrook who were tasked with putting it together by the then CO, Wing Commander Selby towards the end of the war.

 

Paul had originally sent over a hard copy but recently, between Joes daughter and Paul, they've completed the arduous task of typing it all up, enabling me to place it on here. In the original document there was a list of appendix that covered the list below, I have placed these tables of information within the 'Manuscript Appendix' section in the menu above...

  • Commanding Officers of 206 Squadron
  • Locations of 206 Squadron
  • Aircraft of 206 Squadron
  • Duties of 206 Squadron
  • U-Boat Kills by 206 Squadron
  • Roll of Honour of 206 Squadron
  • Decorations & Awards of 206 Squadron

PROLOGUE

The First Great War and "The Years in Between"

 

The original nucleus of the Squadron met at Dover aerodrome on the First of November, 1916. In December it left England for Petite Synthe, Dunkerque, where the formation of the Squadron took place.  It was then called No. 6 Squadron, R.N.A.S., and operating with Nieport Scouts and later with Sopwith Camels, the unit served from six different airfields in France as a fighter Squadron before being disbanded at the end of August, 1917.

 

The Squadron was reformed with Bombers (D.H 4s and D.H.9s) at Dover on the first January, 1918, from personnel of the Walmer Defence Flight and No. 11 Squadron, R.N.A.S.  They proceeded once more to Petite Synthe on the fourteenth of the same month, and their first raid was carried out on the ninth of March.  Just over three weeks later, on the first of April, 1918, the unit's designation was changed to No. 206 Squadron R.A.F.

 

Photography and Reconnaissance later became the most important duties, and 206 eventually became the army reconnaissance squadron of the 2nd Army.  One of the last bombing raids carried out was on the thirtieth of October, when the objective was Sotteghem.  During this attack seven of the Squadron's aircraft fought twenty Fokkers for half an hour, every machine using up all its ammunition, and two of them finishing up the fight by firing Verey lights at the enemy.  Four Fokkers were destroyed without loss to our own aircraft.

 

During the period from the first of May to the eleventh of November, 1918, twelve thousand photographs were taken.  In January, 1919 Major General Sir John Salmond said: "….The photographic work (of 206) has been wonderful; on some occasions the Army requesting the Squadron to stop, as they could not cope with the supply."  By this time the Squadron was in Germany with the Army of the Rhine, and its duty had become that of operating an Air Mail Service.  In June, 1918, restored to its bombing role, the Squadron moved to Egypt (Heliopolis, and then Helwan), where it was re-designated to No. 47 Squadron on the first February, 1920.

 

The Squadron was re-formed at Manston on the fifteenth of June, 1936, at a time when the R.A.F. was re-organizing and expanding it's forces, and 206 became the first of the new land-based Squadrons of Coastal Command, which had previously confined its activities to sea planes and flying boats.  As such, the Squadron was equipped with the Avro Anson, one of the long-range heavy bombers of that day, and became almost a "Heavy Conversion Unit" from which sprung the - other units which ultimately became the Hudson Squadrons of Coastal Command: 224, 233, 220 and 269.

 

At the end of July, 1936, the Squadron moved to Bircham Newton, in Norfolk, which was to be the scene of unit's activities through three years of peace and nearly two of war.

 

I

On the first of September, 1939, German troops marched into Poland.  Two days later, Great Britain was at war with Germany, and even as this historic announcement was being made in the House of Commons, aircraft of Coastal Command were escorting convoys on their first anti-U-boat patrols.  The next day, September 4th., navigators of No. 206 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron guided aircraft of Bomber Command to Kiel and Brunsbuttel in the first raid of the war; and members of a Squadron which originated in the Royal Naval Air Service are proud to have helped to strike Britain's first blow against the enemy battle fleet.  Two days before the outbreak of war, six sergeants, pilot/navigators, were detached to Bomber Command.  (These included Sergeant C.N Crook, who remained with 206 Squadron - apart from a short period in "rest" with the Transatlantic ferry service - until in June, 1942, as an Acting Squadron Leader, he was lost while leading a formation of twelve Hudson's which took part in the thousand-bomber raid in Bremen; and Sergeant C.R. Alexander - later decorated by H.M. the King when the latter visited Bircham Newton - who finished the war as a Flight Lieutenant with the 206 Squadron after spending two years as an instructor in Canada).  Wild rumours of peace caused the return of these men to their Squadron on the second of September, only to be flown again to their respective bomber stations on the afternoon of the third, when an abortive expedition took off from Mildenhall.  It was recalled owing to bad weather.  These conditions had improved very little next day, but the famous Kiel and Brunsbuttel raids were carried out, and the Germans had their first experience of R.A.F. "operational low flying."  Sergeant Crook navigated a Wellington to Brunsbuttel, and others of 206 Squadron went to Kiel, but their stories are not available.  None of the Squadron's aircraft participated in this attack.

 

On the fourteenth of September the 206 detachment with Bomber Command returned to their unit, which was already busy escorting convoys, hunting U-boats, and carrying out reconnaissances off the coasts of Holland and Germany. They attacked aircraft infinitely superior to their own in armour, armament and speed; they had a motto: Nihil nos effugit" (Nothing escapes us), and they lived up to it.

 

Two Blohm-and-Voss flying boats shot down an Anson which attacked them on the second day of war, the crew being rescued and taken prisoner.  This score was soon settled.  On the fifth of September Pilot Officer Kean saw a U-boat diving near the Dutch Coast, and dropped his bombs from such a low level that the column of water which erupted above the disappearing U-boat split the Ansons's tail.  On another trip, four days later, Kean made a gentle forced landing on the sea near a Calais lightship, but the Anson proved itself nautically, by staying afloat for five hours - almost as long as it could fly - and the light-ship men, launching a boat at the end of a long rope, rescued all the crew.

 

Pilot Officer Henderson shortly afterwards engaged two Heinkel 115 twin-engined and torpedo-carrying float planes, shooting one down and damaging the other; and while escorting a convoy he saw another Heinkel 115 which, either by accident or design, failed to see home.  He fired off Verey lights of all colours in a vain attempt to bring about a fight.

It is almost impossible to recall in detail all the actions which this Squadron has undertaken, largely because so many of the pilots of those early days are with us no more.  Apart from the many orthodox combats which occurred, it is recorded that one pilot, failing to make any impression with bullets on two Heinkels, rammed one of them and fell with it to his death; another forced a 115 to land on the sea, and then sank it with bombs.

 

Yet the main objects of 206, like all of the Coastal Command Squadrons, were to help the Royal Navy to seek out and destroy the German Battle Fleet, blockade enemy territory, attack enemy submarines and surface raiders, escort convoys, safeguard the sea routes of the Empire and prevent invasion.  This constant responsibility of the Squadron required incessant vigilance and unspectacular, often uneventful flying in all weathers, usually over the sea.  "The Kipper Patrol", for example, was so thoroughly appreciated by seamen of the North Sea Fishing Fleets that the trawler skippers at the nearest port to the airfield used to send fish free of charge, until this item of diet came to be unpopular with aircrews!

 

Later in the war, from other stations and with longer range aircraft, the crews were to be denied even the sight of a fishing vessel to break the monotony of thirteen and fourteen-hour patrols over the vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean; but the story of those days belongs to a different part of this history.

 

The Squadron was one of the first in the service to be "converted" from Avro Ansons to the Lockheed medium reconnaissance bomber, an American Civil Transport aircraft adapted for military purposes, and renamed "Hudson" by the Air Ministry.  The first operational trip on this aircraft was made by Flight Lieutenant Biddell on the twelfth of April, 1940, who made a reconnaissance of Texel and Borkum and other islands of the Frisian group, which were thereafter frequently visited.  The Hudson could go where the Anson could not, because of its greater speed. longer range, and superior armament, and the round trip of Heligoland Bight was often "on the programme".  Whilhemshaven was very successfully photographed from a height of fifty feet by a Hudson escorted by fighters of Coastal Command.  On the first of May the Graf Zeppelin, Germany's aircraft carrier, was seen for the first time on her speed trials by the crew of a 206 Hudson, which later the same day sighted three cruisers, four destroyers and several U-boats.  They scored near misses in a bombing attack on three transport vessels from nineteen thousand feet.  Flight Sergeant Turner photographed the cruiser Nurnburg in Emden harbour, was hit many times by accurate light flak, and outmanoeuvred six Messerschmidt 110 fighters which tried to intercept him on the way home. (Five years later a 206 Squadron crew photographed the Nurnberg again, leaving Copenhagen under British escort, after the surrender of the German forces In the North-West.) These are merely examples of the kind of work the Squadron did, and are by no means comprehensive.

II

During the Dunkirk episode, the Squadron began to make battle flights in Hudsons and Ansons to protect troops awaiting embarkation from low-level machine-gun attacks.  These were in full swing between the twenty-seventh of May and the third of June, the aircraft flying a triangular route, with Dover at the apex of the triangle, and the Dunkirk beaches at the base.  They could do nothing to prevent large formations of enemy bombers from bombing the crowded dunes and assembled ships, but fulfilled to a great extent their main task of preventing organized "ground strafing" by low-flying aircraft.

 

Flight Lieutenant Bidell led a battle formation of three Hudsons three times round the "triangle" on the thirty first of May and was heading once more for Dunkirk when he saw a dog-fight developing between Skuas of the Fleet Air Arm and Messerschmidts, only a few hundred feet above him.  The tight formation of Hudsons was soon engaged by the enemy machines; and in the fight which followed, Flight Sergeant Caulfield, turret gunner in the leading Hudson shot down three ME 109's, one after the other.  Only three Messerschmidts escaped the combined fire power of Skuas and Hudsons.  Sergeant Caulfield had been too busy to see the downfall of his victims, and did disclaim them, but the Lieutenant Commander pilot of a Skua witnessed the whole action.  Caulfield received the Distinguished Flying Medal, and his pilot, Flight Lieutenant Biddell, the Distinguished Flying Cross.  In the same battle, Sergeant Freeman, another gunner, maintained a steady fire against each attacking fighter, although he had been wounded.  He also was awarded the D.F.M.

 

Every crew in the Squadron was "converted" to Hudsons about this time, and after Dunkirk regular anti-invasion patrols were inaugurated, which continued until the end of October.

 

The Royal Air Force official photographer accompanied fifteen Hudsons on an offensive tour on the ninth of June, but the trip was uneventful and only one "flak-ship" was encountered.  One of the Hudsons was carrying pigeons presented to the Squadron by His Majesty The King, and the official photographer was consoled when the King's pigeon laid an egg over the Heligoland Bight!

 

Before the German occupation of France was completed, Flight Lieutenant Biddell was chosen for the task of bringing General Sikorski out of the country.  There was a French Air Force training airfield at Bordeaux, and Biddell offered to lead its flying staff back to England, but the French officers explained that the aircraft had to remain at Bordeaux by order of the Government.  They all pleaded to taken away in the Hudson, but it was already fully loaded with passengers.  They left Bordeaux on the eighteenth of June with General Sikorski, and took a "short-cut" over occupied France, where many German tanks, troops and transport convoys were seen.  Later Flight Lieutenant Biddell was awarded the Polish "Cross of Valour", and the investiture was made by General Sikorski himself.

III

By this time the Squadron's pilots, wireless operators and gunners had received eighteen decorations; sometimes for some outstandingly valorous feat, sometimes for months and months of unremitting hard work with only occasional combats and bombing attacks to relieve the monotony.  Pilot Officer Greenhill and LAC Britton, his gunner, shot down a Heinkel 115, but it cannot be said that the D.F.C. and the D.F.M. were awarded to these men because of that one incident.  Flight Lieutenant Biddell and his gunner were decorated for their Dunkirk exploits.  Flight Lieutenant Romanes, D.F.C., escorted some two hundred fifty convoys to port without the loss of a single ship; Pilot Officer Watson, D.F.C., fought every Heinkel he could catch and was always "in trouble"; Sergeant Freeman, D.F.M., also distinguished himself at Dunkirk; Flying Officer Bullock, D.F.C., had several Heinkel 115's to his credit and the D.F.M. was awarded to his gunner, Sergeant Coldbeck - a deadly marksman who used to hold his fire in almost suicidal delay until it was impossible to miss.  Sergeant Field received the D.F.M. because his work on the wireless set brought his aircraft safely to base in terrible weather conditions, when there were only two aircraft flying in the whole of Great Britain.

 

Pilot Officer Kean and his pilot/navigator, Sergeant Deverill, were honoured for surviving a determined attack of three Messerschmidt 109 fighters, and bringing aircraft and crew back to base in spite of incredibly severe damage.  They had to bomb an enemy decoy ship, and the fighters were waiting; LAC Townend shot one down, and was himself killed by the next enemy burst of cannon and machine-gun fire. Constant enemy attacks were foiled by wave-skimming tactics, and the two surviving Messerschmidts, when their ammunition was expended, signalled the appreciation of the Hudson's fight by closing formation with it and rocking their aircraft laterally.  Sergeant Deverill landed the badly damaged machine at base, because Pilot Officer Kean was injured, and had lost a lot of blood. Group Captain Grey, Officer Commanding R.A.F. Station Bircham Newton, inspected the remains of the Hudson - the fuselage and wings contained two hundred and forty-two bullets and twelve cannon shell holes -- and declared that he had "never seen anything like it".

 

During an early morning reconnaissance in July 1940, LAC Deighton was gunner in a machine which encountered a single M.E. 109.  The fighter made no attempt to attack, but flew backwards and forwards at long range, presumably signalling for reinforcements.  Deighton fired one burst at five hundred yards range, and M.E.'s tail fell off.  He was awarded the D.F.M

 

Another D.F.C. winner, Flight Lieutenant Dias, also had his share of interesting experiences. On the fourteenth of December 1940, in a Hudson carrying ten one hundred pound bombs, he attempted to raid an airfield in occupied France.  The wireless operator said afterwards that they were flying at ten thousand feet when the starboard engine was hit by shrapnel, and the other engine began to overheat.  It got hotter and hotter, and Dias turned back, his aircraft beginning to lose height.  Heavy and light flak was directed at them from one of the French invasion ports……….. "When we fired off the correct German identification cartridge the firing stopped; and we dropped all our bombs on the port," Dias said.  "We got back to within a short distance of the English coast, and crash-landed in the sea.  It was very dark, and we could only just distinguish the coast-line, which was actually much nearer than we thought.  The rear gunner was kneeling on the bell-gun platform, and both gunner and platform were thrown out underneath the aircraft on impact.  Then the rest of us got out and found that the water was only two feet deep with sewage slime a foot thick beneath.  The missing gunner was crawling ahead of the aircraft on his hand and knees".  The crew were only five hundred yards from the shore, but two hours elapsed before they found a military camp where guards mistook them for Germans.

 

For many months afterwards, from the same East Coast airfield, No. 206 Squadron kept hammering away with nightly bombing raids on the occupied ports until it was thought that the immediate danger of invasion had passed.  The monotonous record of the normal Coastal Command pilot's log book was relieved with red ink entries:  "Bombing raid on Harlingen", or "Bombed oil dump at Amsterdam" - more, and more frequently.  But the blue ink was still there: "Convoy - seven hours" ; Recco: Texel and Borkum"; "Dusk security patrol"; "Search for dingy of 'Wellington'"; "Anti-submarine patrol"…….

 

Here are extracts from the intelligence summaries dealing with one short period of 206 activity during the summer of 1940:-

 

July 12: P/O Crook attacked a "Flak-ship"

 

July 13: P/O Ruston carried out a successful glide-bombing attack on Harlingen, approaching from the sea, and dropping four 250lb. G.P. Bombs on the quay and lock gates.  The same day a Hudson of 206 Squadron bombed three flak-ships.

 

July 15: Hudsons of 206 Squadron caused large fires in a bombing raid on Willemoord.

 

July 18: Six Hudsons of 206 Squadron bombed Emden.

 

July 19: Five Hudsons bombed Emden; several fires and one large explosion were observed. Two failed to locate Emden targets, and bombed Harlingen, where a "terrific explosion" was seen.

 

July 20: Three Hudsons bombed the Ghent-Terningen canal, and caused a fire in the vicinity of Haamsed airfield, which was seen later from a distance of forty miles.  Another Hudson attacked a Heinkel 115 and later dropped it's bomb-load on Antwerp, where a big explosion was seen ten minutes later.

 

On the twenty-seventh of August an unusually aggressive Heinkel 115., which appeared to be very manoeuvrable, made a tight climbing turn and then dived onto a Hudson's tail, then firing explosive shells from a heavy machine-gun mounted in its nose, it obtained hits on the Hudson's turret; but the rear gunner held his fire until the enemy aircraft was within fifty yards, and with his first burst sent the Heinkel into a steep diving turn at low altitude from which it did not recover before hitting the water.

 

Towards the end of 1940 the Squadron developed new tactics for dealing with German E-boats in the English Channel.  An aircraft was fitted with a large caliber machine-gun firing cannon shells from a mounting in the floor of the cabin.  Other Hudsons towed powerful flares on a cable thousands of feet long on nightly patrols in the channel, these measures met with less success than they deserved ……… mainly because E-boats rarely ventured forth to be seen.

IV

On the twenty-sixth of January, 1941, a ceremonial parade was held at Bircham Newton, when the Station was visited and inspected by Their Majesties the King and Queen, with the two Princesses, and accompanied by Air Vice Marshal Thyssen.  At the parade His Majesty presented the ribbon of the O.B.E to Group Captain Primrose M.C. , Station Commander, and at the same time decorated other Officers. Group Captain Primrose was posted from Bircham Newton in March, and his place was taken by Group Captain J.B. Graham, M.C., A.F.C.

 

206 Squadron continued its activities until May, 1941, when it was decided that a new Hudson Squadron for overseas service should be recruited from its ranks.  The whole Squadron thus formed (No. 200 Squadron) flew to its West African base without loss (though a large number of ex-206 ground crew - including the Squadron Adjutant-perished when one of the two special transports was sunk by enemy action), and 206 was left in a sadly depleted condition. The East Coast base was left with a handful of crews under the command of Flight Lieutenant A.R. Holmes of Canada, while another flight, commanded by Flight Lieutenant Hennock , R.A.A.F., was detached to operate from an airfield much nearer to occupied France - St. Eval, in Cornwall.  Flight Lieutenant Holmes had the difficult task of organizing a new flight with fresh "material" from the Hudson Operational Training Units.  Two crews were lost on consecutive days in June; the first [1]  went out to look for an aircraft dinghy, and the second [2] was the next day looking for the crew of the first search aircraft.  Their diligence took them too near to enemy territory, and it is presumed that they were both destroyed by German fighters.

 

Flight Lieutenant Hennock was promoted to Squadron Leader, and his crews had, meanwhile, taken part in the search for the enemy battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, which succeeded in making port at Brest in very thick weather.  These vessels, with the new cruiser Prince Eugen, were thereafter to take up a great deal of the Squadrons flying time.  There were constant anti-submarine patrols, cross-over patrols of Brest, anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic, in which numbers of aircraft from 206 Squadron participated, and nightly vigils off the "Rade de Brest" in special long range aircraft, to prevent the German Naval Units from leaving the port undetected.  Few German aircraft were sighted during this period, but several ships were successfully attacked.

 

On the 1st. July a reinforced "B" flight joined Squadron Leader Hennock's "A" flight at St. Eval, the whole Squadron having been posted to this Station.  The move was officially completed with the arrival of the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander C.D. Candy, who flew down on the ninth.

 

Pilot Officer Wills sighted a U-boat on the fourth as it was carelessly cruising through the Bay of Biscay towards. St. Nazaire or La Rochelle, fully surfaced, and apparently not expecting attack.  It began to dive when the aircraft was still two miles away, but the Hudson was able to drop high explosive beside its hull, scoring a probable hit.  The air gunner saw large bubbles, but the aircraft had to return to Base after two hours search without seeing anything to indicate a kill.  Large patches of oil were later reported a few miles East of the position in which the U-boat was attacked.  On its way home the Hudson was chased by two Heinkel 115 float-planes, which had to dive to overtake, one flying about eight hundred yards to port and the other a thousand yards to starboard.  They maintained this position without attempting to attack until the Hudson's superior speed left them behind.

 

Three days later Pilot Officer Kennan, with Sergeants Gibbs, Livingston and Rowley, did not return from an anti-submarine patrol in the Atlantic.  A wireless station picked up very weak S.O.S. messages, and other Hudsons of 206 Squadron were quickly dispatched to search the area.

 

Pilot Officer Kennan had been flying fairly low when one engine caught fire; the other functioned so badly that the aircraft lost height, and a forced landing had to be made on the sea at very short notice.  The crew scrambled into the dinghy, which unfortunately was not provisioned, and the Hudson sank in little more than a minute.  It happened that this particular aircraft had a bad reputation, and the comment of one member of the "ditched" crew was:  "Thank God nobody will have to fly that damned thing again!"

 

The crew's salvation was caused by the foresight of Pilot Officer Kennan, their Captain, who steered the dinghy towards a white patch of spume and foam surrounding a large bed of floating seaweed.  During the rest of the day, without food, water or cigarettes, the crew saw several aircraft searching; but they were well out of range, and their distress signals were unnoticed.  But thirty-six hours after the aircraft came down on the water, another Hudson pilot (Pilot Officer Wills, in H/206) saw what he took to be the wake of a U-boat on the surface five or six miles ahead of him.  He headed towards it with bomb-doors open, and then discovered it was only a foam patch…. But he also saw the dinghy.

 

Messages were radioed immediately, he (P/O. Wills) remaining in the vicinity, and two hours later a Sunderland Flying boat from an Australian Squadron appeared.  This machine alighted to pick up the dinghy's occupants, but the outer port engine and a wingtip float were carried away by the swell after landing.  The crew of "M" watched P/O Kennan and crew clamber into the Sunderland, and the Hudson remained circling to the "prudent limit" of its endurance, when it returned to Base;  then other aircraft maintained protective patrols, and E/206 (P/O Hyston) sighted two destroyers, with an escort of Blenheims, heading for the area from a distance of sixty-five miles.  "E" flew over and guided them to the position, where the two crews were seen sitting in dinghies on top of the wing of the half submerged flying boat. One destroyer took them aboard while the other circled, and then they both withdrew to a distance of two thousand yards, and sank the Sunderland by gunfire.

 

Later in July Sergeants Whitfield, Gauntlett, Last and White were flying in Hudson E/206 off Brest when they saw what appeared to be three large trawlers.  The Navigator, Sergeant Gauntlett, poked a camera out of the cabin window to photograph them, when a heavy anti-aircraft shell exploded not many feet in front of it.  The camera was dropped and all guns manned as Whitfield dived to attack the flak-ships, revealed in their true colours by a most unpleasant barrage of heavy and light anti-aircraft fire.  While the aircraft dived to sea level from two thousand feet, the surface vessels went into larger formation, with the biggest ship broadside on to the Hudson's line of approach, and the others in position on either side of it.  Whitfield went through the middle of the "box barrage" they put up at heights varying from ten to a hundred feet, finally loosing at the biggest flak ship a salvo of three G.P. bombs with an eleven second delay fuse on each.  All the bombs hit, and the ship was last seen on fire and in a sinking condition; but as soon as the Pilot pulled out of the cone of concentrated fire, one engine burst into flames, and both of them failed a few seconds later. An anti-aircraft shell had gone right through the fuel tank which was then in use.  A quick change-over of tanks was affected, and the motors started again, although one was still smoking when the aircraft landed at the nearest airfield in England.

 

French tunnymen and crabbers were continually encountered.  Some were manifestly friendly, and the fisherman waved enthusiastically when the Hudsons made their low-flying examinations.  Others sulked, pretending not to notice the prying machines which flew lower than the seabirds shrouding their vessels, and went on sorting their fish with averted eyes.  One French tunnyman was the sole witness of an aerial combat when, two Hudsons of 206 Squadron stalked and attacked a Heinkel 115 float-plane on the seventh of August, 1941. The enemy rear gunner fired efficiently until he was accounted for.  During the last attack, before the enemy finally disappeared in cloud , one of the Hudson pilots only just avoided colliding with the starboard wing of the Heinkel, which must have been severely damaged, in spite of its heavy armour.  The enemy's S.O.S signals in plain language were subsequently picked  up by a British wireless station.  The leading Hudson aircraft returned with twenty-eight holes in its wings, fins and tail, and one of its tyres burst during the fight.  In the second aircraft three bullets flew up between the feet of the Pilot, and the Navigator had his log-sheet perforated as it lay on the table in front of him.

 

A few days later the Squadron moved to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, from which Station it was to operate for nearly a year on convoy duties, anti Condor and anti-submarine work.  One of the first operational sorties from this Station ended quickly and tragically when Pilot Officer Hayston crashed in Lady Hill, Antrim, ten minutes after taking off for a convoy escort patrol.  The Captain and Wireless Operator (Sergeant Ramsey) were killed immediately, and the Navigator (Sergeant Staite) seriously injured, Sergeant Mann, the gunner, who was in the turret when the crash occurred, was unhurt.

 

In September the D.F.C. was awarded to Flight Lieutenant R.C. Patrick for long a meritorious service throughout the war.

 

At this point the squadron scribe of that period records with regret the fact that only five aircraft members of the original September '39 establishment were still with the Squadron. Those were Flying Officer C.N. Crook, Pilot Officer E.E Fitchew, Flight Sergeant G.H. Livingston, "the rest of the Squadron", the historian continues, "are casualties missing and posted".

V

With the coming of October the Squadron settled down to face the Winter. The story of the following months, so well known to Coastal Command crews, so little publicized outside their ranks, is one of a grim and continual struggle. Gone were the days of cloudless skies and smooth seas, when the convoys sailed serenely, exchanging signals with their escort, and a keen eye at two thousand feet could spot a U-boats periscope eight or nine miles away. In Winter the Germans, though none the less sought after, took secondary place to the airman's greatest enemy…  the weather; storm and gale reigned in the Atlantic, with turbulent winds and turbulent seas, rain and snow, hail and sleet, low cloud and fog, thunder and lightning al the phenomena of the air that spell danger and hazard to those who fly.

 

But the convoys still needed their protection. German U-boats, though hampered themselves in their deadly work by seas that were too mountainous for accurate aiming and firing of torpedoes, could not be left to roam the ocean unmolested.

 

And so the patrols went on, day after day, week after week, through every conceivable kind of weather.  When the sea rose, every wave carried its wind-lashed foam patch which trailed away into the next trough looking for all the world like the ???? of a surfaced of a U-boat.   It was a keen and well trained eye that was not deceived.  Whenever possible the Hudsons flew below cloud, often flying within a few feet of the water in order to maintain visibility, they would come suddenly upon a convoy, to find themselves fired upon before they could give recognition signals. The naval gunners had had good cause in the past to fear the sudden approach of an unidentified aircraft, and they could afford to wait to ask questions.

 

Another danger was icing.  Several aircraft were forced to turn back due to this menace, and it is recorded that one Hudson had to return at twelve thousand feet, at which height the air was to cold to permit ice formation.  It was not uncommon for crews to take off knowing that the weather not be fit for them to return to their own station, and that they might be diverted to any landing ground within their fuel range. That this was involving extra risk they were well aware, and more than one crew lost their lives attempting to land at a strange airfield I conditions of bad visibility.

 

On some days the Squadron diary records the phrase: "No operational flying on account of weather"; but that did not occur very often, and in general the crews made good their boast that Coastal Command flew "When even the sea-gulls were grounded"! Three times during the long winter the Squadron's aircraft flew over more that a hundred sorties in one month, and in a period of four months three hundreds and ninety-six patrols and searches were carried out. Thirteen U-boats were sighted, eleven of which were successfully attacked. On one occasion two seamen on a raft and six aircrew in a dinghy, were found by crews of 206 Squadron and were carefully watched over by relays of aircraft which guided ships to the rescue. During December, six Hudsons assisted Bomber Command by making a raid on an oil refinery at Donge, near St. Nazair. One machine; N/206 (F/L. Terry, did not return from this operation, and it is feared that they came down in the sea, since the Germans claimed no Allied aircraft shot down that night.

 

On the seventeenth of February, 1942, the following statement was from Group Headquarters:

 

"At present the Group consists of six Squadrons at five different Stations and between 30/12/41 and 2/2/42 the total number of flying hours (including Met. Flights) amounted to 1719. Of this total Aldergrove, (206 Squadron) were responsible for 578, or roughly one third of the total flying hours of the Group. Their nearest rivals were 93 and 502 Squadrons at Limavady with a joint total of 378 hours. In the same period 206 Squadron made three attacks on U-Boats".

 

The first indication of better weather comes in the records for May, when the number of sorties flown by the Squadron's aircraft went up to 157. Four U-boats were seen during the month, two of which were attacked. The other two were sighted by an aircraft on Meteorological flight carrying long-range fuel tanks and no bomb-load. Two dinghies containing the crew of a "ditched" Whitley were picked up by a destroyer after the latter had been "homed" by K/206 (F/Sgt. Biddell), the aircraft which discovered them.  This sort of co-operation with the Navy was a very frequent occurred and a very large number of lives of seamen and aircrew were saved as a result of it. It would be interesting to record all the personal stories (were they available) connected with a episode which appeared in the Squadron's log briefly, like this:-

 

"June 20th: C.P. and K/206 carried out search for the tanker 'Ohio' which was met by C and P"          

 

And later the same day:-

 

"G/206 was ordered to fin the 'Ohio' and divert her to the Clyde. This was accomplished".

VI

Later in June twelve Hudsons of 206 Squadron were detached to North Coates for co-operation with Bomber Command. On the night of the twenty-fifth of June, 1942, they all took off within the space of ten minutes from Donna Nook (satellite to North Coates) to take part in the attack on the city of Bremen carried out by a thousand bombers from all the combatant commands. The Hudsons flew in four formations of three aircraft each, the formations being led, by A/S/L. Crook, S/L. Patrick, F/L. Roxburgh and F/O. Wills. The other aircraft Captains were F/O. Bland and P/O. Delarue, F/S. Bass and F/S. Clarke, and F/S. Hill and Sergeant Wright, F/S. Goodson and F/S. Biddell.

 

Owing to heavy cloud it was impossible to locate the special target allotted, which was the Deschimag U-boat building yard, and bombs were dropped in the vicinity of large fires. None of the crews reported engagements with enemy night fighters although several were seen.  Aircraft "A" (F/L. Roxburgh) was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire, landing at Base with its main spar broken.  Aircraft "S" and "M" failed to return. The crew of the latter was Sergeant Wright, P/O. Phillips, Sergeant Payze, Sergeant Speed and Sergeant Peet. That of "S" consisted of A/S/L. Crook, P/O. Watson, F/S. Hubbard. They were accompanied by the Squadron Commander, W/C. Cooke; it was his first operational flight with the Squadron.

 

The rest of the force landed at North Coates, and the nine undamaged aircraft retuned to Aldergrove on June 27th. An entry in the July log states that:- "On or about this date (3/7/42) the bodies of Squadron Leader Crook and his gunner, F/Sgt. Hubbard, were taken from the North Sea by the Germans."

VII

At the end of June 1942 the Squadron moved again …. This time to, Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. The transfer was completed with the minimum of delay, and very soon the Hudsons were on the prowl again…………….  But half way through July came the news that the Squadron was to convert to the four engine Flying Fortress aircraft. Four crews flew in three Hudsons to Bally-Kelly on the twentieth of July, where they were attached to No. 220 Squadron, which was already equipped with Fortresses; by the end of the month the first four of these machines had been delivered to 206 Squadron in Benbecula, and on the first August the work of converting the Squadron was officially begun. During the first few days of this month a few operational sorties were flown by 206's Hudson aircraft, but after the Squadron was taken "out of the line" until the nineteenth of September, when the first anti-submarine patrol was carried by Fortress A/206, Captained by Flight Lieutenant Roxburgh. The operational log next records that on the twenty fifth of the same month,

 

"Fortress H/206 met part of convoy QP 14 at 1120 in position 6131 North 1237 West. Two merchant vessels and three destroyers were seen on a course of 148* steaming at 6 knots. Lamp signals were exchanged and an anti submarine escort begun. The main part of the convoy was met nearly an hour later about twenty miles sway; this consisted of seventeen merchant vessels and nine escorts, steering 148* at eight knots. By visual signals both parts of the convoy were given bearings and distances from each other, and were escorted until 1540 in position 5940 North 1040 West, "H" was relieved by Fortress N/220".

 

Four more sorties were flown in the next five days, and the Squadron resumed full anti-submarine work, with Fortress Mark IIa aircraft on the first October. Five hundred and twenty-three operational flying hours over the North Atlantic during the next thirty-one days produced six U-boat sightings and four attacks; and during this period the fitter-mechanic strength of the Squadron was only nineteen, instead of thirty-six. The total ground crew strength was approximately sixty per cent of the recognized establishment, and as a result the Squadron's serviceability was sufficient to fulfil commitments and little more.

 

During the first few days of the month, the load carried comprised twelve 300 lb. depth charges and two 250lb. anti-submarine bombs; but consideration of the danger of instantaneous action bombs being inadvertently released from a low level resulted in the load being changed to fourteen depth charges. Towards the end of the month, however, a signal from 15 Group Headquarters ordered the replacement of seven D.C's by a bomb-bay petrol tank holding 340 imperial gallons. This work was carried out on each aircraft as it became due for inspection. The official endurance with the new load was 10.7 hours. The average fuel consumption for the month was approximately 120 gallons per hour.

 

During the time that the Squadron had been operating with Hudson aircraft, it's personnel were divided into two flights, "A" and "D", with two flight Commanders of Squadron Leader or Acting Squadron Leader rank, and two Assistant Flight Commanders who were Flight Lieutenants or Acting Flight Lieutenants. With the commencement of Fortress operations, however, the Squadron was  amalgamated as one flight under the command of Squadron Leader W.C. Patrick, B.F.C., who had no official assistants, Acting Flight Lieutenant rank had therefore to be relinquished by Flying Officers W. Roxburgh and W. Nicholson. 

VIII

The Fortresses made the advantages of their greater range at once apparent, and in the four October attacks already alluded to the U-boats concerned were surprised on the surface in positions far West of any area that had previously been patrolled.  That gain in the centre of the Atlantic in which U-boat Commanders had been able to for so long to operate without fear of air attack was narrowing ominously, and the time was soon to come when it would close completely.

 

Flying hours during November showed an increase of nearly a third of the previous month's total, but it was Winter in the Atlantic again, and only one sighting and attack was made. Group Captain D.E. Blackford succeeded Group Captain R.C. Field as Station Commander of Benbecula on the twenty-eighth of November, and three days later flew for eleven hours and forty minutes on an operational sortie.

 

In addition to the attack mentioned above, Flying Officer Owen dropped seven depth charges straddling a moving object which proved to be a whale which stopped and emitted oil. It is noteworthy that the sighting was made from eight thousand feet, the sea being very calm, and visibility good.

 

Flying Offer Owen's vigilance was rewarded three weeks later, when on patrol in the Atlantic he sighted a U-boat at one mile and slightly to port. The conning tower, which was almost circular, the forward catwalk and the net-cutters were seen. The U-boat started to crash-dive, and F/O. Owen delivered his attack on the port quarter of the U-boat at 20* to its track, while the stern and the tip of the periscope were still visible. Only six depth charges were dropped. A photograph taken after the attack shows what would appear to be a surfacing U-boat with a large jagged hole torn through the forward end of the apron of the conning tower. The submarine then disappeared again, and after remaining in the vicinity for ten minutes, F/O. Owen carried out "baiting tactics". Half an hour later a second U-boat was sighted, and attacking from dead astern, the Fortress dropped its remaining depth charge from thirty feet above the water. A terrific explosion was seen at the head of the swirl made by the diving U-boat, the tail gunner stating that a greater volume of water was thrown up that that which had been seen in the previous attack when six depth charges were dropped. The centre of the explosion continued to "appreciably longer than before, and bubbles of air were visible for three minutes after the attack. As in the first case, the U-boat came or was blown to the surface for a few seconds immediately after the depth charge explosion, and a photograph taken in this attack showed a conning tower with the periscope bent into a loop. Flying Officer Owen claimed to have hit the U-boat with his one depth charge………………..[3]

 

Even then the patrol was not over. Two hours later a third U-boat was seen. There were no depth charges left, but the aircraft made a mock attack. Forcing the U-boat to crash-dive.

 

After this successful day the tragedy seemed the greater when Flying Officer Owen failed to return from his next anti-submarine part, on the fourteenth of December. The next day, after a careful consideration of the winds of the previous twenty four hours over the patrol area, Squadron Leader Patrick, Flying Officer Roxburgh and Flying Officer Wills, in aircraft "M", "C" and "E", carried out a parallel track search for Owen's dinghy but saw nothing. The sea was unusually rough over the whole area, and "E" was struck by lighting in Cumuli-Nimbus cloud just after turning for home, sustaining, however, no damage. The crews were unanimous in saying that no dinghy could survive such conditions.

 

Later that month the C.O. wrote;

 

"Flying Officer John Owen joined 206 Squadron in 1941. His reputation for keenness and thoroughness in everything he undertook was unexcelled. He took part in the third thousand-bomber raid (Bremen, 25/6/42) and made two damaging attacks on U-boats during his penultimate patrol. With him were lost Sergeants Hildred, Bentley, Crowe, Parnell, Wilson and Shanks."

 

The same month Squadron Leader Patrick sighted a U-boat from a height of nine thousand feet. The submarine had dived before the aircraft could lose sufficient height to carry out an attack, but strafing tactics were successfully carried out, and an hour and a half later another sighting was made. Once again the U-boat crash-dived, but this time seven depth charges were dropped about a hundred yards ahead of the swirl, and slightly to starboard of track. The Admiralty assessed the results of this attack as "U-boat probably damaged".

 

On the eighteenth of December a Liberator (M/120) on passage from the United Kingdom to Iceland reported the stern half of a torpedoed ship drifting helpless before a Westerly gale. Fly Officer Bland (in Fortress F/206), who was on an anti-submarine patrol at the time, was diverted to search the area, which he did for some hours without success. However on the twenty second Pilot Officer Hill (in G/206) homed on to a radar contact in a position 6037 North 0822 West, which proved to be caused by the rear remnant of an oil tanker, drifting eastwards. In spite of poor visibility the stern superstructure and funnel could be seen. There was a long oil-streak stretching out to the westward. The aircraft's lamp signals produced only one flash, apparently from an electric torch in reply. It subsequently transpired that this ship, the Norwegian tanker "Vardefjell", had been attacked in mid-Atlantic, and the crew of twenty-nine had survived a week of violent storms. After being lost and sighted again, by a large number of additional aircraft, and drifting into a surface minefield, they were finally rescued when they had drifted to within six miles of Allied Territory.

 

A good start for 1943 was made by Pilot Officer Clark, who on the fifteenth of January, in Fortress G/206, was nearing the end of the outward leg of his anti-submarine sweep, when a U-boat was sighted to the South West. P/O. Clark dived to attack, and the enemy was apparently taken by surprise, and made no attempt to dive……. Though neither cloud nor sun gave the aircraft any particular advantage on the approach, the attack was carried out from 20* on the U-boat's port bow, and the rear gunner estimated that the stick was a straddle; the first two depth charges fell short, and numbers three and four engulfed the submarine in one big explosion. The remaining three failed to release.

 

After the attack the aircraft made a steep climbing turn to port; the bow or stern of the U-boat was observed at a very steep angle "bobbing up and down like a half-filled bottle", and boiling foam patches were observed in the depth charge subsidence. "Photographs were taken as the U-boat slid under, but there was no suggestion of a controlled dive, and it was confirmed after the end of the War that the Germans had lost a U-boat, the U-337, in this area and at about that time………………

IX

Another example of co-operation with the Navy is provided by the Squadron log for the twenty-third of January; three aircraft on patrol "B" (P/O. Hill), "G" (P/O. Hill) and "E" (P/O. Bass), were making independent anti-submarine searches when they received a message to the effect that the convoy "Laconic" had scattered and was proceeding independently. The aircraft were instructed to "get particulars of all merchant vessels sighted".

 

So the Navy's aerial sheep-dogs got to work, backwards and forwards through the area allocated…………….. and to such good effect that, by the end of their patrol, twenty-one merchant vessels had been sighted, identified, and watched and guarded, until the convoy had completely reassembled and the surface escorts were once more in position.

 

A few days later Flying Officer Bland in B/206 performed a similar service for Units of a West-bound convoy which had lost touch with one another. And on the ninth of February Squadron Leader Patrick, when on a anti-submarine patrol eight hundred miles out in the Atlantic in Fortress L/206, sighted a corvette being towed Eastwards by a destroyer. The latter asked to be guarded all day while towing, and "L" accordingly began a square search to thirty miles radius of the vessels. About two hours later a U-boat was sighted five or six miles ahead, making twelve knots o a Southerly course in a position North and East of the surface vessels. Squadron Leader Patrick attacked immediately, and a stick of six depth chares was seen to straddle the U-boat forward of the conning tower. The submarine lifted bodily, slewed through thirty degrees, and lost all forward way;  while the aircraft was still circling and firing at it, it sank straight down amid an up-rush of bubbles which covered a large area. Photographs taken show the U-boat enveloped in explosions, and later stationary in the disturbance. Official comment on the attack was "the depth charges should have been lethal, and the absence of more definite evidence of a kill was disappointing.

 

It was decided by Group Head quarters that Squadron Leader Patrick had acted rightly in giving escort to the corvette and destroyer when requested by them, in spite of the fact that he was engaged in searching a specified area for U-boats; and it was as a result of this decision that there was introduced into the "Convoy Escort Code" the word "Patrick", which when flashed to surface vessels from an aircraft, meant: "I am on an independent patrol, but can assist you if necessary".

X

The second half of February brought another spell of Winter weather in the Atlantic, and on the twenty-first Flying Officer Roxburgh experienced severe icing conditions at sea level at the extremity of his patrol (27 degrees West). Eventually the port inner engine was giving less than a quarter of its normal power output with the throttle fully open, and F/O Roxburgh climbed to twelve thousand feet before safe conditions were reached. A diversion signal received on the way back had to be disobeyed owing to fuel shortage…………….

 

Three possible sightings, each of which disappeared too quickly for investigation, are recorded during the first eleven days of March, but these were followed by the most successful period in the Squadron's history, in which four U-boats were definitely destroyed by individual aircraft attacks in little over a month……….. Pilot Officer Clark sighted and attacked a U-boat while escorting a convoy, and one of the latter's destroyer escort confirmed the "kill".  Flying Officer Roxburgh made a sighting from three thousand five hundred feet, and attacking immediately, was forced to release his depth charges from two hundred feet while still in a steep dive.  But he had made allowance for this and f?????? his increased speed, and his victim also was assessed as "known sunk".

 

When flying in  "L" on the twenty-seventh of March, Flying Officer Samuel sighted a fully surfaced U-boat about three miles from the aircraft; as he dived from two thousand feet to attack, the Germans opened fire. Traces was clearly seen, but the enemy's aim was inaccurate and no hits were sustained. Six depth charges were released as the aircraft delivered its attack from Twenty degrees on the U-boat's starboard quarter, the first falling on the starboard side, the second close mid-ships on the port, and the remainder on the port bow. The tail gunner described the explosion amidships as causing the U-boat to heel right over to starboard, remaining surfaced for about a quarter of a minute after the attack; then submerging for some ten to fifteen seconds, to re-appear with bows sticking up at an acute angle, as G/O. Samuel began to make his second "run in".

 

The remaining depth charge was seen by a gunner through the open bomb-bay doors to fallen the white foam around the U-boat. As the aircraft drew away after this attack, the bows were seen to assume a steeper angle, and the tail gunner was able to fire at the keel. Men were scrambling about on the conning tower as the U-boat sank, about twenty or thirty seconds later, going down almost vertically as though sucked down. The aftermath, in the Pilot's own words, looked "like a dose of Eno's"!

 

Flying Officer Cowey, who two weeks previously, while on an anti-submarine patrol, had sighted and dropped supplies to a ship's lifeboat containing twenty people, obtained the fourth successive kill for the Squadron on the twenty fourth of April. He was nearing the end of his patrol when a periscope was sighted at a distance of eight miles. As he approached, a 1000-ton U-boat surfaced, and opened fire on the aircraft. Ignoring the Germans' guns, F/O. Cowey attacked immediately, and straddled the enemy with depth charges. The bows were lifted out of the water by the explosion, and as the aircraft attacked again with the remaining depth charge, the U-boat sank, stern first. About twenty-five survivors were seen in the water amongst wreckage, and after photographs had been taken, course was set for Base. For this attack, and for his previous work with the Squadron, Flying Officer Cowey was, on the fifteenth of May, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

Early in May a special force from 206 Squadron was detached to St. Eval to cover the movements of a particular large and important convoy in the Western Approaches…….. and this force was subsequently held to escort H.H.S Nelson a week later. In addition to these duties, several offensive patrols were flown in to the Bay of Biscay, resulting in a number of sightings and attacks. Many enemy aircraft were also seen, and Flying Officer Lovell survived a thirty-five minute running fight with nine Ju. 88 fighters, the greatest number which had been seen together in the Bay up to that time.

 

On the nineteenth of June, speaking at Margate, Captain The Right Hon. Harold Balfour, .D., M.P., Under-Secretary of State for Air paid the following tribute to the work of Coastal:-

 

"Hats off to Coastal Command who, day and night, whatever the weather, fly the Oceans on their allotted duties. Theirs is not the sharp glory of the fighter combat, nor the satisfaction of the concentrated destruction of Germany's war machine by the bomber offensive. Theirs is a physically arduous and equally hazardous job of flying far out to the West in the front line of the Battle of the Atlantic. The tradition of the "Silent Service" must cover that air, and almost complete secrecy enshrouds the activities of the Allied Navies and Air Forces engaged in anti-submarine duties"

 

In May, the Germans made their biggest effort to date to halt our shipping with its vital supplies of food, munitions and manpower. The front line of the anti-U-boat warfare covers nearly ten million square miles of sea, and into it they put more submarines than ever have been used before. They attacked our convoys with the greatest determination. It was a major offensive mounted on a grand scale with great forces. Yet our shipping losses during the month of May were lower that at any time since the United States entered the war.

 

Coastal Command, in co-operating with the Navy, can take a large measure of credit for the success of the month. Air cover to the extreme limit of aircraft range, was given to our ships. More U-boats were attacked by Coastal Command than have ever been attacked in any month before. The sightings of U-boats reached a peak figure far above that ever previously attained. It is a positive fact that from the moment aircraft are able to provide air cover for a convoy, sinking's not only decrease rapidly, but in some cases, cease altogether. Our constant attacks on German submarines made their Commanders realize the difficulties of getting within range of our ships. Air cover does not mean Coastal Command just keeping aircraft hovering above a convoy. It means that the sea for scores, sometimes hundreds of miles behind, on each side and in front of ships, is swept night and day. U-boat packs were often broken up miles away from their targets and sent crash-diving to temporary and problematical safety……………. Give praise to Coastal Command for their unsung glories and feats 

XI

About this time the Commanding Officer, Acting Wing Commander J.R.S. Romanes, D.F.C., who won his decoration as a Flight Lieutenant with the Squadron earlier in the war, was posted to Headquarters, Coastal Command, his place being taken by Acting Wing Commander R.B. Thomson, D.S.O, who arrived from 172 Squadron on the sixteenth of May.

 

It was not long before Wing Commander Thomson was flying with the Squadron, and at ten minutes past seven on the morning of the eleventh of June, he took off from Benbecula in Fortress R/206 on an anti-submarine patrol which was to start one of the biggest air-sea rescue searched of the was. At 11.15 hours that morning a submarine sighting report was received from "R" and nine minutes later an S.O.S, which faded out before the position had been passed. Attempts made by control to contact the aircraft met with no success, and after half an hour a message was sent diverting Fortress K/220 to search the area. By 13.30 two more 206 Squadron aircraft, "C" (F/L. F.S. Wills, D.F.C.) and "B" (Sgt. Dyer) were  airborne and all other aircraft on patrol had been ordered to look for R/206 and the U-boat it had attacked. At 1900 hours a message was received from a Catalina of 84 Squadron, U.S. Navy: "Survivors sighted 6323 North 1034 West". By this time most of the other searching aircraft had reached the limit of their endurance, and at 2222 hours Flying Officer Hill took of in Fortress E/206. Six minutes afterwards his wireless operator picked up another message from C/84: "Sea slight possibility of landing". Northing more was heard, and it had to be assumed that the Catalina had attempted a landing and crashed. Fortunately at that latitude and time of year there was no complete darkness, and throughout the night the search went on. But the weather was deteriorating, and no sign of the survivors of either aircraft was seen. The next morning the weather was worse still, and of the many aircraft searching only one, "S" of 190 Squadron, had any success. This Catalina reported seeing a dinghy containing at least five survivors, three standing and two sitting. These were evidently the crew of C/84, and the position given was a little north of that of the Fortress dinghy. The aircraft endeavoured to keep contact, but the cloud base was two hundred feet, with continuous drizzle and a visibility of half a mile, and the dinghy was only sighted four times.

 

About six in the evening Flight Lieutenant Wills (Fortress B/206) arrived on the scene, catching a glimpse of the dinghy and its five occupants, but had to set course for Reykjavik almost immediately as he was short of fuel.

 

In the early hours of Sunday, the thirteenth of June, three Fortresses took off from Benbecula to continue the search, and before noon Flight Lieutenant Wills was airborne again from Reykjavik. Wing Commander Thomson's dinghy was soon sighted by Fortress L/220, and later by Catalina I/84. A Sunderland G/330, was next on the scene, followed shortly by a Hampden of 51 A.S.R. Squadron. While the other aircraft circled, the Sunderland made several attempts to land, but the sea was still too rough, and the flying boat did not touch down

 
The Squadron log takes up the story the next morning, the fourteenth of June:-
0222:   Fortress E/206 airborne on search, Captain F/O. Hill.
0540:   E/206 to 18 Group: Am over dinghy, sea calm Flying-boat could land easily.
0545:   E/206 to A/220 airborne on search, Captain F/L. Davies.
0555:   E/206 to 18 Group: Lindholme dinghy dropped and picked up by survivors.
0605:   18 Group to E/206: Report position of dinghy
0614:   E/206 to 18 Group: Am over dinghy in position 6340N 1108W.
0615:   E/206 to 18 Group: Dinghy radio transmitter dropped - very close - they should pick this up.
0623:   E/206 to 18 Group: Dinghy radio definitely picked up.
0629:   18 Group to E/206: Send call signs and dashes on 385kcs.
0638:   E/206 started sending call signs and dashes - - - - continued until 0702.
0704:   E/206 to 18 Group: Catalina in company.
0714:   18 Group to E/206: What is Catalina's letter.
0723:   Catalina's letter is "X"
            Asked Catalina: 'Can you land'. Catalina replied: 'Could land but could not take off because of swell'.
            E/206 to Catalina: 'How long can you stay'. Catalina to E/206: 7 hours.
0745:   Fortress A/220 commenced homing in E206.
0837:   E/206 to 18 Group: Hampden now in company with us and Catalina over dinghy.
0846:   E/206 to 18 Group: Two Hampdens and one Catalina now in company.
0848:   A/220 over dinghy. Thornaby bags not dropped as occupants already well supplied.
0850:   E/206 to 18 Group: Fortress now joined company.
0859:   E/206 to 18 Group: Three Hampdens one Fortress one Catalina and us in company.
0930:   18 Group to 34, 35, 43 and 44 ASR aircraft: Catalina L/190 being dispatched E.T.A. 1200 will try to land A/220 to home L/190 X/190 to remain with dinghy as long as fuel permits.
0940:   E/206 to 18 Group: Returning to Base Fortress over dinghy dropped two containers probably picked up.
0955:   H/206 airborne on search, Captain F/O Cowey.
1215:   Catalina L/190 which had been circling for some time put down to pick up survivors.
1216:   A/220 to 18 Group: Catalina landed near survivors . Both engines stopped
1246:   Survivors being taken on board.
1340:   L/190 to 18 Group: Airborne with eight survivors.
1345:   18 Group to L/190: Do survivors know anything of Catalina C/84.
1346:   H/206 position 6320N. 1113W. Commenced square search for dinghy of C/84.
1407:   L/190 to 18 Group: C/84 crashed attempting landing. Six people left wreck and were in contact with Fortress survivors till gale Saturday night.
1408:   H/206 to 18 Group: Request instructions.
1420:   18 Group to H/206: Go to position 6320N. 1134W. and carry out square search for Catalina dinghy. Search carried out to twenty-five miles depth but nothing seen.
1440:   L/190 to 18 Group: E.T.A. 1645 Require medical aid on landing.
1442:   18 Group to L/190: Landing Invergordon.
1445:   L/190 to 18 Group: Cannot make Invergordon landing Sullen Voo.
1745:   18 Group to Benbecula: Message that crew had been landed and were in Sick Quarters.

For two days aircraft continued the search for the crew of C/84 without success, and then on the sixteenth a Catalina sighted two dinghies, one of which contained two survivors. The next day an American destroyer threaded its way cautiously through the area (it was nearly in the centre of a minefield) and guided by aircraft, found the dinghy and its occupants, only one of whom was alive. The other seven members of this crew had all perished in their dinghies as a result of their gallant rescue bid.

 

Flight Sergeant Chisnall, one of the crew of R/206, gave the following account of his experiences:-

 

"We were on patrol in the North Atlantic, flying a Coastal Command Fortress. I was acting as second pilot to Wing Commander Thomson, D.S.C. After we had been in the air for about four hours, I went back to the wireless cabin for our sandwiches and coffee. I had just got back with and armful of 'eats' to the pilot's cabin, when I heard the Captain shout out that there was a U-boat ahead. Dropping everything, I jumped into the seat beside him, and started adjusting the engine controls. In the meantime the Captain had the Fortress in a steep dive, and the crew were all scrambling to their gun positions. Looking up I then saw the U-boat myself for the first time. It was going at full speed, throwing up great sheets of spray which made only the conning tower visible, although it was fully surfaced.

 

The U-boat made no attempt to dive, and when we were about fifty feet above the surface of the sea and between three and four hundred yards from the submarine, she opened fired both her guns. As we passed over her the Captain dropped the depth charges and we realized we were being hit as the bullets made an awful rattle along the fuselage of the aircraft.

 

When we turned towards the scene again the U-boat was still on an even keel. The Wing Commander looked very worried and said:   "Damn --- looks as though we've missed",   but soon loud cheers came over the 'intercom'. As the U-boat's bows came up out of the water until she was vertical, and she hung there for about fifteen seconds then slid back into the sea. As we passed over the scene of the attack again we saw about twenty Germans swimming in the water, and some of them shook their fists at us.

 

We were making our second circuit when I noticed that number three engine was pouring out a lot of smoke. I told the Wing Commander, who throttled it back and attempted to feather the airscrew; then numbers one and two engines started giving trouble, and petrol and oil was poring from the wing. The navigator gave the Captain a course for home, but we were losing height very quickly, and only one engine seemed to have any life in it.

 

The Captain told the crew that we would have to ditch, and to take up crash positions. About a minute later we crashed and were scrambling out of the aircraft into an ice cold sea, making us gasp for breath; only one of the two dinghies inflated, and soon all eight of us were sitting in it and watched the aircraft sink which happened very quickly.

 

Then we considered our chances of being found and were very relieved to hear that the wireless operator had managed to get out an S.O.S. We spent the next eight hours shivering and being violently sea-sick.

 

That evening we were sighted by a Catalina of the United States Navy and our spirits rose considerably. The Catalina circled around for about twenty minutes and then put down its floats and came in for a landing. We all held our breath as the sea was very rough indeed. The Catalina touched down on the water and tore into a big wave which rose up in front of her causing one of the propellers to fly off, and the aircraft began to settle down by the nose. I was agonizing to see the Americans climb into their two dinghies as they had made a gallant and heroic attempt to pick us up.

 

The Catalina took about a quarter of an hour to sink, and we tried very hard for about an hour to get to the Americans, but found it impossible owing to the state of the sea. That night a gale blew up, the waves were about forty feet high, and the wind tore around our dinghy. We pulled the covers up over us and tied them in the centre, but still the water came in, making it necessary to bail about every quarter of an hour; for bailer we used the navigator's shoes, as the bailer was missing and the rest of us had flying boots on. It was a very slow and tedious operation in such a cramped position.

 

Next day we could see no sign of the American crew. The wind had died down a little, but there was a very heavy sea running which made it uncomfortable. We spent the rest of that day and night huddled up in the dinghy; and sometimes we tried to work out our position and how we would be rescued.

 

On the morning of the third day the wind had calmed down considerably, but the swell was still as heavy as ever. We were all feeling very thirsty and began teasing one another by describing in detail the local 'pub' and one standing against the bar with a lovely pint of beer in front of him - it was agonizing but it caused a good laugh.

 

That afternoon we were sighted by a Fortress, and we cheered and waved as it dived down and flew low over us, dropping two bags containing water and bully beef. We soon had them onboard, and were toasting the first drop of water we had had for over two days. The Wing Commander took charge of the water ration, and allowed us to open one tin, which was about a mouthful each. Late a Catalina arrived and dropped us containers with more water, some cigarettes, matches and horlicks tablets. Then came a Sunderland, flown by a Norwegian crew, which made two very brave attempts to land - but the swell was too heavy. That night we all felt very much happier, and some of the crew managed to get a little sleep.

 

Early next morning we were sighted by a Fortress, and after dropping more containers with food and water it signalled to us by lamp; the message read: "Keep smiling help is coming soon"! We did not realize at the time that we were in a minefield, and naturally thought help would come by ship, so we scanned the horizon for sign of smoke. About an hour later a Coastal Command Catalina joined the Fortress and started circling us. The two Hampdens from a New Zealand Squadron arrived and dropped more food supplies. We had so many containers by now that we had to string them in one long line behind the dinghy - it was quite a comforting sight!

 

About mid-day the Catalina put down its floats and started to make dummy runs across the water; we realized that it was going to attempt a landing and were all very anxious about it.

 

This Catalina was flown by a very experienced Captain, with a specially picked skeleton crew, and it made a perfect landing. We all cheered loudly and waved a flag which we had obtained from one of the containers. The aircraft taxied very slowly towards us, and when it was close enough, the crew threw us a line which we managed to catch and so pulled ourselves alongside. Some of us were put on to bunks, and we soon had hot coffee and orange juice handed to us; nothing had tasted better in all our lives!

 

For take-off we were told to brace ourselves, and how to get out of the aircraft if anything went wrong. I heard the 'Cat's" motors open up, and felt her gathering speed; there was a slight bump, and we were in the air. Just over three hours later we were all in nice ward beds."

 

The last chapter in the story was told in August, when a signal was received at Benbecula from 15 Ground Headquarters:-

 

"The attack by Fortress R/206 on the eleventh of June 1943 has been assessed by the Admiralty as 'U-boat known sunk'. The following message from the C-in-C Western Approaches begins: 'Please convey to W.C. Thomson and surviving crew of R/206 my warmest congratulations on their success on the eleventh of June. I greatly admired the gallant manner in which the attack was pressed home.'"

 

Shortly afterwards the award of D.F.C. to Wing Commander Thomson D.S.C., was announced.

 

It was felt on the Squadron at this time that there was urgent need for a new weapon to combat the new tactics of the U-boat. Up to this time the only forward armament carried in the Fortress was a Browning .300 machine gun. This had given a lot of trouble in the form of cracked Perspex panels around the gun mounting in the nose, and was in any case considered a small deterrent in the face of cannon and machine guns carried by the enemy and used all to effectively in his new "stay on the surface and "fight" technique'.

 

After Wing Commander Thomson's attack and ditching, the Squadron make strenuous efforts to get official recognition of the need for more forward-firing armament. The aircraft were all eventuall fitted with a single .5 gun in a flexible mounting, but this time the Fortresses being delivered to the Americans in Britain were all fitted with the new "chin turret", mounting twin Browning .5s. Representations were made to Command through the usual channels, but negotiations were still in progress when the time came for the Squadron to convert to Liberator aircraft in March 1944.

 

XII

At the end of August the Squadron was takin 'out of the line' to prepare for the movement to an overseas destination. All arrangements were complete by the date first give for the move, but three times this date was altered, and it was the first of October 1943, when the main party sailed from the United Kingdom for a destination at which most of them had not even guessed. Two days out at sea it was made known that the Squadron was to set up a mid-Atlantic base in the Azores. The vast wastes of the Central North Atlantic, so long cut of reach of patrolling aircraft, were soon to come under the watchful eye of Coastal Command.

 

On the eight of October the convoy arrived off the Port of Angra do Heroismo, capital of Terceria, the second largest island in the Azores, and disembarkation was begun immediately. Equipment and personnel were all brought ashore by lighters, and then transported by road the eighteen miles to the airfield. This turned out to be a narrow valley, some four miles long and varying in width from a few hundred yards to two miles. The airfield itself was a little more that two thousand yards long, and about fifteen hundred yards across at its widest point. It was bounded on the West by the lower slopes of a mountain which rose to a peak more that three thousand feet high, eight miles from the airfield, and separated from the sea on the east b a ridge four miles long and varying from two to four hundred feet in height.

 

The airfield surface was grass-covered, but flat, and firm enough for landings in dry weather, although this latter fact had yet to be proved. In the meantime, work was commenced without delay on the building of a single metal strip runway down the length of the field. It was to be two thousand yards long, and all available personnel, both aircrew and ground staff, worked hard and long to complete it in the shortest possible time.

The following report is an extract from an article o the "Landing of British Forces in the Azores":-

 

"Lagens Airfield Oct. 18th, 1943.

 

The gradually closing net in the Central North Atlantic to U-boats operating against Allied shipping was tightened to-day when two of the first detail of Fortress aircraft, which are to be used in this battle against the U-boats, arrived at Terceira, in the Azores, after a 1300-miles non-stop flight from St. Eval, England.

 

1.     The Island of 'Terceira' obtained its name for the Portuguese word meaning "third", because it was the third to be colonized in this group of nine inhabited Islands. The capital, Angra,earned the right to add "de Heroismo" to its name owing to the heroic fighting of its troops in the Portuguese civil war of 1828.

 

The landing was a thrilling and historic one - the culmination of much intricate planning by Coastal Command, to say nothing of the diplomatic negotiations which it had entailed between the British and Portuguese Governments.

 

Air Vice Marshal G.R. Bromet, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., who has been sent out to the Azores by Coastal Command to establish a new R.A.F. Air Base on Terceira, was a Lagens airfield with some of his staff officers to witness the arrival of the first of the Fortresses.

 

It was an exciting moment for all. Would the weather favour the flyers? Would the runway at the airfield, on which much work was still to be done prove good and firm for landing? These fears, however, were soon dispelled.

 

A short time before the actual landing, before, too, the aircraft were sighted, signals Section made contact with one of them and the news flashed round: 'The Fortresses were coming'!

 

At 1510 hours the aircraft were sighted approaching Terceira - M/206, piloted by Wing Commander R.B. Thomson, D.S.O., D.F.C., the Officer Commanding No. 206 Fortress Squadron, and K/220, piloted by Wing Commander P.E. Haddow, Officer Commanding No. 220 Fortress Squadron.

 

The weather was bright and sunny, wind was W.N.W. and visibility good. There was only a trace of cloud. Wing Commander Thomson, on sighting the airfield, made a double circuit, and a minute later a perfect landing on the main runway. The historic moment for those who had planned the operation had at last arrived.

 

Air Vice Marshal Bromet, who was accompanied by Group Captain Reynolds, S.A.S.O., Group Captain Oulton, Station Commander at Lagens, Wing Commander Stroud, of Transport Command, Squadron Leader Bennady, G.I.O., Squadron Leader Paterson, Air 1, and Squadron Leader Cooke, S.S. Ad. O. at Lagens, greeted Wing Commander Thomson and his crew. Hearty handshakes were exchanged while the historic event was photographed by the R.A.F. Film Unit. Men of the Squadron, who had been gathered near the Operations Block, watching the landing of M/206, were equally thrilled to see their Co.O. once again together with members of the crew.

 

Some minutes later K/220 also appeared over the airfield, made a double circuit, and landed safely. Air Vice Marshal Bromet and the welcoming party warmly greeted Wing Commander Haddow and his crew. Tea was then served in the respective Messes to the crews of both aircrafts.

 

"Morale throughout the Station at Lagens has soared as a result of the successful arrival of the first of the Fortresses, and all personnel now look forward to the start of operations in hunting down the U-boats in the last remaining gat to the enemy in the Atlantic."

 

Other Fortress aircraft arrived in quick succession, and on the twenty-first of October, M/206 (Captain Flying Officer Rigg) carried out an anti-submarine patrol, the first operational sortie from the Azores. A week later, the first attack (a confirmed "kill') was made by a 220 Squadron aircraft. Later the British Force in the Azores was added to by the arrival of detachments of 172 and 179 Squadrons (Leigh-light Wellingtons) and 269 A.S.R. Squadron, comprising a flight of Hudsons, two wWalrus and two Spritfire aircraft.

 

As the above goes to show, operations were soon in full swing, but at the same time much work remained to be done on the airfield. One or two buildings previously used by a Unit of the Portuguese Air Force were taken over, but most of the British Force were accomodated in small tents, and the Messes were marquees. There were no "modern conveniences" of any kind, and water pipes h-ad to be laid, wash-houses built and latrines dug before the Squadron could settle down to a more normal existence. Detachments from the Royal Engineers and R.A.F. Regiment did most of the heavy work, but for a time it was "all hands on deck" with a vengeance!

XIII

November brought the "wet season" to the Islands, and soon the red volcanic dust which forms the top surface of the Azorean soil was churned into thick mud. Santa Barbara and Pico Alto, the 3000- foot mountain peaks, were constantly in cloud, and sometimes the top of the ridge, too, was covered. Bad weather was additionally hazardous here, for there were few radio aids, the Island was a small pinprick of land in a vast ocean, and the nearest diversion base was Gibraltar, over a thousand miles away. On the twenty-eighth of November Flight Sergeant Mitchener and his crew in B/206 were diverted there after a convoy escort patrol ……………. But when they arrived, with very little fuel to spare, Gibraltar itself was closed by fog, and the aircraft crashed off Carnero Point in the early hours of the morning. There were no survivors.

 

Although the Portuguese had granted the use of Terceira to the British Force, they insisted on the neutrality of the other islands in the group, and the R.A.F. were forbidden to fly within three miles of tem. More than once an aircraft returning in the darkness from a patrol was shot at by the over-zealous anti-aircraft gunners of San Miguel. This was the biggest Island in the Azores, and here too was a small airfield which could be used for landings in emergency only, provided permission had previously been obtained from the Portuguese Military Governor! The small servicing party that formed the only British Unit on this Island were virtually internees, and even the Officers could not leave the camp confines except on duty, and then only with a Portuguese Military escort. The compiler of this history was one of a party of pilots and navigators who obtained permission to visit this little airfield of Santa Anna in order to famliarize themselves in good weather with the landing ground they might one day be forced to use in less pleasant conditions. On the appointed day two Fortresses flew to Santa Anna from Lagens, and one of these became bogged in soft  ground at one side of the  field. As a result, the crew and passengers were forced to remain overnight. And since there was no accommodation on the spot, they were in due course conducted across the hills to the city of Ponta del Gada, to dine with the British Ambassador, and sleep in the best hotel. But this glimpse of civilization was short-lived, and the next morning, after the Fortress had been extricated, the party returned to Lagens!

 

No. 206 Squadron Headquarters at Lagens was set up in an old distillery, which all members of the Squadron took their part in converting into a number of flight offices and crew rooms with the various facilities required for training. The enthusiasm of C.O. made willing workers of everybody, and the result of their labours was so outstanding that on the twenty-seventh of January the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal Bromet, addressed the following minute to the Station Commander:-

 

"When I took the Military Governor round Lagens yesterday I was reminded that I wanted to congratulate the C.O 206 Squadron on the enterprise and industry shown in the building and furnishing of the Squadron Headquarters. Now that the building is practically completed I want you to let all concerned know how impressed I am with what they have achieved.

 

This sort of thing is the 'hall mark' of a good Squadron, and with such carefully thought arrangements for administering and training the Squadron, and in such well found and pleasant surroundings, Wing Commander Thomson can have every confidence in achieving a high standard of administration and training in his Squadron.

 

I hope he will allow me to consider myself an honorary member of Squadron Headquarters, free to wander about in the various sections at will picking up the latest technical 'gen' and the Squadron's ideas on anti-submarine training.

 

                                    (Signed) G. Bromet

 

                                                Air Vice Marshal. A. O. C.

 

The Military Governor was by no means the only visitor the Lagens who was shown the Squadron Headquarters with pride. Among many others are recorded the names of Air Marshal Sir John C. Slessor, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.C., Air Officer Commanding-in Chief, Coastal Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, G.B.S., K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.A., Air Officer Commanding, Transport Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Courtney, K.C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., Air Member for Supply and Organisation, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Viscount Trenchard, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., D.S., D.C.L., LL.D. Viscount Trenchard gave a lecture to aircrew personnel on the station during his visit. 

XIV

Operations continued throughout the winter in spite of difficult weather conditions. The Fortresses at this time were carrying four depth charges mounted externally under the wings, and with both bomb-bays full of extra fuel had extended the length of their patrols to thirteen and a half hours. One aircraft of 220 Squadron, remaining to the last possible minute over the survivor of a ditched Welelington while "homing" a destroyer to pick him up, returned to make a safe landing at Lagens after having been airborne for sixteen hours and fifty minutes!

 

On the sixth of January, 1944, Fortress U/206 (Squadron Leader Pinhorn) failed to return from a patrol after sending a U-boat sighting signal. Aircraft searched for several days, but no trace of the missing crew was seen, though Flight Lieutenant Hart sighted and attacked a U-boat in the same area the following week. The award of a D.F.C. to Squadron Leader Pinhorn for this work with 206 was announced in the London Gazette some months later.

 

At 0151 hours on the thirteenth of March, leigh-light Wellington B/172 sighted an attacked a U-boat in position 46* 20' North 27' West,  some five hundred miles north of the Azores. The U-boat submerged after the attack, and B/172 left the area on rachng the 'prudent limit of its endurance' by which tme Fortress R/206 (Flight Lieutenant Beaty) was airborne from Lagens and had set course for the position indicated in B/172's attack signal.

 

Half an hour before dawn, and exactly o the navigator's estimated time of arrival in the required position, the flares dropped by B/172 to mark the spot were sighted; R/206 dropped a further flare and commenced circling, while the crew settled down to wait for daylight. At 0740 hours, with the smoke from the markers barely visible against the smooth grey of the wave-less sea, preparations were being made to start a 'square search' of the area when the second pilot saw a U-boat break the surface a little to the north of the aircraft. Unfortunately it was too high ad too close to make an immediate attack, and by the time the necessary diving turn ad been completed, the U-boat's guns were manned and firing. Having thus lost the element of surprise, Flight Lieutenant Beaty decided to send a sighting report to base before attacking. The wireless operator had great difficulty in making contact, however, and twenty minutes later had not succeeded in getting any message through; it was then decided not to wait any longer and accordingly at 0805 an attack was carried out from the enemy's starboard beam. As the aircraft commenced its 'run-in' the enemy opened up with every weapon they possessed, which ncluded twenty and thirty-seven millimeter cannon, and commenced violent evasive action at high speed. They even fired a large-calibre anti-shipping gun mounted forward of the coning tower! The Fortress, however, was carrying a single 'point-five'  Browning in the nose; the navigator, Flight Sergeant Johnston, opened fire with this at a thousand yards range, and to such good effect that all enemy fire had ceased by the time the depth charges were dropped, and the aircraft was not hit. The actual attack was carried out from below fifty feet, one depth charge falling to starboard and the other three to port of the U-boat. Afterwards the enemy was soon to be stationary on the surface, and a few seconds later the bows came up out of the water at a steep angle, and she disappeared stern first, leaving two large and rapidly spreading oil patches o the surface.

 

Markers were dropped, and the aircraft circled for five hours, during which time homing signals were sent out to Fortress J/220 and the escort vessel HMCS Prince Rupert. Then "R", having reached "P.L.E., set course for base, and it was an hour later when "J" arrived and continued the work of homing the Prince Rupert.

 

"J" had been circling "R"'s markers for some little time when the crew noticed that the head of the oilstruck was moving …………………….. The U-boat was trying to get away from the area below the surface, but the damage inflicted

 

 By the 106 aircraft's attack was such that she could not move without leaving a trail of oil. J/220 then dropped two depth charges, and the head of the oilstreak altered course forty-five degrees to starboard. Realising that the enemy was too deep for the shallow setting depth charges carried b aircraft, the crew continued to circle, and shoretly afterwards the Prince Rupert was seen approaching with another surface escort. Soon the Navy's deepset depth charges were crashing down, and the U-boat was blown to the surface before disappearing for the last time. Fifty-two survivors were taken on board the Prince Rupert.

 

He following day a signal was received from the Commander-in-Chief Western Approaches, saying:

 

"My warmest congratulations on what appears to have been a most successful co-operation in sinking U-boat".

 

Flight Lieutenant Beaty was late awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this attack and his other work with the Squadron.

XV

Within a week of the events related in the last chapter came the news that Squadron was once more to be taken "out of the line" and was to prepare for a move to Davidstowe Moor, in Cornwall. As usual, rumours filled the air, and this time one, at least of those rumours turned out to be well-founded. The Fortresses of 220 Squadron were to continue the good work form Lagens for many months to come; but 206's 'Azorean interlude' was over, and what was more, they had completed their last Fortress operation. The forces of the Allies were preparing for the great invasion of occupied Europe, and No. 206 Squadron was destined to play its part in that invasion - with Liberators!

 

It was decided not to convert the older crew who were approaching the end of their operational tour, crews flew Fortresses back to England and left them at Bircham Newton, thence they proceeded direct to Aldergrove for conversion to Liberator Mark V and VI Aircraft. No leave was granted, and intensive training was carried out at Aldergrove and subsequently at St. Eval to which airfield the ground staff had already been moved from Davidstowe Moor.

 

Throughout the month of May intensive training continued. Low-level bombing, air to sea and air to air firing, fighter affiliation and the like filled the daily programme, and it was not until the twenty-third that the new C.O of Squadron, Wing Commander A. de V. Leach, D.F.C., flew with Squadron Leader Fleetwood and crew on the first operational sortie in a 206 Squadron Liberator. An anti-submarine patrol was carried out by then in the Bay of Biscay without incident. The first sighting was made on the twenty-eighth of May, when B/206 (Flight Lieutenant Fisher) homed on a radar contact, and was just in time to see a U-boat submerging, while still too far away to carry out an attack.

 

By the beginning of June the stage was all set for the great invasion. There were four Liberator Squadrons at St. Eval, and the queues for meals in the Messes had to be seen to be believed! But everybody knew that "something big" was afoot, and there were no complaints. When D-day finally came the Liberator Squadrons of Coastal Command were ready.

 

Three patrol "belts" were laid across the western end of the English Channel: two between the coasts of Cornwall and Brittany, and a third from west of the Scillies to Ushant. From D-day onwards, for a period of six weeks, twenty-four hours a day. Liberators patrolled these belts on the "endless chain" principle, so spaced that a watcher on either shore opposite a point on the end of one of the patrols would se an aircraft pass every half an hour. During the day nos. 206 and 547 Squadron operated the patrols; after dark the Leigh-light carrying Liberators of 53 and 224 Squadrons took over. Twenty-five sorties a day were flown from St. Eval; on only two days in the entire period did the Squadrons "fall down" on their commitment: this was due to impossible weather conditions at St. Eval and on these two days the patrols were covered by aircraft from Northern Ireland bases.

 

These operations were overwhelmingly successful, and no U-boats were able to break through and attack the invasion shipping off the beach-heads. During the day they dared not move up-channel, so that the work of the day Squadrons was mainly of a negative value : at night some attempts were made to break through the blockade, but radar and the relentless Leigh-light Liberators sought them out and destroyed them. The success of al was achieved by Flying Officer Moore, of 224 Squadron, who obtained the confirmed "kills" in twenty-two minutes. Naval surface craft picked up survivors from both U-boats the next morning.

 

On the tenth of June Liberator K/206 (Flight Lieutenant Dundas) homes on to a radar contact, and sighted a surfaced U-boat near Ushant, which was undergoing attack with cannon and machine-gun fire from four Mosquitoes. Flight Lieutenant Dundas joined the "party", and made an immediate attack with five depth charges" the U-boat, however, remained on the surface firing at the aircraft. Two more attacks were attempted, but in each case the depth charges failed to release. On the fourth run in six depth charges were dropped, straddling the U-boat, which stopped, and shortly afterwards sank stern first. Three survivors were seen in the water.

 

A few minutes late H/206 (Flying Officer O'Halloran), who was following "K" patrol, and had picked up his sighting report, arrived on the scene. Observing a lean grey shape which he took to be the U=boat Flight Lieutenant Dundas had reported, Flying Officer O'Halloran opened his bomb-doors and dived to the attack.  When he got closer he found that the "lean grey shape" was a German Air Sea Rescue launch, which had put out from Brest to pick up the survivors.  As soon as he realized this, Flying Officer O'Halloran turned away, but the launch had already opened fire on him, and his number one engine was hit and put out of action.  Seeing this, two of the Mosquitoes, who were still in the vicinity, dived in to the rescue of "H", damaging the launch with canon and machine-gun fire Flight Lieutenant Dundas was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this action. 

 

Later a Croix de Guerre was conferred on the Squadron for "Gallantry in the Liberation of France", and Flight Lieutenant L.F. Banks was chosen to wear it.  He was the senior navigator in the Squadron, and his exceptional enthusiasm and efficiency were known to all.  In the month following D-day he flew with three different crews, and logged a hundred operational flying hours.  Later his keenness led him to spend periods of leave flying with Bomber Command and an anti-shipping Halifax unit, and he finished the war as the Squadron's only navigator/Captain, being also awarded the D.F.C. 

XVI

By the middle of July the success of the English Channel operations was assured, and Coastal Command were able to move some of the long range squadrons to other fields.  Already six crews from 206 Squadron had spent a week on detachment at Tain, in the north of Scotland.  U-boats were reaching the Atlantic from their training grounds in the Baltic Sea by way of Norwegian waters, and then westwards north of the British Isles.  Patrols had long been operating between the north of Scotland and Iceland, but now the Liberators were to take the anti-U-boat war to the shores of Norway.

 

No. 206 Squadron moved to Leuchars, Fife, between the eleventh and the thirteenth of July, and on the fourteenth an attack was carried out on a submerging U-boat by Flight Lieutenant Green, in Liberator Q/206.  This was the first of many eventful patrols from Leuchars, and the squadron log records five sightings and four attacks in the month of July alone.  In addition there were seven sightings of enemy aircraft, but all made off without attacking.  Unfortunately the U-boat sightings mainly occurred during the semi-darkness of the summer nights in those latitudes, when results of attacks were difficult to assess.  This month also, the squadron lost two aircraft.

 

On the fifteenth of July E/206 (Flying Officer Thynne) failed to return from an anti-submarine partrol off of the Norwegian coast.  The loss became known when Group Headquarters addressed messages to the aircraft on patrol at that time; all aircraft replied except E/206, so the nearest were diverted to seach the area.  Thus air-sea rescue operations were in fact put into force some hours before the loss would have been known by the more usual means of the aircraft becoming overdue at base.

 

Within a short time one of the searching aircraft had found a dinghy containing one survivor, who waved feebly when the aircraft flew low over him, but made no attempt to pick up the supplies that the aircraft dropped near by.  For over twenty four hours relays of aircraft kept watch, while a high-speed launch was dispatched from Scotland.  It was travelling so fast that the fuel it carried was not sufficient for the double journey, and another launch followed more slowly with fuel for the return trip.  Towards evening on the second day the seas began to rise ominously, and shortly afterwards the survivor appeared to fall from the dinghy into the sea.  At 2025 on the sixteenth of July the launch arrived and packed up the body of Pilot Officer Hilton, one of the gunners of E/206.  Flying Officer Thynne had joined the Squadron at St. Eval.  He had only just taken over command of his own crew.  On evidence which has become available since the end of the war, he is credited with the destruction of a U-boat, which he must have attacked before being shot down into the sea.

 

On the morning of the Twentieth of July Flight Lieutenant Hancock and crew in Liberator D/206 failed to get airborne and crashed at the end of the runway.  Flight Sergeants Hoyle and Nadeau escaped but the remainder were killed when the aircraft exploded a few seconds after coming to rest.  Flight Sergeant Hoyle was in the navigator's position; he was thrown through the nose when the front turret parted company with the rest of the aircraft, and suffered a number of severe cuts and bruises.  Flight Sergeant Nadeau had taken up a position by the beam guns.  He was treated for shock, but suffered no external injury.

XVII

Throughout the months that followed, the Squadron settled down once more to the routine of anti-submarine patrols, flying across the North Sea again and again until the Norwegian coast from Stadtlandet to Lister became as well known to the crews as the Breton coast had been during the weeks following D-day.

 

The U-boat war was daily growing more intense. . . .but it was not getting any easier for the searching crews. . . .For some time past reports had been coming in of strange phenomena seen on the surface of the water --- phenomena that were now known to be caused by the latest secret device employed by the Germans: the "schnorkel" tube, by means of which a U-boat was enabled to use it's diesel motors while remaining almost completely submerged.  With the hull of the submarine anything up to twenty-eight feet below the surface of the water, the U-boat was not only able to remain practically invisible to searching aircraft for indefinite, periods, but could also descend out of range of their shallow set depth charges in a few seconds if and when an attack seemed imminent.

 

September brought a spell of bad weather, and with it another unfortunate accident.  Flying Officer Bayard, a "skipper" who, like Flying Officer Thynne, had but recently taken over his crew, hit Lucklaw Hill while trying to get into Leuchars in bad visibility on the evening of the fourteenth of September.  Flying Officer Bayard and crew were returning to base after having been diverted to Tain from their "Ops" trip the previous night, and they were carrying an extra pilot who had gone with them for experience, and a civilian Meteorological Officer from Tain who was on his way home on leave.  All twelve person in the aircraft were killed.

 

Incidentally the phrase "diverted to Tain" was rapidly becoming a y-word among the crews of the Squardon.  The contrast between Leuchars and Tain could not have been more marked. . . . Leuchars was by now "home" to most of the Squadron; rarely had any other Station been so popular.  Anything less like home than Tain was hard to imagine.  Leuchars was a peacetime Station, compact and comfortable; Tain was dispersed over several square miles, and had all the attendant lack of conveniences of that type of camp.  Leuchars was situated within easy reach of Dundee, St. Andrews and Edinburgh; Tain was in the wilds and "miles from anywhere".  But unfortunately Leuchars was particularly prone to bad weather at certain times of the year and in certain conditions; and Tain was so placed that visibility was often just that much better, the cloud base just that much higher.  So the crews came to know and dread the familiar message that so often reached them on the way back from the patrol area: - "Leuchars unfit Land at Tain".

 

On the nineteenth of September the O.C., Wing Commander Leach, returning from a patrol with Flight Lieutenant Jennings and crew in D/206, received a diversion signal when only a short distance from Leuchars.  It was feared, however, that there was insufficient fuel remaining to reach the airfield indicated, and six attempts to land at Leuchars were made without success.  Only then was a course set for the north of Scotland, and the crew buckled on their parachutes as Wing Commander Leach climbed to six thousand feet, expecting the petrol to give out at any moment.  However it lasted just long enough, and D/206 landed safely at Hilltown with ten minutes fuel left in the tanks, having been airborne for fifteen hours twenty-five minutes.

 

That night S/206 (Flying Officer Carlisle) was also diverted, after having attacked and sunk a U-boat close to the Norwegian coast.  In his first attack Flying Officer Carlisle straddled the U-boat with seven depth charges; with the eighth he made a second attack and claimed to have hit the conning tower as the enemy was attempting to submerge.  Afterwards about twenty survivors in dinghies were seen and photographed.

 

Tragically, on his next patrol Flying Officer Carlisle was attacked by enemy aircraft, and apparently shot into the sea, as no trace of the aircraft or crew was ever found. With him were lost Flight Sergeants Hoyle and Nadeau the two survivors of Flight Lieutenant Hancock's crew.  A few days later the Squadron received new of the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Flying Officer Carlisle for a successful attack on the nineteenth of September, and of the Distinguished Flying Medal to his navigator, Flight Sergeant Hoyle. 

XVIII

Flying Officer Frost and crew, In Liberator D/206, were attacked off the Norwegian coast on the Fifteenth of November by three Messerschmitt 110 twin engine fighters, which made nine separate attacks, lasting nearly an hour.  The enemy were well camouflaged, and approached at sea-level and very fast, so that although the watchful radar-operator detected them eight miles away, and all available eyes were strained in that direction, they were not seen with the naked eye until they were within four hundred yards.  By this time Flying Officer Frost had turned westwards and increased his speed to 190 knots; but one engine was knocked out in the first attack, the constant speed unit being completely shot away so that the propeller could not be feathered.  This "windmilling" engine rendered the speed to 150 knots, and made evasive action more difficult, the aircraft's hydraulics were also rendered unserviceable, so the port beam gun was hit, and the gunner, Sergeant Conway killed.  The 'intercom' was knocked out early in the action, too, and evasive manoeuvres were controlled by using the second pilot to relay messages from the mid-upper turret to the captain.  The wireless operator sent an enemy aircraft signal as soon as the attack commenced, and then changed to medium frequency, and sent S.O.S Messages.  His wireless receiver had been hit, so he was not able to receive an acknowledgement , and was not aware that his transmissions were getting through.  The rear turret was hit, wounding the gunner (Flight Sergeant Nicholson in the leg and putting one gun out of action, but he continued to fire until the other gun also ceased working, and then calmly crawled out of the remains of the turret, and put a tourniquet on his own leg.  After the rear turret was disabled, the enemy aircraft made concerted attacks from astern.  In the ninth attack the mid-upper gunner (Flight Sergeant Gollan) hit the port engine of one of the Messerschmitts; smoke and flames were seen pouring from it, and all the M.E. s broke off the attack and turned for home.

 

The crew were then able to take stock of the total damage, which was as follows: port outer engine, hydraulic system, 'intercom', wireless receiver, radar, Fluxgate compass, rear turret and port beam gun all damaged and unserviceable.  In addition there were many holes in the wings and fuselage; one aileron had been half shot away, together with the greater part of one of the elevator control surfaces and a large section of rudder; and these with the wind-milling engine made the aircraft entirely difficult to handle.  However the engineer managed to get the bomb-doors open and jettison the depth charges manually and a successful crash landing was made at Sunburgh.  After this notion the D.F.C was awarded to Flying Officer Frost; Flight-Sergeant Gollan received the D.F.C as did the injured tail gunner, Flight-Sergeant Nicholson, whose leg had to be amputated in hospital. . . .

 

During these autumn winter months though operations had been continuing , they were on a reduced scale in order to permit the change-over of the Squadron to Leigh-light carrying aircraft.  The apparently simple addition of a searchlight to enable attacks to be made at night involved more headaches than would at first sight seen possible, and the amount of intensive and arduous training necessary to acquire the correct co-ordination between pilot, radar operator and the Leigh-light operator-gun-bomb-armer was phenomenal.  Night after night the training aircraft were out, making practice runs backwards and forwards across Bell Rock Lighthouse, the "Mark V" training bouy, and any conveniently placed shipping in the area.  Later exercises were arranged with an Allied submarine, which was stationed at Dundee, and a Naval trawler which came up from the Fourth.  Occasionally aircrew went out in the submarine to study the attacks from that angle, and in return, members of the submarines crew were from time to time carried in the exercising aircraft.

 

One aircraft was lost in the course of this training; on the night of the second of December, 1944 Q/206 caught fire and plunged into the sea off Crail while making low-level practice runs over Bell Rock.  The pilot was Squadron Leader R.H. Harper, D.F.C who won his decoration as a Flying Officer with 206 Squadron in 1940, and his crew contained a number of 206 veterans of the Azorean days.  Search was made throughout the night and the following day, but the cold grey sea revealed no trace of those she had claimed, and the only sign of the wrecked aircraft appeared some days later, when one of "Q's" main wheels was washed up onto the stormy shore near St. Andrews. 

XIX

February, 1945 saw the start of the last final all-out offensive against U-Boats.  On the night of the third, fourteen Liberators from Nos. 206 and 547 squadrons took off from Leuchars within a few minutes of each other, and in a blinding snow storm, bound for Germany's innermost U-Boat sanctuary, the Baltic Sea.  Long range Coastal Command aircraft had always operated independently in the past, and the comparatively slow and un-manoeuvrable Liberator had not previously run the gauntlet of the Skaggerak and Kattegat, operation "Chilli" had been planned many weeks before, the secret had been well kept, and the raid was a complete surprise to the Germans.  The liberators swept up the Skaggerak in darkness, avoiding as far as possible the enemy's radar detectors by keeping semi-distant between Norway and Denmark and down to two hundred feet or lower above water.

 

D/206 (Squadron Leader Graham) had an engine failure on take-off, and he had to jettison his depth charges and Leigh-light immediately.  Rather than jeopardize the operations by delaying the other take-offs, Squadron Leader Graham circled for an hour on engines, and as the weather showed no sign of improving, he was diverted to Wick, where he mad and excellent landing in spite of poor visibility.

 

Another aircraft, B/206 (flight Lieutenant Haggas), was shadowed al the way up the Skaggerak by three enemy aircraft, whose repeated attempts to attack were all avoided by skilful evasive action.  The enemy aircraft were seen 'breaking away' up moon on one or two occasions, but successful combat manoeuvres were carried out entirely on the running commentary from the radar operator, who watched the aircraft come in to a quarter of a mile each time before avoiding action was taken.  The enemy aircraft were finally shaken off after an hour, but by this time "B" had used up so much fuel that the captain decided that there was insufficient fuel remaining to enable them to reach their destination and return, an accordingly a course was set for base.

 

The other twelve aircraft all reached the target area, east of the Danish Island of Bornholm, and several attacks were made.  M/206 (Flying Officer Elviss) attacked a small motor vessel and a sloop, in spite of intensive anti-aircraft fire.  E/547 attacked two surfaced U-boats, an this attack was seen by J/206 (Flight Lieutenant Jennings), who arrived on the scene a few seconds later, and was close enough to assist /547 with machine-gun fire from his front turret. Flight Lieutenant Jennings ad previously pressed home a good attack on another surfaced U-boat through a barrage of ant-aircraft fire.

 

Pilot Officer Glazebrook in Liberator C/206 first attacked with six depth charges a coaster of about two thousand tons; any tendency the crew might have had to get over excited was quelled in an instant by the calm voice of the navigator-bomb-aimer, F/S Smith, who might have been making a practice run over Bell Rock as he called over the 'intercom': "Left -- left --steady -- Bombs gone".  Then, before the aircraft could straighten out onto course again the radar operator was announcing the presence of a large contact ten miles away, which ultimately turned out to be caused by a group of six or seven U-boats with a destroyer escort.  Unfortunately a fault developed in the front turret, which interrupted the aircraft's 'intercom' system at a crucial point in the first homing, and though the Leigh-light was switched on, it was too late, and no attack was made.  The Germans must have been quite unprepared, as no return fire was experienced, but this "dummy run" gave the alarm, and when "C" returned a few minutes later, all the guns of the destroyer were manned, and the U-boat (which had been stationary) were getting under way preparatory for diving.  It was the latter fact that made it possible for "C" to attack without using the Leigh-light, as the white wakes of the U-boats were visible in the darkness; consequently the enemy gunners were unable to pen fire until the aircraft was upon them, and the resulting barrage, though intense, was wild and inaccurate, and the aircraft was not hit.

 

Meanwhile /206 (Flight Lieutenant Beaty, D.F.C.) was all unknowingly homing in on the same contact, and arrived on the scene about three minutes later.  By this time all the remaining U-boats had submerged, and when Flight Lieutenant Beaty switched on his Leigh-light, it was to illuminate the destroyer alone and to receive the full weight of the ant-aircraft barrage intended for "C".  This time the fire was well-directed, and the damage sustained by "E" included one engine hit and rendered unserviceable, two other engines slightly damaged, holes in mainplanes and rudders and rudder trim wires severed.  The bomb-bay was also it, making it impossible to close the bomb doors completely, and a large hole was blown in the fuselage near the beam gun position.  The fluxgate compass began to spin wildly, and t first the aircraft seemed uncontrollable.  Eventually, however, by jettisoning all heavy equipment, Flight Lieutenant Beaty was able to climb slowly to four thousand feet, and set a course for Sweden, while the crew were told to prepare to ale out.  But after reconsidering the position, it was decided to attempt the long hazardous return rip I spite of their crippled condition.  They had to take the chance that no enemy fighters would discover them; they knew they were "easy meat" as they would be quite unable to carry out any evasive action…….indeed, it was a constant struggle to keep the aircraft under control in level flight……. But the trip was accomplished without incident, and a successful landing made at Banff at 09:30 hours on the fourth.  Two weeks later Flight Lieutenant Beaty received a bar to his .F.C, and for their part in the raid, Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to Flight Lieutenant Jennings and Pilot Officer Glazebrook.

XX

Another secret development to aid in the anti-U-boat warfare came with the introduction of "HighTea", by means of which aircraft were enabled to listen to the sounds picked up by hydrophone suspended below the surface of the water.  The Squadron had been training with "High Tea" for some months, but the first positive results were obtained on the ninth of February, when Liberator B/206 (P/O. Glazebrook) attacked a "snorkeling" U-boat near the Orkneys which was sighted while the aircraft was on the way back from the patrol area.  "High Tea" evidence disclosed the presence of a stationary U-boat in the area after the aircraft and this was confirmed by J/206 (P/O. Ayrton), who arrived after "B" had set course for base.  Unfortunately both aircraft were near the end of their endurance, and before a relief could arrive the trail had been lost, and the extent of the damage to the U-boat was never determined.

 

On the second of March the Squadron was once more withdrawn from the line - this time for rearmament with Mark VIII Liberators, fitted with Mark X Radar and L.A.B equipment.  The latter was a "blind" bombsight used in conjunction with the Radar equipment, and designed for low altitude night operation against U-boats and surface vessels.  Once more a period of intensive training ensued, and it was nearly a month before the Squadron was again ready for operational duties.

 

April was a month of feverish activity, the Baltic raids (the one previously described was the first of four such) being supplemented y regular night patrols in the Skaggerk and  Kattegat.  The first recorded attack using the new L.A.B. equipment was made against a U-boat in the Skaggerak by Flight Lieutenant Green, and the same night a merchant vessel was attacked by Squadron Leader J.C. Graham, D.F.C..  The award of Squadron Leader Graham's decoration -- for outstanding service during three tours of operations with Coastal Command -- had been made a fortnight previously, and it was the opinion of all who had known and worked with him that seldom had a decoration been more justly earned.

 

In the weeks that followed the number of attacks for the month by the Squadron's aircraft was made up to a total of eighteen.  Flight Lieutenant Jennings D.F.C. attacked a U-boat  on the night of the fourth of April, and a merchant vessel on the nineteenth; Flight Liutenant Haggas attached merchant vessels on the eight and thirteenth, and made two attacks on a U-boat on the eighteenth.  Captain Prinsloo, S.A.A.F., made attacks on a U-boat and a merchant vessel on the twenty third, and a U-boat was also attacked on this date by Flying Officer Ayrton, who with Captain Prinsloo and Flying Officer Frost D.F.C. was making a special Balic raid -- the first by Liberators carrying L.A.B (206 were the only Squadron in the Royal air Force to use L.A.B operationally before the end of the war.)  the Squadron C.O, Wing Commander Selby, flew with Flying Officer Frost on this sortie.

 

In addition to the above, U-boat were attacked on various dates by Flying Officer Elviss, R.C.A.F.,  Flying Officer Fisher, R.A.A.F., and Flight Lieutenant Alexander, D.F.M., merchant vessels by Flight Lieutenant Richards, Flying Officer Grant and Flight Lieutenant Harbot, while Flight Lieutenant Markham, D.F.C. dropped bombs on a destroyer!  The conditions of these night attacks made results always difficult and sometimes impossible to observe or asses, but it is noteworthy that the attack by Flight Lieutenant Elviss was officially assessed as: "Perfect L.A.B. attack; U-boat seriously damaged, possibly sunk", and Flight Lieutenant Jennings' U-boat is believed to have been similarly dealt with.

 

Two crews, Flight Lieutenant Howel's and that of Lieutenant Commander Guilonard, R.N.N., were lost during this period, after being dispatched on anti-U-boat patrols in the Kattegat.  No trace was ever found of Lieutenant Commander Guilonard's aircraft or crew, but the body of Sergeant Ellison ( a gunner from Flying Officer Glazebrook's crew, who was with Flight Lieutenant Howell on his last trip) was washed up on the coast of Sweden later in the month.  He was given a full military funeral by the Swedish authorities.

 

On the night of the third of May two aircraft, Liberators C/206 (Flight Lieutenant Beaty) and E/206 (F/O. Glazebrook) were detailed for the usual anti-U-boat patrol in the Kattegat; bt on arriving at the eastern end of the Skaggerak, they found the entire area between the Danish and Swedish coasts to be mass of shipping.  All the vessels carried riding lights, and were steaming northwards on orderly rows.  They were not unprotected, however, and both Liberators were shadowed by fighters until they left the area, although no attacks were made.  Thus 206 Squadron became a witness -- albeit a silent one -- to the great ass evacuation from Denmark and Norway, and the following morning the remaining German forces in Denmark and North West Germany capitulated.

 

By now it seemed certain that Germany could not hold out much longer, but the strength of the forces in Norway, and their intentions and those of the U-boat fleet were by no means clear.  On the fifth of May the following personal signal from Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Coastal Command, to all Coastal Command Groups and Stations, was published:-

 

"In spite of the surrender of German forces on the Continent, there is as yet no indication that they contemplate surrender n Norway.  We may therefore expect the continuance of intensive U-boat operations from Norwegian bases.

 

All Ranks must realise that for Coastal Command the war goes on as before.  We started first we finish last.  I call upon all Squadrons for a great final effort against our old enemy.  It falls to Coastal Command to strike the final blow against the enemy's one remaining weapon."

 

The same day Squadron Leader J.P. martin, D.F.C, A.F.C., attacked an oil streak believed to be caused by a U-boat which had previously been damaged by G/86 in the Skaggerak; and Flight Lieutenant Thomson sighted and attacked another U-boat I the Kattegat.  Oil and debris spread over a large area after the depth charge explosions subsided, Flight Lieutenant Thomson is now officially credited with having sunk U-534, which is known to have been passing through the area at that time, and which failed to return to is base.

 

Since the surrender of the enemy in North West, the Kattegat patrols had been continued in daylight, and crews returning from over Denmark saw man rejoicing in the form of flags and cheering crowds.  Many Captains flew low over the towns and villages and dropped their streets and chocolate rations to children in the streets below.  The last of these was Flight Lieutenant Pearce, who, returning to Leuchars on the afternoon of the seventh of may completed the last fully operational sortie before VE-Day.

XXI

VE-Day was celebrated on the 8th May, but the work of Coastal Command was far from finished.  There were still many U-boats at sea, and these had yet to e rounded up and guided to British ports, and for the next four weeks "the Navy's sheep dogs" were to e busier than ever. The first U-boat surrender was accepted by the Squadron on the 10th of May, when O/206 (F/O. Glazebrook) located and photographed U-552, west of the Shetlands.  Two day later C/205 (F/O. Frost) found one of the new 250-ton prefabricated U-boats (U-2326) in the North Sea, heading for Denmark.  The Germans stopped when called upon to do so, but pretended not to understand  the instructions passed to them to alter course for Scotland.  However, after Flying Officer Frost had dropped a depth charge in front of them, they changed their minds, and were duly escorted by relays of aircraft into Dundee harbour, where a number of aircrew and ground crew from the Squadron were able to examine both U-boat and crew from close quarters than had previously been possible!

 

All U-boats had been ordered to remain on the surface, and consequently when a periscope was sighted by O/206 (Flying Officer Glazebrook) on the 13th May, the aircraft dived into the attack.  While in the run in, however, the U-boat surfaced and surrendered.  She was U-1231.

 

In all, nine U-boat surrenders were accepted by the Squadron's aircraft, and in addition many reconnaissance patrols of the Norwegian coast were made, and photographs taken of concentrations of U-boats in Bergen and Trondheim.  On the twenty-fifth of May, Flight Lieutenant Elviss, in E/206, took part with two 547 Squadron aircraft in a special escort  to the German cruisers Frinz Eugen and Nurnberg, when they left Copenhagen with four British destroyers.

 

At 11:35 hours on the third June ('45), Liberator MARK VIII, KH415, B/206 (Flight Lieutenant Fray), in position 5718 North 01?1 West, was recalled to base on the cessation of anti-U-boat patrols in home waters.  On this day, the Squadron was withdrawn from the line preparatory to conversion to a transport role.  During the next few weeks several sight-seeing tours for ground personnel were flown to Stavanger and Oslo.

 

On the 10th June, 1945 No. 206 Squadron transferred to 301 Wing, transport Command, and as re-organised on a basis of forty-eight crews of five members each consisting of two pilots, navigator, wireless operator and flight engineer.  R.A.A.F. and R.C.A.C. personnel were not included, and all straight air gunners were posted to R.A.F. Dallachy.  A three week period of intensive training was inaugurated in preparation for the Squadron's duties on the trooping run from the United Kingdom to India.

 

Before the end of the month R.C.A.F and R.A.A.F. personnel were posted to Birch Newton and Beccles respectively, and all surplus R.A.F. aircrew to RAF Dallachy.  By this time the Squadron had been augmented by the arrival of twenty-eight crews (o five members each), six from 1674 HCU, twelve from No. 547 Squadron and the remainder from No. 502 Squadron.  These had been flying Coastal Command Halifaxes, and they were converted to Liberators at Leuchars  by selected 206 Squadron Captains. 

 

In July the first raining trips o India were flown, carrying high priority freight, and the Squadron became fully operational in its transport role with the commencement f Air Trooping on the first October 1945.

EPILOGUE

"And some there be, who have no memorial........."

 

Every effort has been made to name as many as possible of those who played their part in the story that has been told in these ages; partly so that honour may be given where I is due, but mainly because it is believed that many of those who read this book have known and will remember those mentioned therein.  Nevertheless it is inevitable that the majority must remain anonymous; operational records are noted for their brevity, and those who found no place in them are not less worthy of remembrance.  The opportunities for aggressive activity which occurred during six years of war have been more than sufficient to fill this book, but in the main the work of Coastal Command crews called for endurance and unceasing vigilance rather than action.  The long, weary , depressing controls, every eye endlessly exploring the empty expanses for the ever elusive U-boat, do not provide much material for historians but it was these sorties which filled none-tenths of log books of the average long-range Coastal Crew, and ten-tenths of some.  And the work of the latter was none the less effective for that.  If their vigilance had not been as great, many more -boats would have survived o continue their deadly work, and it is well known that the German crews went in fear and trembling of allied aircraft, and were greatly hampered in their operations because they dared not show themselves on the surface  The Captain of the U-boat that surrendered to C/206 on the twelfth of May, 1945, (and which was escorted into Dundee) spoke to the writer of the new U-boats that Germany was producing when the war ended, which could stay submerged  continuously for eighty-one days.  When asked if they liked staying under for such a long time, the reply was : "Yes.  The longer we remain submerged, the fewer aircraft we see!"

 

And if there are aircrew who "have no memorial" how much more so those who never leave the ground, but without whom the Squadron could not have done it's work?  Only those who have been wit an operational squadron in war-time know the quantity and quality of the work of many whose labours enable the few to fly.  Of these Flight Sergeant Hartwell of the armament section was justly honoured with the B.E.M, while Flight Lieutenant Donald, Squadron Medical Officer for three years, and Flight Lieutenant Harrison, tireless "Adj.", appeared on the list of those who were "Mentioned in Dispatches", for their labours  for and on behalf of the Squadron.  But the vast majority had no official recognition for their efforts and go unremembered except by those who worked in close contact with them.  Yet their names are not recorded, their deeds are not forgotten; their history is in this book, and in their name and their glory its pages are dedicated . . .  for this is their story -- The War history of No 206 Squadron.

 

____________________________

 

1 J/206 (P/O Gordon)

2 0/206 (P/O George)

1 F/O. Bland, W/O. Clark, P/O. Cowen and W/O. Weir.