I had known about this Website, but 404squadron.com does not exist anymore. I have been able to retrieve it from Wayback Machine. I will be adding later more than 200 photos taken from that Website and from other sources with the goal of preserving the past for future generations.
404 Buffalo Squadron, RCAF at RAF Station Strubby, Lincolnshire, Summer 1944.
Welcome to the inital posting of the 404 Squadron History site. This site contains historical data and images from the squadron’s inception in April, 1941 to the end of the Argus era in 1980. We have created the site with the additional goal of kickstarting preparations for the Squadron’s 70th Anniversary celebrations in 2011. A new website has been created for the Wing-wide reunion celebrations planned for June 2011.
Please select any of the links at left to learn more about 404 Squadron and our history .
404 Squadron received its Squadron Badge, which was originally signed by H.R.H. King George VI, at a victory parade in Wick, Scotland on 5 May, 1943 from Air Vice Marshall A. B. Ellwod, A.O.C. No. 18 Group, Coastal Command.
The squadron badge is argent a buffalo’s head couped proper. It is after this that the Squadron is known as the “Buffalo Squadron”, the buffalo being known as a “fierce and powerful fighter”. The squadron’s motto is “Ready to Fight”.
Squadron 404 Colors
Coastal Fighter Squadron was formed on 15 April, 1941 at RAF Thorney Island in South-East England, flying Bristol Blenheims, Beaufighters and DeHavilland Mosquitoes until it was disbanded on 25 May, 1945.
Reformed at RCAF Station Greenwood on April 30, 1950, the ‘Herd’ has seen a number of different titles, designations and aircraft over the years, most recently being designated a Long-Range Patrol and Training Squadron in 2007 flying the CP140/A Aurora and Arcturus aircraft.
404 Squadron’s Battle Honors include:
English Channel and North Sea 1941-1945
Bay of Biscay 1943-1944
Name Given Names Service # Rank Date Position
Adams Aubrey Abram J/5700 F/L 6-May-44 P
Adamson John William R/116130 WO2 14-Oct-43 P
Aljoe Lorne Raymond J/28525 F/O 24-Mar-45 P
Allen Edward Glenelg 975744 Sgt 2-Sep-41 WAG
Armour William Douglas J/16462 F/O 23-Mar-44 P
Baker Earle Edward J/85766 P/O 12-Aug-44 N
Barber Irvine Alfred Maxwell R/77034 Sgt 19-Oct-41 P
Berges Claude Gerald J/95209 P/O 9-Feb-45 N
Blunderfield William Edward J/92165 P/O 9-Feb-45 N
Blyth John William J/17657 F/O 7-Jul-44 P
Brockington George Stanley R/75725 F/Sgt 12-Jun-42 P
Brown Charles Douglas Grant R/67587 F/Sgt 21-Feb-42 P
Campbell Douglas William R/74710 F/Sgt 16-Jun-42 WAG
Christison, DFC and Bar William Ritchie J/15143 S/L 24-Mar-45 P
Steed Beecham Isaac Gordon J/85990 P/O 28-Jun-44 N
Stephens Edward 1586082 Sgt 23-Mar-44 N
Stickel Frederick Martin J/26279 F/O 2-Oct-44 N
Taylor Norman J/18679 P/O 5-Dec-42 P
Taylor Clive Ford 1130288 Sgt 26-Mar-43 WAG
Taylor Charles Hugh J/9905 F/L 14-Sep-44 N
Thomas Lloyd George Dennis J/15219 P/O 23-May-42 WAG
Tinsley Reginald George 1258914 Sgt 6-Oct-42 WAG
Toon, DFC Frederick John 131939 F/L 24-Mar-45 N
Turner Darl Neilson J/11583 F/O 8-Dec-43 P
Tustin William Albert J/28580 F/O 6-Mar-45 P
Wettlaufer John William J/93696 P/O 6-Mar-45 N
White William Oswald 1109871 Sgt 23-May-42 WAG
Wilkie William J/22219 F/O 14-Jan-44 P
Woolhouse Albert Edgar R/91111 Cpl 3-Sep-43 Fitter IE
Wright Bruce John J/11185 F/O 1-May-43 O
In the Beginning…
With Britain at war in the fall of 1939, it was understood that Canada would follow. From all over the country, Canadians from all walks of life flocked to join the rapidly expanding Air force, Navy and Army. Thousands felt the need to hasten directly to the assistance of Britain and enlisted in the British service directly. However, starting from humble beginnings, most people realized that it would take years before Canada could hope to make a sizeable contribution to the war effort on land or sea.in the air it was a different story.
As early as November 1939, Air Vice Marshal (A/V/M) GM Croil, Chief of the Air Staff, had argued in a memo to the Minister of National Defence that it was not only desirous, but also essential, that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) play a role in the overseas war.
A subsequent agreement between Canada and Great Britain in January 1941 called for 25 RCAF squadrons to be formed in the United Kingdom over an 18-month period. The second of the RCAF’s so-called Article-15 squadrons to form overseas was 404 Squadron.
404 served its entire wartime life within Coastal Command, taking on the title of Coastal Fighter (CF) Squadron. Tasks included the protection of friendly convoys and conducting reconnaissance missions and attacking of enemy shipping. At all times squadron aircrew were subject to attacks from vastly superior Luftwaffe fighters such as the Me.109 and FW.190 while flying the Bristol Blenheim, an aircraft that was actually designed to be a light bomber. Even after being re-equipped with the able Beaufighter, the crews flew incredibly dangerous missions such as anti-flak escort where the crews purposely drew anti-aircraft fire from dangerous escort vessels to allow torpedo planes to drop their weapons, and shipping strikes where the crews had to fly straight at well defended vessels, often within 300 yards, allowing enemy gunners shots that required no deflection. While flying escort, the crews had the duty of tangling with enemy fighters of all sorts. On top of this, due to lack of fighter cover, most missions required cloud cover to allow escape after attacks.
As a quick example, a typical mission would be flown in poor weather, with a low cloud deck. The crews would form up, and proceed at 50 feet to the patrol area in order to avoid enemy radar. At the patrol area, they would quickly climb to 1500 feet, and hopefully sight the target convoy. Since convoys sailed so close to shore, coastal flak batteries would immediately open fire, as would the escort vessels with their 20mm and 37mm AA guns. 404 would attack these formidable flak-ships, weaving around the convoy, strafing with machine-gun and cannon. If all went to plan, the torpedo or strike rocket projectile (RP) aircraft would quickly make their attacks, aiming at the valuable merchant vessels. Properly conducted, the attack would be finished in ten minutes, that is unless the enemy fighters showed up…
Life in Coastal Command was not glamorous. In fact, only 20 percent of all Coastal Command patrols through the war led to attacks on shipping. Fighter Command and Bomber Command received regular press coverage, and the aircrew at times felt forgotten for their efforts. To top this off, being subjected to the indignity of having to fly dangerous missions in obsolete aircraft, and being moved 18 times in their four year existence, often to locations that were not suitable to fly operations from, often lowered morale. Still, these gentlemen got the job done, and have left a legacy of pride and accomplishment.
The Squadron’s service to Canada is approaching its sixth decade. With only six short years of hiatus, 404’s legacy is pride of service, dedication and heroism. From the dark wartime years when many saw their comrades fall or ‘fail to return’ to the years of the new millennium when we see comrades persevere, succeed and return to their units as qualified aircrew; ours is a history that must be preserved.
The ‘Herd’ is Born…
At the beginning of the war, 404 Squadron’s future command, Coastal Command, had the principal duty of trade protection, reconnaissance and co-operation with the Royal Navy. At that time, the importance of the German Navy or “Kriegsmarine” and the attacking of enemy shipping were considered but no specific plans were actually put in place. Maritime interdiction was thought to be the duty of the Navy.
For the first years of the war, the Command flew obsolete aircraft such as Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bombers and Handley-Page Hampdens, a twin-engined bomber. Early missions could only attack vessels that were identified as warships, and were not allowed to attack enemy merchant vessels, even when they fired on the Coastal Command aircraft. As German advances in Holland and Norway continued, this policy was to loosen and enemy mercantile shipping became a fair target. Still, the Command was to be saddled with having to fly obsolete aircraft on dangerous missions, usually in marginal weather conditions.
As a direct result of employing inappropriate aircraft and poor tactical training was the fact that between April and September of 1940 the Command was directly responsible for the sinking of only two small vessels. Still, mines dropped by Coastal Command dealt a much harsher blow, accounting for 56 enemy vessels.
Even though the response to enemy shipping opportunities seemed weak, military leadership fully understood the need to interdict the shipping into Germany. The highest-grade iron ore available to German foundries was mined in neutral Sweden, and was shipped from the ports on the country’s east coast. German and German-controlled ships carried the ore south, through the Baltic to northern German ports. This, however, was not possible in winter when the Baltic froze over. The ore was then transported by rail to the Norwegian port of Narvick, which, being on the Atlantic coast, remained ice-free all winter. This source of ore, and the importance placed on it, was evidenced throughout the war by the efforts to protect convoys with valuable Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe assets sorely needed to assist the war effort elsewhere.
Looking at a European map, it is readily apparent how difficult it was to interdict convoys amongst the leads, islands and fjords. Once the rail and canal systems of Germany had sustained considerable damage as the war progressed, more raw materials had to be shipped. Narvik, in northern German-controlled Norway, was the launching point of many of these lifeline convoys. Following close to shore, the convoys were relatively safe until they reached the southern coast of Norway. If the vessels safely reached the vicinity of the Skaggerak they were relatively safe until they reached Kiel. It was in these open waters as well as amongst the islands, leads and fjords of Norway that 404 Squadron was to see the bulk of its anti-shipping actions.
Later in the War, the squadron continued its maritime interdiction missions from bases in England, concentrating on the French coastline before returning to Scotland to finish its wartime service.
404 (Coastal Fighter) Squadron Formation
Authority to form 404 Coastal Fighter (CF) Squadron of the RCAF was granted by Headquarters, Coastal Command on 15 April 1941. It was to be part of No. 16 Group of the Royal Air Force Coastal Command. The new Canadian squadron was to take the Command’s motto, “find the enemy, strike the enemy, protect our ships” to heart.
This is the first official photo taken of 404 Squadron, in August 1941. Showing a group of officers, it was taken in the Officer’s Mess. (LtoR) F/L D MacKenzie of Sarnia, Ont; S/L PH Woodruff of Edmonton, F/L KK Hay-Roe of Toronto, P/O Observer AWC Tustin of Niagara Falls, Ont; F/L EH McHardy (DFC) of Waypawa, NZ (PL 4783)
Through its four years of wartime existence, the squadron was to face many challenges, such as 18 moves to different bases, exult in breathless victories, such as protecting the west flank of the D-Day invasion by taking on three deadly destroyers, and suffer cruel tragedy, such as the loss of 6 of 11 aircraft during a mission on the infamous Black Friday; 9 February, 1945. The squadron was to inscribe 116 names on the Roll of Honour, commemorating fallen comrades and celebrate the awarding of two Distinguished Service Orders (DSO), one George Medal (GM), sixty Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC) and ten Distinguished Flying Medals (DFM) by the time the Squadron was disbanded in May, 1945.
Early 1941 was a cruel time for the Allied cause. Though the Battle of Britain was past, and the skies over Britain were relatively safe, the Battle of the Atlantic was raging, with U-Boat attacks inflicting horrible losses on Allied shipping, and the enemy still holding air superiority over most of Europe. The USA was yet to join the cause, and Russia lay in quietude far to the east. It was during these dark and uncertain times that the nucleus of the newly formed 404 Squadron started to coalesce in southern England. The squadron was formed and commenced training at RAF Station Thorney Island in Southern England.
As a unit in Coastal Command, it was to serve in the anti-shipping role along with two other RCAF squadrons: 407, flying Hudsons and 415 flying Beauforts. Even though they fought within the same Command, these units would not fly together on operations at any time through the duration of the War. 415 Squadron eventually transferred to Bomber Command in 1944.
The original plan for the manning of the Squadron called for as many Canadians to be posted in as was possible, with the original squadron strength to be 66 comprised of ten pilots, two observers, six wireless operators/ air gunners, and ground staff. The Canadian identity was hoped to be a result of taking on Canuck aircrew graduating from the Empire Air Training Scheme (later the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan – BCATP). Though other RCAF Squadrons were able to quickly develop this Canadian character, as will be seen in this history, 404 Squadron would take a much longer time to achieve the same goal.
(L to R) P/O DH Inglis of Vancouver; F/O FJ Kelch of Kent, Eng; F/L TE Kirk of Montreal; S/L Ian Watson of Winnipeg, Man; P/O JW Hoadley of Kamloops, BC; P/O JG Dunlop of Gronlid, Sask; F/O C Fletcher of Toronto. (PL 4784)
Squadron records note that the first member of the new unit was F/O Albert Edward ‘Doc’ Ward who arrived on 25 April, ready to begin his duties as Medical Officer. You can imagine his dismay at finding nothing to practice his medical skills on other than 18 Mark IV and one Mark I Blenheim aircraft which had been delivered to the Station in allotment to the unit.
The Blenheim was a somewhat old, though sturdy, aircraft from which the squadron was to see yeoman service. The twin-engined Blenheims were originally designed to be a light bomber but were modified by adding four fixed, forward-firing .303 caliber machine-guns beneath the fuselage. With a 260 mph top speed, it would be no match for pursuing Luftwaffe fighters, and it was understood at that time that the Blenheim would not be able to provide adequate protection to convoys. The aircraft taken on strength by 404 Squadron were in essence ‘hand-me-downs’ from an RAF Squadron that was being outfitted with Beaufighters. The first entry about the aircraft in the Operational Record Book (ORB) notes “.owing to their condition, Z5693, Z5740, N3542, P4845, N3526 and N3600 had been put up for disposal by the Station CTO (Chief Technical Officer)”, thus, in essence, would not be available for flying training.
So it was with a slightly reduced fleet of aircraft that F/O Doc Ward met his new Commanding Officer who arrived during the first week of April. Squadron Leader Patrick Henry Woodruff (right) was posted to Thorney Island on April 4 to command the Squadron. A native of Edmonton, Woodruff had originally joined the RAF in 1937 on a short service commission.
Along with newly arrived Adjutant, P/O Raymond Crump, S/L Woodruff made arrangements for the unit to take up permanent residence in No. 4 Hangar. Three days later, the CO was off to RCAF Headquarters to talk to the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Air Commodore LF Stevenson, and the Officer in charge of Personnel, Wing Commander Foss. The new squadron now had a home and aircraft, but what were urgently needed at this time was personnel to fly the Blenheims. The AOC suggested ‘that as the Commanding Officer, No. 404 Squadron, is a fully qualified Coastal Command twin-engine Fighter instructor and that as the Squadron is starting from scratch, it might be reasonable in this instance to post aircrew straight from P(ersonnel) R(eception) C(enters) to the squadron ‘ A signal to this effect was sent to the Records Office in Gloucester and slowly but surely the official wheels began to turn and ground crew began to trickle in. It seems that it took a significant amount of time to get crews to fill the billets due to the Coastal Command OTU being full, and Fighter and Bomber Commands were not willing to give up their graduates.
May & June 1941 May 1941
Among the first aircrew to arrive at 404 was a complete crew transferred from 234 Squadron of the RAF: Pilot Sergeant Lacy, Observer Sergeant Shallcross and Wireless Operator Air Gunner (WAG) Sergeant Bell. P/Os Lown, Pearson, McLean, Garbutt and Wood, all from the flight School at RAF Cranwell, soon joined but were only on squadron two days before they were on their way to 2 (C) OTU at Catfoss. In addition, on 8 May, two senior aircraftsmen, F/S Maxon, Equipment Assistant, and Sgt Maidens,
Fitter Aero Engine, arrived and commenced taking over squadron stores. P/O JR Matthews joined the squadron on 11 May 1941. A Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner, he is seen entering a Blenheim just forward of the gunner’s cupola.
Training did not wait until the squadron complement was complete, and almost from the very first day, squadron members embarked on a strenuous program of ground instruction. Lessons in cockpit drill, petrol and hydraulic systems became the norm as the new arrivals came to know the Blenheims that they would be flying. The ground school was followed by endless hours in the air learning the idiosyncrasies of this aircraft and honing their skills for that day when 404 Squadron would become operational.
This hard work was not without its cost. The first prang by the squadron occurred on May 21 when Blenheim L6393 made a hard landing in the mud at the end of the aerodrome. The aircraft was wrecked, but the pilot, Sgt McLean, escaped with only cuts and bruises while the WAG, Sgt McElman, broke his leg. A Fitter, Cpl Walls , who was flying with the crew escaped with minor injuries and likely a somewhat less than favourable opinion of aircrew.
On 24 May, 17 Flight Mechanic ‘E’ technicians from Wittering were posted to the unit.
At the beginning of the month, the influx of new personnel continued from 3 PRC. On 1 June, DH Inglis, GDC Bell, IAM Barber, WE Dale, JG MacKay, RK McKay and RF Leighton arrived, followed two days later by JG Dunlop, TW Coy, EG Allen, J Shaw and Hanson. While this in itself may not seem note worthy, it is an unfortunate historical note that of these aircrew, eight of the twelve were killed within eight months.
Training continued at a furious pace until the squadron was ordered to move to Castletown, Caithness, Scotland, on 20 June 1941, and would be operating under the control of 18 Group. The entire move, accomplished by air, rail and truck, took a mere three days. This event, however, was not without incident as was recorded in the squadron scrapbook:
“June 22 – Sgt Lacy and crew attempted to return (from Thorney Is) but had to land at Usworth owing to very bad thunderstorm. This was later questioned by the blokes at Castletown as they considered it a wrangle. The aircraft had to be unloaded on account of the size of the ‘drome and transported by road to Oustom.”
“June 23 – Sgt Lacy and crew pulled another fast one and looked up Sgt Shallcross’s WAAF Sergeant at Dyce! Spending a night there and an enjoyable evening in Aberdeen. NOTE: This should not be allowed as the morale of the remainder at Castletown will suffer very badly.
“June 24 – Sgt Lacy and crew decided to return to Castletown – probably ran out of money.”
With the last crew finally on the ground in Castletown, the squadron got back to business and continued to train towards becoming operational.
July & August 1941
(L to R) Sgt RW Harrison of Sheffield, Eng; Sgt LM McLean of Rumichy, Sask; Sgt WD Copland of Belfast, Ireland; Sgt HA Goggin of Elgin, NB (PL 4785)
On 1 July, the ORB bespoke what the personnel felt of their home at Castletown. Many were looking for a move due to “extremely poor facilities for training and organization at that station”. The Officer in Charge (OIC) for Training in the District, W/C McMurtrie, promised to convey this to the Headquarters of Coastal Command in order to try to get a change of scenery for the Squadron – possibly to RAF Dyce.
On 2 July, the Squadron Rumble club came into being with approximately 42 offences on the prohibited list. These ‘rumbles’ were fines that were levied for mishaps around the squadron that the CO felt were preventable. There are several occasions in the scrapbook that Rumble! is the outcome of a misadventure. Sgt Schoales, on the 4th, “on landing, burst the port tyre, ran off runway and finished up on nose. None of the crew hurt. Unfortunately he got ‘rumbled’ 2/6″ for minor damage. ” Three days later, on 7 July, the unit lost another aircraft when the pilot, Sgt Barber, forgot to lower his gear upon landing. The only casualty was the aircraft, which was a write-off, but Sgt Barber received a visit to the Commanding Officer and a five-pound ‘rumble’ to help him remember his landing gear in the future. To add insult to injury, the scrapbook has two photos of the pranged Blenheim titled “Barber’s effort!” Sometimes, the tone of the entry into the scrapbook bespoke a quiet disapproval of a decision; on 9 July, Sgt Campbell with WAG Sgt Harris in Z5750 “burst tyre on takeoff, informed by R/T (radio telephone) and made excellent landing in grass. Sgt Harris suffered injury to back. 2/6 Rumble. “
(L to R) Sgt AG Walker of Glasgow, Scotland,; Sgt P McCarthy of London, Eng; Sgt FS Lacey of Timmins, Ont; Sgt A Bell of Glasgow, Scot; Sgt CDG Brown of Windsor, Ont.
Throughout July, the unit conducted normal training with only a few special events to break the monotony. The fifth of the month was indeed quite special as it was a day off due to weather. The aircrew celebrated by traveling either to Wick or to Thurso for a bath as there being no bathing facilities in Castletown.
On 12 July, “the officers of the squadron had plenty of nerve and threw out a challenge for a football match against the ‘crack’ Air Crew side. A certain person couldn’t resist a bet and managed to win a tenner from the Commanding Officer because the officers got duffed-up to the tune of 7-0! The (officers) tried pretty hard but suffered probably from ‘alcoholic wind’ which helped the Air Crew who train on milk. A challenge return match for a crate of beer was refused by the officers.” A handwritten note next to this, “ammendment – For AIR CREW read senior NCOs (I should think so!!)”
(l to r) Sgt JH Harris, Sgt DW Campbell, Sgt JH Oliver, Sgt RJ Williams, Sgt A Rogers, Sgt WR Christison, Sgt RA Schoales
The squadron held its first dance on 18 July and as one squadron member recalls
“.(it) turned out a successful venture. There were bags of local talent and quite a number of WAAFs from Wick turned up in force. A certain A/Obs celebrated his 21st birthday and got quite merry but where he got the figure 21 from is like nobody’s business.”
Finally, on 26 July, the squadron received orders to proceed to RAF Station Skitten, a satellite aerodrome on Wick, where they were to replace 607 Fighter Squadron. On the following day, the unit commenced the move leaving behind two aircraft, which were unserviceable.
Although the location was different at Skitten, the daily routine for the squadron did not change much at all – practice and more practice. 9 August saw the squadron lose another aircraft when Sgt RK McKay crashed in Blenheim L6178 while carrying out single engine circuits and landings. No one was injured, but the aircraft was a wreck. Flying continued, and on 10 August the squadron took part in Exercise Leapfrog, which was a combined exercise with the navy, army and RAF involving an attempted invasion of the Orkney Islands. Throughout the remainder of the month the squadron continued to practice air to air firing, formation flying, fighter attacks and formation flying in clouds.
Silhouette shot of technicians (Erks) working on a Bristol Blenheim (Christison collection)
On 28 August, the squadron was detailed for its first operational mission. P/O EW ‘Teddy’ Pierce was detailed for the trip to patrol and carry out a square search, two thirds of the way to Norway for a surface vessel that was sending out signals. Perhaps anti-climactically, Pierce had to return owing to engine trouble. Pierce’s pals pulled no punches in the Scrap Book with their comments about what happened to cancel the mission.
January & February 1942 January 1942
At the start of the year, the squadron was still based out of Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands, with a detachment flying from Dyce. Daily life consisted of training both on the ground and in the air, the occasional Norwegian patrol, but, more often than not, the unit members were stuck on the ground putting up with the severe limitations of Scottish weather.
During these early years of the war, the Kreigsmarine was still a potent force with battleships, battle cruisers, cruisers and a pocket battleship still threatening the seas. High-grade iron ore from Sweden was shipped from Narvik to Germany, and freighters along the coast transported other cargo so invaluable to the Reich. These vessels became primary targets for the 404 Blenheims.
Several new members of 404 Squadron arrived at this time. Posted in from No. 2 (C) OTU were Sgt Moore (Observer), Sgt Wilson (WAG), Sgt Knowles (WAG), Sgt Bennett (Observer), Sgt Morrow (Pilot) and Sgt Griffith (WAG). It was not long before these gentlemen were hard at work partaking in the never ceasing training flights, learning about their aircraft.
Life on the ground could be dangerous even without the prospect of enemy action. On 8 January, AC2 Stanley Leslie Gregory was killed when he walked into an airscrew. A Board of Inquiry was held the same day and the accident was deemed to be the result of an error in judgment. A moment’s inattention had cost a squadron member his life.
On 15 January, two squadron crews were involved in air-to-air combats. P/O Inglis was flying Blenheim ‘Q’ Z5736 on a South Stab (the name of a patrol area) patrol off the Norge coast when his observer spotted a He.111 flying at 50 feet. Inglis attacked from astern, seeing strikes from the rear gunner’s position, along the fuselage and into the engine. Inglis quickly banked away to allow his rear-gunner to fire a long burst into the 111. The Heinkel jettisoned its bombs while Inglis returned for another quarter attack, followed by the enemy making ‘S’ turns back towards Norway. A second attack was also seen to pour tracer into the wing root and fuselage. One He.111 was claimed as ‘probable’.
S/L McHardy in ‘X’ 6279 was patrolling at 1000 feet when a He.115 was spotted at sea level three miles to port. McHardy put in three attacks with long bursts, the first being in complete surprise. The Blenheim’s gunner also fired. The He.115 climbed steeply attempting to escape into cloud, with smoke emitting from the port engine and fuselage, McHardy again attacked the struggling aircraft from below until his ammunition was exhausted. The enemy aircraft was starting to lurch and its nose was starting to dip when contact was lost. The 115 was claimed as ‘possible’.
January in Sumburgh was not pleasant, especially if you wanted to fly, let alone get outside for a breath of fresh air. The Squadron War Record summed up its progress:
“Great difficulty has been experienced in making much progress in training during January, owing namely to very inclement weather, and operational requirements. However, during the few finer periods every effort was made to get the new crews into the air on navigational exercises, formation, local reconnaissance, air-firing and night flying practice. In spite of difficulties, the crews are shaping very satisfactorily.”
Every new day brought increased attempts to get the aircraft in the air. One such attempt, on 30 January, resulted in the loss of aircraft ‘T’ V5735 when S/L McHardy, testing the runways, slid off the icy surface and damaged the aircraft beyond the ability of the unit to repair. “.more spare parts as we are very short of same ” This quickly brought an end to flying duties for the day.
It was not without reason that Sumburgh was known as that ‘awful place’. Sgt Bobbie Schoales, a veteran pilot of 404, summed up his feelings about the Shetland Islands in the following poem (a copy of which is in the scrapbook dated 18 June, 1942):
The bloody town’s a bloody mess,
No bloody trains nor bloody bus,
No one cares for bloody us,
Ho! Bloody Shetlands.
The bloody roads are bloody bad,
The bloody folks are bloody mad.
They make the brightest – bloody sad
Ho! Bloody Shetlands.
All bloody clouds and bloody rain,
No bloody curbs, no bloody drains,
The Council’s got no bloody brains,
Oh! Bloody Shetlands.
Everything so bloody dear,
A bloody bob for bloody beer,
And is it good! No bloody fear,
Oh! Bloody Shetlands.
The bloody flicks are bloody old,
The bloody seats are bloody cold,
You can’t get in for bloody gold,
Oh! Bloody Shetlands.
The bloody dances make you smile,
The bloody band is bloody vile,
It only cramps your bloody style,
Oh! Bloody Shetlands.
No bloody sport, no bloody games,
No bloody fun, few bloody dames,
Who won’t even give their bloody names,
Oh! Bloody Shetlands.
Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on your bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
As in the bloody Shetlands.
At the end of the month, the squadron had 19 aircraft – 18 Blenheim Mk IVs and one Mk I, in service.
RAF Station Sumburgh Attacked by Lone Ju.88
A lone German aircraft shook the every day grind of life on station at Sumburgh on 1 February. Late in the afternoon, the Ju.88 dropped a 500 and 200 pound bomb on the station, which fell beyond the hangar lines causing little damage. After the bombs had been dropped, the 88 returned to strafe the barracks and hangar areas. As a result of the gunfire, six airmen were injured. Two of the injured succumbed to their wounds; AC1 DM Clark and AC2 N Leitch. Seven squadron aircraft were hit and rendered temporarily unserviceable for seven days. Gowler described the incident in his diary;
“I was out on the dispersal on “C” for the first time when Jerry came over. He first riddled our huts with machine guns killing Leech in our hut Erickson had his life saved by the bullet striking “Speed’s” shaving kit and then a pepper shaker which ricocheted the bullet past his head. One bullet struck about four feet from my bed. He then flew over the hangars and shot Clark who only lived a little while and shot the hangars and planes full of holes with explosive cannon shells and machine gun bullets. The kite I had just finished the major on (“B”) was struck in a half dozen places…Cpl Pooley had a bullet go through all his clothes and greatcoat and roughened his skin at the same time (pretty close).”
After this loss, training once again took precedence with the newer members of the unit doing numerous circuits and bumps. For the older members of 404 Squadron, many had to adjust to wearing higher ranks as authority for many promotions was received from Records.
Operationally, things were rather quiet for the next few weeks with only three patrols having any success. On 7 February, F/L Foster and crew tangled with a Ju.88 while on a Norwegian patrol and claimed several hits (‘damaged’). That same day, F/S GDC Bell and crew severely damaged a He.111. On 9 Feb, an He.111 was claimed as ‘damaged’.
On 10 February, Gowler notes in his diary that Flin Flon Floosie III had been involved in a combat and ‘got shot up’. It was also noted that the ‘Jerry’ was shot up as well.
Yet again, Gowler’s comments are an invaluable resource when researching life on the squadron during the early war years. Security was high on people’s minds, and fears of enemy actions, especially after the recent attack on the aerodrome, were always present. He noted the loss of two 235 Squadron Beaus on 11 February and one more on the 12th. “We fear that there has been some saboteurs at work on them” Nothing further of these fears is found in squadron records.
Life on squadron was not always glamorous. Here are two armourers checking the guns of a Blenheim’s rear turret. At left is AC1 JD Ayers of Vancouver and at right is LAC CR Watt of Montreal (PL 7691).
Ten days later, Sgt Schoales and his crew in ‘C’ had a bit more luck when they met several Me.109 fighters off the Norge coast. In a running battle, Schoales turned to intercept the enemy aircraft that was closing on his rear, but the German over flew the Blenheim. A second Me.109, also closing from the rear, became the target of a rather excited rear gunner who fired over 400 rounds of ammunition from each gun. The German aircraft fell away into a vertical dive towards the sea with flames pouring from the engine. The Blenheim received only minor damage. On these occasions, none of the 404 aircrew had been hurt.
However, the squadron’s good fortunes ran out on 21 February. Blenheim ‘F’ V5433 crashed on Gurnay Island, Outer Skerries, Shetlands, while returning from a Norwegian recce flight. Pilot F/S CDG Brown, observer F/S JH Oliver and WAG Sgt TW Coy died in the crash. The Squadron’s War Record wrote about their final moments as follows:
“An SOS had been received at 0830 hours by Flying Control, No.18 Group, approximately 40 minutes after the aircraft was due to leave the Norwegian coast. At 0840 hours, and SOS was received at Sumburgh and a message that the Wireless Transmitter (W/T) was unserviceable; also a bearing of 045 degrees true was obtained. Further bearings were taken and from 0851 to 0951 hours the aircraft was plotted by fighters as coming in steadily on its course. (When located after crashing) the aircraft was burnt out, but the rear part of the fuselage and tail, which were whole, were found to have a number of bullet holes in them. On interviewing the Coast Guard, it was found that the aircraft had approached the outer Skerries on one engine and apparently in difficulty. It crashed in attempting a landing on a small flat area on an island and had caught fire. It was felt that the aircraft was intercepted some distance off the Norge coast and during the engagement was probably damaged by enemy fire.”
Seven days later, the bodies of F/S Brown and F/S Oliver were interred at Lerwick with full military honours. The body of Sgt Coy was returned to his parents’ home.
F/S Oliver (L) and pilot F/S Brown, shown in a photo taken Aug 1941. This is an actual operational photo taken during a North Sea patrol, likely by Sgt Coy, the WAG. (PL 4789)
March and April 1942 March 1942
On 3 March, a ground incident was described. “Had a very close call yesterday morning on “C”. Mackenzie was running her up and the port oleo leg buckled letting the plane settle to the runway and as it settled down the prop started to cut into the runway of the dispersal and gouged out a big hole, then the strain was too great and the whole A(ir)/S(crew) assembly even the epicyclic gearing came away and the whole assembly started to spin through the air towards Doig and myself and just grazed us and then crashed to the ground behind us. As it hit the ground the three blades tore pieces out of the sod before coming to rest on the cylinder end of the V/P assembly .” The aircraft was written off due to the damage. The cause of the incident was that there we no locking devices on the undercarriage.
On 23 March, the squadron was purged of 19 aircrew to 143 Squadron.
Wireless Mechanics of 404 squadron of Coastal Command overseas check the aerial installation of one of the squadron’s aircraft. (L to R) Cpl A Main and Cpl AL Buck. Note that the ‘EE’ below the cupola are the 404 Squadron Code, used early in the War. (PL 7695)
On 25 March, the squadron completed another move, this time returning from their foray in Sumburgh and returning to RAF Station Dyce in Scotland. The move had been ordered on thy 14th with the aircrew flying out five days later. For the next two months, action was sporadic with no successes to add to the squadron’s score.
The Squadron’s personnel totals for the end of March, 1942:
RCAF Aircrew Officers 13
RCAF Groundcrew Officers 4
RCAF Airmen 26
RCAF Groundcrew 142
RAF Aircrew Officers 7
RAF Groundcrew Officers 2
RAF Airmen 44
RAF Groundcrew 151
It is interesting to note that the 541 (Details of Sorties Flown) for March is pretty much missing. This likely happened during the war, as there is a hand-written note in a margin of the ORB for the end of the month which states “The Central Stat Branch (London) gives 54 sorties for a total of 203 operational hours. KAC (initials) 5 Aug 46”
During a sortie flown on 22 April, S/L Foster gave chase to an enemy aircraft while on a Navigation Exercise. S/L McHardy attacked and damaged a Ju.88, leaving one of the enemy aircraft’s engines smoking. Five days later, F/L EW Pierce had a crack at a He.115 that was conducting mine-laying operations 150 miles off of the coast. It is not recorded if the attack was successful.
F/O George Burton (far left), Squadron Engineering Officer, observes a group of RAF ‘erks’ working on the port engine of a Blenheim. (PL 7693)
A year into the life of the squadron, the crews still found themselves flying the tired Blenheims. This fact rankled at the crews in that each time they faced air combat with the German fighters, knowing that they were vastly outmatched by the sleek Me.109s and powerful FW.190s. The concerns about flying what was originally designed to be a bomber aircraft in a Coastal Fighter role came to a head when W/C Woodruff wrote directly to Overseas Headquarters,
“Our Blenheims are rather old and, as you will realise, rather out of date. I am told that there are no Beaufighters to spare but have been given to believe that Mosquitoes are coming out fairly quickly now, and I feel the Fighter Mosquito would be considerably better for our job than the Beaufighter because of its superior maneuverability. My boys have done their best with the Blenheims and I feel that they are reaching the stage where they feel they should be supplied with more modern tools, i.e. Mosquitoes. If you could possibly do anything to hurry up our re-equipping I would indeed be grateful.”
The Mosquito would not even be considered, at that time, as a suitable replacement aircraft for a Coastal Command squadron, even when a Commanding Officer demanded it. W/C Woodruff was not led down the garden path, though, and was told that the squadron was to be given high priority for replacement of the Blenheims by Beaufighters. Still, even with his urgent appeal for better aircraft, the squadron was to continue to fly outdated equipment for another four months.
In the same letter in which the CO was raising concerns about the Squadron being saddled with obsolete aircraft, the problem of the Canadian character of the unit was also noted. Many RAF personnel were released from the squadron without replacement, even though missions continued. Woodruff politely noted that 404 was seven crews under strength.
Squadron personnel as of April 1942:
RCAF Aircrew Officers 17
RCAF Groundcrew Officers 4
RCAF Airmen 20
RCAF Groundcrew 181
RAF Aircrew Officers 7
RAF Groundcrew Officers 1
RAF Airmen 35 RAF
January & February 1943 Off to Chivenor
In January, 404 Squadron continued its long established routine of flying from Dyce, Skitten and Sumburgh. On 7 January, “Cancelled detachment slated for Leuchars…Rush call for a detachment to Sumburgh”. Most of the aircrew were quickly gone, but the groundcrew were delayed when a tire burst on their Harrow transport plane. Many of these groundcrew were still waiting to get to their aircraft four days later…
Everything seemed to be quite ordinary until, on 16 January, a squadron security parade was held and addressed by the Commanding Officer, W/C Truscott. The subject of his talk was the necessity for silence about the upcoming move of the squadron to RAF Chivenor. The squadron was to be sent to Chivenor in Devonshire to take part in the great air battles then being fought over the Bay of Biscay by Coastal Command. The unit’s role during the three months it was to remain at Chivenor under the control of 19 Group, and to provide long-range fighter escort for the anti-submarine and reconnaissance aircraft.
The main party arrived at Chivenor on 22 January followed by the Beaufighters and Blenheims the next day. As a squadron member recalled:
“It was not with a heavy heart that the unit prepared to depart sunny Scotland for the south of England. On January 22 the main party arrived in Chivenor and by January 25, the squadron had settled in. The remainder of the month was taken up with local flying to get used to the new surroundings.”
After a period of training at Chivenor, the 404 Beaufighters began operations over the Bay of Biscay by mid-February. Duties included interception patrols, trying to catch Luftwaffe meteorological planes gathering weather data, but with no luck for the Buffaloes. Other missions included convoy escorts and fishing-fleet patrols, again with the unit seeing very little enemy activity.
On 4 February,
“We deeply regret to have to presume one of the pigeons carried on search as ‘missing whilst engaged on ASR operations’. The rear of Tiger Browne’s aircraft blew open during flight and the pigeon – complete in box – went diving down to a watery grave. All Reg Dickey’s efforts to save it were of no avail.” Below this is inscribed “Footnote: This pigeon has since returned to its loft. Method of escape unknown!”
The Air Officer in Chief of Coastal Command, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, visited Chivenor on 9 February and discussed the re-equipping of 404 Squadron . These discussions likely involved the squadrons training toward the Mk XI Beaufighter. On 19 February, the squadron was again visited, this time by Air Vice Marshal Curtiss (RCAF HQ Overseas). He left the same day.
March & April 1943 Beaufighter Mk XIC
On 9 March, the first of the new Beaufighter Mk XICs arrived.
On 23 March, led by S/L de la Haye, six of these new aircraft were on an interception patrol over the Bay of Biscay. They sighted seven Ju.88s two miles dead ahead at 200 feet and immediately gave chase. Four of the enemy aircraft climbed into the clouds and were chased by Beaufighters from the patrol. F/O Schoales attempted a long 1000-yard shot at one of the fleeing aircraft, but was unable to see any strikes. The other three Junkers remained at low level and two Beaus attempted to engage the enemy. R/404, flown by F/S VF McCallan attacked one JU.88 from astern by firing four cannon bursts. Hits were seen on the enemy’s port wing and engine, which emitted heavy black smoke, and pieces, including a foot square chunk, fell from the wing. The JU.88 turned violently to port, and McCallan, in trying to turn within the enemy’s maneuver, stalled before firing two more bursts of cannon at close range. Another attack by F/S HR Browne in “T” followed with two one-second bursts from 500 and 300 yards, with no strikes observed. The enemy managed to evade the Beaufighters and escaped into the cloud. Even though the combats only claimed damaged, two Ju.88s were destroyed; Schoales was credited with one, while McCallan and Browne shared the other.
F/S HR Browne, who shared in the shooting down of a Ju.88 (PL 19441)
As evidenced by this action, the Luftwaffe had a healthy respect for the ability of the Beaufighters. Ju.88s would not take the chance against these agile coastal fighters unless they had a strong numeric advantage, and if more than one Beaufighter was encountered, the Ju.88s would clear off.
During the month, the squadron also took time out to help P/O J Campbell, an original member of the squadron, celebrate his marriage to S/O Edna M Knight in Worthing, Sussex. As always, a marriage offered an opportunity to celebrate and to forget (for the time being) the rigours of war. On 26 March, F/O RC Field (pilot) and Sgt CF Taylor (WAG) were killed in a flying accident. The stricken aircraft “crashed from about a hundred feet in Cornwall and the machine exploded killing both him and his Observer when the machine hit the ground.”
P/O JDW ‘Pat’ Campbell, an original member of 404 Squadron (PL 10876)
On 27 March, it was again made apparent how dangerous an environment the aircrew had to fly in during each sortie:
“F/O Campbell had a very close call today as he was flying too close to the sea and he hit a wave with one of his propellors and broke about a foot off of two blades. He managed, however, to land at a drome in Cornwall.”
Surely, some wave clipping did not end with the same positive results – how many crews that ‘failed to return’ were claimed in a moment such as this?
The zone of operations became focused on Norwegian Coastal waters, thus it was not a surprise that the squadron soon found itself on the way back to Scotland on 2 April, this time to Tain, north of Inverness, again under the control of 18 Group.
“This station is about one of the worst yet. The hangars are about a mile from the Mess hall and some of the dispersals about a mile further on again from the hangars. The billets are about a half-mile the other side of the mess hall so there is plenty of walking to be done. Sanitary conditions very poor around billets and no place to wash or have a bath close than the mess hall. All in all, a grim proposition. ” The squadron was only subjected to the inhospitable station for less than three weeks, likely to the great relief of all.
After the brief stay at Tain, the unit moved back into its old quarters at Wick on 20 April and was to remain for a little over a year. 404 joined the Wick Strike Wing and was to fly its future missions with 144 (RAF) Squadron torpedo-carrying Beaufighters (Torbeaus), and the torpedo-carrying Hampdens of 489 (RNZAF) Squadron. 404 flew anti-flak support during strikes using machine-gun and cannon, and during the Squadron’s twelve-month stay in Wick it would be equipped with rocket projectiles. Actually 404 aircrew would be responsible for developing tactics to use the new weapon.
During the first two weeks there, several incidents took place that that proved that Beaufighters could be very dangerous on the ground – especially to unwary technicians. Cpl Ferrier and LAC Bowden both found out that it is indeed possible to fall off an aircraft that is not moving. The injuries they suffered were minor and served to remind the rest of the ground crew and aircrew of the need to be vigilant around dispersal. On 19 April, 404 Squadron had its first taste of action since returning to Scotland, in cooperation with 144 Squadron. F/S KS Miller, pilot of one of three Buffalo aircraft on a Norwegian patrol, sighted one German merchant vessel and one escort vessel. He immediately turned to attack, commencing the firing run from 600 yards out and closing to within 75 yards of the vessels. The first burst fell well short but the three following bursts produced results. Several cannon strikes were observed on the superstructure just aft of the bridge of the merchant vessel. The aircraft then broke away to the stern, keeping the escort ship between the aircraft and the merchant vessel. Flak and shell bursts were observed by the crewmembers of the Beaufighter as they flew away but there were no casualties.
This was the first of many engagements involving 404 Beaufighters against enemy convoys with their escorting flak ships and escorting fighter aircraft. On these strikes, the squadron flew escort to torpedo-carrying Beaufighters of an RAF squadron and Hampdens of a RNZAF unit, the role of 404 being to engage and neutralize the defending flak ships and fighters while the torpedo bombers closed in on the high value merchant vessels.
Success! Teamwork with 144 Squadron
The slow evolution of tactics and how to get various squadrons to work together finally showed results later in the month. As stated previously, 404 was tasked at this stage of the war with acting as anti-flak escort. This very high-risk mission required the Buffalo crews to draw the fire of the highly gunned escort vessels, whose sole reason for being was to intercept and shoot down the vulnerable torpedo-carrying aircraft.
On 27 April, a sighting report off of Lister Fjord prompted the launch of six 404 Squadron Beaufighters and four 144 Squadron Torbeaus. The distance to the strike area necessitated a refueling stop at Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands. After flying to the patrol area at only 50 feet above the sea, a convoy of three vessels was found. The Trondhjemsfjord, a 6,753-ton Norwegian steamship and the 679-ton Amrum, a German Medium Tanker as well as an escort vessel, the UJ-1707 (Nordmeer), a 465-ton auxiliary trawler/ sub chaser were sighted and immediately attacked. The 404 Squadron Beaufighters took on the escort with machine gun and cannon fire, flying low and raking the vessels in passing while the aircraft of 144 Squadron released their torps and scored four hits on the merchant vessel. As a result of the attack, the Trondhjemsfjord, who was in ballast while enroute from Bergen to Kristiansand, sank off of Ryvingen Lighthouse, a victim of two torpedoes and was the squadron’s first credited sinking (along with 144). The Amrum and UJ-1707 were both damaged by shelling.
This action that lasted five minutes, but some of the squadron’s Beaus were badly damaged by German fire. ‘B’, crewed by F/S KS Miller and Sgt J Young was hit by flak.
“Miller was wounded in the left arm; a 20mm shell had passed between the pilot and observer; a fire extinguisher knocked from its bracket had exploded in the cockpit; the port engine had been damaged, port inner cannon hit, and three cannon doors blown off. ‘G’ (Sgt RL Carter, Sgt JW Adamson) had been hit by flak in the fuselage and elevators”.
The port engine of the aircraft flown by F/O RA Schoales with navigator P/O AD Powell, ‘Q’, had a cannon shell pass through it. At the same time, F/O Schoales was wounded in the arm by shrapnel but he still managed to bring the aircraft safely back to base despite his wound and the damage to the aircraft. For this feat, along with others, Schoales was eventually awarded the DFC. Though it seems that the squadron took serious damage for their efforts, it is testament to the Buffalo crews’ effectiveness in protecting 144 that none of the torpedo aircraft were fired on. From the ORB, “Crews of 144 Squadron consider success largely due to Beaufighter escort of 404 Squadron drawing fire of escort vessels. None of the merchant vessels or escort vessels fired at 144 Squadron aircraft.”
Comment found on the website
The webpage for the history of 404 Squadron is well presented. I was a member of the squadron from April 1943 to July 1944. The write-up about the events of May 1st, 1943 should include the name of the Pilot and the Nav(W) which were David Andrew as the pilot and André Lauzon as navigator . They were flying the Beaufighter “B”. The aircraft was hit by over 100 machine gun bullets. No 20 mm cannon were fired; the Messerschmitt pilot had evidently not engaged his cannons… This may explain why the Beau was able to make it back with 2 flat tires, the port engine leaking oil, no air pressure, and no hydraulics.
It would be appreciated if somehow the names of the aircrews were mentioned. Andrew and Lauzon both completed a 38 operations tour, terminating in July, 1944.
I am enclosing a photo of the pilot David Andrew and the navigator Andre Lauzon, together with a photo of B taken by myself before the Beau was towed away in the hangar out of bounds.
I was contacted by André Lauzon’s daughter who shared some photos of her father’s collection of WWII photos.
From the collection of André Lauzon
Attack by Beaufighters
Flak damage on his Beaufighter
André Lauzon and David Andrews
André Lauzon and David Andrews
At the beginning of the year, 404 and 144 were joined by the Torbeaus of 489 Squadron. Thus, the Wick Wing of No 18 Group was comprised of torpedo, RP and anti-flak squadrons. This particular formation had just been put together for the purpose of striking an ever-increasing amount of enemy shipping. During the month, 18 Group made 65 attacks as compared to 50 in December, and was responsible for sinking 15,659 tons of shipping.
On 3 January, F/O Symons and F/O Barcham went to Tain to take charge of the RP training that was being conducted there. January was busy with many aircraft proceeding to Tain to conduct training on this weapon.
On the 9 January, the ORB notes that the aircrew had a ‘day devoted to fireside discussions’.
Reconnaissance missions were still playing an important part in the Squadron’s operational taskings. On 12 January two recces were conducted that demonstrated how rich the target environment was early in 1944. Seven crews carried out a Shipping Recce in the afternoon, and sighted a small merchant vessel and two escort vessels. An earlier recce off of the Stadtlandet area conducted by two crews sighted a tanker, a merchant vessel and four escort vessels. A second recce conducted at the same time by two crews sighted a further two merchant vessels and four escorts. No attacks on these vessels were made.
On 14 January, ten 404 and seven 144 Squadron anti-flak Beaufighters set out as the escort for eight torpedo-carrying Beaufighters (Torbeaus) from 144 on an anti-shipping patrol to the Naze off of southern Norway. The makeup of the force seems confusing, but it should be remembered that the Beaufighter TFX could either be armed to carry a torpedo (Torbeau) or to carry RPs (Flakbeau). The seven anti-flak Beaufighters from 144 Squadron were led by W/C CA Willis while 404 was led by F/O WD Thomsett after S/L Gatward was forced to return to base when a hatch blew open and could not be closed.
The force were in the air for only an hour and a half when they sighted two convoys, one with three merchant vessels and two escorts, the second convoy some miles astern of the first near Lista. The mechanics of the attacks are not clear, but it is known that both of the convoys were engaged. At 1153 hrs, the 404 anti-flak aircraft and 144 Squadron Torbeaus initiated attacks. O/404 (F/O Fair and Sgt Towns), G/404 (F/S Lorch and Sgt Huxtable) and F/404 (F/O Hodson and F/O Powell) attacked the leading escort vessel and claimed RP and cannon strikes. This vessel was likely the V5307 Felix Scheder, a 390-ton auxiliary whaler which received rocket strikes to the bridge area. M/404 (F/O Thomsett and F/O Webster) along with H/404 (F/O Keefe and W/O Steed) attacked the leading 4000-ton merchant vessel with M scoring two and H four hits. The 144 Squadron torpedo aircraft also attacked this vessel and reported that they saw explosions from the 404 attacks. This merchantman was likely the 5,179-ton German vessel Entrerios which received a torpedo hit on the stern and RP strikes on the bridge, foredeck and amidships. She was later confirmed destroyed, possibly by F/O Thomsett and F/O Keefe. Another steam ship, the 1,569-ton Norwegian vessel Maurita confirmed as damaged in the strike.
F/L RW Webster checks his charts (PL 29815)
F/O Johnny Symons (PL 28066)
Under the direction of Chuck Willis, the escorting RAF anti-flak Beaufighters attacked the second convoy and managed to put one of the ships out of action. This attack on the second convoy was not an optimal action, as in the anti-flak fitment severe damage could not be expected on the enemy vessels. The ORB notes that this flight ‘losing contact momentarily with the other formation in the cloud’ chose to engage the vessels. U/404 (F/O Symons (right) and F/O Barcham) attacked one of the escort vessels in the second convoy, claiming cannon strikes while the RPs ‘undershot’. The German merchant vessel Wittekind, a 4,029-ton iron ore freighter was sunk during her voyage from Narvik to Germany. A second strike force comprising 489 Squadron also struck this convoy.
For this mission the ORB noted, “Twenty four aircraft took part in this the largest operation to date of the Wick Beaufighter Wing.” Note that this formation was not called a Strike Wing in the ORB.
Unfortunately, this action was not without cost – two Beaufighters from 404 Squadron did not return. P/O NB Hunt and navigator F/O Joiner were lost, Beaufighter ‘J’ LZ179 was seen to emit smoke while diving to attack and was not seen again, likely a victim to a flak strike. Also lost were F/O W Wilkie and F/O Evans in W/404. The aircraft lost height rapidly when 120 miles from base and ditched. It had been hit by flak while turning in to attack and was unable to launch its RPs. F/O Hodson in ‘F’ circled the site, but no survivors were seen in the dinghy. Along with the two Buffalo aircraft, one of the 144 Squadron aircraft also failed to return.
On 16 January, five 404 Squadron aircraft and one from 144 Squadron took part as escorts to 144 Torbeaus on a Rover Patrol. Landfall was made at Storholm Light and the patrol turned south along the coast to Stadtlandet. During the transit, two armed trawlers were sighted who opened fire on the patrol. N/404, flown by F/O Decloux and F/O Gilhespy, was hit. “The formation set course for base at 1426 from Gtterone Light and shortly afterward two explosions were seen from the starboard engine of ‘N’. It carried on for three minutes, maintaining level course. The pilot was then heard on VHF to say ‘This is it, chaps,’ the a/c touched down in ditching position, navigator fired a red Very light and the a/c hit the water and broke up. P/144 circled the area but no survivors, wreckage or dinghy seen “. The ORB states that the ditching had to be carried out in a heavy sea.
On 20 January, six Buffalo aircraft armed with RP, led by W/C Gatward in ‘R’ NE198 and escorted by an equal number of 144 Squadron anti-flak Beaufighters (including one photographic aircraft from 144) set out on patrol. The formation made landfall off Bremanger and turned north. A northbound convoy of one merchant and four escorts was sighted with a second convoy further north. All aircraft attacked the first convoy at 1131 hrs. The anti-flak aircraft took on the escort vessels while 404 concentrated on the merchantman, the 5,179-ton German merchant vessel Emsland. The ORB states that 30 rocket strikes were registered (each aircraft obtained at least two). T/404 (S/L Gatward and F/O Carlin) also attacked one of the escort vessels with RP. All planes also attacked with cannon. After this well executed attack, the Emsland was enveloped in steam and smoke and caught fire, a victim of multiple rocket strikes. She was beached as a result of the attack and was a total loss . The returning crews reported that one of the escort vessels was also damaged, with a large plume of black smoke enveloping the ship after an attack. Post war records indicate that in fact, three of the escorts received shell hits; the UJ-1102 Westfalen of 445 tons and UJ-1104 Oldenburg of 446 tons, both German Auxiliary Trawler/Sub Chasers, were listed as damaged. The third damaged vessel was the 320-ton German Auxiliary Whaler V-5304 Seehund . It is interesting to note that the ORB stated, “an enemy report admitted casualties among the crews. From a tactical point of view this was a most successful attack “.
Shulemson earns Distinguished Service Order
On 26 January, six 404 Squadron Beaufighters in strike configuration led by F/O Shulemson in ‘U’, and six from 144 as anti-flak escort were back in action. R/404 (F/O Fair and Sgt Towns) had to turn back to base due to engine trouble. This time the target was a convoy of three merchant vessels of 2,000 to 3,000-tons including the Finse, Orlanda and the tanker Kloveren along with three escort vessels and a minesweeper off of Stadlandet.
One of the Buffalo crews, F/O EJ Keefe and WO BG Steed, scored four hits on the minesweeper and left it burning. “F/O Keefe figuring he had been damaged made a suicide attack on one and blew it out of the water with his cannons and rocket projectiles. ” This vessel was likely a 560-ton German Auxiliary Whaler escort V-5908 Penang, listed as having been severely damaged in the attacks. Shulemson also attacked this vessel. WOs HE Hallatt and AD Glasgow registered four hits on an astern escort vessel. W/O French and Sgt Hathway in ‘T’ tried to attack this escort vessel, but the RP sight was unserviceable and forward hatch blew open. F/O Shulemson and his navigator F/O PR Bassett also attacked the merchant with two rockets striking.
An M-class minesweeper was sunk and two merchant vessels and two escort vessels seriously damaged with unknown identities. The ORB notes that accurate flak and rockets from the convoy and flak from shore was encountered. During the action, F/O JAC Dixon and Sgt E Pearce in ‘G’ NE328 were thought to have made a successful attack on the leading M/V but they almost immediately fell victim to three Me.109s and plunged into the sea. The 109s may have been alerted to the presence of the hostile aircraft when the unserviceable Beau broke radio silence rules by sending a Morse code message. This transmission “probably alerted German listening posts along the Norwegian coast. “
F/O SS ‘Sid’ Shulemson standing in front of his Beaufighter (PL29809)
F/O Shulemson, along with the other aircraft from Wick, was already heading for home with his damaged Beaufighter when he returned to aid a comrade. From Shulemson’s log:
“Jumped by four Me.109Gs. P/O Dixon shot down. I attacked fighter chasing M/144 and had inconclusive combat”
The ORB states that Shulemson’s fire was ineffective, but this aggressive action caused the lethal enemy fighter to turn its attention from the beleaguered 144 aircraft to its pursuer. For several minutes, Shulemson fought for his life, taking violent evasive action with Bassett firing in defence using the Beaufighter’s machine-gun. He was taking hits from the 109, as well as from shore based flak emplacements. Using Coastal Command defensive tactics, the Beau made tight turns at very low altitude, an environment that the Me.109 was (not) best suited for. Shulemson eventually gained cloud cover and broke contact. Re-emerging from the cloud after four minutes, the enemy fighter was again sighted at 800 yards and immediately attacked. The crew fought off the Me.109 for a further ten minutes until Shulemson again made cloud cover. Due to his efforts, Shulemson eventually broke contact from the enemy fighter. A clearer insight into the life of a wartime pilot may be gleaned from the honest tone used in the final entry for that day in Shulemson’s log, “Many congratulations and drinks to a badly scared crew”. Shulemson won an immediate DSO for his actions being cited as a ‘skillful, courageous and determined leader whose example has inspired all’. From the ORB was the following annotation, “This was considered to be a very courageous and self-sacrificing action on F/O Shulemson’s part and it is quite probable that had he not attacked the ME109 M/144 would have suffered the fate of J/404.”
Personnel totals for January 1944
RCAF Total Strength Establishment
Pilots 17 20 13
Navigators 4 13 13
Pilots 5 6 12
Navigators 6 15 12
Officers 4 4 3
Airmen 73 85 90
Airwomen 0 18 15
TOTAL 109 161 158
66 Operational sorties were flown during then month for a total of 272.45 hours.
February & March 1944 February 1944
While the Beaufighters were actively employed on escort and recce tasks during February, making many more sorties than in January, only one successful strike was reported.
On 1 February, a formation of nine 404 Beaufighters were escorted by five 144 Squadron aircraft on a RP Rover. S/L Ken Gatward led this mission. Making landfall at Utvaer, S/L Gatward realized that the visibility and cloud would not allow for a coordinated attack in the patrol area so, taking the initiative he turned his force to the north, searching for better weather and targets. 75 miles to the north, the force found and attacked a merchant vessel and four (three) escort vessels southbound off Stadtlandet. After the RAF aircraft had damaged a large escort ship astern of the M/V causing an explosion and fire, the RCAF crews in sections of three attacked the merchant vessel and two escorts. As a result of these well-coordinated attacks, the 3,096-ton German freighter Valencia was hit with RPs at the water line and on the superstructure, as well as by cannon fire and sank . The 527-ton German escort vessel UJ-1702 (FD62), an Auxiliary Trawler/Sub Chaser was also destroyed likely due to RP strikes from S/L Gatward. The attacks were made in very poor visibility and in the face of intense flak from the ships and shore. Post attack reports by the aircrew state that it was believed that three vessels were left burning, but only the two sinkings are noted in the CCWR. There were no casualties to the attacking force.
On 4 February, F/O Sydney Shulemson received the awarding of an immediate Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions as recounted on 26 January 1944. He is one of the youngest persons to receive this award during WW2. “This Officer has been working very hard. The Squadron is justly proud of him. “
On 11 February, the following awards were announced; pilot F/L KS Miller and his navigator P/O J Young were awarded the DFC. S/L AK Gatward (DFC) and Cpl GA Blower (Fitter) were recorded as having been Mentioned in Despatches.
F/L KS Miller, DFC (PL 28063)
The following was recorded in the ORB for 18 February,
“We received a signal from RCAF o/s (overseas) HQ today stating that a group of Toronto businessmen are anxious to adopt the squadron. The proposition appears to be a beneficial one from the standpoint of all ranks and we are pleased to accept this very kind offer. Leader of the group is Mr. R Pearce of the ‘Northern Miner Press’ of Toronto, and the group will undertake the task of supplying comforts, sports equipment and etc.”
On 21 February, “The Squadron mascot ‘Pete’, an Irish Setter pup, adopted by the Squadron when his owner, F/L Munro was reported missing (11 Nov 43) is sick with pneumonia. It is rumored the Medical Officer, F/L G ‘Doc’ Beacock, has prescribed Sulpha tablets. The report is that ‘Pete’ is coming along fine.” On 23 February it is reported that the popular pup was out of danger.
After taking off to participate on a convoy escort, C/404 (F/O AH Hodson and F/O PA Powell) experienced some problems about halfway through the task.
“The pilot noticed smoke coming from the batteries behind the pilot’s seat. He called the Navigator up to investigate. F/O Powell removed the wires from the terminals and the smoking stopped. When replacing wires, a small fire started but was quickly put out by the Navigator. The terminals were tightened, and all seemed in order, so the pilot decided to complete the patrol and not return to base before dark. After turning for home it was found that with exception of the intercom, all navigation, signals and wireless equipment was unserviceable. With the very low cloud, it was dangerous to fly inland so F/O Hodson flew on the coastline. He actually made landfall within 20 miles of base, but owing to darkness missed the station. The Pilot then decided to turn out to sea with the intention of ditching. However, they flew over a night Naval exercise in progress. One of the searchlights pointed its lights in the general direction of base and satellite lights were on, then the base put on the runway lights and after two attempts, F/O Hodson landed the aircraft safely. It was a very thrilling experience for this crew.”
Personnel totals for February 1944
RCAF Total Strength Establishment
Pilots 28 28 13
Navigators 6 15 13
Pilots 5 6 12
Navigators 7 15 12
Officers 4 4 3
Airmen 70 86 90
Airwomen 0 18 15
TOTAL 120 172 158
94 Operational sorties were flown for the month for 400.40 hours.
March entered like a lion and for the Canadians at Wick there arrived something new to occupy their time – snow. From the 1st to the 4th, it seemed as if the snowfall would never stop, and accumulated faster than the Herculean efforts to clear it. As one Buffalo recalled,
“there was not just a little bit of snow, but tons of the stuff. All available aircrew were on the end of a shovel. Creaking, aching and complaining muscles were the order of the day and no sign of the end of it at all”. This was to continue for days and it became obvious that people were not happy as this excerpt from the Squadron War Diary points out: “More snow than ever. What a life! Anyway, we have the honour of being the highest paid snow removers in the British Isles. All our work of yesterday is undone by good old mother nature. And the glory of it all was that SHQ and the ground wallahs had to lend a hand on the job. Snow fell all day but progress was made and by 1700 hours people were dropping in their tracks, but enough was done to finish the runway. Naturally after such strenuous exercise there was a small party in the mess, but nothing serious other than a bit of beer throwing and broken glass”.
From the ORB on 5 March, “There was an odd accident today. A/C ‘L’ was being towed to the hangar and due to the slippery conditions of the road, the tractor skidded and swung about face and rode under the tail plane. The driver, LAC CN White (right), R72991 showed presence of mind in staying with the tractor and keeping it in a straight line. The top of the tractor was damaged and the a/c suffered slight damage to the tail plane. The driver was unhurt.” LAC White, from Charlottetown was Mentioned in Despatches for his efforts.
LAC CN White (PL 28090)
During a patrol on 6 March, an American USAAF pilot with 404, Lt Guyott struck two seagulls. “The pilot was unaware that he had struck anything until after landing, when it was discovered that one of the birds had penetrated well inside the port wing, while the other bird struck the leading edge. There was slight damage to the wing. The servicing personnel suggest that all pilots that collide with any Sumburgh convoys be detailed to remove the deceased birds from the A/C as the odour is terrific.”
Several Americans flew with 404 during the war, some as members of the RAF and RCAF, and some (after Dec 7 1941) with the USAAF. At left is Lt Freddie Guyott in his American flight kit. He originally trained with the RCAF. (PL 28074)
Further development of RP tactics is noted with a quick entry in the records on the 7th that aircraft “had RP splash practice.” On the same day, S/L Gatward conducted a night flying test using the RPs. “This had the civilian population thinking that there was a raid on, as the test made quite a boom.”
Little comments noted in the ORB, such as one on the 15th, must have driven the servicing personnel nutty. Many times throughout 404’s history, comments that servicing was excellent are evident, so it must have been the importance of an upcoming mission that prompted the entry, “All A/C are to be kept serviceable for immediate work…”
WO Red McGrath, GM, on leave after being awarded the George Medal (PL 26994)
On the same day, it is noted that W/O WL McGrath was to be awarded the George Medal for his actions in saving the life of his pilot, Johnny Cummins after the horrific crash of 16 December 1943. A serious accident was narrowly avoided on 15 March “Had a very close call today as the boys had two cannons lying out in front of ‘N’ (144) on a couple of boxes and one went off as an RAF armourer picked it up by the breech end just as I passed the muzzles. Pretty hard on the ears and also could have had both legs blown off just above the ankles. ” For three days, commencing on 16 March, 404 and 144 Squadrons (and later other units) participated in a major ALT (Aerial Light Torpedo) exercise with 404 acting as the anti-flak portion of the formation. This is a very interesting annotation, as it demonstrates that 404 in fact flew an RP profile during such sorties, and did not, in fact, actually drop the torpedoes themselves. There seems to be some confusion in published facts about 404 that the squadron did drop torpedoes operationally. The editor has not been able to find any conclusive evidence that this was the case. In April 2005 a letter was received from Mr Bert Ramsden, a pilot who flew with 404, states that he has no memory of the squadron ever dropping the weapon. All of the ALT training conducted over the two days had the crews buzzing about the possibility of the units participating in a major naval strike in the near future. On 18 March, the largest formation of the exercise took off with 72 aircraft participating, involving “the numerous squadrons that are now on the Station.”
On 23 March, five 404 Beaufighters in company with four torpedo and two cannon Beaufighters from 144 Squadron conducted a Rover Patrol from Svinoy light to Ytterone light. The formation made landfall at Svinoy light and turned south and found an enemy convoy of two merchant vessels and three escort ships off Krakanes light (Vaagso). Gatward (with navigator F/O J Carlin) in ‘A’, leading the formation, went in with F/L VT Robinson (navigator F/O WD Devine) in ‘J’ to conduct the anti-flak attack on the first M/V with both pilots scoring hits with RP, also using their cannons to good effect. Gatward also made cannon attacks on the leading escort vessel. F/O P Dwornick with F/S RS Porter concentrated on the leading escort ship and saw his shells explode on the target but did not claim any RP strikes. WO AB French and F/S E Hathaway shot the escort vessel astern with cannon fire and did not claim any RP hits. F/S JW Heavner and W/O EE Baker, who had been attacking another M/V in the vicinity that was stationary in a bay north of Vaagso, then joined the fray and raked two of the flak ships with cannon bursts. The aircrew felt that the convoy was left with its larger vessel of 3,000 tons seriously damaged and all three escorts battered. One of the 144 Squadron aircraft failed to return. A Norwegian researcher states that on 23 March, four vessels were damaged near Stadtlandet. The two merchant vessels were the 1,584-ton Norwegian Kaupanger and the 985-ton Norwegian Gol. The escort vessel was the 289-ton German V-5104 Wirbel and a coastal express (ferry), the 898-ton Norwegian Ryfylke was damaged near Jaeren, possibly this was the vessel attacked by Heavner. The Ryfylke was beached after the attack but was raised and returned to service.
F/O WD Armour (PL) was killed in a flying accident while conducting RP training.
F/O WD Armour (left) and Sgt E Stephens were lost on this day in Beaufighter LZ177. Armour was buried in Wick while the family of Sgt Stephens elected to have a private service. “Just as our boys were coming in one of our kites which was practicing with RPs went into a dive to shoot them off and he didn’t level out properly and crashed into the water. On impact the kite disintegrated and the boys were killed. ” The ORB notes, “on practice RP splash target in Sinclair Bay was seen to make attack at a very steep dive. After releasing RP the A/C pulled up into a high speed stall and flipped over on its back then crashed into the water. The A/C broke up and the bodies have been recovered.”
F/L GV Stevens, 404 Adjutant (PL 28091).
F/L Stevens was Adjutant of the Squadron from Mar 43 to Oct 44, but suffered a lengthy illness during his tenure. An interesting story in the ORB involves the Squadron’s Adjutant, F/L Stevens (below left; PL 28091); “The Squadron discip(linarian) decided to clean the Adjutant’s set of sheep horns but some aspiring artists got ahold of them and did a real job of rainbow painting. After this desecration there was much activity and use of paint remover before they were restored to the Adjutant’s office in a much better condition. There are numerous stories as to how he came into possession of the horns, one of them being that he was in the cockpit of an aircraft and pressed the buttons that fired the cannons. The next thing F/L Stevens knew was that there was an irate farmer demanding payment for one sheep.”
Monte Rosa (Monterosa) Troop Ship
Another attack on shipping, this time against fierce opposition, owed its success to the resolute and skillful leadership of the Squadron Commanding Officer, Chuck Willis. On 30 March, nine 404 Beaufighters armed with RPs in the anti-flak role were out in formation with four Torbeaus and five Flakbeaus of 144 Squadron in search of 13,882-ton troop ship, the Monte Rosa. A destroyer, two other escort vessels and numerous aircraft escorted this large vessel. The troop ship’s movement had been reported by ‘special intelligence’ and was observed off of Haugesund by a 333 (Norwegian) Squadron Mosquito. A day earlier, the Squadron had been involved in an unsuccessful search for this convoy containing “a very large vessel”.
The formation flew in two parts, the first under the leadership of W/C Willis and navigator F/L FA Kent in ‘A’ LZ297, the second was led by F/L V Robinson and F/O WD Devine in ‘P’ LZ314.
The formation made landfall Utsire Light and almost immediately sighted the target. Seeing the strength of the enemy’s air protection and realizing that an intense barrage of flak would also be encountered, Willis gave exact instructions to each of the aircraft as to the form of attack that was to be employed. As the Beaufighters approached the target at low altitude, the enemy air escort of approximately nine Me.109s and FW.190s, five Me.110s, two Arados and a BV.138 turned towards the shore “and waited for the formation to attack”. Following the Wing Commanders instructions, the attacking force gained altitude and then, in the face of terrific flak which opened up from all the ships as well as from the shore batteries, dived on the convoy. P/O Mallalieu and W/O J Perry in ‘C’, F/O JE Young and F/S L Webster in ‘Y’ and F/O AR Fair and F/S R Towns in ‘G’ attacked the Monte Rosa with RP and cannon. ‘Y’ and ‘G’ claimed probable underwater hits while defensive flying by ‘C’ caused the RPs to miss. Mallalieu and Perry were new to the Squadron and were on their first strike, yet showed the coolness and determination normally only seen with experienced and confident crews. After their attack, the crew chased off a Me.110 that was attacking Smith and Kessler in ‘L’.
F/O EJ Keefe and W/O BG Steed in ‘E’, along with F/O NF Smith and F/S SA Kessler in ‘L’ and F/O JH Symons and F/O LJ Barcham in ‘M’ concentrated their RP and cannon fire on the destroyer which was immediately astern of the troop ship. The destroyer took evasive action but all attacking aircraft claimed numerous hits with both weapons. Keefe’s aircraft was seriously damaged in the attack by flak, sustaining hits in the tail plane and starboard mainplane with the fuselage being sprayed by machine gun bullets. In the face of this damage, Keefe and Steed pressed the attack and over flew the destroyer before successfully returning to base.
The enemy aircraft now returned to the scene of combat at low altitude then climbed up behind the attacking Beaufighters and engaged.
After making RP and cannon strikes on the rearmost enemy escort vessel, F/O JLF Rancourt and F/S C Evans in ‘K’ went for three Me.110s, one of which he shot down in flames. “F/O Rancourt also had the success and good management to shoot down an Me.110. This is a twin-engined fighter and he blew it to pieces with only about 15 rounds from each cannon. He made such a direct hit on it that it exploded in mid-air when the high explosive and incendiaries hit it. ” He then turned on another 110 but was driven off by an FW.190. P/O Mallalieu also had an inconclusive combat with a Me.110. The determined and effective work of the Beaufighters enabled the torpedo aircraft to get in their attacks on the main target. The large ship was left smoking and the destroyer was enveloped in clouds of steam.
“A large percentage of the success of the strike must go to the Navigators in all aircraft for assisting their pilots in evasive action.”
144 Torbeaus claimed two torpedo strikes for their efforts in the attack. Against these results, however, the squadron lost two crews; their popular and very able Commanding Officer, Chuck Willis with his navigator, F/L FA Kent in ‘A’, along with F/L VT Robinson and his navigator F/O WDM Devine in ‘P’. Willis was later reported to be a prisoner of war, after being plucked from the sea by a Blohm and Voss flying boat (BV.138). A/C ‘K’ (Rancourt and Evans) reported that they heard ‘P’ call out a distress signal and that he was ditching. A dinghy was observed with two men swimming toward it, it is unknown if this was the Willis or Robinson crew. Smith and Kessler reported seeing a twin-engined aircraft crash into the sea, “It is hoped that this was Rancourt’s ME 110 and not A/C ‘A'”.
Navigator F/O WD Devine (left) and his pilot F/L VT Robinson were killed during a daring attack on a heavily defended troopship Monterosa (PL 28069 and 28071)
Upon return from the sortie, some very tricky landings were made by the shot up aircraft. F/O Keefe was able to land his aircraft without flaps or brake, and P/O Mallalieu landed with a flat tire. Gowler noted that Keefe’s aircraft was “badly shot up, in fact, will be written off because it looks more like a sieve than an aeroplane. “
The ORB is candid with some of the tales told by aircrew and should be included. “F/O Rancourt, who hales from Beauce County, was heard to say ‘That Jerry, he put holes in my perspex. I don’t like those things so I shoot him down’. F/O Norm Smith said, ‘I went in close, let go my load then closed my eyes and beat it like hell for home’. The ardour of the party that followed was dampened by our losses.”
The Monte Rosa, damaged near Utsire, limped into Aarhus, Denmark on 3 April. “Of the 7 kites that got back only two were intact.
As a result of the loss of W/C Willis, S/L Gatward, DFC, took the helm of the Buffalo squadron.
W/C Ken Gatward, DSO, DFC, the squadron’s sixth Commanding Officer. In this Buffalo photo, he was just completing his third tour of operations. (PL 41043)
Number of personnel on Squadron for March, 1944
RCAF Total Strength Establishment
Pilots 20 23 13
Navigators 6 11 13
Pilots 4 4 12
Navigators 7 18 12
Officers 3 5 3
Airmen 75 89 90
Airwomen 0 18 15
TOTAL 115 168 158
There were 78 operational sorties flown for the month for a total of 346.15 hours
April & May 1944 April 1944
No 18 Group was only able to put in 14 attacks in April.
The month was quite busy for the boys of 404 but they had only one success, which occurred on 7 April. Eight 404 Beaufighters, acting as anti-flak escort to 144 Squadron torpedo and cannon Beaus, struck at a convoy of three large M/Vs protected by seven escort vessels near Stadtlandet. Led by Keefe in NE355, the aircraft concentrated their fire on three of the enemy vessels and left all three smoking. This enabled Torbeaus to close in on the main target and make a torpedo hit on the largest ship, which was likely the 3,290-ton German merchant vessel Cornouaille, which actually was listed as having been damaged by shelling. As well, two escort vessels are listed as having been damaged by shelling; 248-ton German Auxiliary Whaler NK-06 Jager, and 487-ton German Auxiliary Trawler/Sub Chaser UJ-1709 Westpreussen.
Much of the flying for the rest of the month concentrated on training to release airburst bombs, with only two Rover Patrols thrown in. The Beaufighter was not fitted with bombsights and it was frustrating to the crews, who felt they were making significant strides against the enemy, to not participate in operations. Several comments are made in the scrapbook that this operational squadron was starting to feel like an OTU (Operational Training Unit).
Towards the end of April, rumours began to circulate about an upcoming move. Although nobody would say for sure where the Buffaloes were going next, the general feeling was that it would be somewhere to the south. About this time as well, aircrew and ground crew alike were trying to keep away from the squadron’s Medical Officer who was spending his time making sure that the unit was up-to-date with the necessary inoculations. The event was recorded as follows in the Squadron scrapbook; Doc Beacock is in his element these days. Going around with a needle in his hand and a malicious gleam in his eye (the good one) asking ‘have you been vaccinated? Inoculated?’ There’s no evading the man ¬ he’s MAD.
Early in May, 404 had another run in with the Germans. On the moonlit night of 5 May, Gatward with F/O J Carlin and F/L AA Adams with F/O FE Pickering were on patrol.
Flight Lieutenant Aubrey Abran Adams
Flying Officer Frank Edward Pickering
After arriving at the enemy-held coast, Adams became separated from the leader and was posted as missing, failed to return after the mission. Gatward continued his patrol and when over Egero Harbour sighted a stationary motor vessel of 2,500-tons, which he attacked with RP. A fire immediately broke out on the vessel, indicating that some of the RPs had found their mark .
This was to be the last attack from a base in Scotland by 404 for the next little while. The rumours about an impending move suddenly came true and the long trek south began on 10 May. It was an understatement to say the members of 404, after so many months of the rigorous climate and comparative isolation of the far north of Scotland, looked forward to a move to the Cornish Riviera in the south-west of England. Thus, it was with high spirits that the air party arrived at their new home ¬ RAF Davidstow Moor, under the control of No 19 Group. While flying from their new station, the Squadron was to give up on the familiar unit code ‘EE’ on the side of their Beaufighters, for the numeral ‘2’.
Unfortunately, the Buffaloes were somewhat disappointed in their new digs, about the most grim looking effort we have seen yet .
Nissen huts, ablutions outside, and lavatories as well…Some bright person called the site ‘Stalag 404’…at tea, at the mess we saw our first greens (beer) for a long time ¬ but when the bar opened at 1800 hours and closed at 1820 hours because it had run out ¬ brother!
The Red Cross reported on 18 May; W/C ‘Chuck’ Willis, it is now known, is a prisoner of war ¬ Boy, that sure is swell news ¬ No news of ‘Snappy’ Kent. Jobs I would not like ¬ Being Interrogation Officer at good old Stalag Luft III trying to get something out of Chuck ¬ the aspirins, quick! The Red Cross also reported that W/C Willis was able to swim to shore after being shot down.
On 19 May, the squadron carried out its first operation from the new base against enemy naval vessels reported to be off Ushant. The attacking force, led by Gatward, had nine 404 Beaufighters with 144 Squadron cannon-equipped aircraft to act as anti-flak escort. It was a new experience for the Buffaloes to be protected against enemy fighters ¬ on this occasion by a strong formation of 28 Spitfires. When the enemy force consisting of one Elbing class destroyer, one torpedo boat and three minesweepers were sighted, the flak suppression aircraft went in first, raking all the ships and setting one of the minesweepers on fire. The Buffaloes followed, concentrating their attention on the destroyer, which received at least six direct hits from rockets. One crew also scored hits on a minesweeper. Intense flak from the target forced the attacking crews to take violent evasive action. Although final results of the attack could not be observed fully, the destroyer was claimed as damaged and one minesweeper as seriously damaged.
Early in the month, W/C Gatward, who had led 11 strikes, received the DSO while Carlin, his navigator, earned the DFC.
This is likely one of the most famous photos of a Canadian Beaufighter taken during the War. It is likely the Commanding Officer’s (W/C Gatward) aircraft and was taken well after D-Day, even though the invasion stripes still adorn the plane. The aircraft in the background has the ‘EE’ unit code, while during D-Day, the unit wore a ‘2’ signifying Davidstow Moor. Note the 25-lb AP rockets hanging under the wing. Interestingly, the original write-up stated “terror of Nazi tanks, trains and transports” though 404 never flew against ground targets. (PL 41049)
In preparation for the coming Operation Overlord, a directive was put forth to the Squadrons as to what ordnance was to be used for future attacks. Northwood originally decreed that the Squadron was to use 60-lb RP as their main offensive weapon, but after being reminded of the success of the 25-lb AP (armour piercing) heads they reneged and allowed 404 and one other Beaufighter Strike Squadron to use the devastating AP projectile. “The remaining Beaufighter strike squadrons were to carry two 250-lb wing bombs and two 500-lb bombs under the fuselage. “
Special intelligence sources prior to the invasion placed the number of miscellaneous vessels available to the Germans along the French and Belgian coasts at 460. Of these, the most important were “five ‘Z’ class destroyers, five ‘Mowe’ class and one ‘T’ class torpedo boats, and 34 E-boats “. It was obvious to the planners of Operation Overlord that the destroyers were to be the largest threat to the Allied surface vessels, and accordingly, 404 and 144 Squadrons commenced their training concentrating on tactics against these very dangerous targets and operations at night.
On 4 June, “Today our aircraft received new camouflage – Black and white stripes. It doesn’t look long for ‘D’ Day.”
D-Day (Z-32, Z-24, and ZH-1) “Second front opened up this morning. We knew through yesterday and the day before that it was a matter of only a few hours. ” 6 June 1944, D-Day, started with all of the Beaufighter crews being on standby for immediate action. A report had been received that three Narvik class destroyers had been sighted steaming up the channel apparently on their way to interfere with the Allied landings in Normandy. The word to launch finally arrived and, by 1820 hours, fourteen 25-pound SAP RP-carrying aircraft from 404 were in the air. 16 Beaus accompanied them from 144 Squadron acting as anti-flak and by eight Mosquitoes from 248 Squadron as fighter escort. F/O S Shulemson, DSO, led the 404 formation. They made landfall at Ushant Island and started to fly southeast from there. Enroute, three targets were sighted and the Strike lead, W/C Lumsden of 144 Squadron prepared the attack, only to be warned off by Shulemson who recognized the vessels as M-class minesweepers. A Ju-188 was also spotted, which was taken care of by a 248 Mosquito, and the same squadron also attacked a surfaced U-Boat spotted enroute. The three destroyers were finally sighted in the vicinity of Belle Isle off St. Nazaire. The strike leader mistakenly recalled the order to attack, but F/O Shulemson recognized the target and shouted ‘It is the target, attack, attack!’
The strike leader then ordered all of the aircraft to engage the enemy ships. F/O Shulemson deployed his sub-leaders, F/O Hodson on the port side and F/O Dwornick on the starboard side to take the end and front ships respectively. Four 404 Beaufighters attacked the leading destroyer and many underwater hits were claimed. The superstructure was damaged by cannon fire from all aircraft and the ship was left smoking. Nine aircraft from 404 went after the center destroyer with many of the crew holding their fire until they were within point-blank range. Much damage was done to this vessel, which was reported as being on fire. The attacking force then proceeded back to base, their only casualty during the attack being an aircraft from 144 Squadron that was forced to ditch. Fortunately, the crew was picked up safely.
No sooner had the 404 aircraft arrived back home than they refueled for another strike on the same target. Five 404 Beaus, some being crews who were quite new on the squadron, took part in this second sortie. The targets were again sighted in the early morning hours of 7 June off Penmarch Point south of Brest. The second destroyer was still smoking. For the novice crews, according to the War Diary, “their performance was the work of hardened veterans.” All of the aircraft closed to within 400 yards before releasing their rockets and many hits were claimed. Lt FF Guyott and F/O ST Faithful reported an explosion from one of the destroyers. They claimed that there was a red glow, which finally erupted, sending flames as high as 200 feet. Although the squadron aircrews were rightly happy with their attacks against an incredibly deadly foe, the destroyers escaped critical injury. Post war records show that the action did cause serious damage, and that the Z-32 had just escaped destruction. Z-32 was holed several times above the water line, several offices destroyed, and one RP passed through a forward magazine without exploding! Z-24 had oil bunkers holed and several large fires were started. ZH-1 had avoided attack, it seems, by ‘sailing close in to starboard of Z.24 ‘
All of the 404 aircraft that took part in the strikes returned safely with only a shattered cupola to repair. F/O RC Ridge and F/S P McCartney were pulling away from their attack when a bullet shattered the navigator’s cupola. McCartney did not know that anything had happened until he felt a slight draft. He sustained a slight cut on the forehead. This was truly one of the proudest days in 404’s history, made possible by the determined efforts of both aircrew and ground crew. “What a day – Poor ground crew. Unsung heroes.”
In spite of the damage inflicted, the three destroyers managed to reach Brest where, after a stay of two days for repairs and alterations (including more powerful anti-aircraft guns), they set out again during the night, this time accompanied by T.24. They did not get far, however, for they were sighted by a patrolling aircraft as they rounded the Brest peninsula and engaged by the 10th Destroyer Flotilla (which included HMCS Haida and Huron) which sank one ship outright, drove another onto the rocks of Ile de Batz and forced the third back to Brest. Twelve RP equipped Beaus led by Gatward on 9 June went to Ile de Batz and found the beached destroyer Z-32 and used it for bombing practice. After the attacks, Coastal Command credited an amagzing 70 of 96 RPs fired as being successful strikes. 144 Squadron dropped bombs, but most missed. It seems that 404 was destined to play a part in the Z-32 destruction, as this was the destroyer that escaped destruction on 7 June when a 404-fired RP passed through a magazine compartment without exploding.
As an interesting side note from this important action, the destroyer that escaped the allied Destroyer Flotilla, along with a torpedo boat, were again engaged in August by 404 Squadron, along with 236 Squadron. Z.24 and T.24 were finally destroyed in the Gironde. (See 24 August)
Six members of the RCAF Buffalo squadron who took part in the Beaufighter attack on three enemy destroyers. These men took part in the first attack on the enemy ships during which all three were hit by rocket projectiles and cannon fire and one was left smoking badly.
Top row (L to R) are F/O H Wainman of Lennoxville, Quebec; F/O JD Taylor of Victoria, BC; P/O SCD Paget, Middlesborough, Yorks; F/O Stoddart, RAF; and below (L to R) F/O WH McCamus of Millbrook, Ont and F/O Peter Dwornik of Colonsay, Sask. (PL 30034)
Three enemy destroyers attempting to run through the English Channel were attacked by Beaufighters of the RCAF Squadron on D-Day. They were of no help to the Germans in harrying our landing operations in Normandy.
Above are six of the airmen who took part in the attack. Top (L to R) F/O Ron S Angus of Vancouver; F/O RA Jackson of Brockville, Ont; middle, S/L RA Schoales, Fort William and F/O LC Boileau of Fort Francis; below, P/O SA Porter of Elixton, Lancs; and P/O LA Kessler of Brighton, Sussex. (PL 30035)
Three German destroyers were put out of action by attacks made by a Beaufighter wing of which the RCAF Buffalo squadron is a part on D-Day.
Top row (L to R) F/O ST Faithfull (London, Eng), F/L WR Christison (Lennoxville, PQ), F/O FJ Toon (Chelmsford, Eng). Bottom row, Lt FF Guyott (Amherst, Mass), F/O C Ridge (Winnipeg, Man). (PL 30041). (Also in the picture, at front, is squadron mascot Pete).
Celebratory group photo of the guys who flew against three Destroyers on D-Day. (PL 30042)
An official RCAF photo of two Beaufighters. These photos were taken of ‘top secret’ weapons, the rocket projectile. The photo is post D-Day, likely at Davidstow Moor, as denoted by the numeral ‘2’ on the fuselage. (PL 41005)
For the remainder of June, the Buffaloes carried out anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrols over the Bay and Channel, engaging in three small attacks in which a tanker, a merchant ship and a motor launch were strafed with rockets and cannon fire. Most enemy vessels stayed very close to shore, under coverage of shore flak emplacements, keeping the ships safe from encounters with marauding strike forces.
On 28 June, the squadron suffered a tragic loss with the death of F/O EJ Keefe, DFC and P/O BIG Steed. “Had another terrible happening this morning as Keefe and Steel (sic: Steed) were coming home off a sortie and over Launceston their kite went into a spin at about 4500 feet and crashed headlong to earth. ” “P/O Keefe called up to say that his gyro had gone u/s, and that he was out of control, a few seconds later it was all over.” On the next day, the scrapbook recorded, “We just received news that F/O Keefe had been awarded the DFC. Too bad – Jim would have been so proud.” Keefe and Steed were a popular duo, and an effective team in their attacks against the enemy. The crew were credited with shooting down two BV.138s on their first operational sortie, and played large parts in several successful shipping attacks, as attested in this history. In the Squadron’s ORB, on 1 July, “It is with great pleasure that we record the award of the DFC to F/O EJ Keefe. Jimmy’s work was of a high order and his award well deserved.”
On 30 June, a small convoy was found west of Lorient, in Concarneau Harbour. Under the lead of W/C Gatward in NE425, 12 Beaufighters escorted by 248 Squadron Mosquitoes found the stationary vessels; two M-Class Minesweepers, one merchant of 2000-tons and a tanker of 600-tons. The smallest vessel was actually the 530-ton Auxiliary Trawler/Sub Chaser UJ.1408 (FV439) who was sunk after being struck by 25 and 60-lb RPs, and the crews also believed that the merchantman was also damaged.
On 4 July, W/C Gatward experienced problems with his aircraft when his port wheel would not lock down. Flying control immediately called F/L Hodson at the Mess to come down and assist in helping a pilot crash land a Beaufighter. ‘Hoddy’ rushed down and enquired what aircraft it was. When he was told, he replied ‘Why, that’s the Wingco up there.’ The Control Officer replied that ‘No, it’s a Canadian, because the pilot was using bad language when his wheel wouldn’t come down.’ The forced landing by the ‘Canadianized’ Gatward was accomplished in masterly fashion.
W/C Gatward, the Squadron’s Commanding Officer, attempting a landing with his port gear not properly extended, July 4, 1944. (PL 43242)
On 5 July, the squadron moved to RAF Strubby on the east coast of England, their eleventh full-squadron move since their formation. From this new home, the squadron was to fly anti-shipping missions under control on No 16 Group as No 154 (General Reconnaissance) Wing along the German and Dutch coasts.
The crews lost no time in settling down to their job of hunting and hammering enemy shipping in Netherlands coastal waters and around Heligoland Bight. In the course of the next four weeks, 404 Beaufighters, cooperating with Torbeaus of the RAF, made four successful attacks on heavily escorted enemy convoys.
The first operation from Strubby for the squadron was on 6 July and was directed against eight to ten merchant ships with several escorts off Norderney. Several of the merchant vessels were flying dangerous barrage balloons – small blimps tethered to merchant vessels designed to tear the wings off of low flying attack aircraft. The crews set fire to one vessel and a minesweeper and left three other vessels smoking while the torpedo aircraft hit at least two merchant vessels, one of which blew up. The German merchant vessel Stadt Riga of 3,002 tons was destroyed, while the 1,900-ton merchant vessel Ernst Brockelmann was listed as damaged . F/Ls AH Hodson and PA Powell, who led the Canadian formation on this occasion, had just been awarded the DFC for the skill and courage they had shown as a crew in many attacks on enemy shipping.
On 7 July, the Squadron was saddened by the loss of two more of their comrades, F/O JW Blyth and Cpl RE Colwell. “Had one of our worst accidents again today. Blythe and Colwell went out for a test flight and when they were coming in for a landing the craft seemed to lose flying speed. Blythe then seemed to bank to the right and the plane kept getting lower all the time. Just before it got to the ground it rolled over on its back and crashed upside down, instantly bursting into flame, both boys being killed. “
On 8 July, four Beaufighters of 404 Squadron along with 144 Squadron and North Coates Wing (254 Squadron ) struck a group of six motor vessels and their 10 escorts off of Heligoland (the mouth of the Weser River). This Beaufighter force comprised 41 aircraft. The ten Buffalo aircraft, led by Gatward, went in first to silence the flak ships, smashing rockets at the waterline and strafing the decks with cannon fire. One enemy vessel blew up and several others were severely damaged. Then the Torbeaus launched their torps at the merchantman and scored four hits. One ship was seen to keel over while a large explosion rent the second amidships. Records indicate that three merchant vessels, the 3,200-ton Tannhauser, 1,437-ton Sif and 736-ton Miranda were sunk. The escort vessels lost to the enemy were the 775-ton Minesweeper M.264 and the 58-ton ASR Boat 555 .
Similar results were reported for a 46-Beaufighter strike on anther convoy near Heligoland (north of Nordeney Island) on 18 July. Despite an intense flak barrage claiming three of the strike aircraft, the RP carrying Beaus pressed home their attacks and badly mauled the escort ships. One exploded, two began to blaze, and two more were damaged. The rockets also blew the starboard side out of one of the merchant vessels while torpedoes set fire to another. The CCWR only lists one vessel as having been destroyed, the German Minesweeper R.139 of 90-tons, but the records of this era only seem to identify vessels that were proven destroyed . Patrol Leader was S/L JA Hanway.
The fourth and final attack of the month was lead by S/L Schoales on 21 July and turned out to be the most successful strike of the month. The strike force was composed of 45 aircraft including twelve 404 Beaufighters. After the attacks were finished, photographs showed that of nine merchant vessels and 18 escort vessels in the convoy, no less than 15 were on fire and two vessels of 3,500 to 4,000 tons were sinking. Besides the heavy and light flak that was expected, one of the escort vessels even had a flamethrower attached to its mast . Records indicate that the 4,160-ton Finnish merchant vessel Orient and the German Minesweeper M-307 of 775-tons were sunk. Schoales aircraft was set on fire during the attack run, but his navigator, who suffered some burns, was able to put it out. Again, there is a dearth of information pertaining to the many vessels that were damaged.
August 1944 Davidstow Moor: Three Weeks of Fury
A detachment of all available 404 aircraft sent back to Davidstow Moor in southwestern England on 5 August while the rest of the squadron remained at Strubby. Early in August the Buffaloes received orders to rush all available aircraft and crews to the station in southwestern England that they had left a month before. The reason for this was that, with the rapidly developing isolation of the Biscayan ports, German shipping in the Bay presented targets which invited a concentration of offensive effort on the part of Coastal Command aircraft and naval surface forces. For the next three weeks, the 404 detachment proceeded to attack the fleeing remnants of the enemy’s naval forces.
W/C Gatward landed at Cherbourg on 7 August after a recce over St. Helier, Jersey. According to 404 Squadron records, his was the first Coastal Command aircraft to land in France since the invasion.
The first success for the Buffaloes flying from Davidstow was on 8 August. 15 Buffalo aircraft and eight from 236 Squadron were led by W/C Gatward on an anti-shipping Rover Patrol from Ushant to Noirmoutier. Near the end of the patrol the crews found four minesweepers lying in Bourgeneuf Bay, south of St Nazaire. The minesweepers had put into the bay to avoid Allied naval forces that were patrolling the Bay of Biscay, fully intending to put to sea again once they had attained the cover of darkness. The vessels sat waiting through the afternoon, but about 6 pm the roar of aircraft engines reverberated over the water and out of the sky streaked a group of Beaufighters. Cannons barked; rockets wove smoke trails through the air. In fifteen minutes it was all over. The four minesweepers had gone to the bottom ¬ and the Nazis had lost a hundred men. . Destroyed were the M.366, M.367, M.428 and M.438 , all of 775-tons near Noirmoutier . 404 lost one crew during the action. F/O RS Forestell and F/O IC Robbie were flying in ‘F’ in NE354, and were last seen to dive steeply into the water. They were likely victims of A/A from the escort vessels.
Four days later, on 12 August the squadron, led again by S/L Schoales, participated in a combined effort with 235, 238 and 248 Squadrons in an attack on a convoy west of La Rochelle. 404 was armed with 25-pound AP RP and cannon and flew in an anti-flak role. While patrolling between Ushant and Isle de Re an enemy convoy was sighted and immediately attacked. The attacking crews described the total destruction of an escort vessel, which was blown out of the water and a merchantman that was left enveloped in flames. The enemy lost four combatant vessels to the strike. Sunk were the 7,087-ton Sperrbrecher Saveland (below right), 775-ton Minesweeper M.370, 427-ton Auxiliary Trawler VP.410 Germania, and the 288-ton Auxiliary Minesweeper
S/L Bobby Schoales (left). Above is a strike photo showing attacking Beaus on 12 August 1944
M.4204 Marie Therese . The vessels sank near Ile de Re and La Pallice. Beaufighter ‘H’ LZ441, WO JE Heavner and P/O EE Barker, was lost in this action likely shot down by A/A during the attacks. Some of the crews had noticed a large splash in the water during the attacks; it was likely the stricken Beaufighter.
Only one day later, on 13 August, twelve squadron aircraft took off under the leadership of S/L Hanway to participate in a Wing mission led by 236 Squadron. The shipping recce was conducted between Ushant and the Gironde. During the patrol, the Wing was warned that there were three U-Boats and escorts to attack in the mouth of the Gironde, but on arriving only two sperrbrechers were sighted. Schwannheim (sperrbrecher V) of 5339-tons and Magdeburg (sperrbrecher VI) of 6128-tons were found to be stationary near Royan and fell victim to a concentrated attack with each squadron selecting one vessel to assault. These dangerous vessels put up a great amount of flak, with the anti-aircraft gunfire finally ceasing when the vessels were enveloped in flames. One of the squadron aircrew was injured in the strike, W/O Glasgow got a piece of flak in the leg. Some records indicate that two aircraft were lost, one from 236 and ‘Z’ from 404, but the Buffalo aircrew has yet to be confirmed. In the strike photo (left) taken from M/404, the camera actually captures a salvo of rocket projectiles just having been launched from the under wing rails on the firing Beaufighter. The second photo (below) shows the Sperrbrecher exploding.
W/C Gatward’s Final Operation
On 14 August, seven 404 Beaufighters armed with RP, led by W/C Gatward, accompanied seven aircraft from 236 Squadron on an armed recce flight to the Gironde River. A number of ships described by the aircrew as a 2000-ton depot ship, six trawlers and two tugs were sighted in the mouth of the river at St. Vivian and the order was given to attack. There were over 26 observed rocket strikes and the targets were raked with cannon fire several times. Sunk were the 3371-ton Schwerzes Meer IV and the 50-ton Le Leroux. The attacking force was subjected to accurate flak. P/O HE Hallatt and WO J Perry were attacking a large vessel when their port engine was damaged by gunfire; the crew had to immediately return to base.
On the same attack, W/C Gatward’s Beaufighter NE800 was badly hit, suffering damage to the port wing and engine while turning away after his attack. Also damaged was the starboard wing and aileron, making the aircraft very hard to control. With the aid of his navigator, Red McGrath, GM, Gatward was able to bring the aircraft safely home. The aileron control and aileron very badly damaged. On the return trip he had to put the axe between the instrument panel and control column to keep it from diving into the sea. Very nearly blinded with hydraulic oil and all his clothes soaked with it as well. He landed all right but had to get one of the girls to drive his car in for him because his eyes were so bad. This was Gatward’s last operational flight with 404 since he had achieved enough hours to end his tour. For his actions in leading the attack and bringing back his severely damaged aircraft, he was awarded the Bar to his DFC.
On 20 August, another combined 404, 236 and 254 Squadron strike found success with the sinking of the 401-ton August Bosch and 156-ton Auxiliary Minesweeper Jean Marthe M.4214. The vessels were destroyed in Biscay, northwest of La Rochelle. On 23 August, the squadron’s members said goodbye to W/C Ken Gatward who had led them through some of their most active times during the war. Writing to Hendrie, Gatward noted. I have very fond memories of my Canadians both as a Flight Commander and as CO. They, and their British navigators, were the finest bunch of buddies I ever had the honour to fly with. He was replaced by W/C EW ‘Teddy’ Pierce, who had first arrived on the squadron as a P/O in May 1941. His first job as CO was to prepare his unit for yet another move. By 26 August the Buffaloes were to be off to the north of Scotland.
The Final Duel with Z.24 and T.24
As a climax to the three weeks of successful strikes, the Buffaloes participated on 24 August in the probable destruction of two of the very few serviceable naval vessels left to the enemy in Western Europe. The squadron was airborne from Davidstow Moor under the lead of S/L Tacon in company with 236 Squadron to conduct a recce of the Gironde. The two ships discovered during the recce were the 3,664-ton German destroyer Z.24 and 1,780-ton torpedo boat T.24, lying off of Le Verdon. As the attacking aircraft approached the vessels got underway and sent up a terrific barrage of flak. The Beaufighters pressed home their attack, however, and scored numerous hits with RP and cannon, causing fire and explosions on both ships (right). The only trace of the vessels that could be found by recce aircraft the next day was two large oil streaks. It was assumed that both ships were sunk. Most of the 404 aircraft were damaged in the attack, but none were lost. Chris (S/L Christianson (sic)) had to fly back on one engine and landed at Vannes…Chris receives DFC for this
On 26 August S/L JA Hanway, AFC and F/O MF Payne took off in NV191 to lead six 404 Squadron in company with 236 Squadron on a recce sortie along the Brittany Coast to the Gironde. Three small vessels were sighted near Ile de Sein and immediately attacked and left smoking. The patrol continued on with nothing being sighted in the Gironde so Hanway decided to attack a 2000-ton merchantman in Royan Harbour. The attack was conducted from town-side with the aircraft experiencing heavy and light accurate flak, as well as flak from auxiliary vessels on one side of the harbour. Hits were seen on the merchant vessel, with it being left enveloped in smoke. Hanway failed to respond to voice communications after two minutes of the attacks and did not return to base. They are interred in Le Verdon-sur-Mer cemetery, France. Very intense flak from shore batteries. S/L Hanway failed to return.
On 1 September, “Party given at Strubby for the squadron by the station. W/C Gatward, DSO, DFC and Bar was there and given a tremendous ovation. Had three large barrels of beer and plenty to eat for everybody. After we got back to the billets the aircrew started shooting off flares and the adjutant got a good soaking from two fire extinguishers. ” The next day, the 2nd, it was noted, “Another big “do” at the Sgts Mess and more extinguishers shot off. After the “do” the aircrew stole a huge drawer full of sandwiches and came in to feed us with them at 2:30 in the morning.”
Banff Strike Wing, Scotland
The sojourn through Lincolnshire had ended and by 3 September the Buffalo Squadron had returned to RAF Banff to participate as part of the Banff Strike Wing. The return to Scotland was in preparation to rejoin No 18 Group’s renewed assault on shipping off the coast of Norway. The Banff Strike Wing comprised four Squadrons.
For a fortnight, there was little action but with the sudden influx of so many officers to the station, it was suddenly discovered that the bar at the Officer’s Mess was not large enough to accommodate everyone. Almost all of the officers on the base soon pitched in to build another and it was described as a ‘rustic type’ of building built from ‘odds and ends found around the camp’. For those types that found the manual labour to be too strenuous, there was an opportunity to admire the work of Canadian war artist Don Anderson who was circulating throughout the station making sketches of the different phases of station life.
After several unsuccessful and frustrating sorties with nothing seen, the squadron was again airborne on 14 September. 12 aircraft from 404 were part of a 43-aircraft strike including 144, 235 and 248 Squadrons led by S/L RA Schoales, DFC, on a patrol from Egero to Kristiansund. Near the Norwegian coast off of the Naze some neutral Swedish vessels were engaged, but fortunately, the mistake was realized in time and the patrol continued. Just before the patrol was to depart, an enemy convoy comprising three merchant and three escort vessels was sighted off of Kristiansand and the order was given to attack. One of the enemy vessels, the 264-ton German Auxiliary Trawler V.1608 Sulldorf blew up after being attacked by F/L JD Taylor, F/O RC Ridge and F/O GA Long. Two German merchant vessels sustained considerable damage, the 3,324-ton Iris, and the 2,916-ton Pompeji. The Iris was reported to have sustained 22 RP hits during attacks by S/L Schoales, F/O Mallalieu, F/O Baribeau and F/L Wainman, and was left in flames. One other escort vessel, the 256-ton Auxiliary Trawler V.1610 Innsbruck was also damaged in the attack.
In all, four ships were ‘truly plastered’ by the aircraft of 404 Squadron. The attacking Beaufighters encountered light flak but it was accurate. One of the Beaufighters ‘O’, crewed by F/O M Baribeau and F/L CH Taylor, was severely damaged and forced to ditch 15 miles out to sea. Taylor is believed to have survived the ditch but later died . Baribeau was able to get into his dinghy and was washed ashore, spending the night being tossed against the rocks. In the morning he was rescued and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans.
Another aircraft, piloted by F/O Arthur Menaul with F/O John Tomes as navigator, was first hit when proceeding on his attack run but they pressed on. Their ordeal was recorded in the War Diary as follows:
“The aircraft was hit in the starboard prop and the pilot’s windscreen was completely shattered. Also the intercom cable was severed. The pilot was stunned and wounded in the right arm, shoulder and breast by flying glass. His face had pieces of perspex imbedded in the skin. The navigator came forward and, showing great coolness on his first strike, assisted the pilot to regain control of the aircraft…he rendered first aid by cutting off the jacket sleeve and bandaging the damaged shoulder. Between the two of them, they brought the aircraft safely back to base…”
Exhausted by his injuries and the strain of the return trip, Menaul collapsed after landing. Both he and his navigator, Tomes, won immediate DFCs for their part in the successful attack.
S/L Schoales’ aircraft was also hit and lost an engine, but he managed to struggle home. Amazingly, this was the third time he had flown back from Norway on a single engine.
M/V Ursa attempts to evade RP attacks on 19 September 1944. (Squadron Archive)
Schoales led 404’s participation in another rover formation of 404, 144 and 235 Squadrons comprising 21 Beaufighters and 11 Mosquitoes on 19 September in a successful attack on four enemy vessels sighted by 333 (Norge) Squadron recce aircraft near Askvoll, about 65 miles north of Bergen. Two Norwegian merchant vessels were lost to the enemy, the 1,367-ton Lynx sank, and the 3,080-ton Tyrifjord was so badly hit that it had to be beached – a total loss. A single armed trawler was described to have blown up, but its identity is not known. The M/V Ursa of 1,000-tons was damaged (above).
A Wing operation again composed of 404, 144 and 235 Squadrons on 21 September was successful in sinking three small Norwegian vessels. S/L Christison, DFC, led 404’s participation. The 215-ton coastal freighter Vangsnes as well as the 104-ton Hygia were lost as well as a fishing vessel of 75-tons near Lister. The formation comprised 21 Beaufighters and 17 Mosquitoes. The formation also attacked a vessel that was already sunken in shallow water, but not enough of the superstructure was visible to effect damage.
Not content with risking his life in the air, S/L Bobby Schoales took the opportunity on 25 September to help S/L ‘Chris’ Christison try out a small motorcycle. As noted in the diary:
“After much popping and sputtering between them they finally got it going. After about two hours of hanging on for dear life, they finished up by becoming so proficient that they can do circus stunts on it. The squadron is no longer worried about a civil occupation for these much respected men. It is understood that they are remustering to Clowns 6 Group.”
6 Group was the RCAF contribution to Bomber Command.
F/L GA Long (PL 19440)
A tragic accident occurred over the airfield on 2 October. “…two of our Beaus collided in mid-air and hurtled to the ground and disintegrated upon impact. All four of our lads were killed instantly. ” The crews were forming up in preparation for a strike on Sogne Fjord. Killed were F/L GA Long, F/O FM Stickel, F/O ER “Buzz” Davey, and F/O LEE Robinson. F/L Long was on his second tour with the squadron.
Amongst the effects of F/O Davey a copy of a poem, Extinction (The Airman’s Prayer) was discovered. After the discovery, the poem was pinned by one of the aircrew on the door of the Operations building . This haunting prayer to God is believed to have been written by the young airman:
Almighty and all-present power,
Short is the prayer I make to Thee;
I do not ask in battle hour
For any shield to cover me.
The vast unalterable way,
From which the stars do not depart,
May not be turned aside to stay
The bullet flying to my heart.
I ask no help to strike the foe;
I seek no petty victory here.
The enemy I hate, I know
To Thee is dear.
But this I pray: be at my side
When death is drawing through the sky;
Almighty God who also died,
Teach me the way that I should die.
The Drem System
By this time in the anti-shipping operations of the war, the enemy vessels chose to sail only at night. During daylight hours, the vessels would hide in the myriad of fjords and harbours that made up the coast of Norway. In order to do this safely, at first light the enemy vessels would slip into anchorage. Due to the tactics of a strike wing requiring highly accurate flying in close quarters, night attacks by this formation were not possible. A new tactic, called the Drem System, was devised to try to counter this challenge. To start, a reconnaissance aircraft would locate a convoy using radar at night. Just before dawn, the recce plane would drop markers, such as flame floats to mark the position of the convoy while the Strike Wing loosely formed in preparation for the imminent attack.
The first test of the Drem System came on 9 October when W/C EW Pierce, in Beaufighter HV291, led eight 404 aircraft in company with ten from 144 Squadron and some 235 Squadron aircraft from the Banff Wing against a convoy of 11 vessels northwest of Egersund. A 281 Squadron Vickers Warwick marked the location with marine markers, flame floats and drift lights 20 miles from Skudenes Fjord while the Wing loosely assembled in the pre-dawn darkness. 144 led the attack, followed by the RP Beaus of 404. Following this assault came the Torbeaus to launch their torpedoes. The onslaught was complete in five minutes with all Strike Wing aircraft returning safely to Banff. Heavy smoke made it difficult to determine the outcome of the attack, but it was ascertained that two of the five motor vessels and one armed trawler were severely damaged and possibly sunk, another merchant ship was left on fire and a gunboat seriously damaged. In actual fact, it has been ascertained that this was a more successful attack than was realized by the crews with three vessels sunk and three damaged. Two escorts were destroyed, the 485-ton Auxiliary Trawler UJ.1711 Otto N Andersen, and the 1200-ton Corvette K.2 whose stern was blown off by a torpedo. The 1953-ton German merchant vessel Ludolf Oldendorff was destroyed while three more were damaged, the 1116-ton Norwegian Sarp, the 2,937 German Rudau, and the 1369-ton Nogat. The strike is pictured above.
On 15 October, the squadron, led by S/L Christison, DFC, was again part of an anti-shipping action along with 144, 235 and 248 Squadrons into the Skagerrak near Kristiansand. On this mission two vessels were destroyed, the 1202-ton Norwegian tanker Inger Johanne and the 426-ton German Auxiliary Trawler VP.1605 Mosel. The tanker’s explosion threw debris that damaged the tailplane of W/O WJ Jackson’s Beau. The crew was able to safely return to base. Strike photos in Herbert Spencer’s scrap book show the devastation of the attack, with the first RP strike on the Inger Johanne fatally wounding the tanker. “Bundy who came in last returned to remark, ‘Boy, my journey wasn’t really necessary!'”
The scrapbook author took the time to record for posterity, a very secret recipe for the official 404 Squadron drink, called the ‘Time Fuse’
The weather in October was usually unsuitable for coastal missions off of Norway and in Scotland. Still, some successes were possible when the weather was clear. On 21 October, with 404 under the leadership of S/L Christison, DFC, in LZ451, two merchant vessels were attacked south of Kristiansand in Haugesund Harbour. The 1422-ton Norwegian Vestra sank and the 1923-ton German vessel Eckenheim was so badly damaged that she actually sank, only to be raised shortly afterwards. The vessels were described to have been burning fiercely by returning aircrews. Considerable flak was experienced from an escort, which damaged ‘M’ with S/L Christison and F/L Toon, putting a large hole in the aircraft’s port tail plane.
404 Joins the Dallachy Strike Wing
On 20 October, the squadron had received orders to move yet again, this time to RAF Dallachy, just across the border in Morayshire. A growing sense of dissatisfaction about the frequent moves was voiced in the daily log, “The squadron’s seventh move in five months and we (were) more than a little fed up with being pushed around the countryside.” As well, Dallachy was a satellite airfield of Banff, and thus was left wanting for the necessities of an operational station. Terms like “considerable chaos” and “hopeless mess” are used in squadron records to describe the state of their new home. “No. 404 was unlucky enough, apparently, to be the first squadron to operate from Dallachy.” The unit was established in their new home by 22 October.
The Buffalo Squadron had now been at war for almost four years and even though it seemed that the end of the conflict might just be around the corner, the first weeks of 1945 were some of their busiest.
The New Year’s work started on 6 January with an attack in conjunction with 144, 455, 315 Squadrons and an ASR Warwick from 279 Squadron. The 300-ton lighter MW.151 Seeadler was sunk off of Bergen, but snow squalls and inclement weather prevented attacks on other, more coveted, merchant vessels that had been sighted in the area. F/L SB Rossiter led the mission.
On 8 January an attack in conjunction with 144 and 455 Squadrons, led by S/L Christison, was conducted on two merchant vessels, a tug and a barge near Korsfjord. All of these vessels were damaged with cannon and RPs. As a result of the attacks, the 172-ton Norwegian passenger ferry Fusa and the 28-ton tug Trygg were sunk. The Trygg was towing barge J.K.2 and went down near Stroneskorpo. A third vessel, the 591-ton Sub Tender/Auxiliary Whaler V.5116 Unitas was sunk in the same strike; she was possibly waiting at harbour entrance for a damaged submarine and was raised back into service after the strike.
On 9 January, the squadron was at it again when a formation of Beaufighters, led by Wainman as a part of a larger strike, located a small 700-ton ship sheltering near the shore. The Beaufighters swept in, hammering the target with RP and cannon until the vessel sank. Some of the aircraft made three runs, coming in so close that they were struck by rock fragments and flying debris. The vessel was actually the Blaaveis, a Norwegian tug that was destroyed in the attack.
The series of successful attacks was continued on 10 January, when a large force of Beaufighters from the Dallachy Strike Wing, led by S/L Christison, DFC, with a Mustang escort from the Polish Squadron, found two vessels near snow-covered Lepsoy and Harmasoy Islands, north of Alesund (right). A few rockets sufficed to set off two explosions in the 110-ton Auxiliary Minesweeper M.5610 KFK.128 (thought to be a trawler), which began to burn furiously. The second ship, 775-ton minesweeper M-322, was just about to dock at Harmasoy when RPs crashed into the hull and cannon shells raked the decks. The whole vessel was soon a mass of flames. The minesweeper was beached as a result of the action but was returned into service.
On 11 January, nine enemy fighters near Lista airfield intercepted a strike force, which included a flight from 404 led by Wainman. The mission had originally been ordered to attack ships in Flekke Fjord. The Beaufighters immediately turned toward the sea leaving the enemy, mostly Me.109s, to be dealt with by the Mosquito fighter escort. In the ensuing fight, three enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed, one FW.190 was claimed probable and one Me.109 claimed damaged. A Beaufighter, Mosquito and a Warwick did not return, it is believed the Warwick fell victim to enemy fighters while attempting to drop a dinghy to a downed aircraft. The next day, a Buffalo patrol noticed flares rising from the sea, and a dinghy was located 100 miles from the Norwegian coast. Two Beaufighters stayed overhead until the air-sea rescue Warwick took over. The results of this rescue attempt are not known.
F/L ‘Howie’ Wainman, DFC, pilot, and F/L ‘Uncle John’ Stoddart, DFC were a formidable crew who led 404 on many strikes during the latter part of the War. (Squadron Archive)
The attack on 11 January was the thirteenth strike in which F/Ls Howie Wainman and ‘Uncle John’ Stoddart had participated during 49 sorties. Before joining the Buffaloes, they had served with a ferry flight, and once, in January 1944, spent 46 hours adrift in their dinghy after ditching in the sea. Wainman and Stoddart were decorated with the DFC, the citation mentioning this experience and their skillful leadership on a 9 December 1944 mission.
Sgt JE Maloney is caught in the act, painting ‘Jezebel’ on the fuselage of the Beaufighter flown by F/O JR Savard.
For the next four weeks, Mother Nature intervened and the squadron spent most of its time grounded due to the weather. Yet, if the Buffaloes could not find action in the air, they found it on the ground. On 17 January, the squadron and echelon party was held in Spey Bay Hall. Invitations had been sent to the Commanding Officer, senior officers of other sections and RAF Dallachy, as well as the Commanding Officers of 144, 455 and 489 Squadrons. Despite the rather cramped accommodations, everyone just managed to squeeze into the hall. A small band provided the entertainment and it was unanimously voted an outstanding success. It was at this function that W/C Pierce expressed his appreciation to the groundcrew in the following letter:
I’d very much like to let you and all the lads with you in all the various sections know how very much I, and all the aircrew, appreciate the efforts which you have not only made recently, but continue to make month after month.
I’d like to refer particularly to last month when, thanks to the hard work put in by you and your lads, we not only did more flying than any other squadron on the station (we always do this anyways), but we completed the amazing total of nearly 750 hours. This is more than we have done for a very long time, and the credit for such a very good performance belongs mainly with you and the fellows who work such long and comfortless hours with you. It is further particular fine effort as it meant very often working all hours of the day and night and in absolutely disgusting weather at times. Then, too, there are not, unfortunately, all the facilities on this station that there are on some of the others, but despite this you always managed to produce the aircraft when we needed them.
These things, I can assure you, do not go unnoticed, and although we generally seem to appear in your particular sections with a moan, we do see the very good work that you are doing there. It is always the way ¬ as long as you do the job properly, no one comes to see you, not even, unfortunately, to say ‘thank you’ most of the time, but as soon as you fall down, everyone is on your neck.
So, from all the aircrew to you and all of your lads, a very big hearty and sincere thank you, and keep up the good work!
February 1945 Black Friday
On 9 February, the Z.33, a Narvik class destroyer, accompanied by escort vessels (including a sperrbrecher), two minesweepers, tugs and trawlers, was found stationary in Førde Fjord by two Recce Beaufighters of 489 Squadron. Amongst various other local fjords, the recce aircraft reported, “no less than 5 transports were seen in Nord-Gulen, the largest between 4000-5000 tons, very attractive targets indeed. ” Even though normal operations would target the merchant vessels the warships were rare prizes and it was decided that this difficult target warranted attack.
At 1400 hours, only three hours after the vessels were spotted and only 30 minutes after the recce planes landed, eleven Buffalo aircraft were airborne loaded with RPs. Led by S/L Christison in “U” NE686, 404 Squadron was part of a 45-plane formation including nine Beaus from 144 (RAF) and eleven Beaus from 455 (RAAF) Squadrons of Dallachy Strike Wing. Included in the sortie were 2 ‘outrider’ Beaufighters (flank scouts), 10 Mustangs from 65 Squadron would provide fighter cover and two air/sea rescue Warwicks of 279 Squadron, each carrying a boat would be ready to save any downed aircrew. Interestingly there were no torpedo aircraft and all Beaufighters were TFX variants. 144 Squadron was configured with cannon and machine-guns only, while 455 and 404 also carried RPs. The CO of 455 Squadron, W/C CG Milson, DSO, and DFC and bar led the overall force.
Weather wasn’t a factor on this day, with fair visibility and a few rain-showers as the planes formed up in vics and proceeded to Førde Fjord. The initial plan was for the Strike Wing to use the now mature tactic of making landfall, flying inland a short distance, then attacking down fjord. This would allow the attacks to be conducted quickly, with a minimum of time in subjected to anti-aircraft fire before heading directly to sea and the journey home. If the attack were conducted quickly enough, the force would be homebound before enemy fighters could be scrambled.
The force made landfall west of Sogne Fjord. The outriders immediately started the search for enemy vessels or aircraft to the north and south of the main force. No trace of the destroyer was reported, and one enemy aircraft was sighted but not intercepted. The force continued on to Førde Fjord while the outriders returned to base, their missions completed.
The force prepared themselves for the attack and proceeded into the fjord in preparation to attack towards the sea, only to find the vessels weren’t where they were expected to be, and were ready to defend themselves from a probable attack. It is possible that the vessels had been alerted by the presence of the outrider Beaufighters. On arrival, the Wing was immediately subjected to flak from the vessels that were now beneath them.
In the fjord, two vessels situated themselves against the sheer cliffs, the Z.33 was on the opposite side of the fjord and three flak ships were in the center with excellent arcs of protective fire. To top it off, there were several batteries of anti-aircraft guns situated around the shoreline. Normally, the Wings attacked using surprise, catching an unprepared enemy, quickly striking then escaping. It seems obvious that in Førde Fjord, this was not the case – the enemy was prepared, well sited defensively and fairly close to protective fighter-aircraft bases. As was to be seen, the Strike Wing was flying into a nightmare scenario.
In fact, the vessels were so prepared that some of the vessels had non-essential personnel evacuate before the attack, and some civilians were even instructed to seek safe haven in their cellars. Unfortunately, the extra time taken to set up the attack allowed enemy fighters to get airborne from the airbase at Herdla. The nimble fighters included some of the latest marks of FW.190s and many of the pilots were battle-hardened veterans of the Russian front, including ‘Blue 4’, flown by Lieutenant Rudolf Linz, an ace with 70 victories.
When the targets were found, the Strike Wing was not prepared to attack “and the formation leader orbited the force twice to get into a suitable attack position to attack and then ordered the attack up fjord. As the Beaufighters made their way in, they met an intense crossfire in the form of a box barrage ”.
With the coveted destroyer well protected, the attack runs were made, but the tightness of the fjord and the danger of aircraft colliding forced the Beaus to fly through anti-aircraft fire. Flying into a swirling hell of flak, the Beaufighters made their attacks. Some reports indicate that the three flak vessels in the middle of the fjord received the brunt of the attacks, but Z.33 was also targeted, with many near misses.
While waiting their turn to attack, the Beaufighters were surprised by a flight of at least 12 Fw.190s. The air battle quickly became a whirling maelstrom of enemy fighters, Mustangs, and Beaufighters struggling to put in their attacks while trying to avoid being bounced.
P/O WE Blunderfield (left), the pilot of “V” with navigator P/O WA Jackson. Both killed on Black Friday.
It is possible that “V” piloted by P/O Blunderfield and P/O Jackson was the first of the Beaufighters to be shot down. A German narrative reports that the FW.190 attacked from above and the Beau lost its tail, exploding on impact with the ocean. A Canadian body was later found in the water, but an identity is not known.
F/O OW Knight, navigator, was on squadron less than three weeks.
The fate of another Buffalo Beaufighter is described – “Near Gaular terrified civilians witness how a Beaufighter is pursued by a Focke-Wulf and is hit several times. The Beaufighter tries to land on an elevation, but the terrain makes this an impossibility. The plane breaks in half during the ensuing crash and the cockpit section slides down the hillside for more than 500 meters. Sadly, the crew perished in the crash. This was EE-C. The crew, F/O Knight and F/O Lynch was on their first strike.” The pilot that shot this crew down, Heinz Orlowski, then shot down a Mustang attempting to save the Beaufighter before finally having to bail out of his own damaged Focke-Wulf.
F/O JR ‘Rog’ Savard, DFC, pilot and F/O J Middleton, navigator, made a crash landing on the ice of Førdefjord. Middleton died as a result of injuries, and Savard spent the remainder of the war as a POW.(Squadron Archive)
F/O JR Savard made a wheels-up landing on the ice with his aircraft on fire, likely after being hit by flak. The Beaufighter survived the crash, but turned upside down and trapped the crew. Norwegian civilians ran out to the aircraft but had to retreat when they were fired at by German soldiers. Savard and Middleton were seen to be pulled from their aircraft by flak crews, but Middleton was so severely wounded that he did not survive. Savard spent the rest of the war as a POW.
The 404 aircraft flown by F/O JE Nelson and WO RG Gracie in NT916 had just broken away from their attack when they saw two FW.190s on the tail of another Beaufighter. They immediately came to the rescue and shot down one of the enemy fighters. The second FW.190 turned upon its attacker, but Gracie managed to put a burst of fire into it from his navigator’s ‘pop gun’ and the German pilot turned away. Nelson “received a DFC for driving a 190 off a comrade’s tail”.
Another Beau, flown by F/O HP Flynn and P/O MH Michael in “T” NE686 engaged two more FW.190s in an inconclusive combat as the enemy pursued another Beaufighter. Flynn’s number 2 (port) was Roger Savard. On Flynn’s starboard was Bill Jackson, another crew that was lost. During the melee, Flynn was able to attack the Z-33 and was credited with two RP strikes.
Black Friday resulted in the loss of six crews. What is known is the fate of F/O JR Savard and P/O J Middleton, P/Os WJ Jackson and WE Blunderfield, and F/Os HC Lynch and OW Knight. What is not known is the ultimate fates of F/O H Smook and WO AM Duckworth, F/Os C Smerneos and ND Cochrane, and F/O PR Myrick and F/S CG Berges who were also lost that day, with several Beaufighters being seen to impact the steep sides of the fjord. Three Beaufighters and a Mustang from other squadrons did not return. Post war German sources claim that seven Beaufighters were shot down by flak, while the FW.190s claimed two more and a Mustang.
F/O H Smook, pilot, who was lost along with navigator WO AM Duckworth. (Squadron Archive)
After the mission, it was thought that damage to the enemy was substantial. Besides one aircraft destroyed and another damaged, 404 assisted in scoring hits on the destroyer, setting fire to a patrol vessel and severely damaging two other ships. Mustangs of the fighter escort claimed two FW.190s as destroyed and two damaged. The cost of this strike was heavy and for 404 it was the single worst day for the unit during the war.
The squadron’s adjutant penned these words in the ORB, “Today’s losses were a staggering blow, and a keen sense of personal loss is felt by every member of the Squadron and the servicing echelon. The many expressions of regret from personnel of the Squadrons on the Station and from Station Headquarters, indicated the high esteem in which these twelve men were held. Flying Officer JR (Rog) Savard and Pilot Officer J Middleton his navigator, were approaching the end of their tour, and Pilot Officer WJ Jackson and his navigator, Pilot Officer HE Blunderfield, had passed the half-way mark. These two crews, besides being two of our most experienced and capable, were also two of the most popular. Although Flying Officer H Smook and navigator Warrant Officer AM Duckworth had been with the Squadron but two months, and Flying Officer C Smerneos and his navigator, Flying Officer ND Cochrane, only six weeks, these crews were already highly regarded by the older members of the Squadron. Flying Officer PR Myrick and Flying Officer OW Knight, his navigator, and Flying Officer HC Lynch and navigator Flight Sergeant CG Berges had only been with the Squadron three weeks and were on their first operational sortie, however, the pre-operational flying of theses two crews had been of a high standard and they were regarded as worthy members of the Squadron.”
German pilot, Lieutenant Rudi Linz, with 70 victories was shot down by one of the escort Mustangs.
F/L PE ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson became 404 Squadron Adjutant on 10 October 1944 and held the duty during the tragic day known as Black Friday. (PL 40772)
Author Andrew Hendrie was stationed at Dallachy at the time of the Black Friday attacks and was witness to the state of the aircraft on return from the disastrous mission. “They landed like a flight of wounded ducks; a number just pancaking. The scene was like a Hollywood film set – but this was real. Later in the Mess I saw some of the Beaufighter aircrew with their clothing truly in ribbons…In the Mess about that time, I heard broadcast Elgar’s ‘Chanson de Matin’, music ever to recall in my mind 404 Squadron’s ‘Black Friday’.” In RCAF Overseas, the Sixth Year, this disastrous day is referred to as ‘Fatal Friday’.
Well after the war, some of the surviving aircrew were still very bitter about the experience of Black Friday. There are many questions that will likely never be answered. One member personally felt that if the outrider Beaufighter had properly observed the placement of the vessels in Førde Fjord, then it is possible that the attack would not have progressed in such a well-defended area.
In June 2008, the CO 404 LRP&T Squadron, LCol Doug Baird, DCO, Maj Chris Larsen, and the Senior Maintenance Training Manager, MWO Rob O’Brien, travelled to Norway to visit the site of the Black Friday mission and to lay a memorial Stone on the floor of Førde Fjord to pay honor and tribute to the ten members of 404 Squadron who perished that day. Below are some photos which, we hope, will aid in preserving their memory and serve as a reminder of their dedication and sacrifice.
Beaufighter debris at the site of the crash of F/O H. Lynch of Mallorytown, ON and F/O O. Knight of Vancouver. The image of a Beaufighter aircraft is carved into this stone on the hillside overlooking the fjord. It is believed to be very near the crash site of one of 404 Squadron’s Beaufighters. This memorial stone was erected in 1985 and contains the names of those 14 Allied Airmen lost in the Black Friday mission. The caption at the bottom reads“They gave their lives for our freedom 9.2.1945. Erected with thanks by NROF Indre Sunnfjord on 8.5.1985 with cooperation of the people of the villages around Fordefjord.”.
The final resting place for those members recovered from the Black Friday mission. Originally they were interred at Førde Lutheran Church but were later relocated to the Allied War Cemetery in Haugesund. The Maple Leaf flies beside the Norwegian flag at the former German airfield at Herdla, near Bergen, Norway. This memorial stone was was placed on the floor of Førdefjord in June 2008 during a visit by members of the ‘Herd’. The poem is at the bottom is an excerpt of one believed to be written by F/O E.R. Davey, a squadron member who was killed in a training accident in October, 1944.
Below are links to two slide show presentations that were prepared by ProCom Diving Services of Coronation, Alberta. Both of these presetations have been converted to Abode pdf format for those visitors who do not have MS Powerpoint software installed on their PCs.
February & March 1945
On February 10th, “W/C EW Pierce led thirty-one aircraft which included six Squadron aircraft, on an ASR search to the Norwegian Coast in the hope of finding some trace of the crews missing yesterday. Although a very thorough search was carried out, no dinghies were sighted.”
F/O RA (Bob) Wallace, CGM, DFC and his navigator WO JJ Temple, DFC. (PL 40760)
Things once again became quiet in the 404 areas of operations and remained that way until the end of February when three Buffalo aircraft set out on lone Rover Patrols. While on a night patrol along the south Norwegian coast in company with 455 and 489 Squadrons, P/O CN Moe and his navigator WO WA Wade located a group of four vessels near Kristiansand on 26 February. They attacked up-moon and scored several RP hits on what was thought to be a minesweeper, but it was likely the 766-ton German tanker Rogn that was damaged. F/O Jack Coyne attacked a second target in the same area and claimed four hits on the deck of a 4,000-ton merchantman. After the attack, Coyne escorted a 455 Squadron aircraft in distress back to home base. F/O Wallace in NV291 attacked vessels in a position passed on by Coyne on VHF. As a result of a torpedo strike, the 1923-ton German merchant vessel Arsterturm, who was carrying a cargo of mines, exploded and was destroyed.
The squadron suffered another loss on 6 March when F/O WA Tustin and his navigator Wettlaufer were killed in a flying accident. Records state that the crew were participating in a fighter affiliation exercise four miles north of the control tower at Dallachy, two miles off the beach in Spey Bay. The aircraft was seen to turn over on its back and dive steeply into the water. A destroyer was nearby at the time and launched boats but neither of the crew was ever recovered.
On 8 March, nine Buffalo Beaufighters led by S/L Bobby Schoales in NE669, were part of a 49-aircraft strike force that included 144, 455 and 489 Squadrons. Their target was a convoy of six ships sheltering under the high cliff walls of a narrow fjord south of Midtgulen, near Vindapol. Five of the Buffalo aircraft concentrated their fire on the 991-ton Dutch car ferry Heimdal, which received RP hits above, and below the water. Schoales and another pilot shot up an auxiliary vessel, while F/O RC Ridge and P/O P McCartney in “L” NV427 attacked the largest ship in the group. Hit by flak with one engine on fire, the plane was last seen flying up the fjord and failed to return to base. Cliff Ridge and McCartney, his RAF navigator, had been with No. 404 for exactly one year and were nearing the end of their tour. They had twelve strikes to their credit on 46 sorties . Ridge was later posthumously awarded the DFC for valorous actions.
Contribution by Mike Miles
P/O Peter McCartney, DFC, navigator and F/L RC ‘Cliff’ Ridge, DFC, stand on the wing of their Beaufighter, ‘U’ for Uncle. This photo was taken in December 1944. PL 41457
Post war records indicate that two German merchant vessels were damaged in the attack, the 4124-ton Phoenicia, and the 3764-ton Alsterdamm .(Photo left shows one of the vessels being attacked.)
Four days later, the squadron dispatched six aircraft to knock out three lighthouses on Vaagso Island. It must have seemed a strange task to the attacking aircrew, but to put the light houses out of commission could possibly force the enemy merchant vessels to stay more out to the open sea rather than risking running aground. Though it may seem that this would be a simple task now, it must be remembered that these important navigation aids were heavily defended with anti-aircraft sites.
The formation split into three teams of two aircraft each – one team per lighthouse. W/C EW Pierce and F/L JBA Stewart tackled the lighthouse at Skongsnaes on the island’s northeastern tip. Stewart suffered considerable damage when one of the rockets he fired struck a ridge of rock in front of the target and threw up a shower of debris that struck the aircraft. F/L JL Rancourt and F/O JB Bedell attacked a second target, the North Vaagso light. Though the attack results could not be seen due to evasive flying from a cliff in the target area, the red sector light was extinguished. F/L LA Bolli and F/O DA Catrano attacked the Krakenes light on the northwestern point of the island. Even though the crews were met with a considerable barrage of flak, smoke and dust were seen rising over the site afterward, evidence that the attacks were successful.
F/L Hugh F Watlington, DFM on his second tour of operations, won his DFM in Malta in the early days of the war when he was flying Beaufort Torpedo Bombers. Now, flying Beaufighters with the Buffaloes, he is completing his second tour on anti-shipping operations in a different theatre of war. F/L Watlington comes from Bermuda. (Original write up for PL 40769)
Between flights, some members of the squadron had been putting their time into an amateur theatrical group that came to be known as the Dallachy Minstrels. On March 20 they had their dress rehearsals in the evening and the next day they gave their first performance. This highly successful engagement marked the official opening of the station’s new concert hall. Never let it be said that the members of 404 Squadron were not talented.
On 24 March, six Buffalo crews participated in another large formation strike including 144, 455 and 489 Squadrons. The attacking force of 44 aircraft included Beaufighters, Mustangs from 65 Squadron and two Warwicks from 269 Squadron. The force found its quarry described as three merchant and three escort vessels at Egersund Harbour in southern Norway. Diving through the curtain of intense barrage that the vessels and shore batteries threw at them, the squadron, led by S/L Christison, DFC and Bar, in “R” NV428, opened the attack and had to break off due to taking accurate flak, seriously damaging his aircraft. He passed control of the attack to his number two, F/O ‘Pat’ Flynn who immediately engaged an escort vessel and saw the ship take direct hits, likely sinking it. Two merchant vessels were sunk as a result of the attacks, the 2788-ton German vessel Thetis and the 1116-ton Norwegian Sarp. One escort, the 550-ton Auxiliary Trawler/Sub Chaser UJ.1435 Malangen was sunk. A third merchant vessel, the 1011-ton Oberprasident Delbruck was verified as being damaged. The three sunken vessels were raised after the war.
This was a devastating mission for the Buffalo Squadron with the loss of two crews. It is likely that the flak barrage suffered by the attacking aircraft was radar controlled and extremely accurate. Christison’s aircraft was hit by flak in the starboard engine and his navigator, F/L FJ Toon, DFC, was wounded. He radioed that he would have to ditch. Christison’s aircraft was seen to enter the water approximately 10 miles off the coast. Pat Flynn circled his comrade and saw someone climb into the raft after the perfect ditching. Even though one of the crew likely survived the ditch and was relatively close to shore, he was never found. The Air Sea Rescue aircraft “Warwicks unable to land to assist the airmen due to proximity to shore. The positions were broadcasted to the enemy.” The German army units on shore close to the ditching location were known during the war to treat downed aircrew harshly and we cannot discount the possibility that the airman suffered a similar fate. Norwegian war researchers can find no record of the aircrews fates, but the currents in the waters of the area could easily have carried the dinghy well out to sea. The loss of such an ‘old hand’ in Coastal Command was a severe blow to the Squadron. Christison was on his second tour, had completed 31 missions and had been awarded the DFC and Bar for his gallant efforts against the enemy. Sadly, he had been recommended to be ‘tour-expired’, and was one of the Buffalo originals, having joined the unit as a pilot sergeant in May 1941.
This photo shows a Beaufighter that has been stricken during an attack, emitting smoke while pulling away from the attack. It is very possible that the aircraft may be Christison’s, or could possibly be Aljoe’s. (Squadron Archive)
Another Buffalo aircraft, NE399 flown by F/O LR Aljoe and F/S CE Orser, was also forced down near the coast. The crew, “ditched so skillfully that (the crew) were seen safe in their dinghy and waving as our aircraft left.” Later, Orser’s body was recovered and interred at Sola, Norway. How this crew, who survived the ditch, were killed is not known.
F/Sgt CE Orser, navigator, and P/O LR Aljoe, pilot. Both were lost during the 24 March 1945 strike. (PL 42936)
A third 404 Beaufighter had a close call when it was struck by flak, which damaged the leading edge of the main plane and threw the aircraft over on its side. The pilot, F/O Jack Coyne, righted the Beau and continued his attack. He made a picture perfect landing upon return to the base. Coyne received the DFC for the bravery he displayed on this mission, as well as other attacks that he had participated in. F/O Pat Flynn was also decorated with the DFC for his part in this attack, when he attacked a vessel with his rockets. The vessel was destroyed.
April 1945 Mosquito Conversion at RAF Banff
April brought a new aircraft for the squadron to fly and a new location out of which to fly. The unit was sent back on 3 April to RAF Banff to begin conversion to the longer-range Mosquito Mk VI. In less than three weeks, 404 members were fully converted to the new ‘kite’. The speed with which this training was conducted brought congratulations from the Group Headquarters.
The Mosquito was a dream to fly and as one poet from the squadron put it:
Her name I know was of the best,
And this was the night I gave her the test,
I looked at her with eyes of joy,
And she was mine for the night, oh boy!
She looked so pretty, sweet and slim,
The night was dark and the moon was dim,
I was so excited my heart missed a beat,
Because I know I was in for a treat.
I had her stripped, I had her bare,
I felt around her everywhere,
It was the first time she had been out with a boy,
And did I enjoy it, boy, oh boy!
I went up high as quick as I could.
I handled her gently, oh boy, was she good.
I turned her over on her side,
And on her back as well I tried.
It was one big thrill – she’s the best in the land,
My twin-engined Mosquito of Coastal Command.
The Flying Control Officer with the Buffaloes at their RAF Coastal Command base in Scotland is F/L Waldie of Calgary, Alta. F/L Waldie trained as a W/AG in 1940 and ’41 and it’s a long story. He came overseas and joined a Canadian torpedo squadron in 1941 flying Beauforts and Hampdens. After washing out of aircrew for medical reasons after six months of operational flying, he remustered to Flying Control, took a course in England and was appointed Pilot Officer in February of 1943 from sergeant. And now, he brings the Beaufighters in line astern like jeeps pulling up to a gas station. (original write-up for PL 40770)
This photo was likely taken at Dallachy. Note the flare canister at the lower right of the photo, flares being used as emergency communication devices at the time.
On 21 April, F/O DA Catrano and F/L AE Foord in “H” RF851 were making a shipping recce over anchorages from near Haugesund to the Naze and eastward to Kristiansand, when they sighted a Bv.138 and a He.115 (flying boats) anchored about 200 feet offshore from a seaplane base. A few passes set the Blohm and Voss ablaze with a very satisfying column of smoke, which could be seen from 40 miles away.
The final month of the war found the Buffaloes leaving their Norwegian hunting grounds to pursue the Germans into the Kattegat and Kiel Bay. S/L HW Jones took four Mosquitoes as part of the fighter cover for the Banff Wing when a strong force made a strike against U-Boats in the Kattegat on the morning of 2 May. A U-Boat, the 234-ton type XXI U-2359, skippered by Bischoff was sunk. The 775-ton Minesweeper M.293 was sent to the bottom by the other squadrons while the Buffaloes stood guard overhead.
W/C EW ‘Teddy’ Pierce, 404 Squadron’s last wartime Commanding Officer. (from original write up) “Wing Commander William Pierce, who is English, but in the RCAF. Wing Commander Pierce held a Commission pre war in the RAF Volunteer reserve and was in New York at the outbreak of the war employed in the produce exchange. He moved to Winnipeg and worked in the Grain Exchange there for six months and was accepted into the RCAF as a Pilot Officer. He joined the Buffalo squadron in 1941 when it was just forming and is on his second tour of operations with the Buffaloes. W/C Pierce trained at Toronto, Regina, Fort William and McCleod. He is married, his wife living in Brampton, Cumberland and his parents at Wimbledon, London. (PL 40764)
The last Buffalo operation of the war was carried out on 4 May when W/C Pierce led seven of his Mosquitoes with 55 other aircraft of the Banff Strike Wing including 143, 235, 248 and 333 Squadrons to attack enemy shipping in the vicinity of Kiel. The squadrons struck across the North Sea to the Danish coast, crossed the peninsula to the Kattegat and then wheeled southwards. The first target sighted was a small R-Boat which four Buffalo crews, together with four from another squadron, riddled with cannon and rockets left a mass of burning debris.
Farther south, the strike force came upon a larger target, a convoy of seven vessels sailing in line astern – two merchant vessels estimated at 4,000 to 6,000 tons, a destroyer, a gunboat, a minesweeper and two auxiliaries. Their flak defences were of little avail as a determined attack by the aircraft inflicted severe damage on six vessels, which began to burn and smoke heavily. Only one of the auxiliaries escaped punishment. The aircraft went in on their targets to such a close range that one Mosquito returned with part of the mast and the ensign of the destroyer attached to it. One merchant vessel, the 3750-ton German Wolfgang LM Russ sunk, while the 998-ton Gunther Russ and 3540-ton Angamos were damaged.
The final days before the end of the war passed quietly. When the announcement of VE Day arrived at 404, there was no question in anybody’s mind that this called for a party to end all parties. As noted in the Squadron Scrapbook, the festivities lasted for several days:
“Celebration on the station continue. Station bonfire and bags of pyrotechniques at night. Station dances – 404 boys launched repat ship Buffalo in the station emergency water supply pool. The boat was brilliantly lighted and crammed with flags and toilet paper and was launched with a fanfare of music after a long ceremonial march during which mechanized escort was provided. There seemed to be no lack of firewater on the camp. Station and squadron now goes on to a peacetime basis with Wed. PM, Sat. and Sun. off when possible. Squadron to be kept up to operational fitness in case required for the Far East (God forbid).”
On 13 May, F/O Savard phoned the Squadron from Bournemouth. He had been shot down on Black Friday and became a POW. “The Great Rog Savard, missing since February 9th, is safe! He was, according to advice received a Prisoner of War. Rog says he was in solitary confinement for 42 days in the Jug! Imagine Savard having no one to talk to but himself!” On 18 May he returned with their former CO, W/C Charles “Chuck” Willis, DFC. The latter, also an ex-POW had been shot down in March 1944. There was a station party the following day during which W/C Willis was presented with the large silver stein that he had caused to be made prior to being shot down. W/C Willis kept this stein, complete with the signatures of the aircrew in early 1944, and he personally presented it to 404 (MP&T;) Squadron during the unit’s 50th Anniversary ceremonies in 1991 at Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
S/L Bobby Schoales and F/L RA Jackson made the squadron’s last sortie on 22 May when they escorted two squadrons of Norwegian Spitfires flying from Dyce to Stavanger and thence to Oslo. When their Mosquito returned to Banff on the evening of Victoria Day, the Buffalo’s operational career ended.
During the last days of the Squadron’s wartime history, there was still the matter of the conflict in the Far East. Late in 1944 and into ’45, considerations had been made for the creation of the Tiger Force. 404 was initially slated to be kept together at war’s end to participate as an air/sea rescue unit. This plan never came to fruition.
On 25 May, the squadron was officially disbanded. F/L KY Spencer, the squadron scribe, wrote these words about 404’s final day into the ORB: “Today, 404 Squadron is to be officially disbanded.
“The writing is on the wall and it is supposed that most of us will go to some holding unit in this country and then – some to Germany – some to Burma and some us eventually – home. While we all go our different ways and the Buffalo Squadron bows to time and fate, the spirit and comradeship of all personnel that made it up and gave it a name unsurpassed in fighting annuals, will go on forever.”
The Post War Years – The Buffaloes Reform
During a brief ceremony at RCAF Station Greenwood on April 27, 1951, 404 Squadron was reformed in a Maritime Reconnaissance role. Air Commodore Gordon, CBE, CD, the Air Officer commanding Maritime Air Group, presented a framed replica of the Buffalo coat of arms to the acting commanding officer of the unit, Squadron Leader SS Mitchell. Also present at this ceremony were the first three 404 crews who had just graduated from Number 2(M) Operational Training Unit. Although these crewmen were ready and willing to carry the squadron emblem into the air, it would be a few more months before the first of the Mark X Lancaster assigned to the squadron would arrive on the station. For the present, there was more than enough work for everyone to do bringing the squadron spaces up to scratch.
Number 6 Hangar had been allocated to 404 and the next few weeks saw every squadron member involved in a general clean up. Soon there were people everywhere painting, washing, and tidying-up. Lockers and workspaces were constructed for both the aircrew and servicing personnel. The exterior of the hangar was not neglected, receiving a fresh coat of paint and having the surrounding grassy area re-sodded – a process that would finally be completed in July.
During the first few months of the squadron’s rebirth aircrew were kept busy with local area training including accompanying other Greenwood units for extra experience. When a 405 Squadron Lancaster proceeded to Frobisher Bay on a northern training flight it was accompanied by F/O Hannington and S/L Rolfe. Soon thereafter, F/O Luchka was off with 405 to Resolute Bay, and S/L Rolfe, newly-returned from Frobisher Bay, did some flying with 103 Rescue Unit. There were also several opportunities for members of 404 to display their skills to the Canadian public such as when F/L Gordon and crew took part in a formation flying display for the opening of Old Home Week at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
In July 1951, members of the squadron participated in Operation Nanook ’51. The purpose of the operation was to provide aircraft reconnaissance of the area between Resolute Bay, Thule Greenland, Alert and Eureka to look for ice. A naval task group from the United States was carrying supplies to the artic outposts. F/L Gibson reported to a U.S. icebreaker to act as the RCAF representative and, considering the weather conditions, he probably would have much rather stayed at home.
1951 – 52. The Lancaster Arrives
On July 25, the squadron received its first Lancaster (number 959) and five days later the second (number 110) rolled in. The first week of August saw the squadron conduct its first operation using its own aircraft when F/L Gordon carried out a fighter-affiliation exercise. The pilot and crew of the Lancaster found out how much fun it can be to be chased by Vampire jets scrambled out of RCAF Station Chatham, New Brunswick.
Squadron groundcrew were extremely busy during this period working on the arriving aircraft and finishing repairs to their working area. Along with some help from the aircrew, they still found the time to provide the squadron aircraft with a new paint scheme – at least for the spinners. The Buffalo Lancs were quite noticeable as their spinners bore a royal blue base with a six-inch white circle painted on the nose.
Two other events occupied 404 during August. The first was the August 16 arrival of several hundred air cadets to the station. As one squadron member put it, “The station is looking like a junior airforce.”
The squadron helped out by providing lectures to the cadets and by having S/L Mitchell and crew fly several members of the local cadet drill team to Saint John, New Brunswick for a competition. The next day, OTU course Number 5 graduated and with it were two new 404 crews and the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander DE Galloway, MBE. He immediately assumed his duties and for the next four months guided the squadron through a rather hectic training schedule.
Throughout September and October, the necessary chores to keep the squadron at a high state of proficiency were undertaken. These tasks ranges form repainting the hanger to bombing and gunnery exercises. No section of the squadron escaped this busy period. Even a new orderly room was completed and on September 11, W/C Galloway moved into his new offices. The squadron spent September 20 and 21 participating in another fighter affiliation exercise, this time involving Mustangs out of Chatham.
In October, F/L Gordon and crew took part in Operation Royalty in which they escorted the Royal Couple into Newfoundland. This was quickly followed by joint air-sea exercises involving S/L Mitchell, F/O Poirier, and their respective crews along with HMS Artful. The majority of the last few weeks of October were taken up by a search for an American C97 aircraft that was overdue on a fight between the Azores and Westover Field. Three crews participated and though the search was conducted for several days nothing was found.
The last two months of 1951 saw 404 finish its first year of rebirth with yet more training. On December 20, Lancaster 210 and 192 arrived and it was with high expectations that the Buffaloes looked forward to the new year.
1952 began with a search and rescue mission looking for a Vampire jet that was missing from Chatham. On January 14, W/C Galloway, S/L Creeper and S/L Murphy flew to Halifax to attend a conference for the upcoming Exercise Microwex 52. This was a large training scenario involving air strikes on a convoy. From January 20-28, four 404 crews made simulated attacks on a convoy with often impressive results.
The following month found 404 preparing for a combined exercise with 405 Squadron. The two units were to form an RCAF Maritime Wing during CONVEX III, which was held out of Key West, Florida. Preparations were long and detailed as one squadron member wrote at that time, “Maps and charts have been preparing the aircraft for the trip south. This included the making of boxes to fit the AVRO Standard Bomb Carrier. These boxes will contain emergency rations, sonobuoys, flame boats, marker marines and equipment necessary for the maintenance of the aircraft down south.”
The Wing was commanded by W/C Galloway and flew almost constantly from February 23 to March 21. Most of the crews did not mind since the weather was a vast improvement to what was being experienced in Greenwood.
From the end of March to the first week in June, the squadron was occupied with routine flying with time out for the occasional search. On April 24, however, W/C Galloway and crew went off on a navigation cross-country to Winnipeg and Edmonton. Upon their return to Greenwood they descended the aircraft ramp with the newest member of the squadron in tow – a stuffed buffalo head henceforth to be known as “Bill the Buffalo.” This visible symbol of the unit was proudly mounted in the squadron briefing room for all to see and admire. The majority of the month of June found the squadron deployed to St. Eval, England for Exercise Castanets. There were excellent training opportunities and the five 404 crews flew 23 sorties. Unfortunately, all was not well on the ground. As noted in the squadron log: “The crews were a bit disgruntled to find the accommodation consisted of tents for the majority. This did not stop the lads from making the best of it and after spending a soggy night in the tents; the aircrews were greeted with the good news of a stand-down until June 13 …some personnel proceeded by train to London. Some 30 officers displayed initiative in hiring a bus to take them to London and to await theme there and return on June 13.”
For the most part, the exercise went as planned, but there was one incident that bears telling. While on one of the exercise flights, F/O Poirier and crew became temporarily misplaced (lost) due to weather and had a devil of a time trying to locate their position. Finally, they pinpointed their location, which turned out to be over France – without enough gas to return to England. The crew landed at a small airfield near Cherbourg and was fortunate that F/O Poirier was with them when it came to explaining their fuel requirements.
Lest it be thought that there was only aircrew involved with Operation Castanets, Cpl Swinimer offered this “epic” poem for the RCAF Station Greenwood paper:
From the write-up in the paper, I’ll bet you’d never guess
That with out gallant aircrew, there were “Erks” on Castanets.
We lived in tents at Cornwall, and the only thing we lacked
Were tomahawks and arrows, When the camp was mock attacked.
We leapt from our damp blankets, With Jets screaming overhead,
“Lie down,” shouts the Section Commander, “Don’t you know that you are dead?”
Whilst soundly sleeping in the night an air attack had started,
And without us ever knowing it, our souls up and departed.
The day shift are all off to work, and their morning meal.
They ate fried bread and sausages; I wonder how they feel?
Working in the daytime, well – it’s just a piece of cake.
With Mag. Drops, gas leaks and etcetera, They say the night shift make.
“Naffi up,” somebody yells, and hungry they must be.
So just queue up and wait for it; ’cause everything stops for tea.
Our line crews are quite competent, Before you realize
The airplane that was once u/s it just takes off and flies.
The Lancs we sent out last night will likely soon be back.
They all will be u/s no doubt, to gas up, D.I. or so.
With luck, we’ll maybe get some sleep before the roosters crow.
About this time, the phone bell rings, Ops. Room to four-oh-four:
They want some Lancs for six a.m. – just eight or ten or more.
After ten minutes. He rings again for bombs, sonobuoys and flares.
I tell him that I’m sleepy, but don’t think he cares.
I look at my watch once more and sight it’s now five-twenty-three…
Just the time we’re waiting for, the canteen’s open for tea
You know the RAF idea of fun to me seems rather daft,
While they tinker around with motor-bikes we say hello to the WRAF.
These famous last words from Castanets (and believe me they are true).
“I’d love to take you back for my wife, But what would she do with you?”
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and Castanets was no exception. The Buffaloes were all back home safe and sound by the end of the first week of July.
On July 7, W/C Galloway, S/L Mitchell, F/Os Murphy, Harvey, Bray, Deyarmond and their crews carried out a combined high-level and low-level strike on the aircraft carrier USS Midway. The strikes were carried out in the afternoon and the squadron had mixed results – especially when it came to avoiding carrier aircraft. Still undaunted, the boys from 404 were back in the air against this large target on July 8.
The remainder of the month was spent preparing for and flying on exercise Sign Post, a high-level air defence training exercise. It was during this operation that tragedy struck and the squadron suffered its first peacetime casualties. On July 22, eight crews had taken off in the early hours of the morning to play target for Vampire jets. While engaged in intercept maneuvers, a Vampire fighter collided with Lancaster 102. After pulling out of a shadow dive, the Lancaster broke in two pieces and crashed in densely wooded country near Bagotville, Quebec. Aircraft flown by F/O Murphy and F/O Bray were instructed to circle the crash site until notified to return while the remainder of the squadron carried on with the exercise. Killed in the crash were F/O RA Gray, F/O A Marier, F/O ECW Hutt, F/O RHDNoble, F/O JA Macara, and Cpl RG Smith.
It took a long time for the squadron to recover from its loss, however, as the training schedule did not allow much time to dwell upon the past. For the remainder of 1952, various crews from 404 participated in Operations Emigrant, Operation Corvex, Operation McLaughlin and Exercise NORAMEX. There was also the occasional search. The squadron ended the year on an up note when F/O Jacques and crew found a downed bush pilot out of Churchill.
The Bristol Blenheim MK IVF aircraft flown by 404 Squadron was fitted with a four machine gun pack of .303 Brownings installed in the bomb-bay position. It also had a dorsal turret with two Browning machine guns and a single .303 machine gun in the nose position operated by the navigator. It was employed in the Fighter escort role as well as reconnaissance role along the Norwegian coast seeking targets for the Coastal Command strike aircraft. It had a crew of three; pilot, navigator and Wireless Op/Air Gunner. The aircraft had a wingspan of 54 feet 4 inches with a fuselage length of 43 feet 7 inches and a height of 12 feet 9 ½ inches. It had an empty weight of 7,409 pounds and a maximum weight of 15,000 pounds. It was powered by two Bristol Mercury XV radial air-cooled engines developing 995 HP each driving Hamilton three-blade variable pitch propellers. It had a maximum speed of 266 mph at 11,800 feet, a range of 1,460 miles and an endurance of 8.65 hours. Its service ceiling was 22,000 feet. Th Squadron flew Blenheims from its formation in April, 1941 until January,1943, when they were replaced with Beaufighter MK IIF.
Before the advent of the Second World War, the multi-engined two-seat fighter had received sporadic attention in most countries, but as the fighter was envisaged primarily as a day interceptor, a task which could be fulfilled most effectively by the less expensive single seat single-engined machine, little real effort was placed behind the development of the longer-ranging, heavier combat aircraft, except in Germany where the long-range strategic fighter received close attention from the mid-thirties, resulting in the Messerschmitt Bf 110. Britain’s lack of long-range heavy fighters, when the war started, was a source of acute embarrassment to the RAF single-engined interceptors, such as the Hurricane and Spitfire lacked the endurance for effective standing patrols, and it was soon discovered that the heavy long-range fighter would be invaluable to perform a wide variety of tasks. The result was a piece of true British improvisation-the Bristol Beaufighter, which entered service a year after the outbreak of war, at a time when it was most sorely needed.
Built as a company-funded long-range fighter (using major components from the earlier Beaufort torpedo-bomber), the prototype Beaufighter first flew on July 17,1939, with Captain Uwins at the controls. This was little more than eight months after the design had been initiated. Exactly two weeks earlier, before the first flight, a production contract for 300 machines had been placed to specification F. 17/39. This seemingly desperate measure by the Air Ministry was, by 1938 to 1939, not uncommon, as it helped speed up the production of much-needed combat planes.
When No 29 Squadron of the Royal Air Force became fully operational with the Beaufighter Mk IF in October 1940, it marked the beginning of operations by a night fighter that was completely capable of performing its task. For although the Bristol Blenheim IF, also equipped with the new (AI) airborne interception radar, was operational, the Beaufighter had two qualities which the other lacked-speed and firepower. Once a Beaufighter had detected a German Bf 110 night bomber, a single short burst from its four cannon was often sufficient to shoot down the enemy.
The fact that a heavy twin-engined fighter such as the Beaufighter was available as soon as the late autumn of 1940 was largely due to the foresight and enterprise of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in envisaging the probable need for a high-performance long-range fighter capable of undertaking duties of a more aggressive nature than those foreseen by official specifications. At the end of 1938, L. G. Frise and his design team began the design of what was virtually a fighter variant of the Beaufort general reconnaissance and torpedo-bomber. The initial proposal was framed, as far as possible, to meet the requirements of specification F.11/37, and envisaged an aeroplane using a large proportion of Beaufort components, including the wings, tail assembly and undercarriage, a pair of Hercules radial engines and carrying a battery of four 20-mm. Hispano cannon. The economy of the proposal was of obvious appeal to the government, struggling to meet the vast requirements of a major rearmament program, and, as the Type 156, four prototypes were ordered.
The Beaufighter prototype (R2052) had two-speed supercharged Bristol Hercules radials which were mounted well ahead of the wing leading edges to avoid vibration. This necessitated cutting down on other weight forward of the c.g. and resulted in the Beaufighter’s characteristic abbreviated fuselage nose. The main fuselage and the engine mountings were, in fact, the only entirely new components. The outer wings, including the ailerons, flaps and tanks; the whole of the retractable landing gear and hydraulic systems; and the aft section of the fuselage, complete with tailplane, elevators, fin, rudder and tail wheel, were identical to those of the Beaufort, while the center section, with tanks and flaps, was similar apart from certain fittings. Official trials commenced at an all-up weight of 16,000 lb. after the first prototype’s delivery to the RAF on April 2,1940, and a maximum speed of 335 mph was attained at 16,800 feet.
As production continued, additional versions appeared, differing in engines installed and in other ways. Beaufighters were used in many theaters of war and for varied duties, performing particularly well in the Western Desert thanks to their long range. Coastal Command of the RAF received several torpedo-carrying versions which were responsible for sinking a great deal of enemy shipping. The last and most numerous was the superb Mk X, which could carry a large torpedo or bombs and rocket projectiles, and claimed among its victories several German submarines. The Beaufighter IF was soon bearing the brunt of the action against German night bombers, weighing up to 20,800 lb., it attained a maximum speed of 323 mph at 15,000 feet, had a range of 1,500 miles at 194 mph, an initial climb rate of 1,850 ft./min., and a service ceiling of 28,900 feet. Although the Beaufighter IF handled well, it was tricky under certain conditions. There was a strong tendency to swing on takeoff and the danger of flick rolling in the event of an engine cutting suddenly. On landing, the Beaufighter’s large flap area pulled the aircraft up rapidly, but there was a tendency to veer from the straight which, if unchecked, resulted in a ground loop, the c.g. being so far aft. The first few Beaufighter Is were delivered without the wing-mounted machine-guns, and initially it was found that when the cannon were fired, the recoil caused the nose to dip enough for the pilot to lose his target. The seriousness of this fault was such that thought was given to alternative armament and, with one pair of cannon and the wing-mounted machine-guns supplanted by a Boulton Paul turret containing four 0.303-in. guns and mounted just aft of the pilot’s cockpit, the Beaufighter V was produced. Only two examples (R2274 and R2306) were completed, both being converted Merlin engined Mark IIs, and these were used experimentally by No. 29 Squadron during the early months of 1942, but the installation of the turret drastically reduced performance, and the Beaufighter V was abandoned.
The Beaufighter T.F.X was the final major production variant and passed through several important modification stages without any change in its Mark number. These included, in particular, the introduction of A.I.Mk.VIII radar in a “thimble” nose–this radar having been found suitable for ASV use–and a large dorsal fin (after a trial installation on a Beaufighter 11, T3032) to give the required directional stability and linked with an increase in elevator area to improve longitudinal stability. Before deliveries of the Beaufighter X could begin, a batch of sixty Beaufighter VIs with Hercules XVI engines and provision for torpedo-carrying was built. These were designated Beaufighter VI (I.T.F.)–interim torpedo fighter–and were converted to Mark Xs when more Hercules XVII engines became available.
When the last Beaufighter (SR919) left the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s Weston-super-Mare works on September 21, 1945, a total of 5,562 aircraft of this type had been produced in the United Kingdom. Of these some 1,063 were Mark Vls and 2,231 were Mark Xs. During its operational career it had played a prime role in defeating the Luftwaffe’s night “blitz” of 1940-1941, and it had operated in every major campaign of the war, carrying out the last operational sortie of the European war, a strike against German shipping in the Skagerrak, and serving with distinction in the Pacific until the capitulation of Japan. The Beaufighter may have been the product of improvisation, but it was a remarkably successful one.
404 Squadron began flying the Beaufighter in Sept 1942 when ten aircraft were delivered. Although the Squadron received training on the Torpedo Beaufighter (Torbeau), 404 never actually conducted any operational torpedo drops during the war. Virtually all operational flying was done using the Rocket Projectile (RP) fitted aircraft which, using many tactics developed by 404 Squadron members themselves, were used to great effect against enemy shipping.
Buffalo crews continued to fly the Beaufighter until April 1945 when they began converting to fly Mosquitos.
Specifications: Bristol Beaufighter T.F.X
Wing span: 57 ft. 10 in. (17.64 m)
Length: 41 ft. 4 in. (12.59 m)
Height: 15 ft. 10 in. (4.84 m)
Empty: 15,592 lb (7,072 kg)
Maximum: 25,400 lb. (11,521 kg)
Disposable Load: 9,808 lb. (4,448 kg)
Maximum Speed 305 m.p.h. (490 km/h)
@ sea-level. 320 m.p.h. (514 km/h)
@ 10,000 ft. (3,048 m)
Service Ceiling 19,000 ft. (5,791 m) (without torpedo)
Range: 1,400 miles (2,253 km) with torpedo and normal fuel.
1,750 miles (2,816 km) with torpedo and long-range tanks
Two Bristol Hercules XVII fourteen-cylinder two-row sleeve-valve radial engines rated at 1,725 h.p. (1,286 kw) @ 2,900 r.p.m. for take-off and 1,395 h.p. (1,040 kw) @ 2,400 r.p.m. at 1,500 ft. (457 m).
Four 20-mm. Hispano cannon in the fuselage nose and six 0.303-in. machine-guns in the wings and one 0.303-in. Vickers “K” or Browning gun in the dorsal position. One 18-in. torpedo externally under fuselage. Eight rocket projectiles could be carried as alternative to the wing guns.
Photograph of Squadron Leader William Ritchie Christison, who was awarded one of his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) medals for this attack. He is standing by his Beaufighter.
William Ritchie Christison DFC (2) was born in Montreal, Québec (QC). His parents lived in Lennoxville QC and he enlisted in the RCAF in Sherbrooke, in July 1940. Christison received air crew instruction at various training schools in Canada and graduated from No. 7 Service Flying Training School in March 1941. He received his pilot officer commission in 1942 and by the time he joined No. 404 Squadron he had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) effective October 17, 1944.
The citation refers in part to one sortie where he was flight commander in an attack upon enemy shipping in Le Verdon harbour. The citation says: During the action his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire rendering one engine useless. However, Flight Lieutenant Christison completed the attack and made a successful return flight, landing at an advanced base in France. This officer has led his squadron with great skill and has set a fine example to all.
On March 30, 1945 Christison was awarded a second DFC. The citation says: “Since being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross this officer has taken part in a number of attacks on enemy shipping and throughout has displayed courage and resolution of a high standard”.
In February 1945, Squadron Leader Christison participated in an attack against an enemy force of eleven vessels. The ships were sheltered by high cliffs rising steeply from the water’s edge and defended by anti-aircraft batteries on the shore.
In the face of fire from these guns and from those of all the enemy ships and also opposition from enemy fighters, Squadron Leader Christison led his squadron into the attack which was pressed home with the greatest determination. His undoubted skill contributed materially to the success achieved. Regrettably, Christison was killed in action with No. 404 Squadron on March 24, 1945.