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RAF Topcliffe and RCAF 424 Squadron

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Wellington BJ658 (QB-'Q' for Queen) crashed near the island of Nordeney

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Deanweb - the Forest of Dean Directory

424 Squadron, RAF Topcliffe and 6 (RCAF) Group

Canadian bomber squadrons began participating in the war effort in 1941 and were attached to RAF Bomber Command groups.

RCAF Operational Squadrons based at Topcliffe Air Station 1942-1943
No. 419 ‘Moose’ Squadron - No. 4 Group - August 18th, 1942 to September 30th, 1942
No. 424 ‘Tiger’ Squadron - No. 4 Group - October 15th, 1942 to December 31st, 1942
No. 424 ‘Tiger‘ Squadron - No. 6 Group – January 1st, 1943 to April 7th, 1943
No. 405 ‘Eagle’ Squadron – No. 6 Group – March 1st, 1943 to March 5th, `1943.

Canada, however, wanted its own identifiable presence in Allied air operations overseas, and did not wish its air force to be merely a source of manpower for the Royal Air Force.

To this end, 6 (RCAF) Group was formed on 1 January 1943 with eight squadrons. Four bases, mainly in the Yorkshire area, comprising of 11 stations, made up No. 6 Group. A base consisted of a main station HQ, and a number of sub-stations.

The Group flew its first mission on the night of 3rd/4th January, 1943, when six Wellingtons from 427 Squadron were sent to lay mines off the Frisian Isles. From that start the Canadian squadrons were active almost right up to VE Day - until their final mission against Wangerooge on 25th April 1945.

The Group was commanded by an Air Commodore, each station by a Group Captain, and the Squadron by a Wing Commander.

At the peak of its strength, 6 Group consisted of 14 squadrons. Fifteen squadrons would eventually serve with the group, which was almost every RCAF heavy bomber squadron.

Headquarters was at Allerton Park, which was close to Harrogate in Yorkshire.

Situated 4 miles east of Knaresborough, a 75 room mansion on a 2000 acre estate, Allerton Park Castle was requisitioned by the Air Ministry from Lord Mowbray.

RCAF Group administration, operations and control was housed within the castle but a complete support airforce base was established in the grounds around Allerton Castle which consisted primarily of nissan huts providing accommodation, meals, recreation and all other facilities for the military personnel.

424 Squadron was formed at RAF Topcliffe on 15 October 1942 for bomber duties. As part of No. 6 Group (RCAF) from early January, it was equipped with Vickers Wellington Mk IIIs, and later Mk Xs, and began overseas operations on 15th January 1943.

In April 1943 it was posted to Kairouan in North Africa, and bombed targets in Sicily and Italy to support the invasion of that country. The ground echelon had left Britain on 15 May 1943, followed by the aircraft on the 5th of June and the squadron was reunited at Kairouan on 23 June 1943.

They returned to Yorkshire in November 1943 and were re-equipped with Handley Page Halifax Mk IIIs.

Operating out of RAF Skipton-on-Swale, only a few miles from their first base at Topcliffe, it flew in the night offensive aganst Germany for a year until, in January 1945, it was re-equipped with Lancaster Mk Is and Mk IIIs and flew its final mission in April 1945. From that time it flew on operations repatriating POWs from Europe before disbanding at Skipton on 15 October 1945.

The early days. By November 1st, 1942, the numerical strength of the squadron was still quite low, with only 72 aircrew, of whom 58 were Canadians, and only 9 aircraft.

Wireless operator Sgt Eddy Coates had arrived on October 24th from 14 OTU, and Sgt Harvey Duke was posted here on October 31st after spending a month at RAF Skipton a few miles away.

Sergeant Eddy Cox and his crew arrived at the station from 22 OTU on November 4th. In a letter home to his wife on November 24th, Joe Patterson the navigator, named their crew as including, RAF Sgt Francis Allen bomb aimer, RAF Sgt W Dimmick air gunner, and their wireless operator, RCAF Sgt Amos Kimmerly. Amos (Walter) Kimmerly was apparently away on a course when his crewmates took off on their final mission. At this time it is not clear who their other regular air gunner was.

Three Wellington IIIs arrived to add to the squadron's strength on November 11th and another on the 12th.

The first 70 parachutes were collected from RAF Lindholme on 15th November, and the first flights by three aircraft took place on the 17th.  All those three Wellingtons were found to need general re-adjustments.

The first squadron night training flights by two aircraft took place on November 22nd.


An RCAF Wellington being loaded with a 4000lb cookie.

The winter weather in the exposed areas of North Yorkshire can be pretty inhospitable. Topcliffe's wind-swept airfield, at a time when there were no overseas operations, would have have had a negative effect on moral.

For most recently arrived Canadians, eager to see action, it would have been dull, and mind-numbing.

The weather in late 1942 was typical for that time of year, low cloud, strong winds and rain.

Joe Patterson in a letter home to his wife on November 27th, wrote - My beloved, For the longest time no word has reached me from you but for the last few days things have looked up somewhat. In the short space of a week, three letters and two air letters have arrived; dates Oct 14-16-23 and Oct 19 and 21 respectively.

Despite their tardiness, due to excess airmail, they have made me a happier and more contented man. One loses all pleasure in life when the days are tinged with anxiety.

This countryside is not very conductive to ones well being at this season. The cold grey sky never changes from day to day – every day it seems more like the walls and ceiling of a prison than a sky than can be beautiful – if the elements could only get together.

On 5th December six crews were briefed for a "Bullseye" operation on Leeds. Unfortunately Squadron records do not name the skippers involved.

A Bullseye simulation exercise included an entire bombing run onto a “enemy” target. These targets were English cities which responded with searchlight and other defensive measures short of firing flak. This was often a dangerous exercise as the flight times were long, often with routes taking the aircraft far over the channel and back, in the dark and with other aircraft in the air.

On this occasion, take off was at 01.30hrs on 6th December, flying between 8000 and 13000 ft. The operation was judged to have been more or less successful. The pilots reported the searchlights as effective and the experience a valuable one. The majority of crews took evasive action when coned by the searchlights, and no fighters were encountered. All aircraft returned to base safely at 05.00hrs.

During the period before mid January, when, because of the squadron's unreadiness, and shortage of serviceable aircraft, no overseas operations took place, aircrew personel were kept active with parachute and dinghy drills, lectures, and station defence exercises. Difficulty was experienced with getting everyone to their posts in the event of an enemy raid, due to the distance between some sleeping quarters and the airfield.

Christmas day foggy all day. Thick in late evening. Crews reported for duty but pleased there was no flying. Celebrations on Christmas Eve night.

Officers mess entertained Sergeants at 11.00hrs. The mess was well decorated. As 424 squadron is at present the only complete squadron on this station, most were from 424.

At 11.30 all officers proceeded to the Sergeants Mess under the supervision of the sergeants where they were well entertained.

At 12.30 sergeants and officers marched to the airmans mess and proceeded to serve dinner. The mess was nicely decorated and the dinner excellent.

At 13.45 the officers marched back to their own mess for dinner. After dinner Christmas celebrations were resumed and carried on till the early hours of the next day.

There were many remembrances of home and of Canada, and as Group Captain B F Johnson said in his brief talk, it was hoped that when next Christmas came along we would all be back in our native land.

Boxing Day Thick fog all day again. Only routine work carried out. Most sent home at 1400 hrs.

A party held at the Officers Mess  for the children of Officers and airmen. All concerned had a good time.

On December 29th the weather was partly cloudy with snow showers but good visibility. 13 aircraft were detailed on a raid exercise over the coast. Take off was scheduled at 11.35am and all were in the air by 11.43. They returned at 3 minute intervals an hour later. Due to unfavourable weather there was no night flying.

December 30th - snow fell all day. Four airmen from maintenance were detailed to sweep and clear runways and navigation lights.

On December 31st the Squadron now recorded 19 aircraft on its strength, with 122 aircrew, of whom 89 were RCAF. Ground crew totalled 289, and 96 of those were Canadians.

On January 5th the weather was generally overcast and foggy with occasional light snow. The last of the dinghys were fitted to the aircraft after some delays in the supply of their flare cartridges.

It was also reported that there was a decrease in the Wellingtons' engine problems and that the maintenance crews were improving. 35 RCAF much needed groundcrew (electricians, engine fitters etc.) arrived at Topcliffe that day, while bad weather caused all flying to be cancelled.

On January 8th there was no flying because of the gradually deteriorating visibility. Aircrew spent the morning having sun-lamp treatment, followed by parachute and dinghy drill. Vitamin tablets were issued. In the afternoon all aircrew, led by their C.O, Wing Commander Carscallen, cleared snow off the runways until 17.30hrs.

On January 9th aircrew reported to Station Sick Quarters for more sun-lamp treatment. This was followed by dinghy drill.

The Squadron hockey team journeyed to Durham to play against 425 Squadron. They lost 3-1.

January 11th was when all section leaders reported that their respective personnel were 'ready, fit and anxious to start on operations at once.'

The Squadron Engineer Officer, RCAF F/Lt T.S Bartlett, stated that he could now keep 12 aircraft operationally serviceable daily. That meeting also reported that 5 crews were completely ready and 'genned up'.

On January 15th, following two days when planned ops' were cancelled due to poor weather conditions, the weather was fair to cloudy with moderate visibilty.

The squadron was notified to detail 5 crews for operations that night. The target was the German UBoat base at Lorient in Northern France and 157 aircraft from Bomber Command took part.

All aircraft from RAF Topcliffe were airborne at 16.55hrs. The crews encountered light flak over the target area. Pilots on this raid were which was led by S/Ldr W.E Allison in X1674, with their C.O, Wing/Cmdr H.M Carscallen, as co-pilot, were Sgt P. G Heden in X3401, P/O C.F Amies in X3409, F/Lt W.C Klassen in BK398, P/O L N Brown in X3789.

The only member of Eddy Cox's crew taking part in this raid was their gunner, Sgt Dimmick, who flew with P/O Brown in X3789.

On the outward trip X1674's crew encountered a German  Fw 190 and the rear gunner fired one burst seeing them hit the fighter bomber's fuselage before it vanished into the clouds.

X1674 reached and bombed the target at 20.02hrs.

After all aircraft had successfully carried out their bombing, large fires were visible 75 miles away. At least 800 buildings were destroyed and 12 civilians killed. Most of the inhabitants had fortunately fled the town the previous day.

Bomber Command lost 2 aircraft on that raid. One of those was Wellington BK364 from RCAF 427 Squadron, based at RAF Croft, and piloted by S/Ldr M.A.L Williams, which crashed in the target area with the loss of all its crew. They were also on that squadron's first overseas operation.

 

 

On January 21st the Squadron was briefed to detail 5 aircraft for mine-laying duties in the Fresian Islands area. Airborne at 1700hrs their mines were laid from at an average height of 650ft. After encountering ineffectual fire from flak ships, all aircraft returned safely to base.

On that same night, ten of the Squadron's sergeant pilots were detailed to report to 419 Squadron at RAF Middleton St. George to go on operations that evening as 2nd pilots. They are not named but this was probably Sgt Eddy Cox's first mission.

6 Group lost 3 Wellingtons and crews on the mine-laying mission that night, and one of those was BJ966 from 420 Squadron at Middleton St George, the first all Canadian crew to perish.

The mission on the evening of January 26th was a return trip by 12 of the Squadron's aircraft to bomb Lorient in Northern France. The only member of Eddy Cox's crew on this mission was Sgt W Dimmick who flew as the gunner in Z1691, piloted by Sgt L.W Forbes.

The first aircraft took off at 17.12hrs and within 6 minutes all 12 were in the air.

Numerous fires were seen in the target area and also a number of dummy fires. Most of the crews reported that their bombs dropped on target.

One of the Wellingtons was hit by flak which resulted in damage to its hydraulics and caused loss of elevators, rudder and trim. After dropping the bomb-load it limped back to the UK and crash-landed at RAF Boscombe Down. Another aircraft had around 6ft of fabric blown off its fuselage.

One aircraft failed to return. BJ714 piloted by Sgt Vernon McHargh, with an all-Canadian crew, on its 2nd operational mission, crashed at Ereac, 8kms SW of Broons in France. Three of the crew, including the pilot, died, and three were taken prisoner.

28th January In the afternoon the squadron hockey team, with quite a number of loyal supporters, took the train to Durham where they played against 410 Squadron. This game ended with a glorious victory for the Squadron, our boys winning by the score of 7 to 1.

Several teams had forfeited games, and that victory placed 424 Squadron at the head of the league. The team and its supporters returned to Topcliffe at 21.00hrs tired but happy.

On 29th January the target was the Lorient docks area. 12 aircraft took off at 16.30hrs and were expected to be over Lorient around 20.30 . The weather was bad at the start, with almost nil visibility and did not improve all the way to Brittany. One aircraft reported snow at 14,000ft and icing at 11,000ft.

Over the target, cloud was 10/10. It was impossible to obtain a visual fix, and the crews had to rely on their "Gee" equipment. One aircraft reported snow at 14,000ft and icing at 11,000ft. Over the target, cloud was 10/10, and it was impossible to obtain a visual fix, the crews having to rely on their "Gee" equipment.

Several of the Wellingtons developed engine trouble. One aircraft "L", piloted by RCAF Sgt Dugas, jettisoned its bomb load only 48 minutes after take-off because his engines would not develop sufficient boost.

RCAF Sgt Robert Buie, piloting BK436 "P", found himself in trouble over the target. After dropping its bomb load the aircraft had to do an evasive turn and then it was found that the radio was not working, its "Gee" unserviceable, the engines stalled, and the bomber was spinning out of control. Added to that, the pilot's escape hatch had flown open, and the cabin door twisted off its hinges. Rain and snow came into the cockpit and the pilot was unable to close the hatch.

When he managed to pull out of the spin at 7000ft, the navigator, P/O K C E Wade, came up to the front and saw the pilot's face covered with blood and dirt, and almost froze his fingers while trying unsuccessfully to close the hatch.

The aircraft appears to have been hit by anti-aircraft fire as there was only around 50 gallons of fuel in the tanks.

By gradually reducing height, and with the aid of a tail wind, the Wellington headed homewards and crossed the English coast at 2000ft. Because of the lack of fuel the pilot took the aircraft up to 5000ft and ordered the crew to bail out. All parachuted to safety and BK436 crashed and burst into flames at Winterslow, a few miles from Salisbury. Although none of the crew were badly hurt, Pilot Officer Wade had bruising and a black eye, and Sgt Buie was admitted to hospital suffering from mild concussion. RCAF Sgt Robert Montague Buie lost his life when he was the pilot of Wellington HE159 which crashed in Kent on 11th April 1943. Eddy Cox's crewmate, Sgt Amos Kimmerly, was the wireless operator who also died in the crash.

Another Wellington, X3426 "D", piloted by Sgt Eddy Cox, jettisoned 2 x 1000lb bombs and 3 x 500lb bombs due to engine failure. The port motor had cut out on leaving the English coast and failed completely after crossing France. This aircraft turned back at once, the captain coming to the conclusion that he would be unable to reach the target under those conditions. His crew were not named on surviving records, but we would assume that Joe Patterson was the navigator, and Francis Allen the bomb-aimer.

On this operation Harvey Duke flew with Sgt Duffield's crew. Sgt Duffield's Wellington was attacked by a twin-engined enemy aircraft at 20.18hrs while flying at 13,000ft. Four attempts were made on the bomber, three from the port side, and one from starboard.

On each occasion the rear gunner, Sgt Paddock, fired a 2 second burst. The last burst, fired from 200 yards, was seen entering the nose of the enemy fighter.

On their return journey they were stalked by two enemy aircraft, one of which attempted an attack from starboard. Evasive action was taken by the pilot and the enemy was shaken off. A second attack was made and the reaction repeated.

A few minutes later three enemy aircraft circling above them were joined by two more but fortunately no attempt was made to attack. They followed our aircraft homewards and gradually dropped off one by one.

On arrival at the English coast west of Bridport, in Dorset, one of the enemy aircraft followed the Wellington for a further five miles inland before turning back.

It appears that Harvey Duke had an eventful trip!

 

On January 30th two aircraft were detailed for moling operations at Oldenburg with the object of joining other aircraft to cause widespread interference throughout Germany and upset the effect of radio announcements due to be made by Goebbels and Goring.

Joseph Goebbels and head of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goering planned to give radio addresses to the German masses. Goebbels intended to bolster morale by hailing an impending victory in Russia: “A thousand years hence, every German will speak with awe of Stalingrad and remember that it was there that Germany put the seal on her victory.” As the speeches were broadcast, RAF aircraft rained bombs on Berlin.

Aircraft "R" piloted by S/Ldr W. E Allison, and aircraft "W" piloted by F/Lt W.C Klassen, bombed their targets and returned safely to base. During their return trip a small flak ship was seen off Nordeney.

 

Eddy Cox's second 'op' was on February 4th 1943, when he took off at 18.31hrs in Wellington DF 621 "O", and 11 other aircraft, with a mission to bomb Lorient in Northern France. His crew on that occasion was, F/O Joseph Patterson - navigator, Sgt Francis J Allen - bomb-aimer, Sgt Eddy D Coates - wireless operator, Sgt W Dimmick - air-gunner, and Sgt M G Anderson - air-gunner. They arrived at the target at 22.22hrs, released their 4000lb bomb from 13,000ft, and returned to base without incident.

On that night,128 aircraft of Royal Air Force Bomber Command participated in the raid. 68 of the bombers were from No.6 Group.

One Wellington lost was 427 Squadron's BJ668 from RAF Croft in County Durham. It crashed 4 km from Lorient and four of the crew were killed and one taken prisoner.

 

Vertical aerial photograph taken from an aircraft of 427 Squadron RCAF during a major night raid by a mixed force of 128 aircraft on the German submarine base at Lorient, France on February 4th 1943. Sticks of incendiary bombs are burning among port installations at La Perriere and on Ile St Michel, and smoke is drifting from well-established fires, (upper left). A photoflash bomb (top right) from the aircraft clearly illuminates the concrete U-boat pens and radial slips turntable at Keroman (lower centre), and also two Vickers Wellingtons in the target area. © IWM (C 3387)

 

February 6th. The aircraft on this mission was Wellington BJ658 and Pilot Officer Eddy Cox had only two of his regular crew aboard, his navigator RCAF F/O Joe Patterson, and bomb-aimer, RAF Sgt Francis Allen.

We know that wireless operator Sgt Amos Kimmerly was away on a course and replaced by Sgt Eddy Coates, and the gunner RAF Sgt W Dimmick, by Yorkshireman, RAF Sgt Alfred Booth.

Take off was at 17.22 and their mission was a gardening (minelaying) flight, dropping vegetables (mines) in the Nectarine region, an area to the north of the Dutch Frisian Islands.

On this occasion visibility was poor due to low cloud at 1700ft.

Laying the two 200lb mines required the Wellington to drop down to around 600ft. There are no official reports about how BJ 658 was lost, and there were no reports of enemy fighter activity from the other four returning Wellington crews.

A returning crew a week earlier, had however, recorded a small German flak ship positioned close to Nordeney.

There is a strong possibility that the aircraft crashed into the sea near the island of Nordeney as the body of Eddy Coates was washed ashore there the next morning.

Eddy Cox's body was also recovered on the same island 10 months later. Identification was at first difficult as the Red Cross had him listed as an officer. At the time of his death he was apparently still wearing sergeant's stripes having only a short time before been commissioned, and was later found to be carrying the recently issued pilot officer's badges in his pockets.

Alfred Booth's body was recovered near the port of Bremerhaven in Germany. He was first buried at Geestemunde Cemetery, near Bremerhaven, on March 3rd 1943, but exhumed and reinterred at Becklington British Cemetery, at Soltau, in November 1946.

Joe Patterson and Francis Allen have no known graves and are commorated on the RAF memorial at Runnymede, a few miles from Windsor Castle.

At 9.30am on February 7th, two aircraft from 424  Squadron, DF621 piloted by F/Lt W.C Klassen, and DF618 with P/O C.F Amies and his crew, took off with two other 6 Group Wellingtons, to carry out a dinghy search of the area where Eddy Cox's bomber was believed to have gone down.

They returned to base at around 3pm with nothing to report.

That evening at 6.25pm, seven aircraft took of to again bomb the Uboat base at Lorient.

All returned safely and undamaged except for BK435 "U" for Uncle, piloted by Sgt D.F.G Parker. He was forced to make an emergency landing at another airfield, RAF Moreton Vallance near Gloucester, having sustained flak damage over the target area. The Wellington was found to have a damaged bomb bay door, a hole in its tail-plane, and a slightly chewed up incendaries container still stuck in the bomb bay.

The remainder of February saw the Squadron, on bombing raids to Lorient, Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg and Cologne, and the usual mine-laying around the Fresian Islands area.

 

Amos Walter Kimmerly was born at Napanee Ontario on July 21st 1921. Walter's father was Arthur Stinson Kimmerly (1892-1970), a third generation grocery store keeper, and an extensive land owner, from Napanee, Ontario who had married Frances Kathleen Donnelly in 1919. They had four children, Mary (1920), Amos Walter (1921) Barbara, and Arthur (1928). 

Arthur Stinson Kimmerly was a town councilor for many years and served as Mayor from 1932-33.

Before enlisting in the RCAF at Kingston, Ontario in December 1940, Walter had worked as a clerk for his father for 2 years. After wireless operator and gunnery training he received his sergeant's stripes and wings in May 1942. He was then posted to the UK arriving at Bournemouth Overseas reception camp on 13 July. More gunnery and radio op. training followed at 9 AFU and then on 18th August a posting to 22 OTU for aircrew training.

He was posted to 424 Squadron on November 4th as a member of Sgt Eddy Cox's crew.

Walter was away from Topcliffe attending an instruction course when his crewmates in Wellington BJ658 were lost on February 6th.

Walter's first operation, with a different crew, was in Wellington DF621 piloted by F/Sgt L W Forbes. On the night of 13th/14th February 1943 the crew of this aircraft were undertaking an operational flight to bomb Lorient. They took off from Topcliffe at 17.37hrs, and dropped their bomb-load on the third run over the target at 21.00hrs. On the return to base the aircraft collided with another (an unidentified aircraft) over York at 00.34hrs. The other aircraft appeared directly in front of DF621 but managed to avoid a head-on collision and passed over its top. The 424 Squadron bomber sustained damage to the front turret and control was initially lost and the aircraft went into a spin. F/Sgt Forbes then ordered his crew to bale out and two, the bomb-aimer Sgt Duncan, and one of the gunners, Sgt Jack MacGillivary, complied. The pilot however then managed to regain control and went on to make a safe landing at Topcliffe at 01.01hrs.

Walter was not so fortunate on his next mission. He was killed on 11th April 1943 flying Ops to Frankfurt in Wellington HE159, piloted by 21 year old Sergeant Robert Buie who was on his 13th operation. The aircraft was on the outwards leg of the flight when it developed engine problems. It was turned back to base but crashed near Rolvenden, Kent. Only Flight Sergeant Art Lees, the rear gunner, parachuted to safety. Walter Kimmerly is buried at Maidstone Cemetery, in Kent.

 

By the end of April 1943, 424 had bombed Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Bochum, Hamburg, Cologne, Essen, and took part in a third trip to Duisburg, Germany, on the 26th of April.


No. 231 Wing  at Kairouan in June 1943.

On 3 April 1943, the British Air Ministry had asked the Canadian Government to approve the use of three experienced Wellington RCAF squadrons for the invasion of Sicily, named Operation Husky.

On 10 April, 420, 424 and 425 Squadrons were selected to become part of No. 205 [RAF] Group, 331 Wing, flying new Wellington Mk. X bombers tropicalized for use in the heat, sand, and frequent dust storms of Tunisia. The main changes for operation in the desert were sand filters in the carburetor intakes and larger 1,675 hp Bristol Hercules engines. These air cooled radial engines were much preferred over the liquid cooled Merlin engines, in Wellington II's and Halifaxes that were also used in this theatre, which would often overheat and were more affected by dusty conditions. The tropicalized Wellington Mark X were also slightly lighter than the Mark III with an empty weight of 26,325 lbs and when fully loaded was 31,200 lbs. Another quality of the Mark X was its improved performance over other marks to fly on one engine which aided many crews to return to base over the Mediterranean.

On May 3, 1943 424 moved to nearby RAF Dalton to re-equip with Wellington B.Mk.X aircraft, and prepare for a transfer to North Africa, with No. 331 (RCAF) Medium Bomber Wing.

No.331 Wing was officially formed on 7 May 1943, under the command of Group Captain Clarence Larry Dunlap, a regular RCAF officer.

In May 16th, 424 Squadron was posted to Kairouan in North Africa, to take part in the invasion of Italy.

The Italian Campaign. On May 16th, 1943 all No. 424 Squadron, Ground Crew and Support Personnel embarked from England, by sea to Algeria. Accompanying the aircrews were some ground crew flying as passengers.

They arrived at Algiers on May 24th,1943 and 424 was held there for two weeks while the airfield at Pavillier, Kairouan Province, Tunisia, was constructed and fitted out.

Their new aircraft,Wellington B. Mk.X, left RAF Dalton, near Topcliffe, on 5th June 1943. They refuelled in southwest England and Gibraltar and arrived safely in Algeria on June 8th 1943.

Earlier, on June 1st, two of the other RCAF squadrons were not quite so fortunate. They were attacked whilst in transit to Algiers over the Bay of Biscay and two aircraft from 420 Squadron and one from 425 were shot down.

Most ground personnel travelled by rail and road convoy to the airfield at Pavillier which was located about 25 km southwest of the city of Kairouan, Tunisia.

424 Squadron was declared operational at Pavillier on June 26th, 1943, where they remained until moving to Hani East airfield, Karouan, Tunisia, on September 30th,1943.

They were based at Kairoun, Pavillier, a rough and primitive airstrip scraped out of scrubby unused olive groves. The ‘Order of Battle’ for No. 331 (RCAF) Wing in North Africa consisted of four phases:

1. June 26th to July 9th, 1943: Pre-invasion bombing of targets in Sicily.

2. July 10th, to August 17th, 1943: Support of Allied Ground Forces in Sicily.

3. August 18th to September 2nd, 1943: Pre-invasion bombing of targets in Italy.

4. September 3rd, to October 6th, 1943: Support of Allied Ground Forces in Italy.

"Kairoun was the headquarters for 205 Group. Conditions were spartan. All personnel were accommodated and messed in tents and the men had to often scrounge for all variety of life's "essentials" such as bed frames, cooking/heating stoves, and latrine construction materials.

Meals were often supplemented by local produce, meats and even wild desert lilies.

Flies, scorpions and snakes were in abundance and there was a good chance of contracting malaria, dysentry, jaundice (hepatitis) and "gypy tummy". Temperatures ranged from below freezing to over 120 F.

When it was dry, strong desert winds would blow down tents and cause zero visibility sand storms. Sand and dust would fill every crack and orifice and make breathing and eating difficult. Often rains turned the rudimentary landing strips and surrounding tent cities into a sea of sticky mud.

Through all of this the bombers had to be maintained in the open. This was a ground crew's nightmare. But somehow the ground crews and aircrews were able to continue their jobs. In fact the serviceability of the aircraft was often extremely high considering there would be stretches of ops every night for more than a week straight. A testament to the quality and efforts of the ground crews."

The majority of the operational bombing missions carried out by No. 331 Wing were ‘nocturnal’, over the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily and Italy, and with no fighter escort.

Navigation to targets, and in particular the return flight to bases in Tunisia, was extremely difficult and hazardous. Aircraft of No. 331 Wing bombed targets in Italy as far north as Grosseto, on the Tyrrhenian Sea half-way between Rome and Pisa, and dropped leaflets on the city of Rome itself – all missions at maximum rangeWhile flying with 205 Group the three RCAF squadrons (420, 424, and 425) flew 2127 sorties and unloaded just over 3745 tons of bombs. Their bombers also dropped around ten million leaflets. 

63 Canadians serving with RCAF squadrons lost their lives between May 14 and August 27, 1943.

The last mission of 331 (RCAF) Wing was on 5 October 1943 when twenty-one ‘Wellington’ B.Mk.X aircraft of 424 and 425 Squadrons bombed the airfield at Grosseto, Italy, half-way between Rome and Pisa.

Back to Yorkshire. On 6 November 1943, 424 Squadron returned to Yorkshire, and was posted to No. 63 RCAF base Skipton-on-Swale, only a few miles from Topcliffe, arriving in time for yet another Yorkshire winter, and issued with Halifax Mk. III bombers.


Skipton-on-Swale, a satellite station which housed (at various times) 420, 432, 433, and 424 Squadrons.

"Skipton was 'inconvenient and unattractive,' with only 'ordinary fence-line hedges and a few scattered trees' to relieve the barrenness of row upon row of 'black and dingy brown' Nissen huts. The airmen's showers were a mile from their billets, the officers' mess was bleak, and the YMCA's Canada House, meant to be a refuge, required airmen to pull old socks over their boots to protect the highly polished wooden floor, a regulation that deterred many from going.

The kitchens had no steam tables, so the cooks had to prepare several sittings or serve food that was tepid or cold, and recreational facilities were entirely lacking until a sports officer was appointed in May 1944. A number of pubs were reasonably close by, but breweries would not deliver to the station messes because they were so isolated. Perhaps more important, there was no bus service to Skipton, so servicemen returning from leave or a night on the town in York had to make their own way to the base from the railway station at Topcliffe, one-and-a-half miles distant, or that at Thirsk, just over three miles away." 

424 Squadron's Halifax HX318 taking off from Skipton

 

424 Squadron flew its Halifaxs in the night offensive aganst Germany for just over a year until, in January 1945, it was re-equipped with Lancaster Mk Is and Mk IIIs. It flew its final mission in April 1945.

After that time 424 flew on operations repatriating POWs from Europe before disbanding at Skipton on 15 October 1945.

At the start of the Second World War, the RCAF had 4,061 personnel, 23 under-equipped and under-strength squadrons, and only 270 aircraft — two-thirds of which were obsolete.

By 1945, the RCAF was the fourth largest air force in the world and had supported three large missions during the war.


A 424 Squadron Lancaster.

 The RCAF reached its maximum size of 215,200 personnel (including more than 15,000 members of the Women’s Division) in January 1944. About 249,600 men and women served in the RCAF during the war; 17,034 personnel died on operations, in training or while prisoners of war, including 28 women and 1,066 groundcrew.

 

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