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No. 46 Squadron RAF

No. 46 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force was formed in 1916, and has been disbanded and reformed three times before its last disbandment in 1975. It served in both World War I and World War II.

The Squadron's Association is unique in having held annual Reunions Dinners continuously since 1917. The 91st Reunion will be held in the Officers' Mess, RAF Lyneham on Saturday 6 June 2009.

History

World War I

No 46 Squadron was formed at RAF Wyton on 19 April 1916 from a nucleus trained in No. 2 Reserve Squadron and moved to France in October 1916 equipped with Nieuport 2-seaters.

The Squadron undertook artillery co-operation, photography and reconnaissance operations until May 1917, when it took on a more offensive role after re-arming with the Sopwith Pup.

The change from a corps to a fighter squadron came at a moment when Allied air superiority was being seriously challenged by Germans, in particular by the introduction of the "circuses" which were formed and led by Manfred von Richthofen (the "Red Baron"). Operating under the 11th Army Wing, the Squadron was intensively engaged and had many combats with the enemy. In July 1917, No 46 Squadron returned to Sutton's Farm (later RAF Hornchurch), Essex for the defence of London, which had been heavily raided by Gotha bombers a short time previously; no enemy aircraft penetrated its patrol area however, and the Squadron returned to France at the end of August.

In addition to offensive patrol work, the Squadron undertook extensive ground strafing and did excellent close support work in the attack on Messines Ridges.

In November 1917, the Squadron was re-equipped with Sopwith Camels and gave valuable assistance to the infantry in the Battle of Cambrai attack. During the closing stages of the War, the Squadron was very active bombing lines of communication and ammunition dumps in the Enemy rear areas. Intensive low-level ground attack work was carried out after the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, the unit suffering high casualties as a result. The Squadron also did excellent work in the German Great Retreat in the few weeks before the signing of the Armistice. In November 1917, Lt, later Major, Donald MacLaren joined the Squadron. His first dogfight was not until February 1918; however, in the 9 remaining months of the War he was credited with shooting down 48 aeroplanes and 6 balloons making him one of the top fighter aces of World War I. Also during 1918 Lt Victor Yeates the author of Winged Victory served in the Squadron. The book is considered one of finest of the first World War. Another famous book written by a 46 Sqn pilot is No Parachute by Capt (later AVM) Arthur Gould Lee.. Both Lee and Yeates served with Captain Cecil (Chaps) Marchant, another ace, who instigated and, for over 40 years, organised the Squadron Reunions.

By November 1918, 46 Squadron had claimed 184 air victories, creating 16 'aces'

Towards the end of January 1919, No 46 Squadron was reduced to a cadre and in February was returned to England early, being finally disbanded on the last day of the year.

1930s

The Squadron was reformed at Kenley under the RAF expansion scheme in 1936 by equipping B flight of No. 17 Squadron RAF as a full squadron. Gloster Gauntlets were the first type to be allocated to the Squadron and with these aircraft normal peacetime training activities were carried out. A future ace and regular Reunion attender, Wg Cdr Bunny Currant joined the Sqn as a sergeant pilot. Notice the aircraft markings

World War II

Norway

The outbreak of war found 46 Squadron at RAF Digby, equipped with Hawker Hurricanes. Action with the enemy came quickly when, at the end of October 1939, Squadron Leader Barwell and Pilot Officer Plummer attached a formation of twelve Heinkel 115s, destroying one each, and scattering the remainder. The next six months were uneventful, consisting in the main of providing air cover for the shipping convoys steaming along the East Coast; a few enemy aircraft were sighted but no contacts were made.

In May 1940, the Squadron was selected to form part of the Expeditionary Force in Norway, which had been invaded by the Germans on 9 April.The Hurricanes were embarked on HMS Glorious and, despite doubts that a Hurricane could take off from a carrier flight deck in a flat calm, they all took off without difficulty thanks to the efforts of the ship's engineers who managed to get the Glorious up to a speed of thirty knots. No 46 Squadron assembled at Bardufoss and began operation on 26 May; patrols were maintained over the land and naval forces at Narvik without respite, some of the pilots going without sleep for more than two days. Conditions on the ground were very basic with poor runways and primitive servicing and repair facilities.

Many air combats took place, and in its brief campaign in Norway the Squadron accounted for no less than fourteen enemy aircraft, besides probably destroying many others. On 7 June the Squadron was ordered to evacuate Norway immediately and, on the night 7/8 June, the Hurricanes were successfully flown back to Glorious - a dangerous procedure as none of the aircraft were fitted with deck arrester hooks.

The ground parties embarked on HMS Vindictive and SS Monarch of Bermuda and reached the UK safely, but the Squadron's aircraft and eight of its pilots were lost when Glorious was sunk by German warships on 9 June 1940. The two pilots who survived were the Squadron Commander Sqn Ldr (later ACM) "Bing" Cross and the Flight Commander, Flt Lt (later Almanzora at the end of the month. The ground crews reached Egypt early in July and, with the Squadron headquarters based at Kilo 17 Fayoum Road, various detachments co-operated in the formation of Maintenance and Repair and Salvage Units.

The Squadron's pilots meanwhile, were operating in the defence of Malta, first as No 46 Squadron, but later being absorbed into No. 126 Squadron RAF They were in action continuously, claiming the destruction of nearly 40 enemy aircraft, 10 of them German and the remainder Italian. The Malta Aviation Museum has restored 46 Sqn Hurricane MkIIA Z3055 which ditched on 4 July 1941. In May 1942, the Squadron moved to Idku and began reforming as a night fighter squadron with Beaufighters for the air defence of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Squadron became operational once again at the end of the month and its main tasks were the interception of enemy reconnaissance and bombing aircraft, principally over Alexandria, and the escort of shipping convoys laden with supplies for Malta. At the end of October, following the 6th Army's advance from El Alamein, No 46 Squadron carried out many highly damaging attacks on the retreating enemy columns in the Mersa Matruh area.

In November 1942, the Squadron was re-organised as a RAF Coastal Command squadron and operated various detachments in Malta andBenghazi to cover particularly important convoys; in addition, ground targets in Africa and Sicily were strafed, and barges, trawlers and other small ships were successfully attacked along the Tripolitanian coast with cannon and machine-gun fire. The New Year found the Squadron preparing to resume its original role as a night fighter unit and, at the end of January, two detachments left Idku, one for Tobruk, and the other for RAF Abu Sueir , by the end of April two more detachments were operating at St Jean (Palastine) and Bu Amud - with the most distant bases nearly 1,000 miles apart, administration of the Squadron became very difficult.

Some out of the ordinary tasks came the Squadron's way. On one occasion, the Bu Amud detachment searched and found a convoy of native troops who were lost in the desert and long overdue; on another, a grounded destroyer was located and given air cover until it could be re-floated. However, the Squadron was not immune from the odd problem (see photo).

April 1943 was of interest when, for the first in the war, a night fighter was controlled from a warship - the Squadron's Signal Officer, Flight Lieutenant Muir, a Canadian, having devised a homing beacon for use on the controlling ship.

In July, with the score of confirmed "kills" for one year's operations in the Middle East standing at 31, the Squadron played an important if unexciting part in the shepherding of the invasion armada sailing for Sicily.

The end of August found a large detachment of No 46 Squadron stationed in Cyprus with the main task of doing night intruder operations over Rhodes. On 14 September, Squadron leader Cuddie, in command of the detachment, landed on the recently seized Dodecanes Island of Kos - the first Allied aircraft to do so; less than three weeks later, however, the Germans invaded and No 46 Squadron lost its CO, Wing Commander GA Reid, whilst bombing and strafing the invasion force.

In the early months of 1944, with detachments operating from Abu Sueir, St Jean and Tocra, night intruder patrols over Rhodes, Cos and Crete formed the backbone of the Squadron’s activities. Many of these patrols bore fruit, for, in February and March, the Squadron claimed the destruction of 5 Junkers Ju52s and the probable destruction of 3 more. April and May were very quiet, despite the dove-tailing of patrols with No. 252 Squadron RAF over the Islands, giving complete coverage from dusk to dawn. The next few months brought better fortune, particularly in September, when the Squadron’s aircraft were controlled by HMS Ulster Queen , a GCI ship, and the score for the month amounted to 11 enemy aircraft destroyed. . On 26 September to 11 October (full moon period) a detachment was established at Gambut and fascinating personal recollection of the detachment by one of the Squadron's pilots is at the Gambut link. This short period was probably one of the most glorious in the Squadron's history with an outstanding record of 16 aircraft destroyed with 1 probable and 4 damaged. No less than 4 Squadron members were decorated for their part:

  • W/O Roy Butler (pilot) DFC (5 planes destroyed)
  • W/O Ray Graham (nav) DFC
  • W/O Denis Hammond (pilot) DFC (3 destroyed damaged)
  • F/Sgt. Harrison (nav) DFM.

A Ju52 destroyed by the detachment on 3 October proved to be the last enemy aircraft destroyed by the Squadron and, with the withdrawal of German forces from Greece almost completed, the Squadron's duty of night fighter defence of Egypt had been discharged.

Stirlings

The Squadron embarked for the UK at the end of December and arrived at RAF Stoney Cross at the beginning of January 1945 and began operation under Transport Command. Equipped with the Short Stirling, the Squadron operated the service to the Far East between Stoney Cross and RAF Arkonam via Poona and between Stoney Cross, and Dum Dum via Palam. With the end of the war in the Far East, the Squadron's flights were first confined to India and the Middle East and then, with Dakotas having replaced the Stirlings at the beginning of 1946, passengers and freight were carried mostly to Rome, Berlin, Warsaw and Vienna.

Post-World War II

Berlin Airlift

The Squadron moved to RAF Manston in October 1946 and to Abingdon in December. From July 1948, the Squadron was almost exclusively engaged on the Berlin Airlift; to begin with, it operated from Wunsdorf carrying food and later from Fassberg and Lubeck carrying coal.

The Squadron returned to RAF Oakington in August 1949 and resumed its normal transport role until it disbanded on 20 February 1950.

Meteors

The Squadron once again re-formed, this time at RAF Odiham on 15 August 1954 as a night fighter squadron equipped with Meteor NF12s and 14s. The early days were affected by shortages of manpower and equipment; although training began almost immediately, it took until the end of October for the Squadron to reach a strength of 12 NF12/14s and one Meteor 7 for training and categorisation.

When Wing Commander Birchfield took over as CO from Squadron Leader Ross, the manpower situation was improving, but MT (Mechanical Transport) shortages caused problems for the Squadron, whose dispersal was on the opposite side of the airfield to the rest of the station.

By June 1955, it was recorded that the Squadron had received "some Meteor 8s for target towing," and that its strength had reached 48 officers and 110 NCO/airmen. By August, when the Squadron went to Acklington for APS (Armament Practice Station), there were 16 aircraft. Squadron members of this period who later distinguished themselves include: John Cook

Javelins

In January 1956, the Squadron began converting to Javelins, and the first Javelin Mk arrived in February together with 8 Meteor NF 11s: the NF 12s were sent off to No. 72 Squadron RAF. By May, all squadron pilots had converted and 15 Javelins were held; 8 of these were earmarked for intensive flying trials whose target was 1000 hours in 2 months - a feat believed by some to be impossible, but achieved in fact by "a wartime spirit." On 15 June, the Squadron lost its CO, Wing Commander Birchfield, in a Javelin crash. He was replaced by Wing Commander H. E. White. Over the years, the Squadron continued to train by participating in many exercises such as Halyard, Cold Wing, Kingpin Adex, Ciano and Bombex, and took part in various trails including those of new pressure suits and helmets. The problem of poor serviceability and lack of spares continued when the Mk 2 Javelins replaced the Mk1s in 1957.

In April 1959, the Squadron sent 6 Javelins to the French Air Force 1/30 Squadron at Tours, whilst the French sent Sud Aviation Vautour aircraft to Odiham. In June the Squadron won the Ingpen Trophy after being 3rd in 1957 and 2nd in 1958. On 30 June 1961, the Squadron disbanded yet again.

Andovers

On 1 September 1966, the Squadron re-formed again, this time at RAF Abingdon as a transport squadron. The first Hawker Siddeley Andover CMk1 aircraft arrived in December and the Squadron was tasked with general freight and passenger flying. Its roles were mainly related to transport support and tactical transport, for which the Andover’s ability to “kneel” - to allow vehicle entry at a shallow angle via the rear ramp – was an asset. Over the years, the Squadron acquired expertise in aero-medical evacuation, STOL, route flying and parachute and 1 ton container drops. It also carried out various trials with voice broadcast and long-range ferry tanks. The latter became a regular item of equipment and enabled the short-range Andover to fly surprisingly long distance, such as Gander to Abingdon direct in under 8 hours 50 minutes in July 1969; by September of that year the “Blue Riband” had been reduced to 8 hours 35 minutes, and, eventually, to well under 8 hours.

The Squadron also took part in various exercises in Libya, Cyprus, the Middle East and Norway, as well as in the UK and Germany. The Squadron won the coveted Lord VC Trophy in 1968 and again in 1971 when it also won the No 14 Air Dispatch Trophy. A number of unusual tasks followed. In July 1968, the Squadron supported Exercise Icy Mountains in Greenland, re-supplying it, and finally recovering the Team. In March 1969, 3 aircraft deployed to Coolidge, Antigua, to help with the Anguillan crisis. The requirement continued, albeit later at a reduced scale, until early 1971 and led to the popular Caribbean Trainers. The Squadron was the first in the RAF to have a German exchange officer, and friendly and useful exchange visits were made between 46 Squadron and LTG 63 at Alhorn and Hone, his, and his successor’s, home bases.

In August 1969, the Squadron first became involved in Northern Ireland – in particular to provide troop and VIP transport from UK.

On 13 October 1969, the Squadron was presented with its Standard by HM King Olav V of Norway in commemoration of the Squadron’s operation with Hawker Hurricanes in Norway in 1940.

In September 1970, the Squadron moved to RAF Thorney Island and began a period of extended world-wide activity. In September, it took part in the large Far-East reinforcement exercise, Bersatu Padu and in 1971 began a two aircraft detachment at Masirah (and added SAR to its many roles). In November 1971 and February 1972, it took part in Exercise Cold Stream with the Italian Air Force at Pisa, and in Exercise Sun Pirate in Puerto Rico, respectively.

Twice a year, the Squadron took part in Exercise MACDROP at RAF Machrihanish, in which Andovers were employed on para dropping with Commandos, the Parachute Regiment and SAS. In January 1974, and again in December, the Squadron sent aircraft to support the Royal Engineers in Exercise Mirza, which were 4 month civil aid programmes whose main task was the construction of bridges in the Sudan.

Finally, the Defence Review in March 1975 announced the impending closure of RAF Thorney Island and the disbandment of the Squadron; an immediate reduction in the number of aircraft and a drastic reduction in flying hours followed. On 31 August 1975 the Standard was laid up in Chichester Cathedral and the Squadron disbanded. A number of Andovers were re-roled to Flight Calibration with No. 115 Squadron RAF at RAF Benson, 2 went to Boscombe Down and one (XS641) was converted to the Photo Reconnaissance role to provide the UK's asset for the Open Skies Treaty. Later 10 Andovers were sold to the Royal New Zealand Air Force

Reunions

The Squadron is unique in the Royal Air Force because it is the only one to have held consecutive reunions since its formation through nearly 90 years of varying fortunes.

Reunions are held annually on the first Saturday in June under the banner of The No 46 Squadron RFC & RAF Association.

The Reunion dinner is held on the Saturday night, normally in an Officers' Mess, with a separate function for the Ladies.

The cost of running the Association is met from a small additional charge on the cost of the dinner and lunch complemented by donations. A separate fund exists to assist members who are in financial difficulty to attend the reunion.

Membership of the Association is open to all who have served on the posted strength of No 46 Squadron; in addition, people who have a close association with the Squadron may also be invited to join. No 46 Squadron Website

Aircraft

Aircraft Operated by No. 46 Squadron from 1916 to 1975
Model Service Dates
Nieuport 12 Apr 1916 - Apr 1917
BE2c Nov 1916 - Apr 1917
BE2e Feb 1917 - Apr 1917
Pup Apr 1917 - Nov 1917
Camel Nov 1917 - Feb 1919
Gauntlet II Sep 1936 - Feb 1939
Hurricane I Feb 1939 - Dec 1940
Hurricane IIA Dec 1940 - May 1941
Hurricane IIC May 1941 - Jun 1941
Beaufigher I May 1942 - Jul 1942
Beaufigher VI May 1942 - Dec 1944
Beaufigher X Apr 1944 - Jul 1944
Mosquito XII Apr 1944 - Jul 1944
Stirling V Feb 1945 - Feb 1946
Dakota III, IV Feb 1946 - Feb 1950
Meteor NF 12 Aug 1954 - Mar 1956
Meteor NF 14 Aug 1954 - Mar 1956
Javelin FAW 1 Mar 1956 - Nov 1957
Javelin FAW 2 Aug 1957 - Jun 1961
Javelin FAW 6 Aug 1958 - Jun 1961
Andover CMk1 Dec 1966 - Aug 1975

Locations

Bases for No. 46 Squadron from formation to disbandment
Location Assignment Dates
RAF Wyton Apr 1916 - Oct 1916
Boisdinghem May 1917 - May 1917
La Gorgue May 1917 - Jul 1917
Bruay Jul 1917 - Jul 1917
Sutton's Farm Jul 1917 - Aug 1917
Ste Marie Cappel Aug 1917 - Sep 1917
(Izel) Le Hameau Sep 1917 - May 1918
Liettres May 1918 - Jun 1918
Serny Jun 1918 - Aug 1918
Poulainville Aug 1918 - Sep 1918
Cappy Sep 1918 - Oct 1918
Athies Oct 1918 - Oct 1918
Busigny Oct 1918 - Nov 1918
Baizieux Nov 1918 - Feb 1919
Rendcomb Feb 1919 - Feb 1919 (disbanded)
Reformed out of 'B' Flt, No 17 Sqn, Kenley 3 Sep 1936.
RAF Kenley Sep 1936 - Nov 1937
RAF Digby Nov 1937 - Nov 1939
RAF Acklington Nov 1939 - Jan 1940
RAF Digby Jan 1940 - May 1940
HMS Glorious May 1940 - May 1940
Skaanland May 1940 - May 1940
Bardufoss May 1940 - Jun 1940
HMS Glorious Jun 1940 - Jun 1940
RAF Digby Jun 1940 - Sep 1940
Stapleford Aerodrome Sep 1940 - Nov 1940
RAF North Weald Nov 1940 - Dec 1940
RAF Digby Dec 1940 - Feb 1941
RAF Church Fenton Feb 1941 - Mar 1941
Sherburn in Elmet Mar 1941 - May 1941
En-route Egypt May 1941 - Jul 1941
Abu Sueir Jul 1941 - Sep 1941
Kilo 40 17 Sep 1941 - May 1942
Idku May 1942 - Dec 1944
RAF Stoney Cross Jan 1945 - Oct 1946
RAF Manston Oct 1946 - Dec 1946
RAF Abingdon Dec 1946 - Aug 1949
RAF Oakington Aug 1949 - Feb 1950 (disbanded)
RAF Odiham Aug 1954 - Jul 1959
RAF Waterbeach Jul 1959 - Jun 1961 (disbanded)
RAF Abingdon Sep 1966 - Sep 1970
RAF Thorney Island Sep 1970 - Aug 1975 (disbanded)

Squadron Commanding Officers

Rank Name Date of Command
Major G. E. Todd April 1916
Major E. L. Conran May 1916
Major L. Dawes May 1916
Major P. Babington July 1916
Major R. H. S. Mealing December 1917
Major A. H. O'Hara-Wood July 1918
Major G. Allen October 1918
Squadron Leader M. F. Calder September 1936
Squadron Leader P. R. Barwell June 1937
Squadron Leader K. B. B. Cross October 1939
Squadron Leader J. R. Maclachlan June 1940
Squadron Leader A. R. Collins October 1940
Squadron Leader L. M. Gaunce October 1940
Squadron Leader A. C. Rabagliati December 1940
Wing Commander G. A. Reid May 1942
Wing Commander T. P. K. Scade October 1943
Wing Commander R. W. Dennison June 1944
Squadron Leader G. E. Robertson August - November 1944
(Temp Command)
Wing Commander B. A. Coventry January 1945
Wing Commander S. G. Baggott December 1945
Wing Commander G. Dutton March 1946
Wing Commander G. Burges July 1946
Squadron Leader E. Moody October 1947
Squadron Leader A. G. Salter April 1948
Squadron Leader A. Reece August 1949
Squadron Leader D. F. C. Ross August 1954
(on re-forming)
Wing Commander F. E. W. Birchfield March 1955
Wing Commander H. E. White June 1956
Wing Commander F. B. Sowrey May 1958
Wing Commander D. B. Wills June 1960
Squadron Leader M. T. Rayson September 1966
(on re-forming)
Squadron Leader J. B. Gratton December 1967
Squadron Leader D. O. Crwys-Williams January 1970
Wing Commander F. A. Mallett February 1971
Wing Commander J. A. Scambler April 1973
Wing Commander S Hitchen March 1975

References

External links

  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/09/05/db0501.xml Wg Cdr "Rusty" MacKenzie]
  • Sqn ldr Ron Wambeek

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