In 1941 experiments began on a depth charge modified to be dropped from the air. After a successful series of tests, the bomb was quickly replaced with the depth charges. (Somewhat later, an operations research group led by Professor Patrick M. S. Blackett discovered setting the charges to explode at a shallow depth improved success). In the same year a number of newer planes being introduced into RAF Bomber Command allowed their older bomber designs to be sent to Coastal Command, including numbers of Vickers Wellingtons. These had much longer range, making them much more effective. The introduction of the Leigh Light in 1942 allowed accurate night attacks, denying U-boats the freedom to recharge their batteries under cover of darkness.
The introduction of the de Havilland Mosquito freed the Bristol Beaufighter for Coastal Command use. The Beaufighter became one of their most effective short-range aircraft, operating with rockets and depth charges against German U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. These planes were also used in attacks on other German shipping, even attacking the German flak boats. Neither the Beau nor its counterpart, Junkers Ju 88, were used for intruder missions against enemy airbases; the havoc on Coastal Command stations, and the disaster to ASW patrol, can only be imagined.
Far more important to Coastal Command were the long range VLR Liberator and Short Sunderland. Continued wrangling with Bomber Command meant it was into 1942 before even a few dozen VLRs were released and much later still before a lonely squadron was posted to Gander Newfoundland, covering the crucial Atlantic choke point and the Mid-Atlantic gap and finally allowing Coastal Command to cover all the North Atlantic. In the middle of 1942, 45 B-17Es were transferred to the RAF, where they served under the designation Fortress IIA. Likely because of the shortcomings of the Fortress I (B-17C), the RAF decided not to use the Fortress IIA as a daylight high-altitude bomber, the role for which it had been designed. Rather, they were transferred to the Coastal Command for anti-submarine patrol. By the start of 1943 the improvement in aircraft, tactics and the introduction of electronic aids such as centimetric radar vastly improved the effectiveness of the Command, and as shipping losses plummeted, the U-Boat kill-rate rose. It was not so much the number sunk as the constant harassment that made the planes effective (in conjunction with direction finding), as submarines were unable to approach to contact in daylight or run in on the surface at night to attack, meaning many convoys were unmolested.
In February 1941, this geographical arrangement was altered with the activation of No. 19 Group. The boundary between No. 18 Group and No. 15 Group was shifted northwards so that it ran along a line heading north west from Cape Wrath and No. 19 Group was made responsible for the southern part of the area formerly under No. 15 Group. In the Irish Sea No. 19 Groups's remit ran south of a line approximately in the middle of Cardigan Bay. In the eastern Atlantic, the boundary ran slightly north of that line.
Further important additions were made to Coastal Command's remit when squadrons based outside the UK were also placed under its control. In November 1940, No. 200 Group at Gibraltar was transferred to the control of Coastal Command, from that of RAF Mediterranean. Apart from a brief period under the operational command of Allied Forces Headquarters during Operation Torch and its aftermath, RAF units in Gibraltar remained under Coastal Command control for the rest of the war. No. 200 Group was raised from Group level to Command level within Coastal Command in December 1941 as RAF Gibraltar, and remained a Command until again reduced to Group level in 1953 as AHQ Gibraltar. With the British occupation of Iceland, RAF units were also based there, and as their work was almost exclusively ASW, Coastal Command again assumed control. At first, No. 30 Wing RAF was the formation controlling units in Iceland. However, in July 1941, No. 30 Wing was raised to Command status as RAF Iceland. The final addition to the clutch of overseas units controlled by Coastal Command was No. 247 Group RAF. In mid-1943, Portugal granted Britain basing rights in the Azores, and ASW aircraft were duly sent there. As with Gibraltar and Iceland, Coastal Command was the controlling authority for the aircraft based there.
During the war Coastal Command flew over 240,000 operations, sunk 212 U-boats and destroyed 478,000 tons of shipping. 1,777 aircraft were lost, with 5,866 personnel killed in action. Whilst the latter figure for the number killed was given in the official History, the Coastal Command & Maritime Air Association gives 10,875 lives lost. It is possible that the former figure may not have included missing personnel, who were later assumed killed, nor those killed who were allied and dominion personnel serving with the RAF.
Four Coastal Command pilots received the Victoria Cross during the war. Flying Officer Kenneth Campbell, Flight Lieutenant David Hornell, and Pilot Officer Lloyd Trigg were killed in action while Flight Lieutenant John Cruickshank survived.
'WE'D SEE A BIG FLASH AND JUST HOPE FOR THE BEST' in the Last of the Heroes in Our Midst Series ABBY ALFORD Talks to Harry Nightingale about His Time as a Radio Operator and Gunner on Halifax Bombers
Nov 13, 2010; Byline: ABBY ALFORD FLYING just 25ft above the waves on night missions off the coast of German-occupied Norway, Harry Nightingale...