© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons


454 RAAF Squadron


William "Bill" Noyce


Service No. 1247676


Bill Noyce, Durban, South Africa 1942


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Information provided by Bill Noyce in a recent letter

February 2006

"Our Anzac Days here in South Australia were very good with a Barbecue at a member's house, in recent years we held them in a band room.  I was a member of the food then, it was the usual pies, pasties, sandwiches, etc and we would have an average of 20 including wives.  This last two years we have had lunch in a Hotel with just 4 members plus wives and daughters.  Also in the March was just Bob Mitchell and myself to represent the Squadron.

 

I'm one of the original members of the Squadron from the day it started to the finish in Northern Italy. 

Below is a copy of the 454 history as compiled by Ken Rimmer (RAF)."


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On the morning of April 2nd 1942, a parade was held in Blackpool, England.  It was by no means the first parade to be held in this city and probably excited little or no comment from civilians who may have witnessed it.  These same civilians could not know they were looking at the chrysalis of a squadron which was one day to emerge as a darting, biting wasp, harassing and following and smashing the Germans on land and sea in far away lands.


It is unlikely, too, that the men parading under F/Sgt. Pollard realized the name that 454 Squadron was to make for itself around the shores of the Mediterranean.  They were British personnel who were going overseas and had no doubt heard rumors of the final disembarkation in the Middle East, about which they had heard many conflicting reports.  Not knowing just what to expect, they sailed from Britain and in the same frame of mind, did actually disembark in Egypt during the last week of June. 1942.


Still as ground personnel of the 454, they were sent to Aquir in Palestine to service the Halifax’s of 76 Squadron (later 462 Squadron RAAF).  After moving to Suez and back Aquir, they were joined by 20 aircrew, the first to arrive on the Squadron.


By November 1942, the 20 aircrew together with 400 ground crew under the command of W/C Campbell were working at last on their aircraft, four Bisley’s, at Al Quayara, 50 miles from Mosul in Iraq.  Later as a complete Squadron, they moved again, but not towards operations as they all so keenly hoped.  At Gianaclis, near Alexandria, they converted to Baltimore’s, an aircraft with, at the time, a most dubious reputation.  With this same type of aircraft, however, they were to fly three totally different types of offensive operations very successfully, and with remarkably few casualties.


From L.G. 91, 25 miles from Alexandria, 454 Squadron flew their first operations with Coastal Command.  On the morning of March 4th, 1943 F/O Baily and crew began the Squadron’s combative life when they went out on an anti-sub patrol.  Leaflet and bombing raids were carried out from here on the island of Crete and anti-submarine patrols provided protection for Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.


April saw them packing up for another move, this time to Gambut where much the same type of work was carried out.  The anti-sub patrols were usually monotonous days seldom relieved by action.  Long hours in cramped positions made it an unenviable job.  It was not always quiet though, as F/O Lewis and crew will readily testify.  Over the Mediterranean one day, they were attacked by two M.E. 109’s.  The triangular dual lasted some 10 minutes, during which time the gunner, F/O Carruthers, gave cool and decisive evasive action and F/O Lewis flew skillfully to put his aircraft in a position from which the gun turret could be brought to bear.  This combination resulted in one M.E. 109 being destroyed.  The pilot, F/O Lewis, received the D.F.C. for this action.


Leaflet raids were a most unsatisfactory job for crews keen for action. Being particularly brassed off, one led by F/O Parkin, an identity on the Squadron, leading a box of four Baltimore’s on such a raid on Crete, dropped beer bottles (quite empty) with his leaflets.  This received a mention on the Berlin radio at the time.


On July 1st, the Squadron suffered its first loss on operations when Sgt. King and crew failed to return from a mission.  Three weeks later a formation of eight Baltimore’s, lead by S/L Folkard (RAF), attacked Crete at 500ft in daylight.  Meeting intense flak, five aircraft were shot down over the target.  A sixth badly shot up, remained in the air only long enough to ditch off the coast near Derna.  The pilot, F/Sgt. Ackurst, was badly injured and was later awarded the first D.F.M. on the squadron.  Only two aircraft landed on the home strip, both with numerous bullet holes.  This catastrophe left the squadron practically without aircraft and they returned to L.G. 91 where new aircraft were obtained, and reconnaissance trips extended to long-range.


At the same time, a detachment was operating on anti-sub patrols from St. Jean in Palestine.  In October 1943, the main part of the squadron moved to join the detachment at St. Jean.  At this time, W/Cdr. J.G. Coats, D.F.C., assumed command of the squadron in place of W/Cdr. Campbell.  One month was spent at this temporary base and recces were carried out from there over the Aegean Sea.


The next move of this ever-mobile squadron was to Benghazi, where the work of

Long-range recces were resumed.  It was here that another dark period settled over the squadron when three aircraft were lost in ten days, these being the first losses on reconnaissance work.  There was an air of mystery surrounding these losses at the time, since now reports of sightings on enemy shipping were being wirelessed back and the patrol area was out of range of enemy fighters.  The probable answer was provided, however, when FG/O Ryleton returned with his aircraft badly shot up and his gunner wounded.  He had been intercepted by four M.E. 109’s carrying long-range fuel tanks, a circumstance hitherto unknown in this theatre.  F/O Ryleton was later awarded the D.F.C..


In April, 1944, W/Cdr. Moore, who had joined the Squadron as a Flying Officer at Gambut, became C/O.  W/Cdr. Coates, who left at the time, had been a most popular C/O with everyone on the squadron.  He has always been remembered for his naturally friendly air, his efficiency and his keen interest in all personnel.


About this time, formation bombing on targets in Greece and Crete commenced in addition to the recces still carried out.


June 1st, 1944 stands out as one of the big days in the history of 454.  It was on that day a Wellington made a sighting of a large German convoy steaming towards Crete.  454 Squadron shadowed this convoy until nearing Crete.  They joined with S.A.A.F. and R.A.F. squadrons in an attack, which resulted in the sinking of every ship sighted.  F/O Scott, a navigator, was awarded a D.F.C. for his part in this action.


Shortly afterwards, 454 was withdrawn from Coastal Command and transferred to the Desert Air Force.  The Squadron moved to Italy and on July 25th, its first flight of aircraft landed at Pescars.  Here they began a totally different type of work, bing engaged in light bomber formation attacks in support of the Eighth Army.


On 23rd August, the first box of six aircraft led by S/L Cashmore attacking Russi with 223 Squadron, began a period of operations, which were to win the praise and thanks of all the 8th Army.  Targets were at first close to the bomb-line.  Sometimes aircraft from 12,000ft. bombed targets only 800 yards ahead of our own troops.


Shortly after arriving at Pescara another move was made, this time to Falconara, near Ancona.  Operations were flown from here to targets as far as Yugoslavia and Pola, the latter being one of the most heavily defended targets in Italy.  For the most part, however, attacks were made in close support of the 8th Army’s drive on Rimini.


Life at Falconara was particularly grim.  To those who have never worked in it, the mud was unbelievable.  Tents, which served as living quarters, sick quarters, stores and operations rooms, were surrounded by it.  Not just ordinary mud, but often semi-liquid ooze 18” deep.  On the drome, the only comparatively mud less area was the metal landing strip.  Aircraft were parked in thick clinging mud which covered ground crews as they crawled around their mud be-splattered Baltimore’s, trying in a sea of mud to keep the oily grime from the vital parts of their beloved (and accursed) planes.  And they did it.


The armourers worked like muddy beavers bombing up 12 aircraft twice a day.  Bombs of 250 lbs., had to be rolled for distances up to 150 yards through this oozing soil and then, caked with the slippery stuff, had to be man-handled onto the aircraft.  In spite of all this, never once was an aircraft late on a raid because of late arming by ground crews.


In November, W/Cdr. Henderson replaced W/Cdr. Moore as C/O of 454.


By December, the Army had advanced almost to Ravenna and two weeks before Christmas 1944, the Squadron moved north again to Cesenatico, between Rimini and Ravenna.  At this time, 253 Wing, comprised of 454 (RAAF), 15 (SAAF) and 500 (RAF) Squadrons, was the most forward bomber wing in the Italian theatre.  15 miles north gunfire was heard, barrages felt through the trembling ground and at night the sky was lit as the Hun strived vainly to retake Ravenna with his heavy guns and Panzer Divisions.   Long-range targets, Cervignamo, Castigliano and Castel Franco Veneto all receiving special attention.  At this time, words were written to be sung to the tune of the “Riff” song, depicting the spirit of 454 Squadron:


“Ho, Cast your eye toward the blue sky

Ho, up on high you’ll see us flying

O’er for we are out on a raid

No, by flak will not be dismayed.

Ho, devastation in formation

So, to your guns you Huns

Yes, man your stations

For the eagles up in the blue

Are out to strike hard and true

We’re 454”


After the mud of Falconara, Cesenatico was paradise.  The first layer of sandy, grass-covered soil was frozen, so there was not even dust to worry the men.  Light snow fell occasionally and though the weather was undoubtedly cold, each tent had a “home” heater fuelled by high-octane aviation spirit and at least clothing could be kept dry.  Flying at high altitudes at this time, extremely cold temperatures were experienced, the coldest being 40 degs below freezing.  Aircraft heaters were petrol driven.


Operations ceased in January while a conversion was made to night intruder work.  For six weeks crews who had been flying formation in daylight at 12,000ft, had to change over flying alone at night at all heights from deck level to 6,000ft.  In this type of work a great deal of scope was given to crews.  They chose their own targets within limits, flew at the heights they favoured and strafed and bombed as they wished.


On the night of 6th March 1945, six aircraft of the Squadron took off on VHF bombing, leaflet and recce raids.  This was the beginning of the last operational phase of 454 Squadron.  From then up to the collapse of the German Army in Italy, the night intruders swept the skies over the PO Valley searching the ground for any movement of barges or motor transport.  Night photographs were taken, VHF bombing carried out and the Hun generally harassed and morale-shaken by the tracer and illuminating pyrotechnics spewed from the black skies.


On all of these operations three crews were lost, F/O Duffy and WE/O Evans failing to return one night, and Sgt. Lister (RAF) was reported missing one week later.


Two outstanding performances of coolness and skill were those of W/O Holmes, later P/O, who was awarded the D.F.C. and W/O Hogan.


W/O Holmes was shot up two nights in succession, the second night returning on one engine at 300ft over two hundred miles of enemy territory.


W/O Hogan’s aircraft was holed in over 150 places, his starboard engine ceased to function but could not be feathered and his crew of three were all wounded.  The following night W/O Hogan, while duty pilot on the drome, pulled a gunner out of a blazing aircraft on the runway.


With the end of the war in Italy, 454 prepared for another move northward, and VE day was spent pulling down tents and packing up equipment.  Within a few days all aircraft, personnel and equipment were established at Villaorba, 10 miles west of Udine.  The camp here surrounded by green fields and trees.  As the weather became hotter, the many irrigation canals carrying icy water from the mountain streams were a blessing and a boon to perspiring personnel.


Shortly after this change of scene, W/Cdr. Henderson was posted to Britain and W/Cdr. J.G. Rees D.F.C., D.F.C (USA) assumed command of the Squadron and stayed with it until the day of disbandment.


Flying at Villaorba was confined to training flights for refresher purposes and D.A.F. communication flights carrying personnel of all the services from city to city in Italy.


Stress was laid on sport at this time.  Deck tennis and volleyball proved very popular and were played for hours daily.  A swimming carnival was held and cricket was played on an average of three days a week.  Playing in the D.A.F. knockout competition, 454 Squadron reached the semi-finals with three other teams out of the 64 who had entered.  Here, they were beaten after fighting out two matches with 225 Squadron, who were themselves beaten by 450 Squadron, the famous Desert Harassers.


On the Villaorba campsite one day in August 1945 the A.O.C., AVM Foster, CB, CBE, DFC paid a visit to the Squadron.  In a few words, he expressed his thanks for the work done by 454 Squadron.  He wished them “Good Luck and Good-Bye”, for on this day 454 was withdrawn from the Desert Air Force and disbanded.


Personnel would begin shortly their long journeys home.  Still with the Squadron were a few of those men who had paraded in Blackpool on 2nd April 1942.  They were the RAF personnel and for them it had been a long journey.  They were with the Squadron when it was born and they saw it through its growing pains.  With it at the height of its success, they saw it pass away on a grassy site under the shadow of the Alps.


On 14th August 1945, 454 Squadron (RAAF) officially ceased to exist, but it will never die.  It will live on in the minds of those who worked on it and with it, and when they die, it will live on in the history of the British Empire for the part it played in the Allied Nation’s defeat of Nazism.



J.M. Knight, P/O

In collaboration with LAC Rimmer (RAF)

14th August 1945.



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[above] Bill Noyce


Berka111 Libya, June 1944 --

Laurie Crowhurst [top] & Bill Noyce


Bill Noyce - St Jeans - Palestine, June 1943


Jock Thompson, Laurie Crowhurst & Bill Noyce


Gambut Libya 1943 -- Laurie Crowhurst & Reg Turner


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A handmade shield of 454 Squadron -- the shield was made by Len Breen (Transport) and he gave it to Eric Strange who was on holidays in Wales to bring back to us in OZ.  The shield held place of honour at Re-Unions for many years.


Bill Noyce in Italy




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"E" for Easy !


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Gambut Crash


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When Ken Rimmer visited Australia in 1990 he made contact with Bob Mitchell and Jack Stacey in Adelaide. Ken joined them in the Anzac Day march with ex 454 members.


After the parade they all met at Jack's for a barbeque as follows:



Back Left to Right:  Cliff Spiers, Ken Rimmer, Bill Kenwick, Bob Mitchell, ? Not Known, Alan White and Bill Noyce


Front Left to Right:  Alan Godfrey, Jack Stacey, Brian Ball and Vic Cashmore

William NOYCE