454 Squadron History - 1942-1945

Commanding Officers

W Cmdr I.L. Campbell - 16.10.42 to 16.11.43

W Cmdr J.A.G. Coates DFC Nov 43 to April 44

W Cmdr  M.J. Moore - 1.4.44 to 25.11.44

W Cmdr  A.D. Henderson - 25.11.44 to May 45

W Cmdr J. Rees DFC DFC (USA) 18.5.45 to 14.8.45

 

Individual 454 Squadron Members
 
Operational Bases

1942 September - Reformed Aqir Palestine, October - Qaitara Iraq

 

1943 January - Gambut

 

Berka III, Libya:

Cyrenaica:

 

1944 July - Ground party via Alexandria to Italy; air party joined 223 RAF Squadron to develop close support experience, thence Pescara; and - Aug - Galconara

December Cesenatico: (below)

1945 January - February - A Flight to Forli - detachment;

and - May - Villa Orba, Udine

14 August 1945 - Disbanded

 

Fatal Casualties and Awards

The Roll of Honour lists 92 fatal casualties of personnel killed in action or who died on active service whilst on Squadron strength.

During the period of Operations, 454 Squadron Personnel were awarded one OBE, fifteen DFCs, one DFM, one BEM and nine MIDS.

[The following information was provided by Air Commodore Mark Lax, it is from his new book “Alamein to the Alps” (a History of the 454 Squadron) which is available for download from this site.)

 

454 Squadron  Honours  and  Awards
Order of the British Empire
  • Wing Commander Andrew Dill ‘Pete’ Henderson, 217  RAAF

 

Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Flying Officer James Bryan Scott, 144614   RAFVR

 

Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Squadron Leader Victor Cashmore, 407165   RAAF

  • Flying Officer Raymond Crouch, 136516    RAFVR

  • Captain Alexander Thomas Dryden, 102099V   SAAF

  • Flight Lieutenant John Robert ‘Jack’ Ennis, 420339  RAAF

  • Squadron Leader George Andrew Gray, 402346   RAAF

  • Warrant Officer Sydney William Holmes, 422562   RAAF

  • Flight Lieutenant David William Lewis, 403645   RAAF

  • Warrant Officer Henry Hugh. Lloyd, 758163   RAFVR

  • Wing Commander Milton Jeffrey Moore, 402804   RAAF

  • Warrant Officer David Valentine Paul, 403215   RAAF

  • Flying Officer James Bryan Scott, 144614   RAFVR

  • Squadron Leader Colin Bassett Stinson, 402414   RAFVR

  • Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles Wright, 400948  RAAF

 

Distinguished Flying Medal
  • Flight Sergeant Raymond Gordon Akhurst, 149940  RAFVR

 

British Empire Medal
  • Flight Sergeant Jack McGreggor Stacey, 5738   RAAF

 

Mentioned in Dispatches
  • Flight Lieutenant George Leon Barnard, 263132    RAAF

  • Corporal William George Collinson, 14438 RAAF

  • Flying Officer Herbert M Humphreys, 48634   RAFVR

  • Warrant Officer Cyril Horace Manning, 157578   RAFVR

  • Corporal (as LAC) Colin Thomas McPherson, 6165  RAAF

  • Corporal Rodney Fergus Parkhill, 21232    RAAF

  • Flight Lieutenant William Shankland, J4431   RCAF

  • FLGOFF Walter Geoffrey Hall 6120    RAAF

  • Flight Sergeant Alan William Kempnich 413608   RAAF

 

Key Events

[The following information is from units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise History - Volume 3 - Bomber Units]

  • 23 May 1941 - Formed at Williamtown, NSW

  • 11 July 1941 - Squadron disbanded

  • 30 September 1942 - Reformed at Aqir, Palestine

  • 18 November 1942 - Joined ‘D’ Force covered USA/Persia/Russia Lend Lease supply line

  • 1 February 1943 - Converted to Baltimore III at Amiriya, Egypt

  • 13 April 1943 - Moved to Gambut III, Cyrenaica

  • August 1943 - Moved to LG9`

  • November 1943 - Moved to Berka III

  • 14 July 1944 - Joined Desert Air Force at Pescara, Italy, for close support of 8th Army

  • November 1943 - Operated out of Cesenatico, Italy

  • 1 May 1945 - Last sortie

  • 14 August 1945 - Squadron disbanded

 

454 Squadron History

Planned as one of the 17 Australian-manned squadrons for the Royal Air Force (RAF), 454 Squadron was formed on 23 May 1941 and disbanded on 11 July 1941, at Williamtown, New South Wales.  Finally, with RAAF technical personnel already in the Middle East and newly arrived RAF ground crew, it reformed on 30 September 1942 as a light bomber squadron at Aqir, Palestine.

 

In September 1942, Flight Lieutenant George Barnard led a 454 road convoy from Aqir, heading for Teheran, Iran.  However, the Russian Reinforcement Command forestalled the use of that base, and the Squadron settled at Quiarra near Mosul.

 

At Quiarra the first of six Blenheim V refresher courses began, but then 454 Squadron was moved westward in February 1943, to LG91 (Amiriya South), about 45 miles from Alexandria, Egypt.  It was attached to 201 Group RAF Middle East.  The Squadron quickly converted to Mark III Baltimores.  Its first operational sortie was flown by Flying Officer Bayly’s crew on 4 March 1943.

 

RAF 201 Group required 454 Squadron to provide armed day convoy escorts and independent anti-submarine patrols for the many Allied troop and supply convoys from Egypt, and fuel tankers for the Levant oil terminals, destined for Malta and other 8th Army forward supply bases.  Anti-submarine patrols during daylight hours were increasingly augmented by armed independent visual reconnaissances, and shipping strikes in the Aegean Sea.  There were strong Axis garrisons and formidable air units to contend with, in the outer defended ring (Athens-Rhodes-Crete-southern Greece and the Dodecanese Islands).

 

With a new squadron establishment, a move to Gambut III (Cyrenaica) near Tobruk was completed on 13 April 1943, and a detachment located at Misurata.  By 1 May 1943, the first full complement of 16 Baltimores was available, and the first shipping and U-boat attacks were reported.  In June 1943, the first Baltimore crew, which included Squadron Leader Bamkin, were killed in an airfield accident.

 

Gradually the operational commitment was stepped up, especially for armed independent reconnaissances.  July 1943 was a particularly active month.  Several crews fought their way out through defended exits from the Aegean Sea.  On 18 July 1943, Flight Lieutenant Dave Lewis’ crew destroyed one BF109 and damaged another.  Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Bill Shankland made an audacious low level reconnaissance of a significant Symi Harbour build-up of small ships; and RAF Flying Officer Ray Crouch’s 6 hours 20 minutes sortie was a Squadron record.

 

The Squadron’s worst operational day occurred on 23 July 1943, when eight 454 Squadron Baltimores, led by Squadron Leader Lionel Folkard and accompanied by fighters, made a daylight low level offensive over northern Crete.  Six Baltimores and five crews were lost.  Flight Sergeant Akhurst’s crew survived after scrambling out on one motor at low level and ‘ditching’ just off Gambut.  Akhurst’s immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) was the Squadron’s first decoration. 

In early August, the Squadron returned to LG91 as base with detachments at St Jean (Palestine) and Cyprus.  The number of long range reconnaissances then increased markedly to cover the Dodecanese invasion and withdrawal (10 September 1943 to 10 November 1943). 

 

In November 1943, Wing Commander J.A.G. (Jack) Coates (RAF) assumed command from Wing Commander Campbell, and Berka III again became the base.  The Squadron flew unarmed long range photo reconnaissance missions into the western Aegean, and 75 small ship sightings were reported in December alone.  Many of these small ships were attacked by RAF Beaufighters, which flew 30 minutes behind the 454 Squadron reconnaissance aircraft, and were alerted by coded sighting reports.  On 31 December, Flight Lieutenant Railton (RAF) evaded two prolonged attacks by pairs of Bf109s. 

201 Group RAF merged with Air Headquarters Eastern Mediterranean on 21 February 1944, and 454 Squadron came under the command of RAF Station Berks.  Squadron Leader Cashmore and Flight Lieutenant Gray, located the Livenza, a 6,000 ton motor vessel, and its convoy escort, in Melos Harbour.  The following day Beaufighters sank it, losing three aircraft, but destroying two Bf109S.  A week later Flying Officer Crouch successfully battled his way through the Kythera Strait, having provided a diversion over Melos, whilst Coates photographed a new Freya radar station.  During February formation practice, in boxes of six aircraft, was increased. 

 

In April 1944, Coates handed over command to Wing Commander Mike Moore.  The new Commanding Officer continued the concentrated bombing training program, and directed small formation operational bombing attacks on southern Greek targets – Kalamata. Plyoe – for harassment and further experience, meanwhile maintaining the well-established long range unarmed photo reconnaissance program, especially in the western and central Aegean Sea, and around the western Greek coast. 

 

The Squadron’s finest search and strike results were achieved on 1 and 2 June 1944 under Moore’s command.  From first light on 1 June, after an Axis convoy had at last left Piraeus Harbour, eight 454 Squadron Baltimores in turn shadowed three merchant vessels, four destroyers and eight escort vessels, and their fighter escorts.  Despite many attacks, the reconnaissance crews made close low level passes at the convoy, regularly photographing and reporting its progress.  At 1700 hours, after the last shadowing Baltimore had been lost, a strike force from Gambut led by three 454 Squadron Baltimores attacked about 30 miles north of Candia Harbour.  All but two merchant vessels were sunk; two Bf109s were shot down. 

 

Whilst long range reconnaissance penetrations of the upgraded, radar-controlled fighter and flak-defended areas of the eastern, western and central Aegean, Crete, and southern Greece had paid significant dividends, a high price had been exacted; 21 crews were lost in 10 months.  The operational result was increased enemy isolation and supply deterioration of the garrisons. 

 

By July 1944, 454 Squadron had been transferred to the Desert Air Force at Pescara on the Italian Adriatic Coast, to support 8th Army. 

 

The Squadron had a second tour Commanding Officer in Wing Commander Moore, and strong, experienced flight commanders (Squadron Leaders Vic Cashmore and Don Beaton), well trained pilot and navigator/bombing leader teams, and ground crews second to none for serviceability and immediate turnaround capabilities.  It was highly mobile, efficient, and experienced in maintaining its strike capacity, whilst moving tent accommodated personnel long distances.  By mid July 1944, it began operating in Italy. 

 

The Squadron’s task was to provide the “Tedder Bomb Carpet” (1000 yards by 300 yards) aimed at saturating close-support targets, usually by a box of six aircraft in a tight, very manoeuvrable formation, bombing on a leader from medium heights (10,000 feet and above).  The technique, developed and tested before the Alamein battles, became standard battlefield and tactical practice and was employed relentlessly and with devastating effect by Desert Air Force light bomber squadrons until January 1945.  The safe maximum limit for straight and level flying at 10,000 feet to evade accurately predicted heavy anti-aircraft fire was 15 seconds. 

During September at Falconara, 454 Squadron delivered a total of 328 tons of bombs.  This was accomplished in spite of 10 days of very bad weather during which no flying was possible, and whilst the pierced steel plated single all-weather landing strip was repaired. 

Aerial  Photo of Our Base at Falconara note the clip together metal

runways Baltimores in the air

As in the earlier desert years of dust, sand, khamains and heat the ground crews performed miracles in maintaining excellent serviceability and prompt turnaround of bombed-up aircraft in the appalling mud and slush of Falconara, Italy.  On three days in September, three raids of 12 aircraft were dispatched – a record 36 sorties each day.  Improvisation to defeat glue-like mud, to repair anti-aircraft shrapnel holes after every raid and to refuel and reload bombs, kept the armourers, fitters, riggers, refuellers and others stretched to their limits.  Though the shocking weather of September-October could have induced low morale, the reverse was the case.  Typical ‘Aussie grizzling’ cloaked quiet satisfaction with a job well done.  At Falconara, the most forward Allied airstrip in Italy at the time, weather permitting, all eyes would watch the flak-taxi in for inspection and readiness.  Shrapnel holes were counted and patched – 186 on one occasion, and the bomb stencil kept the number of bombing sorties up to date alongside each aircraft’s identification letter and cartoon nickname.  During this period Flight Lieutenant Don Fraser replaced Squadron Leader Beaton, who was tour expired for the second time, as ‘B’ Flight Commander;  Flight Lieutenant Phil Strickland became ‘A’ Flight Commander; and Squadron Leader Cashmore now became squadron Leader (Flying) with overall Squadron tactical planning and organizational duties. 

 

In November, two important operational developments occurred – daylight formation bombing is concert with 15 SAAF Baltimore Squadron against the Yugoslavian ports of Pola and Fiume, and the beginning of radar controlled practice and operational blind bombing from above 10/10 cloud. 

 

Moore handed over command to Wing Commander A.D. (Pete) Henderson (25 November 1944 to 18 May 1945) as 454 Squadron prepared to move to Cesenatico.  With the Squadron’s new night role pending, Henderson’s recent experience was most appropriate for directing 454 Squadron in its interdiction and independent harassing, strafing, bombing and reconnaissance roles. 

 

Because of extremely bad weather in January and February 1945, the Squadron experienced great difficulty in meeting operational demands and at the same time, in scheduling a comprehensive conversion program for night-intruding harassment of the retreating German Army Mistral winds, rain, and intermittent sleet and fog were prevalent.  Though 454 Squadron was now located as Cesenatico, a comparative paradise after Falconara, conversion to the new task was badly hampered by the weather.  Forli was used as a detached base for a time.  Finally the Squadron was stood down operationally to concentrate on conversion. 

 

The experimental blind bombing, controlled by a radar station near Favenna which vectored individual aircraft onto  weather-obscured and night targets, now began to show improvement.

 

Squadron strength as at 30 November 1944 was 395.  Throughout its 30 months of operations this strength remained steady. 

 

Two months of highly successful night intruding commenced on the night of 5-6 March 1945 with Squadron Leader Phil Strickland/Flight Lieutenant Ron McCathie, flying the Squadron’s first of 390 night intruder sorties. 

 

Crews attacked any moving transport- road, rail, river ferry or canal barge; pontoon bridges; supply dumps and factories; troop concentrations and fortified positions.  A special night photographic technique, developed by Flight Lieutenant Joe Wright, provided excellent tactical information. 

 

On both 23 and 25 March 1945 Warrant Officer Syd Holmes’ brilliant handling of his badly damaged aircraft resulted in the immediate award of a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). 

 

A maximum effort was achieved for the last great assault by the 8th Army on the Italian Adriatic Front, with 28 sorties on the night of 9-10 April in support of a 5th Army Corps attack on the Senio River Line.  At regular intervals, individual aircraft bombed gun positions around Masso Lombarda, just ahead of the bomb line; each making four separate runs across the target area.  But 13 April provided unexpected setbacks; two 454 Squadron crews were lost; and two other Squadron aircraft returned to Cesenatico very severely damaged. 

 

German resistance finally collapsed just as eight crews flew 454 Squadron’s last 13 sorties.  In the early morning of 1 May, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Bradley and Warrant Officer Peter Matthews were briefed for the last armed night reconnaissance of Villach, the Italian-Austrian border escape routes.  However, it had to be aborted shortly before completion because of bad weather. 

 

On 14 August 1945 the Squadron was disbanded.

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"BUTCH" THE DOG

"Was on Squadron strength when we arrived and had an interesting history.  Originally belonging to Rommel's Afrika Korps he was unable to keep up with them as they hurried West after Alamein, and decided he would be better off on the other side, so he joined 454 Squadron.

 

Butch would occasionally become bored with life and to alleviate it he would run up one side of someone's tent and slide down the other side.  This did the tent no good at all, and was actively discouraged by its occupants.

 

I can't recall ever seeing him again after we went to Italy.  Maybe he again transferred allegiance and joined 459 when they occupied our former home at Berka III.  I must ask my friend Roy Mahoney whom I see occasionally. Best Wishes, Kev O'Brien.  --

PS. Does anyone else remember Butch?"

 

 

Australian War Memorial History of 454 Squadron

 

A SUMMARY OF THE HISTORY OF 454 SQUADRON (R.A.A.F) can be found in Ken Rimmer and Bill Noyce page

Tribute to war-time 454 pigeons - 

In the early 1940's radio transmissions were not always reliable and as pigeons had been used during World War I by both the Navy and Army to return messages when communication lines were down, it was decided to use them in aircraft as emergency communications devices.  So successful were these winged messengers that a separate pigeon service was established in 1918, but this was discontinued at the war's end.  At the beginning of WW2 , the British National Pigeon Service supplied birds to the RAF until the services re-established their own bird-breeding program.  In Coastal and bomber Commands, two birds were carried in long oblong boxes (with drinkers and food) for use if radios failed and an urgent message needed to be sent.  Messages used colour coded containers to ensure prompt delivery, but the introduction of better quality radios saw the pigeon service cease after 1943, although some members of 454 Squadron recall their use on Aegean sorties well into 1944. 

 

“Air Crew Pigeons” on Operational Duties with 454, Middle East 1943.

454 members  have recorded some interesting comments about “aircrew pigeons” on operation during 1943.

 

It was general practise to take a pair of crated pigeons on long range low level daylight penetrations of the defended ring of the Aegean Islands.  Gordon Hissey, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner with Jack Coates; and later Mike Moore, who confirmed Gordon's oral report describing how a 454 RAAF Baltimore III's “pigeon pair” was taken aloft (no pun intended) for emergency release, if the aircraft was judged unlikely to survive fighter attack and/or coded crucial radio reports could not be sent and/or rescue services were urgently needed.  In any event, after a N.T.R (nothing to report) search, the pigeons were usually released about 20 miles from base for “homing” experience.  Since it was very “dicey” to throw unprotected birds into the turbulent slipstream (unfeathered birds, like pranged aircrew, would have to swim or walk home!) each bird was inserted legs first into its separate paper cone and the paper lid or flap was closed.  The container looked very much like the small paper cone  of “boiled lollies: the kids bought in pre WW2 days.  Then each package was tossed down into the slipstream through the bottom rear hatch.  As the protective paper package unravelled, each bird, now free of the worst turbulence, could fly, fully feathered and begin to exploit its inbuilt “pigeon radar”.

 

Of course, Ray Akhurst's (RAFVR) experience on 23.7.43 in A-Able (Baltimore III) demonstrated how planned pigeon rescue procedures could not always be exploited in operational emergencies.  Weaving his way at 130 mph “on the clock” through the Crete valleys on one engine, and then southwards over the Med, for Gambut strip, in Cyrenaica, despite Akhurst's considerable skills, the Baltimore had to be ditched beyond the breaker line.  Ray reported: “When we hit the drink in A-Able we had only one idea – to swim to shore”.  Our two birds of the day were overlooked.  The plane floated ashore; empty fuel tanks (providing flotation).  Next day the “bare-arsed” salvage crew released the dazed birds which were still in their crate in the aircraft, and “they homed safely”.  Whether or not the pair was then posted back to the Nile Delta as O.T.E (Operationally Tour Expired) is not recorded.  NOTE: This item was drafted on 23.7.93, exactly 50 years after Ray Akhurst's splash-down.

 

Gordon Hissey wrote he would have sent his note  about the pigeons to Pigeon Post but his pair had “flown the coop”.

 

Tony White (WAG) wrote  “454 Squadron was certainly using the (pigeons) by the end of 1943.  I remember tossing a couple over the Aegean Sea between attacks by Me 109's.  I thought at the time they deserved a chance.  As I was sent straight to Benghasi Hospital, I never heard  whether they made it back to base”.  (Tony, whose first op. was in the first  1000 bomber raid on Cologne, was wounded in the Aegean action).

 

Peter Lawton (Jack Ennis, Nav/B) reported their WAG'S used some unusual language when trying to load a pigeon crate through the Baltimore lower under hatch, and that during a very rough low level exit through the Kythera Straits out of the Aegean (presumably to avoid the Luftwaffes Duty Pilots) the pigeon crate on one occasion was in free flight around the Baltimore's interior, since it was not strapped in, as were the crew members.

 

 Some questions still remain unanswered. 

  • Who was 454 Squadron’s pigeon handler? -- (It is well known, but not documented that there were several hundred “bird-watchers” in strength of course!)

  • How did the pigeons learn to “home to new bases?”

  • Who kept each Pigeon’s Flying Log Book?

  • What was a pigeon’s ops tour?  What about birds “gongs” – any awarded?

  • Incidentally no respondents reported sampling, let alone enjoying pigeon pie!!!

Article written by George Gray – 454-459 Squadrons Association Bulletin.

 

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From a BBC WEBSITE - UK News Release dated -- Saturday, 1 March, 2003 –

More than 300 birds will be released on Saturday as part of an event to honour the role of carrier pigeons in the Second World War.

 

The Pigeon Secrets on a Wing and a Prayer ceremony is being held at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, home of the famous code breakers.

 

During the war, pigeons were recruited from civilian lofts for work with the Army, Navy and Air Force.

 

About 200,000 pigeons were supplied by private breeders to the National Pigeon Service and 50,000 were bred by the United States Army.

 

Between 1939 and 1945, code breakers at Bletchley Park used advanced mathematical formulas to crack German communications.

 

The pigeons were awarded the animal version of the Victoria Cross

 

'Dickin Medal'

They relied on birds to relay messages to the military and even though many were wounded, most pigeons found their way back to the park.

 

Some were rewarded for outstanding service and received the Dickin Medal, the animal version of the Victoria Cross.

 

At Saturday's event, message holders that were fitted to the legs of pigeons will be displayed to the public.

 

A pigeon memorial and original pigeon box is also going on show and Peter Bryant, chairman of the Royal Pigeon 

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