459 Squadron History - 1942-1945
S Ldr P.W. Howson Temporary C.O. 24.12.41 to 18.4.42
W Cmdr K.S. Hennock C.O. 19.4.42 to 14.9.42
W Cmdr P.W. Howson C.O. 15.9.42 to 4.10.43
W Cmdr A.D. Henderson C.O. 5.10.43 to Nov 44
W Cmdr C.E. Payne C.O. Nov 44 to 10.4.45
Formed on 10.2.42 No. 459 Squadron operated from six main bases and some ten detachment locations - a chain of airfields spanning 1000 miles of the North African coastline from the Bay of Sirte (Benghasi) to the Levant (Palestine and Lebanon) and to Southern Arabia.
Home Bases were:-
Egypt:- Burg el Arab, LG Z, Gianaclis
Palestine:- St Jean
Cyrenaica:- Gambut, Berka
Detachment locations were:-
Egypt:- Mersa Matruh West, LG 91, LG 07
Palestine:- Ramat David, Lydda, St.Jean
Arabia:- Aden, Salala, Socotra and Italian Somaliland.
Fatal Casualties and Awards
The Roll of Honour lists 78 fatal casualties of personnel killed in action or who died in active service whilst on Squadron strength.
During the period of operations, 459 Squadron personnel were awarded one OBE, ten DFCs, one DFM and twenty three MIDs.
[The following information was provided for the website by Professor Leon Kane-Maguire, it is from his book “Desert Scorpions”.
459 Squadron Honours and Awards
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) - Awarded while serving with 459 Sqn.
06 Dec 1942 - Flight Lieutenant Frederick Warren Madsen
06 Dec 1942 - Flying Officer Vernon Keith O’Brien
13 Dec 1942 - Flight Lieutenant Donald Charles Beaton
21 Jun 1943 - Flying Officer Allan William Proctor
07 Oct 1943 - Flying Officer William Weatherly
12 Jan 1944 - Flight Lieutenant Richard E. Blake
27 Jan 1944 - Squadron Leader Roy Douglas Shaw
02 Sep 1944 - Flying Officer David S. Noble
13 Oct 1944 - Wing Commander Keith Selwyn Hennock
06 Feb 1945 - Squadron Leader Francis James McHale
In addition, Colin Stinson and Joseph Wright, Mervyn Griffiths and Jimmy Craig, who completed their first tour with 459 Sqn, were awarded DFCs while later serving with other Sqns - Nos. 454 (RAAF) and 267 (RAF)
Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM)
23 Jun 1943 - Flight Sergeant David Thomas Barnard
Order of the British Empire (OBE)
01 Jan 1943 - Wing Commander Phillip Walter Howson
WGCDR Pete Henderson also received an OBE after leaving to command No. 454 Sqn.
Mentioned in Dispatches
Leading Aircraftman N.H.K. Best
Flying Officer Stephen Blumenthal
Sergeant Vernon A. Chadwick
Flight Lieutenant Cyril D. Colling
Warrant Officer Bernard E. Dowser
Sergeant T.R. Dunstan
Flight Lieutenant Archdall O. Gaze
Flying Officer Cecil T. Hyland
Flight Sergeant Jones
Flight Lieutenant Ralph Thomas Joseph
Corporal A. Lee
Flight Lieutenant Kenneth N. MacDougall
Pilot Officer Francis V. Murphy
Flying Officer Gordon Page
Flying Officer Norman C. Pottie
Flying Officer Allen H. Ringland
Flight Lieutenant Allan G. Storman
Sergeant R. Swan
Sergeant Roy Tier
Flying Officer Ian M. Yeates
Note: Dates are when the award appeared in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, otherwise the date when the Squadron was notified. Ranks are those at the time of award.
[The following information is from units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise History - Volume 4 - Maritime and Transport Units]
10 February 1942 - Formed at Burg-el-Arab, Egypt
December 1942 - Moved to Gambut, Libya
June 1943 - U-97 Sunk
April 1944 - Moved to Ramat David
May 1944 - Moved to St Jean, Palestine
10 April 1945 - Squadron Disbanded
459 Squadron History
459 Squadron was formed on 10 February 1942, at Burg-el-Arab, Egypt, with Squadron Leader P.W. Howson, temporary Commanding Officer. It was to be a naval co-operation unit for general reconnaissance over the Eastern Mediterranean. The initial complement of aircraft was two Lockhead Hudsons. In April, Wing Commander Keith Hennock became Commanding Officer, with Squadron Leaders Howson and Campbell as Flight Commanders, and the Squadron moved to its own aerodrome at Behig.
Seven more aircraft and their crews arrived in April and May after flying from the United Kingdom via Gibraltar and Malta.
A feature of the ensuing few months was the Axis effort to reinforce its supplies at El Alamein by means of convoys of 'F-boats' from Tobruk to Mersa Matruh. Armed with one 75mm and two 20mm cannon, each of these 300-ton barges could mount a formidable defence.
The Squadron's first operational sortie was piloted by Pilot Officer Beaton in June. Three critical weeks followed, with successful low-level dawn attacks on F-boats, 17 of which were destroyed and three others damaged. Three crews failed to return; two others reached base with damage. These Hudson attacks, in conjunction with those made by Bisley, Swordfish and Albacore aircraft of the RAF and Fleet Air Arm destroyed many reinforcements and a vast quantity of supplies significantly weakening the enemy's position.
In September, Squadron aircraft attacked a destroyer and a 6,000 ton merchantman. These operations were reported in the Sydney Sun 24 September.
It is a young Squadron composed entirely of pilots trained under the Empire Air Scheme, with the exception of Wing Commander Keith Hennock, Wing Commander Phillip Howson, and Squadron Leader I L Campbell.
Most notable single achievement of any pilot in the Squadron is that of Pilot Officer Donald Beaton, station owner, of Western Australia. He is credited with probably sinking an enemy destroyer - 'probably' because nobody actually saw the destroyer go down - though there is little doubt that it is now at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Beaton was patrolling 20 to 30 miles from Tobruk when he came on two enemy transports which were ablaze after an attack by British bombers.
He cast about seeking other units of the convoy and sighted two destroyers. They opened up on him, but Beaton dived, went in against one in a swerving attack, and released a bomb load when flying just sufficiently high to enable his Hudsons to clear the destroyer's funnels.
There was a terrific explosion and a burst of flame, Hennock told me. The fire could be seen from 30 miles away.
The Squadron's youngest pilot, 20 year old Pilot Officer Alan Proctor, of Sydney also is credited with probably sinking a ship - a 6,000-ton merchantman. He sighted it north from Tobruk half an hour after dawn, which is a dangerous time for a Hudson to operate within easy range of enemy fighter bases.
Proctor bombed it and flames shot up from the ship's deck. Smoke was pouring from it and it was listing about 30 degrees as Proctor flew away.
The decisive Allied offensive at El Alamein on 23 October and by early November the Axis troops were in retreat. As the ports were recaptured, 459 Squadron's commitments increasingly involved the escort of troopships, tankers and supply vessels, and attacks on enemy shipping. Soon it established a reputation as a highly efficient, very mobile, aggressive search-and-strike night operational force. Using many home bases and detachment locations, it frequently penetrated the ring of enemy-occupied islands off the west and east coasts of Greece. Though its early sorties were individual and at night, its versatility and aggressiveness were later exploited by day, sometimes singly, sometimes in small bombing formations.
In the three weeks from 28 July to 17 August the Squadron claimed 17 F-boats destroyed and 3 damaged. Mast-head dawn attacks by several squadrons, including 459, stopped this supply line. For these low-level shipping attacks the Hudsons' usual load of four 250-lb dept-charges were replaced by sticks of 100-lb bombs. Five crews were lost in these attacks.
Other duties comprised convoy escorts, anti-submarine patrols. For all these activities, along with its high aircraft serviceability and low accident rate, the Squadron was to receive high praise.
On 4 September Wing Commander Hennock was posted to Australia and was replaced as Commanding Officer by Wing Commander Howson. Squadron Leader Campbell was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and commissioned to form and command 454 Squadron.
For the rest of 1942, convoy escort (in collaboration with the Navy) and other operations over the sea lanes, harbours and islands of the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean continued. In December the Squadron's base moved to Gambut, Libya.
Bad weather early in 1943 made many airfields unserviceable, restricting operations. In April, with the departure of 'tour-expired' crews, replacements began arriving from the United Kingdom and from 75 Operational Training Unit at Gianaclis, near Alexandria.
Operations continued from airfields in the Western Desert, Cyprus, Palestine, Southern Arabia and Entrea, a record number of hours being flown.
In June 1943, one Hudson sank German submarine U-97. The aircraft's crew comprised Dave Barnard, George Crisp and Brian Cobcroft. (In Melbourne in 1988, a survivor, Petty Officer Gerhard Deitz, met Barnard and Crisp. He told them that, three weeks before being sunk, U-97 had sunk an Allied tanker, eight merchant ships and a destroyer).
From "Review of the Month' (May) by Wing Commander P.W. Howson (Operations Record Book):
The number of hours flown, 648, was well up to average, a total considerably boosted by detachments at LG92, where there appears to be an increasing demand for our service due to the lack of night flying and anti-submarine squadrons in the vicinity of the Delta.
A periscope sighting by Flying Officer A.L. Newton was the main incident arising out of our usual patrols and it is hoped these sightings will increase, with the added number of convoys passing through the Mediterranean and the expected increase in the number of U-bots. Our sightings should be assisted by the white camouflage now being adopted by our aircraft and which has been well tested out by formation flights of Hudsons with white camouflage alongside those with the old blue camouflage.
The end of May completes a year of operational flying with a grand total of 6,775 operational hours from 1,294 sorties. Recently the Squadron's excellent record was the subject of a letter from the Air Officer Commanding No. 201 Group to the Air Commanding RAF Middle East.
The weather settled down to days of almost constant sunshine although one khamein was experienced. Real anxiety has, however, been occasioned to aircrew by the appearance of regular early fogs. These come unexpectedly and suddenly, almost immediately rendering the aerodrome unserviceable. So far, no aircraft has been caught out, although one morning Squadron Leader R.D. Shaw had to land in a very heavy fog, which he did successfully.
Some of our 'old' aircrews, having been posted from the Squadron on completing their operational tour, were replaced by 25 new aircrew from the United Kingdom and from 75 Operational Training Unit. Unfortunately, the majority of these were comparatively untrained, so that an intensive program of lectures and training flights was embarked upon. At the same time, all aircrew underwent a course of practice bombing and gunnery as part of a 'freshening up' plan, including dinghy drill and special lectures.
On the lighter side of Squadron activities, cricket has taken pride of place. Inter-section matches are played on five days of the week and the remaining two days usually see competitive matches between the Squadron and 235 Wing or 454 Squadron.
On 19 May 1943, a Squadron "Beach Club" was opened at Bardia, where we have taken over and cleaned up two Italian houses on the beach. As accommodation is limited, parties are restricted to 20 personnel, who can spend 48 hours there, temperatures reached 105°F or 40°C+. The arrangement was immediately a success and constant contingents now make the journey to Bardia for their 48-hours leave. During the month we were entertained by two visiting E.N.S.A. shows and also the 235 Wing Concert Party; the new outdoor stage was completed and seems ideal for these Summer nights.
Aerial photo of Bardia Harbour - sea port in Eastern Libya
The Medical Officer reported maintenance of the high standard of health, the only common complaint being enteritis. To curb this, an intensive anti-fly campaign has been started and this already appears to be producing satisfactory results as over 1-lb of flies are taken from the fly-traps each week. There has also been an increase in the number of snakes and poisonous insects in the camp area, but so far no casualties have resulted from them.
The month saw still another record by our Maintenance, the average serviceability being up to 98% - an increase of a further 2% over the record peak of April -whilst the average output from Maintenance per day was 1.3 aircraft, also a record figure.
The standard of work at Maintenance Units continues to give us added labour, 12 receipt checks having to be made before aircraft received cold be placed operationally serviceable. Most of our aircraft are getting well on in hours now, averaging 400 hours each, but we are still able to extend a number of engines beyond the Command engine hours limit of 360 hours - 2 engines have again been extended this month. Our experiments in locally rewinding the fields of alternators is so far proving very successful. During the month, the Instrument Section was improved by the addition of a 100% dustproof hut for the repair of delicate instruments; a further benefit of this building is that is entirely collapsible so that it can be moved with the Squadron, should the occasion arise.
A lot of work is done to render serviceable a refrigerator salvaged from Tobruk but so far completion of the task had been delayed by our failure to find suitable motors to drive the compressors. The Squadron watches with interest the completion of this job which will assure us of a much needed ice supply during the coming hot months.
459 Trucks in line waiting to be refueled, during the move to Benghazi.
459 on the move - trucks going up Sallum Pass through Tobruk and Derna to Bengahazi
An entry of 1999 454 and 459 Squadron's Bulletin reads
"The Tale of the Ice Making Machine -- by Sgt J Wiggins M.I.D. Fitter. IIA 459 RAAF Squadron ---- As most of you know, 459 Sqdn had a "Holiday Resort" at Bardia Bay across the road from the beach. Whilst a few of the bods were spending 3 days rest at the resort, a couple of them decided to explore the township at the top of the cliff. While checking the various buildings they discovered a 24 hole ice making cabinet. Minds started to tick over. The old power station had an "Orphan Generator". So it was decided that if the cabinet and the generator were joined and a motor to drive the generator was fitted, we could make ice. The cabinet found its way to Gambut and the generator followed. A motor was obtained from the motor transport wrecking pool and duly assembled. The "various ingredients" were added to the water in the cabinet and the 24 containers were filled with fresh water. The motor was started and so the ice production company was in business. Ice was supplied to the various canteens and traded with other units nearby. The Yanks were very good customers and some good trades were made. This continued for some time. When we packed up and left Gambut, there was the ice works standing in the middle of the desert like a shag on a rock. It could still be there with a lot of locals trying to figure out what the hell it was and how it got there."
Officers -- 45
Other Ranks -- 417
Total -- 462
The Squadron held a dinner in June to commemorate the completion of its first year of operational flying - 6,775 hours flown and an aircraft serviceability of 98%. The following message was received from the Air Officer Commanding Middle East Command.
"Once Again 459 and 454 Squadrons are to be congratulated on their effort, not only for this month but also for the quarter. In view of the large amount of night flying carried out by 459 Squadron, theirs is a really fine record which should be the aim of all other units."
From anti-submarine and convoy escort work, 459 commenced bombing in the Aegean area within the perimeter of the Axis-occupied (and defended) islands of Crete, Rhodes and the Dodecanese, dropping 25 tons of bombs in the first month of this light bomber role.
On 5 October 1943, Wing Commander Howson handed over command to Wing Commander A.D. Henderson.
Bombing in the Aegean area continued, with Rhodes now the main target. Weather conditions were very bad.
In December, Ventura aircraft arrived in the Squadron and conversion commenced, night operations continuing.
In January 1944 the Squadron was again complimented on its low accident rate - 0.3%, compared with the Group's average of 2.39%. Anti-submarine patrols continued in very bad weather. Night bombing of Rhodes and the Aegean recommenced, including the night of 459's second anniversary. In April the Squadron moved to bases in 'Palestine - first to Ramat David and then to St Jean, near Haifa'.
Review for the Month' of June 1944 (from Operations Record Book):
The month was very busy, thanks to the presence of enemy shipping in Rhodes Harbour, making it necessary for us to bomb during the dark period without a moon. The Ventura is not well adapted for flare dropping, but one 'illuminating' sortie was highly successful and our technique should improve with practice. Accurate navigation and a perfect timing are essential to the successful execution of flare-illuminated attacks and our experience during the month indicates that particular care be paid to these points.
We bombed Rhodes harbour ten times during the month, Porto Lago Bay three times and Calato aerodrome once. In addition, odd aircraft which failed to find the primary target dropped their bombs on other targets rather than bring them back. On the whole, the month's bombing was satisfactory. Total weight of bombs dropped over enemy targets was more than 154,000 lbs - over 60 tons. Quite a lot of damage was done for the loss of one aircraft, the crew of which may yet be found to be safe. Reports have come in that 43 buildings were destroyed, W/T stations put out of action and an AA position wiped out. Details of further damage will probably follow.
Total flying time for the month was 883 hours 26 minutes, of which 820 hours 38 minutes was operational flying. In view of the strain imposed on our crews involved in operating from advanced bases and the fact that they were briefed to look for and attack U-boats on the way to Nicosia, application was made for the flying time between base to be counted as operational 'single time'. This was granted, to the benefit and satisfaction of all crews. it is regretted that the Squadron anniversary celebration was not held this year. However, in view of our heavy operational commitments, it was not possible to hold the birthday party. This was in some measure compensated for with a Squadron dance in Haifa, a great success.
The work of a GR Squadron such as ours is for the most part notoriously dull and chances for aircrews to distinguish themselves in combat are correspondingly low. It is therefore very gratifying to know that in two years' service this Squadron gained seven DFCs, one OBE and one DFM. For their last trip, completing a tour of high distinction, Flying Officer Page's crew flew on a bombing sortie over Rhodes Harbour to illuminate the target. His Navigator, Flying Officer Thomas, who is also the Squadron's Photographic Officer, maintained a strict schedule and perfect timing on the outward trip, which resulted in an excellent illuminated target just when the bombers were in the target area. Thanks to this good effort, some exceedingly accurate bombing was possible. All this was in no small measure due to the Squadron Armament Officer, Flying Officer Shaw, who with his well known cheerfulness and ingenuity for improvisation surmounted difficulties, rigged a heath Robinson affair on the bomb racks to carry flares. But then, having served in the Western Desert for so long, we expect him to be better than most at this sort of thing.
On 19 July, following conversion to Baltimore aircraft, a program of bombing, anti-submarine patrols and armed reconnaissance was established, continuing when the Squadron moved to Berka 3, Cyrenaica. In November, Wing Commander Henderson was posted to command 454 Squadron in Italy and was replaced by Wing Commander C.E. Payne.
The Eastern Mediterranean now being virtually under Allied control, very little shipping needed to be escorted, but bombing intensified in the Aegean and on Rhodes, with some leaflet dropping on Crete and other islands.
On 16 February 1945, the Squadron moved to Almaza. It had been intended that the Squadron move to the United Kingdom where, still in Coastal Command it would convert to 'Leigh Light' Wellingtons for night general reconnaissance duties. However, postings of its crews to the Italian theatre and elsewhere meant that too few experienced personnel were available for quick conversion - hence a decision for disbandment.
On 10 April 1945, the Squadron was officially disbanded.
From Flag Officer Levant and Eastern Mediterranean:-
"Please say goodbye to 459 for me. I should like to thank them all for the good work they have done for us and to wish them good luck and good hunting in the next job."
No. 459 Squadron was the first of this RAAF's seventeen "Article XV" squadrons formed under the wartime Empire Air Training Scheme to be disbanded, and where it had been formed, in the Middle East. It had fulfilled its Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean tasks admirably. In the February 1945 it was to transfer to coastal command in the United Kingdom and to convert to "Leigh Light" Wellingtons for general night reconnaissance (G.R.) duties. However, aircrew postings to the Italian theatre and elsewhere meant insufficient G.R. trained and experienced crews were available for quick conversion, and the decision for early disbandment on 10.4.45 was taken.
No. 459 RAAF Squadron is remembered for its mobility and versatility. Its U-boat kill; its deadly night strikes on destroyers, f-boats, merchant vessels, and supply vessels off the Tobruk-Mersa Matruh coast during te pre and post - Alamein ebb and flow; and for its relentless day and night searches bombing and general harassment of German strongholds on Rhodes and Crete. Until its disbandment some months before the end of hostilities in Europe.