The Bristol Beafighter
When the Beaufighter was equipped for carrying a torpedo later in the war, it became the best British
anti-shipping aircraft of the the time. Note the four cannon on the underside of the nose.
Maximum Speed: 512 kph/318 mph
Power: 2 Bristol 1770hp Hercules XVII 14 cylinder air cooled radials.
Wingspan: 17.63m/57ft 10in Length: 12.7m/41ft 8in Wing Area: 46.73m²/503squ ft
The Beaufighter was originally conceived as a multi-role aircraft, and fighter versions appeared during the Battle of Britain.
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.
Beaufighter (flying over Fiume in the former Yugoslavia [a nearby city to Trieste -Italy] - is now known as Rijeka.)
Blackburn B-26 Botha
The Blackburn Botha requirements were for a land-based general reconnaissance/torpedo-bomber. The 4-seat high-wing mono-plane powered by two 880 hp Perseus X engines.
The first Blackburn Botha flew on December 28, 1938, and deliveries were completed by June 1941, later batches having the 930 hp Perseus XA engine. Armament comprised one forward-firing Vickers 0.303-in machine gun and two similar Lewis guns in a dorsal turret; internal loads could include one Mk XII or Mk XIV torpedo or up to 2,000-lb (908-kg) of bombs, plus provision for under-wing bomb racks. Deliveries began in May 1940 to No 608 (North Riding) Sqn and others served briefly with No 502 Sqn;No 608 operated the Blackburn Botha until November 1940 but it was seriously underpowered and was then assigned to second-line units, such as No 3 School of General Reconnaissance, No 11 Radio School and other training units until declared obsolete in 1944. A few served as target tugs, with winch gear replacing the dorsal turret.
Max speed, 220 mph (354 km/h) at 15,000ft (4,575 m).
Initial rate of climb, 355 ft/min (1.80 m/sec).
Service ceiling, 18,400ft (5,610 m).
Range, 1,270 mis (2,043 km).
Empty weight, 12,036 Ib (5,464 kg).
Gross weight, 18,450 Ib (8,376 kg).
Span, 59ft 0 in (17.98 m).
Length, 51 ft O'h in (15.56 m).
Wing area, 518 sqft (48.12 m2).
From the diary of John Simmonds - [RAF] RAAF 459 Squadron, he writes; "Actually it was a sound aeroplane, built for Coastal Command as a torpedo bomber but found less satisfactory for that purpose than the Beaufort. It was therefore, like the Defiant, relegated to Training Command. It was a twin engined, high winged monoplane which could accommodate several A.S.V. sets and several pupils. It was still a good safe aeroplane but the general unease about flying in it brought about the first thoughts in my mind that it wasn't only the Germans that were going to try to kill me and that I might do well to keep a wary eye on my own side".
1942 Formation and training phase:
The British built version of the Blenheim was the Mk V. Over 940 were built, the majority being the VD tropical variant. These were shipped out to North Africa to support the Eighth Army in the Western Desert but again, the Blenheims suffered appalling combat losses against the Messerschmitt Bf109s and were soon replaced by US-supplied Baltimores and Venturas.
Length: 42 ft 9 in (13 m)
Wingspan: 56 ft 4 in (17.17 m)
Height: 12 ft 10 in (3.91 m)
Wing area: 469 ft² (43.6 m²)
Empty weight: 9,790 lb (4,440 kg)
Loaded weight: 14,400 lb (6,530 kg)
Powerplant: 2× Bristol Mercury XV radial engines, 920 hp (690 kW) each
Max. Speed: 266 mph (231 knots, 428 km/h)
Range: 1,950 mi (1,690 nm, 3,140 km)
Service Ceiling: 31,500 ft (9,600 m)
Rate of Climb: 1,500 ft/min (7.6 m/s)
Wing loading: 30.7 lb/ft² (150 kg/m²)
Power/Mass: 0.13 hp/lb (210 W/kg)
1× .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun in the nose
2× .303 in Browning machine guns in chin turret
2× .303 in Browning machine guns in dorsal turret
4× 250 lb (110 kg) bombs or
2× 500 lb (230 kg) bombs
454 Squadron's formation and training phase began at Aqir in Palestine and continued at Qaitara in Iraq with W Cmdr I. Campbell as commanding officer (16/10/42 to 16/11/43). The ground crew of 454 RAAF squadron, originally planned as a light bomber unit in the United Kingdom in mid 1941 with ground crew sent from Australia, proceeded to the Middle East, and having no aircraftor crew awaiting them serviced Middle East heavy bomber squadrons (e.g. 462 RAAF).
Later reformed in September 1942, nominally as a light bomber squadron, the ground party of 500 personnel made the difficult desert trip to a location near Mosul in Iraq, as a "D Force" squadron. This army and air force initially as to cover the rich Mesopotamian oil fields coveted by the Axis; to be the left flank and guardian of the Lend Lease supply line to Southern Russia; and to help protect the alternative Middle East - Persian Gulf - India supply line. Equipped with a small number of Blenheim Vs (Bisleys), 454 was a refresher/conversation/ advanced operational training unit as the mixed RAF and RAAF air crew and ground crew personnel were moulded by Campbell and his flight commanders into a solid team. From the beginning, high standards of serviceability were demanded and the ground crews invariably responded with serviceable aircraft on time in the operational years ahead, even after considerable damage sustained during earlier sorties.
Boulton Paul Defiant
The Boulton Paul Defiant was an early ww2 fighter aircraft and bomber interceptor fo the RAF built by Boulton Paul Aircraft Limited. This plane had an informat nickname of “Daffy”. The Defiant emerged at a time when the RAF anticipated having to defend Great Britain against unescorted enemy bombers. Advances in aircraft design during the 1920s and 1930s resulted in a generation of multi-engined bombers that were faster than the single-engined biplane fighters then in service. The RAF believed that its own turret-armed bombers, such as the Vickers Wellington, would be able to penetrate enemy airspace and defend itself without fighter escort, and that the German Luftwaffe - its most obvious future enemy - would do the same in return. A turret-armed fighter would be able to engage enemy bombers
from angles that would defeat the bomber gunners. Thus, the Defiant was armed with a powered dorsal turret, equipped with four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns. In theory, the Defiant would approach an enemy bomber from below or beside and destroy it with a concentrated burst of fire
From the diary of John Simmonds - [RAF] RAAF 459 Squadron, he writes; "To the uninitiated, the Defiant looked like a Hurricane with a gun turret on its back. It had a top speed of about 300 mph, and its turret was hydraulically operated. Its four machine guns were .303 Brownings, the same as used on the heavy bombers."
G-45 Camera fitted
DeHavilland Dominie DH.89
The de Havilland DH 89 Dragon Rapide was a successful British short-haul passenger airliner of the 1930s.
Designed as a successor to the DH 84 Dragon, , it featured the tapered wings and streamlined undercarriage fairings of the four-engined DH 86 Express.
At the start of WW2 many Dragon Rapides were impressed by the British armed forces and, together with fresh RAF orders, served under the designation de Havilland Dominie. They were used for passengers duties and radio navigation training.
731 Rapides were built. They have proved astonishingly durable with many still flying into the 21st century.
At the IWM Duxford air museum in Cambridgeshire, UK, a pair of Rapides is used daily for short pleasure flights around the airfield. A pair of Rapides are also airworthy in New Zealand.
From the diary of John Simmonds - [RAF] RAAF 459 Squadron, he writes; "On the 2.12.1942 I stepped into a Dominie for my first official flight in the service-complete with parachute. For one hour, thirty-five minutes we flew over the fields of Herefordshire learning how to tune a receiver in the air. Thee were half a dozen pupils in the aeroplane, all puking their hearts up. After a few flights we graduated on to the Proctor.
Fairchild F24 Argus
The four-seat Fairchild F24, sporting and training aeroplane, made its first flight in 1932.
The design attracted attention from the civilian American market and improved models soon began to appear.
With the appearance of the F24W series, the aircraft's potential as a light military transport was recognised by the United States Army. An initial contract for 161 aircraft for the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) was placed in 1941. However, all the aircraft were re-allocated to the Royal Air Force under the American Lend-Lease Act which allowed war materials ordered for the United States armed forces to be
given to other nations for the duration of the war. Further contracts led to the delivery of more than 600 aircraft to the United Kingdom. Known in the USAAF as the Forwarder, those arriving in Great Britain were given the official name Argus.
The Argus was used in the light communications role by the RAF and found a particular niche ferrying pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary.
The Harvard was an American designed two-seat general-purpose military monoplane with tandem cockpits and sliding enclosures. In the training variant there were dual controls, with the rear control quickly removable. The Harvard was the British and Canadian designation for the North American AT-6 Texan, and was built by the Noorduyn Aviation Limited of Montreal and the Canadian Car & Foundry under license from North American Aviation, Inc. The AT-6 terminology ranged from the Texan in the United States Army Air Force, the SNJ in the United States Navy and the Harvard in Canadian, Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm service.
This family of trainers is easily the most widely built trainer of all time.
More than 17,000 Harvards were eventually built in the US or under license in Australia, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden. 2,610 Harvard IIB's were built in Canada by Noorduyn Aviation Limited, and 555 Harvard Mk IV by the Canadian Car and Foundry in the 1950s. Many remained in service in military air arms for over twenty years after the end of WWII, finally serving in a total of more than 40 airforces around the world.
South Africa was the last air force to use the Harvard after 55 years service, from 1940-1995.
Harvard ready to go - Harvard (N.A.I.6) - [Pilot R. Nossiter - 459]
The Hudson was specifically designed to meet an urgent British requirement for a coastal reconnaissance bomber - The Hudson also served with the RAAF, RNZAF and RCAF
The Lockheed Hudson, the first American-built aircraft to be used operationally by the RAF during WW2, was designed to meet an urgent 1938 British requirement for a long-range maritime patrol bomber and navigation trainer. Lockheed's response, was militarized version of the proven Lockheed 14 Super Electra.
The Hudson was an all-metal mid-wing monoplane with an elliptical cross-section fuselage and a transparent nose for bomb-aiming. Fowler flaps were fitted to improve short-field performance.
The crew normally consisted of a pilot, navigator, bomb-aimer, radio operator and gunner.
Armament consisted of a bomb load of up to 454kg/1000lb (in later models) and up to seven machine guns in nose, dorsal turret, beam and ventral hatch positions. Size - wingspan 19.96m/65ft 6in, length of plane - 13.5 m/44ft 4in, Height - 3.6m/11ft 10in, Wing area - 51.19m2/551 sqft. Maximum speed 396kph/246mph.
Hudsons soon began to be equipped with air-to-surface vessel radar. Total production amounted to 2,584, and Hudsons were also operated by the RCAF, RAAF and RNZAF fighting in the Mediterranean, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, North Atlantic and Caribbean.
Formation - Hudsons
Number 459 Squadron was officially formed at Burg-el-Arab LG 40 (40 miles west of Alexandria in Egypt)
on 10.2.42 for general reconnaissance duties over the Eastern Mediterranean area. S Ldr P.W. Howson assumed
temporary command. At that time there were two Hudsons on strength, but crews, who had completed
operational flying training in England and were posted to the Squadron, delivered more aircraft in April via
Gibraltar and Malta. For the next two years the Squadron's Hudsons ranged over the sea lanes, harbours and
islands of the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas until December 1943, when Venturas began replacing them,
and from July 1944, when conversion to Baltimores began. No. 459 Squadron quickly established a fine reputation
as a highly efficient, very mobile, aggressive search and strike, night operational force, using many home bases,
and many more detachment locations, whether in an offensive or defensive role. It regularly penetrated the ring
of enemy occupied islands from the Greek West Coast to the east and Athens in the north. Though its early
sorties were individual and at night, its versatility and aggressiveness were exploited in later periods by day,
sometimes singly, sometimes in small bombing formations.
On 19.4.42 K.S. Hennock assumed command as Wing Commander. Hudson aircraft continued to arrive, and by May the Squadron had moved to its own airfield at Behig. On 1.6.42 the first squadron sortie flown was to be the forerunner of three years of concentrated effort in a wide variety of roles. In a period of three weeks from 28.7.42 to 17.8.42 Squadron Hudsons claimed as destroyed 17 F-Boats and 3 others damaged, for the loss of 5 crews in very low level attacks. F-Boats were landing barges, heavily armed for their size (approx. 300 tons displacement), ferrying fuel, vital equipment, and stores for Rommel's rapidly advancing Axis forces driving past Mersa Matruh towards Alamein and the Nile Delta area. [see Map page] Successful mast head dawn attacks by several squadrons, including No. 459, towards silhouetted targets stopped this supply line. Depth charges had been replaced by
sticks of 100lb bombs for 459's shipping attacks.
The ensuing months saw the squadron conducting convoy escorts, anti-submarine patrols and shipping strikes.
In these early months it claimed one destroyer and one 6000 ton merchant ship as destroyed and sundry other targets damaged. This pattern continued from many different airfields, the Squadron winning high praise for its results, for aircraft serviceability and the low accident rate. On 14.9.42, W Cmdr Hennock was posted to Australia and W Cmdr P.W. Howson took command. Additionally, S Ldr I.L. Campbell, the Squadron's first Flight Commander, was posted as W Cmdr to form No. 454 RAAF Squadron. For the remainder of the year, convoy escort principally at night, and co-operation with the Navy, continued.
The advent of 1943 saw atrocious weather restricting operations as airfields became unserviceable.
In April the first of the operationally retired crews left the squadron and new crews began to arrive.
These and later retired crews were replaced from the U.K. and No. 75 RAF Operational Training Unit now relocated at Gianaclis in Egypt [see Maps]. On the anniversary of the first operation in June 1942, a Squadron dinner was held in celebration of 1294 sorties totaling 6,775 hours flown, and aircraft serviceability at a record 98%. In June 1943 operations continued from six airfields stretching from the Western desert to Cyprus, Palestine, Southern Arabia and Eritrea; record flying hours were recorded and the Squadron's first submarine "kill" was achieved.
A message of congratulations 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 No. 459 commenced bombing in the Aegean area - within the Axis perimeter of occupied and defended islands of Crete, Rhodes and the Dodecanese [see Maps] - and in the first month dropped 25 tons of bombs, in this somewhat different light bomber role.
On 5.120.43, W Cmdr Howson handed over command to W Cmdr A.D. Henderson. In dreadful weather conditions, the bombing in the Aegean continued with Rhodes now a main target.
THE HUDSONS ARE HOME
Out of the evening sky they come; out of the grey
Dusk-heavy light that marks our end of day.
Like weary swans the Hudsons glide to ground,
and taxi up the runway, while the sound
of roaring engines shakes the patient trees,
and cool air from the slipstream fans the breeze
into the tents around the breathless drome,
and someone shouts "…four, five, yes, they're all home !”.
By David Mc Nicoll
[reproduced by permission of the author from his published book "Deal Me In"]
Courtesy of Murray Evans (459)
The Martin 187 Baltimore was a two-engined light attack bomber built by the Glenn L. Martin Company in the United States, originally ordered by the French in May 1940 as a follow-up to the earlier Martin Maryland, then in service in France. With the fall of France, the production series was diverted to Great Britain. Baltimore development was hindered by a series of problems, although the type eventually became a highly versatile combat aircraft. Produced in large numbers, the Baltimore was not used in combat by the United States forces, but eventually served with the British, Canadian, Australian, South African, Hellenic and the Italian air forces.
Design and development
Initially designated the A-23 (derived from the A-22 Martin 167 Maryland design), the Model 187 (company designation) had a deeper fuselage and more powerful engines. The Model 187 met the needs for a light to medium bomber, originally ordered by the Anglo-French Purchasing Commission as a joint project in May 1940. The French Air Force sought to replace the earlier Maryland; 400 aircraft being ordered. With the fall of France, the Royal Air Force (RAF) took over the order and gave it the service name Baltimore. To enable the aircraft to be supplied to the British under the Lend-Lease Act the United States Army Air Forces designation A-30 was allocated.
With the passing of the Lend Lease Act two further batches of 575 and then 600 were provided to the RAF.
The first British aircraft were delivered in late 1941 to equip Operational Training Units. The RAF only used the Baltimores operationally in the Mediterranean theater and North Africa.
Many users were impressed by the step up that the Baltimore represented from older aircraft like the Bristol Blenheim. The users of the Baltimore, and Martin pilot Benjamin R. Wallace, praised the aircraft for its heavy armament, structural strength, maneuverability, bombing accuracy, and relatively high performance, but crews complained of cramped conditions similar to those in the earlier Maryland bomber. Due to the narrow fuselage it was nearly impossible for crew members to change positions during flight if wounded (the structure of the interior meant that the pilot and observer were separated from the wireless operator and rear gunner). This was common for most light bombers of the era like the Handley Page Hampden, Douglas Boston, and Blenheim. Crews also complained about the difficulties in handling the aircraft on the ground. On takeoff, the pilot had to co-ordinate the throttles perfectly to avoid a nose-over, or worse.
Thrown into action to stop Rommel's advance, the Baltimore suffered massive losses when it was utilized as a low-level attack aircraft, especially in the chaos of the desert war where most missions went unescorted. However, operating at medium altitude with fighter escorts, the Baltimore had a very low loss rate, with the majority of losses coming from operational accidents.
Undertaking a variety of missions in the Middle East, Mediterranean and European theaters, the Baltimore's roles included reconnaissance, target-towing, maritime patrol, night intruder and even served as highly uncomfortable fast transports. The Baltimore saw limited Fleet Air Arm service with aircraft transferred from the RAF in the Mediterranean to equip a squadron in 1944. Used in the anti-submarine role during the war, the Baltimore achieved moderate success, sinking up to eight U-boats.
The RAF also transferred aircraft to other Allies in the Mediterranean area. After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, the type was used intensively in the Italian campaign to clear the road to Rome for advancing Allied forces. After the armistice, an Italian-manned squadron, the 28th Bomber Wing,was equipped with ex-RAF Baltimores, becoming the co-belligerent Stormo Baltimore. The Italians suffered considerable attrition during their training phase on the Baltimore. The majority of accidents were during takeoffs and landings due to the aircraft's fairly high wing loading, high approach speed and a directional stability problems during takeoffs. The Italians only operated the Baltimore for roughly six months. Many of those operations were in Yugoslavia and Greece, providing air support for partisan forces or dropping supplies.
Most Baltimores were scrapped soon after the war, although one RAF squadron continued to use the type in Kenya where the aircraft were used in aerial mapping and locust control until 1948. In post-war service, the Baltimore took part in United States Navy instrument and control surface tests in the effort to break the sound barrier. With its powerful engines and light, yet robust construction, the aircraft was able to be dived at high speed, reaching Mach .74 in tests. All Baltimores were withdrawn from service by the end of 1949, the last one being retired on 23 December 1949.
The Baltimore GR.IIIA variant supplied to the British under the Lend-Lease program. This variant was equipped with a dorsally-mounted turret housing twin .50-caliber M2 machine guns.
Baltimore B. I
Fitted with 1,600 hp (1,193 kW) Wright GR-2600-A5B radial piston engines, armed with ten 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, eight fixed Brownings and two flexible Vickers K machine guns; all marks had two fixed 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings in the leading-edge of each wing and four similar fixed guns, two on each side of the lower fuselage aft firing backwards, plus two flexible Vickers guns in dorsal and ventral. 50 aircraft built.
Baltimore B. II
As with the Mk I;defensive armament was increased to 12 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns including twin 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine guns in both the dorsal and ventral positions. 100 aircraft built.
Baltimore B. III
Modified Mk II design defensive armament was increased to 14 0.303 in (7.7 mm) guns and impoved with a hydraulically-powered dorsal turret supplied by Boulton Paul in the UK with 4 Browning machine guns. 250 aircraft built.
Baltimore B. IIIa (A-30-MA)
Ordered by USAAF and supplied under Lend-lease to the RAF, two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in a Martin-built electrically powered dorsal turret. 281 aircraft built.
Baltimore B. IV (A-30A-MA)
USAAF order, lend-lease to RAF. Four 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings machine guns in the wings. 294 aircraft built.
Baltimore B. V (A-30A-MA)
USAAF order, Upgraded with two 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) Wright R-2600-29 radial piston engines, Wings fitted with 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. 600 aircraft built.
Baltimore GR. VI (A-30C-MA)
Two prototypes were built for maritime reconnaissance. They included a lengthened fuselage, accommodations for extra fuel tanks and a torpedo, and a Radome in nose. The whole program was cancelled in April 1944. (900 cancelled)
All of the series were built were for the RAF. A number were lost on delivery across the Atlantic Ocean when two ships carrying Baltimores were sunk.
Royal Australian Air Force
No. 454 squadron RAAF (Baltimore III, IV, V) (North Africa, Pescara Italy: February 1943 – 14 August 1945)
No. 459 squadron RAAF (Baltimore IV - V) (Mediterranean: July 1944 – March 1945)
1943 General Maritime Reconnaissance Phase - from Egypt, Palestine and Cyrenaica - Baltimore IIIs
First Flight - 14 June 1941
The deep fuselage allowed better communication between the crew, however the narrowness of the fuselage made movement around the aircraft in an emergency almost impossible. The RAF ordered 1,575 Baltimores.
In January 1943, the general maritime reconnaissance phase commenced in Egypt with conversion to longer range Martin Baltimore IIIs, now in Middle East Command, operating from bases in Palestine, Egypt and Cyrenaica, frequently alongside 459 Squadron. With bomb-bay auxiliary fuel tanks (as used during ferry deliveries from USA via the Equatorial Atlantic route), a range of 5-1/2 hours was possible.
Baltimore Conversion Flight - by Bob Watkins [story contributed by Bob Connel]
"Our ops tour on Baltimores stretched from El Alamein to Sicily. During those operational flights over the desert I often looked at my navigator, strapped into the perspex nose of the Baltimore and wondered how he felt in such an exposed and vulnerable position.
Gerry, my navigator, would count off his rosary beads, as we headed for the bomb line. I often wondered why. I was soon to find out.
We completed our tour in Sicily and were posted back to Shandur, an OTU situated on the Suez Canal.
I spent the next year, sitting in the perspex nose of the Baltimore, training pilots to fly an operational aircraft. It was then that I understood the need for a comforter, like Gerry's rosary beads.
Trainee pilots came from many countries. The most difficult of the trainees were posted to the OTU from a country where English was rarely spoken. The pilots brought with them, interpreters. These were University trained and had some knowledge of English. Many of the pilots had none.
The Baltimore was not meant for dual instruction. This aircraft had a slender fuselage, where crew members sat one behind the other and separated by bulkheads. Our only communication was by intercom, never the best at any time.
The instructor sat in the nose, with a minimum of controls. These were a control column, pedals, throttles and an instrument panel with a few dials. There were no flap or undercarriage controls. I had to rely on the trainee to carry out most flying Operations.
The interpreter sat behind the pilot and was completely isolated from him, except for one small window. This was where the wireless operator sat during operations and where the intercom controls were. Baltimore intercom was irregular in operation and difficult to read at times.
This configuration was fine during operations, when every crew member knew his role. It was a different story when only the instructor knew what was going on.
Circuits and landings were the real test for instructor, trainee pilot and interpreter. Certain smells often bring memories of past events back to many people. There is one smell that has stayed with me all my life and it would begin during circuits and landings.
The smell was a combination of escaping petrol vapour, continual vomiting and a strong mixture of pilot sweat and heavy scent. All this locked inside the narrow fuselage of a Baltimore light bomber!
Certain pilots after showering, dowsed themselves in scent. The poor little interpreter heaved his heart up in the wireless cabin as the instructor tried desperately to get messages through the interpreter to the pilot. Completing a single circuit appeared to take hours and by the time the undercarriage was raised and the flaps were up we were over the canal and heading well into the Sinai desert. Eventually we would get into the down-wind leg, seemingly miles out from the runway. Now the problems really began when we came to lowering the undercarriage and flaps in preparation for landing. Quite often the flaps would come down first and the aircraft would slow close to a stall point. This was when I had to bang open the throttles and cockpit drill for landing would start all over again.
In many ways, it was a good thing that we were so far out from the runway. We had time to slowly go through the whole procedure again. During all this our height would fluctuate between 800 to 1,500 feet. With constant yelling from me and the very sick interpreter passing on my commands, the sweating pilot would turn onto the final leg. The runway often appeared a very slender and distant strip in the distance. We would lumber towards the drome, with full flap, wheels down and often at a low altitude and throttles fully open. I always tried to make a landing on the first attempt. To have to go around again was too awful to contemplate. All this had to be repeated at night. I don't know who felt drained the most at the end of an hour. The poor interpreter had the job of cleaning up his section. The smell of sweat, perfume and vomit never did disappear from these dual aircraft.
Our flight had a Hurricane and a Fairchild Argus attached to it. It was heaven to occasionally fly the Hurricane and relax, alone above the "desert or to fly the Fairchild Argus to Palestine to pick up a load of Jaffa oranges and fresh fruit.
After going solo and in the mess later, the pilots insisted on buying drinks all round and presenting instructors with gifts. They were generous men.
I had a year on this conversion flight and was glad when a posting back to Australia came through. People back home in Australia would often ask what you flew during the war. When you said a Baltimore they would often look blank. Pilots only flew Spitfires and Lancasters. Ah well, so be it....."
Apart from routine anti-submarine convoy patrols, a steady sequence of long range penetrations by Baltimore reconnaissance
aircraft (up to 3 or 4 per day) were despatched to search the Aegean Islands' harbours at low level in daylight.
Some sightings led to strikes by waiting airborne Beaufighters [this plane discussed further down the page], or later by night bombers or submarines. Unfortunately, crews were lost whilst a number, having survived running battles with 2 or more fighter aircraft, managed to coax their badly damaged aircraft back to base or to crash land on the coast. One large scale operation on 23.7.43 involved 8 454 Baltimores. Ordered to attack installations on the north coast of Crete, they were preceded by 145 fighters strafing the area. This day low-level operation was part of an Allied diversionary strategy to focus Axis attention on a possible invasion of Greece to parallel the successful invasion of Sicily then nearing completion. Five 454 Baltimores were lost; one made it to a beach near Gambut; and two reached base; whilst 25 of the fighters were lost.
Under W Cmdr Coates DFC - RAF (Nov 43 - Apr 44) and later W Cmdr Moore (1.4.44 - 25.11.44), long range aggressive searches and convoy cover were continued from Berka 3 near Benghasi. A few medium sized and some smaller supply vessels were located. Small formations bombed targets in Southern Greece.
On 1st and 2nd June 1955, 454 evened the July 1943 score in the week before D Day in France - perhaps an unplanned diversion.
Eight long range reconnaissance Baltimores from 454, in turn, located and "shadowed" a desperately needed Axis supply convoy bound for Crete, despite continuous attacks by fighter cover. The convoy consisted of a 3 merchant vessels, 4 destroyers and some smaller escort vessels. The Baltimores based 400 miles away at Beghasi in Cyrenaica hung on successfully from dawn, all but the last safely eluding the strong convoy cover. A large strike force of Beaufighters, Marauders and Baltimores, plus fighter cover attacked at 7pm, sinking all but two vessels. One of these was sunk the following day in Candia Harbour and the other in a badly damaged condition was sunk by a submarine after it left the harbour. A "Box" of nine South African Air Force Baltimores was led on both bombing strikes by a 454 "vic" of three, with successful results on each occasion. Six Beaufighers were lost during this battle.
1944-45 Day Army Close Support Phase with Desert Air Force in Italy (East Coast) Light Bomber Baltimore IV's and V's
In 1944 the Squadron with Moore in command, replaced later by W Cmdr Henderson (25.11.44 - May 45) now converted to short range light bomber Baltimore IVs and later Vs. After training for tactical formation operations, it moved to Italian east coast bases in support of the British 8th Army at Pescara, Falconara and Cesenatica.
Between August 1944 and January 45, despite incessant rain and mud, particularly at Falconara, 1420 sorties were despatched against tactical and close support targets, delivering 1013 tonnes of bombs, often only 800 yards ahead of the British, Canadian, Polish and New Zealand troops. These troops were gradually driving their way in atrocious weather conditions and over difficult terrain through the Gothic Line defences towards the Po River. [see Maps]
The old Baltimore after our crash at Gambut in 1943. Note - the gash under the window - there was a grating noise I heard when the starboard propeller passed that way, plenty of fresh air in the front way. [photo from D. Roberts -454 - collection]
Flight Lieutenant (Later deputy Flight Commander of B Flight) - Bob Norman - 459 Sqdn noted in his book "Bush Pilot" - The Baltimore had four .303 firing forward in the wings, four .303 scatter-guns in the tail, and two .5's in the turret. I don't think an enemy fighter ever knocked down a Baltimore. They were shot down by "ack-ack" yes, but fighters had no stomach for them. The Baltimore lacked the sophistication of the Ventura. No radar, no radio altimeter, no auto-pilot, and the crew were divided off in compartments so that if one was hit the others could not attend to him. We moved our Baltimores to Benghazi and a new type of operation was added: low level reconnaisance. By fitting a seven hundred gallon tank in the bomb-bay we cold range out as far as the Dardanelles and into Northern Greece on recon.
The Baltimore was an aeroplane all pilots feared before they started flying them, mainly because no instruction was available. You were given a dossier on the aircraft and when you thought you knew enough about it you took off. Landing a Baltimore required a special technique and we all had trouble with the landings until we developed this technique. A flying boat skipper could have landed a Baltimore easily; the technique was the same. Come in low with power, then at one or two feet ease on more power until the wheels touched, then ease off power. Once on the ground it was imperative you kept absolute control because she was a vixen for group-looping.
Take-off in a war machine like a Baltimore or a Spitfire is an exhilarating experience. The acceleration is so great yo feel you are being punched along. The stalling speed was 118 miles per hour so you had to be doing more than that before take-off. The single engine control speed - that is, the speed if one engine cuts so you can still maintain control of the aeroplane - was 165 miles per hour. so there was a 47 miles per hour gap to make up before you could consider the flight under control. This period lasted a few seconds only due to the high rate of acceleration.
The undercarriage which always is a drag when suspended, would retract in a Baltimore in three seconds, and by the time the undercarriage locked in the "up" position the speed was only a second or two away from 165 miles per hour. Once it raced past that speed it was a glorious aeroplane to control."
"Tedder Bombing" flying formation -- Baltimores
The "Tedder Bomb Carpet" delivered from 10,000 to 13,000 feet by 454 and other squadrons in formations of 6, 9,12 aircraft,
together with the "Rover David Cab Rank" of fighter/dive bombers called in to strike particular targets by controllers, who were often located well ahead of forward Army units, was in great demand, as ground attacks became stalled. Immediate plain language radio reports by strike leaders to base about target hits used "Strine" coded messages. Thus "Apples" meant all bombs (some 80% of strikes were in the category); "Oranges" meant some were on and some off target; and "Lemons" mean a miss.
Back at base the next "box" preparing to strike would thus vary its target priority in accordance with the code assessment.
General Leese (C.I.C. 8th Army) signaled his appreciation on 22.9.44 as follows "Thanks for the unceasing pressure you have kept on enemy positions, guns and supplies, at every point in our advance. The advanced troops have complete trust in the accuracy of your close support bombing."
A similar message of appreciation was received from Canadian Corps forward troops 26.9.44 "Bombing by Baltimores this afternoon on gun areas was excellent. Artillery much reduced", From Canadian 1st Infantry Division, "Thank you on behalf of all ranks for your magnificent help".
1945 Night Intruder Phase and Disbandment
In January - February 1945 the Squadron converted to night intruder bombing and harassment of a stubbornly defensive, retreating Germany Army. This phase reached a peak during March and April. On 30 April/1st May eight Baltimores flew 13 armed reconnaissance sorties (five flew two sorties) attacking cross roads, and motor transport, success in this phase as in the other phases, was not without significant losses.
By May, W Cmdr Res DFC, DFC (USA) had replaced Henderson as C.O. For a period A Flight had been based at Forli.
Finally, 454, after settling in at Villa Orba near Udine in Northern Italy, was disbanded on 14.8.45, very proud to have been part of the 8th Army and Desert Air Force drive "From Alamein to the Alps".
On 19.7.44 conversion to Baltimore aircraft and an operational pattern of bombing, anti-sub and armed reconnaissance was established. This continued the Squadron now at Berka 3, Cyrenaica. November 1944 saw W Cmdr Henderson posted to command No. 454 Squadron in Italy. He was replaced by W Cmdr C.E. Payne. As the Eastern Mediterranean area was now virtually under Allied control, very little shipping was to be escorted, but in the months following, bombing intensified in the Aegean and on Rhodes with some leaflet dropping on Crete and other Islands. On 16.2.44, the Squadron was instructed to move to Almaza with aview to posting to the UK, but with disbandment imminent.
This occurred officially on 10.4.45, but prior to leaving the M.E., the following messages were received from A.O.C. Middle East Command:-
"On leaving my command, I would like to convey to all ranks my great appreciation for their loyal support.
Your Squadron's record has been excellent in operations and also in your almost accident-free flying.
I am certain that the missions you have flown have contributed largely to the defeat of the enemy in the Aegean.
Good luck to you all."
Mark V Baltimores
[Information from Mark Lax's book Alamein to the Alps]
The Mark V Baltimores operationally had some good and bad points. Wing Commander Jack Coates recalled the MkV had a flat plate windscreen, a big improvement on the earlier versions which had a curved Perspex screen. The flying particularly hazardous. Pat Humphreys also discussed another problem, the rudder sensitivity. This particular Mark had a most unfortunate re-design feature, in the shape of a forward-projecting horn on the rudder. The idea behind this modification was to make it easier for the pilot to correct the Baltimore's tendency to swing on take-off or landing, but the result was that the aircraft was so light on the rudder that it wiggled its tail, which added to the difficulty of maintaining tight formation.
Within a short time, an enterprising partnership between the Engineer Officer and the Equipment Officer resulted in the acquisition of a stock of tail-units from crashed Mark IV Baltimores which were fitted to the Mark Vs, much to the relief of the Aircrews.
A Typical 454 Bomber Baltimore at Work in Italy by Norm Gilham
[This brief story and photographs add further to the Pola Harbour strike by the Baltimore Wing of Desert Air Force operating from Falconnara, Italy in late 1944].
"Eventful Eve" showing battle scars. The patched holes and the broken window and nose bear witness to our lucky escape.
12 Mustangs from No 3 Squadron RAAF of 239 Wing gave us fighter protection on this daylight formation raid.
The Baltimore Squadrons were 454 RAAF, 400 RAF, 15 SAAF. I flew "Eventful Eve" in the bombing strike of Pola Harbour.
Later Reconnaissance showed heavy damage to 2 ships and to the dock area. Our call sign was "E-Easy", so we name our plane "Eventful Ee". The scroll on the engine read "The Four Sinners Kite". A commercial artist in civvy street, our squadron artist did a remarkable job on the planes and printed matter, etc for the squadron.
Large numbers of Proctors were built, because of their enclosed cabin design, as wireless trainers and communications aircraft during the Second World War.
The Proctor was a military version of the well known Vega Gull sports and light touring plane. The Proctor I three-seat communications aircraft made its maiden flight on 8 October 1939. 245 were delivered to the Royal Air Force.
This was followed by the Proctor II and III which were built as a radio trainers.
The final version of the Proctor in Royal Air Force service was the MkIV. This had a re-designed fuselage which allowed four persons to be carried together with operational radio equipment to train radio operators. Many of these Proctor Ivs were later converted into communications aircraft.
When No.31 Squadron re-formed in 1948 Proctor IVs and Avro Ansons were chosen as equipment. This unit provided an air taxi service for the Royal Air Force from Hendon for a number of years.
From the diary of John Simmonds - [RAF] RAAF 459 Squadron, he writes; "we graduated to the Proctor, a single engined monoplane, a trim little aircraft with spats on its wheels. The cabin was just big enough to take the pilot, the pupil and an instructor. The big thing now was to learn back tuning. Without going into a lot of detail this entailed tuning in to a ground signal and then tuning your transmitter to that signal so that you could send a message back and be understood.
It wasn't easy at first but I soon got the hang of it. We also learnt direction finding."
Taylorcraft Auster MkIII
Two-seat (side-by-side) lightplane, developed from Plus C and Plus D to meet Army requirements for an Air Observation Post. Initial contracts placed 1941 for 101 Taylorcraft Auster Mk Is and subsequent contracts for later marks kept the type in production throughout the war, as below; Mks 7 to 9 appeared post-war. Used by at least 19 AOP squadrons, and other Army formations.
Taylorcraft Auster AOP Mk III: Improved AOP with 130 hp DH Gipsy Major I engine. Fitted with wing flaps.
Deliveries began early 1943 and total of 470 built. Used initially by Nos 655, 656 and 657 AOP Squadrons.
Max speed, 130 mph (209 km/h) at sea level.
Cruising speed, 110 mph (177 km/h).
Range, about 300 mis (483 km).
Gross weight, 1,700 Ib (772 kg).
Span, 36 ft 0 in (10.98 m).
Length, 22 ft 5 in (6.84 m).
Wing area, 167sqft (15.5m).
Taylorcraft Auster AOP Mk VI: Based on Mk V, but with 145 hp DH Gipsy Major VII, new undercarriage and auxiliary aerofoil flaps. Prototype flown on May 1, 1945; production and service use post-war.
The Ventura, a derivative of the popular Hudson then in service with Coastal Command on anti-shipping and
The Ventura entered service at the end of May 1942. It was initially employed by Bomber Command for precision
raids over occupied Europe, but, like most dedicated bombers in RAF service, its performance made it vulnerable
to enemy fighters when not escorted. In September 1943, Ventura squadrons had transferred to the Second Tactical
Air Force. Some were also transferred to duties in the Middle East and to Coastal Command.
Specifications on the Ventura:
Length: 51ft 2½in (15.60m)
Wingspan: 65ft 6in (19.96m)
Height: 11ft 10½in (3.62m)
Maximum Speed: 300mph (484km/h)
Cruising Speed: 260mph (419km/h)
Ceiling: 25,000ft (7,617m)
Range: 950 miles (1,532km)
Powerplant: Two Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp GR2800 of 1,200hp each
Payload: 2,500lb (1,135kg) Defensive Armament: 2 x fixed .50in and .303in guns in nose, 2 or 4 x .303 in guns in mid-upper turret and 2 x .303in guns in mid-lower position.
Recognition: Short, squat body with curved undersides sweeping up to twin tails mounted at rear of fuselage. Heavily framed nose with cockpit windshield in line with leading edge of main plane.
Venturas - Night Operations
In December 1943 Ventura aircraft arrived on the Squadron and conversion commenced. In January 1944, No. 459 was
complimented on its accident free rate - 0.30% per 1000 hours against a Group average of 2.30%. Anti-submarine patrols
continued in conditions described as the "worst weather ever". April 1944 saw the squadron ordered to Ramat David and
then St. Jean in Palestine. Night bombing of Rhodes and the Aegean recommenced including the night of the Squadron's
From the diary of John Simmonds - [RAF] RAAF 459 Squadron, he writes;
"We had only flown 3 exercises as a crew when they took our Hudsons away from us and converted us to the more powerful Ventura. This aircraft looked very much like a Hudson but was altogether a stronger brute. Its two Pratt and Whitney, each of 2,000 horse power, compared favourably with the Hudson's 2 Wright Cyclone engines each of 1,100 horses. No doubt we
should have been impressed by this extra performance but we found out later that a fully laden Ventura wouldn't fly so well on one engine. God forbid we should ever have to try!. The Ventura we had was the American Navy version, the P.V.1, dripping with armour plate and armed with two point five Brownings in the turret instead of the pop guns in the British version. We also had two three-o-three firing aft in the tail section and another two in the nose. When we tried the latter we blew in the nose and therefore lost interest in forward defence."