Friday, 27 September 2013

The Fairey Battles come home, June 1940

Meanwhile the men of Bomber Command in Lincolnshire continued with the job in hand. The squadrons of 5 Group were joined by those of 1 Group. Ten squadrons of Bomber Command had been sent out to France in September 1939 to act as a battlefield support group to the British Expeditionary Force, being officially known as the Advanced Air Striking Force. They were all equipped with the Fairey Battle, which proved spectacularly ineffective in combat. The Battle was a single-engined, two seater able to carry two 500lb bombs. In theory the Battles were supposed to launch short range raids on enemy troops and supply columns. In practice those that were hurled forward against the advancing German armies in May and June 1940 were outclassed by the German fighters. The squadrons suffered appalling casualties – one raid of 71 Battles attacking the bridges over the Meuse River at Sedan lost no fewer than 41 aircraft.

The battered survivors of 1 Group were brought back to England. They thankfully gave up their Battles in favour to far superior Vickers Wellington and were sent to new stations. Squadrons 12 and 103 came to Lincolnshire to form the basis of a new 1 Group.

from "Heroes of RAF Bomber Command, Lincolnshire" by Rupert Matthews.

Buy your copy at a bookshop or Amazon

At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, such was the build-up of men and materials in the R A F that Lincolnshire was already known as 'Bomber Country'. Its four main airfields - Hemswell, Scampton, Waddington and Cottesmore - were home to eight squadrons of Bomber Command under the legendary Arthur 'Bomber' Harris. Night after night the skies of Lincolnshire reverberated with the sound of aircraft taking off and landing. For the aircrews the missions were very dangerous and physically exhausting. The chances of surviving a full tour of 30 operations were only 50/50, less in the first five sorties while aircrews gained valuable experience. Their targets were roads, railways, bridges, harbours, dams, factories and oil installations. Many medals were won - some of them posthumously. On the Dambusters Raid alone, 36 were awarded; a VC for the leader Guy Gibson, five DSOs, 14 DFCs, 12 DFMs and three Conspicuous Gallantry Medals. In this well researched and excellently written book, Rupert Matthews - himself the son of a Bomber Command sergeant who fought in the Second World War - describes many of the operations in detail and tells the story of courageous individuals who, despite the odds, flew mission after mission - heroes every one of them.

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