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British Legion
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WORLD WAR 2 115, 218, 608 & 635 SQUADRON AND RAF DOWNHAM MARKET

635 Squadron

635 Squadron was formed on 20th March 1944 at Downham Market from B Flight, 35 Squadron and C Flight, 97 Squadron. It was equipped with Lancasters, the squadron being a pathfinder unit, part of No. 8 Group RAF, Bomber Command. During the period March 1944, to April 1945, the squadron took part in many major bombing attacks as part of the strategic air offensive against Germany. Following its final wartime bombing mission it helped to drop food to the starving Dutch, repatriate British ex-POWs to Great Britain and ferry British troops home from Italy until disbanded on 1st September 1945.

Interesting facts about the squadron:

  • On 17th August 1945, Squadron Leader IW Bazalgette, DFC, a pilot of No 635 Squadron, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry during a daylight raid on Trossy-St. Maximin on 4th August 1944.
  • It was selected to undertake the operational trials of the Lancaster VI. It received five of these rather unique Lancasters-all of them in July/August 1944.

115 Squadron

115 (Bomber) Squadron was re-formed in 1937 and in the Second World War took part in scores of raids and also played an active part in Gardening (minelaying) for victory. In April 1940, while flying Wellingtons (and while on temporary loan to Coastal Command) it gained the distinction of making the RAF's first bombing raid of the war on a mainland target-the enemy-held Norwegian airfield of Stavanger/Sola. Sixteen months later, in August 1941, it undertook the initial Service trials of Gee, the first of the great radar navigational and bombing aids.1 As a result of its subsequent report on these trials Gee was put into large-scale production for Bomber Command.

From the spring of 1943 onwards No 115 flew Lancasters and for a while it was one of the relatively few operational units to use the Mark II version. The mighty Lancaster, with its huge bomb load, was probably the best-known bomber of all time and in the closing months of the war No 115 had two particularly distinguished specimens - Lancaster Is ME803 and '836. The former joined the squadron in May 1944, and between 31st May/1st June that year when it bombed Trappes West marshalling yards and 22nd April 1945, when it bombed Bremen, it logged 105 operational sorties. From May to October 1944, it served with "C" Flight (which had formed in November 1943) and was coded "A4-D". "C" Flight became the nucleus of No 195 Squadron in October 1944, but ME803 remained with No 115 and was re-coded "KO-L"; it retained these letters up to and including 27th February 1945, the date of its 101st operational sortie (if not longer), and made its subsequent trips - beginning 9/10th April - as "IL-B" of the new "C" Flight, which had begun operations in November 1944. In May 1945, ME803 was transferred to No 1659 HCU.

The other Lancaster, ME836, joined No 115 in May or June 1944 (from No. 75 Squadron, but without any ops to its credit), and between 11/12th June, when it bombed Nantes and 24th April 1945, when it bombed Bad Oldesloe (using the G-H blind-bombing radar device with which it was then equipped), made 97 operational sorties. It made the first 37 as "A4-C" and the remainder - beginning 15th November 1944 - as "KO-S".

The squadron briefly used RAF Downham Market in at th end of MAy and start of June 1942, RAF Downham Market's first operational sorties.

218 Squadron

218 Squadron flew to France on 2nd September 1939, and made valuable reconnaissance flights and leaflet raids in Battle aircraft in the early days of the war. In June 1940, after having hindered the German advance into France by bombing the enemy's lines of communications and troop concentrations (and having suffered heavy casualties in the process) it was evacuated to England to be re-equipped with Bristol Blenheim medium-range bombers. Five months later, when it was equipped with Wellington long-range aircraft, it became a heavy-bomber squadron. Its targets were of the widest variety - from industrial centres, railways, Noball (V-weapon) sites and gun batteries, to the Channel ports, oil and petrol installations, and concentrations of troops and armour. The squadron was re-equipped with Stirling four-engined bombers (the first of the real "heavies") beginning in December 1941 - three months after His Excellency the Governor of the Gold Coast and the peoples of the Gold Coast territories officially adopted the squadron - and the Stirlings were, in turn, replaced by Lancasters in the summer of 1944. The squadron was based at Downham Market between July 1942 and March 1944. They flew Short Stirling I and III during this period.

608 Squadron

608 (North Riding) Squadron was formed at Thornaby-onTees, Yorkshire, on 17th March 1930, as an Auxiliary Air Force light-bomber squadron, its first operational aircraft (not received until the summer) being the Westland Wapiti. In January 1937, it was converted to the fighter role and reequipped with Hawker Demons, and, a few months before the outbreak of war, underwent further changes and became a general-reconnaissance squadron. For nearly two years its main task was convoy escort with Anson, Botha and Blenheim aircraft. In mid-1941 it was re-equipped with Hudsons and was subsequently allotted more offensive tasks, including attacks on land targets on the Norwegian and Danish coasts. On 17th May 1942, it took part in an attack on the German cruiser Prinz Eugen.

In the closing months of 1942 the squadron moved to North Africa. Its role continued to be general reconnaissance and as the campaign progressed it moved on to Sicily and Italy.

The squadron was disbanded on 31st July 1944, but on the following day it re-formed at Downham Market in England as part of No 8 (PFF) Group's Light Night Striking Force. It was equipped with Mosquitos - Mk XXs initially - and between 5/6th August 1944 and 2nd/3rd May 1945, flew 1,726 operational sorties against key German industrial centres and ports, including Berlin, Frankfurt, Hanover, Essen, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Emden and Kiel.

SORTIES DISPATCHED AND AIRCRAFT LOST FROM RAF DOWNHAM MARKET

Year

No. of Sorties

No. of Aircraft Lost

Percentage of Aircraft Lost

Squadron Nos. Involved

1942

517

40

7.7

218

1943

1,268

65

5.1

214,218,623

1944

2,500

40

1.6

214,218,608, 635

1945

1,480

15

1.0

608, 635

KNOWN OPERATIONS FROM RAF DOWNHAM MARKET

Date

Squadron(s)

Target

30 May 1942

115 & 218

Cologne

1 June 1942

115 & 218

Essen

12 July 1942

218

Frisian Islands - mining

13 July 1942
218
Duisburg
28 July 1942
218
Hamburg
20 August 1942
218
Kiel Bay - mining
24 August 1942
218
Frankfurt
28 August 1942
218
Saarbrucken
17 October 1942
218
Bornholm & Rugen - mining
28 November 1942
218
Turin
17 December 1942
218
Fallersleben
27 January 1943
218
Baltic - mining
14 April 1943
218
Stuttgart
14 May 1943
218
Bochum
21 June 1943
218
Krefeld
22 June 1943
218
Mulheim
24 July 1943
218
Hamburg
27 July 1943
218
Hamburg
29 July 1943
218
Hamburg
2 August 1943
218
Hamburg
12 August 1943
218
Turin
16 August 1943
218
Turin
17 August 1943
218
Peenemünde
27 August 1943
623
Nuremburg
30 August 1943
218
Mönchengladbach
2 September 1943
218
Frisian Islands - mining
3 September 1943
218
La Rochelle - mining
5 September 1943
218
Mannheim
9 September 1943
218
Boulogne
15 September 1943
218
Montluçon
16 September 1943
218
Modane
3 October 1943
218
North Sea - mining
4 October 1943
218
Frankfurt
25 October 1943
218
Baltic Sea - mining
4 November 1943
218
Kattegat - mining
18 November 1943
218
Mannheim
19 November 1943
218
Leverkusen
22 November 1943
218
Berlin
31 December 1943
214 & 218
Dutch coast - mining
5 January 1944
218
Le Tourqet & Abbeville
6 January 1944
218
San Sebastian - mining
14 January 1944
218
Cherbourg
29 January 1944
218
Keil Harbour

12 February 1944

218
Frisian Islands - mining
15 February 1944
218
Kiel Harbour - mining
17 February 1944
218
North Sea - mining
19 February 1944
218
Kiel Harbour - mining
21 February 1944
218
Frisian Islands - mining
22 February 1944
218
Kiel Harbour - mining
30 March 1944
635
Nuremburg
18 April 1944
635
Rouen
22 April 1944
635
Laon
27 April 1944
635
Friedrichshafen
20 May 1944
635
Duisberg
5 June 1944
635
Normandy Coast
11 June 1944
635
Nantes
15 June 1944
635
Lens
22 June 1944
635
Siracourt Rocket Site
4 August 1944
635
Trossy-St-Maxim VI Site
5 August 1944
608
Wanne Eickel
10 August 1944
635
Bremen
26 August 1944
635
Kiel
29 August 1944
635
Stettin
4 October 1944
635
Bergen
30 October 1944
635
Cologne
30 November 1944
635
Duisberg
11 December 1944
608
Duisberg
24 December 1944
635
Düsseldorf Airfield
14 February 1945
608 & 635
Chemnitz, Mainz & Berlin
17 February 1945
635
Wessel
5 March 1945
608
Berlin
13 March 1945
635
Wuppertal
25 March 1945
635
Osnabrück
9 April 1945
635
Kiel
10 April 1945
635
Leipzig
11 April 1945
635
Nuremberg
13 April 1945
608
Hamburg
20 April 1945
608
Berlin
21 April 1945
608
Kiel
22 April 1945
635
Bremen
25 April 1945
608
Munich
25 April 1945
635
Berchtesgaden & Wangerooge
26 April 1945
608
Eggebek Airfield
2 May 1945
608
Kiel

Sources: "Strike Hard - A Bomber Airfield at War" by John B Hilling ISBN 0-7509-0969-2

Last updated 28 January, 2008

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