This whole article is taken from this Website. I will only add some pictures, mostly taken from Art Sager’s collection
443 Squadron Formation during World War II
443 Squadron has enjoyed an eventful and active existence since it was conceived as a unit in Dartmouth, NS, on April 20, 1942. Initially, the squadron was tasked to fly defensive patrols over Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, but the demands of war saw 443’s transfer overseas and service with the Second Tactical Air Force. The squadron served throughout Europe until it was finally disbanded on March 15, 1946. The squadron was reformed on September 1, 1951 in Vancouver, BC for the purpose of “carrying out air and ground training covering all aspects of fighter squadron operations”. Over the next thirteen years, the role, equipment, and personnel changed frequently but it was not until March 31, 1964, that austerity spelled disbandment of the squadron.
On September 3, 1974, ten years later, the old Navy HS-50 Squadron was split, and one squadron was designated HS 443. From 1974 to 1989, the squadron was located at CFB Shearwater, carrying out the role of ASW (antisubmarine warfare) with the Sea King helicopter. In 1989, the squadron was moved to the west coast and based at Victoria International Airport near Patricia Bay, BC. Squadron responsibilities included providing Helicopter Air Detatchments (HELAIRDETs) to support Canada’s Pacific Fleet. The squadron’s motto was, and remains today, Our Sting is Death”.
Operational Training In Canada July 1942 – December 1943
The Fighting Four Hundred and Forty-Third Squadron of the RCAF began in Canada under the designation of No. 127 Squadron. It was created as a result of Japan’s entrance into the war in December 1941 and the build-up of the German U-Boat activities in the Atlantic in early 1942. This led to the requirement of strengthening Canada’s defence structure on both coasts. Shipping was being protected from surface and sub-surface threats by many newly formed bomber, reconnaissance, and fighter squadrons. No. 127 Squadron was just one of the new fighter squadrons formed to bolster the air defences of Eastern Air Command.
Although the official birth date of No. 127 Squadron, as given in the organization order (SOO 57 of 17 April 1942), was April 20, 1942, the actual formation took place several weeks later. It was originally planned to form at Sydney, NS, but due to the increased work load associated with the setting up of so many new squadrons in such a brief time, it was impossible to carry out the plans as they were originally drafted. On June 24, the “Place of origin” was amended to Dartmouth, NS, and in a few days, No. 127 Squadron came to life with an orderly room, a stores office, and a small staff. Effective July 1, F/L W. P. Roberts was appointed Officer Commanding, and P/U C. R. Slipp was named his adjutant. By July 4, the organization of the squadron had reached the point where the first daily routine order could be issued.
At first, flying training was carried out in co-operation with No. 126 (F) Squadron which had also been formed at Dartmouth in April 1942. This training continued until July 18th when six officers and thirteen Sergeant pilots were posted from 126 to 127 Squadron. At the same time, more airmen arrived and the new unit took on a definite shape. It was divided into two flights with F/O C. G. Pennock and P/O E. B. Hart as commanders. By the end of July, No. 127 Squadron had grown to a strength of eight officers and thirty-seven airmen, with a complement of eleven Hurricane fighters and three Harvards.
By August 1942, No. 127 Squadron was deemed ready for operational taskings and was ordered to leave for Gander, Newfoundland, to perform a protection role for the air base. The seven pilots (P/Os P. C. Holden and D. M. Walz,
D. M. Walz
and Sgts J. H. Bishop, H. L. Eakes, A. Frombolo, M. Humphries and J. R. Murray) and twenty-four ground crew embarked at Halifax on August 17 for a pleasant voyage to St. John’s, Newfoundland, arriving on August 19. There, they boarded a train for Gander and arrived 24 hours later after an arduous trip.
Meanwhile, six pilots, F/L Roberts, F/O Pennock, P/O Hart and Sgts M. W. Brown, A. R. Taylor and G. E. Tribier, accompanied by two ground crew members, departed for Sydney on August 11. They picked up four Hurricane I aircraft from No. 128 Squadron and flew them together with two Harvards from No. 127 Squadron, across to Gander by way of Stephenville.
Operational flying at this reunited squadron consisted of patrols and scrambles and occasional investigations of unidentified aircraft, although no enemy ever entered this territory. Varied exercises such as cross-country flights, formation flying, aerobatics, airfiring, battle climbs to 20,000 and 30,000 feet, night flying and bombing practice (after receiving the Hurricane IIs in October 1942), kept the squadron pilots sharp. At Gander, each pilot averaged 30 hours per month with over 343 hours being flown.
Aerial search training for missing aircraft was first used on November 22, 1942, when F/S A. R. Taylor took off in Hurricane JIB 5487 to carry out night aerobatics and circuits. When he failed to return, a search was initiated and at 1045 the next morning, F/S G. E. Tribner sighted the missing pilot near Indian Bay Pond about 15 miles northeast of the base. After being picked up by a Canso, uninjured but suffering from exposure, he reported that the Hurricane had flicked into an inverted spin when he was attempting a roll off the top of a loop. When he could not regain control, he took to his parachute. Mary Divine, the parachute packer, was as happy as F/S Taylor about its safe operation.
Just two weeks later, Sgt Bockman disappeared while on a low flying exercise. On the fifth day of searching, Sgts A. Frombolo and D. F. Bridges found him near Great Gull Lake about 70 miles southwest of Gander. On this occasion, a Canso dropped food and blankets, and a small Taylorcraft from the United States Army Air Force landed to fly him back to base. After minor repairs were carried out, the Hurricane was flown back to base in February by F/S M. W. Brown.
Although the squadron did not have to search for its own personnel again, it did several hunts for aircraft missing during the winter of 1942-43. On December 10, 1942, No. 127’s pilots located an airman from the crew of a missing Boston and nine days later, P/O A. R. Taylor (note the promotion) found the crashed aircraft.
Early in January, F/O D. M. Walz spotted two members of the crew of a Canso from No. 5 Squadron; on the following day the wreckage was sighted on the far side of Gander Lake and a rescue party was directed to the spot by 127’s aircraft flying overhead. A few days later, emergency rations were dropped to the crew of a Fox Moth. In February, the squadron located a downed Liberator and helped to fly a medical officer and emergency supplies to the scene.
If you have ever been frustrated by an old car that you could not keep serviceable, then you will understand the elation that No. 127 squadron pilots felt when they got new Hurricane IIs to replace the aged Hurricane Is in October.
Along with equipment changes came changes of personnel. On November 27, 1942, F/L Roberts handed over command to the former OC of No. 126 Squadron, F/L Paul A. Gilbertson. January 20, 1943, saw the original Adjutant F/O Slipp succeeded by P/O J. F. B. Lawrence. Six of the original thirteen pilots (Walz, Humphries, Eakes, Holden, Brown and Frombolo) completed the Gander tour while F/Os Hart and Pennock, P/Os Taylor and Tribner, and F/Ss Bishop and Murray left the squadron between January and June 1943.
The new pilots who joined the squadron at Gander (and remained at least a month) included Sgts G. E. Urquhart and P. G. Bockman (November), F/L Gilbertson, Sgts L. B. Foster,
L. B. Foster
D. F. Bridges and W. I. Williams (December), P/O J. Yule (January 43), F/Os F. W. Ward and C. E. Scarlett and P/O G. F. Ockenden (April),
P/O G. F. Ockenden
P/O A. J. Horrell
P/O A. J. Horrell
and F/S J. C. Badgley (May), P/Os S. Bregman and W. A. Aziz, Sgts H. W. Summerfeldt and M. R. Sabourin (June).
There was not much change until May 23, 1943, when personnel previously attached to the squadron were posted in, thereby increasing its strength to 106 (thirteen officers and ninety-three airmen). As a result, aircraft serviceability was much improved. Gilbertson was promoted to squadron leader (effective May 1, 1943) in response to the increase in strength. Through his inventiveness, a new superior wring tip aerial was installed on the squadron’s Hurricane IIs.
In the spring of 1943, No. 127 gave assistance to local antiaircraft batteries in range calibration. In conjunction with Fighter Control at Gander, it also carried out practice ground control intercepts on raiding aircraft. Forest fires were always a hazard during the dry seasons, so patrols were flown over these areas and the base was saved by quick action the first summer that the squadron was in Gander.
Outside visitors were welcome additions to the squadron’s social life. The Governor-General of Canada and Princess Alice visited the station shortly after No. 127 arrived, and in May of 1943, the Governor- General of Newfoundland and Lady Walwyn saw a demonstration of formation flying by six Hurricanes and four Harvards.
Although the Gander tour was remarkably accident-free with the exception of the two previously mentioned air searches, two mishaps of note occurred. On February 22, 1943, Sgt H. L. Eakes had to crash-land ten miles from base when his engine failed. He escaped uninjured. F/O P. C. Holden, on July 10, 1943, made a perfect ‘deadstick’ gliding landing downwind when his engine burst into flames while he was carrying out an airframe and engine test. Six days later, Holden located a burning fishing schooner from which a small boat loaded with survivors was making for land. Group Headquarters congratulated his report and he was once again in the news.
On July 23, No. 126 Squadron exchanged duties with No. 127 Squadron and the squadron returned to Dartmouth. Aircraft strength increased to fifteen Hurricane XIIs and four Harvards. Personnel strength averaged 120, of which 23 were pilots. It was now a full-sized squadron and was averaging about 500 flying hours a month.
While at Dartmouth, P/O M. W. Brown, Sgt Frombolo, F/O P. C. Holden, F/S H. L. Eakes and P/O Humphries departed on postings, leaving only D. M. Walz of the original thirteen pilots. F/O F. W. Ward also left the squadron in the Fall of 1943. Newcomers were F/L W. V. Shenk, P/Os T. G. Munro, P. E. Piché and F/S P. E. Ferguson (July), F/O A. Hunter and P/O A. G. McKay (September), P/Os L. Perez-Gomez, W. A. C. Gilbert and L. H. Wilson (November). The squadron adjutant, F/O J. G. B. Lawrence, re- mustered to aircrew and left in November. F/O C. E. Scarlett took over his duties temporarily.
While at Dartmouth, No. 127 Squadron suffered its only fatal casualty when F/S M. R. Sabourin was killed in a crash on the marshy shore near Hubbard’s Cove, in the northwest area of St. Margaret’s Bay.
With the reduced scale of enemy activity on the east and west coasts of Canada, the RCAF was now able to release six fighter squadrons for duty overseas. During the hectic activities of preparing for departure, the new adjutant, F/O A. M. Cronsberry, arrived to relieve F/O Scarlett. At the same time, the Squadron learned that Paul Gilbertson, their Officer Commanding for over a year, would not accompany the unit overseas. Their disappointments were relieved when knowledge of their new commander-designate arrived. S/L H. W. McLeod, DFC and Bar, one of the outstanding fighter pilots in the RCAF, would lead them. In Malta, McLeod had destroyed thirteen enemy aircraft and damaged many others during the heavy fighting in the summer and autumn of 1942.
On the morning of December 23, 1943, the advance party of No. 129 Squadron arrived to take over No. 127’s duties at Dartmouth and a happy band of officers and airmen boarded a train to take them home on embarkation leave. So ended No. 127 Squadron’s tour in Canada. The squadron’s flying personnel now included: S/L H. W. McLeod, F/Ls D. M. Walz and M. V. Shenk, P/Os E. H. Fairfield,
P/O E. H. Fairfield
A. J. Horrell, A. Hunter,
G. F. Ockenden and C. E. Scarlett, P/Os W. A. Aziz, S. Bregman, L. B. Foster, W. A. C. Gilbert, T. G. Munro, L. Perez-Gomez, L. P. E. Piché, W. I. Williams and L. H. Wilson, W02 D. F. Bridges, F/Ss P. G. Bockman, P. E. Ferguson and G. E. Urquhart, and Sgt H. W. Summerfeldt.
Operational Training In England February – April 1944
After a short embarkation leave, the squadron personnel reported to No. 1 “Y” Depot at Lachine for transport to Halifax, where they boarded the “Pasteur” on January 20, 1944, and sailed for overseas. The squadron landed at Liverpool on the last day of January and remained at No. 3 Personnel Reception Center at Bournemouth until February 13. It was here that the Fighting Four Hundred and Forty-Third began on February 8, 1944. Earlier in the war, the Royal Air Force had allocated a special block of numbers to the Dominion Air Forces, the Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons “overseas” were assigned the No. 400 series. No. 127 became No. 443.
The squadron now had only twenty-three pilots, plus a medical officer and three airmen. All the ground crew were posted to No. 6443 Servicing Echelon and since no adjutant was provided for, lucky F/O C. E. Scarlett assumed those duties after all the practice that he had in Canada.
From Bournemouth, 443 Squadron journeyed north to Digby, an RCAF Station in Lincolnshire. At Digby, the squadron became part of No. 144 (RCAF) Airfield which was in the process of forming under the command of W/C J. E. Walker, DFC and two bars. W/C J. E. Johnson, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, an outstanding RAF fighter “Ace”, was named Wing Commander Flying to lead the Airfield on operations. Two other new arrivals, No. 441 (formerly No. 125) and No. 442 (formerly No. 14), became associated with No. 443. The airfield was a component of 83 Group in 2nd Tactical Air Force which was to be the air support for the Army during the invasion of Western Europe.
Shortly after arriving in Digby, the first Spitfire MK VBs arrived and on February 23, training flights began. Serviceability of personnel due to the cold, wet weather and serviceability of aircraft due to age, lack of parts and experienced personnel, caused problems until the Spitfire MK IXBs arrived on March 11.
Two new pilots, F/S R. A. Hodgins and F/L W. A. Prest, joined the Squadron before it moved to Hoimsley South in Hampshire. Camp kits became the order of the day as the squadrons practiced mobility and slit trench digging for future use. Besides harmonizing the guns on their aircraft, the squadron learned escape methods from F/L Oliver Philpot, the author of Stolen Journey, who was the “third man” in the famous “Wooden Horse” escape.
While the squadron was away at Hutton Cranswick in Yorkshire to practice bombing, air combat and air-to-ground firing, the Airfield moved from Hoimsley to Westhampnett. The rail party returned to the new location April 5th, but the fogbound pilots took three more days to set up their tents and answer their mail. With No. 441 and No. 442 already started on operations, No. 443 flew sector reconnaissances and several sorties over the Channel. Several new pilots joined No. 443 as the squadron completed training in England. F/Ls I. R. MacLennan, DFM, Hugh Russel and E. B. Stovel,
E. B. Stovel
F/O J. R. Irwin
F/O J. R. Irwin
and G. R. Stephen, and P/O R. B. Henderson arrived to help form “A” Flight under Ian MacLennan and “B” Flight under Bill Prest.
Prelude To Invasion April – June 1944
Two months after arriving at Digby, 443 Squadron pilots S/L McCleod, F/Ls Prest, Walz, MacLennan, and Stovel, F/Os Perez-Gomez, Scarlett, Fairfield, Gilbert, Hunter and Stephen, and P/O Bockman left Westhampnett to provide top cover for a formation of Bostons bombing a target at Dieppe. D-Day preparations continued in earnest between April 13 and June 5 with more than 487 sorties being flown.
On April 19, while escorting a Marauder formation to bomb Malines, S/L McLeod scored the squadron’s first kill and his fourteenth personal kill. His combat report, the first of more than 60 filed by pilots of 443 Squadron, read: “I was flying White 3 on the starboard side of Ramrod 753. When proceeding east of Louvain at zero feet, my number two (F/L Russel) reported a Do. 217 at three o’clock, same level. White 1 (W/C Johnson) told me to attack. I cut in behind the Do. 217 firing a four second burst from 300 to 100 yards from dead astern. Many strikes were observed: large pieces flew off and the starboard engine burst into flames. I broke under him to avoid the debris, as my windscreen was covered with his oil. He pulled up sharply to starboard several hundred feet and then spun in, exploding in flames. My engine had cut, so I returned to base with White 4. I claim one Do. 217 destroyed. Rounds fired 79 cannon, 200 machinegun.”
Bomber escorts for Bostons and Mitchells over the Crecy area, St Omer, and as far as Coblenz, Germany, fully occupied the squadron, which moved to Funtington, Sussex on the 22nd. On the morning of the 25th, W/C Johnson led No. 441 and 443 Squadrons on a sweep around Paris. They encountered six FockeWulfs and destroyed them, two kills by “Johnny”, one by F/L Hugh Russel and F/L Walz and two by No. 441 Squadron. Only three of 443 pilots returned directly to base; four ended up in Exeter, and “. . . two crashed near Warmwell when their fuel ran out.” Later that evening, the squadron flew close escort to Marauders over Cherbourg.
F/Ls Prest, Russel and Walz, F/Os Gilbert and Scarlett, and P/O Hodgins
practiced dive-bombing on a flying-bomb site south of Dieppe on the 26th; more bombs were dropped on railway bridges south of Cherbourg. Then, on May 3 and 4, the final full-scale dress rehearsal prior to invasion occurred.
In the early morning of May 5, W/C Johnson took his whole wing on a fighter sweep over the Lille area which claimed four Luftwaffe FW 190s. Johnny Johnson accounted for one (his 28th destroyed); Wally McLeod dog-fought another into the turf; and No. 441 Squadron claimed two more Huns. Whether escorting Mitchells, American A20s or Marauders to bombing sites, the squadron’s Spitfires were always on the look-out for enemy movement on the ground, and often used barges or motor lorries for target practice.
From Funtington, the Airfield moved to Ford, near Littlehampton, on the Sussex coast. Mobility was practiced often, as were route marches to condition the men for the vigorous field life. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, the AOC of 2nd TAF, frequently visited the 144 Airfield to reveal bits of what lay ahead and to check on readiness. At RAF Station Ford, the designation 144 Airfield was changed to 144 Wing and the Calgary Malting and Brewing Company sent the first in a series of gifts (4,000 cigarettes) to make the stay more pleasant. After days of poor weather, No. 443’s pilots were able to see and destroy an old chateau between Dieppe and Le Treport. Fighter sweeps around Laon, Cambrai, Paris, Chartres, Jamappes and Denain showed that “Jerry” was still conserving his fighter forces and relying on the flak battery for defence. Ground targets were also attacked, near Ghent, Bruges and Le Havre.
In the early evening of June 4, S/L McLeod led a formation of eleven aircraft on the squadron’s last pre-invasion operation. The task was to knock out an enemy radar post on the coast ten miles west of Fecamp, and as was to be expected, the ground defences put up an intense, although futile, barrage. Four direct bomb hits were seen, in addition to other near misses within damaging distance.
By this time, the squadron knew that the long expected invasion was only hours away. The invasion markings (broad black and white bands) were painted on the Spitfires. No. 443 Squadron now had twenty-eight pilots on strength. S/L H. W. McLeod, F/Ls A. Hunter, W. A. Prest, W. V. Shenk and D. M. Walz, F/Os W. A. Aziz, E. H. Fairfield, P. E. H. Ferguson, L. B. Foster, W. A. C. Gilbert, A. J. Horrell, R. A. Hodgins, T. G. Munro, G. F. Ockenden, L. Perez-Gomez, L. P. E. Piché, C. E. Scarlett, and W. I. Williams, and F/S G. E. Urquhart had all been with the squadron since the beginning of its overseas tour in February. F/Ls I. R. MacLennan, H. Russel and E. B. Stovel and F/Os R. B. Henderson, J. R. Irwin and G. R. Stephen, had joined in March and April. More recent additions were F/L G. W. A. Troke, DFC (on April 28) F/O W. J. Bentley (on May 16) and S/L J. D. Hall (on May 26).
In the evening of June 5, the pilots also flew a protective patrol over convoys moving out into the Channel, then gathered in the intelligence hut to be briefed by W/C Johnson on the great undertaking that was already under way. D-Day was at hand!
The Battle Of Normandy June-August 1944
There was very little sleep for anyone on the eve of D-Day. Reveille came early on June 6 and by 0430, the pilots were ready for the first call to action. At 0620, S/L McLeod led twelve pilots to patrol the beachhead between Courseulles and Le Havre. After landing at Ford at 0825 for a hurried breakfast, the squadron flew again at 1125, 1540, and 1945, for 95 hours on 48 sorties. F/L MacLennan became the squadron’s first casualty on operations when glycol leaks forced him down in enemy-held territory near Cabourg. F/O Piché, his number two, saw him scramble out of the Spitfire and run towards some farm buildings before being captured. F/L F. A. W. J. Wilson, DFC, was posted to No. 443 to replace MacLennan as “A” Flight Commander. 443 Squadron were given the designator ”2I’ and this insignia was painted on all Squadron aircraft ahead of the Air Force roundel.
As an afternoon flight on the seventh was nearing completion, F/L Prest spotted four Messerschmitts, damaging one while F/L Hugh Russel and F/O G. F. Ockenden combined to blow up another. Later S/L Hall’s Spitfire absorbed several bullets and F/O Henderson luckily walked away after engine failure forced him down.
Weather scrubbed most flying on the eighth and ninth, but history was almost made on June 10 when five of the squadron’s pilots landed in France just two hours after an RAF Squadron and a Polish unit had made the first operational landings on the Normandy coast.
Near Rouen, on the eleventh, F/O Hodgins attacked a locomotive, making a direct hit on the boiler. A few nights later, S/L McLeod and Hodgins spotted three or four Do. 217 bombers heading towards friendly territory. The dim dusk light made identification hazardous but when a Dornier opened fire on Hodgins, he responded with several bursts that sent it exploding into the water. McLeod also destroyed his foe.
Issued with Air Combat Paintings Volume VI RAF & Commonwealth Edition
When Johnnie Johnson led the Mk IX Spitfires of his 144 Canadian Wing to temporary airstrip B.3 near the village of St Croix sur Mer, a few miles inland from the Normandy beach head, they were making history. As they landed on the hastily constructed Summerfield mesh tracking runway on D-Day plus 9, they became the first Allied air force unit to be based in former occupied Europe, and the first to operate in France after D-Day. Mk IX Spitfires of 443 Squadron RCAF, based at St Croix sur Mer tangle with a group of Fw190s whom they had encountered on a fighter sweep near Alençon, in southern Normandy on 23 June 1944. During the melée that followed, their Squadron Leader, Wally McLeod, quickly destroyed two Fw190s, whilst another Fw190 was badly damaged.
The morning of June 15 saw the beginning of the move which made 144 Wing the first RCAF fighter wing to be based on the continent. The dust at St Croix billowed skyward in huge columns as aircraft scurried about. First operations from Normandy on the 16th were a mixture of success, with Wally McLeod and Johnson getting more “destroyed”, and tragedy, when Walz, Hall, Russel and Perez-Gomez were shot down (the latter three being killed). Walz, luckily, took to his parachute before his plane exploded, and hid himself with branches and grass. German search patrols passed very close several times without seeing him. That evening, he crawled out of the danger area, which was still teeming with Germans, and found new shelter in a wheat field. Here, farmers aided him with food and clothing, and soon the “underground” put him in touch with advancing American forces who reunited him with his squadron.
S/L McLeod’s above-mentioned “destroyed” was his 17th and earned him the Distinguished Service Order. By the time this award was promulgated, his score was up four more.
After some futile dive-bombing on the 17th, poor weather grounded the squadron for three days. On the twenty-third, No. 443 joined No. 442 for a fighter sweep over the battle lines. Johnson spotted five FW 190s heading eastward and led his section down to attack, followed by McLeod with Blue section. In attempting to chase the FW 190s up through the clouds to the awaiting bullet barrage of Johnson, McLeod engaged and destroyed two FockeWulfs using only 26 shells from each cannon. Shenk and Prest experienced gun stoppages due to the dust and their Huns escaped.
On June 24, the squadron began armed reconnaissance (A/R) along roads behind the lines in search of enemy motor transport. Scrambles to intercept enemy raiders provided more instances of dust clogging aircraft guns.
While on an A/R mission, intense and accurate flak forced abandonment of that task. Ground control reported enemy aircraft in the vicinity and vectored No. 443 to intercept. F/O G. R. Stephen followed a group of eight or ten FockeWulfs and was able to close within 300 yards for a kill. Blue section meanwhile was in hot pursuit as F/O W. A. C. Gilbert, F/L G. W. A. Troke and F/O R. A. Hodgins combined for a kill. F/L W. V. Shenk was also inflicting damage to a FockeWulf when his gun failed thereby robbing him of a sure kill.
On Dominion Day, a scramble intercepted six long nosed FW 190s carrying bombs. They turned to meet the Spitfire attack and closed head on exchanging bursts with neither side making strikes. It was almost two weeks before No. 443 again encountered the Luftwaffe.
During the first two weeks of July, No. 443 carried out 34 operations, of which 19 were armed recces, the others patrols or scrambles. These A/R sorties counted 24 vehicles destroyed or “flamers”, 11 “smokers” and 21 damaged.
While leading a quartette of 443 aircraft, F/L Prest was attacked by fifteen enemy fighters. The Spitfires quickly considered the odds and vanished into the clouds.
During this period, the Wing spent four weeks at St Croix and was feeling quite “settled” although the dust was a constant problem. Mr. G. Greenough tells of how he and his fellow maintainers used coffee cans filled with sand and petrol as stoves to make their coffee, and heat their monotonous diet of canned foods.
F/L F. A. W. J. Wilson came to the end of his second tour early in July and handed over “A” Flight to F/L J. G. L. Larry Robillard, DFM, from No. 442 squadron. He had proven himself early by destroying an ME 109 on one of his first sorties over France. On July 2, 1941, after destroying two opponents, he was shot down while attempting to protect some comrades who had been forced to bale out. Larry was able to evade capture and made his way across France and Spain to Gibraltar then back to England. For his air victories and successful evasion, he received the DFM.
Reorganization broke up 144 Wing in July. No. 443 joined 127 Wing with Nos. 403, 416 and 421, and moved from St Croix to Crepon on the afternoon of July 14.
During its time with 144 Wing, S/L McLeod’s squadron destroyed thirteen enemy aircraft (McLeod 6, Walz 2, Hodgins, Gilbert, Stephen, Russel one each and Russel and Ockenden sharing one) and damaged five, (Prest 3, Shenk 2). In ground attacks, the squadron destroyed two locomotives and 42 vehicles, and damaged 15 mechanized enemy transport (MET) “smokers”, two engines, a barge, a signal house and 42 mechanized vehicles.
W/C J. E. Johnson succeeded W/C R. A. Buckham as Wing Commander Flying at 127 Wing. The commander of 127 Wing was G/C W. R. MacBrien who took over at this time from W/C M. Brown.
The Squadron’s operations with the new wing followed the same pattern as before with frequent A/R sorties. Additionally, every third or fourth day the squadron carried out defensive front-line patrols.
On the afternoon of July 20, S/L McLeod began closing on a FW 190, but before he could fire, the pilot baled out. Meanwhile the other section of Spitfires, led by F/L Robillard, encountered a group of 30 FockeWulfs at 4,000 ft over Bernay. Larry quickly polished off one and then his section “nipped smartly away, the odds being too great”.
Jerry’s flak was becoming increasingly “hot” as he sought to protect his transport from this constant nibbling. F/L A. J. Hornell and F/L W. A. Prest were hit but got home safely. F/O T. G. Munro was unable to glide back to our lines when his engine faltered. After taking to his parachute, he was captured and held prisoner until exchanged on medical grounds early in 1945.
The third armed recce on the 26th proved interesting. While reconnoitering southeast by Dreux, the squadron came upon a dogfight between at least twenty enemy fighters and some Allied Mustangs. The Spitfires soon dispersed some of the enemy and chased two as far as Paris.
On the July 30th, No. 443 was scrambled to intercept thirty plus ME 109s south of Mortagne. McLeod and Bentley got kills fairly quickly while Hodgins engaged seven of the enemy on the deck. On rejoining McLeod, Hodgins engaged the second 109, a good burst hit along the fuselage and made the coupe top fly off. Just as he was about to finish him off, he saw tracers passing over his own wing tip and broke away to return home with McLeod.
In early August, the pilot strength rose from 25 to 27. At that time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the beachhead in Normandy to address 127 Wing personnel. Leave was reintroduced in early August with F/L Robillard and F/O Ockenden being the first lucky pair to soak up the joys in the “Land of Mild and Bitter” for a week.
August was an eventful month, culminating in the “Falaise pocket” and the end of the Battle of Normandy. Armed recces on moving targets or bridges, railway junctions and buildings were the order of the day. F/O W. J. Bentley became the first casualty of these activities when his Spitfire developed a glycol leak. He crashed before he could take to his parachute.
During the first two weeks of August, only one Nazi aircraft was sighted, and F/L Troke literally scared the pilot out of his seat before any shots were fired. Meanwhile the British, Canadian and American forces were encircling the enemy, causing them to flee in confusion. From the fifteenth to nineteenth, hundreds of German vehicles were left destroyed, damaged, smoking or in flames as they retreated.
On the twenty-third, while leading No. 443 and No. 421 on a fighter sweep around Paris, W/C Johnson sighted 60 to 80 enemy aircraft approaching head-on in two groups. Johnson instructed No. 421 to engage the higher group while he led No 443 into the lower formation of 30 or 40 fighters. The next few minutes saw the 20 Canadian Spitfires dogfight their opponents in one of the greatest air battles in weeks. Twelve of the German aircraft were destroyed while our Wing lost only three. F/O G. F. Ockenden was credited with two destroyed and one damaged while Johnson got two and Horrell, Robillard and Fairfield accounted for one each. German road and air activity was now slowing noticeably.
The Battle of Normandy was over. Hitler’s Atlantic Wall had been smashed and his armies were falling back now on the Siegfried Line. Since D-Day, No. 443 Squadron had made 1,933 sorties on patrols, armed reconnaissances and fighter sweeps. It had destroyed 19 enemy aircraft in combat and engaged eight more. On the roads, it took credit for 152 “flamers”, 150 “smokers”, 194 damaged, and the destruction of a locomotive.
On these operations, eight pilots had been reported missing; four were presumed dead, three were taken prisoner, and one pilot evaded capture and rejoined the squadron.
Arnhem and Nijmegen September, October 1944
The rapid retreat of the Germans eastward from the Falaise pocket soon left the squadrons on the Normandy beachhead out of effective range of the battle front, making a move necessary. No. 443 left Crepon on August 26 and flew 90 miles south-eastward to Illiers l’Eveque, which had been used by the Luftwaffe. Even as the squadrons arrived, they were still almost out of reach of the front, and petrol was becoming a problem.
Shortly after arriving at Illiers, F/O G. R. Stephen’s tour expired and F/S C. G. Stevenson took his place. The pilots were still going in pairs for a week of leave in England, but now the groundcrew were able to get away to Paris and taste the joys of that entertaining city.
Le Culot, Belgium, became the squadron’s next home on September 21. German barracks were used instead of the tents. Here F/L E. B. Stovel took over from F/L Larry Robillard as “A” flight commander and F/O Phil Bockman returned after his injury in April. About this time, a great airborne assault was aimed at three key points in the Netherlands: Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. Two of the three were taken but the “Red Devils” of the 1st British Airborne Division fought nine days for the bridge at Arnhem before withdrawing September 25. A movie entitled “A Bridge Too Far” immortalizes their fight. No. 443 began patrolling the Nijmegen area and bombed railway bridges there.
Enemy flak had been intense and F/O L. D. Sherwood’s Spitfire was hit. His companions saw him crash and burst into flames near Nijmegen. No one had seen him take to his parachute, but a month later he returned to visit the Squadron on his way to England for leave and a rest.
After uneventful patrols on the morning of September 27, W/C Johnson destroyed his 38th (highest total in RAF) enemy aircraft in a melee over Rees on the banks of the Rhine. F/O Rooney Hodgins forced another Messerschmitt away from his commander and got another destroyed for himself. F/L H. P. Fuller gave the “tail-end Charlie” of the German formation bursts of cannon and machine-gun fire to do it in. F/L E. B. Stovel, F/O Gilbert and F/L Walz also tallied one each.
But these victories were won at a heavy cost. S/L H. W. McLeod, DSO, DFC and Bar, who had 21 enemy aircraft to his credit and was the top-scoring day-fighter pilot in the RCAF, was missing.
While returning from a low patrol, F/L Troke saw ten enemy aircraft ahead but soon 50 to 75 ME 109s and FW 190s came through the clouds in front of the Spitfires. In the dogfighting that followed, the twelve Canadian pilots fought brilliantly against tremendous odds and shortages of petrol. Seven of the enemy went down and three others were damaged without any loss in personnel to the squadron. September 29 was amazingly successful for the other RCAF squadrons as well. No. 416 destroyed six, damaged five; No. 421 three and one; No. 421 tallied 8 and 3; No. 412 scored 14 destroyed and six damaged and 441 added 3 destroyed for a total of 39 destroyed, 3 probable, and 15 damaged by the six Canadian squadrons.
On the thirtieth, after several uneventful patrols, the squadron landed at their new base at Grave in the Netherlands. At Le Culot, No. 443 Squadron had its best hunting with eleven enemy fighters destroyed, two more probably destroyed and three damaged. The squadron lost one pilot and another spent four weeks behind enemy lines. The total in five days for the eight Canadian Squadrons was 97 destroyed, three probably destroyed and 39 damaged.
At Grave, S/L A. H. Sager succeeded S/L McLeod as CO after having served with three of the squadrons in 127 Wing. He had destroyed five and damaged five Nazi fighters before joining No. 443. Three new pilots, F/O Q. A. Dodson, F/L T. R. Watt and WO R. L. Gaudet also came to the squadron at Grave.
Besides sighting “vapour trails” from V-2 rockets and escorting His Majesty the King from Eindhoven to Brussels, life was uneventful in Grave. The weather got worse and grounded the squadron for six consecutive days.
A few days later, on October 11, F/Os Piché and Horrell left for Antwerp in the squadron’s Auster. Horrell was to pick up a replacement Spitfire while Piché flew on to Brussels to arrange accommodation for the servicing personnel when leave finally started for them in mid-October. They were never heard from again although the burned-out wreckage of the Auster was found near Deurne.
One highlight of the three weeks at Grave occurred when the new “B” Flight Commander, H. P. Fuller, acted as master of ceremonies for the squadron party on October 20. Skits, musical acts, and an eight-piece orchestra from the servicing echelon proved that much talent lay hidden under RCAF uniforms.
The most outstanding feature at Grave was not the weather nor operations nor the parties. It was enemy bombing! With the front lines only a few miles away, the men needed no urging to dig slit trenches by their tents and wear steel helmets as ME 262s frequently nipped across to drop a pocket of anti-personnel bombs on the field.
Winter In Belgium
On October 22, due to heavy rains flooding the landing strip at Grave, the squadron moved back to Melsbroek, north-east of Brussels. Because of a lack of telephone communication, transport, and the fact that commissioned and non-commissioned personnel were quartered at different sites some distance from the field, operations were severely curtailed.
For the next fortnight, 443’s major tasking was to supply fighter support to 137 and 139 Bomber Wing, also flying from Melsbroek. In addition to the Mitchell bomber escorts, 33 uneventful patrols were flown in the areas around Venraij and Maas. The low total of 114 sorties between October 28 and November 11 was also caused by weather; fog and rain again grounded the squadron from November 12 to 17.
During this period, F/O W. B. Dalton,
F/O W. B. Dalton
WO P. C. Gomm, a Brazilian,
WO P. C. Gomm
and P/O A. B. Clenard joined the squadron. In addition, F/O L. D. Sherwood, who had been shot down behind enemy lines a month earlier and evaded the enemy, rejoined 443. Tour-expired pilots included Hodgins and Stovel, who were both posted back to England. Hodgins’ squadron record included three destroyed, one probable, and one damaged aircraft, and an award of the DFC. F/L P. G. Blades replaced Stovel as “A” Flight Commander, the latter being homeward bound to Canada.
On November 4, squadron aircraft moved to Evere, closer still to Brussels, though billets remained unchanged. However, the improved social life resulted in one marriage within a month. Also about this time, 443 became the “Hornet” squadron with the warning motto “Our Sting is Death”, and was ‘adopted’ by a sponsor group in the city of Regina.
For the next month, after flying was resumed on November 18, the squadron flew continuous but uneventful patrols over the battle front area between Weert and Roermond. No enemy aircraft were engaged and aircrews had to settle for strafing ground targets such as vehicles, trains, factories, and gun positions, with excellent results. Heavy flak from ground targets did not result in any squadron losses, but an aircraft engine failure caused two Spitfires to crash. The pilots, F/Os A. M. Thomas and D. J. Wegg, escaped injury.
Squadron flying for 1944 terminated after missions on the fifteenth and eighteenth of December in the Aachen to Trier area of the Siegfried Line. Here Von Rundstedt launched the famous “Battle of the Bulge”, but weather and cloud prevented 443 from being effective, and premature removal of radio transmitter crystals in anticipation of Air Gunnery Practice in England, resulted in missions on the eighteenth being complete fiascos.
December departures from the squadron included F/Os G. F. Ockenden and W. A. G. Gilbert, both who had joined the squadron in Canada, and F/O A. M. F. Thomas.
F/O A. M. F. Thomas
Gordon Ockenden left with a score of four and one half destroyed ME 109s, a damaged FW 190, and the DFC. Posted in were F/O H. F. Ulmer, F/L W. I. Gould, F/O T. C. Gamey, P/O K. M. Cooke, and F/O R. D. Marsh.
On December 18, after an abortive patrol over the lines, the squadron flew to England and Armament Practice Camp at Warmwell. It had been six months since they left England, and their return over the festive season did much for morale. In addition, while in England, the squadron celebrated the award of a DFC to their Commanding Officer, S/L A. H. Sager, who had downed five enemy aircraft.
S/L A. H. Sager
On January 3, 1945, 443 returned to Evere, to find that a Luftwaffe “Blitz” had shot up their airfield as well as other air bases in Belgium and Holland. The squadron lost two Spitfires, left behind at Evere, in his attack. The next day, the Hornets were back at work flying armed patrols.
On January 5, while strafing two factories in the Munster area, heavy flak resulted in the loss of F/O T.C. Gamey. F/L Walz received a minor leg injury, but brought his shot-up aircraft back to base. Weather lien grounded the squadron until January 13. On the tenth, a disabled Fortress crash landed and burned at Evere; moments later a bomb exploded, severely injuring LAC W. E. A. Frazer, one of the squadron’s armourers. Two of the Fortress’ crew of nine were killed.
On the thirteenth and fourteenth, good weather permitted armed patrols in the St Vith and Houffalize area. Here they found over 200 German vehicles retreating from the “Bulge”. Over several sorties, 443 destroyed five and damaged twenty-nine. Flak destroyed F/L E. H. Fairfield’s aircraft and punched a large hole in the wing of F/L “Bub” Fuller’s Spitfire. However, the only casualty to the Hornets resulted when Fairfield bailed out and slightly injured his ankle.
Bad weather on the week of January 15-21 resulted in only two operations in the Munster area. The highlights were three destroyed or damaged vehicles, and a close call for F/L W. J. Sherman when his oxygen system failed at 20,000 feet.
F/L W. J. Sherman
January saw G/C W. R. MacBrien, OBE, Commander of 127 Wing, replaced by G/C P. S. Turner, DSO, DFC, a Canadian with experience in both the Mediterranean and European theaters. Three squadron NCO pilots, Stevenson, Gomm, and Gaudet, were promoted to pilot officer, and a new pilot, P/O M. C. Tucker was posted in. Two other important January changes were the quartering of aircrew closer to the field, and the arrival of the first Spitfire XVIs to place the IX model. The changeover to the newer ‘Spit’ was completed by mid-February.
Improved weather on the twenty-second permitted Art Sager to lead his formation into the RheineMunster area. Coming onto an enemy aerodrome, Sager, with F/O Marsh, damaged an enemy aircraft attempting to take off, as well as several ground vehicles. Returning home, they added a staff car and mobile flak wagon to their day’s total. That afternoon, 443 leaflet-bombed Heinsberg, Erkelens, Straelen, and Geldern. The squadron diary stated “We expect immediate capitulation of all four places”.
The three sorties flown on January 23 saw nary a single enemy aircraft. The third, into the Stadtkyll area, did result in the destruction or damage of twenty-four German vehicles. The Nazi military appeared to be in hiding.
Poor flying conditions for the rest of the month resulted in only a VIP escort to England on the twenty-fifth, and an uneventful armed recce on the twenty- eighth. The six VIP escort pilots did get a three day break in England, thanks to the duff weather.
At the end of January, F/L H. P. Fuller became tour expired and Don Walz took over ‘B’ Flight. In February, F/L A. Hunter, F/O P. E. H. Ferguson, F/O L. B. Foster, F/L R. B. Henderson, F/L J. R. Irwin and F/L P. G. Blades followed Fuller. F/L L. E. Hunt
F/L L. E. Hunt
replaced Blades as “A” Flight Commander. The squadron also lost P/O R. L. Gaudet, posted out on medical grounds. This left only Phil Bockman, Fairfield, and Don Walz of the original twenty pilots posted overseas from Canada a year earlier. Replacement pilots were F/L J. C. Turcott,
F/L J. C. Turcott
F/O’s J. Collins, H. A. Greene, M. J. S. Clow, S. E. Messum, G. A. McDonald, J. W. O’Toole,
and WO C. J. Grant. As well, F/O C. E. Glover, Hornet adjutant, was replaced by P/O C. W. Kroeker.
In February, weather grounded the squadron for thirteen days. However, on every occasion possible, the Hornets were launched to strike again at the tottering Third Reich. Thus, they averaged twenty-two sorties a day on the fifteen flyable days.
On February 2 and 3, the squadron flew escort for the Mitchells on an uneventful recce of the Munster and Hamm areas. On the sixth and eighth, the flying program was again repeated, but the armed recce found and destroyed two locomotives, damaged two more and shot up eight freight cars. On the tenth, the squadron’s train smashing continued, with two rail engines damaged. The bomber escorts and patrols of February 11 saw no activity due to low cloud cover, identical results following on the thirteenth, the squadron’s first anniversary.
On St. Valentines day, S/L Art Sager led the Hornets on three dive-bombing missions against German rail junction points. With virtually no flak opposition, results were excellent; twelve direct hits and fifteen near misses. A station house and twelve freight cars were also destroyed. Weather permitted the squadron to fly escort to Lancasters on the sixteenth; the four bomber attacks devastated Wesel, but the squadron scored no targets. Fog grounded 443 for the next four days.
The twenty-first of February saw two armed recces destroying four vehicles and damaging twenty-five more. They also encountered a train “Flak Trap” and an airfield of dummy aircraft which they passed up. A total of thirty-six sorties were launched the next day. But since the Germans were hiding, there were no new kills added to the squadron tally.
The twenty-fourth was more eventful. The second sortie resulted in three destroyed and three damaged vehicles. F/L Walz was shot down behind enemy lines for the second time. However, this time he was taken prisoner and had to be replaced as B Flight Commander by F/L H. C. Charlesworth. The third patrol, like the first, found no targets.
The next day, ten pilots tried dive-bombing moving trains, but with no hits. They were then bounced by two FW 190s who quickly hid in the cloud cover. Next, two Me 262s were spotted, but the “Spits” could not catch the faster jets. On the way home, P/O Gomm’s propeller split, and he had to dead stick land near Asch, in northeastern Belgium, where he hitchhiked back to Evere.
During the rest of February, the squadron was grounded due to weather. On March 1, two sorties in the Munster and Hamm areas under heavy flak resulted in only one destroyed vehicle. The next day, the Hornets flew their last missions from Evere, again their task was to cut rail lines. They recovered at Petit Brogel, their home for the next four weeks.
Squadron statistics for their stay in the Brussels area were not impressive, mainly due to the poor weather. In November, 201 sorties resulted in 275 hours flying. December, with the Hornets in England for a fortnight, saw only 145 sorties totaling 186 hours. 165 sorties and 216 hours was the January total which was considerably lower than the 326 sorties and 536 hours flown in February, despite only fifteen flying days. However, the move of squadron aircrew to the airfield likely helped raise the flying statistics considerably.
From The Rhine to the Elbe March – May 1945
In preparation for the final Spring offensive by the Army, G/C Turner’s Wing moved closer to the front. Petit Brogel, near the Belgium-Dutch border, became the Hornets’ new hive on March 2. Here, metal tracking was laid on the roads and parking strips, to minimize the bog that had been encountered in Grave. Although 562 sorties were flown here, all the the excitement came in the last week.
From March 3 to 22, air activity was comparatively quiet. Fighter sweeps, A/Rs and patrols took No. 443 pilots over Nordhorn, Rheine, Emmerich, Dinslaken, Kempen, Nijmegen, Osnabruck, Munster, Burgsteinfurt, Bocholt, Geldern, Dorsten and Winterswijke, but proved uneventful.
F/O F. R. Kearns
F/O F. R. Kearns
and F/L E. H. Fairfield had now become tour-expired and were replaced by F/Os H. R. Hanscom and G. S. Taylor.
Petit Brogel was not a great social event although Art Sager directed an excellent wing concert which packed the house. After the March 21 and 22 rest, both air and land offensives rose to a final overwhelming peak. Forty-four sorties on the twenty-third found only some light flak and a few vehicles, two of which were damaged. No. 443 flew four uneventful patrols on the twenty-fourth, except for F/L Charlesworth’s engine failure which caused him to crash land on the air field. Some aircraft and vehicles were sighted but only a few of the MET were destroyed.
On the departure of S/L Art Sager, DFC, after six months in command of No. 443, S/L T. J. De Courcy, formerly a flight commander in No. 421, took over. On March 30, his first lead mission dropped five of twelve bombs directly on a factory in the Enschade-Munster area. F/L J. R. Watt led a second bombing mission that cut two railways and destroyed a couple of buildings by a railroad junction. On the thirty-first, F/O G. A. McDonald had to bale out and spent a month in a POW camp after only a month of operations. This patrol landed at the wing’s new base at Eindhoven.
As the armies swept forward into north-western Germany, the fighter squadrons of 2nd TAF followed close behind. After twelve days in Eindhoven, the Hornets flew to Rheine for a day as the Wing advanced to Diepholz for a fortnight before advancing to Reinsehien for a few days of operations. Despite these moves, the squadron peaked to 829 sorties and the pilots flew 1244 hours, which was almost as high as the two previous months combined!
Persistent poor weather in early April necessitated weather recces to see if conditions were fit for operations. On one of these missions, F/O S. E. Messum was killed by enemy flak.
Patrol lines kept shifting ahead as the armies advanced. On the twelfth, the first and second A/Rs led by F/L Terry Watt inflicted much damage on Oldenburg area and S/L De Courcy led his bombing mission successfully on a well-defended freight yard with much damage being observed.
On April 13, the aircraft and pilots rejoined the ground staff at Diepholz for a fortnight of patrols and armed reconnaissances from the fairly comfortable permanent Luftwaffe barracks. S/L De Courcy’s patrol had a successful score of 18 of the 44 vehicles claimed on the eighteenth. Two recces led by F/L H. C. Charlesworth left the autobahn and adjacent roads near Hollenstedy littered with destroyed Hun transport. On these operations, the pilots noticed that the enemy was once again using the Red Cross emblem to give immunity to his transport, for staff cars and guns were seen mixed in with convoys of ambulances.
On April 20, Adolf Hitler’s last birthday in his tottering empire and crumbling capital, the Hornet squadron had the honour of escorting General Eisenhower on a flight from Venlo to Diepholz to visit General Montgomery.
While attacking a train near Goldberg, Bob Marsh’s Spitfire was downed by flak as he attacked a train. After a fortnight of surviving on potatoes and wild duck eggs, Marsh returned to the squadron. F/O H. R. Hanscom did not return from his mission.
Although the war was now clearly in its last stages, the enemy flak gunners were fighting through to the bitter end and they gave P/O Pero Gomm and F/O Phil Bockman an impressive demonstration of their accuracy when they returned with several holes in their Spitfires. On another patrol, several vehicles were destroyed and a couple of Arado 234 jets escaped with possible damage. While the Hornets were assisting the Second Army occupying Bremen, they noticed 40 or 50 enemy aircraft clustered on Schwerin aerodrome. S/L De Courcy led eight Spitfires in two sections at 5,000 feet until they were about ten miles from the aerodrome. They dived to the deck and at 320 mph made a strafing run across it at ground-level from west to east. In all, there appeared to be about 60 JU 87s (Stuka), FW 190s, JU 88s and other assorted types parked in several lines. Tommy De Courcy reported, “I kept on spraying as I went.” Greene, Dobson, Conway, Finley, Taylor, Tucker and Dilworth had similar claims. The Hornet attack was so well coordinated that flak did not open until they were well clear of the field.
An hour and a half later, De Courcy, Dodson, Finley, Taylor, Tucker, Dilworth, Dalton and Watt used the same tactics at Neustadt aerodrome where about 25 Me 109s and FW 190s were parked. Although much damage was reported, F/O A. J. Dilworth crashed in flames on the aerodrome when met by vicious flak. Dilworth was a new pilot who had joined 443 just a week before he was killed in action.
The next morning, two more pilots were missing when F/O W. G. Conway hit a telephone pole while strafing vehicles and F/L Terry Watt’s glycol leak caused him to crash. Both pilots were returned shortly after hostilities ended. While at Diepholz, No. 443 squadron destroyed four aircraft and damaged fourteen more in attacks on airfields. The pilots also claimed more than four railroad cuts, one building, 68 motor vehicles, 13 horse-drawn transports, and four freight cars destroyed, as well as eight locomotives, 13 freight cars, 135 MET and seven horse-wagons damaged. Here, the Hornets lost five pilots and had several others wounded or injured.
Bad weather forced three pilots to land at Reinsehien and the next day, April 28, the remainder of the squadron followed. This new field allowed 127 Wing to closely support the Second Army on its final drive. W/C J. F. Edwards, a veteran of the Western Desert where he had won the DFM and DFC and Bar, had succeeded W/C J. E. Johnson as Wing Commander Flying early in April. He led patrols over Lubeck and witnessed a dogfight between some RCAF Spitfires and some Mes and FWs that had tried to bomb the bridgehead. The Hornets were not able to get into the scrap but saw six of the enemy dive to their death.
On May Day, F/L Warman led six pilots on a shooting spree that destroyed 16 vehicles and damaged 21 more. The next day, S/L De Courcy, F/L Turcott and F/Os Morrow and Hill accounted for 32 vehicles of the squadron total of 17 MET destroyed and 31 damaged for the day. The diary commented: “Everything is mixed up now. Pilots don’t know whether they are in Russian, German or British territory. The Germans are starting to blow up their aircraft and aerodromes.” On one sortie, Warmar and Dalton saw 30 railway wagons explode and Dodson and Sim reported several aircraft burning on the ground so the British would not get to use them.
The Hornets also took an active part in demolition of the Luftwaffe. F/O H. F. Packard riddled an HE III so thoroughly that the port engine tumbled out of its mounting. Two more Heinkels were damaged by Finley, Clow and Stevenson.
On May 3, the British Second Army made contact with the Russians at Grabow and drove through to the Baltic coast at Wismar and Lubeck. The fighter pilots shifted their activity northward. Twenty-six MET were destroyed, 47 were damaged; eight freight cars and four locomotives were shot up, six of the cars being destroyed; a trawler was sunk and seven more were well battered. While returning from the day’s final operation, S/L De Courcy and five companions attacked a JU 88 coming across Eckernforder Bay; Sim, Marshall and the CO peppered it into a field. It was the Hornet squadron’s 36th and last victory in air combat.
More ground targets and shipping strikes on May 4 destroyed five and damaged a further five vehicles. When the pilots landed at Reinsehlen at four o’clock that afternoon, No. 443 Squadron’s part in the long struggle was over. On the heath at Lunenburg that day, the German forces in Holland, north-western Germany and Denmark had surrendered unconditionally to Field-Marshal Montgomery, the cease fire to be effective at 0800 on May 5.
The squadron’s work in the last few days had earned S/L De Courcy and Hart Findley DFCs.
Post War May 1945-March 1946
When VE Day ended the war in Europe, No. 443 Squadron had 29 pilots on strength, led by the Commanding Officer S/L T. J. De Courcy, and including H. R. Finley and R. P. Marsh, both recently returned from enemy territory.
Most of the pilots were more than half way through their tours and could expect early repatriation, although some volunteered for the Pacific and others to remain in Europe with the occupation forces. The weeks immediately following cessation of hostilities were filled with rumour and speculation. While waiting for the inevitable uncertainty to be clarified, the squadron continued practice flying, did escort jobs for Dakotas flying to and from Copenhagen, and participated in “fly pasts” over Bremen and other German cities and former Luftwaffe airfields.
There now was much free time for sports, leave and decorating Spitfires with names and yellow hornet badges and the like.
There was a tragic loss in early June when S/L Tommy De Courcy was killed in a car accident near Hamburg. In simple words, the squadron diarist paid tribute to their Commanding Officer. “It is beyond the power of this narrator to fittingly express our emotion. He was deeply admired and respected among the members of his squadron, and will be sincerely mourned by all who knew him. S/L H. R. Finley took command of the Hornets.
Late in June 1945, the squadron was informed that it had been selected for the British Air Forces of Occupation in Germany. As part of No. 126 Wing, along with 411, 412 and 416 Squadrons, they moved to Uetersen in early July, and were soon on the scrounge to make their new home habitable. Apart from the diversions of an air show in Brussels and various sports endeavours, the summer is probably summed up by this quote from the squadron diary “Don’t they ever have summer in this horrible country.”
During formation practice in September, a mid-air damaged three Spits, but all pilots escaped without serious injury resulting in this quote “The squadron just doesn’t believe in tight formation anymore.”
The end of September 1945 saw most pilots who had flown on operations with No. 443 start home on the repatriation mill. This included Phil Bockman who had started in November 1942 with a five month break due to injury. Hart Finley’s tour also finished as he departed westward for Canada. As a result, only eight pilots remained of the group which had comprised the squadron on VE Day.
The replacements continued to arrive including the new Commanding Officer, S/L C. D. J. Bricker DFC, a veteran fighter-recce pilot who had distinguished himself on photo missions with No. 430 Squadron.
Autumn and winter found sports and prevalent fog hampering flying. In addition to continuous personnel changes, by year’s end the squadron was composed entirely of “Occupational pilots”.
A valiant effort was made on the last day of 1945 to attain the squadron’s monthly flying hours. Although the final total fell about one hour short of target, 443 held first place among the squadrons and received honourable mention in 83 Group’s report for having fewest accidents per flying hour; the Squadron had been accident free for 10 weeks. In January 1946, the Hornets began converting to Spitfire XIVs received from disbanded Belgian and Australian squadrons.
The squadron’s no-accident flying record received a rude jolt January 18 through no fault of the Hornets. Three Spitfires were flying in formation over the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal when a USAAF Thunderbolt came along diving straight into F/L Roosenti’s machine, tearing off the port wing. The aircraft rolled over and burst into flame, but the pilot was able to get free and parachuted to safety with just a few cuts and bruises.
After the extensive changes in personnel in the last months of 1945, there were fewer alterations in the new year. Since No. 443’s arrival in the overseas theater, the airmen who serviced the aircraft had belonged to a separate unit, 6443 Servicing Echelon. This “paper” distinction was abolished, and the airmen were posted to Squadron strength (23 pilots, approx 95 servicing).
On March 8, 1946, flying activities ended, and after the rumour-mongers had enjoyed three days freedom to spread their “gen”, it was officially announced that the Wing was being disbanded, dispelling the squadron’s hopes that it would return to Canada—the way it had departed—as a unit. The pilots were posted to Topcliffe for repatriation; the ground crews were posted to other RCAF units overseas or (the luckier chaps) to England for repatriation. And on March 15, 1946, No. 443 Squadron officially ended its tour with the British Air Forces of Occupation. Most of the personnel remained at Uetersen for a few days longer; the pilots flew their aircraft across to England on the 19th and by the end of March, virtually everyone had gone and 126 Wing was disbanded.
At the time of disbandment the Hornets comprised: S/L C. D. Bricker DFC, F/Ls F. E. Hanton DFC, W. H. Gill DFC, C. B. Murray DFC, T. S. Burleigh, L. J. Burnett, K. S. Meyer, J. H. Cook, N. H. Rassenti, F/Os 0. A. Dodson, W. A. Marshall, C. J. Stojan, H. Sewell, R. E. Lowry, L. A. Pyke, R. W. Perkin, D. A. Mitchell, C. J. Grant, J. H. Tetros, J. H. Syrett, J. K. Burns, and P/Os J. A. Arsenault and M. W. Richman. Of these, Dodson, Grant and Marshall had been with No. 443 since before VE-Day.
To contact me, please use this form or write a comment.