Squadrons, Flights and Visitors Aircraft 1942-1946.
I thought it would be interesting to explore in some depth the aircraft types that were operated by the squadrons at RAF Hartford Bridge and later at RAF Blackbushe during the wartime years when the airfield was operational.
Having started the project it proved not to be quite as straight forward as I had hoped. It was easy enough to find details of the main type but finding details of the different 'marks' as operated by the particular squadrons, even on the internet and from my limited library of reference books proved difficult, especially as the RAF sometimes gave different 'mark' numbers to those given by foreign manufacturers! Then there were the different engines, armament, bomb loads carried etc, etc.
I have however tried to be as accurate as possible but if you know differently or have observations that could be incorporated please leave details in the "Question and Comments" section of "RAF Hartford Bridge - Blackbushe goes to War 1942 -1946" and I will try to verify and incorporate them.
SQUADRONS, FLIGHTS and THEIR AIRCRAFT OPERATED AT THE AIRFIELD 13th JULY 1942 - 11th MARCH 1946.
AERO AIRBORNE FLIGHT
Well before the airfield officially opened on 1st November 1942 and while it was still under construction the first recorded movement was of a Miles Magister flown by G/Capt Wheeler the Commanding Officer of the above Flight took place on the 13th July 1942. It was important that the Flight could move into the airfield as soon as possible as space was tight at their current base at Farnborough and the visit was to hurry things along as far as possible. Almost a month later on the 11th August 1942 the Flight was able to move into an as yet far from complete airfield with construction vehicles and workers still very much in evidence. They arrived with two Horsa gliders and two converted Whitley bombers as tugs. Later Hamilcar, Hadrian and Hotspur gliders would be added plus I suspect other unrecorded types. The Flight would finally move out in March 1943.
Miles Magister. The type first flew in May 1937 and entered service in October that year as an elementary two seat trainer and was used extensively as a basic trainer for Spitfire and Hurricane fighter pilots. It was the first low wing monoplane trainer and was occasionally used as a general runabout aircraft. 1203 were produced in this country with another 100 built under license in Turkey. A little known fact is that a small number were converted with bomb racks to carry 8 X 25lb bombs for use in the event of an invasion of our shores.
Engine: de Havilland Gypsy Major - 130 horse power.
The early type Whitley first flew in March 1936 and was in service well before the second world war started. This medium twin engine bomber was an integral part of the British bomber force until the introduction of the larger types such as the four engine Lancaster. It had a second line role which included as a glider tug and it is believed that the Mk V was used by the Aero Airborne Flight. There were 1814 built in total of which 1466 were the Mk V. Production ceased in June 1943.
It could carry a crew of 5 and was powered by 2x Rolls Royce Merlin X liquid cooled V12 engines giving 1145 hp each.
With a wingspan of 84 feet (25.60m) and a length of 70' 6'' (21.49m) it had a maximum speed of 230mph (370km/h) and would climb at 800 ft/min. However these figures may not have applied with a glider in tow.
Designed as a troop and cargo carrying assault glider the AS.51 Horsa first flight was on 12th September 1941. Over 3500 were built against specification X26/40 which had been issued in October 1940. The Horsa Mk1 had an 88 foot (27m) wing span and was 67 foot (20m) in length. It weighed 1520lb (6920kg) when fully loaded. The later Horsa Mk II had a reinforced floor and hinged nose to permit the carrying of vehicles, a Jeep or 6 pounder anti-tank gun. Many varied trials were carried out at Hartford Bridge including loading and discharge of all types of cargo.
Designed and built by General Aircraft Ltd this glider was conceived as an assault aircraft to carry up to eight troops. When it was realized that larger numbers would need to be carried the Hotspur was used more in the training role. The first flight was on 5th November 1940 with 1015 being produced between 1940 - 1943. The developed Mk II had a wing span of nearly 46 feet (13.99m) and a length of 39feet (11.89m). The max take off weight was 3598lb (1632kg). Spectacular trials were undertaken at Hartford Bridge with a braking parachute system. The intention being that the pilot would deploy a seven foot parachute at 3000 ft. The induced drag would give an 8000 feet per minute near vertical descent giving German forces on the ground little time to react to shoot down the glider. Things didn't always go to plan and accidents did occur. On 31st October 1942 Hotspur BT615 failed to pull out of a dive early enough and made what was described as a very heavy landing. The two crew were ejected from the wrecked glider and one was unfortunately killed. Other trials were also noted to put considerable stress on the rear fuselage and in particular on the tail planes of the aircraft.
This large glider designated the GAL4a Hamilcar Mk1 was designed to carry up to seven tons of cargo, a light tank such as the Tetrarch or two Universal Carriers. It first flew on 27th March 1942 and subsequently 410 were produced. It had a high wing and swing nose to permit easy access of vehicles. It was the largest glider used by British forces during the war and was used with success in the "Operation Overlord" landings in Europe.
Stirling, Lancaster or Halifax bombers were required to tow them. Types that no doubt had visited Hartford Bridge for the purpose when trials were being carried out. This type of glider carried up to 17600lb (8000 kg) of cargo including vehicle crews. Wing span was 108.69 feet (33.13m), and length 68.01 feet (20.73m). It also stood at a height of 20.25 feet (6.17m) with a hydraulic system to lower the nose after landing in the battle zone. It operated with a crew of 2.
American factories produced 2100 Waco CG-4A's for shipment to England by February 1944. Many of these were to be used in the invasion of Europe carrying for example troops, antitank guns, a small bulldozer, surgical units or communications equipment.
In Operation Neptune about 6000 ships of all sizes were tasked to cross the channel as part of Operation Overlord and in addition some 3900 troops were landed by glider, including the Waco's. In all 14972 Hadrians were produced. They had an 83.66 wing span (25.50 m), were 48.56 feet long (14.8 m) and weighed 16535lb (7500kg) maximum take off weight.
This glider type, like the others had been evaluated by the Aero Airborne Flight before they were issued for use by British Forces.
RAF Hartford Bridge once fully opened on 1st November 1942 was named as a satellite of RAF Odiham and an advanced party arrived to prepare for the first squadrons due to be based. A flight of Bristol Blenheims moved in from 13 Squadron which was currently Odiham based. These were the Mk 4 version and carried a crew of three and first flew in late September 1937.
Blenheim Mk 4
There had been a number of earlier versions but all were powered by 2X Bristol Mercury engines. The aircraft had a wing span of 56'4'' ( 17.17m ) and were 42'7'' ( 12.98m ) in length. They were armed with 5x.303 guns and would carry 1320lb ( 598.74 ) of bombs. Maximum speed was 295mph ( 474.76 k/ph ) and had a service ceiling of 31500' ( 9601.2 m).
The squadron started to arrive on 5.12.42 from it's former base at RAF Gatwick with their aircraft flying in a couple of days later. It was operating as a tactical reconnaissance unit attached to the Army Co-Operations Command. It had on strength a number of Tomahawk I's and was in the process of receiving newer Mk IIA aircraft, plus some Mustang IA's. The early Tomahawks delivered to the RAF came without armour, bulletproof windscreens or self sealing fuel tanks but these items were addressed in later deliveries. It's stay at RAF Hartford Bridge was destined to be a short one as it was to be disbanded on 31.12.42 and its aircraft passed to the Canadian 430 Squadron which was to form at RAF Dunsfold.
Aircraft Types: Curtis Tomahawk I
After a first flight in October 1938 over 13700 P40's of various marks were produced between 1939 and 1944. RAF aircraft were the P40B version and had a wingspan of 37'4" (11.38m), length was 31'9" (9.68m) and a take-off weight of 7600lb (3447.30kg)
Curtis Tomahawk II
Almost the same specification as the Tomahawk I this version had armour protection for the pilot added plus additional modifications and therefore an increase in weight.
North American Mustang 1
The RAF received the first Mustang 1's in October 1941. They were fast and were well received. Powered by the Allison V-710-39 engine offering 1150 horse power this gave a maximum speed of 382 mph(615 k/h) at 13700 feet (4176m). The aircraft wingspan was 37 feet (11.277m), with a length of 32' 3'' (9.83m) 320 Mustangs were ordered initially and this was followed by a second order for a further 300 of the type.
North American Mustang 1A
In March 1941 the United States had signed the 'Lend Lease Act' which permitted loan of aircraft to ' nations that were vital to the security of the United States' and 150 additional aircraft were ordered for delivery to Britain designated as Mustang IA's. These were more powerfully armed with 4X Hispano 20mm cannons in the wings. However, not all were delivered as some were held back prior to shipment and 20 others were lost at sea on delivery. The 1A's were similarly powered by the Allison V-710 engine and were the same dimensions.
Arriving from RAF Benson 0n 12 March 1943 this squadron was employed on Photo Reconnaissance duties. Using a variety of aircraft at Hartford Bridge which included Spitfire XI, Spitfire PR. VII, Ventura I, Mosquito PR.IX, Mosquito PR.XVI and Blenheims, although the latter type was not used operationally from the airfield. The Spitfire VII was retired during July 1943 and the Ventura 1, which was not popular with the aircrews, in January 1944. The squadron was engaged in photo mapping France and the low countries as preparation for the invasion of Europe built up. Details of coastal installations, specific targets of interest and general mapping was carried out. The Ventura was able to carry photo-flash bombs which enabled night time sorties to be undertaken. When the Mosquitos became available missions deeper into France were possible. In particular the radar equipped Mosquito PR XVI was able to accomplish blind night photo flights using photo-flash bombs considerably deeper into France with it's longer range.
Aircraft Types: Ventura I
Having been of minimal success as a bomber the type was allocated for various different duties including photo reconnaissance. They carried a crew of 5 and were powered by 2X Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp - SIA4-G engines. The wing span was 65'6" (19.96m) and it was 51' 2.5" (15.60m) long. Maximum loaded weight was 26000lb (11793 kg) and was able to cruise at 272mph (437.74 k/ph) with a service ceiling of 25000' (7620 m).See also 21 Squadron.
This version of the Spitfire was designed with pressurisation for high level photo reconnaissance work. It was easily recognised from other Marks as it had extended type C wings and pointed wing tips giving a wing span of 40' 2" (12.2m). The cockpit pressurisation air intake was located below the engine exhaust ports on the right hand side. There were only 140 built and they had a service ceiling of 45100' (13700m). This version of the Spitfire was first flown in September 1942. It was powered by a Merlin 71 engine ..........................
The reconnaissance version based on the earlier Mk VII, Mk VIII and IX. It had a camera compartment behind the cockpit in the fuselage and could carry 2X vertical F52 cameras and 1X F24 oblique camera with other variations being available when required. It went into production in November 1942 with 471 being produced by Supermarine. It was not pressurised and had no armament fitted. It was powered by either a Merlin 61,63 or 70 high altitude engine. The VHF radio installation was also fitted with "Rebecca" beam approach equipment. Additional slipper drop tanks could be fitted with varying capacities up to 170 galls. It had a top speed of 417 mph (671km/h) at 24000' (7300m) but would normally cruise at 395mph (636 km/h)at 32000' (9800m). In an emergency, if attacked, it could climb to 44000' (13000m) although this height could cause physical side effects on the crew in an unpressurised aircraft.
The PR.IX version of the Mosquito was based on the B.IX and was powered by 2X Merlin 72/73 or 76/77 two-stage, two speed engines each developing 1680hp. It was designed to carry a variety of droppable fuel tanks the largest of which could contain 200 gallons (910Ltr) with two being carried.
Mosquito PR. XVI
Powered by 2X Merlin 73 engines of 1680hp ( 1253kw) this version was very fast having an all out maximum speed of 401mph at 25200' (7681m). The aircraft had an absolute ceiling of 36700' ( 11186m) and the maximum rate of climb was 1150 ft/min (351m) at 26100' (7955m). There were 499 built and they had a pressurised cabin. There was however a problem as the cabin Perspex suffered from frosting. This could however be cleared by opening a side window!
This was an elite photographic Squadron which arrived from Middle Wallop on 29th June 1943 . They flew 14x Mustang 1's with oblique cameras which could be fitted behind the pilot on the port side. They had operated the Mustang since April 1942. The Spitfire XI was also recently taken on strength and an unusual blue painted Lockheed Lightning was also available. As the squadron was still converting onto the Mk XI they would use 140 squadron Mk V Spitfires whenever possible to convert their pilots onto type. There were also reports that the squadron used Lysanders at times though this was not confirmed. 34 PR Wing which encompassed both 16 and 140 squadrons were the eyes of the 21st Army Group and also 2nd TAF, their results were therefore vital for gathering intelligence. As 140 Squadron received new Mosquito aircraft they passed on their somewhat old and unreliable Spitfire V's to 16 Squadron who received them with mixed feelings. The squadron was to depart to Northolt on 16th April 1944.
For details also see under 171 Squadron.
The first production contract for 320 (NA-73) fighter aircraft was given the name Mustang by an anonymous member of the British Purchasing Commission. This initial order was quickly followed by an additional one for a further 300 (NA-83).First deliveries were in February 1942. However, the aircraft were mainly used for tactical photo reconnaissance as their performance above 15000' (4572 m) was considered poor and was thus not good for a fighter aircraft.
For details see under 140 Squadron
More of this Mk. of Spitfire were produced than any other Spitfire Mk. Testing started in January 1941 and production got under way in the following March. Various different types of the Merlin engine were installed being the 45,46 or 50 versions, which gave a climb rate of 4750 ft /min.( 1448m/min). The aircraft wing span was 36'10" (11.23m), but it should be noted that various different wing types could be used to cater for different armament and tasks, for example high altitude operation. It had a length of 29'11" (9.12m) and an all up weight of 6750lb (3061.7kg). The ceiling was 37000' (11278m)and a max speed of 369mph (593.85 kph) could be achieved.
In March 1940 Britain signed a cash purchase order for the Model 322-61 Lightning. (British Lightning 1 ) powered by the Allison C15 un-supercharged engines. The total order was for 667 aircraft, however, only 143 were initially built and of these only three arrived in the UK for evaluation. The USAAF requirement for the aircraft after America entered the war stopped further deliveries. I have been unable to find any reference to British Lightnings being operated by 16 squadron or any other UK squadron for that matter. However it is quite possible that a machine was loaned from the Americans or other Allied Air Force particularly as it is reported to be blue painted which suggests it would be used for specific high level tasks.
The Flight used Auster 1's at Hartford Bridge which was the pre war designed American Taylorcraft light cabin monoplane of 1938 vintage and was built in England under license. The Army had impressed civilian Plus C and Plus D model aircraft for spotting duties and this led to the first militarised Taylorcraft orders, the Auster 1 (military version of the model C) to be used as an Air Observation Post.
From its earliest days in WWI small unarmed aircraft had been used to relay vital information about enemy troop numbers, position and movements to aid accurate direction of gunfire from front line artillery units. Flying skill was relied upon to outwit the enemy gunners.
The Auster I was a two seat aircraft with a high wing and entered service in August 1942 with only 100 being built. Operated by a number of RAF squadrons and flown by Army AOP Flights and Sections which moved around as required not only in this country but world wide. The aircraft at Hartford Bridge would have been used for urgent communications and Army co-operation requirements. Many development models would follow.
The plus C had the Lycoming 0-145-A2, 55hp (41.01kw)engine
The Plus D was re-engine with the Blackburn Cirrus Minor1 engine
As part of 137 Bomber Wing, 21 Squadron moved from RAF Oulton in Norfolk and arrived at Hartford Bridge on 19 August 1943 flying Venturas I & IIs. They carried the squadron code letters YH and their motto was " By strength we will Conquer. The Ventura was never a popular aircraft with the aircrew and after a series of disastrous operations the aircraft was removed from the bomber role and assigned to other duties, being replaced by Mosquito VI's by the summer of 1943. As the Mosquitos started to arrive much to the relief of the aircrew, the squadron moved out to RAF Hunsdon. They had been detailed to carry out daylight attacks against occupied Europe whilst at Hartford Bridge.
Wing span 65'6" ( 19.96m), Length 51'2.5" (15.60 m), Max speed 300mph (484 KM/h), Ceiling 25000' (7617m), Range 950 miles (1532 Km), Power 2X Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp GR2800 1200hp (895 kw) each. Armament was 2X .50 inch guns plus .303 guns in the nose, 2 or 4 .303 guns in the mid upper turret and 2x.303 guns in the mid lower position turret. It was well armed.
Ventura 1 see specification under 140 Squadron aircraft.
Ventura II. The Vectra II was similar to the Vectra I but with some improvements. They had 2000hp (1491kw) R2800-31 engines, had a redesigned bomb bay capable of carrying 3000lb (1361kg) of bombs or 780 gallon (3546ltr) ferry tanks. There was a further order placed for 375 additional aircraft but only 196 actually reached commonwealth forces.
The first of the Boston light bomber squadrons to arrive. 88 (Hong Kong) Squadron arrived on the same day as 21 Squadron on 19th August 1943. Code letters carried were 'RH'. The main role of the Boston Squadrons was to carry out daylight bombing raids over Europe. The Boston proved to be fast and robust with a useful bomb load and was attached to 137 Wing being formerly based at RAF Swanton Morley in Norfolk. By the end of the month the squadron had familiarised themselves with the local area and were soon in the thick of the action on the 25th when eight of their aircraft were involved in a successful attack on Beaumont Le Roger in France. From then onwards the squadron mounted regular attacks with many outstanding results, but they also were also to suffer terrible losses.
The squadron flew both the Boston Mk IIIA and updated Mk IV while at Hartford Bridge.
................................................. Boston IIIA.
There had been 980 aircraft initially received and this was followed by a further 200 under the lend-lease agreement. They were powered by 2x Wright R2600-23 engines and carried a crew of four. They had a wing span of 61'4" ( 18.69m) and were
48' ( 14.63m) in length. Capable of a max. speed of 318mph ( 512 km/h) they had a service ceiling of 27000' ( 8229 m).
88 Squadron was the last to fly the IIIA when they retired the aircraft in April 1945.
Armament was 7x .3 guns plus 1x .303.
This Mk of Boston was produced in the USA as the A-20J with deliveries starting in summer 1944. It was very similar to the Boston IIIA but was 4 inches longer and carried different armament being 5x.5 guns. It was capable of lifting 4000lb (1814Kg) of bombs and had a max. speed that was 2mph faster! 168 were supplied under lend lease . In 1943 every 10th production Douglas A-20G was built with a transparent Plexiglas nose which housed a Norden bomb sight and a bomb aimer position. This version was known as the A-20J or Boston IV in the RAF when delivery started. Details similar to the Boston IIIA but length 48' 4" ( 14.73 m)
Hot on the heels of 88 Squadron the next Boston Squadron to arrive was 107 Squadron which arrived from RAF West Rainham in Norfolk the following day. They were also flying the Boston IIIA. They had been with 88 Squadron when Beaumont Le Roger was attacked on the 25th but their next mission two days later to put Gosney power station out of action, a vital target to destroy as it provided electrical power to a wide area, proved a disaster. Of the six aircraft that departed only two would return. One turned too early and missed the target completely, two others collided and were seen to be ablaze on the ground and another having been hit by flak crashed into the English Channel. Yet another aircraft was forced to crash land having been attacked by a German fighter and hit in one of the engines, but at least this crew survived. It was a sombre Hartford Bridge when news was received of the lost crews.
For details of the Boston IIIA see under 88 Squadron.
A further bomber squadron soon arrived on 6th September 1943. This was 342 Lorraine Squadron which also operated with a mix of Boston Mk. IIIA & IV light bombers. The 'Free French' were much admired by other residents of the airfield and local residents alike who realised how difficult it was for them to carry out raids bombing their own homeland and also the risks they and their families faced if they were shot down and captured by the enemy. Many of the crew members therefore adopted assumed names when they flew. These very brave men were honoured in early May 1944 by a visit from General Koenig, French representative at Supreme HQ, AEF, he was accompanied by General Valin who was the Commander of the French Air Force in the United Kingdom. Their aircraft proudly carried the 'Cross of Lorraine' painted on the nose and their recognition letters 'OA' on the fuselage.