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Maritime Patrols - 1941-1945

With the defeat of Italian forces in East Africa, the immediate threat to Aden and the Red Sea came from Axis Submarines - Allied shipping was using the Red Sea route to reinforce the 8th Army in Egypt and North Africa.  Therefore, 8 Squadron's new role was that of maritime patrols to ensure safe passage of reinforcements and supplies in the region of Aden.  In August 1941 the first Blenheim Mk IVs were received and by November the Squadron possessed over 20 of the improved aircraft.  By the summer of 1942, the Vincents were finally withdrawn and replaced by the Blenheim Mk V.  In September 1942, the Squadron strength was 31 Blenheim Mk Vs and 10 Blenheim Mk IVs.  Incessant convoy patrols were flown but no incidents of significance occurred to disturb the dull routine of No 8 Squadron's monotonous but essential operations.

Excitement at Last

In February 1943, the more suitable Lockheed Hudson patrol aircraft arrived on the Squadron's strength.  However it was a Blenheim which produced the Squadrons next result.  After months of uneventful patrols, when it seemed that the Gulf of Aden held anything but a submarine, July suddenly produced a series of sightings.

On the 8th of July, Warrant Officer DHN Hall flying a Blenheim V sighted a submarine in position 11°50'N 051°55'E.  As the aircraft positioned for an attack the submarine crash-dived and was submerged when the four depth charges were dropped.  No results were observed.

Later, during the same patrol, a further submarine was sighted on the surface 3 miles north of the original contact.  Unfortunately shortage of fuel and a suspect engine prevented any attack being carried out.  The submarine was left for the relief aircraft, which arrived shortly after but failed to locate its quarry.

Two days later the periscope of a submerged submarine was sighted in position 14°27'N 051°21'E by the crew of Blenheim BA718.  The submarine was attacked with a stick of 4 x 250lb depth charges which were dropped 100 - 150 yards ahead of the wake - one of the depth charges failed to explode.  A search of the area was made but nothing more was seen.

More action still….  Four days after this on the 14th July, another submarine was sighted.  This one surfaced and was spotted by a Hudson captained by Flight Sergeant N Miller.  It was attacked in position 12°13'N 051°13'E and three depth charges were dropped.  Hits were observed to straddle the submarine, which slowly started to submerge until more explosions forced it to the surface again.  It again settled and disappeared...  Three minutes later oil appeared on the surface of the water and after five minutes a second patch of oil appeared down the submarine track.  These two patches merged forming a long slick, 1½ miles long and 300 yards wide, which was still obvious when the aircraft was forced to return to Khormaksar.

More Praise for No 8 Squadron

On 26th July the following letter was received from the Air Officer Commanding British Forces Aden:

 

"I am enclosing a message from the Admiralty to which I would like to add my heartiest congratulations to the crew of Hudson 628.

I am informed by the Commodore, Aden, that a ship, which has just recently arrived in Aden harbour reports having passed through oil in the Guardafui area for a period of 24 hours.  The Commodore thinks that this has a direct connection with the submarine attacked by our Hudson.  This has also been reported to the Admiralty.

Flight Sergeant Miller and his crew put up an extremely good show and I am confident that this is one of many future successes for No 8 Squadron.

The whole operation reflects great credit on all officers and airmen of all units under your command."

The message from the Admiralty read as follows:

 

"Please convey our congratulations to the crew of Hudson 628 on accurate and well planned attack 14th July, which it is hoped may prove to have been a kill.

Early successes against U-boats in your area may have far reaching effects."

This brief period of excitement over, the Squadron again settled into the dull routine of long patrols without a contact.  However, their efforts were greatly appreciated as is shown by the following message dated 12th October from Headquarters British Forces Aden:

 

"The following signal received from Commodore of Convoy AKD 2 addressed to Senior Officer, Escort Force.

Please express on your return our appreciation of the valuable and continuous air cover given by our boys of the Royal Air Force."

Arrival of the Wellington

On Patrol over the Indian Ocean
Wellington MkXIII "E" No 8 Squadron 1944 (Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge

In December 1943, sixteen Wellington XIII's arrived on the Squadron's strength.  At this time, No 621 Squadron arrived at Khormaksar, also equipped with Wellingtons, to assist 8 Squadron with the task of patrolling the Indian Ocean.  The Squadrons flew from three other airbases in addition to the main base at Khormaksar: Riyan, Salalah, and Bardar Kassim.  In May 1944, the Squadron again attacked another U-boat.  The part played by 8 Sqn in the action which led to the destruction of this German submarine and the capture of its crew was decisive.  The vessel was destroyed on 3rd May 1944 and during the action 8 Squadron worked in co-operation with 621 Squadron.

Another U-Boat Sunk

At 0924Z on 2nd May Wellington "G" of No 8 Squadron was ordered off from Riyan to locate the submarine.  It was not found in the position given, but a later new position enabled "G" to locate the submarine at 09°56'N 051°03'E.  As the aircraft approached the submarine opened fire at four miles range, but the aircraft sustained no damage.

At 0452Z, 2nd May a perfect depth charge attack was carried out four minutes after sighting of a submarine by a Wellington of 621 Squadron.  It was considerably damaged in the attack and was forced to remain on the surface.  Subsequently it travelled on the surface in a south-westerly direction being under constant surveillance and subject to periodic attacks by five other aircraft of 621 Squadron.

The U-boat then made a sharp turn through ninety degrees and the Wellington passed over the stern at right angles.  Being in no position to depth charge, machine gun fire was directed at the conning tower and deck.  Several hits were observed.

U-852 Photographed On The Surface During The Action Of 2nd May 1944
(Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge

On the second attack a whole stick of depth charges was seen to straddle the U-boat.  The aircraft then shadowed the submarine out of range of the enemy guns and passed the following message to base: "Submarine damaged, unable to submerge.  Am shadowing, three hours patrol, awaiting instructions."

As darkness fell, the radar contact on the submarine began merging with hard returns and at 1557Z, although a flare was dropped, contact was lost with the enemy craft.  A visual search was carried out by moonlight and at 1655Z the rear gunner sighted the submarine again.  She was lying stationary away from the shore, surrounded by a large patch of oil.  The shadowing of the U-boat by "G" was instrumental in preventing the vessel's escape and made possible the capture of its crew.

In the early hours of the 3rd May two other aircraft of No 8 Squadron located the submarine and one of them received permission from HMS Falmouth, then in the vicinity, to attack.  From observations it was fairly clear that the submarine had been abandoned by its crew.  The depth charges dropped in this attack failed to explode, probably because of the very shallow water.

At 0225Z as "X" was flying at 900 feet above the vessel, the submarine blew up with a terrific explosion which threw debris over 1000 feet into the air.  Both the stern and bow were blown off.  The Naval escort which had been homed in by WT, then sent a landing party ashore and the crew picked up while Wellington "X" provided air cover.  The following message was received by the AOC from the Chief of the Air Staff and was passed to 8 Squadron:

 

"I have read with great interest C in C Eastern Fleet's signal.  My congratulations to you and to all concerned in this spirited and highly successful action."


Click the link to read the official Operations Record Book, RAF Form 540,
which details 8 Squadron's involvement with this sinking.

Out Of Aden

As the war in the Mediterranean moved further away from Aden, the excitement at Aden dwindled and no further significant incidents are recorded.  As the war in Europe reached its conclusion No 8 Squadron received the following warning message on 1st May 1945:

This order was changed later in the month to 200 Squadron - but 8 Squadron's long association with Aden was, for the time being, at an end.

Click the link to read the transcripts of records from the National Archives for No. 8 Squadron, March - May 1944.  Compiled by and with kind permission, Mr Robert Quirk.

No 200 Squadron

No 200 Squadron, which was to become 8 Squadron, was flying Liberator VI's from Jessore in India.  The Squadron had, as a special duties unit, been operating over Burma, Siam, and French Indo China.  At its period of transfer to 8 Squadron, No 200 was engaged in supply dropping, mainly over Burma.  Evidence of 200 Squadron's success is given in the May 1945 issue of the Strategic Air Force Monthly Bulletin.  The Air Commander made the following notes:

 

"The special duties squadrons have continued to operate at high pressure and with considerable success.  During this last month they have completed a record number of missions, and have also had a record number of successes.  No 200 Squadron has been attached temporarily to the Strategic Air Force for special duties operations.  I am afraid they will not be remaining with us for very long, but they are a first class Squadron, and produced some very successful results."

Operations ceased on 15th May when 200 Squadron was ordered to Ceylon to continue the same role as No 8 Squadron.  The movement from Jessore to Minneriya in Ceylon started on 21st May and was complete on the 29th.  From Ceylon, the "new" No 8 Squadron continued special duties operations to Japanese held Malaya and Sumatra.

Click the link to read the transcripts of records from the National Archives for No. 200 Squadron, March 1944 - April 1945.  Compiled by and with kind permission, Mr Robert Quirk.
Liberator Mk VI - No 8 Sqn
"The Winniemae"

Minneriya, Ceylon - August 1945
(Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge

No 8 Squadron Operational Again

Special operations (dropping supplies to guerrilla forces) reached their peak in July 1945 with 54 sorties flown of which three went to Sumatra - the remainder to Malaya.  Sixteen sorties were unsuccessful due to poor weather over the dropping zones and very tight fuel margins.  In all, 75,332 lbs of stores were dropped together with 1,577,000 nickels, thirty agents and one dog!  In August, Japan surrendered and 8 Squadron was involved in flying food and medical supplies to Allied Prisoner of War camps.  These drops were vital to the prisoners' survival - their bestial treatment in the Japanese camps is well documented.

Disbandment

Most operations planned for 8 Squadron in October 1945 had to be cancelled because of the onset of the monsoon season.  Therefore the Squadron was again disbanded on 15th November 1945.

Click the link to read the transcripts of records from the National Archives for No. 8 Squadron, May - October 1945.  Compiled by and with kind permission, Mr Robert Quirk.  Note: Page 41, 28/07/45, 8 Squadron may have been the only Squadron to drop a dog on a supply drop flight. (The parachute was seen to open!)

8 Squadron Liberators From Ceylon Mentioned In A Press Release:

HQ Air Command SEAC. 2 Sep 45
From Ceylon To Sumatra

RAF Liberators Drop Supplies To Prisoners Of War

Fg Off FFH Charlton with some of his Crew
August 1945 (Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge

RAF Liberators of the Indian Ocean Air Force flew a round trip of 2,800 miles from Ceylon to Medan, in Sumatra, to parachute Red Cross supplies and medical aids to prisoners of war.  Twenty four hours previously, a Liberator had dropped leaflets to the Japanese guards and prisoners giving details on the supply dropping expedition to follow.  On this initial trip, photographs were taken which enabled those following to locate the camps and make sure the supplies fell in the proper places.  Between three and four thousand Dutch prisoners are believed to be in the Medan area, as well as a large number of British and Americans.

One of the Liberators was captained by Flying Officer FFH Charlton, who made several flights over Sumatra.  With the exception of the pilot, all members of the crew were making their first visit to the Dutch East Indies and were naturally enthusiastic to be taking part in one of the greatest errands of mercy ever undertaken.  For five hours the aircraft flew through low cloud and occasional showers of rain until the conical sloped hills of the coast of Peliang were sighted.  Ships of the British East Indies Fleet were anchored in the harbour.  The White Ensign was flying above the town.

Reminders Of War

The Crew of the "Winniemae"
(Sqn Archive)
Click Image to Enlarge

As the aircraft flew over Sumatra in good weather, villagers or farmers waved, but on the whole the inhabitants seemed to be going about their everyday tasks.  Reminders of war were occasional.  In a corner of the jungle, burned out remains of an enemy aircraft could be seen.  Near Pankalanbrandon Harbour was the wreckage of a large sized enemy tanker, no doubt blown up by a mine.

After a couple of hours flying over Sumatra, the navigator, Flying Officer JA d'Alpuger, announced the approach to the target.  Parcels and packages were arranged in readiness for the dropping.  The spot for the actual dropping was a large open space, easily distinguished by an ornamental fountain at one end.  Just by was the Roman Catholic college in which the prisoners were believed to be housed.  As soon as the aircraft began circling the inhabitants of the town rushed out and before long the roads were crowded with people waving wildly.  Some brought table clothes out of the houses and waved these.  The first lot of supplies dropped to the ground and people ran across the open space to collect them.  Every package landed safely in the prescribed area.  People collected them immediately and loaded them into a motor car.