Last updated: 12 April 2015, 14:40
255 Squadron after VE Day
(France, Italy, Malta & Egypt)
Re-grouping at The Casa in Tuscany
The Squadron was stood down from operational flying at 21:00 hours on 7 May 1945, the eighth and ninth being designated as official "V.E. Days". The eighth saw the welcome official announcement of the end of the war in Europe and the whole Squadron took the day off “to celebrate the supreme crowning of allied endeavour in this theatre of operations”.
Only guard duties took place on the ninth, the normal programme of work resuming on the tenth.
A squadron at peace is a very different beast from a squadron at war, the same black panther crest notwithstanding. The tone of the unit’s records changed abruptly. The ORB for the remainder of May 1945 records mainly such things as the creation of new Sports Committees, Discussion Groups, arranging postal voting in the General Election for UK voters and the Province of Ontario & Commonwealth of Canada Elections for Canadian personnel. A new set of "EVT Committees", meaning Educational and Vocational Training, was created. One Mosquito (TA131) was damaged in a 'swing' incident at Rosignano and there was a fire in the cookhouse being used by the detachment at Istres, but no injuries resulted. By the 19th, the situation at Rosignano had relaxed to the point where it was possible for all ranks to have both Saturday afternoon and Sunday free. The Casa being just a mile from the beach....
During the first half of June the Detachments in France (still split between Nice and Istres) made their way to Rosignano; for unexplained reasons this was via Marseilles and Pisa airfields rather than overland. From mid-month the EVT classes commenced, offering the following subjects: Mathematics (3 streams), French, Agriculture, English, Electricity, General Knowledge and Shorthand. All classes, held twice weekly, drew instructors from the Squadron itself. Four pilots (Bradley, Kinnell, Deane and Scollan) flew to Cairo for interview at BOAC’s regional HQ.
On 28 June 1945, barely two weeks after the squadron had be re-united at Rosignano, a detachment was sent to Hal Far in Malta. Three Mosquitoes, 21 aircrew and "sufficient" ground crew and spares were involved, those not flying the Mosquitoes travelling in a Liberator of HQ No.205 Group.
The object of stationing a Detachment at Hal Far was to provide a radar calibration service for the Royal Navy in Malta. It did cause the squadron problems; the Mosquito Mk.XIX aircraft – a type optimised for night-fighter deployment – were fitted with Merlin 25 engines not designed for day use in hot climates and at high altitude. Excess wear and tear on the engines caused the new CO to visit Malta and ask some searching questions as to why the Navy couldn’t do their own radar calibration. No.728 Naval Air Squadron appears to have been based at Ta'Qali (RNAS Takali, HMS Goldfinch) at the time, designated a Fleet Requirements Unit and equipped with suitable aircraft.
Peace did not extinguish military training. A note at the end of June emphasises the need for more practice at formation flying, but also reports favourably on the outcome of gunnery training.
Postal voting for the UK General Election took place between 6 and 14 July 1945, some intending voters being frustrated by loss or misplacement of their "Forms 2470", the military ballot paper. Nevertheless, approximately 250 votes were cast. Another sport entered the timetable on the 11th, the Squadron taking up table tennis and immediately beating the Royal Navy by five games to nil in the Leghorn League. The same score was achieved in their next match, against 467 Coastal Battery.
On 16 July, 39997 Squadron Leader (Acting Wing Commander) James Ronaldson Herbert Lewis, DFC, was posted to the squadron as CO, Kempe leaving on the 21st. The record for the month describes a dance on the 20th as the squadron’s first in Italy, although this apparently overlooks events at Foggia Main back in the spring of 1944. A stage and dance floor were constructed in the grounds of The Casa, subsequently also used for concerts and films. The CO’s monthly summary noted that morale was thereby raised, “[having] shown signs of becoming low since the cessation of hostilities”.
From 26 July, the wind-down of personnel commenced – an un-named member of the squadron being the first to leave Rosignano for No.1 Overseas Release Centre in Milan. Also, from this same date, it became possible for Squadron members to take leave in the UK and three did so immediately.
By 15 August, coincidentally the date of cessation of hostilities in the Far East, the Squadron was haemorrhaging personnel. This gave rise to a terse signal from Lewis to both MCAF and 6 BPO:
Reference signals posting out 115 personnel. These personnel cannot be released until squadron has moved to new location. Imperative technicians posted in are Mosquito XIX and XXX trained. If not, technicians posted out must remain to instruct personnel posted in. The posting out of all squadron key personnel will have a disasterous effect on training, serviceability and morale.
The move indicated referred to the upcoming departure from Rosignano; the Squadron was soon to wave farewell to its magnificent HQ building at Villa Graziani and consolidate at the site already occupied by the detachment, Hal Far. The Advance Party left 16 August in three C47s, with the main air party following on 4 September. The balance of ground crew arrived in Malta by sea on the eleventh. Not recorded in the ORB is any hint of realisation that 255 was thereby, in a sense, returning to its pre-RAF Royal Naval Air Service roots, Hal Far having originally been built as a Naval air station.
Peacetime in Malta
They moved into a very different world. Accustomed to having facilities all to themselves at The Casa in Tuscany, suddenly everything was shared with other units. Water, especially, was in very short supply such that the ration was one shower per man per week - "perhaps".
The remainder of the month was taken up with Practice Interceptions and local flying. Aircraft availability seems to have been seriously compromised by ground crew experience issues, all personnel becoming "Tour Expired" in the remainder of 1945 having been posted to other units in Italy rather than being taken to Malta.
October was no different; the ORB belatedly paints an overall picture of increasing boredom. Curiously, the Form 540 records for the months of October, November and December 1945 were not signed off by the CO until after the Squadron had moved to Gianaclis in Egypt in January 1946. Cross-country flying was added to the activities, although just where they went is not detailed – possibly forgotten by the time the record for October was typed up the following year!
November saw much of the same, but with additional air-to-ground firing taking place at Kaura Point (now more commonly spelt Qawra Point). This went awry on 22 November; a Mosquito flown by Pilot Officer Gill was hit in the radiator by one of his own shells richochetting from the target. The consequent engine fire led to an emergency downwind landing on one engine, overshooting the runway. The crew were uninjured. The end-of-month summary again centered on the ever-increasing problems arising from shortage of skilled ground crew.
December saw an example of the Squadron’s deployment as an ASR (Air Sea Rescue) unit. Scrambled at 01:30 on the 21st, the Mosquito piloted by Flying Officer Gill successfully located a Warwick which was in distress, escorting it to a safe touch-down at RAF Luqa. Christmas saw the Other Ranks move into new accommodation. The established routine of a crazy football match in fancy dress was upheld, this taking place in fine weather. Work did not recommence until the 28th.
On the 30th, rumours began to circulate suggesting an upcoming move to the Middle East. Several pilots of the squadron having conducted ferry flights to Egypt in the preceeding weeks, there was a strong hint as to where the destination might be. For the third month running, paperwork relating to Hal Far wasn’t signed off until after the Squadron HQ had relocated to Egypt.
The move from Hal Far, Malta, to Gianaclis, Egypt
At this point, the Squadron’s record-keeping or filing seems to have failed completely – reason unknown. The ORB record for January 1946, which should appear in sequence in AIR27/1519, is absent without explanation or even acknowledgement of the omission. The following record for the month of January has, therefore, been compiled from the ORBs of RAF Hal Far (AIR28/334 and 335), RAF Gianaclis (AIR28/300) and No.205 Group (AIR25/1380):
6 Jan 1946 : Wing Commander Lewis, DFC, Commanding Officer of 255 Squadron, flew to Gianaclis to take over his new station.
15 January 1946 : No.205 Group relinquished administrative and operational control of RAF Station Gianaclis to HQ Eastern Mediterranean. The station subsequently consisted of the HQ’s Unit, comprised mainly of ex-334 Wing personnel, and No.255 (Mosquito) Squadron. Both were under the command of Wing Commander J.R.H. Lewis, DFC, the station functioning on a one-squadron basis.
“With the disbandment of No.334 Wing, the Group [in context, No.205 Group] ceased to have any interest in this Station [in context, Gianaclis], and it was transferred to Air Headquarters Eastern Mediterranean from 15th January 1946.”
On the 19th all the ground crew of No.255 Squadron arrived on the station, having docked at Alexandria from Malta. The officers had arrived from Hal Far by air on the 17th and 18th.
Egypt - Where and why?
RAF Gianaclis started life as nothing more than a designated desert Landing Ground, numbered LG226. WWII British Military sources differ slightly as to its position. A pocket guide to landing places in Egypt
dated August 1942, gives the the location as “30°53'N, 30°05'E, south side of El Nubariya Canal at the edge of cultivation, 24 miles SE of Dekheila and 17 miles S of Kafr El Dauwar”. That guide includes a sketch plan showing four runways: N/S 1260 yards, E/W 1200 yards, NW/SE 1230 yards and NE/SW 1260 yards – surface rolled sand. Later documentation, apparently prepared for office use rather than as something for issue to aircrew, places the site slightly further east at 30°07'E and describes a “prepared area 2000×1700 yards (no defined strips)”.
30°07'E is probably more accurate; that places the site adjacent to the canal as described and sketched in the pocket guide. No evidence of the site’s past use as an airfield remains although the name is perpetuated at the nearby Jiyanklis New Air Base of the Egyptian Air Force, located a few kilometres to the South-East, also close to the El Nubariya Canal at 30°49'N, 30°12'E.
RAF Gianaclis itself was an unprepossessing place, a desert camp alongside a canal that served as a somewhat fetid water supply. It’s one advantage was that the airfield stood on what was then the margin between the cultivated land of the Nile Delta and the desert, making it easy to find from the air.
Dekheila (sometimes written "Dekhela"), mentioned in the location description quoted above, is on the coast and was the pre-war Alexandria civil airport.
In the early twenty-first century the site was redeveloped as a deep-sea container port. At the time of 255’s arrival at Gianaclis it was a Royal Naval Air Station, HMS Grebe. That site was "paid off" by the Navy in January 1946 and returned to the control of the Egyptian Government in March 1946. Had it not been for political considerations, it would have made much more sense for No.255 Squadron to have moved in there. Hangers, accommodation blocks and many other facilities were lying idle.
In the desert, RAF Gianaclis had a "satellite" station, LG227, an emergency diversion possibility located several miles to the west at 30°53'N, 30°03E. It is described as having two runways each 2640 yards long and 100 yards wide, composed of natural sand that was "unserviceable after rain".
Intensive agriculture facilitated by irrigation has now been extended into this area, using water drawn from the El Nubariya Canal. In consequence, no visible trace of LG227 remains. The generous length and width of the runways but total absence of facilities suggest that it was primarily intended for use by battle-damaged aircraft limping home and liable to crash-land.
So much for "where", but why? Here, we enter murky political waters.
After World War I, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd (in translation "Delegation") Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement to a majority in the Legislative Assembly. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates to Malta on 8 March 1919, in rather dubious exercise of its powers in an anti-Ottoman Protectorate established in 1914, the country arose in its first modern revolution. The revolt led the British Government to abrogate the powers of Protector and, on 22 February 1922, issue a unilateral declaration of Egyptian independence. Thus, since 1922, Egypt had been an independent country – not a Colony, Dominion or Protectorate of any European colonial power.
The new government in Cairo drafted and, in 1923, implemented a monarchial constitution based on a parliamentary system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. It created a 3-way power tussle between Wafd, the King and the British, with excessive power and influence granted to the Monarch who could both appoint and dismiss Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers at will. British power lay in the almost unchallenged assumption of Egyptian politicians that British interests needed to be taken into account – because ultimately they were enforceable by the use of British military force.
After 1922, four matters were reserved by the British:
- Security of Imperial communications through Egypt – including the telegraph cable system that was to prove invaluable during WWII as a secure means of communication between the UK and Gibraltar, Malta, the Middle East and India, also with the Far East and Australasia up to the time of the fall of Singapore,
- Protection of foreign minorities, and
- Governance of Sudan.
By the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, Egypt’s primary binding link with the UK was the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936,
a somewhat contrived arrangement drawn up primarily to defend both British and Egyptian interests from adverse consequences of Italian military activity in Abyssinia in 1935–36. The treaty of 1936 between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Egypt was ratified on 22 December 1936 and registered at the League of Nations on 6 January 1937. Under it’s terms, the United Kingdom was required to withdraw all its troops from Egypt, except those necessary to protect the Suez Canal and its surroundings, permitting 10,000 troops plus support personnel. Additionally, the United Kingdom would supply and train Egypt’s army and assist in its defence in case of war.
The 1936 treaty was still in force, the 20-year timescale not quite half expired at the time when No.255 Squadron moved into Gianaclis. There is no evidence of the Squadron engaging in any training of Egyptian military personnel, so their presence well away from the Canal Zone, on the western margin of the Nile Delta, appears to have had no constitutional justification whatsoever. Whether they arrived with special consent of His Majesty King Farouk and/or his Government is a matter meriting further research. On the face of things, the RAF simply carried on using a facility that was a slice of sovereign Egyptian territory, as if WWII was ongoing. It seems clear that the Squadron went there rather than to Dekheila because of the general policy of re-locating British Garrisons out of urban areas.
In all other respects, Dekheila would have been a far better proposition.
There was at the time considerable unease amongst the ordinary people of the Nile Delta about the British presence. In part this was because the Islamic majority distrusted the British on the question of Palestine, suspecting a pro-Zionist bias – hardly surprising, given the wording of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Furthermore, the reneging on the promise given by Colonel Lawrence to Prince Feisal (alternative spelling Faisal) regarding Arab independence after WWI still rancoured. It had been the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, not Lawrence of Arabia’s promise, that had prevailed at Versailles in 1919, and the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, were not going to forgive or forget that. The extent to which the failed Hoare-Laval Pact of December 1935 in relation to Abyssinia also affected local opinion is a moot point. That pact never came into effect, but it did suggest duplicity, perhaps calling into question British sincerity as regards the provisions of the 1936 Treaty with Egypt.
So, from the point of view of the average man in the Cairo, Alexandria or Port Said street, the British had become an untrustworthy army of infidel occupation present in Egypt only to serve their own interests. From any bystander’s point of view, why did the British need to be in Egypt at all, given that Rommel had been ejected from North Africa nearly three years earlier? Rioting and a General Strike followed, which resulted in Alexandria being placed Out of Bounds to all members of the Squadron for much of their time at Gianaclis.
The mysterious disbanding
April 1946 sees another absence of routine paperwork. Not just from No.255 Squadron this time, but for many other units too. For example, the whole of the records of No.219 Group are missing for the quarter April-June 1946 – this absence being acknowledged in the bound volumes AIR25/1395 and AIR25/1396, but without the cause being stated. An entry for Sunday 31st in the March ORB of No.255 Squadron expresses an expectation that the Squadron was to be posted back to England:
More releases have taken place, and a few replacements have come in. Next month should bring forth the information regarding the future of 255 Squadron, we can but hope this will be in keeping with the optimistic rumour of returning to the UK.
This is hardly something that would have been signed off had the disbanding been scheduled for the following day, even though the signature is that of 106217 Acting Squadron Leader C.C. Clark, not that of Lewis – who may well have left before the content had been collated. Clark had, for many months, been a Flight Commander and Lewis’s deputy.
A better indication of what happened is to be found in the March ORB for No.219 Group
. In the section headed “Policy”, the report of Wing Commander A.R.Wright, DFC, AFC, reads:
It has now been decided that No.255 Squadron shall be disbanded early in April and that No.256 Squadron shall remain at Deversoir in its present role. Suitable aircrews of No.255 Squadron who have high release groups or have applied for extension of service will be transferred to No.256 Squadron.
It may be that the strategic location of Deversoir played some part in this, being close by the Suez Canal at the northern end of the Great Bitter Lake; it made sense to consolidate British forces there rather than around Alexandria. In 1946 Britain still ruled India, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya and Hong Kong. In terms of shipping passing through the canal, also of importance were the transport of petroleum products from the Aberdan Refinery of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (originally the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later to become BP) and foodstuffs being shipped from, especially, New Zealand. Allied French interests were also exerting some influence; in the immediate post-war years the fledgling Fourth Republic still had the intention of reviving pre-war colonial control over much of Indo-China. Thus the British had strong motivations for seeking to retain control of the Suez Canal and, using the provisions of the 1936 Treaty, they continued to do so until 1952, when the revolution that ended the Egyptian Monarchy also brought about British Military withdrawal from the Canal Zone.
Against this background, it seems that 255 faded into history sometime in late April 1946. The precise detail is lost in whatever caused the general absence of RAF paperwork from the second quarter of that year. All that is known for certain about the Squadron during those final weeks is the unnecessary tragedy of the crash that killed 577271 Warrant Officer Francis Charles Wyatt, documented in the Form 1180 relating to the loss of Mosquito Mk.XIX serial TA127.
As predicted, aircrew were transferred from 255 to 256, one Pilot and two Navigators Radio arriving at Deversoir on 30 April
and a further pilot on 6 May.
Probably there was no call for more; No.256 Squadron was itself being downsized to a single Flight with just 8 aircraft.
No.255 Squadron had become both politically and militarily redundant – and paid the price. Sleep well, black panther; let us hope that you are never needed again. But should the occasion arise, perhaps you will awake once more to serve Ad Auroram?
Citations and Footnotes
Click on the ^ symbol to return to the text you were reading.
| 1. ^||TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 141 side 2. The whole of AIR27/1519 is available online as a single .pdf file.
| 2. ^||Sturtivant, R.C. (1984) The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. Tonbridge : Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p.59–60. ISBN 0-85130-120-7.
| 3. ^||TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 151 sides 1-2. For online access see Citation No.1 Supra.
| 4. ^||The "Organisation Memorandum Serial No.183" giving rise to this is filed as Appendix B3 in the January 1946 section of TNA : AIR25/1380. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
| 5. ^||Index of Aerodromes and Landing Grounds in Egypt (excluding Western Desert), August 1942, Cairo : HQ RAF Middle East. TNA : AIR10/4062. Original document arranged in alphabetical order of airfield name but otherwise unpaginated – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
| 6. ^||TNA : AIR40/1754 Sheet 26. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
| 7. ^||Google Earth.
| 8. ^||Sturtivant, R.C. (1984) supra, p.451.
| 9. ^||TNA : AIR40/1754 Sheet 27. Original document – vide supra.
| 10. ^||Jankowski, J.P. (2000) Egypt, A Short History. Oxford : Oneworld, p.111–121. ISBN 9781851682409.
| 11. ^||HMSO Reference Cmd.5360, full text available online.
| 12. ^||Jankowski, J.P. (2000), Ibid., p.114.
| 13. ^||TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 166 side 1. For online access see Citation No.1 Supra.
| 14. ^||TNA : AIR25/1395, unpaginated. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
| 15. ^||Form 1180 relating to this incident, filed in the library of the RAF Museum, Hendon.
| 16. ^||TNA : AIR27/1524 folio 300 side 2. Available online as part of .pdf file AIR 27/1524/33.
| 17. ^||TNA : AIR27/1524 folio 303 side 1. For online access see Citation No.16 Supra.
| 18. ^||TNA : AIR27/1524 folio 305 side 2. For online access see Citation No.16 Supra.
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