The History of No.255 Squadron in
World War One
Fe’i ganed yng Nghymru – Born in Wales
The flags shown alongside the RAF Roundels are "Baner Dewi Sant" (The Flag of Saint David, Patron Saint of Wales) and "Y Ddraig Goch" (The Red Dragon). Neither were official Welsh flags at the time of WWI, but both were in common use. Baner Dewi Sant became official in 1921 and Y Ddraig Goch in 1959.
Some of the RAF airfields used by
DH6 aircraft conducting inshore
anti-submarine patrols in the Irish
Sea and its approaches.
[Map template - Wikipedia]
When the Royal Air Force (RAF) was created on 1 April 1918, squadrons formerly part of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were distinguished from former units of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) with the same number by having 200 added to their previous RNAS designations. Thus, for example, No.3 Squadron RFC became No.3 Squadron RAF, whilst No.3 (Naval) Squadron RNAS became No.203 Squadron RAF.  
Prior to the formation of the RAF, the RNAS had a large number of additional flying units that were smaller than whole squadrons, some stationed in the UK and others overseas. After being taken over by the RAF, some of these units were initially identified as numbered Flights. These Flights were subsequently grouped into new squadrons which were also numbered in the 200-series.
No.255 Squadron is an example of such a grouping of Flights, the contingent at Pembroke being formed from Flights 519 and 520. Elsewhere on the coastline of the Irish Sea and its approaches, Flights 521, 522 and 530 eventually became No.244 Squadron based at Bangor (also known as RAF Aber, an abbreviation of Abergwyngregyn) and Flights 523 and 524 eventually became No.258 Squadron based at Luce Bay, Scotland.
Some of the flights that eventually became part of 244 and 258 Squadrons were originally detachments of 255 Squadron. However, there appears to be no record of any site other than Pembroke being used operationally by 255.
Within the Patrol Reports of No.14 Group (which, give or take some filing errors noted below, bring together records relating to airships, seaplanes and land-based aircraft throughout the Group) there exists a record of daily operational sorties from Pembroke by aircraft of No.255 Squadron. The series commences on 6 July 1918. This simply could not be if the squadron had not been formed until 25 July.This plan encountered a problem. Local histories of North Wales suggest that the lightweight DH6 aircraft were found to be unsuitable for use at the Airship Station at Llangefni on Anglesey (Ynys Môn), on account of the ground there being too rough and not readily levelled at reasonable expense. Hence the construction of RAF Bangor ("Aber"). In other respects, the proposals seem to have gone ahead although there is no known evidence of any operational flying by 255 taking place from any site other than Pembroke before the next administrative change intervened in late July. Both Llangefni and Luce Bay were at the time returning Patrol Reports for SSZ airships, but apparently not for heavier-than-air machines, suggesting that the Flights present there as detachments of No.255 Squadron were still in the process of equipping and training. Aber was not ready for operational use until mid-August, by which time Special Duty Flights 521 and 522 had – by a margin of several weeks – already become No.244 Squadron.
On a purely administrative basis, the squadron must have existed on 8 May 1918. That date appears in the RNAS service record of Reginald Rhys Soar as the date when he was posted to the squadron.
An Air Order issued by the Director of Air Organisation on 1 May 1918 makes specific reference to No.255 Squadron (Pembroke) as a unit destined to have 2 flights at Pembroke, 2 at Anglesey and 2 at Luce Bay, all due to be “installed” by June. The DAO was "top dog" in matters relating to squadron formations and disbandings. This is at present the earliest known reference to the existence of No.255 Squadron by DAO and so, for the time being, 1 May 1918 is taken to be the date of 255’s formation.
The squadron was equipped with Airco DH6 aircraft. These single-engine biplanes could carry either a 100 lb bomb or an Observer in addition to the Pilot, but not both. This accounts for the imbalance in crew numbers evident in the Squadron Roll Call; the number of Pilots far exceeded the number of Observers.
Prior to the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, the RNAS reportedly used Sopwith 1½ Strutter aircraft based at Pembroke, but there is no known evidence of these remaining at the airfield for subsequent operational use by No.255 Squadron.
An Airco DH6 similar to those
flown by the squadron in 1918.
Rhys Soar, photographed circa 1917 in RNAS uniform.
Photo courtesy of the Soar family archive.
|Surname||Forenames||Date of Birth||Rank||Role||Domicile||Service record|
|Andrews||Leonard Christopher||15 May 1899||Temp 2/Lt.||Observer||Britain||AIR76/8/184|
|Arcand||Louis Georges||31 Aug 1897||Lieutenant||Pilot||Canada||AIR76/10/4|
|Birkbeck||Paul William||03 May 1899||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/40/6|
|Chaffe||Redvers Sydney S.||* 06 Apr 1900||2nd Lieut.||Pilot||Canada||AIR76/81/3|
|Chetwynd-Stapylton||Geoffrey||27 Dec 1893||Lieutenant||Admin||Britain||AIR76/480/178|
|Garnett||Walter Hugh S.||26 Jun 1891||Acting Major||Staff Officer||Britain||AIR76/177/67|
|Gillingham||Hubert Henry||14 Nov 1894||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/183/87|
|Godden||William John G.||28 May 1899||2nd Lieut.||Observer||Britain||AIR76/185/90|
|Gould||Robert Gordon||26 Feb 1885||Acting Major||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/189/125|
|Hamilton||Ralph Nigel||07 Nov 1895||Hon. Lieut.||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/206/33|
|Hayes||Robert Cholerton||30 Nov 1884||Acting Lt.Col||Dir. Officer||Britain||ADM273/1/57|
|Hunter||Richard Charles A.||* Dec.Qr.1891||2nd Lieut.||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/245/123|
|Leguen-de-Lacroix||Aleth Thomas S.||27 May 1894||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||WO372/11/217664|
|Montgomery-Moore||Robert John||24 Mar 1896||Lieutenant||Admin||Britain||WO339/18127|
|Nicholson||Leyster||09 Oct 1892||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/373/40|
|Peebles||Arthur John D.||12 Jun 1898||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/396/168|
|Soar||Reginald Rhys||24 Aug 1893||Hon. Capt.||Pilot||Britain||ADM273/7/9|
|Stallibrass||Trevor Lawrie W.||20 Jun 1888||Lieutenant||Pilot||Britain||AIR76/479/131|
|Tamplin||Harold Llewelyn||03 Jan 1899||Lieutenant||Pilot||Canada||AIR76/494/144|
NOTES to accompany the above:
A short code was used to report latitude and longitude of a target or other location, comprising a 5-character group of two numbers followed by three block capital letters. Example: 67ABC.
The numerical component represents a grid square measuring 25 Nautical Miles along each side. This refers to the old definition of the Nautical Mile, also known as a "Sea Mile". The fixing of the Nautical Mile as a distance of 1,852.00 metres did not happen until 1929. At the time of the First World War, a Nautical Mile was defined as being the distance at sea level which, if viewed from the centre of the earth, would subtend an angle of one sixtieth of one degree of arc. Given that the Earth is not a perfect sphere, this means that the length of a pre-1929 Nautical Mile varies from place to place, being largest at the equator and smallest at the poles. Such a variable unit at first makes no sense, but it was done because it hugely simplifies astronavigation.
The algorithm for decoding the numerical component of the code is mathematically complex, because repetition of any number is excluded. Thus squares 00, 11, 22, 33 and so on up to 99 simply do not exist, in effect creating a system that is non-linear. Additional complexity arises because nine (the mathematical "base" or "radix" in this quasi-nonal system) is not a factor of sixty, the number of Nautical Miles in one degree of latitude. Nor is 5 a factor of 9, five being the number of sub-squares forming one side of the master square. In practice the decode was not calculated, but physically plotted on a chart using a crib, examples of which survive in The National Archives.
Example decoding crib for a
Squared Chart. Click here to
view in high resolution.
With specific reference to No.255 Squadron:
- There is endless confusion between Knots (a measure of speed) and Nautical Miles (a measure of distance).
- Nautical Miles are inadequately distinguished from Statute Miles.
- Reference to an airship is often abbreviated to "ship". This gave rise to some apparently nonsensical reports of ships cruising at altitudes of several hundred feet.
- Bearings are sometimes given using the antiquated system of Compass Points.
- On occasions, no distinction is made between True North and Magnetic North. When the difference is mentioned, the traditional UK terminology "Magnetic Variation" is used in line with the nomenclature used on Admiralty Charts. Note that modern US terminology differs. Magnetic Variation in the squadron’s patrol area was considerable, Magnetic North in 1918 being 17°45' W of True North.
- The initials RNAS can stand for Royal Naval Air Service (abolished 1 April 1918) or Royal Naval Airship Station. Given that the airships themselves remained in Admiralty ownership after 1 April 1918 and were not transferred to the Air Ministry during the course of the war, it can be argued that use of the term Royal Naval Airship Station validly persisted after the formation of the RAF.
- Documents in the relevant files were not accurately placed in date order before Folio numbers were backstamped onto them.
- Air Order 931 is missing from TNA Box AIR1/2434. AO984 suggests that it relates to "Marine Operations in Home Waters". Copies may exist elsewhere in the files, but AO931 has not yet been found.
- The squadron was mis-described as "No.225" on the Daily Patrol Report for 7 July 1918.
- The names of individual pilots and observers do not routinely appear in the squadron’s sortie records prior to 9 August 1918. Thereafter, only current rank and surname are noted, not forenames or initials.
|1. ^||Air Order A.O./855, filed in AIR1/2434 Part 3. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|2. ^||Jefford C.G. (2001). RAF Squadrons (2nd Edition). Shrewsbury UK : Airlife, p.12. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.|
|3. ^||This order was issued separately to RNAS and RFC units, RNAS first. For the RNAS version, see Air Order A.O./800 in TNA : AIR1/2434 Part 2. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|4. ^||This order was issued separately to RNAS and RFC units, RFC second. For the RFC version, see Air Order A.O./820 in TNA : AIR1/2434 Part 2. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|5. ^||Delve, K. (1994). The Source Book of the RAF. Shrewsbury UK : Airlife, p.157. ISBN 9781853104510.|
|6. ^||TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 156. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|7. ^||TNA : ADM273/7/9. Available online.|
|8. ^||Air Order A.O./855 Supra.|
|9. ^||Pratt, D. and Grant, M. (1998). Wings Across the Border : History of Aviation in NE Wales and the Northern Marches. Vol.1. Wrexham UK : Bridge Books. pp.38–39, 44–45. ISBN 9781872424750. Note that this work, at p.77, incorrectly attributes aircraft and aircrew losses at Llangefni in August 1918 to No.255 Squadron rather than No.244 Squadron. See CWGC website.|
|10. ^||TNA : AIR1/490/15/312/282 folios 41–52. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|11. ^||TNA : AIR1/671/17/134/4 (unpaginated). Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|12. ^||TNA : AIR1/421/15/247/1. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|13. ^||Air Order A.O./951. Filed in TNA : AIR1/2434 Part 3. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|14. ^||Technical Specification and load calculations here. The following published works come to the same conclusion:  Hayes, K.E. (1988). A History of the Royal Air Force and United States Naval Air Service in Ireland, 1913–1923. Dublin IRL : Irish Air Letter and the author jointly, p.25–26. ISBN 0-9508231-1-2.  Pratt, D. and Grant, M. (1998), Supra, p.45.|
|15. ^||Phillips, A. (2010). Defending Wales. Stroud UK : Amberley Publishing, p.55.|
|16. ^||TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 163. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|17. ^||TNA : WO339/65814. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|18. ^||TNA : AIR76/217/136. Available online from TNA website as an individual document.|
|19. ^||Bilbé, T. (2013). Kingsnorth Airship Station, Stroud UK : The History Press, p.123. ISBN 9780752491530.|
|20. ^||The Edinburgh Gazette, issue 13378, p.73.|
|21. ^||Delve, K. (1994). Supra, p.95.|
|22. ^||Pratt, D, and Grant, M. (1998). Supra.|
|23. ^||Wilkes, K. (1977). Ocean Yacht Navigator (2nd edition with corrections), Lymington UK : Nautical Publishing, p.15. ISBN 0-245-52968-3.|
|24. ^||Example: TNA : AIR1/486/15/312/271 folio 96. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|25. ^||Sample chart: Smith, G., Tribute to British Shipbuilding and Repair Industries 1914–18, Part 3 of 3, Chart 2 (Portsmouth). See reference in the top margin to “2000 yard squares”.|
|26. ^||TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folios 169 and 171. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|27. ^||TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 100 and TNA : AIR1/419/15/245/1 folio 518. Original documents; both require TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|28. ^||TNA : ADM239/26 tab 1292F folio 167. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|29. ^||Langley-Price P. and Ouvry P. (1985), Competent Crew, London UK : Adlard Coles, p.83–84. ISBN 0-229-11736-8.|
|30. ^||Admiralty Chart No.1179 (England, West Coast, Bristol Channel), 1918 Edition. Available as reserve stock at the Caird Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Requires Caird Library Readers Ticket both to pre-order and to view.|
|31. ^||Turpin, B.J. Coastal Patrol: Royal Naval Airship Operations during the Great War 1914-1918 due to be published 10.Oct.2016. Pers. Corr. with author.|
|32. ^||TNA : AIR1/419/15/245/1 folio 785. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|33. ^||Director of Air Organisation order A.O./1206, a copy of which is to be found at TNA : AIR1/616/16/15/329, Part B folio 60, appended Table C, page 8. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
|34. ^||Daily Routine Orders (Part IV) by D. Air O., No.47, to be found at TNA : AIR1/2086/207/6/3 (unpaginated file approximately in reverse date order). Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.|
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