Last updated: 07 July 2022, 14:59
255 Squadron in Mainland Italy
(including detachments in France, Sicily & Malta)
November 1943 – May 1945

Quick Links:

Early days at Grottaglie
Maps showing deployments in Italy in the context of the war in Europe
The Squadron HQ moves to Foggia
Photographs of the Squadron at Foggia Main
1945 : The final months of the war
The big move North, when HQ relocated to Rosignano
The first move into France
The Detachment’s role in France

Early days at Grottaglie

November saw the first anniversary of the squadron having left England. The ORB noted the anniversary, but there is no known record of any celebrations having been held.

Even before the Rear Party had arrived at Grottaglie from Bo Rizzo, a detachment of ground crew was sent to Pomigliano (on the outskirts of Naples, which the Allies had entered 1 October 1943) in anticipation of squadron aircraft being based there. This was to become the second in a long list of detachments that fragmented the Squadron for much of its time in Italy.

On 13 November 1943 the aircraft flew from Bo Rizzo to Grottaglie, coincidentally the first anniversary of aircrew departure from RAF Honiley. The journey was a less happy one, though. Beaufighter MM901 was force-landed by Flight Sergeant L.J. Hale on a mud flat near Taranto following an engine failure and MM840’s stern frame was damaged on landing at Grottaglie when the tail wheel oleo leg collapsed. Not content with damaging two aircraft during the move, the gremlins struck again on the 16th when V8900’s airframe was written off in consequence of the starboard tyre bursting on landing.[1]

On the night of 17/18th those that got across the Straits before the weather broke stopped in mountainous country 35 miles from their landing point at Reggio Calabria. The rest, stranded at Messina, stayed on board ferrying craft and caught the others up at midday on the 18th. Reunited, the next night was spent east of Spezzano (the ORB entry is taken to refer to Spezzano Albanese rather than Spezzano Piccolo). A further day of slow progress saw them at the roadside, five miles east of Cosenza and the night after that they stopped 18 miles short of Taranto, arriving at Grottaglie on the 21st after seven days on the road and, for the time being, minus the Office Trailer.[2]

Axis forces did not interfere with the convoy movement and the aircraft at Grottaglie saw no action prior to the arrival of the rear party, the only opposition coming from the soccer team of No.1435 Squadron based at Brindisi. In the first round of the Cross Cup, 255 beat 1435 by one goal to nil.[3] This time around the squadron team made it through to the semi-final, there defeated on 9 December by 242 Group HQ 2-0.[4]

On 16 December, 142067 Flying Officer William Roger Coggins and 145778 Pilot Officer Alfred Francis Beckett were killed when V8877 crashed on take-off. The ORB reports the funeral taking place at on the 18th at Taranto, whilst the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records these officers as buried at Bari. The apparent discrepancy is as a result of the Europe-wide post-war policy of gathering the war dead into larger, purpose-built military cemeteries, each tended by the nations whose fallen are buried there.[5]

On 19 December ND174 swung to starboard on landing. The aircraft caught fire but Flight Sergeant Borthwick and Flying Officer Morris were uninjured.

Despite these setbacks, Christmas Day – the Squadron’s second overseas – was celebrated in some style. Locally procured turkeys, chickens, pigs and fruit made for special meals not just on Christmas Day itself but on Boxing Day too. In accordance with tradition, the Airmen’s Christmas Dinner was served by officers and senior NCOs and was followed by a variety show of 1½ hours duration. The official opening of the bar in the Airmen’s Canteen followed, with all ranks joined together in having “a really jolly time”.[6]

The 28th saw Flying Officer W. Lewis having to exercise his abilities as a pilot to the full. Some 55 miles SW of Naples the port engine of MM900 seized and subsequently the port propellor and reduction gear broke off. Lewis nevertheless brought the aircraft back to base and landed successfully.

At the end of the year a decision was taken to cease showing films on the camp site. So much entertainment was available in Grottaglie and Taranto that, along with the activities of the Dramatic Society, the Male Voice Choir, Whist Drives and so on, there simply was no call for films in camp as well.

During December 1943, the Squadron’s principal activity was night-time air defence of both the Bari and Naples areas, with occasional convoy protection patrols off Cap Santa Maria di Leuca, the tip of the "heel" of Italy. Training and cooperation flights took place, including radar calibration, dive-bombing, torpedo and rocket attack exercises with HMS Spartan, a Dido-class light cruiser moored in Taranto Harbour. The Naples area was covered by the Pomigliano detachment, the other duties being served by aircraft based at Grottaglie. Measured in terms of enemy aircraft shot down or damaged, November 1943 through to mid-January 1944 was a lean time.

On the night of 7/8 January, 658269 Flight Sergeant Robert Dickson Kelly (P) and 1424091 Sergeant Thomas William Waters (NR) were killed when MM864 crashed on take-off for an operational patrol from Grottaglie[7] and the following night 1385032 Flight Sergeant Jack David Luckhurst (P) and 778672 Warrant Officer Dennis Poulton (NR) were killed when ND151 crashed at 23:24 two miles NNE of Alberobello while on operational patrol. One engine failed and the propellors would not feather owing to loss of oil.[8] The wreckage was located next day by Squadron Leader J. Arnsby and Flight Sergeant D.G. Madge, situated “approximately 18 miles East of Gioia”. Somewhat unusually, the ORB gives the missing aircraft’s radio callsign, in this instance GUGNUNC 33.

It is tempting to wonder how much time German Intelligence wasted trying to work out the meaning of GUGNUNC. It was, as any British boy brought up in the 1920s or 1930s would have known, a reference to the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs, a children’s club run by the Daily Mirror newspaper based on a cartoon strip about a dog, a penguin and a rabbit with very long ears.

The Anzio Landings commenced 22 January 1944, resulting in a flurry of activity especially for the detachment based at Pomigliano. Mis-identification of aircraft by naval anti-aircraft gunners was a problem, despite one of the squadron’s beaufighters firing 'colours of the day'. In the early hours of 25 January a Beau piloted by Flying Officer David Giles (Flying Officer T.E. Johnson as NR on that occasion) was attacked from astern at 02:35 by an unidentified aircraft firing cannon, causing damage that included puncturing of the hydraulic system. The Beaufighter crash-landed back at Pomigliano without injury to the crew. Interestingly, the ORB (Form 541) records “Later information suggests attacker may have been a Ju.88 which claimed destruction of a nightfighter about that time”. The source of this intelligence relating to Luftwaffe claims is not disclosed.[9]

The same crew pairing (a temporary one during 'Quack' Drake’s absence) submitted an extensive combat report relating to an encounter at 17:45 with a Do.217 carrying additional armament or auxilliary fuel tanks suspended from each wing, “positioned as far again from the engine as the engine from the fuselage”. After some discussion with Adlux (GCI Control) the target was shot down over the sea, despite two cannon and two machine guns jamming. The cannon jams were attributed to either dirt or oversize rounds.[10]

At much the same time Flight Sergeant Scollan and Pilot Officer Minett were "disposing" of an He.177. The combat report mentions machine gun fire returned from the tail gunner’s position, using white tracer. Not satisfield with that as an evening’s work, they obtained another target by 'freelancing'. Found about 10 miles south-west of Monte Circeo, again it was a Heinkel He.177. This time the return fire by the tail gunner was accurate but it only stripped off a small portion of the Beau’s tailplane. The target aircraft crossed the coast into enemy-held territory, out of bounds to the Beaufighter at that time because of the secrecy surrounding its Mk.VIII radar and Mk.IIIG IFF. However, by this time the starboard engine of the Heinkel was well alight enabling the Beaufighter’s crew to observe from offshore its slow descent and crash some twenty miles inland. Again, a stoppage in the Beau’s cannon was reported, this one attributed to a blow-out of the cocking system backlock.[11]

On 15 January 1944 a signal was received giving instructions for a move to Foggia Main. After some concern about the proposed accommodation in Foggia – a block of apartments – the advance party travelled north by road on the 20th and located a temporary camp site “owing to the unsuitability of the flats”. The decision not to use the flats as general accommodation was the unanimous outcome of a visit by the "PSI Committee" (taken to be the Personnel Security Investigations Committee). The following description of the flats gives some idea of why the idea of using them for sleeping accommodation for the whole squadron was given the 'thumbs down'. It does, however, confirm that the Officers Mess was established there straight away – it remained until the end of April:
Went to our new mess in a block of flats on outskirts of Foggia. Modern building with baths etc but doors had been removed & windows blown in and most of electrical & water fittings gone.[12]
Unstated in either the official or unoffical report was the rumour that the adjoining block functioned as the local brothel!

On 22 January five aircraft and seven crews proceeded by air to Foggia Main and adopted immediate night readiness, but no operational flying actually took place that evening due to adverse weather. A detachment remained at Grottaglie and in the course of the following months elsewhere too, to guard against attack from the rear by Luftwaffe aircraft based in Greece. The need for this is evident from the following maps:

Airfield locator map – Italy, Sicily, Malta and Vis

Map : Airfields used

Applicable November 1943 to May 1945. A separate map
follows for the Detachment in France. Template : Wikipedia

Map of Battlefront mid-November 1943

Position of the front line
15 Nov 1943

Map of Battlefront mid-May 1944

Position of the front line
15 May 1944

Map of Battlefront mid-Sep 1944

Position of the front line
15 Sep 1944

Map of Battlefront mid-Apr 1945

Position of the front line
15 Apr 1945

The battlefront maps above are taken from the Atlas of the World Battle Fronts in Semimonthly Phases to August 15 1945, originally published by The Chief of Staff of the United States Army. These images are now in the Public Domain. Clicking on the date underneath each will open an interactive version on the Wikimedia Commons website.

The Squadron HQ moves to Foggia

On 23 January the Main convoy under the command of Flying Officer R.H. Laver departed Grottaglie. It made an overnight stop at Canosa, arriving at Foggia 11:00 on the 24th.

An accident at Pomigliano on the night of 20/21 January saw KW133 swing to starboard on take-off and crash into five American Mustangs, damaging or destroying all six aircraft. Flight Sergeant W. Hewitt sustained a badly broken ankle, Flight Sergeant D.G. Williams was unhurt. A month later Hewitt was posted non-effective in consequence of this injury.

In the small hours of 27 January Flying Officer J.A.W. Gunn (P) and G.H.M. Carter (NR) aboard ND169 claimed two Ju.88s damaged. The ORB notes that the claim “will probably be stepped up as Adlux control reported the result as 1 Ju.88 destroyed, one Ju.88 damaged which points to their having some confirmatory information”.[13]

The month’s "bag" concluded with the boss, Wing Commander H.W. Eliot DFC (P), his NR Flight Lieutenant A. Barker and Flying Officer B.A. Bretherton (a RAAF pilot aboard as a passenger on Night Flying Training, gaining operational experience) flying out of Foggia Main under Fruity GCI Control intercepting a Do.217. The target was found 30 to 40 miles SW of Vis Island and shot down.[14]

The last patrol by the Pomigliano detachment appears to have been on the night of 28/29 January 1944. Thereafter the Sector was taken over by 416 Squadron USAAF. They had previously been at Grottaglie, also flying Beaufighters.[15] No.255 Squadron’s aircraft were flown to Foggia on the Saturday (29th). Camp was struck early the following day and the ground party involved then set out by road for Foggia at 11:00. The truck carrying the cookhouse and stores went ahead, stopping at 15:15 to select an overnight campsite and start preparing dinner. Somehow, this al fresco meal included the luxury of grilled steak![16] Quite where the meat came from on this occasion is not stated, but one possibility is USAAF stores at Pomigliano by way of a parting gift. The Yanks’ rations always were the envy of RAF personnel, yet the Americans often exchanged meat rations (especially) in order to introduce variety into their menu.

The ORB record for the night of 02/03 February 1944 mentions an intercept by "Y service" (Wireless Interception Service) predicting a Ju.88 recce of Bari taking off at 05:00. A defensive patrol east of the Tremiti Islands (mis-spelled Termiti in the ORB) was mounted but no incidents resulted.

February saw the total loss of yet another Beaufighter to causes other than enemy action. On the sixth, Flight Sergeant E.O.Jones (P) ferrying Beaufighter BT294 solo from Blida, Algeria, via Montecorvino (near Salerno), baled out approx 20m SW of Foggia following severe icing and a consequent technical issue. The pilot sustained a broken vertebra, not discovered until after he had made his own way to Foggia Main by commandeering an Italian’s car.[17] He appears to have been flying solo; no other personnel are named in the official record of this incident.

The ORB discreetly records that, on 12 February, Squadron Leader P.H.V. Wells was “admitted to hospital as a result of M.T. accident”. What actually happened was that 'B' Flight pilots had taken a truck to a party at San Severo some 40km from the airfield at Foggia Main, and crashed on the way back. There is a suggestion that Flight Lieutenant McLaren was also briefly admitted to hospital.

On 18 February Wing Commander H.W. Eliot DFC, squadron commander since 1 August 1943, was posted tour expired to 210 Group. Wing Commander C.L.W. Stewart AFC was posted from No.256 Squadron to assume command. Flight Lieutenant Walter T. Cunningham accompanied Wing Commander Stewart and became officially the Squadron’s Senior Navigator Radio and unofficially the Squadron scribe. Hence the activities of No.255 Squadron forming the basis of some of the short stories that appeared at the time under the nom-de-plume Andy Cunningham.

A further aircraft loss happened on 22 February when Flying Officer E.C. Skidmore (P) crashed in ND258 whilst doing circuits and bumps. The pilot suffered shock.

On 27 February 1944 Flight Lieutenant John McLaren (P) and Flying Officer W. ('Bert') Tozer (NR), when on a defensive patrol out of Foggia Main, were involved in a friendly fire incident; an off-course Wellington not burning Resin Lights and firing incorrect colours of the day was mistaken for a He.177. The Wellington was hit by the Beaufighter’s cannon fire. The ultimate fate of the Wellington is not recorded in 255’s ORB.[18]

February had been a barren month in terms of 'scores', and March 1944 would prove to be no better. Effective from the end of March 1944, Wing Commander Stewart began penning a monthly summary in the ORB. His record for March, written at Foggia, reads:
Operational and training flying were hampered by the bad weather and consequent unserviceability of the aerodrome during the middle part of the month, and during this period readiness and patrols were carried out at Amendola, the runway there remaining serviceable. Eight new crews arrived during the month and training flying has been carried out when weather conditions have permitted.

The Squadron has been providing Night Fighter cover over the Island of VIS during the latter part of the month.

The morale of the Squadron remains high and several social and sporting functions have been held. Leave has been re-introduced and a Squadron Rest Camp has been formed on the seashore at Manfredonia, approximately 25 miles from Foggia, and is now running in full swing. With the exception of a very few cases of influenza, the health of the squadron remains high.
The establishment of the Rest Camp coincided with the re-introduction of leave, but for the first week leave was confined to Taranto (where HQ No.242 Group supplied accommodation) and Bari (where the accommodation was a Toc H Hostel). The rest camp at Manfredonia was in full swing by the 27th of the month.[19]

Also worthy of mention is the note in the ORB regarding false radar returns noted as “cloud contacts”. The entry for the night of 07/08 March records that Flying Officer B. Bretherton (P) and Flying Officer T.E. Johnson (NR) were vectored into “Cn/Vim cloud wherein conditions very turbulent and unpleasant”. Cn/Vim may be a typing error, in which case the entry should be read as Cu/Nim, a non-standard abbreviation for Cumulo-Nimbus – in other words a developing thunderstorm. But Cn/Vim could also be “Cumulo-nimbus/Vortex in middle”, hinting at what would nowadays be termed a "Supercell".

The latter part of the month saw a number of dusk patrols over Vis Island. Vis played a key part in the air war over the Balkans, being the one part of Yugoslavia never occupied by the Wehrmacht.

A night-time chase during March, in the vicnity of the Sangro River Valley and Pescara, caused Flight Sergeant B. Dinham-Peren (P) and Flight Sergeant W.D. Bardley (NR), flying out of Foggia Main, to suspect a new aircraft type being used by the Luftwaffe for 'recce' purposes. They reported the intruder as being faster than a Beaufighter and apparently having both backward-looking radar and a radio altimeter. This may have been the Squadron’s first encounter with a Ju.188.

On 03 April Beaufighter KW123 suffered double engine failure just offshore near Manfredonia. Flight Sergeant C.W. Borthwick (P) baled out and landed without injury. 140870 Flying Officer William Arthur Charles Morris (NR) came down in the sea. His body was subsequently found on 16 April by local fishermen and buried at Bari War Cemetery the following day. The aircraft crashed on land and was totally destroyed.

On the 11th LAC Plunkett gave a talk on Pompeii. Unfortunately, no record of his specialist knowledge giving rise to this presentation survives.

The barren period ended on the night of 12/13 April when Squadron Leader Arnsby (P) and Flying Officer W.J. Hyett (NR) destroyed a Ju.88. The following morning this generated a slightly backhanded compliment from the AOC of No.242 Group: “Heartiest congratulations on putting the elusive night recce in the bag. We expect a repetition.” The repetition duly happened, but not until the night of the 17/18th when Flying Officer R.S. Pinks and Flight Sergeant M. Noble shot down at first light an aircraft never conclusively identified as being a Ju.88 or a Ju.188. It was again noted that the target was “right on the deck”, suggesting use of a radio altimeter.

The same day, MM842 on a ferry flight to Grottaglie suffered engine failure and had to be force-landed at Gioia del Colle, with consequent severe damage. Sergeant. J.L. Backhurst, on board as a passenger, was trapped in the aircraft but was rescued with nothing more serious than a sprained ankle. The aircrew were uninjured.

The CO’s monthly summary read as follows:
During the month of April the Squadron has succeeded in destroying the low flying enemy reconnaisance aircraft on two occasions. This particular e/a flies very low and fast, making it very difficult for us to catch it. Both victories show great credit to the pilots and navigators concerned. The Vis patrol has been kept up and one aircraft patrols the island every night for about 3 hours. No engagements or combats have resulted yet.

The squadron has suffered three aircraft losses during the month, resulting in a navigator being drowned and a pilot fracturing his skull. In all three accidents the pilot was exonerated from blame.

The weather during the month has been good, except for two days when it rained heavily putting the runway unserviceable for a day, also necessitating the cancellation of the Squadron Sports Day - much to everyone’s regret.

A new flight commander arrived with his navigator from 153 Squadron and took command of 'B' Flight. The Squadron rest camp has become very popular, and all personnel are being sent down there when their turn comes. At the end of the month the Officers’ Mess moved out of Foggia town into tents on the Squadron Camp Site at Foggia Main aerodrome. The health of the squadron is high and malaria and typhus precautions are rigidly enforced.

Photographs of the camp at Foggia

Photo : Camp at Foggia

Until November 1944, all accommodation was in tents

Photo :

The interior of the Mess Tent, made homely

Photo : Building a dance floor

Bomb Cases become a Dance Floor outside the Mess Tent

Photo : The finished dance floor

Just add music and nurses from a nearby field hospital...

All photographs in this panel copyright © George Wiseman Eley (1908–1982)

The postponed sports day duly took place at Foggia Stadium on 2 May 1944. Further sporting activity followed on the eighth, when the Squadron beat No.2864 Squadron RAF Regiment to win the 242 Group Football Cup.

Flying from Grottaglie on the night of 14/15 May, Pinks and Noble repeated their success in downing the regular Ju.88 recce.

18 May saw a visit by a mobile broadcasting unit. LAC Evans won the ballot to be the one Squadron member to broadcast to the United Kingdom, and he duly did so.

During the night of 21/22 May Pinks and Noble intercepted another enemy recce flight, but found themselves “hopelessly outclassed for speed”.

The May review read:
During the past month enemy activity has not been on a very large scale. The Squadron accounted for one Ju.88 destroyed during the month.

The latter part of the month has seen the beginning of some intruder operations. Previously we have not been allowed to do any, but now the ban has been released and already the more experienced aircrew have had a try at it. The squadron has also been equipped with four more aircraft - purely for searchlight patrols, and five new crews have arrived to fly them.

The AOC in C Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Pugh Lloyd visited the Squadron in the earlier part of the month. The Squadron won the 242 Group Football Cup after a very fine match against 2864 RAF Regiment Squadron at Taranto. A Sports Day was held on the 2nd of the month and the AOC 242 Group presented the prizes. Everything ran very smoothly and we all enjoyed ourselves.

The weather has become very hot during the month, but we have experienced one or two very heavy rainstorms.

The Squadron Rest Camp is very popular and nearly everyone has had leave there. Being by the sea the change of air is very noticeable and everyone comes back from their leave looking very fit.

The health of the squadron remains at a high level. All personnel have been vaccinated and those who needed it, innoculated, by the Medical Officer during the month.

Lastly, morale has been maintained at its already high level.
The early part of June saw the excitement of the Allies entering Rome on the 4th and the invasion of Western Europe on the sixth.
Quite an eventful month. In the earlier part of the month the Squadron’s detachment at Grottaglie did well by destroying 3 Ju.88s and damaging 1 Ju.88. All were low flying recce aircraft. The squadron also carried out Intruder Partols over Yugo-Slavia with reasonable success, several trucks, trains and an E Boat being destroyed or damaged. The latter part of the month and the beginning of the moonlight period, saw the squadron start its first Intruder operations over the Danube with quite fair successes.

The squadron was notified of several awards to ex-members of the squadron. Socially, the Officers’ Mess [had] a party on Midsummer Night. It was well attended and everybody enjoyed themselves.

The AOC in C, Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Pugh Lloyd and the AOC 242 Group visited the squadron to see the Searchlight Flight operating.

Forty-one airmen were posted to the Squadron from 46 Squadron, to make up the establishment. Softball has taken the place of football and there is great inter-flight rivalry. The Officers’ Mess team is the weakest, but is improving slowly. Health remains at a high standard. The Rest Camp becomes more and more popular for bathing as the weather gets hotter. Temperatures recorded in the camp site have clocked 105°.

Lastly, the morale of the squadron remains at its already high level.
This highly abbreviated description of activity during the month failed to detail an attack on Brežice railway station at about 23:15 on 8 June 1944. The resulting fire was visible 50 miles away and the claim was “2 ammunition trains destroyed, 1 locomotive damaged, 1 tented camp at least frightened”.

Even the summer was not conducive to uninterrupted operations. On the night of the 18/19 both Foggia Main and Grottaglie were unable to conduct operational flying due to adverse weather, and Grottaglie remained closed the following night too.

July saw the squadron joining in the Battle of Ancona, directing their fire against the Ju.87s of NSG9 that were attempting to dive-bomb allied troop positions.[21] Four Stukas were destroyed and one damaged on the first night of the action, and a further two destroyed the next night. Messages of congratulation poured in. The commanding General MATAF wrote to 242 Group HQ: “Please convey my congratulations to 255 Squadron for their great work during the past two nights. Army is equally delighted.”[22]

On 24th a detachment of 4 Beaufighters and ground crew was established at Hal Far, Malta, to assume responsibility for the defence of Malta and Sicily. This task of guarding of the Allies’ rear remained necessary because the Luftwaffe continued to occupy airfields in Greece.

On the 29th a further detachment, of 3 Beaufighters and ground crew, was established at Falconara and HQ at Foggia Main was informed on the 30th that the Hal Far detachment had formed a sub-detachment at Catania. The month closed with Flying Officer Bretherton (P) and Flight Lieutenant Cunningham (NR), on a defensive patrol out of Falconara, chasing a very low-flying Ju.88 into the sea without expending any ammunition. The Form 541 records the action as taking place at an altitude of fifteen feet.[23]

The CO’s monthly summary confirms that the squadron was at the time covering five different sectors. It goes on to say...
The outstanding operational events of the month were the Intruder Patrols over the Danube Basin and the Defensive Patrols at Ancona against dive-bombing Ju.87's. In all 110 barges and other waterbourne craft were destroyed or damaged as a result of our Intruder Patrols. 8 Ju.87's were destroyed and one damaged at Ancona; also two Ju.88 low flying recce aircraft were destroyed. A very successful month.[24]

The summary for July goes on to note that the number of detachments had caused the Rest Camp to be closed down, but not before all personnel had managed to take leave there. Also recorded is that cricket had come to the fore during the month, with six matches played – the Squadron winning two and losing four. Softball also continued on a less competitive level.

During August the detachment at Falconara accounted for four enemy aircraft destroyed and a further two probables. On 28 August the Malta Detachment returned to Foggia Main. Also towards the end of the month comes the unusual entry... “A member of the Mobile Team of Lecturers visited the squadron in the evening (of 30 Aug) and delivered a very interesting talk on U.S.S.R. and Democracy”. No indication as to whether this discourse gave any hint of the Cold War to come; for some years the Soviet Union had been our ally. Was the ground now being prepared for a change of collective mindset?

The weather was poor in August, the worst day being the 18th when a whirlwind struck the airfield. A detailed description of this event is to be found in Tales from the Dispersal Hut.

In a rare ORB entry relating to posting of personnel who were neither officers nor aircrew, it was noted that Sergeant B.F. Bean (a "Fitter.2A") was posted to 334 Wing. Bean was the first member of the newly-formed squadron to arrive at Kirton-in-Lindsey in November 1940 and had remained with the unit ever since. Another notable posting out was that of Flying Officer Bruce Albert Bretherton (RAAF) who was returning to Australia "Tour Expired". His departure was actually delayed until 8 September by a fortnight’s stay in hospital - just long enough to hear on the 7th that he had been awarded the DFC. So he went on a real 'high', also having bagged a Ju.88 on each of his last two operational flights.[25]

On the 31st Beaufighter MM838 crewed by 127208 Flight Lieutenant James Summers (P) and 140887 Flying Officer Cecil John Sanders (NR) was reported missing during an Intruder Patrol over the Danube Basin. For many years the detail of this loss remained a mystery. Eventually a limited disclosure was made by Air Historical Branch which suggested (wrongly) that the casualties had initially been buried by Partisans at Kovin, later exhumed and reinterred at the CWGC cemetery in Belgrade. In fact, the initial burials had been near the crash site.

At about the same time, research by Kaššák and Gunby for their book Gardening by Moonlight discovered an entry in German naval records describing the shooting-down of an Allied "bomber" near kilometre post 1080 on the Danube waterway, the anti-aircraft gun being mounted on a vessel being used to clear anti-shipping mines laid by bomber aircraft of No.205 Group, RAF. By a process of elimination of known Allied losses, the twin-engine casualty was identified as MM838 –  thought to be the Squadron’s only loss to flak throughout the war. The Beaufighter crashed near the village of Dubovac and subsequently became confused with a Liberator crash in the same vicinity. Detail here:

On 12 September all detachments except Grottaglie were withdrawn and the aircraft sent to Grottaglie. There was still some danger of attack from the rear, but the ORB specifically notes that this redeployment was with the aim of mounting extra intruder duties. One such intruder mission, on the fifteenth, involved Dinham-Peren (P) and Eley (NR). Curiously, this patrol is not listed in the month’s Forms 541 although the write-off of the aircraft (KV924) is recorded in the Form 540.

This consolidation of forces didn’t last long. On the eighteenth the extra aircraft at Grottaglie were withdrawn to Foggia Main and a detachment re-created at Pomigliano to cover Naples at night.

What the ORB describes as an "Airman’s Party" was held on the 21st, located in the American Red Cross Building in Foggia with No.9 RAF Command Band providing the entertainment. “Cakes, sandwiches, wine and ice cream were provided, to make the evening a great success.”

The monthly summary records that the weather was poor for much of the month.

October 1944 saw the squadron still primarily based at Foggia Main, with detachments at Grottaglie and at Pomigliano. Intruder patrols were directed towards transport links in the Po Valley and also Salonika.

On 8 October the Pomigliano detachment carried out an "Escort Patrol", protecting two York and one Liberator aircraft conveying the Prime Minister as well as Mr. Anthony Eden and “a number of high ranking Army and Naval officers”.[26] This flight was taking a very circuitous route to Moscow, where Churchill arrived the next day and remained until 19 October 1944, there taking part in a conference with Stalin. The escort duty was repeated on the homeward leg of the Prime Minister’s journey.

On the night of the 12/13th, intruder raids were mounted against Luftwaffe airfields at Gorgopi and Guida airfields in Greece. An unrelated matter that same night showed up the uncertain relationship between the Squadron and their supposed Italian allies. Twenty parachutes were stolen from stores, the valuable silk canopies probably destined for re-manufacture as ladies lingerie. The Special Investigations Branch of the RAF Police were involved and, pending completion of their enquiries, all Italian Guards were confined to their billets. Other valuables were also found to be missing, mostly from airmen’s and officers’ tents. The end result was that all Italian guards were dismissed and additional land was requisitioned along the airfield boundary so as to create a more secure perimiter – henceforth patrolled by RAF personnel.[27]

Army casualties on the front line (then located just north of Rimini) gave rise to the need for additional blood donations at this time. On the 17th/18th all squadron personnel at Foggia were tested for blood group by No.5 Blood Transfusion Unit and those found to be Group 'O' (universal donor) were asked to donate one pint. Demand on the Blood Bank was such that all such donations were expected to be used within a week. Over 90% of those found to be O+ did donate between the 19th and 21st, at 61st American Hospital in Foggia.[28] There was no operational night flying during the donation period, but this is thought to be attributable to wider strategic issues rather than a deliberate 'medical pause'. Whatever the cause, the break also saw all vaccinations and innoculations brought up to date.

On the 24th the detachment at Grottaglie was withdrawn, progress of the Red Army in the Balkans being such that the Wehrmacht was fully occupied retreating from south-Eastern Europe in order to avoid being cut off. They were also urged along by the British invasion of Greece. That in turn meant that the Luftwaffe no longer posed a credible threat to the rear of Allied forces, making the detachment at Grottaglie redundant. An enclave of German forces would remain in Western Crete until the cessation of hostilities in 1945, but it was under seige and its presence there was of no consequence outside the immediate vicinity.

The 25th saw the order for creation of a detachment at Pisa, under the command of No.338 Wing. Splitting a squadron between two Wings was somewhat unusual but, as this example shows, not impossible. The ground party set off the same day for a journey of about 700km.

A non-aviation issue noted in the ORB at this time was the matter of voter registration, the Service Register for Parliamentary Elections. A "pep talk" was given during Pay Parade on the 27th, encouraging those not yet registered to complete the necessary Form 2040. Re-registration was necessary because voting arrangements for service personnel had been changed by the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act 1943. An uptake exceeding 90% was reported.

The creation and cessation of detachments that month concluded with the recall of the Pomigliano detachment on the 28th, Naples no longer being considered a target for Luftwaffe attention. It is a measure of the increased flexibility of both aircrew and ground crew that the move back to Foggia was completed within a day.

The early part of November saw a resumption of intruder patrols into Yugoslavia from Foggia Main, targets including Skopje, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Priština, Kraljevo and Butmir.

During November some very welcome Flambeau huts arrived to improve accommodation at Foggia, which to date had been almost wholly under canvas.

On 20 November the Pisa detachment moved to Rosignano.[29]

30 November 1944 saw 40646 Wing Commander Charles Leopold Walker Stewart posted away from the Squadron, replaced by 72078 Wing Commander John William Rolfe Kempe as CO (the latter arriving on 12 December 1944). Stewart’s departure was not immediate; a farewell dinner in Officer’s mess took place on 1 December and he actually left on the 4th.

November had been a quiet month, marred only by the fatal accident that killed 1334241 Warrant Officer Maxwell Stanley Jones (P) and 147942 Flying Officer Bernard Ray (NR) on the thirteenth, Beaufighter ND312 crashing whilst returning from a practice interception.

On the night of 02/03 December an Intruder Patrol in the Lake Murano area near Venice (Flight Lieutenant R.L.North (P), Flying Officer R.S.Pickthall (NR) resulted in a train being shot up. During the last pass over the target a cannon shell fired by the Beaufighter exploded prematurely and blew the nose off the aircraft. It nevertheless returned to base at Foggia Main after a patrol lasting a little over four hours.

The squadron’s third Christmas Day overseas was celebrated in the usual manner, with Officers and Senior NCOs serving the airmen. In order to enable the Officers to maximise their contribution, they had their Christmas Dinner on the 24th. The quality of the food for all was high, but at a price of ending the existence of the squadron’s very own chicken farm, the poultry being killed off to provide the festive meal. Despite all, two Beaufighters were always on readiness, but poor weather throughout the festive season put an end to threatening enemy activity. Those who could relax were able to do so with a clear conscience.

The new CO’s monthly summary, written at Foggia, read as follows:
This has been another month of poor weather but one in which at least the supply of Beaufighters on the Squadron has increased. It may therefore prove possible for us to do more flying next month. As it is we flew some intruders in the moon period when the weather was fine, but so limited are we in aircraft, as we have 2 on readiness nightly here and 2 at Rosignano, that we have been unable to do any practice night flying. On the few dark nights that have been clear the mist has closed in early on.

Intruding over Yugo-Slavia has brought no returns. The hun is using a road running north from Sarajevo to Zenica by way of which to evacuate his troops. This road has been allowed as a target on some nights, but the road runs practically entirely through a deep gorge and it is not generally safe to go down low and straf M.T. The mountains on either side are as high as 4,000ft. When not covered by cloud there are frequent valley mists here. Added to this is the difficulty of accurate map reading in a mountainous country, and the fact that other roads are in partisan hands and may not be straffed. So it is hardly surprising that our returns are low.

The Zagreb area and the task we were assigned there on the 28th [30] provides more hope of our getting something. The mountains are not so high and there seems some hope of our activity not being confined to one road. Besides this there is a chance that the huns may try and interfere with Melika

But the situation in Yugo-Slavia is generally complicated by moving Russian front lines and Partisan troops and it does not appear at present a very happy hunting ground for a squadron which wants to see some returns.

1945 : The final months of the war

The ORB for 1945 opened on a somewhat sarcastic note. Having recorded that the squadron was based at Foggia Main it continued (in respect of Rosignano detachment) to state “The New Year started off well with 2 aircraft and the runway serviceable at the same time”. Serviceability of the runway would improve from the 5th, by which time “metal strip” (probably meaning either Sommerfeld Tracking or its US equivalent Marsden Matting) had been laid for the full length of the runway.[31]

On the 9th, the Discussion Groups focussed on a debate about the Reinstatement in Civil Employment Act 1944, which allowed men and women to claim back their old jobs in civvy street on 'Demob' – provided their employer was still in business. These discussion groups, formed in 1944 on the orders of the Air Ministry, normally met weekly. They were chaired by an officer and addressed a wide variety of topics, some of the participants’ own choosing and some on subjects handed down from on high.

Bad weather over enemy-held territory kept the Luftwaffe grounded and also obscured likely targets for Intruder operations. The ORB notes that there were “no calls on the Squadron for defensive work”. On the 12th, the first four 'Navigators Radio' were transferred to the Mk.X Conversion Flight for training on the new radar equipment they would encounter with the upcoming re-equipment with Mosquito aircraft. For the time being only those involved knew the reason; only on the 18th did the CO officially release the news that the Squadron was to re-equip with Mosquitos.[32] The first Mosquito (TA428/G) arrived from Malta on the 26th, courtesy of a pilot of Ferry Command.

The extent to which the Squadron’s activities were curtailed by bad weather in January 1945 is evident from the monthly summary; only 20 hours of Operational flying took place in the whole month from Foggia and Rosignano combined. The summary also heralds the expected consolidation at Rosignano during re-training on Mosquitos, to be followed by sole responsibility for night air defence of the whole of Italy with detachments in the South of France. Mention is also made of the Mosquito Mk.XIX being fitted with Radio Altimeters which “appear to be the answer to the low flying Hun recce’s”.

The last operational sortie from Foggia Main, on the first of February, turned out not to be a night fighter job at all, but a daytime Air Sea Rescue mission in the Adriatic. The Beaufighter’s crew “enjoyed the rare experience of seeing the 4 occupants [of the dinghy] rescued by a Catalina”.

The road convoy associated with the move out of Foggia departed on the 4th, comprising some 50 vehicles and 19 trailers under the command of the Squadron’s Engineering Officer, 86092 Flight Lieutenant Roy Henry Laver. Having been at Foggia for over a year, most were glad to see the back of the place... “no one was reluctant to leave the squalor and mud and generally depressing atmosphere...”[33]

The big move North, when HQ relocated to Rosignano

The route taken by the Ground Party crossed the Appenines on the first day, most of the vehicles making the scheduled nightstop at Monteforte Irpino (4 miles West of Avellino). One petrol bowser fell by the wayside near Caserta where it was “abandoned to the tender mercies” of No.15 MTLRU (Motor Transport Light Repair Unit). This was supposedly the "RAC of the RAF", providing a roadside breakdown service, but by 1945 many of the Force’s vehicles were seriously worn out. The MTLRU’s Operations Record Book notes that they did 226 major repairs in that month including whole engine re-builds. Individual vehicles are not listed.[34]

The rest of the convoy was held for half a day by the Road Traffic Controllers, prior to joining Highway 7 (the Naples-Rome coast road). The second overnight stop was at Sparanise, the third near Rome and the fourth in a field 10 miles north of Grosseto – this final campsite needing to be checked for landmines before being occupied. The fifth day saw the convoy arrive at Rosignano in time for lunch. Headquarters were set up in a large house some 3 miles from the airfield, in the coastal village of Vada, with additional accommodation in a tented camp pitched in an adjacent field. This property was later to become known as "The Casa". The aircraft still at Foggia were called forward on the 9th but, due to weather, all but one delayed until the following day.

Photographs of the Squadron headquarters in Tuscany

Photo : The Casa in WWII

“The Casa” during the war
Photo : The Casa today

The Villa Graziani as it is today
Left: Photograph copyright © Dr. Harry Vernon Reeves (1916–1990)
Right: Publicity photograph, Villa Graziani holiday accommodation
Please mention 255 Squadron when making your reservation!

On the 12th a false intelligence lead caused the whole squadron – Beaufighters and Mosquitos – to be on daytime alert in anticipation of an air raid on Rome. The same day the dual control tuition Mosquito, LR585, swung on take-off (Wing Commander J.W.R.Kempe as Pilot) and the undercarriage collapsed. Thus it was proved that "swing" wasn’t a problem just with Beaufighters or inexperienced RAFVR pilots!

The last operational sortie with a Beaufighter happened on the 25th, somewhat marred by a fracture in the oxygen supply line which forced a premature return to base. Full operational capability with Mk.XIX Mosquitos fitted with Mk.X AI was declared the following day. A note regarding a "gotaway" on the 28th asserts that the Squadron’s "authenticated score board" then stood at 93 destroyed, 8 Probables and 34 Damaged.

Rosignano proved to have certain difficulties as a aerodrome, not least the problem encountered by 'C' Flight (the maintenance unit) regarding dust kicked up by other aircraft taxying. Also mentioned in the monthly summary was a problem with rations. Ten days "iron rations" had been issued for a five day convoy journey and there was no opportunity to exchange these for normal rations on arrival. Therefore all had to put up with biscuits and bully beef for nearly a week after conclusion of the journey and a full ration of bread could not be drawn until all biscuits had been eaten – which did not happen until the end of the month. Shortage of specialist kit for servicing Mosquitos was another issue, as was a shortage of cables unique to the Mk.X radar equipment.[35]

March 1945 started with everyone at Rosignano, but the absence of detachments wasn’t to last. On the 5th a small road convoy left for Falconara, led by Pilot Officer J. Scollan travelling with his NR, two other NCO aircrews and ground crew to service the Mosquitos to be flown over "in the next day or two". The advance party arrived on the 7th and immediately signalled that the aircraft could be accommodated from the following day. Operational effectiveness required some re-assessment of tactics; the Falconara site was part of 287 Wing whose GCI Controllers were unfamiliar with Mk.X AI. In a get-together involving the Wing Controllers, neighbouring AMESs and the aircrews of No.255 Squadron (organised by Group Captain Banham, CO of 287 Wing), new tactics for Ground Controlled Interception were discussed and agreed, as was the Squadron’s callsign for operations out of Falconara where they became FRESHEGG.

Meantime, on the 6th, Wing Commander Kempe and the Engineering Officer flew to France. They returned on the 7th having made arrangements to place a detachment at “Le Vallon”. This is presumed to refer to Istres La Vallon, but maybe the gender of the airfield was not on their checklist? The error perpetuated many times in the subsequent ORB record.

The night of the ninth/tenth saw the loss of “a very fine and popular crew”, 179354 Flying Officer Kenneth Dutton and 179365 Flying Officer John Denis Walker. They had been scrambled for a second time in one night to intercept a hostile aircraft flying low in the vicinity of Cap Corse, the northern tip of Corsica. For an unknown reason the Mosquito crashed into the sea. Flying Officer Walker’s body was found by HMS Matchless (a Destroyer) and was subsequently buried at sea. Both men are commemorated on the Malta Memorial.

Luftwaffe activity during this time period seems to have consisted solely of meteorological reconnaissance flights that flew very low, predominantly using Ju.188 aircraft. These were thought at the time to have been from the specialist Luftwaffe unit Aufkl.Gr.6(F)./122 (formerly Westa 26, Wettererkundungsstaffel 26) based at Bergamo, ENE of Milan. However, some modern sources relating to the Luftwaffe order of battle do not concur.

Although the top speed of a Mosquito Mk.XIX comfortably exceeded that of a Ju.188, interception was difficult because of the limited range of the COL radars used by AMESs to warn of the low-level intrusion. Luckily for No.255 Squadron, the Dornier Do.335 never entered active service with the Luftwaffe. Had it done so, the Mosquito would have been totally outclassed; the piston-engined, propellor-driven Do.335 could – just – have out-run even a Gloster Meteor F Mk.III jet.

Click on the icon to view a third-party YouTube video about the Do.335. Note the diagram (at 1m49s elapsed time) showing the assymetric thrust experienced by conventional twin-engined aircraft under fault conditions, and how the Do.335 avoided that problem – which plagued Axis and Allied designs alike. Most of the footage shows the single-seat day fighter version, but the A-6 night fighter, complete with radar aerials, makes a cameo appearance near the end.

The first move into France

On 15 March 1945 six Dakotas conveyed a party of ground crew (NCO in charge being Flight Sergeant Homer) from Rosignano to Istres La Vallon, a temporary landing strip some 12km due north of the main air base at Istres Le Tubé. Three Mosquitos followed later in the day, all three suffering damage to their tailplanes on landing, caused by stones thrown up from the runway. The same fate befell another Mosquito arriving on the 16th; clearly there was a major problem. The ground crew nevertheless pressed on with establishing the Detachment, activating an AI Beacon (a "mother") by way of a navigational aid to help returning night fighters locate the airfield.

A search for alternative airstrips ensued, using captured German aircraft rather than risking damaging more Mosquitoes. Squadron Leader North accompanied Wing Commander Dobree-Bell using both a Fieseler Fi.156 Storch and a Messerschmidt Bf.108 Taifun.[36] The former, an aircraft capable of landing on the proverbial sixpence, was of a type that had not been seen by No.255 Squadron since Air Commodore Kenneth Cross had used a captured Storch as his personal transport. Acquired in North Africa in May 1943, Bing kept this useful little aircraft right through the Sicilian campaign and on into Mainland Italy.[37]

Click on the icon to view a third-party YouTube video about the Fi.156, shown in its original Luftwaffe markings. Notable for it’s STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) capability. Stalling speed: 50 km/h (31 mph / 27 knots). Take off run 45 metres (150 feet), landing in 18 metres (60 feet).

There is no other known instance of the Squadron encountering let alone using a Bf.108. Quite what the mechanics made of being asked to service these strays under field conditions and without routine spares availability is not recorded. The end result was a decision to abandon La Vallon and locate the Detachment at Istres Le Tubé, the move being completed on the 22nd. The Hun had not chased No.255 Squadron out of La Vallon, but a few pebbles had.

Locations of the Detachment in France, Jan–May 1945

location map, Airfields in France

Yellow = Territory formerly Vichy France, nominally independent until November 1942 and then fully annexed by German forces.

Green = Territory formerly Vichy France, nominally independent until November 1942, then annexed by Italian forces until Italy changed sides in September 1943 at which time German troops took over.

(Corsica liberated by Free French troops September-October 1943)

[Map template: Wikipedia]

The Detachment’s role in France

At this point it is perhaps meaningful to consider what the Detachment’s role in France was meant to be. Both airfields near Istres were located in what had been Vichy France. Recent history gave rise to suspicion as regards the loyalty of at least some of the locals, who were commonly regarded as "Collaborationist" at best and outright traitors at worst. Untrustworthy either way. Added to that was a separate political issue, the future intent of the Maquisards, members of the guerilla resistance movement especially those in SE France. Despite the nominal cooperation that had existed between the Gaullist and Communist factions of the French Resistance during the time of the German occupation, there was a lingering suspicion in early 1945 that the pro-Communists might attempt to seize power. Similar concerns extended across much of Southern Europe; Italy and Greece also had significant numbers of Communist political sympathisers. Thus it made sense for the US/UK forces to "conveniently occupy" these places pending the re-establishment of democratic governmental institutions. Not so much a case of winning World War II, more a case of defining what should follow. The post-war Communist fate of much of Eastern Europe had already been conceded in outline at three conferences with Stalin (Tehran in December 1943, Moscow in October 1944 and Yalta in February 1945 – Potsdam was still to come). If Stalin was to be kept out of Western Europe the potential for a pro-Communist armed insurrection had to be neutralised. Or so it seemed at the time.

More immediately, there was also the developing issue of Spain acting as a safe haven for those sought by the Allies as war criminals. Using aircraft in the markings of Luft Hansa, Germany’s national civilian airline pre-war, routine flights were taking place between Southern Germany and Barcelona. Attacking these, either with lethal force or by redirecting them to an airfield in Allied hands, was another item on the agenda and a task that was very specific to AI-equipped night fighters using GCI techniques.

Thus it might fairly be said that, whilst the Squadron’s role in Italy had been purely military, in France there were distinct political overtones.

Back at the Operational level...

On the night of 21/22 the Squadron broke its “long spell of disappointment” when the Falconara detachment downed a Ju.188, dumping it into the northern Adriatic when the pilot of the enemy aircraft made the tactical mistake of climbing to about 2000ft, giving Flying Officer Scollan and Flight Sergeant Blundell not only a clear 'visual' on the target by moonlight but also the opportunity to shoot at it from below.

The following night Flight Lieutenant Pertwee (P) and Flight Sergeant Smith (NR) enjoyed similar success, this time causing the enemy aircraft to break up in mid-air before crashing on land. Various pieces of the Junkers lodged in the Mosquito’s radiator; these were claimed by the pilot as a souvenir. That put a stop to the low-flying recces over the Adriatic; the next night’s Luftwaffe activity was at high altitude but no 'hat-trick' by No.255 Squadron ensued.

At Istres, the Squadron’s Radar Officer, Flying Officer R.P. Williams, experimented with altimeter jamming, hoping to deprive German aircraft of the benefit of their FuGe 101A. The German device provided – by the standards of the day – highly accurate height information over the sea for altitudes not exceeding 750 metres.[38][39] The objective of Williams’ jammer was either to drive the enemy aircraft into the sea or force a climb to an altitude where it could readily be shot down. Tests done by jamming the RAF’s own radio altimeters on the ground showed that the system worked in principle, but more power was needed for it to work in the air. The scheme did, nevertheless, progress as far as obtaining from intelligence sources the frequency used by the German FuGe 101A system. This was no easy jamming task, because the FuGe 101A was frequency agile across a 38 MHz bandwidth, ranging 19 MHz above and below a centre frequency of 370 MHz at a sweep rate of 80 Hertz.[40] By using the FuGe 101A’s transmitter as it’s own receiver’s local oscillator, the receiver automatically tracked the constantly varying frequency of the transmitted signal, allowing the height of the aircraft to be determined from the frequency difference (NB the frequency difference not the phase difference) arising from the time delay in the reflected signal.[41]

The ORB entry for 1 April 1945 anticipates a move of the Istres Detachment to Nice (La Californie) once reconstruction work there was completed, the original runway having been sabotaged. A new detachment from “Base” (meaning from Rosignano) to provide night fighter cover in Southern Italy anticipated a return to either Pomigliano or Foggia. The detachment at Falconara was expected to continue.

An unusual entry for 3 April 1945 records that Squadron Leader North and Flying Officer Pickthall left Istres for England “to deliver a letter to Field Marshal Smuts”. Jan Christian Smuts (1870–1950) was the South African politician who had taken South Africa into the war on the British side in the face of opposition from many of the Afrikaans-speaking members of the country’s parliament. He had succeeded Barry Hertzog (1866–1942) as Prime Minister in 1939 when Hertzog was defeated in a parliamentary motion to remain neutral during the war. Smuts contributed to the policy-making decisions of the Allied forces and was promoted to Field Marshal of the British Army in 1941. It seems likely that the letter to be delivered to Smuts was the document appointing him as the Head of the South African Delegation to the San Francisco Conference, which commenced 25 April 1945 and created the UN, being conveyed on a "Pony Express" basis from Pretoria to London with No.255 Squadron flying the last leg.[42]

Other issues mentioned in the month’s squadron records convey a distinct "end of term" feeling. The war was, for practical purposes, already won and all that remained was the task of clearing up loose ends. On 6 April two “Advisory Officers from MACAF” gave a lecture on Release and interviewed squadron personnel with any queries.

A chase on the night of 11/12 April petered out when the radar scanner jammed in a 20 degree downward position, the Mosquito crew having closed the range from 90 miles to 3,500ft. “It was a very disappointed crew that returned to Base to give an account of their chase”. Apart from this, there was no notable action. On the 17th, the ORB stated in respect of war in the air “The hun seems completely to have gone to ground...”[43]

On 19 April 1945 both Allied and Spanish wireless broadcasts announced that Spain would henceforth accept no more "milk run" flights from Germany. Interception of these flights had been problematic, possibly in consequence of radar plots “fading south of Nice”. The message proved not to be true; on the 22nd the squadron again found itself trying to intercept “the Lufthansa”, but without success. Squadron Leader North visited Aix to investigate the confusion over GCI vectoring towards this regular target. The record of his visit concludes that “the fighter would, if given the correct vectors, have stood a good chance of intercepting the hostile”. The squadron then mounted standing patrols from Rosignano. “Three aircraft patrolled the Mediterranean during the night in the hope of intercepting German transports suspected to be carrying high Nazi officials to Spain. No enemy air activity was apparent, however, and the patrols passed off without incident”.[44] These standing patrols were formalised (flying out of Istres) from the 25th, on a specific order from MACAF. But nothing resulted.

Meantime, on the Adriatic coast, the detachment at Falconara was on the look-out for midget submarines or saboteurs in 2-man boats carrying explosives. They reported seeing only porpoises. Maybe it could now be said that the squadron had come full circle, resuming its 1918 origins as a anti-submarine unit struggling to distinguish between man-made and natural submersibles!

On 21 April, Flying Officer Deane was scrambled from Falconara to escort in an expected Luftwaffe aircraft that wished to surrender. This would have been the second of the day, a Bücker basic trainer biplane having landed earlier and reported another on the way. Whether a Bü.131 or Bü.133 is not recorded. It never arrived.

On the second of May all German forces in Italy surrendered unconditionally.[45] In short, secret negotiations had been in progress for a considerable time, initiated (originally without authority) by Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen SS Karl Friedrich Wolff. The surrender affected part of the Austrian province of Carinthia and the whole of Vorarlberg, Tirol, and Salzburg, as well as all of Italy except that part of Venezia Giulia which is east of the Isonzo River.

Nevertheless, No.255 Squadron maintained a state of readiness as regards the Luft Hansa flights; on the 3rd the ORB recorded “four aircraft are to be maintained at readiness until further notice in order to intercept any German traffic with Spain, it being a reasonable assumption that certain enemy high officials may seek asylum in that country”. How the Squadron would have resolved the apparent conflict with the local ceasefire and surrender is unstated.

Attention soon turned to the future and democratic government, Flying Officer H.A. Viles being appointed Officer in Charge of postal voting. The military wind-down commenced on the fifth, when the Falconara detachment was recalled to Rosignano. The airfield at Nice was now ready and on the sixth the ground crews at Istres began the detachment’s move, leaving just aircraft and aircrew at Istres. But their services at Nice were never called upon. Hostilities had, for practical purposes, ceased. An entry in the ORB dated 7 May suggests that the aircraft moved forward to Nice on that day, yet there are subsequent entries relating to aircraft at Istres and none relating to Nice, suggesting that the move never completed. After the cessation of hostilities all operational aircraft were grounded and no 'state of readiness' existed, even though the official announcement of the end of the war in Europe was not promulgated until the eighth.[46] No further Forms 541 were produced. The ground crews sent to Nice remained there until the end of May with little to do, thereafter moving to No.4 Base Area (Marseilles) and thence to Pisa by air.[47]

At this point in the squadron’s ORB one finds a summary of the whole history of the unit, as far back as the re-formation in November 1940. It is quoted here in full and uncorrected as regards substantive content – there are mistakes. It says more about events in the Mediterranean theatre than it does about the early days. Nobody had remained with the Squadron for the whole duration of the war. Thus there was an absence of personal knowledge about matters such as the change from Mk.II to Mk.VI Beaufighters and the whole reference to High Ercall was only added as an inserted afterthought:
No.255 Squadron was formed with Nightfighter Defiants at Kirton-in-Lindsay on the 23rd November 1940, becoming operational there on 5th January 1941. Five weeks later the first blood was drawn when two He.111s were probably destroyed off Hull. By the middle of May 1941, this score had been increased to 9 destroyed, 3 probables and 8 damaged. The Squadron then moved to Hibaldstow and the Defiants secured one more kill before being retired in favour of Beaufighters equipped with Mk.IV A.I. Subsequent moves were made to Coltishall (with a detachment at West Malling) on 20th September 1941, to High Ercall on 2.3.42 and to Honiley on 6th June 1942. The squadron was drafted to North Africa in November of the same year, the score then standing at 12 destroyed, 3 probables and 12 damaged.

Aircrew arrived at Maison Blanche on 15th November 1942, and three weeks later they moved to SOUK-EL-ARBA. The ground crews landed at BONE on December 7th and immediately a flight proceeded to Souk-el-Arba to service the aircraft there. Seven days after landing at Bone, Squadron Headquarters were set up at SETIF. The aircraft returned to Setif from Bone on 2.2.43 and after a short rest an advanced Base was established at Bone from where a very successful series of intruder missions were flown over Sardinia. In May 1943, a move was made to La Sebala II and shortly afterwards new Beaufighters arrived equipped with an improved A.I. set (Mk.VIII). From this Base in the Tunis area the squadron operated with good dividends over the Cap Bon Peninsular and over Sicily, to which latter island the squadron moved in August 1943. In their nine months of operations in North Africa the Beaufighters accounted for 41 destroyed, 3 probables and 16 damaged.

On arrival in Sicily, Headquarters were set up in Bo Rizzo, on the West Coast, and the successful operations were carried out in the Capri and Gulf of Salerno areas. In little over two months a further 15 enemy aircraft were destroyed, one probably destroyed, and one damaged.

On 9th November 1943, the Squadron was ordered to Italy and was based at Grottaglie in the Taranto area. With the advent of the Anzio landings a detachment was despatched to Pomigliano, in the Naples area, on 5th December 1943, from which base it was possible to cover the bridgehead.

With the progress of the war the squadron moved North to Foggia in January 1944 leaving a detachment at Grottaglie. By this time the Hun was already disappearing from the night skies and 5 months of effort fielded only ten destroyed, one probable, and two enemy aircraft damaged. Towards the end of June 1944, a fortnight’s intruder programme was arranged against shipping on the lower Danube, which brought rich rewards: 8 plus Rhine type 200' laden oil-carrying barges were destroyed, 7 seriously damaged and 65 claimed as damaged. More or less severe damage was also caused to some 30 other craft, varying in size from 300' vessels to 50' lighters. In all, it is estimated that loss or damage was sustained by over 100,000 tons of enemy shipping on the Danube.

Towards the end of these successful operations, in early July 1944, our troops were being harassed by Ju.87 dive bombers in the Ancona area, but the Beaufighters soon discouraged this form of sport. In all, 9 Stukas were accounted for, three falling to the guns of F/O Bruce Bretherton in a single sortie on the night of the 6/7th July 1944. On the same night one other Ju.87 was also destroyed and another damaged. These highly successful operations brought messages of congratulations and thanks from our ground forces. 2 Ju.88's were also destroyed during this period.

Following upon these successes it was decided to put a detachment at Falconara, in the Ancona area, so as to be right on the spot. The Hun, however, had apparently been taught a sharp lesson because he hastily abandoned this unprofitable form of attack. Nevertheless an attractive alternative presented itself in the shape of low-flying enemy reconnaissance aircraft in the Adriatic and the detachment had the satisfaction of destroying 5 Ju.88's or 188's, and damaging two more before being withdrawn to Foggia in September 1944.

After the continuous run of successes already recorded, there ensued a spell of comparative inactivity, despite a not inconsiderable number of scrambles and frequent intruder missions over the Balkans and the Po Valley.

The Squadron remained based at Foggia until February 1945 and, during this time, had detachments at Grottaglie and Pomigliano (both withdrawn in October 1944) and at Pisa from November 1944. This latter moved to the South of Leghorn a little while later.

In January 1945 the Squadron started to convert to Mosquitoes equipped with Mk.X A.I. and in early February Headquarters were moved from Foggia to Rosignano from where detachments were put out in the South of France and at Falconara. It was from Falconara that the last two victories of the European War were scored when, on two nights running, a Ju.188 low flying recce was shot down in flames into the Adriatic.

Thus in something under 4½ years, the Squadron can claim to have destroyed at night 95 enemy aircraft, to have probably destroyed 8 more, and to have damaged a further 34. It is a record of which they may justly be proud.[48]
The above was signed off as part of the monthly record of Forms 540 by Wing Commander Kempe. For  No.255 Squadron, Royal Air Force, the war was over – they took no part in the ongoing hostilities east of Suez. The 'score' of enemy aircraft destroyed was indeed a record of which they could justly be proud, but it was achieved at a terrible price in terms of aircrew and aircraft lost to technical failures.

Citations and Footnotes

Click on the ^ symbol to return to the text you were reading.

1. ^TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 258 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/67.
2. ^TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 259 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/67 supra.
3. ^The Cross Cup was a silver trophy donated to No.242 Group by Air Commodore Kenneth ("Bing") Cross, himself a keen sportsman and a great enthusiast for promoting team sports within the RAF.
4. ^TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 265 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/69.
5. ^TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 265 side 2 supra and and
6. ^TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 266 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/69 supra.
7. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 17 side 1. The whole of AIR27/1519 is available online as a single .pdf file.
8. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 17 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
9. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 24 side 2 et seq. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
10. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 25 side 1 et seq. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
11. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 25 side 2 et seq. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
12. ^Personal diary of George Eley, entry for 22 January 1944.
13. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 26 side 2 et seq. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
14. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 28 side 1 et seq. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
15. ^ downloaded 19.Feb.2015.
16. ^Personal diary of George Eley, entry for 30 January 1944.
17. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 29 side 1 and personal diary of George Eley, entries for 06 and 07 February 1944. For online access to the TNA file see Citation No.7 Supra.
18. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 33 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
19. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 35 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
20. ^This should be read as Degrees Farenheight, equivalent to 40½°C.
21. ^Nachtschlachtgruppe 9, literally "Night Attack Group 9", a dive-bomber unit of the Luftwaffe. For details of this engagement see Beale, N. (2001) Ghost Bombers - The Moonlight War of NSG9. Crowborough : Classic Publications, p.57. ISBN 1-903223-15-6.
22. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 71 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
23. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 78 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
24. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 72 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
25. ^A mini-biography of Bretherton’s war service is held in manuscript form by the Australian War Memorial, document reference MSS1702.
26. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 93 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
27. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 93 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
28. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 94 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
29. ^Detail relating to the Pisa/Rosignano detachment was in part separately recorded in TNA : AIR27/1522 folios 2–10 in respect of the period 31 October 1944 to 21 January 1945. The original document is a handwritten book; the inside front cover (which is unpaginated) comprises a aircrew list and the R/T callsigns of those on detachment. For any given event within this time period, both /1519 and /1522 should be consulted. The whole of AIR27/1522 is available online as a single .pdf file.
30. ^This refers to a planned diversion in the Zagreb area, done to distract from Transport Command DC3s landing behind enemy lines at Metlika. Metlika was a centre of Partisan resistance to the occupation of Yugoslavia. See: McKelvie, R. and McKelvie, J. Slovenia : The Bradt Travel Guide. Chalfont St. Peter : Bradt, pp.173–174 (section headed Kočevski Rog) and p.183. ISBN 1841622117.
31. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 108 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
32. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 109 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
33. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 113 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
34. ^TNA : AIR29/794. Original document, in date order but otherwise unpaginated – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
35. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 116 side 1 through 117. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
36. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 124 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
37. ^Cross, Sir K. and Orange, V. (1993). Straight and Level. London : Grub Street, p.249–250. ISBN 0 948817 72 0.
38. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folios 126–127. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
39. ^ADI (K) Report No. 362/1945 – US Air Interrogation of PoWs, 27 July 1945.
40. ^TNA : AIR23/1246. Original document – requires TNA Readers Ticket to view.
41. ^See the Wehrmacht Awards website for further technical details and photographs of the equipment. (Downloaded 14 March 2015)
42. ^National Archives of South Africa, reference SAB/URU/LEER/2228/01/1057 Part 1.
43. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 134 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
44. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 135 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
45. ^For formal detail, see 'Eisenhower to Army Group Commanders et al., FWD 20479, 3 May 45, SHAEF SGS 387/1'.
46. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 141 side 2. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
47. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folio 146 side 1. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.
48. ^TNA : AIR27/1519 folios 142-143. For online access see Citation No.7 Supra.

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