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454 History

 

and Berka III, Libya:

 and- Cyrenaica:

 

1944 July - Ground party via Alexandria to Italy; air party joined 223 RAF Squadron to develop close support experience, thence Pescara;

 

and - Aug - Galconara;

 

and - December Cesenatico: (below)

 

 

1945 January - February - A Flight to Forli - detachment;

and - May - Villa Orba, Udine: (below)

 

14 August 1945 - Disbanded

 

Fatal Casualties and Awards

The Roll of Honour lists 92 fatal casualties of personnel killed in action or who died on active service whilst on Squadron strength.

During the period of Operations, 454 Squadron Personnel were awarded one OBE, fifteen DFCs, one DFM, one BEM and nine MIDS.

[The following information was provided by Air Commodore Mark Lax, it is from his new book “Alamein to the Alps” (a History of the 454 Squadron) which is on sale now, see the News page of this site.)

 

454 Squadron  Honours  and  Awards

Order of the British Empire

Wing Commander Andrew Dill ‘Pete’ Henderson, 217  RAAF

Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

Flying Officer James Bryan Scott, 144614   RAFVR

Distinguished Flying Cross

Squadron Leader Victor Cashmore, 407165   RAAF

Flying Officer Raymond Crouch, 136516    RAFVR

Captain Alexander Thomas Dryden, 102099V   SAAF

Flight Lieutenant John Robert ‘Jack’ Ennis, 420339  RAAF

Squadron Leader George Andrew Gray, 402346   RAAF

Warrant Officer Sydney William Holmes, 422562   RAAF

Flight Lieutenant David William Lewis, 403645   RAAF

Warrant Officer Henry Hugh. Lloyd, 758163   RAFVR

Wing Commander Milton Jeffrey Moore, 402804   RAAF

Warrant Officer David Valentine Paul, 403215   RAAF

Flying Officer James Bryan Scott, 144614   RAFVR

Squadron Leader Colin Bassett Stinson, 402414   RAFVR

Flight Lieutenant Joseph Charles Wright, 400948  RAAF

Distinguished Flying Medal

Flight Sergeant Raymond Gordon Akhurst, 149940  RAFVR

British Empire Medal

Flight Sergeant Jack McGreggor Stacey, 5738   RAAF

Mentioned in Dispatches

Flight Lieutenant George Leon Barnard, 263132    RAAF

Corporal William George Collinson, 14438 RAAF

Flying Officer Herbert M Humphreys, 48634   RAFVR

Warrant Officer Cyril Horace Manning, 157578   RAFVR

Corporal (as LAC) Colin Thomas McPherson, 6165  RAAF

Corporal Rodney Fergus Parkhill, 21232    RAAF

Flight Lieutenant William Shankland, J4431   RCAF

FLGOFF Walter Geoffrey Hall 6120    RAAF

Flight Sergeant Alan William Kempnich 413608   RAAF

Key Events

[The following information is from units of the Royal Australian Air Force, A Concise History - Volume 3 - Bomber Units]

23 May 1941 - Formed at Williamtown, NSW

11 July 1941 - Squadron disbanded

30 September 1942 - Reformed at Aqir, Palestine

18 November 1942 - Joined ‘D’ Force covered USA/Persia/Russia Lend Lease supply line

1 February 1943 - Converted to Baltimore III at Amiriya, Egypt

13 April 1943 - Moved to Gambut III, Cyrenaica

August 1943 - Moved to LG9`

November 1943 - Moved to Berka III

14 July 1944 - Joined Desert Air Force at Pescara, Italy, for close support of 8th Army

November 1943 - Operated out of Cesenatico, Italy

1 May 1945 - Last sortie

14 August 1945 - Squadron disbanded

454 Squadron History

Planned as one of the 17 Australian-manned squadrons for the Royal Air Force (RAF), 454 Squadron was formed on 23 May 1941 and disbanded on 11 July 1941, at Williamtown, New South Wales.  Finally, with RAAF technical personnel already in the Middle East and newly arrived RAF ground crew, it reformed on 30 September 1942 as a light bomber squadron at Aqir, Palestine.

 

In September 1942, Flight Lieutenant George Barnard led a 454 road convoy from Aqir, heading for Teheran, Iran.  However, the Russian Reinforcement Command forestalled the use of that base, and the Squadron settled at Quiarra near Mosul.

 

At Quiarra the first of six Blenheim V refresher courses began, but then 454 Squadron was moved westward in February 1943, to LG91 (Amiriya South), about 45 miles form Alexandria, Egypt.  It was attached to 201 Group RAF Middle East.  The Squadron quickly converted to Mark III Baltimores.  Its first operational sortie was flown by Flying Officer Bayly’s crew on 4 March 1943.

 

RAF 201 Group required 454 Squadron to provide armed day convoy escorts and independent anti-submarine patrols for the many Allied troop and supply convoys from Egypt, and fuel tankers for the Levant oil terminals, destined for Malta and other 8th Army forward supply bases.  Anti-submarine patrols during daylight hours were increasingly augmented by armed independent visual reconnaissances, and shipping strikes in the Aegean Sea.  There were strong Axis garrisons and formidable air units to contend with, in the outer defended ring (Athens-Rhodes-Crete-southern Greece and the Dodecanese Islands).

 

With a new squadron establishment, a move to Gambut III (Cyrenaica) near Tobruk was completed on 13 April 1943, and a detachment located at Misurata.  By 1 May 1943, the first full complement of 16 Baltimores was available, and the first shipping and U-boat attacks were reported.  In June 1943, the first Baltimore crew, which included Squadron Leader Bamkin, were killed in an airfield accident.

 

Gradually the operational commitment was stepped up, especially for armed independent reconnaissances.  July 1943 was a particularly active month.  Several crews fought their way out through defended exits from the Aegean Sea.  On 18 July 1943, Flight Lieutenant Dave Lewis’ crew destroyed one BF109 and damaged another.  Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Bill Shankland made an audacious low level reconnaissance of a significant Symi Harbour build-up of small ships; and RAF Flying Officer Ray Crouch’s 6 hours 20 minutes sortie was a Squadron record.

 

The Squadron’s worst operational day occurred on 23 July 1943, when eight 454 Squadron Baltimores, led by Squadron Leader Lionel Folkard and accompanied by fighters, made a daylight low level offensive over northern Crete.  Six Baltimores and five crews were lost.  Flight Sergeant Akhurst’s crew survived after scrambling out on one motor at low level and ‘ditching’ just off Gambut.  Akhurst’s immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) was the Squadron’s first decoration. 

Martin Baltimore

 

In early August, the Squadron returned to LG91 as base with detachments at St Jean (Palestine) and Cyprus.  The number of long range reconnaissances then increased markedly to cover the Dodecanese invasion and withdrawal (10 September 1943 to 10 November 1943). 

 

In November 1943, Wing Commander J.A.G. (Jack) Coates (RAF) assumed command from Wing Commander Campbell, and Berka III again became the base.  The Squadron flew unarmed long range photo reconnaissance missions into the western Aegean, and 75 small ship sightings were reported in December alone.  Many of these small ships were attacked by RAF Beaufighters, which flew 30 minutes behind the 454 Squadron reconnaissance aircraft, and were alerted by coded sighting reports.  On 31 December, Flight Lieutenant Railton (RAF) evaded two prolonged attacks by pairs of Bf109s. 

 

Bristol Beaufighter

 

201 Group RAF merged with Air Headquarters Eastern Mediterranean on 21 February 1944, and 454 Squadron came under the command of RAF Station Berks.  Squadron Leader Cashmore and Flight Lieutenant Gray, located the Livenza, a 6,000 ton motor vessel, and its convoy escort, in Melos Harbour.  The following day Beaufighters sank it, losing three aircraft, but destroying two Bf109S.  A week later Flying Officer Crouch successfully battled his way through the Kythera Strait, having provided a diversion over Melos, whilst Coates photographed a new Freya radar station.  During February formation practice, in boxes of six aircraft, was increased. 

 

In April 1944, Coates handed over command to Wing Commander Mike Moore.  The new Commanding Officer continued the concentrated bombing training program, and directed small formation operational bombing attacks on southern Greek targets – Kalamata. Plyoe – for harassment and further experience, meanwhile maintaining the well-established long range unarmed photo reconnaissance program, especially in the western and central Aegean Sea, and around the western Greek coast. 

 

The Squadron’s finest search and strike results were achieved on 1 and 2 June 1944 under Moore’s command.  From first light on 1 June, after an Axis convoy had at last left Piraeus Harbour, eight 454 Squadron Baltimores in turn shadowed three merchant vessels, four destroyers and eight escort vessels, and their fighter escorts.  Despite many attacks, the reconnaissance crews made close low level passes at the convoy, regularly photographing and reporting its progress.  At 1700 hours, after the last shadowing Baltimore had been lost, a strike force from Gambut led by three 454 Squadron Baltimores attacked about 30 miles north of Candia Harbour.  All but two merchant vessels were sunk; two Bf109s were shot down. 

 

Whilst long range reconnaissance penetrations of the upgraded, radar-controlled fighter and flak-defended areas of the eastern, western and central Aegean, Crete, and southern Greece had paid significant dividends, a high price had been exacted; 21 crews were lost in 10 months.  The operational result was increased enemy isolation and supply deterioration of the garrisons. 

 

By July 1944, 454 Squadron had been transferred to the Desert Air Force at Pescara on the Italian Adriatic Coast, to support 8th Army. 

 

The Squadron had a second tour Commanding Officer in Wing Commander Moore, and strong, experienced flight commanders (Squadron Leaders Vic Cashmore and Don Beaton), well trained pilot and navigator/bombing leader teams, and ground crews second to none for serviceability and immediate turnaround capabilities.  It was highly mobile, efficient, and experienced in maintaining its strike capacity, whilst moving tent accommodated personnel long distances.  By mid July 1944, it began operating in Italy. 

 

The Squadron’s task was to provide the “Tedder Bomb Carpet” (1000 yards by 300 yards) aimed at saturating close-support targets, usually by a box of six aircraft in a tight, very manoeuvrable formation, bombing on a leader from medium heights (10,000 feet and above).  The technique, developed and tested before the Alamein battles, became standard battlefield and tactical practice and was employed relentlessly and with devastating effect by Desert Air Force light bomber squadrons until January 1945.  The safe maximum limit for straight and level flying at 10,000 feet to evade accurately predicted heavy anti-aircraft fire was 15 seconds. 

 

 

 

During September at Falconara, 454 Squadron delivered a total of 328 tons of bombs.  This was accomplished in spite of 10 days of very bad weather during which no flying was possible, and whilst the pierced steel plated single all-weather landing strip was repaired. 

 

Aerial  Photo of Our Base at Falconara note the clip together metal runways

Baltimores in the air

 

As in the earlier desert years of dust, sand, khamains and heat the ground crews performed miracles in maintaining excellent serviceability and prompt turnaround of bombed-up aircraft in the appalling mud and slush of Falconara, Italy.  On three days in September, three raids of 12 aircraft were dispatched – a record 36 sorties each day.  Improvisation to defeat glue-like mud, to repair anti-aircraft shrapnel holes after every raid and to refuel and reload bombs, kept the armourers, fitters, riggers, refuellers and others stretched to their limits.  Though the shocking weather of September-October could have induced low morale, the reverse was the case.  Typical ‘Aussie grizzling’ cloaked quiet satisfaction with a job well done.  At Falconara, the most forward Allied airstrip in Italy at the time, weather permitting, all eyes would watch the flak-taxi in for inspection and readiness.  Shrapnel holes were counted and patched – 186 on one occasion, and the bomb stencil kept the number of bombing sorties up to date alongside each aircraft’s identification letter and cartoon nickname.  During this period Flight Lieutenant Don Fraser replaced Squadron Leader Beaton, who was tour expired for the second time, as ‘B’ Flight Commander;  Flight Lieutenant Phil Strickland became ‘A’ Flight Commander; and Squadron Leader Cashmore now became squadron Leader (Flying) with overall Squadron tactical planning and organizational duties. 

 

In November, two important operational developments occurred – daylight formation bombing is concert with 15 SAAF Baltimore Squadron against the Yugoslavian ports of Pola and Fiume, and the beginning of radar controlled practice and operational blind bombing from above 10/10 cloud. 

 

Moore handed over command to Wing Commander A.D. (Pete) Henderson (25 November 1944 to 18 May 1945) as 454 Squadron prepared to move to Cesenatico.  With the Squadron’s new night role pending, Henderson’s recent experience was most appropriate for directing 454 Squadron in its interdiction and independent harassing, strafing, bombing and reconnaissance roles. 

 

Because of extremely bad weather in January and February 1945, the Squadron experienced great difficulty in meeting operational demands and at the same time, in scheduling a comprehensive conversion program for night-intruding harassment of the retreating German Army Mistral winds, rain, and intermittent sleet and fog were prevalent.  Though 454 Squadron was now located as Cesenatico, a comparative paradise after Falconara, conversion to the new task was badly hampered by the weather.  Forli was used as a detached base for a time.  Finally the Squadron was stood down operationally to concentrate on conversion. 

 

The experimental blind bombing, controlled by a radar station near Favenna which vectored individual aircraft onto  weather-obscured and night targets, now began to show improvement.

 

Squadron strength as at 30 November 1944 was 395.  Throughout its 30 months of operations this strength remained steady. 

 

Two months of highly successful night intruding commenced on the night of 5-6 March 1945 with Squadron Leader Phil Strickland/Flight Lieutenant Ron McCathie, flying the Squadron’s first of 390 night intruder sorties.  

 

Crews attacked any moving transport- road, rail, river ferry or canal barge; pontoon bridges; supply dumps and factories; troop concentrations and fortified positions.  A special night photographic technique, developed by Flight Lieutenant Joe Wright, provided excellent tactical information. 

 

On both 23 and 25 March 1945 Warrant Officer Syd Holmes’ brilliant handling of his badly damaged aircraft resulted in the immediate award of a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). 

 

A maximum effort was achieved for the last great assault by the 8th Army on the Italian Adriatic Front, with 28 sorties on the night of 9-10 April in support of a 5th Army Corps attack on the Senio River Line.  At regular intervals, individual aircraft bombed gun positions around Masso Lombarda, just ahead of the bomb line; each making four separate runs across the target area.  But 13 April provided unexpected setbacks; two 454 Squadron crews were lost; and two other Squadron aircraft returned to Cesenatico very severely damaged. 

 

German resistance finally collapsed just as eight crews flew 454 Squadron’s last 13 sorties.  In the early morning of 1 May, Flight Lieutenant Geoff Bradley and Warrant Officer Peter Matthews were briefed for the last armed night reconnaissance of Villach, the Italian-Austrian border escape routes.  However, it had to be aborted shortly before completion because of bad weather. 

 

On 14 August 1945 the Squadron was disbanded.

 

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"BUTCH" THE DOG

"Was on Squadron strength when we arrived and had an interesting history.  Originally belonging to Rommel's Afrika Korps he was unable to keep up with them as they hurried West after Alamein, and decided he would be better off on the other side, so he joined 454 Squadron.

 

Butch would occasionally become bored with life and to alleviate it he would run up one side of someone's tent and slide down the other side.  This did the tent no good at all, and was actively discouraged by its occupants.

 

I can't recall ever seeing him again after we went to Italy.  Maybe he again transferred allegiance and joined 459 when they occupied our former home at Berka III.  I must ask my friend Roy Mahoney whom I see occasionally. Best Wishes, Kev O'Brien.  --

PS. Does anyone else remember Butch?"

 

 

Australian War Memorial History of 454 Squadron: http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11151.asp  

 

A SUMMARY OF THE HISTORY OF 454 by Ken Rimmer - SQUADRON (R.A.A.F) can be found in  Ken Rimmer page

 

454 Squadron History - 1942-1945

Commanding Officers

W Cmdr I.L. Campbell - 16.10.42 to 16.11.43

W Cmdr J.A.G. Coates DFC Nov 43 to April 44

W Cmdr  M.J. Moore - 1.4.44 to 25.11.44

W Cmdr  A.D. Henderson - 25.11.44 to May 45

W Cmdr J. Rees DFC DFC (USA) 18.5.45 to 14.8.45

 

Individual 454 Squadron Members

Operational Bases

1942 September - Reformed Aqir Palestine, October - Qaitara Iraq

 

1943 January - Gambut (below - approaching):

 

Kookaburra plaque - 454 Squadron