© 2009 454 & 459 RAAF Squadrons
454 RAAF Squadron
Kenneth 'Ken' Rimmer - Electrician
A SUMMARY OF THE HISTORY OF 454
by Ken Rimmer
On the morning of 2nd April.1942, a parade was held in Blackpool, England. It was by no means the first parade to be held in this City and probably excited little or no comment from civilians who looking at the chrysalis of the squadron which was one day to emerge as a dartin, biting wasp harassing, following and smashing the Germans on land and sea in far away lands.
It is unlikely too that the men parading under F/Sgt. Pollard realised the name that 454 Squadron was to make for itself around the shores of the Mediterranean. They were British personnel who were going overseas and no doubt heard rumours of the final disembarkation in the Middle East of which they had heard many conflicting reports. Not knowing just what to expect they sailed from Britain and in the same frame of mind did actually disembark in Egypt during the last week of June,1942.
Still as ground personnel of 454 they were sent to Aquir in Palestine to service the Halifaxes of 76 Sqdn. (later 462 RAAF). After moving to Suez and back to Aquir they were joined by 20 aircrew, the first to arrive on the Squadron. By November 1942 the 20 aircrew together with 400 ground crew under the command of W/C Campbell were working at last on their aircraft, 4 Bisleys at Al Quayara, 50 miles from Mosul in Iraq. Later as a complete Squadron they moved again, but not towards operations as they all so keenly hoped. At Gianaclis near Alexandria they converted to Baltimores, an aircraft with, at the time, a most dubious reputation. With this same type of aircraft however, they were to fly 3 totally different types of offensive operations, very successfully, and with remarkably few casualties.
From L.G.91, 25 miles from Alexandria, 454 Squadron flew their first operations with coastal command. On the morning of March 4th, 1943, F/O Bailey and crew began the Squadrons combative life when they went out on a anti-sub patrol. Leaflet and bombing raids were carried out from here on the island of Crete and anti-submarine patrols provided for Allied shipping in the Med. April saw them packing up for another move, this time to Gambut where much the same work was carried out. The anti-sub patrols were usually monotonous days seldom relieved by action. Long hours in cramped positions too, made it an unenviable job. It was not always quiet though. as F/C Lewis and crew will readily testify. Over the Med. one day they were attacked by 2 ME 109's. The triangular duel lasted some 10 mins. during which time the gunner, F/O Carruthers, gave cool and decisive evasive action and F/O Lewis flew skillfully to put his aircraft in a position from which the turret could be bought to bear. This combination resulted in 1 ME 1-09 turning for home damaged and the other not turning for home at all, being destroyed. The pilot F/O Lewis received the D.F.C. for this action.
Leaflet raids were a most unsatisfactory job for crews keen for action. Being particularly brassed off, one F/O Parkin, an identity on the Squadron leading a box of 4 Baltimores on such a raid in Crete dropped beer bottles (all empty) with his leaflets. This received a mention on the Berlin radio at the time.
On July 1st the Squadron suffered its first loss on operations when Sgt. King and crew failed to return from a mission. The pilot F/Sgt. Akhurst was badly injured and was later awarded the first D.F.M. on the squadron. Only two aircraft landed on the home drome, both with numerous bullet holes. This catastrophe left the Squadron practically without aircraft and they returned to L.G. 91 where new aircraft were obtained, and reconnaissance trips extended to long range. At the same time a detachment was operating on anti-sub patrols from St. Jean in Palestine. In Oct.'43 the main part of the Squadron moved to join the detachment at St. Jeans. At this time W/Cd. J.G. Coates D.F.C. assumed command of the squadron in place of W/Cd. Campbell. One month was spent on this sight and then were carried out over the Aegean Sea. The next move was to Benghasi where the work of range recess was resumed. It was here that another dark period settled over the squadron when three aircraft were lost in ten days, these being the first losses of reconnaissance work. There was an air of mystery surrounding these losses at the time since no reports of sightings of enemy shipping were being wirelessed back and the patrol area was out of range of enemy fighters. An answer was provided shortly after however, when F/O Ryleton returned with his aircraft badly shot up and his Gunner wounded. He had been intercepted by 4 M.E 109's carrying long-range fuel tanks, a circumstance hither to unknown in this theatre. F/O Ryleton was later awarded the D.F.C.
In April '44, W/Cd. Moore who had joined the Squadron as a Flying Officer in Gambut became C/O. Wing Commander Coates who left at that time had been a most popular C/O with everyone on the Squadron, he has always been remembered for his naturally friendly air, his efficiency and his keen interest in all personnel. About this time formation bombing in Greece and Crete commenced.
June 1st '44 stands out as one of the big days in the history of 454. It was on that day a Wellington made a sighting of a large German convoy streaming towards Crete. 454 Squadron shadowed the convoy until nearing Crete, then they joined with S.A.A.F. and R.A.F. squadrons in an attack which resulted in the sinking of every ship sighted. F/O Scott, Navigator was awarded a D.F.C. for his part in this action. Shortly afterwards 454 was withdrawn from Coastal Command and transferred to Desert Air Force. The Squadron moved to Italy and on July 25th, the first aircraft landed at Pescara. Here they began a totally different type of work, engaged in light bomber formation attacks in support of the Eighth Army. On 23rd August, the first box of 6 aircraft led by S/L Cashmore attacking Russi? with 223 Squadron began a period of operations which were to win praise and thanks of all the Eighth Army. Targets were at first close to the bomb-line. Sometimes aircraft from 12,000 ft. bombed targets only 800 yards ahead of our own Troops. Shortly after arriving at Pescara another move was made, this time to Falconara near Ancona. Operations were flown from here to targets as far as Yugoslavia and Poland, the latter being one of the most carefully defended targets in Italy. For the most part however, attacks were made in close support of the 8th Army's drive on Rimini.
Life at Falconara was particularly grim. To those who have never worked in it, the mud was unbelievable. Tents which served as living quarters, sick quarters, stores and operations rooms were surrounded by it. Not just ordinary mud but often semi-liquid ooze 18" deep. On the drome, the unduly comparatively mudless area was the metal landing strip. Aircraft were parked in thick clinging mud which covered ground crews as they crawled around their mud-spattered Baltimores, trying in a world of mud, to keep the oily grime from the vital parts of their beloved planes and they did it. The Armourers worked like muddy beavers bombing up 12 aircraft twice a day. Bombs of 250 lb. had to be rolled for distances up to 150 yards through this oozing soil and then, caked with slippery stuff, had to be manhandled onto the aircraft. In spite of all this never once was an aircraft late on a raid because of late arming by ground crews. Much of the credit for this goes to W/D (Lofty) Naylor (RAF) and no spirit with which they did it. In November W/Cdr. Henderson replaced W/Cdr. Moore as C/O of 454.
By December the Army had advanced almost to Ravenna and two weeks before Christmas 44 the Squadron moved north again to Cesenatico between Rimini and Ravenna. At this time 253 Wing, comprised of 454 (RAAF), 15 (SAAF), and 500 (RAF) Squadrons, was the most forward bomber wing in the Italian theatre 15 miles north, gunfire was heard barrages felt through the trembling ground and at night the sky was lit as the Hun strived vainly to retake Ravenna with his heavy guns and Panzer divisions. Operations here, in addition to close-support work extended to long range targets, Cervignano, Castigliano and Castel Franco Veneto all receiving unwelcome attention. At this time words were written to be sung to the tune of the Rifle Song depicting the spirit of 454 Squadron.
"Ho cast your eye toward the high sky
Ho, up on high you'll see us flying
O'er for we are out on a raid
No, by flak we'll not be dismayed
Ho, devastation in formation
So, to your guns you Huns
Yes man your stations
For the eagles up in the blue
Are out to strike hard and true
After the mud of Falconara, Cesenatico was paradise. The first layer of sandy, grass covered soil was frozen so there was not even dust to worry the men. Light snow fell occasionally and though the weather was undoubtedly cold, each tent had a home heater, and at least clothing could be kept dry. Flying at high altitudes at this time, extremely cold temperatures were experienced, the coldest being 40F below freezing. Aircraft heaters were petrol driven and considered dangerous when operating in the same area as flak so were seldom used.
Operations ceased in January whilst a conversion was made to night intruder work. For six weeks crews who had been flying formation in daylight at 12,000 ft had to change over to flying singly at night at all heights from deck level to 6,000ft. In this type of work a great deal of scope was given to crews. They chose their own targets within limits, flew at the height they favoured and straffed and bombed as they wished.
When I visited Australia in 1990 I made contact with Bob Mitchell and Jack Stacey in Adelaide. I joined them in the Anzac Day march with ex 454 members.
After the parade we all met at Jack's for a barbeque which I have attached a photograph of the event.
Back Left to Right:
Cliff Spiers, Ken Rimmer, Bill Kenwick, Bob Mithcell, ?Not Known, Alan White and Bill Noyce
Front Left to Right:
Alan Godfrey, Jack Stacey, Brian Ball and Vic Cashmore
Following on from my visit above I again came to Australia in 1992 with Frank Hayes for the 50th reunion of 454 - 459 Sqdn.
On the Sunday we attended the Rededication of the Memorial 'To the Fallen' at Richmond RAAF base. On the day, John McKenzie, asked Hank and myself if we would carry the 454 - 459 Sqdn banner.
L-R: RAAF Padre, George Gray, Fred McKay (Clergyman), Pete Henderson, Pete Matthews, Hank Hayes, Ken Rimmer & John McKenzie.
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