RAF UPWOOD - PREPARING FOR WAR
As the political situation in Europe worsened, 63 Squadron returned to its main task. Bombing-up trials were held on 29th June, when twelve Battles were armed and loaded with bombs before dawn and took off in two flights of six at 06:15 and 06:30 hours. They carried out mock `raids` and air-to-air firing at North Coates on the Lincolnshire coast before returning to Upwood at 10:00 to be met by the AOC of 2 Group.
Tactical exercises by day and night were held on 11th and 12th July 1938 and were devised to evaluate 2 Group squadrons under conditions of war. 52 Squdron's 'A' Flight returned to Upwood after nearly five months on detachment to Northolt on 26th July. On 28th July 63 Squadron carried out the first exercise in dive bombing over Upwood airfield. When 52 Squadron`s 'A' Flight returned to Upwood, it joined in combined Home Defence exercises from 4th to 6th August, and during the second half of August leave was taken, and the squadron closed down for a time, and on return the whole squadron moved to Evanton in Scotland for an armament practice camp.
By the end of August 1938 all the permanent buildings at RAF Upwood had been completed except the Officers` Mess and associated single officers` quarters, and some of the temporary hutted camp was then demolished. However, part of it was used for other purposes, such as a Recruits Sub-depot, which was formed on 12th September 1938 under the command of Sqn. Ldr. W.J. Miller.
24th September 1938 saw 52 Squadron return from Evanton in Scotland to carry on with routine training, but two days later, on 26th September, came the Munich crisis. Both 52 and 63 Squadrons (which had returned that day from a four-week period of armament practice at West Freugh in Scotland) were placed on a mobile footing, ready to move at short notice. Roads on the Station were camouflaged, and airmen's families and civilians were issued with gas masks, following lectures on their use earlier in the month. On 30th September, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made his `Peace in Our Time` proclamation and things returned to normal at Upwood, though the squadrons remained in a state of readiness until 10th October.
Another `Top Brass` visit was arranged for 17th November, the occasion this time being the visit of King Caryl of Rumania to RAF Odiham, but, although 63 squadron had rehearsed for the event, bad weather on the day prevented the squadron from leaving Upwood. Just over a week later, on 25th November, 63 Squadron suffered its first fatal accident, when P/O J. Ellis, flying Fairey Battle K7567, crashed at East Tisted, near Alton in Hampshire. Trying to locate the Odiham pundit (or flashing beacon) he flew too low and hit a wooded hillside. P/O Ellis was killed instantly, and his two crewmates were both injured. P/O Ellis` ashes were scattered at Upwood.
Routine training for the squadrons continued, and on 6th December 1938, F/O Murtens and his crew from 52 Squadron, took off from Upwood at 08:00 and remained at operational altitude for just over seven hours, during which the aircraft covered a total of 945 miles.
63 Squadron started to re-equip with Battle MkIIs (R-R Merlin MkII powered Battles) on 10th December, and it was established with 16 aircraft, plus five in reserve. 52 Squadrons new Battles began to arrive four days later, and the older Battles were passed on to Elementary & Resrve Flying Training Schools. The new aircraft were hardly used at first though, as heavy snow, drifting to 4ft (1.2m) deep in places prevented any flying between 20th December and 2nd January 1939. 63 Squadron sent nine of its new Battles to Warmwell in Dorset on 30th January 1939 for an Armament Training Camp, but because of the indifferent weather, results were disappointing. All was not bad news though, as ahigh level of serviceability enabled the squadron to carry out practice dive bombing from high altitude, high and low level bombing and formation and long distance flying.
A new training scheme for Air Observers and Volunteer Reserve Pilots was notified to 52 Squadron, and others, on 2nd February 1939, and ten Avro Anson aircraft needed for the scheme were collected from Avro`s Woodford factory at once.
The nine Battles of 63 Squadron returned from Warmwell on 17th February, by which time al the replacement aircraft had been received. Practice then began for close-support bombing trials on Salisbury Plain, and on 14th March fourteen aircraft flew to Boscombe Down for the trials, returning three days later.
An Air Ministry Policy dated 17th March 1939 decreed that 63 Squadron would be one of a number of squadrons to be dedicated to training and would not mobilise in the event of war. A nucleus of more senior officers was to remain on the squadron, while others would be posted to operational units, their places being taken by aircrews from Flying Training Schools and by Volunteer Reservists, for three to four months period of training. The volunteers would then return to civilian life and the others would go to operational units. 63 Squadron would by May 1939, be attached to 1 Group pending re-equipping of certain squadrons in that Group.
As a boost to the training programme, ten Ansons were allocated to the squadron and the first three were collected from Avro`s Woodford plant, also on 17th March. Renewed tension in Europe prompted another precautionary state between 24th and 29th March, after which more Ansons arrived and training continued.
A new Station Commander, W/Cdr R.S. Sorley took over command of RAF Upwood from W/Cdr Houghton on 1st April 1939, which happened to be the 21st anniversary of the formation of the Royal Air Force.
52 Squadron's new training syllabus was put into effect after the arrival of their new Ansons and all went well until 8th May, when Anson N5074 crash-landed at North Coates airfield, near Grimsby, Lincs, fortunately without any injuries, and the aircraft later returned to service. On the next day, Anson N5027 crashed on the coast at Corton, near Lowestoft, the crew being slightly injured. A P/O Marcou had the dubious distinction of being involved in both accidents!
63 Squadron's CO, S/Ldr J.S. Hawkings, who had been in charge of the squadron since 11th October 1937, left on 15th May, to be replaced by the new CO, W/Cdr P.J.R. King.
The civil airport at Norwich (Mousehold) was open to the public on the final Empire Air Day on 20th, or 24th May 1939, and 52 Squadron's 'B' Flight gave a display of formation flying there, though RAF Upwood provided aircraft for display at a number of other RAF Stations.
W/Cdr P.J.R. King, 63 Squadrons new CO, was host to a General Rayski and two other Polish officers who visited the squadron on 23th June to inspect its Fairey Battles.
Reinforcements for 52 Squadron came in the shape of ten more Battles, albeit second-hand examples previously used by 185 Squadron at Thornaby, near Middlesborough, N. Yorks., which was in the process of re-equipping with Handley Page Hampdens. These arrived on 26th June, the same day that six Battles from 12 Squadron at Bicester, in Oxfordshire, subjected RAF Upwood to a low-level mock gas attack. With the possibility of war in the not too distant future becoming more probable, a gas attack was a very real fear, and as well as the exercise with 12 Squadron on 26th June, another gas exercise was held three days later, on the 29th June. A number of Battles from Cottesmore, Rutland, made a second mock attack, spraying Upwood`s buildings and aircraft with a chemical to simulate poison gas.
A new aircraft establishment for 63 Squadron was set at 24 Battles plus 8 in reserve and 8 Ansons plus 2 in reserve on 30th June 1939, and with the probability of war being declared now very real, many of these took part in regional air exercises held over south-east England on 7th and 8th July and again on 13th and 14th July. 52 Squadron also found itself involved in a series of realistic exercises. Combined Regional Home Defence exercises took place, also on 13th and 14th July, during which the squadron was to carry out mock attacks on Tangmere airfield in Sussex, and Burton-on-Trent, Basingstoke, and Crigglestone in Yorkshire.
On 25th July 1939, Battle K9412 of 63 Squadron crashed between Gayton and Great Massingham in Norfolk, with the loss of all three crew members, while on a cross-country flight at night. The weather at the time was good, and an enquiry failed to discover the cause of the accident.
Further important defence exercises were carried out between 8th and 11th August while the international situation worsened. The next period of crisis began on 23rd August 1939,and the next day, 52 and 63 Squadrons were brought to a state of readiness, during which training continued, while on 25th August the Station began operating under Bomber Command War Orders, and all aircraft were dispersed around the airfield to minimise damage from air attack. Although they were loaded with bombs, these were unfused. Flying was limited to essential testing, and all personnel were recalled from leave.
On 29th August six Battles from 52 Squadron were sent to Benson, Oxfordshire and one to Harwell, under the Bomber Command Affiliation Scheme. Five observers and seven wireless operators, all trained, were posted to Benson that day, leaving the squadron very short-staffed, while at the same time, `C` Flight was formed, and on 30th August 63 squadron's 'C' Flight was formed.
Orders were received from 2 Group on 1st September 1939 to disperse 52 Squadron`s aircraft, so 24 Battles and five Ansons were sent to Alconbury with a number of airmen to guard them.
On 2nd September a general mobilisation of the RAF was ordered, and airmen's families were evacuated from their quarters, and RAF Upwood was transferred to 6 Group.
On 3rd September 1939 war was declared, and on that day 52 Squadron was transferred to 6 Group and became a Group Pool unittasked with the support of 1 Group squadrons in France. By now, the CO was W/Cdr G. Combe, who was in charge of 26 officers and 205 other ranks. Next day, W/Cdr Combe visited Abingdon and Kidlington, Oxford`s civil airport at the time, to make arrangements to move the squadron.
The established plan was to move both squadrons away to a safer area, but these were postponed a number of times in the first few days of the War. On 7th September, Upwood`s Station Commander and Operations Room officer left for Abingdon after handing over to F/O S.H. Wrinch, a retired officer who had returned to service and who would stay behind in charge of a Care & Maintenance Party. 52 squadron's aircraft returned to Upwood from Alconbury at this time in preparation for its transfer. 63 Squadron was ordered to leave Upwood, and so began moving to Abingdon, which was being vacated by squadrons of the Advanced Air Stiking Force on their way to France. At 05:30 on 8th September, a convoy of trucks carrying stores belonging to 63 Squadron and SHQ left Upwood for Abingdon, with a large main party following at 08:30. 63 squadron`s aircraft departed later that day, the move being completed by 18:00. 52 Squadron left on 9th September.
last updated 27/2/01
Web page published by Sean Edwards....