No. 37 Squadron (RAF) "Wise without eyes"

Normal wellingtons of 37 sqn w800

About This Unit

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No. 37 Squadron RAF  - Bomber and Middle East Mediterrnean Commands

 

This unit is included as one of the many RAF units in WW2 to which aircrew of the RAAF were attached, and with which they served fouf=ght and often died.  This cohort of personnel suffered the greatest losses among Australian sevice personnel in WW2.

 

Originally formed in 1916, No.37 Squadron had been reformed in 1937 as a heavy bomber squadron equipped with the Hanfdley Page Harrow bomber.  It received a more modern aircraft, the Vickers Wellington I on May 1939, giving the squadron just over three months to get used to the new aircraft.

The squadron went into action almost immediately after the British ultimatum to Germany expired, flying a sweep over Heligoland Bight. Heavy loses soon forced Bomber Command to abandon this sort of daylight raid, and the squadron became a night bomber unit.

In November 1940 the squadron was transferred to Egypt, via Malta, from where it carried out a number of sorties. Once in Egypt the squadron took part in the campaign in the western desert, supporting the Eighth Army against Rommel and the Afrika Korps. It also took part in the suppression of the Iraqi revolt and sent a detachment to Greece (March 1941).

From early 1943 the squadron supported the Allied advance, moving to Libya in February and to Tunisia in May. This saw its bombers range further afield, across occupied Europe.  Finally in December 1943 the squadron moved to Italy, staying at Tortorella from 29 December 1943 until 2 October 1945.   While in Italy in October 1944, the Wellingtons were finally replaced with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator VIs, a long range four engined heavy bomber of US origin.  From its base in Italy the squadron attacked targets in Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Albania, as well as dropping supplies to the Yugoslav partisans. The squadron also took part in Allied operations to mine the Danube, blocking it to Axis shipping.

It disbanded in 1946 but subsequently reformed in a number of iterations.

Battle Honours - Home Defence, 1916-18*: Norway 1940: Dunkirk*: Channel & North Sea, 1939-40: Fortress Europe, 1940*: Malta, 1940,1942*: Greece, 1941*: El Alamein*: Italy, 1943-45*: South-East Europe, 1943-45* (Honours marked with an asterisk are those emblazoned on the Squadron Standard)

Compiled by Steve Larkins Sep 2019

 

References:

 

1. Rickard, J (24 March 2007), No. 37 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/37_wwII.html

2. RAF MOD UK website

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._37_Squadron_RAF

4. No.37 Squadron RAF -Single Engine Wellington Survival by Harold Norcross BBC Peoples War 'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'

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Stories

No.37 Squadron RAF -Single Engine Wellington Survival by Harold T N (Norcross)


On 16th. July 1941 37 Squadron crews were detailed to carry out a night bombing operation on Benghazi. Our crew, Harris (captain), Helyar, Malpas, myself , Langley and McCall, in Wellington No. 7864 . After some four hours flying and still about 80 miles from the objective, the port engine started to give trouble and had to be shut down. There was nothing for it but to abort the sortie and return . The prospect of flying for about three hours on one engine was not at all rosy and would impose great strain on the pilots. In order to lighten the aeroplane we jettisoned the bombs and the reconnaissance flares , the guns and any other loose articles not required on voyage. It was part of the Wireless Operators normal duties to pump oil to the engines at regular intervals. The extra load on the starboard engine and loss of oil from the port engine, necessitated oil being pumped more frequently. In fact there was a grave danger of running out of the stuff and we even broke into the hydraulic oil tank over the wireless position in search of a few more cups-full of the stuff. These actions took place in semi-darkness with ears alert for any change in the muffled roar of the overworked Pegasus starboard engine . All this added extra interest to the situation.

Despite our actions to lighten the aeroplane, it was still difficult to maintain height, so George told the crew that if they wished they could bale out before we reached a really critical situation. The second pilot and rear gunner decided that they would get out and take their chance in the desert. The departure of the second pilot meant that George had to contend with the chore of flying the aeroplane single handed . It was fortunate that he was an extremely fit and strong chap, who for a little light exercise would swim across the Suez Canal and back. In the hope that we could make an early landing I sent a coded message to Sidi Barani asking for runway lights. By the time Sidi B . had decoded the request and sent me the reply the 'Lights were on at Sidi Barani' we had passed the place . George said he was not going to risk returning to the aerodrome and so we continued on our route. I asked ALG 09 Direction Finding Station in plain language morse, for courses to steer (QDM's) and received the directions. The Germans , however, told us to 'Steer South' which we ignored since their advice would have taken us towards their lines. We eventually arrived at the ALG and after some debate as to whether it was best to turn on the dead engine or the live one, George made the right decision and we landed safely after eight and a half hours flying. We had to leave our aeroplane at the ALG for repairs and get a lift back to base with another crew.

The two who baled out , Helyar and McCall had two different experiences. Helyar landed quite close to the coast road , blocked the road with some 50 gallon oil drum markers and lay down and went to sleep. In due course he was picked up by an Army patrol and taken back to their camp. McCall landed some distance away from the coast , picked up his parachute and walked with it to the road. There he was spotted by soldiers in a military vehicle . McCall heard them speaking in a foreign language, concluded that they were Germans and prepared to be take prisoner. His 'captors' seeing the parachute and unusual uniform, thought he was a German parachutist and ordered him into the vehicle. He was conveyed to a military camp where his identity was established and he discovered that the soldiers were Polish Army troops.

Both Helyar and McCall were transported back to Shallufa none the worse for their experience. We made an air drop of cigarettes etc . to the soldier's camps, as a small token of thanks for the assistance they had given to Helyar and McCall.


Source - No.37 Squadron RAF -Single Engine Wellington Survival by Harold Norcross BBC Peoples War 'WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar'

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