No. 461 Squadron (RAAF) att RAF Coastal Command

About This Unit

461 Squadron

461 was an Article XV squadron raised under the Empire Air Training Scheme.  Its operational history closely paralleled 10 Squadron.

During WW2, 10 and 461 Squadrons served as part of the RAF's Coastal Command operating the enormous Short Sunderland long range patrol flying boat.

When war broke out on 3 September 1939, a party of Australian personnel who were already in England to take delivery of new Short Sunderland flying boats became No 10 Squadron RAAF attached to Royal Air Force Coastal Command. They were the sole RAAF presence in the European theatre until 1940 when the first Australians trained under the Empire Air Training Scheme began to arrive in England.

461 Squadron was raised at RAF Mount Batten on 25 April 1942 to augment the Coastal Command effort in protecting convoys and deterring submarine attack.

The Australian and Allied airmen of RAF Coastal Command flew long and tiring patrols from bases in Britain such as Pembroke Dock in Wales and Mount Batten at Plymouth in England. They flew over miles of ocean to hunt and destroy German submarines – the U boats – which were taking a terrible toll of merchant ships in the convoys bringing vital supplies to Britain.

The design and construction of the flying boats gave great flexibility.  The Sunderland's cavernous hull could carry a lot of people and they were at times used for mid sea rescue.  Their great endurance also meant that their crews had to remain vigilant.  Sunderlands were on many occasions jumped by German long range fighters and although they gave a good account of themselves, the fact that  they flew alone meant they did not have the advantage of mutual defence. They did have the respect of their opponents who nicknamed the big aircraft "Flying Porcupines" because they bristled with defensive armament.

The big aircraft were vulnerable even when not on flying operations.  When moored near their base, flying boats were vulnerable to bad weather, high winds and rough seas.  They could drag their anchor, swing into wind and sustain damage in poor conditions.   They literally were "flying Boats' and behaved like aircraft in the air, and like boats with a lot of side area when on the water.

A detachment from the squadron operated over Norwegian waters from a base in the Shetland Islands late in the war when U Boat numbers in the Atlantic  had declined following the loss of the French ports. No. 461 Squadron was disbanded at Pembroke Dock on 4 June 1945. The squadron lost 20 Sunderlands to enemy action and accidents. A total of 86 squadron members of all nationalities were killed on operations, including 64 Australians.

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Any port in a storm..........

The Australian and Allied airmen of RAF Coastal Command flew long and tiring patrols from bases in Britain such as Pembroke Dock in Wales and Mount Batten at Plymouth in England. They flew over miles of ocean to hunt and destroy German submarines – the U boats – which were taking a terrible toll of merchant ships in the convoys bringing vital supplies to Britain. The design and construction of the flying boats also meant that their crews had to remain vigilant, even when not on flying operations.

… when we weren't flying very often we were manning the aircraft to prevent from being swept ashore by severe gales. And we would sometimes just get into bed at night, and we had these Nissan huts, and the guards would come around and say, 'Gale crew, gale warning, all out'. So a skeleton crew would have to be taken out in a dinghy, clamber aboard the aircraft, an engineer and a pilot, the engineer to start the engines and a pilot just as control the weight of the aircraft against the anchor cable because the winds were so severe that if the anchor cable broke you were washed up on the rocks and that was the end of the aircraft. So sometimes we flew on the water with the engines running for hours and hours on end. We weren't out on any training flight; all we were doing was trying to save the aircraft.

[Allen Cover, Archive No 1185, Australians at War Film Archive]


"The Bullet with your name on it"

The Bullet With Your Name On It
U-461 Sunk by 461/U!

30 July 1943

This article thanks to

This strange co-incidence occurred during an epic anti-submarine engagement involving combined forces on both sides. This engagement illustrates the intensity of the fighting during Admiral Karl Doenitz's 'group sailing' experiments in mid-1943, when groups of U-boats travelled together on the surface to provide mutual anti-aircraft defence.

Two strategically valuable 'milk-cow' U-tankers (U-461 and U-462) and a Type IX (U-504), were travelling together outbound through the Bay of Biscay. The group of boats was spotted by RAF Liberator 53/O, which homed in an amazing collection of aircraft, including a Sunderland from RAF 228 Squadron, a 210 Squadron RAF Catalina flying boat, two Halifaxes from RAF 502 Squadron, a USN 19th Squadron Liberator and a RAAF Sunderland, 461/U, flown by Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows. Nearby British ships of the Royal Navy 2nd Support Group were also attracted.

Another aircraft that followed the homing signals was a German Ju88 fighter, which threatened the 228 Squadron Sunderland, forcing it to jettison its exposed depth-charges and retire from the battle. The slow Catalina also retreated. The German fighter then departed the scene, having achieved this result without firing a shot.

The remaining Allied aircraft circled the U-boat group, which stayed on the surface at top speed in calm sea conditions and good visibility. Halifax 502/B made an ineffective bombing attack and was damaged by the boats' accurate defensive fire. It had to run for home. Halifax 502/S then attacked from higher altitude and dropped a total of five 600-pound bombs in three attacks, which holed the U-tanker U-462 and caused it to circle. Further approaches were beaten off by the flak, until Liberator 53/O succeeded in bravely diving through the barrage, but it was heavily hit and unable to make an accurate attack. 53/O had to flee to an emergency landing in Portugal.

Luckily, this diversion allowed Marrows in Sunderland 461/U to get in close before he was noticed by the defence. Machine-gun fire from the Sunderland silenced the gunners of U-461. Marrows skimmed in so low over the wave-tops that the other two boats did not have a clear shot past U-461. Marrows released his depth-charges and zoomed over the conning tower of U-461, sinking the large U-tanker.

Marrows returned to the flotsam of U-461 and dropped a life raft to the 25-30 swimmers seen amongst the wreckage, but only 15 of these men were eventually picked up by HMS Woodpecker.

Soon afterwards - not lacking in courage - Marrows made a determined approach towards U-504, but he had to break away, as British naval shells were starting to impact the sea surface. U-462 was scuttled just as shellfire from the fast-closing 2nd Support Group began to come in, and 64 survivors were later picked up. U-504 took cover by submerging, but was then systematically hunted down with sonar by the 2nd Support Group and destroyed underwater by depth-charge (with total loss of life).

As if Marrows' crew had not had enough excitement for this day, on the way home they spotted another U-boat. Marrows decided to attack it with his last remaining depth-charge, but his Sunderland was further damaged by return fire and he was unable to drop his single bomb. After this, he no doubt gladly turned for home, low on fuel. His mighty Sunderland was subsequently written-off due to the damage from these battles.

Marrows was later able to obtain some souvenirs of U-461 (via the famous Captain Walker of the RN 2nd Support Group) - the U-boat captain's life-preserver and keys. Marrows also later met U-461's captain, Wolf Stiebler, whose life had been saved by the raft that Marrows dropped (against RAF policy) to his erstwhile enemies.

Two months later, Marrows and his crew were very lucky to survive an hour-long running battle with six Ju88 twin-engined fighter aircraft. Their Sunderland was critically damaged and they had to ditch. A cramped life-raft kept them safe until they were picked up the next day.

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