No. 455 Squadron (RAAF) "Strike and Strike Again"

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About This Unit

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455 Squadron as its "400" series number indicates, was an Article XV Squadron of the RAAF raised under the Empire Air Training Scheme in WW 2.

Initially part of Bomber Command it was later re-assigned to Coastal Command in the anti-shipping Maritime Strike role.

This text drawn from Wikipedia and other sources.

No. 455 Squadron was formed on 23 May 1941 as an Article XV squadron and officially raised at Williamtown, New South Wales. Established under the under the Empire Air Training Scheme, the squadron was formed for service in Europe with the Royal Air Force and although nominally an Australian squadron, its personnel were drawn from a number of Commonwealth countries including Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Rhodesia. While the main body waited to be shipped to the UK, other Commonwealth personnel, drawn mainly from the RAF, concentrated at RAF Swinderby, in Lincolnshire.  On 6 June 1941 the squadron was formally established.

The squadron received Handley Page Hampden bombers and the bulk of the Australian personnel arrived on 1 September 1941, having departed Australia on 15 June. Initially assigned to No. 5 Group RAF, Bomber Command in a bomber role, its first operation took place while the squadron was still forming, when a single Hampden attacked Frankfurt at night on 29 August. In doing so, according to the Australian War Memorial, the squadron had the distinction of becoming the "first Australian squadron to bomb Germany". Following this, the squadron increased its operational tempo, undertaking several mine laying operations off the coast of occupied France, as well attacking industrial targets in Germany.

In February 1942 the squadron took part in an unsuccessful attack on the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, during the "Channel Dash" when they ran the gauntlet of hte English Channel to get from France back to Germany. 

Shortly afterwards 455 was re-roled as a torpedo-bomber squadron and transferred to RAF Coastal Command on 26 April 1942.

The squadron deployed a detachment briefly to Vaenga in the Soviet Union in September. The detachment was to operate in support of convoys bound for Russia, which were at the time suffering heavy losses. However, three of the 16 Hampdens were lost prior to arrival, while after completing one anti-shipping sweep the remainder was handed over to the Soviet Air Force with the RAAF crews instructing the Soviets on their operation. Following the completion of this task the squadron returned to RAF Sumburgh in October, where they received replacement aircraft.

No. 455 Squadron continued to be employed in largely uneventful anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrols during this time. On 28 January 1943 seven aircraft from Nos. 455 and 487 Squadrons sank a 3,570-tonne merchant ship with torpedoes; while a 6,018-tonne merchantman was sunk near Egero Island on 12 May. Further success followed, with a Hampden destroying the German submarine U-227 north of the Shetland Islands on 30 April, flown by Flight Sergeant John Freeth, tragically killed just three weeks later in a training accident. 

Moving to RAF Leuchars in Scotland, the squadron was re-equipped with Beaufighters in October 1943 and operated against German shipping off Norway and in the Baltic Sea until the end of the war, forming the "Anzac Strike Wing" with No. 489 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force The squadron moved to RAF Langham in Norfolk in April 1944, subsequently providing flak suppression for No. 489 Squadron's torpedo carrying Beaufighters. Commencing operations on 6 May a number of enemy ships were attacked, successfully sinking one. During these operations the Australians faced heavy naval anti-aircraft fire as well as enemy fighters. Often attacking targets in narrow Norwegian fiords, they suffered heavy casualties.

In October 1944 it was assigned full-time to strikes against shipping in Norwegian waters. At the stage the Germans were transferring troops and equipment form the occupied countries to help counter the grave situations which had developed elsewhere in Europe. The objective of the anti-shipping squadrons in the region was to halt such traffic. In the Norwegian fiords flying was particularly hazardous. Ships were able to anchor almost at the foot of towering cliffs and attack was possible from one direction only, enabling concentration of gun-fire upon the attackers. In the open sea several Beaufighter aircraft could divide the attention of shipborne gunners, and attack ships with rocket and cannon simultaneously.  In a more constrained approach the threat posed by anti aircraft fire, not to mention the hazard of collision, made such flying very challenging and risky..

On 8 November 1944 six No. 455 Squadron Beaufighters took part in an attack on German shipping in Midgulen Fiord, sinking two ships despite heavy anti-aircraft fire. Anti-shipping strikes continued into 1945, and saw the destruction of a number of vessels. The squadron moved to RAF Thornaby, from where they were involved in attacks on German shipping in the Baltic Sea.The squadron's final operation of the war was flown on 3 May 1945, when they attacked two German minesweepers in concert with New Zealand aircraft which sunk a tanker. No. 455 Squadron was disbanded on 25 May, while at Thornaby. 

Australian losses amongst the squadron's personnel during the war amounted to 91 killed. Between April 1942 and the end of the war, it was credited with sinking 18 vessels: one U-boat, 10 merchantmen, three escorts and four minesweepers.

 

 Compiled by Steve Larkins, Sep 2014

 

 We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact  admin@vwma.org.au (mailto:admin@vwma.org.au) for details on how to contribute.

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Stories

The Death of U-227

30 April 1943

The spring of 1943 saw desperate British efforts to cover the 'Northern Transit Zone' between the Shetland and Faeroe islands, where U-boats leaving Germany entered the Atlantic. Part of this effort included patrols by twin-engined Hampden torpedo bombers of 455 RAAF Squadron. The Australian crews had to improvise, without any specialised training or equipment for this role. They flew many lonely missions in their slow and obsolete aircraft, which also lacked search radar. Despite this, Hampden X/455, flying from Sumburgh in the Orkneys, at the far northern tip of the UK, spotted U-227 north of the Shetlands. The Hampden's pilot, Sergeant J. S. Freeth, executed two accurate depth-charge attacks to sink the boat. None of the U-boat men survived. They had been outward bound on their maiden voyage.

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