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103 Sqn Reformation in 1937 to the end of the Battle of France July 1940

See also pages - Sedan 14 May 40103 Squadron 37/40 Photo Gallery37/40 VignettesRAF UsworthBetheniville, Barry Morgan-Dean,  Jimmy HayterTom FitzgeraldRon Critchley,  Edgar Morton  Ron Hawkins  Mervyn ap Rhys Pryce  Roy Max  Arthur Roberts  Mervyn ap Rhys Pryce

103 Squadron Usworth 1937

  103 Sqdn personnel 1937

  Reformation

  With the increasingly uncertain political climate in Europe in the mid thirties the British Government embarked on a rearmament programme to counter the rising threat of Hitler’s Germany. As part of this the number of RAF squadrons was increased and 103 Squadron was reformed in August 1936 at Andover in Hampshire under the command of Squadron Leader D H Carey. The aircraft flown at this time was the Hawker Hind. This was a single engined biplane day bomber soon to be obsolete. In February 1937  the Squadron flew North to its new base at RAF Usworth in the North East of England.

  

103 Squadron Hawker Hind

  103 Sqdn Hawker Hind

   In 1937 the squadron crest, featuring a black swan, was chosen along with the motto “ Noli me Tangere “ which translated means “Touch Me Not”.

  The Squadron exchanged their Hawker Hinds for the new Fairy Battle Mk 1 in August 1938. This aircraft was a single engined monoplane day bomber and a great improvement on the Hind. At the time the Battle was thought to be a very modern and effective machine. It was now clear that war was inevitable and in September 1938 the Squadron returned South to its new base at Abingdon in Berkshire and then on to Benson in Oxfordshire in April 1939.

  The Outbreak of World War 2

  

103 Squadron Officers France 1940

  103 Sqdn Officers at Betheniville April 1940

   At the start of hostilities in September 1939 103 Squadron flew to France as part of No 1 Group RAF to form the first echelon of the Advanced Air Strike Force (AASF). Under the command of Wing Commander H J Gemmill the Squadron commenced operations from Challerange in France on the 17th September 1939. The first operation was a daylight reconnaissance by 3 aircraft along Franco-German border. There followed a series of reconnaissance operations which encountered occasional German flak but no fighter opposition. These were completed successfully without loss. On the 27th September 1939 3 Battles led by Flight Lieutenant M C Wells took off at 1220 hours for what they thought would be another routine flight. Whilst flying at 3000 feet between Bouzonville and the Rhine the Battles were attacked by 3 French Curtis Hawks. The Battles fired off recognition flares and the French aircraft broke off their attack. Soon after the Battles were attacked by 3 German Bf 109s. The Battle flown by Flight Lieutenant A L Vipan was damaged in this attack and his observer, Sergeant J H Vickers, mortally wounded. In the combat Vipan’s gunner, Aircraftsman J E Summers, shot down one of the attacking Bf 109s. Flight Lieutenant Vipan crash landed his damaged Battle in a field close to French troop positions on the Maginot Line and Sergeant Vickers was taken to hospital where he sadly died on the 7th October 1939. The aircraft was considered damaged beyond repair and struck off charge on the 9th October.

    Sgt Vickers was posthumously awarded the Medaille Militaire by the French authorities and Aircraftsman Summers was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. So, in its first combat with enemy fighters, 103 sustained its first fatal casualty, lost its first aircraft, shot down its first enemy aircraft and received its first gallantry awards of World War 2. These events were to be repeated many times before the war was to come to an end.

  

103 Squadron Battles over Betheniville

  103 Sqdn Battles at Betheniville

   The winter of 1939/40 passed quietly during the period known as “The Phoney War” with routine reconnaissance and leaflet dropping operations over the Franco-German border and Western Germany being undertaken without loss. Training continued to be undertaken on a regular basis and 2 Battles were lost in accidents with the deaths of 3 aircrew. During this period the Squadron moved to their new airfield at Betheniville. Wing Commander T C Dickens took over command of the Squadron on the 12th March.

  The Battle of France

   At dawn of the 10th May 1940 war in France began in earnest and the Luftwaffe made an attack on the airfield at Betheniville, fortunately without damage or casualties. In the afternoon 4 Battles from the Squadron were tasked  to bomb German troop columns in Luxemburg. 3 of these aircraft failed to return all being hit by light flak at low level. Further similar low level daylight attacks were made in the next 3 days in an effort to stem the tide of advancing German forces for the loss of 2 Battles.

  

103 Squadron Fairey Battle PM-J

  The Battle of Charles Perry which force landed a few miles from Betheniville. Perry was wounded and died a month later.

   On the 14th May the Squadron was ordered to attack the pontoon bridges over the River Meuse. 4 aircraft were lost on this day to flak and fighters and by now it was clear that the Fairey Battle was totally inadequate for the task of low level daylight bombing being poorly armed, having little armour plate and no self sealing fuel tanks. It was however a sturdy aircraft that flew well. See account of Sedan operations on the 14th May 1940 here

  As the position rapidly worsened Betheniville and the nearby village and road were subjected to a series of air raids.

  

103 Squadron Fairey Battle at Rheges

  Tony Ingram pictured climbing into his Battle at Rheges.

  The Squadron was forced to withdraw to a new airfield at Rheges leaving behind several damaged aircraft. 103 continued to fly more sorties against the rapidly advancing German army in daylight but from a higher altitude and the surviving aircrews showed remarkable spirit and determination in the face of a numerically superior, more experienced and a far better equipped and trained enemy. This was matched by the courage and resourcefulness of the Squadron ground personnel who worked tirelessly in the most difficult, arduous and often dangerous conditions throughout. In a further effort to reduce losses 103 flew several night bombing attacks from the 22nd May 1940.

  

103 SquadronFairey Battle PM-K

  A 103 Sqdn Battle PM - K which force landed on return from an attack. The crew were safe.

   For the next 10 days operations were mounted daily until withdrawing again to Ozouer-le-Doyene on the 3rd June 1940.

   By now 103 had lost all but a handful of its aircraft and most of its crews. The Squadron base at Herbouville was subjected to a series of bombing raids by the Germans on the night of the 6/7th June 1940.

   On the 8th June 1940 the Sergeant G Beardsley and his gunner Leading Aircraftsman G Lewis were shot down for the third time in less than a month and captured. On the 2 previous occasions they had managed to escape and return to the Squadron. The same day Pilot Officer Thorogood and crew singlehandedly took on approximately 50 German dive bombers. Thorogood managed to shoot one down with his single fixed forward firing machine gun. His gunner, Pilot Officer Webber, also managed to shoot down a Bf 109 which had chased them after the attack. Webber was wounded 3 times in this incident and was immediately evacuated to England. Their aircraft was badly damaged and force landed. These 2 incidents are typical of events at the time.

  The Squadron was reinforced by replacements from the UK and continued to make attacks by day and night on enemy troop concentrations, airfields, lines of communication and sea convoys  in what, by now, was a hopeless situation. On the 14th June 1940 the Squadron withdrew again to Souge which was bombed by the Luftwaffe that night and again on the following night and resulted in the loss of several Battles and casualties amongst the ground personnel. On the 15th June 1940 the surviving Battles flew to Abingdon in the UK as ordered.

  The Squadron ground personnel left Souge for Nantes and were later evacuated by sea.

   Throughout the Battle of France the Squadron personnel, both aircrew or otherwise, had  shown remarkable tenacity and spirit in the most difficult and trying of circumstances which fully upheld the traditions of the Royal Air Force. The numerous gallantry awards which were subsequently presented to members of the Squadron representing all ranks and duties are a testimony to this.

  The Aftermath

   The returning 103 Squadron crews landed in Abdingdon on the 15th June 1940 and moved to Honington where the unit was reformed on the 18th June 1940 with 12 Battles under the control of 1 Group Bomber Command. At Roll call that day it was established that every member of the Squadron was accounted for and all had been successfully evacuated. Other aircraft were taken on strength and the Squadron flew North to Newton on the 3rd July 1940 to train the replacement crews and personnel and prepare for the expected invasion. The ill fated Fairey Battle was phased  out later that year and 103 Squadron was re-equipped with Vickers Wellington medium bombers in October 1940.

   

103 Squadron Dickens, McCudden and officers at Rheges

  103 Sqdn CO W/C Dickens congratulates Sgt McCudden on the award of the French Croix de Guerre. 2nd left is Tony Ingram, 2nd right is Harold Lee and extreme right is Roy Max who also received the Croix de Guerre. The photo was taken at Rheges. Tony Ingram was awarded a DFC when the Squadron returned to the UK.

   

  The Reckoning

   It is difficult to establish exactly how many of the Squadron’s aircraft were lost in France between September 1939 and the withdrawal. Bill Chorley in Bomber Command Losses 1939/40 calculates a figure of 18 on operations with 6 others lost in training accidents, lost or damaged in bombing or just left in a damaged condition in France during the withdrawal. At various times during the Battle of France 103 Squadron took Battles from other Squadrons on strength and it is not possible to say how many of these were lost. The RAF is reported to have lost about 950 aircraft on operations over Europe between the 10th May 1940 and 20th June 1940 of which about 130 were Fairey Battles. Many more Battles were destroyed on the ground, abandoned in France or written off on return to the UK due to damage sustained.

   Aircraft however were relatively easy to replace. What could not be replaced were the officers and men, aircrew and ground crew of the RAF who had served and died in France or had been taken prisoner. All were well trained professional pre-war regular servicemen and the sort that Britain could ill afford to loose at this desperate time.

  Whilst in France it is known that the Squadron lost 21 aircrew killed including 2 that died of wounds, 9 were taken prisoner, at least 9 were wounded.

   During this most difficult period various members of the Squadron were awarded decorations for their gallantry and outstanding efforts as follows:-

  Distinguished Flying Medal

  Aircraftsman First Class J E Summers

  Sergeant C D Perry ( Died of wounds June 1940 )

  Leading Aircraftsman G F Lewis ( Prisoner of war )

  Sergeant W E Critch

  Sergeant D Norrington

  Sergeant L F Waern

   

  Distinguished Flying Cross

  Squadron Leader  C E R Tait ( Promoted from Flight Lieutenant during the Battle of France )

  Flying Officer T B Fitzgerald

  Flying Officer J R Havers

  Flying Officer D D A Kelly ( Killed in action 16/17th June 1941 with 103 Squadron )

  Flight Lieutenant J A Ingram ( Prisoner of war 20/21st September 1941 with 103 Squadron )

   

  Medaille Militaire

  Sergeant J H Vickers ( Died of wounds October 1939 )

   

  Military Cross

  Pilot Officer R Hawkins ( Killed in action October 1943 as Squadron Leader of 3 Squadron )

   

  Croix de Guerre

  Flying Officer R D Max ( In 1941 Roy Max was awarded the DFC and later went on to command 75 New Zealand Squadron and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order )

  Sergeant J A McCudden

  Corporal Madkins

   

  British Empire Medal

  Warrant Officer W Cunningham ( Squadron armaments officer )

  Flight Sergeant E J Partridge ( NCO in charge of A Flight ground crew )

  Flight Sergeant W H Jennings ( NCO in charge of B Flight ground crew )

  Leading Aircraftsman P S P Carrick ( Awarded for exceptional courage and initiative when driving the Squadron bomb train overland during the retreat across France )

  Mentions in Despatches

  In addition 11 members of the Squadron representing all ranks and duties were mentioned in despatches.

   

  All these awards were well merited and but there were many others who could have been similarly honoured.

   

  When the Squadron records were written up on return to England the performances of the aircrews was recorded as magnificent. It also noted the work of the maintenance crews was undertaken in the most difficult of conditions and was of the highest order and without a word of complaint. Sergeant Findlay, Corporal Oaken and Leading Aircraftsman Stephenson and the rest of the messing staff came in for particular praise. They had consistently provided good food throughout which helped greatly to maintain the morale and health of the officers and men.

  The superb performance of the ground party in the evacuation from Ouzouer-Le-Doyen to Brest is also recorded. Special mention is given to Flying Officer Vipan and Pilot Officers Terry and Taylor who were noted as primarily responsible for the success along with Squadron Leader the Reverend Betts ( Squadron Chaplain ), Pilot Officer “ Doc “ Mahon ( Squadron Medical Officer ) and Warrant Officer Bowley. The contribution of the all drivers was also noted as worthy of the highest praise.

  Finally it was recorded that, during the Battle of France, the Squadron only had 1 fatal casualty due to an enemy air raid which, in the circumstances, was quite remarkable.

  103 Sqdn Roll of Honour France 39/40

  

103 Squadron Barry Morgan-Dean

  P/O Barry Morgan-Dean RAF 103 Sqdn KIA 12th May 1940

  

103 Squadron Sgt Poole

  Sgt C J S Poole RAF 103 Sqdn KIA 10th May 1940

  

27/09/1939

Reconnaissance

K9271

Sgt

JH

Vickers

24

Withernsea, Yorks

RAF

K

27/03/1940

Training

P2256

P/O

IP

Hinton

23

Bognor Regis, Sussex

RAF

K

27/03/1940

Training

P2256

Sgt

DC

Findlay

25

Perth

RAF

K

27/03/1940

Training

P2256

AC2

JA

Sharpe

20

Dublin, Ireland.

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9264

P/O

KJ

Drabble

20

Truro, Cornwall

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9264

Sgt

TD

Smith

 

 

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9264

LAC

PJ

Lamble

20

Hendon. Middx

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9270

Sgt

CH

Lowne

 

 

RAF

POW

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9270

Sgt

CJS

Poole

20

Peterborough, Northants

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9270

LAC

OA

Hutchinson

23

Gateshead, Co Durham

RAF

K

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9372

F/L

MC

Wells

 

 

RAF

POW

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9372

Sgt

HF

Bullock

 

 

RAF

POW

10/05/1940

Luxembourg

K9372

LAC

TH

Bowen

 

 

RAF

POW

12/05/1940

Bouillon

L5512

F/O

GB

Morgan-Dean

23

Kaleden, BC, Canada

RAF

K

12/05/1940

Bouillon

L5512

AC1

HB

Sewell

21

Wolverhampton

RAF

K

12/05/1940

Bouillon

P2193

P/O

EE

Morton

25

Takapuna, Auck, NZ

RAF

K

12/05/1940

Bouillon

P2193

AC1

AS

Ross

19

Edinburgh.

RAF

K

14/05/1940

Sedan

L5516

P/O

AA

Cunningham

24

Wellington, NZ

RAF

K

14/05/1940

Sedan

L5516

AC1

J

Johnson

20

Birmingham

RAF

K

14/05/1940

Sedan

N/K

Sgt

CD

Perry

29

 

RAF

K

26/05/1940

Roumont

L5514

F/L

JN

Leyden

 

 

RAF

POW

26/05/1940

Roumont

L5514

Sgt

EG

Hayward

25

Newport, IOW

RAF

K

26/05/1940

Roumont

L5514

AC1

WF

Hubbard

25

Chiswick, Middx

RAF

K

08/06/1940

Poix

N2253

Sgt

G

Beardsley

 

 

RAF

POW

08/06/1940

Poix

N2253

Sgt

G

Avery

 

 

RAF

POW

08/06/1940

Poix

N2253

LAC

G

Lewis

 

 

RAF

POW

10/06/1940

Vernon

P2328

P/O

CV

Thomas

19

Little Sutton, Cheshire.

RAF

K

10/06/1940

Vernon

P2328

LAC

PI

Bligh

20

Muswell Hill, Middx

RAF

K

14/06/1940

Battle Area

N/K

P/O

R

Hawkins

 

 

RAF

Esc

14/06/1940

Battle Area

N/K

P/O

F

Hugill

 

 

RAF

POW

15/06/1940

Souge - Bombing

Ground

Sgt

AN

Dowling

24

Great Bunstead, Essex

RAF

K

  Item written by David Fell

 

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