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Mosquito Missions: RAF and Commonwealth de Havilland Mosquitoes

Mosquito Missions: RAF and Commonwealth de Havilland Mosquitoes

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Mosquito Missions: RAF and Commonwealth de Havilland Mosquitoes

528 pages
8 heures
Jan 19, 2013


The Wooden Wonder was probably the most versatile combat aircraft that operated on all fronts in World War Two and was still giving valuable service in first-line service after 1945 when it enjoyed a limited renaissance both at home, in Germany and abroad until the advent of jet aircraft. Martin Bowmans well-tried and respected formula of incorporating background information with scores of RAF, Dominion, and overseas pilots and navigators personal narratives, is employed here once again to great effect. Previously unpublished tales take the reader raid by raid on night-fighter, fighter-bomber, anti-shipping, path finder, photo-reconnaissance and precision bombing operations in the Middle East and jungles of the Far East, where the Mosquito carried out a series of thrilling post-war functions.The book includes a series of evocative black and white images of the Mosquito in action, which supplement the text perfectly and work to illustrate the might of this iconic craft.
Jan 19, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Martin Bowman is one of Britain's leading aviation authors and has written a great deal of books focussing on aspects of Second World War aviation history. He lives in Norwich in Norfolk. He is the author of many Pen and Sword Aviation titles, including all releases in the exhaustive Air War D-Day and Air War Market Garden series.

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Mosquito Missions - Martin W. Bowman



In September 1939 Robert K. Shorter had just left school and had started work at a bakery. When he heard the news he went to the local police station to volunteer for the Army. He was told to go back to his job and grow up a bit more and then try again. He stopped at the bakery for a few more months when one day he heard of a job at the local dairy for a roundsman. As he had always wanted to drive a horse and cart he applied for the job and was taken on. As it turned out he never got to drive a horse and cart but delivered the milk by bicycle round the villages of East and West Hanney in Oxfordshire. One day he had just finished his round and was cycling back to his base when he saw a lot of activity at an old flour mill known as Dandridges and being nosy (like all fifteen year olds) he stopped and asked what was going on. The reply was that the building was being converted into a factory to help the war effort. He was intrigued and when he was told that there were vacancies he rushed back to the dairy and gave in his notice. He did not know what he had let himself in for. Firstly, he had to cycle four and a half miles to get to the mill and after a 12 hour day do it again to get home. His first job was to clean the cobwebs off all the walls and ceilings but he kept at it when he was told it would help the war effort. After the mill had been cleaned three centre lathes and three milling machines, a dozen bench drills and a grindstone arrived. Most of the power used to operate the machines was produced by a water turbine. The biggest shock of all came when the workers were told that they were going to make the hydraulic parts for the Mosquito aircraft and they had to learn how to operate the machines as they went along. ‘Bob’ Shorter recalled that ‘as it turned out, we must have learnt quickly and well because the Mosquito was one of the most successful planes of all times. I worked twelve hour shifts on week days and one week on nights for four and a half years. However, during the last year we were only allowed to make 50 components a shift [which were secretly transported to an underground assembly plant near Maidenhead], so on the night shift we used to play a lot of cards. Some weeks I lost most of my pay!’

Four hundred sub-contractors worked on the various units for the Mosquito. Because the aircraft was built almost entirely of wood many were well known furniture companies such as Harris Lebus at Tottenham and E. Gomme Ltd and Dancer and Hearne Ltd in High Wycombe, who were making spars and wings and Vanden Plas in Hendon who were making wing coverings, as well as members of the exhibition stand and coach building industries. Detail parts were being manufactured by numerous other small companies including bicycle manufacturers and a firm of craftsmen used to making ecclesiastical ironwork, while in homes, garages and church halls the length and breadth of the country, women ranging from ‘duchesses to charladies’ made everything from simple parts to small components. The London bus refurbishment facility at Aldenham became a major Mosquito subcontractor, ESA in Stevenage produced complete wings and the smallest contractor was located in a garden shed in Welwyn!

The concept of a bomber built almost entirely of wood with two crew and no gun armament and relying on speed as the bomber’s only defence was not new. In World War I the de Havilland D.H.4 unarmed bomber was faster than the fighters of the day. Throughout the 1930s de Havillands concentrated on civil aircraft of many types from Moths to airliners, ending with the Flamingo, the first all-metal airliner they had built. But as the clouds developed over Europe in 1937 and 1938 and war with Germany became almost inevitable, thoughts turned very reluctantly towards military aircraft. There was every confidence that the high-speed bomber that could out-fly most enemy fighters would be as novel and as vitally needed as it had been before. If officialdom did not stifle him Geoffrey de Havilland was convinced that his company could do better still the second time. ‘DH’, as he was universally known, was born the son of a clergyman in 1883 who had joined the Aircraft Manufacturing Co at Hendon in 1914 as designer and chief pilot. Meanwhile he had been commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) but his true brilliance was at the drawing board. In 1920 DH had formed his own company, at Stag Lane in North London. Ten years on Stag Lane was needed for redevelopment, so he moved his operation to the green fields of Hatfield in Hertfordshire, but not before three DH.88 Comet racers had been built, amid great secrecy, before final assembly and testing at the new factory at Hatfield¹.

One day in 1937 Geoffrey de Havilland and John E. Walker, Chief Engine Installation Designer went to the Air Ministry to put forward their project ‘with hope and some pride’ in their hearts. ‘Our scheme was to discard every item of equipment that was not essential, design for a two-man crew and no rear armament, relying on high speed for defence. We proposed using two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, the best in the world. A specification and general arrangement drawings were therefore prepared and we got ready for the next stage. We knew it was not going to be an easy one. We outlined our scheme and showed the drawings’ says Geoffrey de Havilland. ‘They were barely glanced at. Then the bolder of the two officials, addressed us like a schoolmaster and waving a hand towards our cherished plans, he said: ‘Forget it. You people haven’t produced a war machine for years and if you want to do so now you must start on something quite simple - perhaps design a wing for an experimental plane.’² DH was a rare of mixture of reserve, defiance and technical genius and would not be dissuaded. Being confident of the final decision he ensured that work on the design continued. If the design had been accepted, six months of precious time could have been saved but it was estimated that a year could be saved in production due to the simplicity of wood construction as compared with metal. All members of the technical staff were enthusiastic about the project. Ronald E. Bishop had been chief designer for some years and was in charge of the team ably assisted by C. Tim Wilkins, now a director and Chief Designer, Richard M. Clarkson, head of the aerodynamics section and Robert Harper head of the stress section. Bishop had been raised in the de Havilland tradition of wooden structures and had seen how, in the 1930s, the DH.88 Comet Racers had made use of innovative diagonal planking to achieve a thin wing of high aspect ratio without external bracing. This form of construction had also been adopted in 1937 for the DH.91 Albatross airliner - probably the largest airliner of high performance to be made of wood and its lines too were extremely clean and attractive, everything possible being done to reduce ‘drag’. The Albatross was powered by four of the newly designed DH Gipsy 12 engines with a new scheme of ducted air cooling and was used by Imperial Airways on the London-Paris service for a short time, but production and development of this airliner and also of the Flamingo and Moth Minor, were ended by the onset of war.

In September 1939 the Air Ministry remained unconvinced that an unarmed high speed bomber was realistic but Geoffrey de Havilland found an ally in Air Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman, the Air Council’s member for Research and development. Geoffrey de Havilland had known Freeman since the early days of the 1914 war and had always liked him. ‘He had technical knowledge much above the average and in discussion was helpful and without bias. I had stayed a short time at his headquarters in France in 1916 when he was in charge of a squadron of D.H.4s and I felt he would appreciate our wish to build a modern version of that successful machine. It needed only one meeting with this wise and far-sighted man to discuss our plans and to get his full approval and blessing for the Mosquito.’ Sir Wilfred was in favour of having no armament but he doubted that the unarmed wooden bomber could carry a 1,000lb bomb load for 1,500 miles and at a speed faster than the Spitfire. The Mosquito would do both.³

On 1 January 1940 DH received an order for a single prototype of the unarmed bomber variant with a level speed of 397 mph at 23,700 feet and a 1,480 mile range at 24,900 feet on full tanks. The final design and building of the prototype which was referred to originally as ‘E-0234’, was moved from Hatfield to Salisbury Hall, an old country mansion surrounded by a moat about five miles away, for safety during air raids.⁴ Of historical and romantic interest, Salisbury Hall was the home of Sir Nigel Gresley who designed the Mallard steam locomotive and Jennie Lady Churchill who lived at the house with her second husband and was visited by her son Winston. Amongst many Salisbury Hall traditions was one that claimed that a smaller building on the side of the moat had been the temporary home of Nell Gwynne.⁵ The team of nine designers led by Ronald Bishop worked in the house and sheds were erected in the grounds for assembling the prototype in strict secrecy.

The Mosquito embodied several new design features. The radiators for the Merlin engines were placed in the wings on both sides between the engine and fuselage. The exit of the air was under the wing. This considerably reduced resistance as compared with an external radiator. Experiments were made with the exit shape of the engine exhausts and led to appreciable forward thrust being obtained. The fuselage was formed by a balsa wood filling between an inner and outer skin of plywood. This made a light, stiff and stable structure with no need for further stiffening. A feature that helped greatly in construction was the division of the fuselage into two half sections down the top and bottom lines of the whole length. This allowed nearly all the equipment, controls, wiring, instruments, etc, to be installed with much greater ease. Two spars with tip-to-tip top and bottom booms of the laminated spruce, boxed with plywood webs, were finally chosen. Canadian spruce was selected for construction of the 50 feet spars, although only one in ten trees met the required standard laid down in the Air Ministry Specification. Some of the Mosquito materials were home grown - approximately 6 million cubic feet of beech on Lord Bathurst’s estate near Cirencester, for example, was extracted from three forests in three years to be made into plywood at Lydney, Gloucestershire. The fixed tail surfaces were all wood and plywood-covered while the rudder and elevators were made of aluminium and the elevators fabric-covered though in 1943 metal skinning of the elevators was introduced to give better performance in high speed dives. The wing structure had to be designed so that 500-odd gallons of fuel could be carried in tanks in the space between structure members. The top and bottom wing skins were each formed by two layers of three-ply separated by long stiffening ‘stringers’ running the whole span of the wings.

The gluing operation was critical. In fact, a well glued laminated spar could be stronger than a solid spar. Laminations also obviated the shrinkage and warping which single beams might suffer. The glue was at first casein, a milk-based adhesive with which de Havilland and other wooden aircraft manufacturers had had long experience, but which proved unsatisfactory because of fungal growth.⁶ Later, casein was replaced by synthetic ‘Beetle’, introduced in Britain in about 1942, made by Dr N. A. de Bruyne’s Aero Research Company at Duxford (now Ciba-Geigy).

The first order for DH.98 (Mosquito) aircraft was received on 1 March 1940. It was for fifty bombers to be built ‘off the drawing board’. But in May DH were instructed to stop work on the order and concentrate all its resources on repairing Hurricanes and Merlin engines. By persistently worrying the officials who stopped Mosquito work DH eventually got it reinstated in July. The company had never stopped work entirely and not much time was lost. E-0234 was completed at Salisbury Hall and moved by road on two Queen Mary trailers to Hatfield on 3 November 1940. In a hangar there it was assembled and the two Merlin 21s engines with two-speed single-stage superchargers installed. The aircraft emerged on 19 November for engine runs and on 24 November taxiing trials began with Geoffrey de Havilland Jr., Chief Test Pilot at the controls. Next day, just four days short of 11 months from the start of detailed design work, Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. and John Walker made the maiden flight. Take-off, de Havilland was to recall, was ‘straightforward and easy’. The undercarriage was not retracted until considerable height had been gained and this was observed by John Walker through the nose windows. The aircraft reached a speed of 220 mph and the only real problem encountered was the inability of the undercarriage doors to fully close and their opening, by 12 inches, as speed was increased. In November on the third flight the undercarriage would not come down and had to be pumped down by hand.

On 30 December 1940 de Havillands received a contract for 150 Mosquitoes, although it was not specified how many would be fighters and how many would be bombers and no firm figure was given on the number required as photo-reconnaissance versions. This indecision would cause problems in production because wings for the bomber and fighter versions were different (the fighter version needed strengthened wing spars for stronger manoeuvre load factors) and bomber noses too were not the same as fighter noses since accommodation had to be provided in the fighters for four machine guns and four 20mm Hispano cannon. Fortunately, de Havillands recognized this and had arranged space under the floor to house these weapons if and when required. Even so, 28 completed bomber fuselages later had to have the nose replaced.

While the Ministry deliberated, W4052, the night fighter prototype, was also completed at Salisbury Hall. It differed from the bomber prototype in having up rated Merlin 21s, each capable of producing 1,460hp, a flat bullet-proof windscreen and the then secret AI.Mk.IV radar. Entry was by a door in the starboard side of the cockpit instead of through a trapdoor in the floor as on the bomber version. To save a month of dismantling, transport and reassembly, W4052 was flown out of a field adjacent to the assembly hangar on 15 May 1941 by Geoffrey de Havilland Jr with Fred Plumb, who was in charge of construction, in the second seat. W4050 was used to help eliminate problems on W4052, not least of which concerned armament and exhaust systems. (Flash eliminators later had to be fitted to the machine guns on the NF.II to prevent the crew being dazzled when they were fired at night.) The cooling intake shrouds for the ‘Saxophone’ type exhausts tended to overheat and even burn through after prolonged use. Flame-dampers prevented the giveaway exhaust-glow at night but they inhibited performance. The problems became so great that Frank B. Halford, head of de Havilland Engine Division, felt moved to say that ‘next time it would be better to design the aircraft around the exhaust system!’ Multiple ejector-open-ended exhaust stubs solved the problem and were fitted to PR.VIII, B.IX and B.XVI models with a resulting quantum leap in performance, the B.IV, for instance, gaining an additional 10-13 mph as a result. Official trials, which began at the A&AEE Boscombe Down on 19 February 1941 confirmed de Havilland’s faith in the design and on 20 April the prototype was demonstrated to Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production and Major General ‘Hap’ Arnold, Chief of the USAAF and other senior officers. W4050, in the hands of Geoffrey de Havilland Jr., gave a dazzling performance, making rolling climbs on one engine. Major Elwood Queseda, General Arnold’s aide and later to control IX Fighter Command in England said, ‘An airplane that looks fast usually is fast and the Mosquito was, by the standards of the time, an extremely well streamlined airplane and it was highly regarded, highly respected’.⁸

W4051, the photo-reconnaissance prototype, was the third Mosquito to fly, on 10 June 1941. Though it was the second Mosquito completed at Salisbury Hall, construction had been delayed when the fuselage originally intended for W4051 was used to replace W4050’s fuselage, which had fractured at Boscombe in a tail wheel incident. W4051 received a production fuselage instead, a factor which enabled this prototype to fly later on operations. On 21 June the Air Ministry finally decided that apart from five prototypes (one bomber, one PR and three fighter), nineteen aircraft were to be PR models (the last ten aircraft (W4064-72) were converted to B.IV Series I bombers) and 176 fighters. At this time the further fifty Mosquitoes ordered were unspecified. In July the Air Ministry finally confirmed that these would be unarmed bombers and they wanted de Havillands to produce 150 Mosquitoes a month. Eighty would have to be built at Hatfield, while 30 would be built by Second Aircraft Group (SAG) and 40 in Canada.

W4072, the prototype B.IV bomber, flew for the first time on 8 September 1941. The fifty B.IV Series II bombers differed from the Series I in having a larger bomb bay to carry four 500lb bombs instead of the Series I’s four 250 pounders. This was made possible by C. Tim Wilkins, R. E. Bishop’s Assistant Chief Designer, who shortened the tail stabilizer of the 500lb bomb so that four of these larger weapons could be carried. Twenty-seven B.IV Series II (W4066 was the only PR.IV Series I) were later converted to PR.IV reconnaissance aircraft, with three additional fuel tanks in the bomb bay, while twenty B.IVs were modified by DH, Vickers-Armstrong and Marshalls to carry a 4,000lb bomb.

On 4 December 1941, three days before America declared war on Japan, a request was sent to Britain for one airframe, this to be evaluated at Wright Field. In the summer of 1942, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt brought two squadrons of F-4 Lightnings and a squadron of B-17F ‘mapping Fortresses’ to Britain. The President’s son was preparing his group for the invasion of North Africa and was to work with the RAF until ready. Given a Mosquito B.IV for combat evaluation, Roosevelt discovered that the aircraft outperformed his F-4s and had five times the range. The first of the Canadian-built Mosquitoes had already given demonstrations at Wright Field. It was so good that General Arnold ordered that no US aircraft were to be raced against the Mosquito, to avoid embarrassing American pilots! Arnold asked that Mosquitoes be obtained to equip all American photo-reconnaissance squadrons in Europe - almost 200 aircraft for 1943 alone! In 1943 30 Mosquitoes were diverted from British production after the Canadian allocation of 120 for the Americans had been reduced to just 60 B.XXs because of RAF demands. These, plus eleven Canadian-built F-8 models, were delivered to the 802nd (later, 25th) Bomb Group at Watton who operated the Mosquitoes on all manner of operations such as ‘Chaff’ (‘Window’)-dispensing sorties, ‘Bluestocking’ weather reconnaissance flights, night ‘Mickey’ night radar-mapping missions using the H2S radar and ‘Redstocking’ agent-dropping missions as well as on Project ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Anvil’ pilotless drone operations when war-weary B-17s and PB4Y-1 Liberators packed with 18,000lb of nitro-glycerine were flown against V-weapons sites. Initially, most of the American pilots were drawn from the 50th Fighter Squadron in Iceland who were used to the P-38 Lightning’s contra-rotating propellers and had never experienced the take-off and landing characteristics of the Mosquito; especially its high landing speed and tendency to swing on take-off. They had also to remember to open the radiator shutters just prior to take-off to prevent the engines overheating.

1st Officer Peter George of 6 Ferry Pool, Ratcliffe recalled an occasion when he and another pilot delivered two Mosquitoes to the USAAF at Watton. ‘On the way we flew in open formation across the flat land of East Anglia. Shortly after landing I was greeted by a smiling US pilot (probably from the Deep South) and he said to me - ‘Buddy, they say these little babes (pointing to the Mossie) swing like a fly on a shit house door!’ I replied, ‘Matey, they sure will if you let ‘em.’

By mid-1944 pin-point bombing by high speed Mosquitoes, hedge-hopping their way over enemy-occupied Europe in broad daylight, had become a common practice. Often, the sheer speed of the aircraft and the élan of their crews got them home again through flak and fighters. The Mosquito gained such a deserved reputation for achieving the impossible that at one stage the British press claimed that when one was shot down the Luftwaffe crew could count it as two victories. Apocryphal this may be but during four years of war the ‘Wooden Wonder’ was to prove the scourge of the Axis throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Such was the incisive contribution made by this remarkable aircraft, built largely of beech, spruce and ply and the shattering effect it had on the Germans as a whole, that its very presence eventually caused Moskitopanik throughout the Reich territory. One RAF officer summed up the success of the aircraft, saying: ‘The Mosquito represents all that is finest in aeronautical design. It is an aeroplane that could only have been conceived in this country and combines the British genius for building a practical and straightforward machine with the typical de Havilland flair for producing a first-rate aeroplane that looks right and is right.’

Chapter 1


In July 1941 W4051 and W4054 became the first Mosquitoes to be taken on charge by the RAF when these unarmed PR.1 examples were delivered to No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) at Benson, Oxfordshire. Hereward de Havilland DSO, Geoffrey’s brother, who had taken an engineering degree before the First World War and had flown with the RFC, would travel to every country where Mosquito squadrons were operating and send reports back to Hatfield. A first-class engineer, he never showed any desire to become a designer, except in connection with one of his main hobbies, which was designing and making particularly fine furniture. After visiting Benson Hereward de Havilland recalled that ‘Wing Commander Geoffrey Tuttle and all flying personnel accepted the aircraft as being something quite outstanding; in my experience it is one of the only aircraft which, initially, has not been branded by pilots as a death trap in one way or another. On the other hand, the engineering and maintenance personnel, especially the younger generation, were definitely biased against it, mainly on account of wood construction’.

W4055, which arrived on 8 August made the first operational Mosquito flight on 17 September when Squadron Leader Rupert Clerke and Sergeant Sowerbutts made a daylight photo-reconnaissance (PR) of Brest, La Pallice and Bordeaux. They were pursued by three Bf 109s but the PR.1 easily outpaced them at 23,000 feet and the 25-year Old Etonian and 32-year old former Margate barber returned safely. A second photo-reconnaissance was made in W4055 three days later, when Flight Lieutenant Alastair ‘Ice’ Taylor DFC and Sergeant Sidney Horsfall successfully photographed Bordeaux, Pauillac, Le Verdon and La Pallice. The third flight was made when Taylor and Horsfall covered Heligoland and Sylt. In October the three Mosquitoes carried out sixteen successful sorties, all of them to Norway. By spring 1942 the PRU at Benson was in need of additional PR.ls, only nine having been built. During April to June 1942 four NF.IIs - DD615, 620, 659 and W4089, all without long-range tanks - were diverted to the PRU and in December, two B.IV bomber variants - DZ411 and DZ419 - arrived. Ground crew at Benson installed the three vertical and one oblique camera aboard each of the machines and they were pressed into service. On 7 May Flight Lieutenant Victor Ricketts and Sergeant Boris Lukhmanoff his Russian born navigator flew the furthest flight over enemy territory so far when he used DK284, a modified Mk.IV to photograph Dresden, Pilzen and Regensburg, returning after six hours. On 10 June a 7¾ hour sortie was flown from Benson to La Spezia, Lyons and Marseilles.

On 14 May, meanwhile, Wing Commander Spencer Ring RCAF the CO used DD615, the first of the modified NF.IIs, to photograph Alderney. On 25 May Victor Ricketts used it to photograph Billancourt, Poissy and Le Bourget.¹⁰ On on the 27th Flight Lieutenant Gerry R. Wooll RCAF used DD615 to successfully photograph Saarbrücken and Amiens. On 24 August he and Sergeant John ‘Maxie’ Fielden were dispatched on a PR sortie in DK310 to confirm a report that Italian warships were putting to sea. They were to obtain photos of Venice, Trieste, Fiume and perhaps Pola, if conditions were right. DK310 took off from Benson and stopped at Ford to top off its tanks before proceeding uneventfully to Venice. However, as Wooll departed the area the glycol pump on the starboard engine began malfunctioning. The shaft had become slightly elliptical and fluid began escaping. Within a few seconds, the engine seized. Wooll found the aircraft too heavy and unbalanced to attempt to continue on one engine and his problems were compounded a few minutes later when the port engine began overheating. Wooll headed for Switzerland and managed to put down safely at Belp airfield near Berne. After landing, Fielden tried unsuccessfully to set the aircraft on fire before the two men were marched off to a small village camp at Yen. After four months Wooll and Fielden were repatriated as part of an exchange deal which allowed two interned Bf 109 pilots to leave for Germany. (The Mosquito was retained by the Swiss, who later used it as a turbine test bed aircraft). Wooll returned to flying, as a test pilot for de Havilland in Canada.

On 19 October 1942 ‘H’ and ‘L’ Flights of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at Leuchars were merged to form 540 Squadron. That same day, 544 Squadron formed at Benson, equipped with Ansons, Wellington IVs and Spitfire PR.IVs. In the main, 540 Squadron were used to photograph German capital ships in Baltic waters and North Germany, later the Mediterranean also.

James MacEwan an Intelligence Officer at Leuchars recalled: ‘The Norwegian coast was no less than 400 miles distant from Leuchars and the major concern of the station was marine reconnaissance and convoy escort, the sector in which it operated having its centre at Leuchars and subtending an arc which stretched from Bergen down to Kap Lindisness at the south west tip of the Norwegian coast. This comparatively short section of coast was of particular significance in the prosecution of the naval war against the enemy, for here the long barrier of skerries which protected the shipping channels all the way south from the North Cape finally petered out, forcing vessels to take to the open sea. Iron-ore ships from Narvik constituted an obvious target; but what, at this stage, was of more significance to the Admiralty were German raiders, either pocket battleships or heavy cruisers, trying to slink out undetected into the North Atlantic, there to prey on merchant shipping. The Admiralty seemed to be concerned even more about these than about U-boats.

‘My very first night on duty in the Ops Room shocked me into realisation of what these night-flights to the Norwegian coast, undertaken in all kinds of foul weather, meant to the crews. Just at dusk, before setting out, they had swarmed into the Ops Room, laughing, clear eyed and alert. Five hours later saw their return, when they came into the Intelligence Officer for interrogation, grey and gaunt, their cheeks sunken, men nearing the limits of endurance. Like the men who flew them, our aircraft also operated on the frontiers of endurance. Added to the hazards to be encountered was the fine, modern aerodrome of Sola, near Stavanger, where the Germans had stationed fighters and night-fighters. Anyone of our pilots, straying into this danger zone was liable to be set upon; and even if he was not shot down, he would have to expend so much fuel in evasive tactics as to place his return to base in jeopardy. Further strains upon our men were imposed by the very nature of the operations, since they were subject to sudden calls for a sortie at any time without prior warning or notice. Roused from bed, their resources drained by an earlier sortie, they would, after a hurried briefing, be dispatched out over the bleak and lonely waste of the North Sea to a rendezvous that was as vague as it was hazardous. Most of these long, tense flights by night over the dark dangerous waters of the North Sea were, in the nature of things fruitless. At first it was decreed that any sightings by our crews of hostile vessels should be reported to Bomber Command, whose aircraft would deliver an attack. But as often as not, by the time that the bombers reached their target, the enemy had escaped.

‘There was another activity at Leuchars, which was so secret that no one simply ever mentioned it. Specially adapted fighter-planes, unarmed and flying by night, maintained a regular ferry service with Stockholm. So cloaked in secrecy was the whole operation that it was next to impossible to find out what was the purpose of the flight, though it was whispered that the carriage of ball bearings was involved. I remember being summoned from the Ops Room early one morning to inspect a secret small aircraft that had just landed on the runway. Built of plywood it could fly, we were told, at 350 mph - almost as fast as a Spitfire - and was called a Mosquito. No mention, of course, was made of why it had suddenly appeared at Leuchars, but we had our suspicions. There were certain other things which were not so easy to conceal. In the dead of night strange men would appear from nowhere, often tall, muscular and flaxen-haired and wearing reindeer-decorated sweaters. They stayed beside us in the Ops Room, until they were whisked off secretly to London. One or two of them, coming into the Intelligence Room, did permit us a guarded word about what they were up to. In Odda one of them gravely assured us, the Germans were engaged in some very secret operations which might well have a profound effect on the outcome of the war. When an attack was on the point of being launched against the electric power station and aluminium factory near Odda an urgent telegram arrived from Group HQ - the raid was called off! Across the fjord at Odda between the vast rock walls, the Germans had just strung a series of steel hawsers; and had the attack gone as planned, the leading flights at least, having no warning of their presence would have been cut to pieces and their crews lost.’ ¹¹

The Mosquito’s high speed made it ideal for use as a courier aircraft and a number were operated and crewed by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) between Leuchars and Stockholm from 1942 to 1945. During 520 round trips from 3 February 1943 to 17 May 1945 these carried diplomatic mail and personnel in a pressurized bomb bay. Downed airmen and VIPs such as Professor Nields Baks, the Danish ‘heavy-water’ atomic physicist and Dr Nils Bohr, who was flown to England in a Mosquito on 7 October 1943 and various others including Marshal Timoshenko, were brought back successfully from Sweden, as were cargoes of precious ball-bearings, as John F. McDonald a Senior Technical Officer at Leuchars from 1942 until the end of the war, recalls: ‘One of the Government appointed tasks was to bring Swedish SKEFKO ball-bearings and ball races to aid the critical shortage of such stuff for military aircraft manufacture in the UK. Our BOAC pilots informed us how, if the Air Ministry would peel off a few of the beautiful, very fast and efficient Mosquitoes, they could fly through the straits of the Skagerrak between Sweden and the north tip of Denmark so cutting hours off the elapsed flying time. After some ‘proving flights’ we were allocated six FB.VI fighter-bombers. These aircraft were quickly modified with a sort of pannier to hoist and carry 3,000lb of ball-bearings which, of course, could be compactly loaded. Then came the famous air raids on the principle German ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt, very effectively performed but sadly destructive to the USAAF 8th Air Force (daylight raids). Not very long afterwards British military intelligence warned that the Germans were putting together a ‘commission’ to purchase the entire output of the Swedish SKEFKO manufactory and BOAC received a request (spell that ‘demand’) from the Air Ministry to somehow or other fly two high ranking men with unlimited purchasing authority to Sweden to beat the Germans to it. We were given 48 hours to modify two of our FB.VIs to carry a single passenger in the bomb bay, or somehow, to countermand the German effort. We had cleared out the area forward of the ‘bomb basket’ which had formerly housed four .303 Browning guns and now we were to reinforce the plywood doors and metal hinges to bear the weight of the passenger and to provide him with oxygen, a small light, a crude intercom and the slightest modicum of heat to survive the winter cold at 26,000 feet. The operational plan was to attain that sort of altitude and put the aircraft into a dive through the Skagerrak so that the FW 190s couldn’t shoot us down.’ ¹²

On 8 March 1943 meanwhile, the CO of 540 Squadron, Wing Commander M. J. B. Young DFC in Mk.VIII DZ364, became the first Mosquito pilot to photograph Berlin. The Squadron also carried out battle-damage assessment and target reconnaissance at such places as the German rocket research site at Peenemünde on the Baltic coast. It was on 12 June 1943 when Flight Lieutenant Reggie A. Lenton in a Mosquito took photos of a V-2 rocket lying horizontally on a trailer at Peenemünde that the attention of RAF intelligence at Medmenham was aroused. On 23 June Flight Sergeant E. P. H. Peek brought back such clear photos of rockets on road vehicles that news was relayed immediately to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In all, six Mosquito pilots on 540 Squadron at Leuchars photographed Peenemünde and in August 1943 rocket research site was bombed by the RAF and USAAF. In November, 540 Squadron became the first to take photographs of V-1 flying bombs.

544 Squadron, meanwhile, continued to use Ansons, Wellingtons and Spitfire PR.IVs in the PR and night photography roles over Europe, until in April 1943 Mosquito PR.IVs replaced the Wellingtons. In October, PR.IXs completed 544 Squadron’s re-equipment. One of the crews who joined 544 in November 1943 was Pilot Officer John R. Myles DFC RCAF and his navigator, Flying Officer Hugh R. Cawker, a fellow Canadian. The RCAF had interrupted Myles’ tour with 541 Squadron and posted him to 410 Squadron RCAF at Colby Grange where the Canadians wanted him to form another PRU for them, but it fell through. He recalls: ‘PRU was a very interesting job and we knew in advance of many occurrences such as the Dams raid, V-2 rockets and the like. It was also one of the few jobs where one had the opportunity for independent action. We operated singly and although we were briefed for definite targets, how and when we got there was largely up to us. We also had authority to divert to photograph any convoys, or other unusual targets spotted. We covered the whole of Europe in daylight from Norway to Gibraltar and inland as far as Danzig and Vienna. On one trip we landed at a detachment at San Severo just north of the Foggia Plain in Italy. From there we did a sortie over Yugoslavia.’

In March 1944 544 Squadron received PR.XVI aircraft, while 540 had to wait until July 1944. G. W. E. ‘Bill’ Newby, a navigator from 544 Squadron, flew in the prototype PR.XVI Mosquito (MM258, a converted B.XVI), the first aircraft in the world (apart from the pre-war Bristol Type 138A) to be fitted with a pressurized cabin. He recalls: ‘I had the privilege of flying on cabin tests with my squadron commander, Wing Commander D. W. Steventon DSO DFC and Geoffrey de Havilland. We were having trouble with ‘misting up’ of windows and I was the smallest navigator on the two squadrons, so we flew ‘3-up’ for short periods to carry out tests. Crews from Benson covered the Dams project, keeping an eye on how full they were in readiness for the raid, May 1943 and photographing the after-damage and the chaos the Dam Busters caused locally. Our job on 544 Squadron was to take photographs before and after air attacks, by both RAF night- and USAAF day-bombers (high-tailing it back and overtaking the USAAF on the way home) - we photographed Wiener Neustadt, north of Vienna before the USAAF arrived, then we cleared off to Lake Constance to take the Zeppelin sheds at Friedrichshafen before returning to take the after-damage shots. We also took strategic photos of the coastal defences prior to the invasion of Europe; U-boat pens; pocket-battleships holed up in various French, German and Danish ports; oil-plants and aircraft factories deep in Germany; V-1 launching sites in the Pas de Calais; and even secret underground manufacturing sites in the Hartz mountains; and fields etc, which were to be used for dropping zones in France for SOE agents. For all of this, the Mosquito was ideal.

‘Most PR flights, in cinematograph terms were routine. Occasionally, they were spiced up with ‘one-offs’, like rushing to Copenhagen late on Whit Sunday afternoon, 1944, because one of our ‘informers’, sitting on a hillside in Sweden, was sure that the pocket-battleship Deutschland [renamed Lützow] had disappeared from its moorings overnight and was thought to be free in the North Sea. We did a square search up the Kattegat and Skagerrak but could find no trace. So with light fading, we swept low over the Tivoli gardens and Hans Christian Andersen’s Mermaid to the dockyard, only to find that the ship had been moved to a new berth and was disguised overnight to look like a tanker.

‘Other flights were more exciting: long hauls up the Baltic as far as Gdynia, equally long trips to Austria and on over the Alps, to Venice and Yugoslavia, stopping overnight at Foggia (San Severo), after the landings in Italy; returning via Ajaccio, Corsica, or Gibraltar, to refuel, on one occasion taking photographs of Vesuvius in eruption. Another operation which took pride of place in the national press was a visit to the Gnome et Rhȏne aircraft engine works at Limoges on the morning of 9 February 1944 after it had been a special target of 617 Squadron - the Dam Busters - the night before. The place had been utterly devastated and we could easily see the damage from 30,000+ but we had been authorized to ‘go low-level’, so we could not pass up the chance to scream across at tree-top height to take really close ‘close-ups’, which later appeared in the press. My operational life on Mossies came to an abrupt end on 18 July, when we met four ‘squirts’ and they blew our nose off, hit both engines, put cannon shells in the cabin behind the pilot’s armour-plate and we had to evacuate in quick time. We became guests of the Luftwaffe.’

The only Mosquito PR squadron in the Middle East theatre in 1943 was 683 Squadron, which formed at Luqa, Malta on 8 February. It was equipped initially with Spitfires before adding Mosquito IIs and VIs in May 1943 for a month of operations over Italy and Sicily.¹³ In the Far East in 1943 the aerial reconnaissance of Burma and Malaya from bases in Ceylon and India proved one of the most difficult tasks facing South East Asia Command (SEAC). The success of the Mosquito in the PR role in Europe was viewed with envy in India where strike photographs were taken from obsolescent Blenheim bombers and the only two camera-fitted B-25Cs on 681 Squadron at Dum Dum, Calcutta. These were the only aircraft that possessed the range and speed for long-range PR over the Bay of Bengal and the Rangoon area. At the beginning of April 1943 three Mosquito F.II Series Is and three FB.VIs were allotted to 27 Squadron at Agartala. Three were for performance tests and familiarization and three were to be used in weathering trials during the coming rainy season under the supervision of Mr F. G. Myers, de Havilland’s technical representative, However, late in the month, it was decided that the aircraft should supplement the unit’s ‘initial equipment’ of Beaufighters for ‘Intruder’ operations. It is reported that Major Hereward de Havilland, visiting 27 Squadron, was horrified to find that the Mk.IIs were put to operational use and attempted to have them grounded because he considered that the casein glue with which they were bonded was unlikely to withstand insect attack and the tropical weather (the FB.VIs, still awaited, were supposedly bonded with ‘waterproof’ formaldehyde adhesive). It was rumoured that Major de Havilland attempted to damage the wing of one Mk.II to ensure that it could not be flown. In the event, 27 Squadron flew the first Mosquito operation,

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