Site 16. RAF Wick : January – May 1940

RAF Wick 1940 Squadrons

Air Operations – January to May

JANUARY – 1940 began with heavy snow causing one of the temporary Bessonneau hangars to collapse, damaging three Avro Ansons of 269 Squadron. The Luftwaffe started to concentrate its attacks on shipping off the north coast of Scotland and 269Squadron was by now flying 150 sorties per month.

FEBRUARY – Nos. 43, 111 and 605 Squadrons arrived at Wick equipped with 39 Hawker Hurricane Mk.I fighters. Six German U-boats were attacked by 269 Squadron during February but only one was claimed as probably destroyed. An unusual Flight of six Finnish Air Force Hawker Hurricanes, escorted by an RAF Bristol Blenheim, landed at Wick on the 25th en-route to Helsinki.

MARCH – By March 1940 Wick was Fighter Commands’ busiest Sector Station as Luftwaffe attacks intensified on the naval base at Scapa Flow and the Fleet Air Arm airfield at Hatston on Orkney.

Flight Lieutenant Peter Townsend of 43 Squadron

On the 8th a Hurricane from 111 Squadron shot down a Junkers Ju 88 off the coast of Orkney claiming the squadron’s first kill. On the 20th a Heinkel He 111 was shot down by 43 Squadron off the coast of Orkney. This aircraft was one of a pair that attacked the merchant ship Northern Coast as it sailed through the Pentland Firth. The coaster was hit several times by bombs but fought back ferociously with two old Lewis machineguns, managing to damage one of the bombers. When the ship reached Kirkwall there was a message waiting for the crew from the RAF at Wick which read, “Hearty congratulations on your courageous fight. Shout if you want us again”.

Sorties by 269 Squadron had increased to 200 per month and March saw the arrival of the first of that squadron’s Lockheed Hudsons.

APRIL – Air attacks on Scapa Flow continued, and on the 8th three Heinkel He 111 bombers were shot down by Hurricanes of 43 Squadron, one of which crash landed at Wick airfield.

Pilots of 43 Squadron
Pilots of 43 Squadron in front of a Hurricane at Wick

The pilot and navigator thinking they had landed in water deployed their dinghy, took off their boots and climbed into it. On the 10th 605 Squadron shot down a Heinkel He 111 at around 5pm. For the next six hours a furious air battle raged over Orkney and off the coast of Caithness as wave after wave of German bombers carried out raids against Scapa Flow and shipping in the Pentland Firth. By days’ end 43 Squadron had shot down one enemy aircraft, 111 Squadron had shot down two, and 605 Squadron had also shot down two.

On the 12th a Wellington bomber flew are connaissance mission beyond the Arctic Circle to the port of Narvik. By the time the crew returned to Wick they had completed a mammoth 14½ hour mission, the longest operational flight made by a Wellington up to that date.

Wellington L4387
Wellington L4387 returns to Wick after its record breaking 14½ hour reconnaissance sortie over Narvik

MAY – 269 Squadron was engaged in 87 anti-submarine patrols resulting in multiple attacks on German U-boats and shipping.

Stavanger Airfield was bombed by Hudsons of 269 Squadron on the 1st and 16th as well as Værnes Aerodrome on the 19th.

May also saw the departure of the three fighter squadrons from Wick due to the German invasion of France. These were replaced by Hurricanes of 3 and 504 Squadrons for the defence of Scapa Flow. 269’s reconnaissance patrols were down slightly with only 28being carried out this month, but convoy patrols remained consistent with 14 convoys escorted. A further 23 security patrols were also carried out by the squadron.

Heinkel He 111 bomber that crash landed on Wick Airfield

1940 RAF Wick Aircraft Losses