Site 26. RAF Wick : January – May 1943

RAF Wick - 1943 Squadrons

Air Operations – January to May

JANUARY – A new arrival to Wick were the Hampdens of 455 Squadron from the Royal Australian Air Force.

Offensive maritime patrols continued this month with 455 Squadron flying 48 sorties and a further 37 carried out by 489 Squadron. An attack by 489 Squadron was carried out on the 15th against a merchant vessel off Bjørnafjorden in Norway, straddling the ship with bombs which caused it to sink within a few minutes.

The 18th saw a machine gun attack on a ship near Lindesnes by 489Squadron and a bombing attack on a destroyer off Vigra Island by three Hampdens of 455 Squadron. Further targets were bombed by 489 Squadron at Larvik on the 23rd and a U-boat torpedoed off Runde Island on the 27th. Three more merchant vessels were bombed by 455 Squadron at Eigerøy on the 29th, followed by another two the following day near Stavanger.

Another merchant vessel was bombed and sunk at Stavanger by 489 Squadron on the 29th. The Whitleys and Wellingtons of612 Squadron carried out 54 offensive maritime patrols and 22 convoy escorts this month but no attacks were carried out on any Axis shipping or submarines.

FEBRUARY – A formation of Hampdens from 455 and 489 Squadrons patrolled over Norway searching for the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. The cruiser could not be found but Hampdens of 455 Squadron did bomb a naval anchorage containing around 15 enemy vessels.

On the 3rd, Hampdens from 489 Squadron launched a torpedo attack on a convoy of naval ships including destroyers and light cruisers. The 9th saw a Whitley from 612 Squadron sink a U-boat after dropping six depth charges, and the following day 489 Squadron torpedoed a merchant vessel off Smøla Island. Further attacks were launched by 489 Squadron on the 17th when Hampdens bombed two German E-boats in the Skagerrak and torpedoed a merchant vessel off Lister.

The sorties for this month flown from RAF Wick totalled ten offensive maritime patrols by 455 Squadron, 61 by 489 Squadron and 66 by 612 Squadron. A further 17 convoy escort patrols were carried out by the Whitleys of 612 Squadron.

MARCH – Continuous offensive maritime patrols were flown by 612 Squadron during March with a total of 99 flown throughout the month.

One of the squadron’s Whitleys depth charged a surfaced U-boat on the 18th but during the assault it was attacked by a German Blohm and Voss BV 138 flying boat. The Whitley was hit three times by machine gun fire but although not seriously damaged, broke off the engagement.

Another U-boat was depth charged by 612 Squadron on the 22nd when the submarine was caught on the surface with four crew on deck. Luckily for the U-boat crew the Whitley’s depth charges failed to release, so the aircraft had to reset the system and come round for another pass. By the time the Whitley had lined up for the bombing run the submarine had crash dived and was completely submerged, but five depth charges were dropped on the wake left by the descending U-boat.

For most of the month the Hampdens of 489 Squadron flew no operational sorties, but on the 26th three Hampdens were engaged in a dogfight with Junkers Ju 88s over the Skaggerak, and on the 27th torpedoed a merchant vessel off Sildegapet.

A total of 47 offensive maritime patrols were flown between 455 and 489 Squadrons during March.

Convoy escorts flown from RAF Wick had reduced in 1943 with 612 Squadron flying only eleven such sorties for the entire month. It was now obvious there was considerably less activity at RAF Wick than had been seen during 1942.

APRIL – The month started with multiple raids by the Hampdens of 489 Squadron on the 4th against merchant vessels along the Norwegian coast.

Three Hampdens successfully torpedoed a ship off Vågan, whilst another three attacked a ship off Kristiansand with limited success. A further three attacked a ship off Mandal but were thwarted when a Blohm and Voss BV 138 flying boat tried to ram one of the Hampdens.

On the 9th a formation of eight Hampdens attacked three merchant vessels escorted by two Arado Ar 196 seaplanes off Risøy scoring successful hits on one cargo ship and an oil tanker. A considerable dogfight ensued during the attack between the Hampdens and the Arados. Further attacks against Axis shipping were made by 489 Squadron on the 13th when three ships were attacked, on the 21st when yet another was torpedoed, and finally on the 24th when a convoy was attacked, and two vessels hit.

Bristol Beaufighters of 404 and 144 Squadrons attacked a small convoy with cannons and torpedoes on the 27th scoring hits on all three vessels. By month’s end 612 Squadron had flown 36 sorties before leaving for RAF Davidstow Moor, 489 Squadron had flown 85 and 404 Squadron had flown 14 since arriving on the 20th.

MAY – The Hampdens of 489 Squadron, escorted by Beaufighters of 404 Squadron, attacked enemy convoys on the 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th, with some success.

The Beaufighters shot down a Junkers Ju 88 during the sortie on the 13th but were engaged in a major dogfight with a Blohm and Voss BV 138 flying boat and two Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on the 14th. Two U-boats under tow were torpedoed by 489 Squadron on the 27th but no hits were recorded.

Between 404 and 489 Squadrons a total of 141 sorties were flown during the month of May.

1943 Losses at RAF Wick