Site 27. RAF Wick : June – December 1943

Air Operations – June to December

JUNE – Things were somewhat quieter this month with the Hampdens of 489 Squadron flying 21 shipping reconnaissance patrols over Norway escorted by Beaufighters of 404 Squadron. A further 18 anti-submarine patrols were also carried out by the Hampdens and Beaufighters and on the 7th, a submarine was attacked and depth charged whilst it was on the surface. Due to the poor visibility at the time of the attack, the crew did not realise that they were actually attacking a British submarine and not a German U-boat. After discovering their mistake the wireless operator made repeated attempts to contact the submarine but was unable to get a response from the crew. Several Air Sea Rescue sorties were flown this month by 489 Squadron which flew a total of 22 missions to search for downed aircraft or crews in dinghies. Beaufighters of 404 Squadron attempted to attack a German convoy on the 29th but were beaten back by accurate flak from the escort vessels and an Arado Ar 196 seaplane. The Beaufighters were tasked with convoy escort patrols this month with eleven sorties being flown to cover merchant convoys and four to protect a large naval task force.

JULY – The Hampdens of 489 Squadron attempted to carry out 39 patrols over Norway escorted by Beaufighters of 404Squadron but, due to a lack of cloud cover and an increase in prowling enemy fighters, the aircraft were unable to get close to the Norwegian coast for most of the month. On the 30th, 489 Squadron carried out four long range anti-submarine patrols between the Faroes and Iceland. A large proportion of 404 Squadron’s Beaufighters operated out of Shetland from RAF Sumburgh during July. They were assigned to protect the torpedo carrying Beaufighters, known as ‘Torbeaus’, of 235 Squadron as they launched several attacks on Axis shipping. This was the first month since the war began that no convoy escorts were carried out by aircraft from RAF Wick.

Bristol Beaufighter of 404 Squadron RCAF
Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X of 404 Squadron RCAF pictured at RAF Wick.

AUGUST – This month the Beaufighters of 404 Squadron were sent to RAF Leuchars in Fife to be fitted with eight underwing rocket projectors. The Hampdens of 489 Squadron continued offensive maritime patrols over Norway without the comfort of their Beaufighter escorts, resulting in two Hampdens being attacked by Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters on the 2nd. The hydraulics of Hampden XA-A were severely damaged during the engagement and the crew were unable to jettison the torpedo. Due to great skill and a little bit of luck the aircraft safely made a belly-landing back at Wick with it’s torpedo still onboard. On the 8th,four Hampdens attacked a German convoy but no vessels were hit. As well as the 22 maritime patrols flown this month by 489 Squadron, they also flew 23 anti-submarine patrols between the Faroes and Iceland and were involved in ten convoy escort patrols. On the 18th, 1406 Meteorological Flight was amalgamated into the newly formed 519 Squadron. The squadron would fly meteorological flights throughout the month using Hampdens for the 25 long-range patrols. During these patrols the Hampdens would also carry out a sweep for German U-boats and report any sightings to RAF Coastal Command. 519 Squadron also flew 14 high-altitude sorties using Spitfires during August.

SEPTEMBER – A detachment of lifeboat-carrying Hudsons arrived this month from 279 ASR Squadron (Air Sea Rescue). The Hampdens of 489 Squadron continued their long-range anti-submarine patrols to Iceland, flying 18 such missions during the month. They also continued their offensive maritime patrols and, on the 16th, three Hampdens carried out a torpedo attack on a convoy scoring a hit on the bow of a merchant ship causing the vessel to explode. Of the 15 offensive patrols carried out by the squadron during September, this was the only one with any success. Convoy escort patrols continued with 22 being flown between 404 and 489 Squadrons. An attack was made by six rocket firing Beaufighters of 404 Squadron against a merchant vessel on the 30th with devastating results. The Beaufighters scored 25 hits with rockets which set the whole ship ablaze. Hampdens and Hudsons of 519 Squadron flew 30 combined long-range meteorological and anti-submarine flights, and 40 high-altitude flights were carried out by the squadron’s Spitfires.

OCTOBER – This month saw the arrival of 455 Squadron equipped with Hampdens, replacing the aircraft of 489 Squadron which had now converted to Beaufighters. A total of 55 long range anti-submarine patrols would be flown between Wick and Iceland during October. A few offensive maritime patrols would be carried out by 489 Squadron but the bulk of these missions would now fall on the rocket-firing Beaufighters of 404 Squadron that patrolled the Norwegian fjords in packs of six, hunting for Axis shipping. The squadron would also carry out a few convoy escorts but the airfield at Wick was now ramping up to host the ‘Wick Strike Wing’ which would consist of rocket and cannon-firing Beaufighters and torpedo-carrying Torbeaus. Both variants of Beaufighter arrived at the end of October with 144 Squadron, just as 489 squadron departed for RAF Leuchars.

NOVEMBER – Poor weather had an adverse effect on sorties this month but 144, 404 and 455 Squadrons were all tasked with flying only offensive shipping patrols. Hunting in packs of either Torbeaus or torpedo-carrying Hampdens, escorted by rocket and cannon-firing Beaufighters, a total of 120 sorties were flown over Norway. A convoy was attacked by 144 and 404 Squadrons on the 22nd, scoring hits with cannons and rockets. Another attack was carried out on the 30th by 404 Squadron on a convoy of nine ships with hits striking every vessel.

DECEMBER – The Wick Strike Wing flew 112 offensive shipping patrols this month, with 404 Squadron attacking a convoy of six vessels with rockets and cannons on the 7th, scoring hits on every ship. Torbeaus of 144 Squadron shot down a Dornier Do24 flying boat on the 14th. A U-boat and it’s escort vessel were attacked by 144 and 404 Squadrons on the 22nd. None of 144’s torpedos found their target, but both submarine and escort vessel suffered serious damage from the rockets and cannons of 404 Squadron’s aircraft. On the 27th, 144 and 404 Squadrons engaged a convoy of eleven ships scoring hits with torpedoes, cannons and rockets, with Beaufighters of 404 Squadrons shooting down a Blohm and Voss BV 139 flying boat during the attack. The last attack of the year came on the 28th when nine Beaufighters of 404 Squadron attacked a convoy of five ships, striking with cannon and rocket fire. By the end of the month 455 Squadron had converted from the lumbering Hampdens and were now equipped with the much more deadly Bristol Beaufighter TF Mk.X (Torbeau).

1943 Aircraft Losses at RAF Wick