No. 57 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 57 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

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No.57 Squadron served as a Blenheim squadron during the battle of France in 1940, before in 1941 joining Bomber Command's main force, flying the Lancaster from 1942 until the end of the war.

No.57 Squadron began the Second World War as a Blenheim squadron, and in September 1939 was one of the first RAF squadrons to move to France, where it operated as a strategic reconnaissance unit.

After the start of the German offensive in the west, on 10 May, the squadron began eight days of costly attacks on German columns, before a combination of heavy losses and the rapid German advance meant it had to be withdrawn to England. Reconnaissance missions continued throughout June, before in July the squadron was moved north to Scotland.

A few months of anti-shipping operations over the North Sea followed, before in November 1940 the squadron moved south to convert to the Vickers Wellington. On 13 January 1941 the squadron flew its first night bombing mission, the role it would continue to perform for the rest of the war. Lancasters arrived in September 1942, by which time the squadron was part of No.5 Group. The squadron operated the Lancaster as part of Bomber Command's main force from then until the end of the war, taking part in the 25 April 1945 attack on Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, and in the final Lancaster operations of the war, when four aircraft from the squadron dropped mines in Oslo Fjord.

March 1938-March 1940: Bristol Blenheim I
March-November 1940: Bristol Blenheim IV
November 1940-February 1942: Vickers Wellington IC
July 1941-February 1942: Vickers Wellington II
February-September 1942: Vickers Wellington III
September 1942-May 1946: Avro Lancaster I and III

September 1932-September 1939: Upper Heyford
September-October 1939: Roye/ Amy
October 1939-May 1940: Rosieres-en-Santerre
May 1940: Poix
May 1940: Crecy-en-Ponthieu
May 1940: Wyton
May-June 1940: Gatwick
June 1940: Wyton
June-August 1940:Lossiemouth
August-November 1940: Elgin
November 1940: Wyton
November 1940-January 1942: Feltwell
January-September 1942: Methwold
September 1942-August 1943: Scampton
August 1943-November 1945: East Kirkby

Squadron Codes: 57, DX

Air Component, BEF: 1939-1940
Anti-shipping: 1940
Bomber Command Main Force: 1941-1945


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No 4 STT & 57 Squadron

After the crash we carried on training and Jack Russell soon went solo with the Manchester, and after 18 hours we commenced our conversion onto Lancasters. After 26 hours on Lancasters, during which time Jack went solo and we did bombing practice, our firing practice and a cross country flight. Our course was now completed. During our time at Wigsley I had to attend the Link- Trainer for elementary flying instruction which was somewhat similar in a small way to a simulator. After several sessions and a certain amount of shouting from the instructor, I could do climbs, Level flying, rate one turns and descents and correct a spin, but of course it was only elementary.
After the completion of our training at Wigsley we had a free afternoon, and Wally Bark and myself hitched a lift into Lincoln. It was early March and a beautiful sunny day which I have never forgotten. Two oldish friendly men with an old lorry picked us up and took us right into the City. We were both feeling hungry and we went into a very nice little café. The waitress was a middle aged motherly woman, and we had bacon and eggs with French fries, nice bread and butter and tea. It was delightful. We then sauntered around the City and Wally spotted two pipes in a tobacconist shop window. I think they were 4/6d each, so we each bought one and I then started smoking. We must have travelled back to camp by train to Saxilby and then walked.
On the 5th March 1943 we were posted as a crew to No 57 Squadron, Scampton. We were taken by road. RAF Scampton was a very old station that had opened in 1916, and like most peace time stations had a grass airfield. When the war started there were only a few airfields with paved runways. At Scampton, we had a pleasant reception and we were introduced by the C Flight Commander, S/Ldr Curry, DFC. We were also shown around by S/Ldr Avis DFC. We were then shown to our living accommodation which was a house in what used to be the peace time married quarters. Almost all NCO aircrew were in houses which were within the camp, but away from the main buildings. We had a house to ourselves. It was two bedroom with bathroom, living room and kitchen. Jack Russell, Dick Wright and John Dow were in one bedroom, Nick Golden and Ron Marston in the other ans Wally Bark and myself in the living room. We all had camp beds and again had sheets. Like many other service personnel we had no hot water. For hot water or a bath we would go to the Sergeants Mess, taking our washing kit with us. I would sometimes wash and shave in cold water at the kitchen sink, but most days went to the Sergeants Mess.
After settling in we were issued with parachute packs and harness and Mae Wests. Every so often the parachutes were repacked by WAAFS. Scampton was the best station I was ever on. The Station Commander Group Captain Whitworth DSO. DFC seemed to be a happy personality. The Commanding Officer of 57 Squadron was Wing Commander Hopcroft DFC. The dining room in the Sergeants Mess was set out like a restaurant with white cloths on the tables and waitress service provided by WAAFS in white or flowered coats. The anti-room or lounge had a bar and leather armchairs and there were portraits of Flt/Lt Learoyd VC and Sgt Hannah VC on the wall.
Before commencing operations as a crew Jack Russell, our pilot, went on two bombing operations with an experienced crew which was fairly normal practice. Our first two operations as a crew were mine laying which were laid between 600 and 1000 feet. The first was on the Kattegat off Anholt Island, the duration 7.45 hrs. The second was to have been off Danzig in the Baltic Sea but due to cloud we turned back and again dep[osited our mines in the Kattegat, the flight duration 10 hours. Our next operation was St Nazaire and due to fog at base on return we were diverted to Colerne. Our next operation was again St Nazaire and our bombs would have done no damage to the U-boat pens but only to buildings outside. Our next operation on 29th March 1943, a real target, was Berlin. Night fighters were sighted but made no attack, duration 7.25 hours. On the 3rd April we went to Essen in the Ruhr. There was plenty of flak and searchlights but all went well. On our next operation, which was Kiel, we had the port engine catch fire over the North Sea which we managed to extinquish the jettisoned our bombs and returned to base. The day after that we went on 7 days leave. By now we had a new Flight Commander S/Ldr Henry (Dinghy) Young DFC & Bar. S/Ldr Young was an American who, having been educated in England, had an English accent. By the time we returned from leave he had gone to the new squadron being formed at Scampton which later became 617 Squadron. A few days after returning from leave we were detailed for a flight in a new Lancaster ED861 that wa going to be flown by S/Ldr Clyde Smith, an old much decorated pilot.We were not told anything whatsoever except that it was a test flight, we simply went along to make up weight. Jack Russell sat on the test bed. The aircraft must have been on maximum all up weight which at that time was 63,000 lbs. A civilian with papers on a clip board sat next to the pilot and told him what exercises to go through and what engine conditions to use. It is best described as a production check. The flight lasted 3hrs 10mins during which time we climbed to 25,000 feet and did a dive at 380 mph. As there were no squadron markings on the aircraft, before landing the old squadron leader shot up two airfields.
Our next operation on the 18/19th April was an attack on the Italian naval base at Spezia. We flew over the Alps and as it was moonlight they looked beautiful and we flew past Mont Blanc. There was little opposition at the target and we bombed from 8,000 feet and obtained a really good bombing photograph of the docks and ships, and for that each member of the crew received a sketch of a Lancaster taking off with the name of the target and names and ranks of the crew members on it signed by Air Vice Marshal Ralph Cochrane, the Air Officer Commanding 5 Group. The duration of the Spezia operation was 9hrs 55mins. Our next operation to Stettin was in bright moonlight and we flew at low level across the North Sea and Denmark. Before approaching the target we climbed to 12,000 feet but going into the target we were coned by searchlights. Jack dived the aircraft at about 380mph and we were down to 5000 feet before getting out. However we bombed and then got the hell out of it. After leaving Stettin we again flew at low level for most of the way back. There were 31 aircraft missing from this operation and 52 damaged by flak: duration 8 hours.
During March and early April the special squadron that was to become 617 was being formed and training taking place. Sergeant John Pulford, who had been in the same class as myself at Cosford in 39/40 was now Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s flight engineer, and Sergeant Frank Appleby, who had been in my entry, was Flt/Lt Munro’s engineer. John Pulford came from Hull although Guy Gibson in his book “Enemy Coast Ahead” called him a Londoner. John nPulford and Frank Appleby were both awarded the DFM. John Pulford was later killed in an air crash in Sussex on the 13th February 1944. I wonder how many at Hull know about him. On the evening of 16th May 1943, which was the date of the Dams operation, everyone was confined to camp. We had no idea what the operation was to be, but a few of us went to see the take off. Another airman, a ground staff Sergeant Fitter I had known quite well at Brize Norton, was also with 617. His name was Nick Furse.
After the breaching of the Dams, Scampton was visited by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur (Butch) Harris and Lord Trenchard. We all went to the Briefing Room to hear them. Then on the 27th May H.M King George VI and H.M. Queen Elizabeth came to Scampton. Although 617 Squadron was the main attraction, our Squadron 57 were in attendance and our Pilot Sergeant Jack Russell, being American, was introduced to the King. Jack told the King that he was transferring to the United States Air Force and the King smiled and said that we were both on the same side.
After the operation to Stettin all our operations, with the exception of the Skoda works at Pilsen, were towns and cities in what became known as the Battle of the Ruhr. All towns and cities around the Ruhr were heavily defended with flak and searchlight. After the Stettin raid on 20th April we were allocated a new aircraft as our own ED655, and because Jack Russell was American, the groung crew painted ‘X’ on the nose. After seventeen operations and at the end of May we went on 7 days leave. On our return Jack Russell, the pilot, and Dick Wright, the navigator, were now 2nd Lieutenants in the US Army Air Corps, but continued to fly with the RAF. As they were now officers they left our house and moved in with the RAF officers in the Officers Mess.
One day we flew to Bassingbourne, a B17 Flying Fortress bomber station in Cambridgeshire. Jack knew a pilot there whom he had met on leave in London. We taxied in, and before stopping the engines of our Lancaster we opened the bomb doors to show the Americans the size of the bomb bay. I think they were quite impressed. When we left Jack did some low level tight turns around the airfield and then shot up the Watch Tower. I never cared for that kind of flying. Too many had overdone it and paid the price. If I was going to go I preferred it to be in action.
We continued with our tour of operations which was to be 30. At Scampton you could get breakfast until about 0900hrs. We would then go back to the house. If we were operating that night we would know in the morning and it would then be a night flying test on our aircraft. A night flying test could be about 30mins or longer if it included practice bombing. Each crew member would carry out his checks. After landing we would have a chat and a joke with the ground crew and report any snags (faults) which was almost seldom. The ground crew would sometimes know and tell you the petrol load which would give some indication of the target’s distance. A full petrol load could mean Italy. After our night flying test we would get a lift to the hangar and the locker room to get rid of our parachutes, and after a freshen up at the house, go to the mess to have a look at Jane, Popeye and Buck Ryan in the Daily Mirror and then have dinner. We would then amble back to the house, sometimes to have a kip, play darts or cards and write letters. If a sunny day we would sometimes sit or lay outside on the grass. During the day the Battle Order, a list of crews operating that night, would go on the Mess notice board. Times of briefing were given out over the tannoy. Navigators had a separate briefing before the main briefing. Main briefing was usually in the late afternoon. RAF Police would be at the Briefing Room door keeping a close check on all that entered. At the briefing you all sat together as a crew. There were tables so that navigators could spread their maps. When everyone was seated, the station commander would step up on a stage where there was a map of Europe covered by a curtain. He would then draw the curtain which revealed the target and the route was indicated by a ribbon. The Squadron Commander would then brief the crews giving details of the operation. The Intelligence Officer would then speak giving details of the target and it’s defences. The bomb load and petrol was then given. The navigation leader, the signals leader and the gunnery leader would then have their say followed by the Met Officer. The Flying Control Officer would sometimes give details of take off times and landing procedures. Finally the Station Commander or the Squadron Commander would ask if there were any questions. Crews would then go to the Mess for their operational meal which was often egg, bacon and chips. Flight Engineers were issued with a log sheet so that all engine conditions from take off to landing were recorded and a record of the fuel consumption was made. Escape kits were issued which contained silk maps of Europe with a small compass and other useful items. We were also issued with the currency of the territory over which we would fly.
By that time I had flying boots, the bottoms of which resembled ordinary leather boots and the leg section suede. Inside one of the legs was a small knife which enabled you to cut the legs off so that you then had normal looking boots. Flight Engineers carried a tool kit. When I went to 57 Squadron tool kits were not available and I did six operations without one. When I went on leave my Father and myself made up a kit in a canvas bag which I took back to Scampton. However it was never needed.
About an hour before take off time we would get dressed, draw flying rations which could be chewing gum, a bar of chocolate or barley sugars and a tin of orange juice. We would then assemble in front of the hangars to be taken to our aircraft in a service bus with a WAAF driver. On arriving at the aircraft each crew member would carry out his checks and the pilot would sign the form 700. We would talk to the ground crew and sit or lay on the grass. The Wireless Operator, John Dow, would have two homing pigeons which were in yellow coloured metal boxes. They were carried in case you had to ditch in the sea. If you were lucky they were released with your last known position attached. How the pigeons survived without oxygen I do not know. The Squadron CO, Wing Commander Hopcroft, would come around in his car and ask the pilot of every crew if everything was alright and his final words were “Have a good trip”. We would generally start engines about 15 or 20 minutes before take off time and warm up, run up and test before taxying out. One of the mechanics who I only remember as Wally, thought the world of Jack Russell and was always there to see us off, even if he had a day off. There were no paved runways at Scampton, but at the end of the take off position of the grass runway was a black and white chequered caravan which housed the Controller who would give the signal when to take off. There was nearly always a crowd assembled, mostly WAAFs, to give us a wave as we commenced to roll. The Lancaster loaded and on grass seemed to wallow along and at about 105/110 Indicated Airspeed the wallowing would cease and we were airborne.

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10 facts about crime on the home front in the Second World War

From blackouts to blitzed homes, the Second World War presented a new world of opportunity for the criminally inclined, and the war years saw an unprecedented rise in British crime. Here, Mark Ellis, author of new book Merlin at War, explores the dodgy dealings and violent deeds that flourished on the home front

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Published: March 12, 2018 at 9:55 am

Looting was rife

On one day in November 1940, 20 of the 56 cases listed for hearing at the Old Bailey concerned looting offences. The total number of cases for the four months of the Blitz to the end of December was 4,584. When the Café de Paris restaurant and nightclub in Piccadilly suffered a direct hit by the Luftwaffe in 1941, rescuers had to battle their way through looters that were fighting to tear rings and other jewellery from the dead revellers. There were many cases in which looters weren’t just criminals and members of the public: firemen, wardens and other members of the defence forces often joined in too.

Killers had a field day

With cities and towns plunged into darkness every night, killers had a field day. A young airman, Gordon Cummins, was nicknamed ‘the Blackout Ripper’ and roamed the bomb-ravaged streets of London in search of young women to murder and mutilate. He killed at least four between 1941 and 1942 before he was caught and became an early victim of the infamous British hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.

Other later victims of Pierrepoint who began their murderous activities during the war were John Christie, of 10 Rillington Place fame and John Haigh, the ‘acid bath murderer’. The circumstances of the war assisted both men in their crimes. Despite a criminal record, manpower shortages helped Christie to become a part-time special police constable, and the associated veneer of respectability was very useful to him. Haigh found the war a convenient cover for explaining his first victim’s disappearance his claim that the man had run away to avoid conscription to the army successfully diverted suspicion.

Gang activity increased

In London, there were Jewish, Maltese and Italian gangs as well as cockney outfits. The Maltese Messina gang controlled the London vice scene with an iron fist. Prostitution boomed in the war in line with the massive inflow of soldiers, sailors and airmen. By 1944 there were over 1.5m GIs in Britain, while the home armed forces totalled 3m, many of whom were based on the home front. Hordes of servicemen would pour into London or other British towns and cities on nightly furloughs looking for fun. The Messina ran a huge gang of girls, nicknamed the ‘Piccadilly Commandos’ to satisfy London demand. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases naturally soared, as did business for back-street abortionists.

The black market boomed

While there was always scope for individual entrepreneurialism, the criminal gangs soon came to dominate the black market. In London, the main player was Billy Hill, who grew up in Seven Dials which had been a major hub of London crime for centuries. He was quick to realise the potential of the war, not only the advantages conferred on the criminal classes by the blackout, rationing and the Blitz, but also the obvious benefits of police manpower being constrained due the loss of officers to the forces.

He duly took advantage and made a fortune, and was always grateful to the black market. He said of it in his memoirs: “It was the most fantastic side of civilian life in wartime. Make no mistake. It cost Britain millions of pounds. I didn’t make use of the black market, I fed it.”

Hill had many other strings to his bow. His gang pulled off a number of jewellery ‘smash and grabs’ early in the war, some staged spectacularly in London’s West End. These crimes were easier to pull off with Blitz chaos all around combined with a weakened and heavily stretched police force.

Rationing led to thefts

The most significant and lucrative black-market activities centred on the long list of staple products subject to rationing. Food, petrol and clothing rationing was administered through ration books and coupons. These provided forgers and thieves with great opportunities. In 1944, 14,000 newly issued ration books were stolen in a raid. They were sold for an estimated profit of £70,000, roughly equivalent to £3m today.

Forgery took place both on a small and a large scale but was hard to pin down. A rare major prosecution took place in Manchester in 1943, when 19 men were accused of involvement in a wide-ranging racket of selling forged clothing coupons. A printing press in Salford supplied a host of wholesalers in the north and south of England with high quality forgeries. The going rate for a sheet of forged coupons on Oxford Street was £10 – around £400 in today’s money. Rationing naturally gave rise to a great deal of corruption amongst shopkeepers, farmers and officials and many culprits ended up in court.

Conmen took advantage

Corruption was not confined to rationing and the black market. Many other wartime activities offered scope for the unscrupulous. For example, the massive amount of civil defence work commissioned was ripe for fraudsters. In west London, a dodgy contractor conspired for gain with the Hammersmith clerk of works to falsely certify air-raid shelters as sound when they had been shoddily built, fraudulently expensed and were unfit for purpose. People died who should have been safe from the bombs and manslaughter prosecutions followed.

Elsewhere, unscrupulous doctors profited from a popular scam of providing false military exemption certificates to shirkers. In Stepney, Dr William Sutton would freely issue such exemptions for half a crown without even bothering to see the candidate. He went to jail.

Crimes went international

Unusually, the writ of the wartime British courts did not extend to all crimes committed in the country. Crimes committed by American military personnel were exempt, as the US authorities insisted on trying such cases in their own courts, which were set up in several locations. The main one in London was near the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. This arrangement caused no real difficulty until some disturbing statistics became known. The record showed that many more black GIs were prosecuted than white ones and were given much stiffer sentences if convicted.

One case in particular drew public attention to this discrimination. Leroy Henry, a black GI, was convicted of rape, a capital offence for the Americans, on apparently flimsy evidence. He was sentenced to death by the presiding American colonel. The case led to deep public unease in the British press and elsewhere. Thirty-three thousand people from Bath, where the alleged rape took place, signed a petition calling for a reprieve. The common view was that Henry’s race was the principal reason for the conviction. General Eisenhower, the commander of US forces, had to intervene he threw out the verdict as unsafe and returned Henry to his unit.

Some workers’ rights became illegal

The wartime criminalisation of previously legitimate activities was another factor boosting crime figures. Striking, for example, became illegal under defence regulations in order to ensure that wartime industrial output was maintained at the maximum. Inevitably, this proved problematic. A 1942 miners’ strike at a Kent colliery led to the imprisonment of the miners’ leaders, and the threatened imprisonment of the 1,000-man workforce if they didn’t pay their fines. When nearly all of them didn’t pay, the government baulked at jailing such a huge number of working men and prevented the court from applying its sanction. No other strikers were imprisoned thereafter during the war, although fines continued to be levied.

People abused the system

The government set up various wartime compensation schemes for the population and people were quick to spot the opportunity for abuse. One scheme provided generously for people who had been bombed out. An enterprising man in Wandsworth in London claimed to have lost his home 19 times in three months and received a substantial sum each time. He was jailed for three years.

Other government initiatives, such as evacuation, were open to fraudulent manipulation. Some country families were happy to have children billeted with them, but others weren’t – and some resorted to bribery to evade the responsibility. Basil Seal, one of Evelyn Waugh’s protagonists in his wartime novel Put Out The Flags, takes advantage of his sister’s position as a billeting officer and makes a nice sum from this type of corrupt activity, illustrative of activity at the time.

Criminals became heroes

Not all criminals concentrated exclusively on feathering their own nests there were some criminal heroes. Some allowed their patriotic instincts to surface and supported the war effort. Perhaps the best known of these was the ace burglar and robber, Eddie Chapman, who was recruited by MI5 and became a British double agent. Known as ‘Agent Zigzag’, he was spectacularly successful at duping the Germans, who famously valued him so highly that they awarded him the Iron Cross. Returning from overseas service in 1944 he was pardoned for his previous crimes and awarded a substantial payment. He was quick to return to his criminal ways but avoided jail and eventually retired in some comfort.

With the German capitulation in 1945 came the end of the blackout and the bombs. The American and other foreign allied forces departed and British servicemen were demobilised. Life began to return to normal but some criminal-friendly wartime conditions lingered. Rationing did not end until 1954, so the black market thrived for a few more years yet. Some old gangs went away and some new ones took their place. Crime, as always, carried on but clearly the halcyon years of the war were over.

Just a few years ago, ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, a gangster who became something of a TV star in his final years, told a talk show host regretfully and seriously that he’d never been able to forgive the Germans for surrendering. Many old crooks echoed his sentiments they had never had it so good!

Merlin at War by Mark Ellis is out now (London Wall Publishing, 2017)

Watch the video: WW II - 57th FG 65 Squadron.wmv (January 2022).