No. 255 Squadron RAF

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No. 255 Squadron RAF
Active 6 July 1918 – 14 January 1919
23 November 1940 – 30 April 1946
Country United Kingdom United Kingdom
Branch Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Royal Air Force
Motto Latin: Ad Auroram (To the break of dawn)
Insignia
Squadron Badge A panther face
Squadron Codes YD (Nov 1940 - Apr 1946)

No. 255 Squadron RAF was a Royal Air Force Squadron formed as an anti–submarine unit in World War I and a night-fighter unit in World War II.

History[edit]

Formation and World War I[edit]

Squadron numbering[edit]

When the Royal Air Force (RAF) was created on 1 April 1918, squadrons formerly part of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were distinguished from former units of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) with the same number by having 200 added to their previous RNAS designations. Thus, for example, No.3 Squadron RFC became No.3 Squadron RAF, whilst No.3 (Naval) Squadron RNAS became No.203 Squadron RAF.[1]

Prior to the formation of the RAF, the RNAS had a large number of additional flying units that were smaller than whole squadrons, some stationed in the UK and others overseas. After being taken over by the RAF, some of these units were initially identified as numbered Flights. These Flights were subsequently grouped into new squadrons also numbered in the 200-series.

No.255 Squadron is an example of such a grouping of Flights, being formed from Flights 519 through 524.[2]

Place of formation[edit]

Jefford (2001) suggests that No.255 Squadron was formed 25 July 1918 at Pembroke. The reference to Pembroke means RAF Pembroke (X0PK),[3] not to be confused with RAF Pembroke Dock (X7PD).[4] RAF Pembroke closed after the First World War but the site was subsequently re-opened as RAF Carew Cheriton (also unofficially known as Milton, at some risk of confusion with RAF Milton near Banbury, Oxfordshire, which was the home of No.3 Maintenance Unit).[5]

Uncertain date of formation[edit]

Documents discovered in 2014 at The National Archives (TNA) suggest that, whilst the location given by Jefford (2001) is correct, the formation date was earlier than 25 July 1918. Within the Patrol Reports of No.14 Group (prior to the formation of the RAF this was the Milford Haven Anti-Submarine Group of the Royal Naval Air Service) there exists a record of daily sorties by aircraft of No.255 Squadron. The series commences on 6 July 1918.[6] On a purely administrative basis, the squadron must have formed no later than 8 May 1918. That date appears in the RNAS service record of Reginald Rhys SOAR as the date when he was posted to the squadron.[7]

Aircraft[edit]

The squadron was equipped with Airco DH.6 aircraft.

Strategic purpose[edit]

The sole function of No.255 Squadron during WWI was anti-submarine warfare, initially within a zone defined as "10m NW Fishguard to 10m S of Caldey Island".[6] Within days this was extended to 15 miles South of Caldey Island.[8]

Airborne anti-submarine warfare in the Bristol Channel, St.George's Channel and southern Irish Sea was conducted by three distinct classes of flying machine. Patrol reports archived at TNA in AIR1/485 indicate that long duration patrols and convoy escort duties were carried out by Class SSZ Airships. The Airship Station at Pembroke maintained a Detachment at Wexford, Ireland, so as to extend No.14 Group's reconnaissance capability further into the Western Approaches. The airships were fitted with Wireless Telegraphy apparatus (known as "W/T", meaning radio communication using morse code), enabling rapid dissemination of information concerning the whereabouts of any U-boats sighted.

Shorter range patrols were conducted both by Short Type 184 and, on rare occasions, Hamble Baby seaplanes. Like the airships, Short Type 184s were also fitted with Wireless Telegraphy apparatus, giving them a distinct advantage over smaller aircraft in terms of rapid reporting of U-boat sightings.

Inshore patrols were conducted by the DH.6 aeroplanes of No.255 Squadron. The unit appears to have been very much the junior partner in this tripartite reconnaissance/attack arrangement, on account of the DH.6 aircraft's lack of radio communication facilities.

Officer Commanding[edit]

The Officer Commanding "A" and "B" Flights was Hon. Captain Reginald Rhys SOAR, DSC.

The squadron's senior administrator was Major Robert Gordon GOULD, MC. Wounded whilst serving in No.10 Squadron RFC, Gould was posted to "14 Group for 255 Squadron" on 10 May 1918. He is only named once in the squadron's sortie records, possibly indicating an ongoing disability preventing this keen pilot from participating more regularly in front-line service. Three years previously he had funded his own tuition as a pilot, qualifying for his Royal Aero Club Aviator's Certificate on 24 April 1915. Once on active service with the RFC, he claimed the cost of his tuition against expenses![9]

The Officer Commanding the whole of No.14 Group (which included airships, seaplanes and land-based aircraft) was Robert Cholerton HAYES. His rank "WSE" (whilst so employed) was Lt.Col., his role being described as "Group Commander".[10] A navy Dirigible Officer by background, he would later be awarded the OBE, Gazetted 6 January 1919,[11] in recognition of his wartime work in respect of the military applications of lighter-than-air craft at both Kingsnorth and Pembroke.[12]

The modern rank structure of the RAF was not introduced until after the squadron had been disbanded in 1919. An overview of AIR1/485 and AIR1/486 suggests that these three officers performed roles equivalent in modern terms to Squadron Leader, Wing Commander and Group Captain respectively.


WWI Officers and Aircrew[edit]

The following table lists Officers and Aircrew known to have served with (or to have been in command of) No.255 Squadron at any time between the formation of the squadron and the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Rank shown is that held on Armistice Day. Leonard Andrews' commission as a 2nd Lieutenant was confirmed and Geoffrey Chetwynd-Stapylton was promoted to Acting Captain before the squadron was disbanded.

Surname Forenames Date of Birth Rank Role Domicile Service record
Andrews Leonard Christopher 15 May 1899 Temp 2/Lt. Observer Britain AIR76/8/184
Arcand Louis Georges 31 Aug 1897 Lieutenant Pilot Canada AIR76/10/4
Birkbeck Paul William 03 May 1899 Lieutenant Pilot Britain AIR76/40/6
Chaffe Redvers Sydney S. ‡ 06 Apr 1900 2nd Lieut. Pilot Canada AIR76/81/3
Chetwynd-Stapylton Geoffrey 27 Dec 1893 Lieutenant Admin Britain AIR 76/480/178
Garnett Walter Hugh S. 26 Jun 1891 Acting Major Staff Officer Britain AIR76/177/67
Gillingham Hubert Henry 14 Nov 1894 Lieutenant Pilot Britain AIR76/183/87
Godden William John G. 28 May 1899 2nd Lieut. Observer Britain AIR76/185/90
Gould Robert Gordon 26 Feb 1885 Acting Major Pilot Britain AIR76/189/125
Hamilton Ralph Nigel 07 Nov 1895 Hon. Lieut. Pilot Britain AIR76/206/33
Hayes Robert Cholerton 30 Nov 1884 Acting Lt.Col Dir. Officer Britain ADM 273/1/57
Hunter Richard Charles A. ‡ Dec.Qr.1891 2nd Lieut. Pilot Britain AIR76/245/123
Leguen-de-Lacroix Aleth Thomas S. France, 1894 Lieutenant Pilot Britain WO372/11/217664
Montgomery-Moore Robert John ? Lieutenant Admin Britain WO339/18127
Nicholson Leyster 09 Oct 1892 Lieutenant Pilot Britain AIR76/373/40
Peebles Arthur John D. 12 Jun 1898 Lieutenant Pilot Britain AIR76/396/168
Soar Reginald Rhys 24 Aug 1893 Hon. Capt. Pilot Britain ADM273/7/9
Stallibrass Trevor Lawrie W. 20 Jun 1888 Lieutenant Pilot Britain AIR76/479/131
Tamplin Harold Llewelyn 03 Jan 1899 Lieutenant Pilot Canada AIR76/494/144

NOTES to accompany the table above:

Dir. Officer = Dirigible Officer, qualified to operate an Airship but not fixed-wing aircraft.
‡  Data derived from standard genealogical sources, missing from known military records.
The Lieutenant Montgomery-Moore listed here is not the same person as the author of the book "That's My Bloody Plane!", but may have been a relative.
Harold TAMPLIN's middle forename is consistently spelled as above in both British and Canadian records, except on his birth registration. Reference to the original document (not merely the General Register Office indexes, which concur) shows that the original birth registration used the more conventional spelling Llewellyn.
As at 2014, some RAF service records from WWI have not been declassified, in most cases because the person remained in the Royal Air Force after the war. Such records are normally declassified 90 years after service in the armed forces ceased. However, pre-1918 RNAS, RFC or Army records in respect of the same individuals have not been similarly withheld. These substitute sources are listed in the table where appropriate. Most entries in the column "Service record" are available on online via The National Archives website.
255 Squadron Association gratefully acknowledges the help given by the Royal Canadian Air Force archives and the staff of the London Borough of Wandsworth in the preparation of this table.

Signalling Codes[edit]

A short code was used to report Latitude and Longitude of a target or other location, comprising a 5-character group of two numbers followed by three letters. Example: 67ABC.

The numerical component represents a grid square measuring 25 Nautical Miles along each side. This refers to the old definition of the Nautical Mile, also known as a "Sea Mile". The fixing of the Nautical Mile as a distance of 1,852.00 metres did not happen until 1929, some eleven years later. At the time of the First World War, a Nautical Mile was defined as being the distance at sea level which, if viewed from the centre of the earth, would subtend an angle of one sixtieth of one degree of arc.[13] Given that the Earth is not a perfect sphere, this means that the length of a pre-1929 Nautical Mile varies from place to place, being largest at the equator and smallest at the poles.

The algorithm for decoding the numerical component is mathematically complex, because repetition of any number is excluded. Thus squares 00, 11, 22, 33 and so on up to 99 simply do not exist, in effect creating a system that is non-linear. Additional complexity arises because nine (the mathematical "base" or radix in this quasi-nonal system) is not a factor of sixty, the number of Nautical Miles in one degree of latitude. Nor is 5 a factor of 9, five being the number of sub-squares forming one side of the master square. In practice the decode was not calculated, but physically plotted on a chart using a crib, examples of which survive in The National Archives.[14]

Each letter in the 5-character group represents successive subdivision of the main square into 25 smaller squares using a 5x5 grid labelled A through Z omitting X. With three such subdivisions, the resolution of the coded location statement is good enough to pinpoint any position within No.14 Group's area to an accuracy of one fifth of a Nautical Mile, which is approximately 370 metres.

At the level of the second subdivision, the minor squares had sides of 1 Nautical Mile. Possibly to avoid confusion between Nautical Miles and Statute Miles, these were known as "2,000 Yard Squares" rather than "One Mile Squares".[15] The discrepancy introduced by this nomenclature is slightly over 1%, the exact magnitude of the error depending (under the old definition of the Nautical Mile) on the Latitude of the observer.

This whole mapping system, called "Squared Charts", created a highly simplified method for exchanging position information either in writing, or by Semaphore, or using Morse Code sent by wireless or signal lamp. Use of the Squared Charts system for reporting positions is almost universal within the WWI records of the squadron.

First reported sighting of a U-boat[edit]

On 10 July 1918 a patrol by an aircraft of No.255 Squadron reported sighting a hostile periscope at location 64LYK.[16] The following day a target in the same area was attacked by Short seaplanes from another squadron.[17]

First reported engagement with a U-boat[edit]

No.255 Squadron's first claimed strike against the enemy occurred on 14 August 1918, when Lieutenant PEEBLES (Arthur John Douglas PEEBLES, born 12 June 1898)[18] piloting DH.6 C9439, reported finding a submarine at periscope depth at position 67ISC. He attacked the target at 09:35 with a 100 lb bomb. This resulted in air bubbles and an oil slick. There being no surface vessels in the area that he might have redirected to the scene using visual signals, Lieutenant Peebles landed at a Look-Out Station at position 65OGV, but he found it "uninhabited". He therefore flew on to RAF Pembroke. At 12:20 another attack was mounted against the same target by Lieutenant Peebles and Captain Soar and further oil was brought to the surface.[19][20]

Admiralty assessment at the time classified the result of the strike as "U-boat possibly damaged", giving the decoded position as 51°17'N, 05°04'W.[21] No U-boat is unaccounted for in this area, such that the target might have been sunk and never identified. Analysis of the incident by independent researchers associated with the website U-boat.net, conducted in May 2014, show the following submarines of the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) to have been on patrol in the general area: U52, U94, U96, UB86 and UB92. Of these, U52[22] of II Flotilla was closest to 51°17'N, 05°04'W, under the command of Kapitänleutnant d.R. Franz KRAPOHL.[23]

U52's known positions in the period 12–15 August 1918 were all in St.George's Channel. The submarine's KTB (Kriegstagebuch, in translation "War Diary") reportedly makes no mention of the vessel coming under attack on 14 August 1918.[24]

Errors and omissions in records[edit]

Numerous errors, omissions and potentially confusing instances of now-obsolete terminology exist in The National Archives records of No.14 Group. These are noted here for the benefit of other researchers studying the same source:

Generally:

There is endless confusion between Knots (a measure of speed) and Nautical Miles (a measure of distance).
Nautical Miles are inadequately distinguished from Statute Miles.
Reference to an airship is often abbreviated to "ship". This gave rise to some apparently nonsensical reports of ships cruising at altitudes of several thousand feet.
Bearings are sometimes given using the antiquated system of Compass Points.
On occasions, no distinction is made between True North and Magnetic North. When the difference is mentioned, the traditional UK teminology "Magnetic Variation" is used in line with the nomenclature used on Admiralty Charts.[25] Note that modern US terminology differs. Magnetic Variation in the squadron's patrol area was considerable, Magnetic North in 1918 being 17°45' W of True North.[26]
The initials RNAS can stand for Royal Naval Air Service (abolished 1 April 1918) or Royal Naval Airship Station. Given that the airships themselves remained in Admiralty ownership after 1 April 1918 and were never transferred to the Air Ministry, use of the term Royal Naval Airship Station validly persisted after the formation of the RAF.[27]
Documents in the relevant files were not accurately placed in date order before Folio numbers were backstamped onto them.

With specific reference to No.255 Squadron:

The squadron was mis-described as "No.225" on the Daily Patrol Report for 7 July 1918.
Pilots' names do not routinely appear in the squadron's sortie records prior to 9 August 1918. Thereafter, only current rank and surname are noted, not forenames or initials.

Disbanding[edit]

Jefford (2001) gives the date of disbanding as 14 January 1919, but it seems that flying activity ceased considerably earlier. The records of No.14 Group include a Nil return of Patrols for the whole of the week ending 30 November 1918 and the record itself ceases at that date.[28]

Reformation in World War II[edit]

The squadron reformed on 23 November 1940 at RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey. In March it received Hurricanes and moved to Hibaldstow where it converted to Beaufighters. It was then based at Coltishall, High Ercall and Honiley.

On 1 April 1941 two Polish airmen joined the squadron, coming from 54 Operational Training Unit: sgt. Józef Erdt (gunner) and sgt. Józef Feruga (pilot).

In November 1942 the squadron moved to Algiers, then Sicily and in August 1943 to mainland Italy where it became a night intruder unit equipped with Mosquitos. It then moved to Hal Far, Malta in September 1945 and to Egypt in January 1946 where was finally disbanded on 30 April 1946.

Aircraft operated[edit]

Aircraft operated by no. 255 Squadron RAF
From To Aircraft Variant
Jul 1918 Jan 1919 Airco DH.6
Nov 1940 Sep 1941 Boulton Paul Defiant I
Mar 1941 Jul 1941 Hawker Hurricane IV
Jul 1941 May 1942 Bristol Beaufighter IIF
Mar 1942 Feb 1945 Bristol Beaufighter VIF
Feb 1944 May 1945 de Havilland Mosquito XIX
Jan 1946 Apr 1946 de Havilland Mosquito XXX

[29]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jefford C.G. (2001). RAF Squadrons (2nd Edition). Shrewsbury UK:Airlife. ISBN 1-84037-141-2, p.12.
  2. ^ Idem, p.81.
  3. ^ Bones Aviation Page, "UK Airfields Macmerry to Syerston" downloaded 09 June 2014.
  4. ^ John Evans on behalf of the Pembroke Dock Community Web Project, "The History of Pembroke Dock" downloaded 09 June 2014.
  5. ^ Dyfed Archeological Trust. "Twentieth Century Military Sites: Airfields. A threat-related assessment 2011-2012, p.29.
  6. ^ a b TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 156.
  7. ^ TNA : ADM273/7/9.
  8. ^ TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 163.
  9. ^ TNA : WO339/65814.
  10. ^ TNA : AIR76/217/136.
  11. ^ Supplement to the Edinburgh Gazette, 6 Jan 1919, page 73.
  12. ^ Bilbé, T. (2013). Kingsnorth Airship Station. Stroud:The History Press. ISBN 9780752491530.
  13. ^ Wilkes, K. (1977). Ocean Yacht Navigator (2nd edition with corrections) Lymington:Nautical Publishing. p.15. ISBN 0-245-52968-3.
  14. ^ TNA : AIR1/486/15/312/271 folio 96.
  15. ^ Smith, G. "TRIBUTE to BRITISH SHIPBUILDING and REPAIR INDUSTRIES 1914-18, including Royal Naval Dockyards and Research Establishments." Part 3 of 3, Chart 2 (Portsmouth).
  16. ^ TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 169.
  17. ^ Idem, folio 171.
  18. ^ Service record - TNA : AIR76/396/168.
  19. ^ TNA : AIR1/485/15/312/269 folio 100.
  20. ^ TNA : AIR1/419/15/245/1 folio 518.
  21. ^ TNA : ADM239/26 tab 1292F folio 167.
  22. ^ "Historical record relating to U52" downloaded 9 June 2014.
  23. ^ "Historical record relating to Franz KRAPOHL" downloaded 9 June 2014.
  24. ^ "Discussion on U-boat.net".
  25. ^ Langley-Price P. and Ouvry P. (1985), Competent Crew, London:Adlard Coles. p.83-84. ISBN 0-229-11736-8.
  26. ^ Admiralty Chart No.1179 (England, West Coast, Bristol Channel, 1918 Edition), reserve stock in the Library of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
  27. ^ Turpin, B. British Naval Airships 1909-1921, to be published 2015. Pers Corr with the author.
  28. ^ TNA : AIR1/419/15/245/1 folio 785.
  29. ^ C.G.Jefford (1988). RAF Squadrons (First Edition). UK Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-85310-053-6. 

Bibliography[edit]

Admiralty, The (December 1919). C.B.1515(22) Technical History and Index, Vol.3 Part 22 of THE WAR WORK OF THE HYDROGRAPHIC DEPARTMENT(1914-1918). London:Technical History Section, Admiralty. This lengthy work, originally secret and for internal use only but now de-classified, includes details of the cartographic theory, production, coverage and use of Squared Charts. Short title "TH.22". Available as a .pdf file from the archivist of the UK Hydrographic Office, Taunton.

Brock, D. (1989, 2008). Wings Over Carew, Milford Haven:Forrest Print. A 36-page collection of photographs of RNAS/RAF Pembroke (1915-1920) and RAF Carew Cheriton (1939-1945) plus, in the second edition, details of the restoration of the control tower ("Watch Office") in the years 2000-2008.

Cross, Sir K. and Orange, V. (1993). Straight and Level, London:Grub Street. This account of the RAF career of Kenneth 'Bing' Cross does not specifically mention No.255 Squadron, but does provide an insight into the Senior Officers' view of the Tunisian campaign and NACAF (North-west African Coastal Air Force), Bing holding the rank of Air Commodore at the time. Relevant part commences at p.229.

Cunningham, A. (1953). Tumult in the Clouds, London:Peter Davies. An authorised reprint of articles that originally appeared during WWII in the Royal Air Force Quarterly. Andrew Cunningham was a nom-de-plume; the author's true identity being Walter Thomas Cunningham, one time Senior Navigator of No.255 Squadron. The content is not quite as fictitious as the Author’s Note in the preface might suggest. For example, compare pp.166-167 of Tumult with the bibliographic reference Eley, G.W. (1944) below.

Eley, G.W. (1944). Night Fighting : Five hours of a navigator's life. Originally written as a private diary record, this account of one No.255 Squadron intruder mission was published by the BBC in 2005 and is archived on The People's War website.

Wisdom, T.H. (1944). Triumph over Tunisia. London:George Allen & Unwin. The author, a Wing Commander and member of the Press Corps, was writing subject to wartime censorship. In consequence, not all squadrons are identified but the first part of Chapter 14, "Hunters of the Night Sky", can be linked to No.255 Squadron through the many genuine names of both people and places appearing on pages 110-118.

Wynne-Willson, M.F. (1996, 2003). Before I Forget!. Bloomington IN:1stBooks. Volume One of the autobiography of No.255 Squadron pilot Michael F. Wynne-Willson (1919-2013). His very revealing account of squadron life begins at page 148 and, at page 163, discloses the cause of so many take-off accidents involving the early Beaufighters.


External links[edit]