Friday, 22 November 2013

No. 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron, Royal Air Force

By Andrew Thomas


THE air forces of various Commonwealth countries made a huge contribution to the Royal Air Force's operations during World War 2. Several of the long established forces deployed their own squadrons for service in many theatres whilst some of the smaller countries provided personnel to man RAF units. Such was the case with Southern Rhodesia who's embryonic Air Force deployed its only squadron to East Africa as No 1 Squadron SRAF (Southern Rhodesian air Force), later renumbered as No.237 Squadron RAF. Other Rhodesians were sent to Britain where eventually they largely manned two squadrons, which were granted the 'Rhodesia' title. No.44 served with Bomber Command whilst No.266 became a Rhodesian fighter squadron within Fighter Command and went on to establish a fine reputation in the skies over western Europe.


Short 184 N2813 of No.266 Squadron is hoisted into the water at Mudros in December 1918 shortly before it moved to South Russia. (RAF Museum)

OVER THE CASPIAN

No.266 Squadron was however first formed on Mudros Island in the Aegean as part of No.63 Wing on 27 September 1918 when No.437 and 438 Flights were amalgamated. Equipped with Short 184 and 320 seaplanes No.266 was tasked with patrols over the Aegean for which part of the squadron was detached further south at Skyros.


Short 184 N9085 draws an interested crowd as it is hoisted into the harbour at Petrovsk during Sojourn in Russia during 1919. (via R C Cronin)

The squadron continued its patrol activities for the next month until the Turkish surrender on 30 October brought an abrupt end to operations. Some British forces were however deployed to parts of Russia to support the white Russians against the Bolsheviks. One expedition was sent to the Caucasus and it was decided to establish a seaplane base at Petrovsk on the west coast of the Caspian Sea.

No.266 Squadron under Captain J A Sadler was selected for the task and the advance party left Lemnos in early February, disembarking at Batum on the Black Sea before proceeding by train via Baku to Petrovsk. The main body with the new Short 184s left in HMS Engadine on the 18th reaching Petrovsk on 18 March where the next month was spent erecting and testing the aircraft.

To enable 266 to support the RN Caspian Flotilla the tanker Alader Youssanoff was converted to a seaplane carrier and it sailed on 12 May with two Shorts, N9080 and N9082 embarked. No.266's first sortie came two days later when the CO and Lieutenant Kingham flew a reconnaissance in N9080. Weather then interfered with operations but 266 made its first bombing attack on the 20th when 2nd Lieutenant Thompson hit the Bolshevik held port of Fort Alexandrovsk.


Two of No.266's Short 184s, N7098 and N9081 (on crane) seen on board the mother ship HMS Orlionoch at Petrovsk in the summer of 1919. (RAF Museum)

Following this the ship, with some of266's Shorts embarked, turned to patrol and escort work through June though 266 made further attacks on shipping on the 24th and 25th. Squadron strength was steadily depleted by accidents and in early July Alader Youssanof was withdrawn being replaced by another converted vessel, HMS Orlianoch.

She made her first patrol with N9078 and N9081 embarked on the 17th with the seaplanes flying the first sorties the following day. On 24 July the CO and Lieutenant Turton-Jones in N9078 attacked a Bolshevik armed tug but were damaged and force landed though the aircraft was recovered.

Having returned to base the ship sailed again on the 27th with two aircraft under Captain Bilney and from her the squadron continued operations through August. On the 26th November the ship was handed over to the Russian Navy and the following day 266 left Petrovsk for the long journey home, being officially disbanded on 1 September.

No.266's Short 184s, such as N2813, N9081 and N9085, had khaki upper surfaces with doped linen undersides with the floats being grey. They wore six position roundels, had striped rudders and white fuselage serials but no unit markings were applied.

BLOODING AT DUNKIRK

No.266 was eventually reformed within No. 12 Group of 30 October 1939 as part of the expansion of Fighter Command. Commanded by Squadron Leader J W A Hunnard it was based at Sutton Bridge and over the next month personnel were posted in and eventually training began on 6 December.

Because of a shortage of fighters No.266 had Battles as interim equipment and the work-up continued into 1940 though not uneventfully as L5348 crashed in a snowstorm at East Kirkby on 16 January. The Battles such as L5365 and P5240 wore dark earth and dark green camouflage with black undersides and standard markings but it is uncertain whether No.266's unit codes 'UO' were carried.


Early in World War 2 No.266 was reformed as a fighter squadron equipped with Spitfires. This Mk la is N3197/UO-S, probably seen at Wittering. It was lost during the squadron's actions over Dunkirk on 2 June 1940. (266 Sqn records)


January 1940 also saw the first Spitfires arrive and training on both types continued into the spring, latterly from Martlesham Heath to which 266 had moved on 1 March. The Battles were finally withdrawn in May. by which time the squadron was operational, having moved with its Spitfires to Wittering on the 14th. Its first operational patrol, a convoy escort, had been flown on 13 April.


Its Spitfires wore the standard dark earth/dark green camouflage with black/white undersides, grey codes with Type A roundels under wing and on the fuselage; Type B roundels were above the wings and codes were grey with N3197/UO- S being thus coloured.


The massive German offensive was by now in full swing forcing the BEF back on the Channel where later in May it began to be evacuated from Dunkirk. Fighter Command gave cover to the evacuation and on 2 June the CO in P9333 led 266 to Martlesham Heath at dawn from where they made a patrol over Dunkirk.

No.266 found its first action when it engaged some Bfl09s whilst Yellow section attacked some Bfl10s one of which was shot down by Pilot Officer R M Trousdale to claim 266's first kill. The squadron was also credited with four Bfl09s probably destroyed but lost Pilot Officer Stevenson in N3 197/UO-S and Sergeant Kidman in N3092 killed.


Following this brief blooding in action 266 returned to Wittering flying regular coastal patrols and convoy escorts uneventfully for the next couple of months, latterly under Squadron Leader R L Wilkinson who became CO on 6 July. By this stage the aircraft had sky undersides. Type A1 fuselage roundels and wore fin stripes as on X4593/UO-N and N3178/UO-K.



Spitfire I X4593/UO-A awaits its next sortie at Wittering in July 1940 at the start of the Battle of Britain during which 266 saw much heavy fighting. (266 Sqn records)

BATTLE OF BRITAIN

Heavy Luftwaffe air attacks built up through the summer as the Battle of Britain began and fighter squadrons were rotated through the 11 Group area, scene of the most intensive fighting as the enemy targeted Fighter Command's airfields.


On 9 August the CO led 12 aircraft to Northolt and then on to Tangmere where they remained for two days. At midday on the 12th the squadron was scrambled to intercept a raid on Portsmouth and claimed two Ju88s of 1/KG51 destroyed as well as a Do 17 and a Bf110 but lost Pilot Officer Ashton in P9333.

After refuelling 266 moved to Eastchurch which was attacked early the following morning by Do 17s of KG2. One of 266's aircraft was destroyed and others only saved by the brave and prompt action of the ground crew; the following day it moved into Hornchurch. From there on the 15th it scrambled against another Luftwaffe raid and became heavily engaged over Kent. In a stiff fight 266 lost Pilot Officer Cole in N3168 and Sergeant Hawley (N3189) whilst the Flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant Armitage, was slightly wounded.


There were further large scale raids the following day and as a large formation of Do 17s moved over Kent at lunch time No.266 was one of the units ordered to intercept. The squadron became engaged with some escorting Bfl09s over Canterbury and shot down the aircraft flown by Hauptman Ebbighauser. However the Spitfires were then bounced themselves and in a frenzied fight lost the CO, Pilot Officer Power and Sub-Lieutenant Greenshields killed. Flight Lieutenant Bazley baled out injured and Pilot Officer Sodden crash landed his wrecked Spitfire.


In two days 266 had lost its three senior officers with five other pilots killed or injured and seven aircraft lost. The aircraft were replaced the following day as the squadron prepared for further action.11 Spitfires intercepted them over Kent. In a brief skirmish with escorting Bfl09s No.266, led by Flight Lieutenant Armitage. destroyed one and claimed another probable before being ordered to land and refuel at Manston.

Due to damage on the airfield the aircraft had to be parked close together and were helpless when the Bfl09s of 3/JG52 made a surprise strafing attack. It was briefly and highly effective leaving X4061 and X4066 destroyed with K9850, L1088, N3127, R6762, R6920 and X4063 damaged.

Only three of 266's Spitfires returned to Hornchurch that evening where Squadron Leader D G M Spencer had arrived to take command. The weather then broke and for several days there were no major raids. However on the 21st No.266 returned to Wittering to rest and reform having lost six pilots killed and five wounded but it had claimed nine of the enemy destroyed, six probable's and 11 damaged.

There 266 re-equipped with the more powerful Spitfire IIA which it took into action for the first time on 7 September. At 0830 Pilot Officers Trousdale, Roach andWilliams scrambled after a lone raider and after a long chase over East Anglia caught a high flying Do215 which Williams and Roach shot down over the Scheldt Estuary. Ten days later Squadron Leader F G Jameson, DFC, became CO and under him and the Flight Commanders, 266 began an intensive operational training programme for the many new pilots when patrols over the Thames Estuary permitted.

FIGHTER NIGHTS


Action for the squadron was intermittent and in October sent its Spitfire lis to No.603 Squadron and received Mkls once more which were used on sector patrols. It had occasional successes such as on 29 October when it had an inconclusive fight with 11 Bfl09s and Blue Section destroyed a Dornier near Cambridge. By then however the Battle of Britain was effectively over and the Luftwaffe switched to small scale nuisance raids and night bombing.


Through the early winter months No.266 maintained readiness and flew sector patrols and convoy escorts which were maintained into 1941 in spite of very unfavourable weather. During one patrol on 8 March Sergeant Von Schack scored 266's first success of 1941 when he shot down a Ju88 off Skegness.

No.266 also began training for night flying to enable it to fly night defence sorties to counter the night Blitz, and 'Fighter Night' sorties began.

The squadron, now back with Spitfire lis soon found success for. on the night of 8/9 April the CO on patrol over Coventry spotted an He111 against the moon and shot it down - no mean feat in a single seat day fighter! The next night Flight Lieutenant Armitage almost repeated the feat but could only claim a probable.



No.266 was the second squadron to receive the formidable Typhoon. This early example is R7696/ZH-Z and is seen at Duxford in mid-1942. It suffered a structural failure and crashed on 24 October. (MAP/RAFM)

Offensive sweep operations over northern France also began, one early sweep for 266 being on 15 April when it joined 65 and 402 and it was gradually drawn more into these activities. Fighter Nights were still flown with 266 having a conspicuous success during a raid on London on 10/11 May. The CO found one He111 silhouetted against the flames and dived to attack, bringing the raider down near Romford. Pilot Officer Humphries chased one He111 as far as Rotterdam where he shot it down and then promptly destroyed a second to make three in one night!


RHODESIAN LINK

Early in the year the Spitfire 1s such as X4649/UO-S received sky fuselage bands and codes and in May-June the top surface colours changed to dark green and dark sea grey camouflage with medium sea grey undersides.

Offensive sweeps and bomber escorts now became the squadron's bread and butter. In early June the CO was posted to be the Wittering Wing Leader and 266 came under command of Squadron Leader T R Beresford. Other arrivals included an increasing number of Rhodesians. Escorts during 'Circus' operations, sweeps and 'Rhubarbs' by pairs of aircraft increased throughout the summer with a resulting increase in both claims and losses. No.266's first 'Circus' was on 27 June during which Sergeant Lewis destroyed a Bf109 but 266 lost Pilot Officers Cook and Holland in P8185 and P8188.

More success came during another operation on 3 July when the CO and Pilot Officer Barraclough each shot down a B f 109 and others were damaged though P8566 was lost. Convoy patrols off the east coast were still a regular feature too, and during one on 19 August Flight Lieutenant McMiller and Sergeant Munro destroyed a He111.

Offensive work predominated however, typical being a 'Rhubarb' by Wing Commander Jameson and Pilot Officer Parry who attacked and damaged a 1,000 ton ship off Holland on 10 September. Parry was successful two days later when he destroyed a Bfl09 whilst during another 'Rhubarb' on the 15th Jameson in P8509 (with Sergeant Sherwood in P8505 as No. 2) destroyed a Bfl10 off the Dutch coast.

By now No.266's Spitfire 11s were outclassed by the latest enemy fighters so it was with some relief that later in the month, after moving to Marlesham Heath, it re- equipped with the cannon-armed Spitfire Vb. These, such as W3834/UO-P and AA718. were similarly coloured to the Mk 11s.

After re-equipping, in early October it moved to Wittering's satellite at Colly Weston from where it resumed operations, scoring its first victory with Spitfire Vs on the 13th when Flight Lieutenant McMullen destroyed a Bfl09 during a 'Circus'. He was successful again on the 25th when he destroyed a Bfl 10 off Holland whilst two days later 266's new Rhodesian CO, Squadron Leader C L Green, DFC, (a former Flight Commander) destroyed a Do17 off the East Coast. By then 266 was at Kingscliffe and continued on operations from there.

942 began with a series of convoy escorts and during one on 11 January Flight Lieutenant Allen-White in W3308 was shot down by a Ju88.

TYPHOON TROUBLES


Changes were afoot however as on 29 January 266 moved to Dux ford to become the second squadron to convert to Typhoons. Due to teething problems with this powerful new type, however, Spitfires were initially retained for operations. So 266 led a somewhat mixed existence. B' Flight began conversion at Duxford whilst VA' Flight was detached to Coltishall for operations.


The CO worked hard to get 266 ready for operations but it was a frustrating experience as the Typhoon had many bugs. Several were lost in accidents, the first fatal one being on 8 March when Pilot Officer Lees in R7637 spun in near Oxford.

Meanwhile from Coltishall 'A' Flight remained active, seeing inconclusive action during the 'Channel Dash' on 12 February, and late in March Pilot Officer Dawson destroyed a Do217 off Norfolk. No 266's final Spitfire kill was on 29 April when a Ju88 was destroyed.

Initially No.266 had Typhoon I as such as R7622/UO-K and R7641/UO-A and they wore the standard fighter colours from June with type C/Cl markings. Cannon armed Mk.lbs began arriving in March and in April the squadron codes changed to 'ZH' as on Mk.Ib R7819/ZH-S.

In spite of many problems No.266 was eventually fully converted and finally disposed of its last Spitfires in June. The first Typhoon operation was on 28 May when it scrambled several aircraft to investigate an un-identified plot which turned out to be a Spitfire!

Finally on 20 June the Wing began operations when 56 and 266 continued an uneventful sweep of Mardyke and Boulogne in support of a 'Circus'. Operations continued at a low level, but the Typhoon finally found success on 9 August when Pilot Officer Lucas in R7696/ZH-C and Pilot Officer Munro in R7822/ZH-H destroyed a Ju88 off Cromer to claim the RAF's first Typhoon kill.

Four days later Flight Lieutenant Johnson shot down the RAF's first Me210 - VN+AV of ERPGR in the same area. A few days later, on 19 August, came the Typhoon Wing's first major action during the Dieppe raid - Operation 'Jubilee'.

All three squadrons - Nos.56, 266 and 609, first escorted a spoof raid before refuelling to sweep off the French coast. There they encountered a formation of Do217s of KG2 and whilst some elements fought off the escorting Fw190s Flight Lieutenant Dawson destroyed one whilst two more enemy aircraft were probably destroyed, though Pilot Officer Smithyman was lost. On the way home the Typhoons were mistaken for Fw190s by some Spitfires and in a tragic incident Dawson was shot down and killed. The Wing made an uneventful third sweep but one subsequent result was the addition of identity stripes to the Typhoons.

TIP AND RUN RAIDERS

The following winter the Wing was disbanded and on 21 September 266, now flying only the Mk.Ib, joined No. 10 Group at Warmwell to help counter raids on south coast towns by tip and run raiders. Sections were held on alert to counter the raiders and standing patrols were flown on occasions;




No.266's Typhoons helped cut a swathe of destruction over north- west Europe following the invasion of France. These Typhoon lbs are seen at Hildesheim shortly after the German surrender. (REG Sheward)



Typhoon 1b RB479/ZH-Q was the CO's aircraft and is seen wearing its low visibility markings at Hildesheim in June 1945. (R.E.G Sheward)





For a time, immediately after the war. No.266 Squadron returned to Fighter Command flying Meteors. These F.4s including VT227/FX-N and VT238/FX-R are lined up at Tangmere in 1948. (266 Sqn records)

No success resulted from all these efforts for some lime and to add to the squadron's frustrations the Typhoons were still plagued by structural problems. In early January 1943 No.266 moved further west to Exeter where it mounted standing patrols off the coast. On the 10th it resumed scoring again when Flying Officer Small in R8937/ZH-L splashed a Fw190 fighter bomber of 10/JG2 flown by Feldwebel Bitter off Teignmouth.


The dawn to dusk patrols were successful against these difficult targets again on the 26th when Flying Officer Bell destroyed another. Patrols continued through February' with several Typhoons lost in accidents. However on the 26th nine Fw190s of I0/JG2 were spotted low over the sea after raiding Exmouth. Squadron Leader Green closed on one which was damaged before hitting a second which blew up under the Typhoon's formidable fire, the damaged Focke Wulf was finished off by Sergeant Thompson.

No.266 was successful in action again on 13 March when it intercepted some Fw190s of 5/SKG10 south of Start Point. Flight Lieutenant J H Deall in EJ932/ZH-N destroyed one and shared a second with Sergeant Eadie. These were the last claims for some time however, and in June as the JA80 attacks reduced so the costly standing patrols were replaced by aircraft held at cockpit readiness, but 266 had got a fair return for its efforts.

As the summer progressed so more offensive sorties and fighter-bomber escorts to France were flown with a consequent increase in losses, often to the deadly enemy light flak.


In early July 266's ebullient Rhodesian CO was posted after a long and successful period in command and was replaced by Squadron Leader A S Maclntyre. On 15 August he led an escort to a 'Circus' to Guipavas in Brittany where the squadron engaged a group of Fw190s. Two pilots, including the CO, were then shot down by them and a third killed by flak in what was a bad day for the squadron. One Focke Wulf was shot down.

Squadron Leader P W Lefevrc, DFC, took over and the squadron increased its amount of offensive flying, latterly from Harrowbeer where it had moved on 21 September. On 15 October the JA80s returned and two sections scrambled and two Fw190s were brought down. These were 266's final kills on defensive duties as it now switched completely to offensive operations over occupied Europe.

ANTI-SHIPPING ATTACKS

During November the squadron began carrying bombs on its Typhoons and began fighter-bomber operations, with the formation in November of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in preparation for the invasion of France. In due course 266 joined this new formation.


Brittany and the adjacent sea areas remained the squadron's patch and on 1 December eight of 266's Typhoons with four from 193 escorted Mosquitoes on a 'Roadstead' off the Ile de Groix. Flying Officer Blackwell shot down a minesweeping Ju52 and later two Ju88s

were destroyed in this area on the 30th.


The pace of operations quickened in the first months of 1944 with regular escorts and anti-shipping attacks being made over France and several more enemy aircraft destroyed, though 266 was now primarily a ground attack squadron. It suffered a great blow however on 6 February when Squadron Leader Lefevre, an outstanding leader and CO,'was shot down and killed during a shipping attack off the Aber Vrach estuary.


He was replaced by Squadron Leader J W E Holmes. DFC, AFC, on the 9th. The day after he took over 266 had a successful day when during a 'Rodeo' over the Bretigny- Paris area led by the Wing Leader three enemy bombers were destroyed during a strafe whilst in the air Flight Lieutenant Dcall in JR135 destroyed a Ju88 and Flying Officer McGibbon no less than three Yale trainers, the Wing Commander also claimed two fighters.

No.266 suffered another severe blow on 15 February when six aircraft were chasing a group of Ju88s. They were drawn over the heavily defended Lannion airfield and three of the Typhoons were shot down by the devastating barrage of flak.

During March the squadron, by now flying 'bubble hood' Typhoons, moved several times, including an armament camp at Acklington, and on the 23rd arrived at Tangmere where it joined the 2nd Tactical Air Force in preparation for the invasion of France. On 10 April it moved to the ALG at Needs Oar Point alongside Nos.193, 197 and 257 Squadrons with whom it formed No.146 Airfield (later Wing) of No.84 Group. 2 TAF.


It was now flying intensively on operations and tactical training including a week at Snaith in April for a course in Army Support Control, and 'Cab Rank', close support techniques where it would be directed under visual control from the ground.

TACTICAL SUPPORT

By early May it was back with the Wing at Needs Oar Point and increased the tempo of activity. V-l sites (Noballs) continued to be hit as were rail and road communications in France and later coastal radar sites were also targeted. These were difficult targets, and were usually dive bombed. Activity reached a climax in the days prior to the invasion, one further preparation being the application of broad black and white AEAF stripes on 3 June.

On D-Day, 6 June, No.266 was over the beaches early mounting 'Cab Rank' patrols on immediate call of the Army. Gun sites and strong points were attacked and armed recces flown inland, during one, near Caen, Sergeant Donne had to bale out of DN562.

The following day much execution of enemy transport was done, though usually in the face of light flak which cost it a further aircraft. This continued on subsequent days as 266 and the other Typhoon units flew intensively to hinder enemy movement, albeit taking further losses.

One particularly effective operation was on 20 June when the Wing bombed a railway tunnel east of Caen, sealing a train inside. Another was on the 27th when the Wing, in concert with 2 Group Mitchells, hit an infantry Division HQ near St Lo killing the General and many of his staff. Two days later however it moved to Eastchurch for conversion to rocket projectile delivery - a highly effective weapon.

During the course Squadron Leader J D Wright assumed command and on 18 July he led 266 to Hurn where it temporarily joined No. 136 Wing until No. 146 reformed. Interdiction over Normandy and attacks on 'Noballs' or nominated targets, often under VCP control were then flown daily, often in the face of stiff opposition. On the 19th 266 flew an armed recce to the Lisieux area and was bounced by over 25 Bf109s of 1/JG5 and111JG1 and three Typhoons were shot down though Pilot Officer Forrester claimed a Bf109 of 1/JG5; this was 266's final air combat victory.


The following day the squadron moved to Normandy and set up at airstrip B3/St. Croix sur Mer, though within a few days it moved to B8/Somervieu. Conditions were primitive and the dirt caused many problems with the aircraft engines but 266 was quickly into action taking a steady toll of enemy armour and transport.


During 266's epic flight to Rhodesia in 1953 Venom FB.1 WE326/A-A was flown by the CO. It is seen here during a refuelling stop at Tabora in Tanganyika on 5 June. (266 Sqn records)

In early August the enemy counter attacked near Mortain but, when held, the great retreat of the 7th Army began in the face of devastating air attacks and they were soon trapped in a pocket around Falaise.

The Typhoon squadrons, including 266, then proceeded to devastate the enemy though usually in the face of fierce fire. On the 17th 266 destroyed or damaged seven tanks but was attacked by Fw190s and lost Flight Sergeant Love though two 190s were damaged. By the 18th only a small gap remained around Chambois and the enemy troops were relentlessly harried, especially after the last permanent bridge over the Seine had been destroyed by 146 Wing. By the 25th little was left in the Falaise pocket and those elements which had escaped were constantly attacked as the Allied armies broke out and rapidly advanced deep into France and Belgium.


No.266 was involved in a tragic accident on 27 August when with 263 Squadron it was ordered to attack a force of minesweepers. In a devastating rocket attack all four were hit and two sunk, but sadly, in spite of assurances that no Allied ships were in the area, they turned out to be British. A week after this tragedy No.266 moved forward to B23/Morainville and on 8 September to Manston for attacks on French coastal areas. However on the 11th it moved back to the Continent and set up at B51/Lille-Vendeville. From there it supported ground operations into Holland but with the failure of the airborne operation at Amhem the advance was effectively ended.

ARDENNES OFFENSIVE

The Wing then became heavily involved in attacks on by-passed garrisons around the Scheldt Estuary and on Walchcrcn. At the beginning of October it moved to B70/Antwerp-Deurne where shortly afterwards Squadron Leader J H Deall became CO. By now the aircraft had most of the AEAF stripes removed and later the sky fuselage bands were removed to reduce visibility with MPI80/ZH-K and PD473/ZH-E being thus coloured.

From its new base 266 continued its interdiction campaign particularly against VI and V2 sites and supply areas though losses were not light. The squadron took part in a successful 'special' on the 24th when, led by Group Captain Gillan, the Wing attacked the HQ of the 15th Army at Dordrecht. killing or injuring many of the staff. This was followed by the Canadian assault on Walchcren heavily supported by the 84 Group units. Its capture then allowed the port of Antwerp to be used. Later, on 19 November, 266 flew on another 'special' against the Gestapo HQ in Amsterdam. It was aborted, but repeated very successfully on the 26th.

The worsening weather increasingly hampered operations however, though interdiction attacks on enemy communications continued when possible.

Then on 17 December came the enemy offensive through the Ardennes. Initially the foul weather greatly reduced the effectiveness of Allied air power. However on the 24th it clcared and 266 was soon in action against advancing enemy units and resupply routes. Enemy opposition from the ground and air was intense. On Christmas Day 'B' Flight Hew an anti-railway recce of the Dortmund area and, having destroyed a train, were attacked by a large force of enemy fighters, losing two Typhoons; the deadly light flak remaining the main threat. When the weather permitted 266 flew flat out to blunt the German thrust which eventually petered out in mid-January 1945.

ADVANCE INTO GERMANY


Then in early February came Operation 'Veritable' - (The British and Canadian advance to the Rhine. Initially bad weather limited the squadron's effectiveness but it improved on the 14th and it was quickly manning 'Cab Rank' patrols to support the advance.


The fighting was heavy and it operated under great pressure, taking a heavy toll of enemy armour and transport in its close support and interdiction attacks. In the middle of February the squadron moved forward into Germany, to B89/MMI from where it quickly resumed operations. Amongst these was a devastating Wing attack on the fortified Siegfried Line town of Kalkar on the 28th.

In early March interdiction resumed as the enemy retreated to the Rhine and on the 9th the CO left on promotion and was replaced by Squadron Leader REG Sheward DFC. Under him the squadron continued in action preparing the way for the crossing of the Rhine. Operation Varsity' on 24 March called for a maximum effort with the squadron flying very effective flak suppression and 'Cab Rank' patrols as the airborne forces went in.

With the 21st Army Group across the Rhine there began a rapid advance into north-west Germany with the squadron flying deep into enemy territory. Airfields, communications and coastal targets were hit and to keep within range on 16 April it moved forward to Bl05/Drope.

Enemy flak remained a constant danger and during one mission on the 23rd Flying Officer Borland in RB423/ZH-S was shot down and killed near Leer. He was 266's final operational loss however, as two days later it withdrew to Fairwood Common for an APC and short rest, during which time the enemy surrendered.

No.266 returned to Germany in early June and by the 8th it was at Hildesheim as part of the Occupation Forces. From there it adopted a peacetime training routine, amongst its aircraft being RB248/ZH-B, until disbandment on 6 August.



Led by WR469, a flight of four of266's Venom FB.4s break into the Wunstorf circuit in the mid-1950s. By this time they were wearing colourful squadron markings, (via R.E.G Sheward)

JET FIGHTERS

No.266 was reformed at Boxted in Fssex as a permanent part of post-war Fighter Command on 1 September 1946 when No. 234 Squadron was renumbered. Led bv Squadron Leader J A Plagis. DSO. DFC. it flew Meteor F.3 jet fighters for the defence of the United Kingdom. For the first few months of its existence 266 led a nomadic existence, moving via an armament camp at Acklington through Boxted again and Wattisham until settling at Tangmere in April 1947. At the end of the month it returned to Germany when it moved to Lubeck for two months as part of BAFO. There it flew border patrols and exercises until returning to Tangmere at the end of June where a more settled existence began.

Its Meteor F.3s. such as EE254/FX-J and EE453/FX-H. wore the standard fighter colours of dark green and dark sea grey camouflage with medium sea grey undersides. Unit codes and the fuselage bands were sky whilst markings were type C/CI. The squadron flew regular sessions of practice interceptions, often under GCI control, and air fighting and bomber affiliation training as well as participating in the regular air defence exercises.


In December 1947 Squadron Leader D L Harvey became CO and under him early the following year No.266 re-equipped with the improved Meteor F.4. The change was complete by April and the squadron continued on its routine, taking its new jets to an APC at Acklington in July and August. The new aircraft were silver overall, with black codes, but retained the type C/Cl markings and also carried a small eagle badge under the cockpit; VT238FX-R and VTI34/FX-M are examples.


No.266 continued its activities as part of Fighter Command into 1949. However on 11 February it was again disbanded when it was renumbered as No.43 Squadron.


'LONG TREK'


The increasing East-West tensions of the early 1950's led to an expansion of the RAF in Germany. Thus on 14 July 1952 No.266 was reformed at Wunstorf under Squadron Leader C W Coulthard. The squadron was .a fighter-bomber squadron once more and was equipped with the Vampire FB.5. Other than the CO and Flight Commanders, most of the pilots who arrived were straight from training so an intensive period of working up began to bring the squadron up to an operational state. Formation, low level and air firing sorties were regularly flown, whilst dual checks were conducted on one of the several Meteor T.7s on strength.


The Vampire FB.5s were dark green/dark grey camouflage with PRU blue undersides and type D markings. The squadron code letter was initially 'A' as on VZ301/A-M but later changed to 'L' with VZ262/L-T being an example whilst Meteor T.7s included WL409.

Work-up training continued through the year with 266 participating in Exercise 'Ardent' in October whilst in late November it had a month of intensive weapons training at Sylt. Sadly the period was marred by the loss of several pilots in crashes, however the squadron was soon on line as part of the 2nd TAP. It continued with Vampires into 1953 but on 1 April the first of the squadron's Venom FB.ls arrived and 266 was soon busy converting, the process being completed in May.

Because of its strong links with Rhodesia 266 had been invited to attend the Cecil Rhodes centenary celebrations in Salisbury, Rhodesia. Thus on 29 May the CO. in WE326/A-A. led 12 Venoms off on 'Operation Long Trek'. The Venoms routed via France, Malta, the Sudan and central Africa, arriving in Lusaka on 6 June where a display was flown. They moved on to Salisbury two days later where amid superb hospitality they flew several displays before departing on 17 June.

The squadron arrived back at Wunstorf on the 25th after a highly successful deployment. It then returned to the routine of a 2 TAF fighter-bomber unit which, with the sporty Venoms, also included interception exercises.

The FB1s wore similar colours to the Vampires but had variously coloured tip tanks, with a lightning flash and unit motto.The code letter had also changed to 'A' whilst the aircraft letter was repeated on the nose: WE330/A-S and WE457/A-N are examples.

The 2 TAF Venom squadrons had to be highly mobile and dispersal operations were regularly practised, often with an aircraft operating off stretches of autobahn and personnel living under canvas. In addition to APCs and battle training 266 also regularly participated in large scale exercises. One such was 'Battle Royal' in September 1954 when it Hew as part of the 'Northland' force against 'Southland'.

The following July the squadron began reequipping with the Venom FB.4. These, such as WR430 and WR469 wore the standard camouflage and coloured tip tanks but the tail boom codes were replaced by attractive horizontal yellow and green bars as the squadron markings. Some aircraft also wore the badge within a white disc on the nose. Soon after re-equipping, the squadron moved to Fassburg but a year later, in October 1956. it "returned to Wunstorf.

It continued operations from there into 1957 but that year's Defence Review called for a massive reduction in the RAF's fighter force and No.266 eventually became a victim when it was disbanded at Wunstorf on 16 November.

AIR DEFENCE MISSILES

Part of the rationale behind the manned aircraft cuts was that missiles could do the task more effectively. Thus the RAF began deploying the Bloodhound I surface-to-air missile system in units across eastern England, primarily to defend the V-Bomber bases. These units were given fighter squadron numbers and so on I December 1959 No.266 was reformed as a Bloodhound 1 squadron at Rattlesden. It was commanded by Squadron Leader G Middlebrook and under him the squadron worked hard to come to an operational state as part of the Fighter Command missile defences.

On being declared operational it was regularly tested in evaluations and air defence exercises which all helped to sharpen its efficiency. However, in the early 1960s it was decided to withdraw the Bloodhound Mkl system and as a result No.266 (Rhodesia) Squadron was finally disbanded on 30 June 1964.



Venom FB.4 WR546 is seen during a stop-over at Wildenrath in April 1955. The tip tanks were green with yellow flashes; the boom markings were also in those colours. (R A Brown)



Venom FB.4 WR464 is seen at it's Fassburg base shortly before No.266'3 dlsbandment in 1957. By this stage the squadron's eagle badge is worn on the nose. (MAP)


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: The author is grateful to the following for their kind help in the preparation of this article; Air Vice Marshal C W Coultland, CB, AFC, R Cronin, S R D Menelaws, Squadron Leader REG Sheward, DFC and C H Thomas.



End


















VOLUME 16 NUMBER 1 NOVEMBER 1993 
Extracted and recompiled by Eddy Norris from the above magazine for use on "Our Rhodesian Heritage" administered by ORAFs.

ORAFs records its thanks to the author, photographers, publishers and printers of this magazine for the use of their material.

Material made available by Darryl Burlin (RhAF) Thanks Daryl.  

Comments are welcome  please mail me on orafs11@gmail.com.

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Charles Green





John Deall






John Plagis




Post WW2 Rhodesians on 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron)




Mike Hamence

Served with 266 (Rhodesia) Squadron (RAF)  before joining the RhAF.

      

2 Comments:

At 15 April 2014 at 04:05 , Blogger Chuck Beattie said...

My Grandfather was in 266 Sqn on Moudros and in Crimea. He was a Canadian. I've several photos of the Sqn members and am interested in more on the Russian operation.

 
At 19 October 2014 at 11:52 , Blogger Maarten Engels said...

Maybe of some interest, my webpage dedicated to Flt./Lt. S.H.Bazley, KIFA 02/03/1941
http://www.mijnoudespulletjes.nl/bazley.html

 

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