59 History

...::: 59th Squadron RFC - A Tribute to the Dawn Patrol :::...

...::: Enter Here :::...

- The Build Up to WWII - No. 59 Squadron Service History -
Due to the large image content of the History section, it has been divided into the above linked pages.
------ No. 59 Squadron RAF ------
No. 59 Squadron Hawker Hector - circa 1938

Prepared for War Again: The Squadron reformed again (for the first time since 1919) on June 28, 1937 at RAF Old Sarum under the command of Squadron Leader J. Warburton. The structure of the RAF had changed since WW1 and 59th Squadron was now known as No. 59 Squadron RAF. By 28 July, they had received their full compliment in 16 Hawker Hector's. Interim kites until the Bristol Blenheim MkIV arrived. 12 of the Hawkers were designated as UE (Unit Equipment) and 4 as IE (Immediate Reserve). As part of No.22 Army Co-Operation Group, serving under Fighter Command (founded 1st May 1936) they were signed off as a Night Reconnaissance Squadron for 2nd Corps (Southern Command in peace time). The Squadron code at this time was "PJ". Personnel for the Squadron were slow to arrive due to the expansion of the RAF and the number of new squadrons being formed. By August, all three Flights were under the command of Flying Officers and six out of the eleven on strength, were seconded from the Army (Army personnel granted commissions into the RAF). Night flying training commenced in Aug. and from there on, weather permitting. The ORB notes that progress with flight training was made more difficult given that Old Sarum was a "very unsuitable aerodrome for this task.."

The Broken Wheel: In March of 1939, Air Chief-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding presented the Squadron Crest at RAF Old Sarum as Europe prepared for war. (photo - Ken Jelfs)
------ Fighter Command - Special Army Recon Unit - No.22 (Army Co-Operation) Group ------
(above) Officers & Aircrew - group photo with two Hector Hawkers - Old Sarum - Source - AIR27-558


Keep Them Flying - Richard Los

Richard Los (pictured right) recalls this time of training in his book "Keep Them Flying". AC1 Los joined 59 Squadron at Old Sarum in 1937 as an Engine Fitter.

"...night flying was particularly hazardous for all involved especially when it came to the landing procedures. 12 paraffin lights where set up in the middle of the runway (of which the aircraft was to land either side of) and each one had to be manned incase the light blew out. The aircraft did not always stay on-course and it was not uncommon for one to crash on landing, perhaps even killing or injuring crews or a light watcher...

The ORB makes note of two airmen having been killed in May 1938 during a night flying accident and again in May of 1939 an officer and an air gunner were also killed as a result of an accident. Los recalls both accidents in his book.

"We lost an aircraft and its two crew due to a crash landing at night which caused the aircraft to catch fire and burn out. It was a horrifying experience to see it happening and rushing forward to try and do something, only to be driven back by the heat... It was an experience I was to endure all too often later during the war...Another aircraft was lost during a daylight crash. we watched it happen from the far side of the airfield, the aircraft virtually disintergrating... The air gunner was a most popular young fellow known affectionately as the "Canteen Cowboy" due to his romance with one of the NAAFI girls. They had recently been engaged and it was a sad occasion for all concerned..."

Los also makes note of one airmen "light watcher" being killed when a Hector strayed off course attempting to land at night and as he turned to run he was killed by the aircraft axle.

...::: 59 Squadron Hawker Hector Serial Numbers :::...

The following was kindly sent in by Brian Stafford: "During this period the aircraft would have been painted silver overall but later camouflaged.possibly in late 1938 or early 1939. It was only at this point were the squadron codes applied".

The ORB notes that in Sept. 1938: "Aircraft camouflage scheme received. Dope drawn from stores and camouflage doping of aircraft started..."

K9689 to K9694
K9698 to K9700  
K9704 to K9706

K9739 - withdrawn from use in July 1939
K9691 - withdrawn from use on 19/5/39 (probably the accident mentioned above)


Hawker Hector K9690 of No. 59 Sqn with the new camouflage and codes introduced after the

Munich Crisis.PJ-B was wrecked in an accident on 19.05.39, killing the crew. (source)

(above) 59 Sqn Hector Hawker K9710 being worked on by A.L. Mason, armourer - AG. (Image submitted by Pete Mason - son)
(above) 59 Sqn Hector Hawker PJ-B - Source - AIR27-558
(above) NCO's and other ranks - group photo with two Hector Hawkers - Old Sarum - Source - AIR27-558

Hawker Hector K9700 of No. 59 Sqn in 1937. (source)
59 Squadron ORB Highlights - Dec. 1937 to Sept. 1939
Dec. 1937
The Squadron annual leave begins on the 15th, and the Squadron is closed until Jan 15th 1938. S/L Warburton was posted to the Air Ministry and S/L J.B Fyfe DFC took command.
Jan. 1938
Squadron resumes Armament Training for practice camp.
Feb. 1938
Air and ground Training programs were produced. Anti-gas lectures were given to all ranks.
Mar. 1938
Demonstrations to O.T.C units and Air experience for Supplementary Reserve Officers together with necessary instruction was provided this month. One Magistar aircraft for inter-communication was collected from READING. The Squadron entered for the Sassoon Photographic Trophy. F/L R. LEIGH took over command on attachment of the Commanding Officer to Central Flying School, UPAVON. All training proceeded steadily.
Apr. 1938

A long distance flight was carried out by 8 aircraft covering 1400 miles without trouble in 2 and 1/2 days. Co-Operation with ALDERSHOT Command gave the first real experience in night reconnaissance of road movement using reconnaissance flares. Results were gratifying.

28/29: Squadron participated in Southern Command exercise with night reconnaissance - night flying BOSCOMBE DOWN aerodrome.

May: 1938
Photography for the Sassoon Trophy carried out. Flying for Empire Air Day, Affiliation with No.1 (F) Squadron. Demolition exercises with the Royal Engineers. The attachment of Staff College Camberley students for a week. A low level flying attack demonstration and demonstrations to 50 all ranks of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and 40 all ranks of the Loyal regiment, together with photography and night flying kept the Squadron busy. Two airmen were unfortunately killed in a night flying accident.
Jun. 1938
PORTON was used for practice bombing. Several Army photographic demands were completed.
Jul. 1938
The Squadron proceeded to NORTH COATES FITTIES for Armament Training Camp. Low bombing and air to ground gun practices were carried out - weather was good.
Aug. 1938
Weather deteriorated and the period allotted for air to air firing was considerably reduced, although more training would have been welcome. The Squadron just managed to get sufficient to pass all u/t Air Gunners.
Sept. 1938

Night reconnaissance was carried out with the Royal Tank Corps, Warwick Regiment and Northern Command. Palestine methods of co-operation with low bombing, were used in an exercise with the 7th Infantry Brigade.

16th-19th: The Commanding Officer, Air Liaison Officers, Signals Officer and Wireless personnel were detached to HERLOW for a War Office exercise

26th: Emergency declared as a result of the International Political situation. Officers and airmen recalled from leave and Orderly Room staff and various personnel sent to Mobilisation Pooles. Officers detailed for War Appointments, standing by to proceed to new stations.

27th: Instructions for Aircraft Identification signals in case of air combat received.

28th: Passive defence arrangements made for black-out of the station in the event of attack. Instructions for Army Co-Operation Squadrons in Home Defence received. Policy of keeping No.59 (AC) Squadron at OLD SARUM on Peace Strength. Practice dispersal of aircraft on aerodrome.

29th: No.11 (Fighter) Group battle orders received. System of: Battle "Stand By" and "Stand Down" Flights instituted in the Squadron. Air Liaison Officer's office converted to Squadron Operations Room.

30th: Aircraft camouflage scheme received. Dope drawn from stores and camouflage doping of aircraft started. Black out of station from 2030hrs to 2130hrs.

Oct. 1938

1st: Aerodrome defence practice. All personnel wearing gas-masks from 1030hrs to 1100hrs. Aircraft dispersed. Attack warnings received. Mock attacks by Battle flights.

11-12th: Inspection by Air Officer Commanding No.22 (AC) Group.

14th: Test of ODIHAM STATION defence scheme. Attack carried out by six aircraft of this Squadron.

Dec. 1938
Several Pilots were attached to No.90 (B) Squadron, BICESTER for instruction on Blenheim aircraft. Annual leave commenced on the 16th and the Squadron ceased normal work.
Jan. 1939
Work recommenced on the 16th. Night flying was carried out satisfactorily during this month.
Feb. 1939
The G.O.C in Chief, Southern Command was piloted on various cross country flights by the Squadron. Not possible to proceed with Blenheim instruction due to Bomber Squadron commitments and lack of a free to carry on. Army photographic demands were successfully completed. Night flying handicapped by bad weather.
Mar. 1939
Squadron attached to No.2 ATS ALDERGROVE. Bad weather at ALDERGROVE seriously curtailed the amount of practice but a considerable improvement was noticed in Air Gunners firing. Squadron crest presented by Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh C.T Dowding, GCVO, KCB, CMG, ADC.
Apr. 1939
Squadron returned to OLD SARUM on April 1st. A flying instructor detailed by No.22 (AC) Group was consulted and arrangements made for dual instruction on the Blenheim aircraft received in March.
May. 1939
The Squadron changed station on the 11th and became located at ANDOVER under No.51 (AC) Wing. Rehearsals for Empire Air Day on the 20th and detachments of aircraft for this event absorbed considerable flying time. 14 Blenheim's of the re-equipment in place of the hectors arrived. During this month an unfortunate accident occurred in which an officer and one Air Gunner were killed.
June. 1939
The Inter-Unit Station Sports Athletic Trophy was won by the Squadron on Thurs 29th. At the end of this month, the Squadron held its full quota of Blenheim's together with six Hectors retained for night co-operation.
July. 1939
Photography for the Army Units absorbed considerable flying time, the Squadron having now, during the past three months completed a number of negatives equal to that of the whole of the previous year.
Aug. 1939
Air Vice Marshal C.H.B Blount, OBE, MC visited the unit on the 28th. Pilots commenced night flying on the Blenheim's
Sept. 1939
1st: Mobilisation was declared. Squadron prepares for war.
Training Up on The Blenheim - March to June 1939
(above) The first Blenheim, PJ-L makes a textbook landing on arrival... March 1939 (Richard Los)

Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV (Bomber): Following the lead of her sister squadron, 53, 59 were the second squadron to be equipped with the Mk.IV between March and June of 1939. Although it appears the first Blenheim arrived in March (PJ-L), it was not until the squadron relocated to RAF Andover in April, that 14 Blenheims were put on strength. It's likely that PJ-L was used for familiarisation purposes during the interim period. In their new Blenheims they were to be tasked with night reconnaissance for the Army, using flares. The Hector was very unsuitable for this role, hence the Blenheim's were equipped as soon as they were available. On May 11th 1939, the Squadron relocated to RAF Andover, from Old Sarum to begin training on their new Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV aircraft.

"Work up was slow. Aircrew were at first attached to bomber squadrons for conversion, and in the case of No 59 Squadron this had begun in December 1938. But even by September 1939 the squadron was not operational in its difficult task. Indeed, the last Hector did not leave that squadron until September 28 1939. By then the two Army Co-operation Blenheim squadrons had been committed to the Field Force of the Air Component of the British Expeditionary Force, France.

Part of the problem lay in crew training. The pilot had an additional job to flying the machine for it was his task to make visual reconnaissance, send radio reports and receive radio messages in return. The
Sergeant/Observer positioned in the nose of the Blenheim served as navigator, operated the camera and assisted in visual reconnaissance as well as handling some of the radio communications. The air gunner was also a radio operator and it was his task to keep the radio set tuned for the job.Team work was essential, and for night operations the training needed was lengthy."

At the time that war was delcared on the 3rd Sept, 59 Sqn consisted of 3 flights (all of which were seconded to the Army), A Flight (under C/O F/L ACG Wimbush) & B Flight (under C/O F/L DC Curme) were both qualified for Blenheim operations however C Flight (under C/O F/L HT Sutton) had no experience in flying on the Blenheim. Thus it must have been that C Flight consisted of the 6 Hawker Hector's that Richard Los remembers were retained after conversion to the Blenheim in May. In his memoirs he wrote that he'd been slightly embarassed that they'd been kept (the Hawker Hector's) but was relieved they were kept in one of the hangars and out of site... C Flight was quickly trained up and by the 11th of Sept - all of the Squadron pilots were signed off as qualified and ready to begin operations, however the ORB further notes that C-Flight, only commenced their night-flying training a few days later on the 13th... By this time, F/O Musprat-Williams had taken command of C-Flight, as F/L Hutton had been posted to Uxbridge due to illness.


------ Commonwealth Airmen - 59 Sqn ------

P/O Croydon Chamberlain

The Southern Contingent: So far I have only been able to source three airmen from the Southern continents who were with 59 Sqn at the time war broke out. Two were from New Zealand. P/O (P) Croydon JE. Chamberlain and P/O (P) Clive R. Wylie and possibly one Australian.

Croydon was offered a short service commission with the RAF in 1937 and it is probable that Clive was also part of this group. According to the Squadron ORB, Croydon arrived to 59 Sqn on the 26th of August 1939. May 14th of the following year, his Blenheim was shot down and he and his crew were all lost. Some sources state that they were shot down over Sedan, France but more recently it is believed by others that they were shot down over Belgium... (read more)

Clive and his crew were lost on the 16/06/1940 (read more)

It has been brought to my attention that P/O Hawkes may have been an Australian that was serving with 59 Sqn at the outbreak of war. I have no other record of others at this time. Training took around 12 months depending on muster and advanced training needs so the majority of Australian airmen would start to see service in mid to late 1941onwards. The training of airmen was initially stalled by a dispute between the Australian and British cabinets, the former wanting all Australians to serve in solely RAAF squadrons and the latter wanting them to be absorbed into already existing RAF squadrons. It appears that most would see service in RAF squadrons, although there were RAAF squadrons set up (other than No.10) but mostly under Bomber Command.

The number of Australians and other Commonwealth nation airmen (Canadian, NZ, South African) significantly increased during 59's tenure with the Lockheed Hudson (07/41 - 08/42) as the first waves of airmen began to finish their training under the Empire AIt Training Scheme and enter operational service.



------ A Little Bit of History ------

The Motto and Insignia: The Squadron motto is "Ab Uno Disce Omnes"... From One Learn All... According to F/L Allen, the Squadron insignia (The Broken Wheel) was awarded to 59th during the Great War. British infantry were pinned down by German artillery and taking heavy casualties. A 59th Squadron aircraft attacked the gun and silenced it during the September Offensive. The soldiers as a sign of appreciation and respect took the broken wheel from the gun and awarded it to the squadron. The Narborough Airfield site states the following..

"It was during the Great War that Captain D.H.M Carbery MC, DFC of 59 Sqn was responsible for the capture of an enemy artillery gun and the wheel, which still exists, became the centrepiece of the squadron badge".

The painting above is by Timothy O'Brien. It depicts the attack by Carbery and his observer/gunner, Clements. In this article he explains the significance of the Wheel and its history prior to WW2.

Douglas Carbery is credited as a WW1 flying ace with six aerial victories. He is also one of the few aces of the War whose victories were won flying the RE.8 exclusively...

Many a crew photo was taken with the wheel proudly displayed alongside or behind during WW2. The Wheel is now with the Narborough History Society who run the Museum & Heritage Centre in the heart of Narborough Village. If you're in the area, be sure to drop by!

(above) The 59 Squadron dedication at the Narborough Museum. The Wheel pictured here (to the right) is a replica made by a WWII member of the Squadron, Tom Cottee.

The Dawn Patrol: In 1938 British film director Edmund Goulding released an American remake of the 1930 classic (directed by Howard Hawks) of the same name, The Dawn Patrol. Starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathblone, David Niven and also casting Michael Brooke, the 7th Earl of Warwick. The movie portrays the trials and tribulations of 59th Squadron RFC on the Western Front during the Great War. Although not strictly accurate to the service of 59th (as they were a recon unit, not a fighter squadron..) the name however seems to have re-surfaced during WWII and it appears that it was brought back into use by W/C Robert Niven in mid 1942. Perhaps the shared surname with one of the actors in the movie was a factor. On the bill of a play the Squadron produced in august of 1942, they were named as The Dawn Patrol (view). It appears that the name stuck as Niven's replacement C/O, W/C Geoffrey Bartlett AFC, refers to 59 Sqn as "The Dawn Patrol" in the memoirs of his RAF Service.

This site was created by and information compiled by L.Del Mann - © 2008