59 History
----- Blenheim Operations - The Battle of Britain - No.59 Squadron History -----
------ No.16 Group - Coastal Command - Bristol Blenheim ------

Correction - July 2012: I have previously stated that 59 Squadron came under the control of Coastal Command in April of 1941. Ross McNeil and Andrew Bird (both authors and authoritive figures of Coastal Command history) have provided me with details that show that this actually occurred at a conference on the 26th of June 1940, effective immediately. What did happen in April of 1941, was that the Squadron establishment changed from that of an Army Co-Operation unit, to that of a G.R (General Reconnaissance) unit (Continuing under the command of Coastal Command). The History of War site states the following - "On 1 April 1941 No.59 became a general reconnaissance squadron, carrying out anti-shipping strikes, first with the Blenheims and then with Lockheed Hudsons."

The 59 Blenheim's back in the U.K: Shortly after returning from France, S/L Fyfe left 59 Sqn and was posted to 107 Sqn (Blenheims) on 11/06/40 and died as a result of air operations in August. On leaving 59, S/Ldr Fyfe left a congratulatory message on the "Squadron Detail" record dated 11/06/40...

"On relinquishing command of the Squadron, Squadron Leader J.B. Fyfe, DFC wishes to thank all the ranks of the Squadron for their loyalty and very hard work carried out under extremely difficult conditions. Sqaudron Leader Fyfe wishes the Squadron the best of luck in the future in whatever may be its undertakings." AIR27-558.

F/L N.B Hallmark assumed command until the arrival of a new C/O, S/Ldr Morgan-Weld-Smith on 29/06/40. Unfortunately the new C/O was lost due to operations just under two weeks later and once again F/L Hallmark assumed command. On the 12/08/40 W/C JAC Stratton took command and F/L Hallmark was promoted to S/Ldr and as was the custom at the time, he was posted to another squadron. Going back a few months, 59 was replenished with new replacement aircraft on arrival back from France on the 21st May. The main bulk of the Squadron relocated to Andover, having left a small detachment of aircraft, crews and a servicing unit behind. read about the detachment: On the 30th the Squadron moved to Eastchurch, then to Odiham on the 1st of June. They operated out of Odiham until the 5th of July, when the Squadron moved to RAF Thorney Island. Aside from being stationed at RAF Detling for two months from June '41 till August '41, the Squadron would remain at Thorney Island till January 1942.

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The Battle of Britain: (dates are contested - officially noted by Britain as 10th July - 31st October 1940...

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59 Sqn Operations: By the 5th of July, the Squadron had relocated to Thorney Island to commence operations under Coastal Command. From July 1940 (to October 1940), 59 was involved in Coastal's day and night bombings of the Channel ports, along the Dutch and French coastlines, operating out of RAF Thorney Island. Their targets (Cherbourg, L'orient and Boulogne etc) were U-boat pens, petrol storage tanks, moored invasion barges, any boats (including U-boats) they could attack and frequent attacks on airfields (such as Caen and Le Havre) including any aircraft in sight (particularly German fighters). They also undertook reconnaissance sorties when required and convoy escort patrols began in July. It remained a dangerous time for 59 and all Blenheim squadrons, as daylight missions made them easy pickings for German fighters and heavy AA fire. It would have been a lot safer (and perhaps even more effective) if the Blenheim had been used for night missions only... but the RAF (probably under pressure from Churchill) decided that for the benefit of wartime moral, it needed to be "seen" mounting a strong round the clock war effort. 59 Sqn was again fighting along side 53 Sqn, as they had in France as No. 52 Wing of the B.E.F. They, like 59, had left Army Co-Operation (Fighter Command) in early July tout relocated to RAF Detling, not Thorney Island. It was initially thought that the Blenheim bombers would only be required for strike op's on the Channel ports and Coastal defences, but very quickly they were undertaking "trade protection" duties (convoy patrols). This could be in part, owing to the high losses sustained by the (four) Blenheim fighter squadrons, tasked with "trade protection" who had joined Coastal in early 1940. No's 235, 236 and 248 made the move in February, whilst 254 moved in January. Other duties included escorting bombers on strike ops.

The Flying Moustaches: In the book "Coastal Dawn", Andrew Bird describes the scene as a flight of Blenheim fighters arrives to Thorney Island in early June 1940...

"When 235 Squadron's air-party arrived, some of 59 Squadron's advance party, were still in the process of growing moustaches... It was a trend that started because nearly all of them came from Army CO-Operation after France. Wing Commander John Stratton mentions in an album "my men simply decided to grow moustaches in order to make themselves look older. They were conscious of how much younger they looked without them. Everyone tried to grow moustaches but for some there was simply not enough growing on their top lip."

Terry Sheldon, the son of LAC Eric Sheldon recalls the following of his fathers memories of 59 Sqn at Thorney Island:

"When the actual invasion of Britain was a possibility, the 59 Sqdn personnel on the island, were trained by commandos, in basic hand to hand combat! I Remember him talking about the camouflage being changed to a 'duck egg blue' belly on TR-A & TR-B"

:::: Month By Month of Operational Totals :::...
Month Anti Invasion Recon Bombing Convoy Search Monthly Total
July 43 14 9 19 8 96
August 29 21 15 8 10 83
September 31 18 26 0 0 75
October 47 1 25 1 1 75
Battle Totals 150 54 75 28 19 TOTAL - 326
  A total of approx. 326 sorties were flown by 59 Sqn during the Battle of Britain

 

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....:::: 59 Squadron Veterans Told to Return Battle Honours ::::....

After being rightfully awarded the Clasp of the Battle of Britain, 59 Squadron veterans were told in 1960 that they were no longer entitled to hold it, wear it at any official gathering and that they must be returned forthwith! This order from the Air Ministry was based purely on the grounds that 59 Squadron aircrews "operated in non fighter aircraft"during the Battle of Britain, despite being one of the first squadrons operational on the 10th of July, then flying over 300 sorties, losing 16 aircraft with 33 casualties throughout the duration...

Not to detract from the significant role that the RAF fighter squadrons played during the Battle but I feel that it is an injustice to deny the personnel of non-fighter units (who also carried out their duties without question - sometimes to their deaths) the right of recognition for their courage and participation. It is an utter disgrace, that some 15 years after becoming first eligible for the award and thus being so rewarded, the Air Ministry felt comfortably righteous to strip the 59 Sqn aircrews of their honours! The same fate would fall upon those who operated with No.53 Sqn...

...::: READ MORE :::...

 

 

 

 

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::::::: 59 Squadron Operations - Battle of Britain :::...
Date Mission Details: (day sorties unless noted otherwise)
Fri - 05/07/1940
P/O GT Palmer and crew (TR-E) were attacked by 3 bf109's off Dungeness, despite damage to the aircraft they managed to make it back to Thorney Island. A german pilot Uffz.Willi Gasthus of 4.FG51 claimed to have shot down the Blenheim.
Sun - 07/07/1940
Night Op - Two Blenheims attacked the motor vessel 'Condercet' near Brest - No losses.
Wed - 10/07/1940
Two Blenheims took off for a recon mission between Le Havre and Cherbourg. One of he planes (piloted by P/O Rex) crashed on return near Shropshire. (all crew lost).
Thur - 11/07/1940
Two Blenheims (E & P) were sent out to search for E-Boats in the English Channel. They encountered a Do17 and attacked. The two crews claimed that the aircraft was unlikely to have made it back to base after leaving with extensive tail damage (probable tail gunner killed) and trailing smoke from both engines.
Fri - 12/07/1940
59 Sqn Blenheims were sent out for a search and destroy mission of enemy aircraft. One of the Blenheims (piloted by P/O Ayres) was attacked by 12 bf109's. The crew managed to make it back to Thorney Island where they crashed on landing (DBR) Ayres was unharmed but his two crew members were injured. Sgt Webb (AG) was awarded a DFM for his actions during this air battle.
Sat - 13/07/1940
Night op- 53 and 59 Sqn Blenheims were sent on a strike against barges moored in the Canals near Bruges. A 59 Blenheim crashed into the sea off Shoreham (P/O Clark an crew) all crew were killed.
Sun - 14/07/1940

6 Blenheims of 53 Sqn and 6 of 59 Sqn made an attack on oil and petrol storage tanks on the Ghent-Selzaette Canal. One 53 Blenheim was lost and one 59 Blenheim (P/O Sande[r]s and crew) was attacked by four bf109's but managed to make it back to base where the aircraft crash landed.

Wed - 17/07/1940
6 Blenheims of 53 Sqn and 4 of 59 Sqn again made an attack on oil and petrol storage tanks on the Ghent-Selzaette Canal. 6 failed to find target and 4 bombed targets of opportunity. One 59 Blenheim was lost (P/O Jackson and crew) all killed.
Sat - 20/07/1940
3 Blenheims of 236 Sqn (fighter) escorted one of 59 on a recon' mission between Le Havre and Cherbourg. At Le Havre a cruiser and destroyer were spotted as they continued on too Cherbourg. At 1800 and 13,000 feet, 3 bf109s appeared out of the blue in brilliant sunshine. Two of the Blenheim Fighters dived to 6000ft in a defensive manoeuvre but for some unknown reason the third one did not follow, it was attacked (by Hauptmann Eduard Neuman Stab./JG27). Bits fell from its port wing as it was attacked and both engines caught fire, it entered into a steep spin and crashed into the sea 30kms south of Portland. It is unknown where the 59 Blenheim was at this time but perhaps the third fighter had stayed to protect the bomber. The two crew of the fighter failed to escape. All other aircraft returned to base safely.
Sat - 20/07/1940
Night op - Blenheims of 59 and Hudson's of 206 Sqn made a strike against oil storage tanks at Vlaadingen, causing fires.
Mon - 22/07/1940
6 Blenheims of 59 and 1 Hudson (possibly 206 Sqn) bombed invasion barges at Amsterdam. On return to base, the undercarriage of Blenheim R3639 collapsed on landing. The aircraft caught fire and was damaged beyond repair (DBR). P/O Hovenier, Sgt's Magee and Scotchmere managed to escape unhurt.
Tues - 23/07/1940
Six 59 Blenheims attacked storage tanks at Flushing. No losses.
Thurs - 25/07/1940
Three 59 Blenheims sent out to search for survivors of S.S Meknes. (view more)
Mon - 29/07/1940
Four 59 Blenheims attacked oil tanks at Cherbourg. No losses.
01/08/1940
13 Blenheims attacked Cherbourg airfield after recon Blenheim made report of 30 enemy aircraft on dispersal and near hangers. 3 aircraft failed to return and two were damaged by flak. One of the aircraft lost was from 59, piloted by Commanding Officer Morgan-Weld-Smith DFC.
(above) Last date available online from the Other Few. Below are details of sorties from other sources.
02/08/1940
59 Blenheim TR-K took of from Thorney Island in the morning to search for the missing Blenheim TR-A (lost the day before after a raid on Cherbourg). A couple of hours after take off TR-K was shot down by a bf109, all were killed.
09/08/1940
59 Blenheim TR-F failed to return from a recon' mission of Cherbourg. P/O Davis and crew were all killed.
11/08/1940
Night-op - 5 Blenheims sent on a bombing raid to Cherbourg, led by P/O Grece & crew. Precision bombing was under taken from 15000ft all hitting their targets. All crews returned.
19/08/1940
Night op - 6 Blenheims of 59 Sqn were sent to attack Caen Airfield. One bombed successfully four failed to find target, one aircraft TR-A failed to return (crashed due to battle damage). Sgt's Whiting and Wilkinson died instantly but P/O reynolds died of his wounds on the 27th.
28/08/1940
6 Blenheims of 59 Sqn attacked Caen Airfield scoring hits on hangers and causing fires. One crashed on return in Sussex (P/O Dellow and crew).
September Summary: The ORB entries are presented in a very stylish font this month... and although beautifully handwritten, they're a nightmare to try and decipher! The month of September starts with a night raid on Lorient. 5 aircraft successfully bombed the harbour. An 8 aircraft bombing of Cherbourg was successfully carried out on the 4th. The 8th and 10th saw bombing raids on Calais, results inconclusive. The 15th saw another 8 aircraft raid, this time on Le Havre. An S.O.S was received on the 21st. "C" Flight comprising F/L Powell, P/O Van Blokland, P/O Kennedy, P/O James, P/O Briggs and P/O Connell and all other crews and ground crews proceeded to Hendon on receipt of invasion alert No.1 and prepared to operate with four aircraft under the command of the Home Forces. 23-25th saw daily bombing raids on Brest. 27th saw five aircraft successfully bomb Le Havre, causing an enormous fire and explosion. 28th saw a seven aircraft force successfully bomb the the harbour and torpedo works at Lorient. On the 30th, the month ended with a funeral service for P/O Johnson (killed five days before), held at Thorney Parish Church, conducted by the Station Padre, S/L Hollings.
October Summary: October 1940 started with a series of day and night bombing raids on Dunkirk, Brest, Le Havre, Lorient, Bologne and Cherbourg. On the 11th, three aircraft were sent out to search for survivors of a sunken trawler. 2 boats containing 24 survivors were located. Aircraft stayed in the area until a rescue was made. The next day they returned to bombing duties with a 1700hrs take off for a raid on a power station in Lorient. The results were poor and on the 15th, they were sent back! Two out six aircraft dropped bombs on target, fires seen. Off to the power station again on the 25th with 5 aircraft. This time the weather was poor and the target was covered by cloud from 4000-1500ft, results were poor. They must have been very intent on destroying this power station because on the 27th, they were at it again! This time six aircraft returned at 1815hrs. Two of the six bombed on target, fires and damage observed to power house, one inconclusive and the remaining two, results not observed.

 

Steel Nerves: Fighter Command pilots must have been running on steel nerves and adrenalin to cope with the strain... but the strain on 59 Sqn pilots and crews was no less significant in its own right. During the Battle they lost in excess of 13 aircraft and crews. 8 more would be lost before the end of 1940 (with an approx total of 33 for all of 1940). A further 18 would be lost before the last "operational Blenheim" left in Sept 1941 (one was retained for training purposes V5921 'G'). All up 59 Sqn lost close to 60 Blenheim aircraft during the time they were operational with them (May '40 - Sept '41) contributing to over half of their casualties for the entire war. In the award citation (DFC) of S/L Archer, it makes mention of 59 during this time..

"...he was a member of 59 Squadron, employed during the British invasion scare, in day and night bombing of the Channel ports. His Squadron was practically annihilated..."

(above) TR-J sits out in the rare summer sunshine at RAF Thorney Island.
------- PHOTO FILE - Bristol Blenheim's at Thorney Island - 1940 - LAC Eric Sheldon --------

A Blenheim at Thorney Island. Image sent in by Terry Sheldon (March 2012) - son of Eric Sheldon.

(view more)

Blenheim Operations - Battle of Britain - Wikipedia: "As well as the bombing operations Blenheim equipped units had been formed to carry out long-range strategic reconnaissance missions over Germany and German occupied territories. In this role the Blenheims once again proved to be too slow and vulnerable against Luftwaffe fighters and they took constant casualties. Coastal Command directed its attention towards the protection of British shipping, and the destruction of enemy shipping. As invasion became more likely, it participated in the strikes on French harbours and airfields, laying mines, and mounting numerous reconnaissance missions over the enemy held coastline. In all, some 9,180 sorties were flown by bombers (Bomber and Coastal Commands combined) from July to October 1940. Although this was small compared with the 80,000 sorties flown by fighters, bombers suffered about 50% of the number of casualties borne by their fighter colleagues. The bomber contribution was therefore much more dangerous on a loss-per-sortie comparison". Of the 1547 Allied aircraft lost during the battle, 148 of them were from coastal command. (source)

(left) 12 July 1942: Photo taken by No 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (Coastal).Vertical aerial view of RAF Thorney Island, Hampshire. Note the attempt to camouflage the airfield and runways as hedge and field patterns.
(above) TR-J on dispersal at RAF Thorney Island
day night bombing The German U-boat pen at Lorient in France. Attacks on these huge cement structures were futile early on in the war but it was hoped that U-boats may at least be caught unawares. U-boat pens were also heavily defended by AA fire.It was not until Barnes Wallis, the man who developed the bouncing
bomb used by the Dambusters also developed the "Tall Boy" that the Allies started to see results. This bomb was also used in the sinking of the famous German battleship the Bismarck.

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