59 History
- Blenheim Operations - The Battle of France - No. 59 Squadron Service History -
------ BEF Air Support Wing - No.22 Army Co-Operation Group ------

A State of War... September 1st 1939. It was notified that relations between Great Britain and certain Foreign Power or Powers had become strained... "At 2100 hours on 1st Sept, mobilisation was declared. In accordance with K.R & A.C.I Para. 2350, Clause 2, this operations record is closed. The new War Record is being commenced with effect from 2100 hours 1st Sept. (signed) John B. Fyfe C/O" (pictured to the left. Image supplied by his son, Malcolm Fyfe.) Air 27/554

Note: Much of the following information from the Battle of France was initially compiled from Richard Los' book, "Keep Them Flying". Over the years, more information has been found and added onto the site but the information from 'Keep Them Flying', has helped to blend the newer information in and give a smoother sense of the events (and also vice-versa). The Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB) and Appendices are an invaluable source as are the contributions of AC Joe Hurst and the relatives of many others.

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On May 11th 1939, the Squadron relocated to RAF Andover, from Old Sarum to begin training on their new Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV aircraft. 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.

Off to France Again: On the 21st of Sept. 1939 - F/LHallmark and one other officer left for France as the advance party, to finalise arrangements for the Squadron in Poix. They traveled to Amiens via Cherbourg. Three days later the Squadron was totally mobilised and on the 26th, all the 3-tonners were loaded up and the road party left for the docks under the supervision of F/O Hawks and P/O Kearon (who later retired as Air Vice-Marshal RAF in 1986).

1st October: The entire Squadron of 243 airmen marched from RAF Andover led by S/L Fyfe (C/O) and F/L's Smither, Smith, Millar and F/O Horton to the local train station cheered on by many local well wishers. A/C Joe Hurst recalls the walk and was amazed at the reception they received along the way. Their train arrived at Southampton at 1045 and at 1500 they boarded MS Daffodil (with No. 2 and 26 Sqn's) and at 1700 they all left for France on what Los went on to describe as "a very miserable, wet, cold and unwelcoming voyage". Joe Hurst also remembered the journey as being far less than desirable...
(above) 59 Squadron on Parade prior to leaving for France - 1939 (Richard Los)
(above) The Officers of 'B' Flight - RAF Andover - 1939 (Richard Los)

MS Daffodil met with the escorting destroyers at 0030 on the 2nd Oct and by 0630 they had docked at Cherbourg, France. They caught a train for Amiens at 1534 and pulled into the station at 0800 the next morning. at 0930 they boarded yet another train and by 1030 the squadron had arrived at their first posting of the war (outside the UK)... From there they marched in the rain to Chateau de Courcelles (four miles out of Poix) were they received a warm welcoming from Baron de Ranst. Here they billeted in the stables, lofts, outhouses and barns after some hard work clearing out the many years of bird droppings and rat poop! Their first meal consisted of meat, black beans, black bread and a coarse red wine which became their staple for many days to come. It was not until later that many discovered that their new found delicious beef... was in fact horse meat! And in typically true English fashion, many were absolutely revolted and preferred to go hungry! According to Sue Newman, the daughter of AC Joe Hurst, Joe was one of those who refused to eat.

(above) Although noted as "MS Daffodil" in the ORB, on further research I haven't been able to track down a Merchant Ship (MS) named Daffodil, in service in the UK during WWII. There were however, several other ships using the name Daffodil during the war. HMS Daffodil (although later renamed Dianella) wasn't launched until Sept. 1940 and another HMS Daffodil was commissioned in 1941, a ferry train... The ship in question was actually MV Royal Daffodil shown here in her year of launching, 1939. She also took part in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, rescuing 9,500 troops in 7 trips...

59 Sqdn - ALG - B-44, Poix - Aerodrome de Poix-en-Picardie: Whilst the C/O's and section officers remained at the Chateau, F/L Hallmark with the aid of Le Capitaine Bousson of the 58/100th Air Company (French Air Force) found suitable billets for the remainder of the officers and airmen in Poix. Initially the feeding of the men was undertaken by the French Air Company. The French food was once again not much of a hit amongst the crews despite the valiant efforts of the cooks to make Beouf Roti.. en Anglais... roast beef! However they would not have to wait long as the rest of the Squadron transport arrived on the 8th and with them arrived their beloved English cooks. Also recently arrived (on the 6th) was "B" Troop, 151st Battery of the 51st Light A.A regiment R.A. With them came 1 officer (Lieut. R.G.H Jackson) and 54 other ranks bringing 6 Lewis guns, 2 Bren guns, 2 anti-tank rifles and 8 rifles. There were also Bofors 40mm A.A positions set up near the aerodrome. On the 26th of October, four 3 inch A.A guns arrived and digging in operations began and together hey formed the frontline of defense for Poix. There also came some welcome relief for some with the arrival of the French Army Liaison Officer/Squadron interpreter, noted in the ORB as "Monsieur E Morin - he is in his private life a leading French Dramatist". view more

(left) The Officers Mess - Poix (right) Poix, Rue Notre-Dam, the ground crew quarters. (Los)

Poix Aerodrome was some six miles out of the little town. No. 53 Sqn (the first RFC squadron stationed at Narborough Airfield just prior to 59 forming there in 1916) arrived on the 10th Oct and the 59 Sqn aircraft on the 12th. After which control of Poix airfield was officially handed over to S/L Fyfe on the 14th Oct by Lt Col de Montcabrier. According to AIR27-558, 59 Squadron were assigned use of the "Civil landing ground" at Poix.

(above) A new coat of paint to go with the new modifications - Oct. 1939 - Poix

 
Advanced Landing Ground (A.L.G): During my early research of the Squadron's time in France I had noticed that although they were stationed at Poix, many sortie details noted Vitry-en-Artois or just 'Vitry' for short as the "base" or place of landing. Los noted in his book that an advanced landing ground was set up there on the 18 Oct 1939. L'aerodrome de Vitry-en-Artois was several 100km's north east of Poix, not far from Douai (Nord pas de Calais) on the banks of the Scarpe river. This was also close to were 59 operated during the Great War. Vitry-en-Artois was set up in the event that Poix was bombed, but it appears that it also became an emergency landing ground for troubled aircraft returning from sorties over Belgium and Germany and also an interim airfield on the way over. According to flight mission reports, the time (flying) between Vitry and Poix was 30mins.

(above) 59 Blenheims take off from Poix.

(above) A 59 Sqn Blenheim on dispersal with an RAF Magister and a French fighter - Poix 1940
..:: The Build Up to Operations: (Highlights from the ORB) ::..
During Oct. 1939: Considerable work needed to be carried out on the squadron Blenheims. Self-sealing fuel tanks were installed and a new scheme of camouflage was painted. On the 19th, Reconnaissance areas and wireless frequencies for both 53 & 59 Sqn's were fixed. On the 29th, a Battle Flight organisation was brought into force, by which three aircraft and crews would always be available for emergency calls.
During Nov. 1939: On the first of the month, 53/59 Operational Wing was formed and S/Ldr A.F. Hutton D.F.C assumed command and also as station commander, Poix. On the 8th, 52 Wing officially formed as an administrative wing, H.Q comprising of 53 and 59 Squadrons. On the 14th, 59 Sqn C/O attended a conference at Chauny, with No.2 Air Mission to arrange details for "special sorties". On the 24th, 59 Sqn H.Q moved from Chateau de Courcelles to Poix, all personnel now billeted in Poix. On the 27th, the first performance of "official films" was held for the troops in Poix.
During Dec. 1939: On the 6th Dec 1939, His Majesty King George VI visited Seclin and here the 59 Sqn pilots and the King were introduced. On the 31st, the Under Secretary of State for Air visited Poix, accompanied by Air Vice Marshal Sholto Douglas M.C, D.F.C, and the A.O.C R.A.F Component F.F.
During Jan. 1940: On the 6th, S/Ldr J.B. Fyfe assumed command of 52 Wing, F/L D.C. Curme assumed command of 59 Sqn until the 18th. On the 22nd, F/L Curme was posted to School of Army Co-Operation, Andover. On note of the weather, 13th - Only four aircraft owing to breaking of five stern wheels on frozen and rutted surface of aerodrome. 17th - Aeordrome frozen hard. 26th - Snow fell P.M. 31st - Thaw set in - aerodrome flooded.
During Feb. 1940: 1-2nd - Thawing - 3rd - Thawing completed on aerodrome and main roads, general leave resumed. On the 15th, Air Marshal A.S. Barratt C.B, C.M.G, M.C, inspected No.52 Wing. On the 19th - Air Vice Marshal H.E. Whittingham, C.B.E (P.M.O.) inspected No.52 Wing - 17th-20th - Snow on aerodrome. 21-22nd - Thaw set in, aerodrome unserviceable.
During March. 1940: On the 18th - P/O C.J. Hitch & crew attacked by Hurricane, aircraft "write off" but landed at Poix. According to the squadron ORB, F/O Bird was ferried back to England on the 25th March 1940 to collect more Blenheim aircraft. There's no note of when they arrived.
The month of April 1940: During this month, 59 Squadron trained and prepared as the "phony war" played itself out. The ORB for April notes that air firing and practice bombing was carried out at Eplessier(?) and Le Touquet. That 59 had not been called up for duty, or to stand by once since arriving in France. It also clearly states "No Operational Flying" for the months prior. In mid April, there were official visits to the squadron by Group Captain Goddard (Administrative Officer, Air Component) and Air Commodore Cole Hamilton. F/Lt Souser attached to Sqn as dental officer. On the 30th - 59 Sqn began operations.
 

 

------ The Battle of France - BEF Air Component - No.52 Wing ------
whatever

According to Aircraft of WWII (Paul Eden) 59 served with the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF under Bomber Command) but according to Larry Donelley (The Other Few) and Richard Los (Keep them Flying) and many other sources they were part of the Air Component Wing of the British Expeditionary Force (the BEF) and under direct charge of the Army Commander-in-chief. It's possible that 59 would go on to serve under both before leaving France, but we'll look into that a little later... The Squadron ORB further notes that along with 53 Sqn, they formed 52 Wing. Both 59 & 53 were Army Co-Operation units and during operations in France they flew low level recon missions for II Corps monitoring the advancing German forces, artillery spotting and looking for weaknesses that the military on the ground could use to their advantage. On several occasions they also undertook duties with 70 Wing (18 & 57 Sqn Blenheim - bomber role). Both the AASF and Air Component would later serve under the newly formed BAFF (British Air Forces in France). After the withdrawal from France of the Air Component HQ and most units between 19-20th of May, it appears that a small detachment of air and ground crews stayed in France but whether they came under the command of the newly formed Back Component, or a command still in France is not clear at this time. This will be looked into in more detail a little later...

Operational: On approx. 20th of April, the squadron was finally called up for service, being ordered to take over the duties of 70 Wing (18 & 57 Sqn Blenheim - bomber role) and provide aircrews for night recon missions over Germany. Aircrews moved in sequence to Metz, the ALG (Advanced Landing Ground) to stand by for this "round trip".. but it wouldn't be until the end of the month that one of these trips would be successfully carried out. Operations began for 59 Sqn on the 30th of April 1940 when F/L Hallmark, Sgt's Baker and Dunlop took off from Metz (landing at Poix) for a recon mission over Cologne, Dusseldorf and Osnabruck. The ORB notes the following,

"Time Up: 2030 - Time Down: 0130. Recco only carried out, fired at by French AA and German AA on frontier. Some searchlights and inaccurate AA fire throughout the recco. Nothing of importance seen, Recco carried out between 8000ft & 13000ft. Weather was variable. Cloud 4/10 generally but 10/10 in patches". Signed - Squadron Leader Commanding - 59 Squadron. Royal Air Force.

F/L Hallmark was later promoted to S/L and sent back to the UK, receiving a DFC for this mission. It appears that Dunlop and Baker also received awards before wars end but it is unknown at this stage if it was as a result of this mission. On 2/9/1940, Hallmark was posted to the Royal Air Force Depot.

WAR! The German invasion of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland began at 0535 hrs on the 10th of May. The Battle of France had begun in earnest and on this day, the Air Component flew 161 sorties. The 10th of May 1940, is also the day that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Britian...

Acording to AIR27-558, 59 Squadron ORB Appendices, they had 13 Blenheim IV's on force (serials & codes to the left - one missing from list - so perhaps it was only 12?). Of these, only four were equipped with long range tanks and 9lbs. boost. The logbook of A/C Joe Hurst (see "detchment" section below) shows 3 more a/c unaccounted for in the ORB report. Perhaps the serial numbers have been recorded slightly incorrect by either party.

Above: An original Army Co-Operation (59) Squadron plaque which belonged to P/O Croydon Chamberlain (RNZAF). This image was sent in by Ken Jelfs (his cousin). view larger image

Blenheim's on Force - 30/04/40
Serial Code
L4855 TR-P
L4856* TR-K
L4858  
L4859*  
N6173 TR-O
N6168  
P6926  
N6172  
L9266  
L9463 TR-L
R3702  
N6169  
Blenheim IV- A/C Hurst Logbook
L8790 TR-B
R3694 TR-E
N6164 TR-K
ORB entries during May
R3664
TR-D
L6169
TR-M
L8793
TR-M
?2815
TR-P
L8791
TR-Y
ORB entries during June
N3535
TR-A
R3639
TR-Z
L9473
TR-K
Missions Undertaken: 30/04/1940 - 20/05/1940 - ORB
Date Crew Details
30/04/1940 F/L Hallmark & crew Recco - Cologne - Osnabruck - Dusseldorf -
10/05/1940 P/O Chamberlain & crew Recco - Time Up: 0915hrs (Poix) - Time Down: 1155hrs. (Vitry) -
10/05/1940 F/O H.F Wood & crew Recco - Time Up: 0935hrs (Poix) - bridges over Maastricht canal - successful Time Down: 1240hrs (Vitry) - Observed large formation of enemy fighters to S.E (of Lanklaer) descended to 2000ft turned N. and took the remainder of pin points. Returned to Vitry hedge hopping whole way.
10/05/1940 P/O Bird & crew Night Recco Time Up: 2250hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 0155hrs (Vitry - 11th)
11/05/1940 F/O G.H Evans & crew Recco - Time Up: 0415hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 0645hrs (Vitry) Turnhout - Veghel - Eindhoven - Turnhout - Slight damage to a/c from e/a. Repaired. At 0435hrs over Turnhout at 0500hrs attacked by Heinkel HE111, dirven off by rear gunner. In evading, got lost. Back over area at 0520hrs, saw ME.110 which followed for a few mins but did not close.
11/05/1940 F/L G.V Smithers & crew Recco - Time Up: 1505hrs - Time Down: 1715hrs - Hertolenbosh - Vexhel - Einhoven - Turnhout - A/c hit by small arms ground fire 3 miles west of Vexhel - Port oil tank sump damaged - a/c returned on one engine..
11/05/1940 F/L G.V Smithers & crew Recco - Time Up: 0500hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 0625hrs (Vitry) - Louvain - Aerschot - Montaigu - Assent - A/c fired upon by tracer shots at Englien adn Auderghem. At Coorgeek Loo A.A. fire (shell) was encountered and a/c was temporarily driven off course. 2 mins later, a/c was attacked by a Hurricane from the rear at Foret de Meerdael. Port oil and petrol tanks were damaged and hydraulic system put out of action. Airgunner sustained slight facial injuries from flying perspex. On return to base, a/c landed without undercarriage or flaps.
12/05/1940 P/O Booth & crew Recco - Time Up: 1500hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 1635hrs (Vitry) - P/O Booth was wounded in the leg during this sortie and a/c slightly damaged, flown back to Poix by S/L Pakenham.
13/05/1940 P/O Chamberlain & crew Recco - Time Up: 1830hrs (Poix) - Failed to return (First operational loss for Squadron)
14/04/1940 F/L Hallmark & crew Recco - Time Up: 1120hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 1230hrs (Vitry) - Soignies - Brain-Le-Comte - Rohqueres - Sennet. German army sighted 2 miles N.W Overysche J7546.
14/05/1940 F/L Smither & crew Time Up: 1135hrs (From Vitry to Poix) - Arrived 1200hrs. Aircraft found to have starboard trimming tab damaged, rudder badly damaged and starboard nacelles. No known how damage was sustained. Fixed with spares from aircraft that had landed with wheels retracted.
14/05/1940 P/O Chamberlain & crew Recco - Time Up: 1830hrs (Poix) - Failed to return (First operational loss for Squadron)
16/05/1940 Five crews: F/O H.F Wood & crew - F/O G.H Evans & crew - F/O F.D Bird & crew - P/O R.W Ayres & crew - P/O C.R Wylie & crew. Bombing - Detached flight for bombing sortie with 70 Wing. All available aircraft to be bombed up and proceed to ROSIERES. Target CAMBRAI - LE CATEAU - on column of transport. 5 a/c's took off for Rosiers at 1740hrs. F/O Wood reported to 70 Wing and given orders to stand by for bombing sortie at dawn. Orders not received till 1030hrs (17th) - 70 Wing a/c took off first at 5min intervals. Before 59 Sqn took off, target was concelled. P/O Ayres failed to see signal to stop flight from taking off. Successfully dropped bombs on target and returned to Rosiers. Orders given to return to Poix as Rosiers was to be evacuated in face of advancing enemy.
16/05/1940 F/L G.V Smithers & crew Recco - Time Up: 0500hrs (Vitry) - Time Down: 0625hrs (Vitry) - Louvain - Aerschot - Montaigu - Assent - A/c fired upon by tracer shots at Englien adn Auderghem. At Coorgeek Loo A.A. fire (shell) was encountered and a/c was temporarily driven off course. 2 mins later, a/c was attacked by a Hurricane from the rear at Foret de Meerdael. Port oil and petrol tanks were damaged and hydraulic system put out of action. Airgunner sustained slight facial injuries from flying perspex. On return to base, a/c landed without undercarriage or flaps.
17/05/1940 P/O C.M.M Grece & crew Recco - Time up: 0500 hrs: Le Houvion - Foret de St.Michel - Hirson - Crecy
19/05/1940
P/O C.M.M Grece & crew
Strategic recco - Time Up: 0500hrs - Time Down: 0635hrs - St. Quentin - La Fere - Crecy - Guise - Landrecies. Recco carried out between 4000 and 6500ft. 50 tanks observed in spinny 13 miles N.E of Cambrai and 50 seen moving N.W on minor road through Abancourt. Strong barrages of A.A. fire in whole area fairly accurate. Few splinters hit a/c on tailplane. M.G fire at 3500-4000ft.
19/05/1940 P/O R.W Ayres & crew Bombing - Time Up: 1130hrs - Time Down: 1230hrs - Bombing operations. Convoy on road Cambrai to Le Cateau - Dropped 2 x 250lb - 6 x 40lb - 9 x 20lb.
19/05/1940
P/O C.M.M Grece & crew
Tactical recco - Time Up: 1215hrs - Time Down: 1320hrs - La Fere - Crecy - Poix - Cambrai. Recco carried out between 3500-6000ft. Widespread fires observed over whole of area, especially in the vicinity of Laon and Ribemont.
19/05/1940 P/O R.W Ayres & crew Recco - Time Up: 1830hrs - Locate enemy columns, note area of refugee traffic and position allied troops. ROUBAIX - REHAIX - STAMBRUGES - TOURNAI.
20/05/1940 59 Sqn mobilised Evacuation from France - moved to Crecy - Left for the UK. Small detachment of aircraft, crews & ground crew left behind.
The ORB appears to be missing pages - these pages showing mission details and results. Some missions have only been noted in a "Monthly" summary of events (not included as yet). It also shows no missions between the 1st of May and the 9th of May. There is one mission found from outside the ORB during this time, which was a training mission on the 4/5/1940 during which the crew were dropping leaflets.

59's Last Sortie in France: Although 59 were stationed in France in early Oct 1939, they were only "officially" operational for just on three weeks. As mentioned above the first op' was flown on the 30th of April and according to Richard Los, the last mission for 59 in France was flown by P/O Wylie on the 19th May 1940. P/O Wylie & crew were forced to abandon their a/c and made their way back to the UK by sea. Although the majority of English forces were evacuating France, the Battle was far from over (although looking menacingly bleak). The ORB does note missions after this date, these missions were either those of a small detachment that Los recalls remained behind after the main party pulled out, or flown form the UK. Two of the pilots that Los (who was in charge of the detachment ground crew) recalls were P/O Grece and P/O Hopkins. This is looked into in more detail a little later.

(left) The winning Christmas Bar - Poix 1940.

(above right) Officers of 59 Squadron, Poix 1940 - Left to right (front row) F/L GV Smithers, F/O Musprat Williams, S/Ldr J.B Fyfe (C/O), F/O Arscott, F/O AJ Handley, F/O HF Wood, F/O FD Bird. (middle row) F/O CJ Hicks, F/L NB Hallmark, P/O Hitch, S Morin (French Interpreter). (back row) P/O Chudleigh, F/O DG Smith (Doctor), F/O GHD Evans, F/O JE Horton (Eng Off), P.O Pippet, P/O CJC Chamberlain (RNZAF) P/O MI Murdoch. (photo- Richard Los)

Evacuation of 52 Wing to England: By mid May, the German war machine was gathering momentum and by mid June, France was all but lost. On the 18th of May, 18 Heinkel bombers flew over Poix and bombed dropped West of Aerodrome, on Amiens. A conference was held at 70 Wing 1730 hrs- orders were given to move on A.S.A.P and 59 made their preparations. On the 18th, 57 Sqn (part of 70 Wing) had joined 59 at Poix after evacuating from Rosiers. All unserviceable aircraft, stores and bombs were fired. All personnel evacuated by road and air. The MT convoy left and aircraft left on the 19th (some sources state the 20th), the 59 aircrews left for Crecy at 0330hrs, arriving 0600 hrs - the 57 Sqn aircrews left at 0530hrs (according to wikipedia, Crecy at this time had no military presence). The 59 demolishing party evacuated Poix at 0500hrs. Now it appears that 59's last sorties in France, were whilst the Squadron were stationed at Crecy (19/05). The ORB states for the following day. 20/5/40: Squadron ordered to pack up for home at 1740 hrs. Four Aircraft of 59 Sqn left for Lympne (Kent, UK) at 1800hrs, they were F/L Smithers (L4858), F/O Bird (L9266), F/O Wood (N6172) and F/L Hallmark (N6169) as well as the remaining aircraft of 57 Sqn and one aircraft from 53 Sqn, P/O Stewart and crew. The 59 road party left at 2100 hrs, traveling all night. The 57 Sqn ORB (AIR27-537) states that they were to arrive at Boulogne no later than 0600hrs on the 20/05 and further notes that at 0130hrs on the 20th, they arrived at 1015, they boarded S.S Mona's Queen arriving at Tidworth at 1830hrs. The 59 road party left Cherbourg at 0630 hrs on the 23/05 arriving at Southampton at 1730 hrs. It is noted that on arriving at Andover... "P/O Madden felt it his duty to report that every man showed courage and determination to get through somehow, which made his task much easier. They Behaved splendidly.." The 59 ORB notes that on the 21/05/40 - 52 Wing (both 59 & 53 Sqn's) arrived at Andover and that W/C & C/O left for a conference at Hawkinge. View ORB details of Evac

The Costly Blenheim: There were initially four Blenheim squadrons posted to France and eventually six would serve. The initial four were 59 and 53 Sqn's (BEF - Army recon units - 52 Wing), 57 and 18 Sqn's (BEF Bomber role - 70 Wing). The two latter squadrons suffered such high losses (57 Sqn in excess of 30 aircraft) that they would later be replaced by two Blenheim squadrons from the UK. When war broke out, the RAF had 29 Blenheim squadrons equipped and all of them suffered heavy losses due to the long list of inadequacies that came with the aircraft. During the Battle of France alone, 200 Blenheims were lost (of which the losses for the original four BEF squadrons alone make up for at least a third) and many of the RAF's most experienced airmen. The 59 ORB notes on 14/5/1940 ( just over two weeks since they became operational), "...orders to bomb up all aircraft - reduced to 4 at 2hrs notice with 250lb, 40lb and 20lb bombs. Four complete crews reported. One aircraft detailed to stand by". So after only a couple of weeks in action, the squadron was only able to produce 5 serviceable aircraft on demand... The Blenheim was always considered by the RAF as an interim aircraft and was initially intended to form the basis on which aircrews would train and gain experience, before moving onto more suitable aircraft (such as the Lockheed Hudson). However the RAF was forced to go to war with what they had at their disposal at the time. At the end of April 1940, 59 Sqn had 14 Blenheim aircraft on strength and by the time they returned to the UK, they only had four. Once in the UK their numbers were replenished somewhat, on the 22/05/1940, 3 aircraft were taken from the training school at Andover and three were to be picked up from Le Bourget (possibly from another BEF squadron - or from one of the two AASF Blenheim sqaudrons that would soon be disbanded). By the 22nd of June (day of French surrender), 59 had no less than 16 Blenheims either lost or seriously damaged and 26 airmen...

____________________________________________________________

 

...::: Shot Down by RAF :::...

...::: Aircraft Spotter Cards :::...

"Friendly Fire": Of interesting note during the Battle of France, four aircraft are confirmed to have been attacked and/or shot down by RAF aircraft. The first was on the 18/03/40 when P/O Hitch & crew (unknown) were attacked by an RAF Hurricane. They managed to make it back to Poix, where the aircraft was noted as unserviceable due to the damages sustained. A lucky escape for the crew... On the 16/05/1940, P/O Smither & crew (Sgt's Tull & Pitcher) were attacked by another RAF Hurricane. The Blenheim was attacked from the rear causing considerable damages. The port oil and petrol tanks were damaged and the hydraulic system was put out of action and Sgt Pitcher (AG) received facial injuries due to fying perspex. The aircraft made it back to Vitry-en-Artois, where it belly landed and was damaged beyond repair. The Hurricane may have been flown by F/L Robert Grassick, a Canadian flying ace. After the attack, it was claimed (either by Grassick or others) that the J.u.88 he shot down "may have been" a Blenheim of 59 Sqn... Fortunately for all involved, the crew survived, although others weren't so fortunate...

On 22/05/1940, F/O Francis & crew (Sgt Brinn - Obs & AC2 Coles - AG) were shot down by an RAF Spitfire. The aircraft crashed near Fricourt, France with the loss of all crew. No further details are known at this stage. The fourth & final confirmed attack, occurred on the 16/06/1940 when P/O Wylie & crew (Sgt's Harris - Obs & Thomas - AG) whilst on a mission to observe the advancing German troops, were shot down by yet another Hurricane. The Blenheim crashed west of Dreux with all crew lost. In the heat of battle, sometimes fatal errors of judgement were easily made and the spotter cards above show the similarities between two variants of the Blenheim and two German aircraft, the Ju-88 and the Heinkel He-111K. If Grassick did indeed shoot down P/O Smither & crew, with an attack from the rear, the Blenheim & Ju.88 look most similar with the RAF roundels most obscurred from this angle. Grassick is pictured above right with 242 Sq. (www.acesofww2.com)

 

 

The 59 Sqn Detachment - May 16th - June 18th 1940 - France
Who Left France & Who Stayed? According to Richard Los, a small detachment of air and ground crew remained in France after the main party left for the UK on May 20th. Richard Los states in his book (Keep Them Flying) that he was in charge of the ground crew and posted to the Belgian border at Coulommiers. He was first approached and tasked to put together the aircraft servicing unit on the 16th of May (the only other member mentioned by name is Ken Clark - Armourer) and that the crew left for Air HQ BAFF (British Air Forces in France) at Chauny on the 18th. On the 15th of May, Air Marshal Barrat (Commander of BAFF) had closed his Advanced HQ in Chauny and relocated back to Main HQ in Coulommiers, which would explain why Los and the unit were redirected there upon arrival to Chauny. At Coulommiers, a contingent of four 59 Sqn Blenheims (of which P/O C.M.M Grece was one of the pilots) awaited with their crews. It is unknown at this stage who the 59 Sqn crews were flying missions for as there seems to be a variety of reports stating either, the BAFF, ACAB or No.2 Air Mission...
 

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Blenheim Mk.IV - L4856 : TR-K

(above) The wreck of a Blenheim TR-K at Poix. You can clearly make out part of the code "TR" on the rear of the fuselage. I found this image with a Google search but the image-share site hosting the picture had no source listed. Unserviceable aircraft demolished when the squadron left Poix, during the evacuation of France.

According to the Squadron ORB Appendices - AIR27-558: In an "Aircraft Serviceability & Movements" report given by F/O J.E. Horton (Engineer Officer) dated 17/06/1940 - states that on the 11th of May, L4856 had been taken by F/L Smithers & crew (Sgt's Tull & Pitcher) to Vitry, to carry a recco sortie. Whilst on this mission the aircraft was shot up by A.A fire which damaged both oil ports. This caused one engine to cease and aircraft was landed back at Vitry on one engine. On the 13th, F/O Horton went to Vitry to inspect the damage to L4856 at about 0530hrs and notes the following...

"Great difficulty experienced in unloading new engine from lorry as no crane was available. Had to go to cement works and unload on a ramp then place engine on a bomb trolley and tow behind the lorry to aerodrome - 1 mile... Very shaky proceeding - no crane available - to get old engine out of aircraft, so gave Sgt Baird instructions to use shear legs. Long and tedious manner to remove and install engine in a Blenheim aircraft..."

He later notes that the engine installation was completed on the 18th and the aircraft was flown to Poix to have further damage repaired, self sealing tank found damaged. He also states that after the Squadron evacuated to Crecy between 0430 and 0600 hrs on the 19th, LAC Davies & Abigail stayed behind at Poix to try and complete the repairs to L4856. However, they were brought to Crecy at 1730hrs not having had time to complete them. Aircraft had been abandoned and blown up by demolition.

(below) The following images were kindly sent in by Russell Gray in April 2012, who purchased the originals some time back on Ebay. He also submitted along with the images the following details... "It is likely that the same Blenheim is in the 'Battle of France Then and Now' and is annoted as follows..."
 
'Saturday May 11th 1940: 59 Squadron Blenheim IV L4856. Forced-landed at Vitry with oil tank damaged and port engine destroyed by ground fire west of Veghel during reconnaissance of the Eindhoven-Boxtel road 4.15pm. Fl Lt G V Smithers, Sgt R Tull, and AC2 D J Pitcher unhurt. Aircraft TR-K repariable - burned at Poix on evacuation May 19th.'

(above) German soldiers inspect the remains of the Blenheim

According to rafweb.org, the 59 Squadron Blenheim flew with Type A.1 roundels on the fuselage between May 1939 and Aug 1941 (pictured above). According to other sources I have found, they also flew with Type B roundels on the fuselage in France (below). Type B/B.1 were specifically designed for night flying and recon planes, and also fully camouflaged aircraft.

As with the colouring and markings of an aircraft, the roundels also changed depending on which part of the aircraft they were on. Quite often the roundels on the underside and topside of the wings were different from the fuselage.

(picture- Aircraft of WWII, Paul Eden)

 

 

 

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