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No. 278 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 278 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 278 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.278 Squadron was an air-sea rescue squadron formed to cover the coast off East Anglia, but that ended the war with responsibility for the English Channel.

The squadron was formed on 1 October 1941 from No.3 Air Sea Rescue Flight at Matlask, and was equipped with a mix of Lysanders and Walruses. It was one of four squadrons formed at this time, and was allocated to Fighter Command. Like most other air-sea rescue squadrons, No.278 used quite a variety of aircraft. The Lysanders remained in use until February 1943, when they were replaced with Avro Ansons. Spitfires were used for spotting between April 1944 and February 1945, and Vickers Warwicks were used to drop lifeboats from May 1944 until February 1945. At that point the squadron standardised on the Walrus, joined in May 1945 by the more modern Sea Otter II.

The squadron was originally responsible for the coast off East Anglia. During 1943 this was extended to include the north-eat of England. In February 1944 the squadron took over two detachments from No.282 Squadron, and gained responsibility for southern Scotland and the extreme north of Scotland. This was a short-lived expansion, and in April the squadron reverted to just covering East Anglia.

In February 1945 the squadron was moved to the English Channel, replacing No.277 Squadron. No.278 Squadron was disbanded on 14 October 1945.

October 1941-February 1943: Westland Lysander IIIA
October 1941-October 1945: Supermarine Walrus I and II
February 1943-July 1944: Avro Anson I
April 1944-February 1945: Supermarine Spitfire VB
May-October 1945: Supermarine Sea Otter II

Location - Main
October 1941-April 1942: Matlask
April 1942-April 1944: Coltishall
April 1944-February 1945: Bradwell Bay
February 1945-October 1945: Thorney Island

November 1941-January 1943: North Coates
October-December 1943: Woolsington
December 1943: Acklington
December 1943-March 1944: Hutton Cranswick
February-April 1944: Ayr, Drem, Castletown, Peterhead and Sumburgh
April-September 1944: Martlesham Heath
November 1944-February 1945: Hornchurch
Febriary-October 1945: Hawkinge and Beccles
July-October 1945: Exeter

Squadron Codes: E, MY, Y, MV

1941-1945: Air sea rescue

Part of
6 June 1944: No.11 Group; Air Defence of Great Britain; Allied Expeditionary Air Force


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Traces of World War 2 RAF - No. 222 Squadron 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

On 5 October 1939, No 222 reformed at Duxford as a shipping protection squadron and received Blenheims but in March 1940 it re-equipped with Spitfires as a day fighter unit. In May 1940 it moved to Essex to help cover the Dunkirk evacuation before returning to Lincolnshire and at the end of August again came back to the London area for the last part of the Battle of Britain.

A member of 222 Squadron, douglas Bader took part in the operation over Dunkirk and showed his ability by bringing down a Messerschmitt Bf109 and a Heinkel He111.

Kirton in Lindsay 4 June 1939
Hornchurch 29 August 1940

Operations and losses 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940
Not all operations listed those with fatal losses are.

29/05/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F
30/05/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F
31/05/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F. 1 Plane lost
01/06/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F. 4 Planes lost, 2 KIA, 1 POW
19/06/1940: Intercept, UK

Fatalities 01/01/1940 - 09/05/1940 (incomplete)

Corporal (Air Gnr.) Frank Chilton, RAF 513704, 222 Sqdn., age 22, 31/01/1940, Pendlebury (St. John) Churchyard, UK
Pilot Officer (Pilot) David G.D. Maynard, RAF 42144, 222 Sqdn., age unknown, 31/01/1940, Whittlesford (SS. Mary and Andrew) Churchyard, UK

Pilot Officer (Pilot) Arthur F. Delamore, RAF 33500 (Australia), 222 Sqdn., age 19, 18/02/1940, Whittlesford (SS. Mary and Andrew) Churchyard, UK

31/05/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F

Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: N3295, ZD-?
Operation: Dunkirk
Lost: 31/05/1940
P/O G.G.A. Davies.
Made a forced landing, after being damaged by Flak. Evacuated by boat.

01/06/1940: Patrol, Dunkirk, F

Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: ?, ZD-?
Operation: Dunkirk
Lost: 01/06/1940
Pilot Officer (Pilot) Gerald Massey-Sharpe, RAF 41857, 222 Sqdn., age 19, 01/06/1940, Pihen-les-Guines Cemetery, F (near Dunkirk)

Type: Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: N3232, ZD-?
Operation: Dunkirk
Lost: 01/06/1940
Sergeant (Pilot) Leslie J. White, RAF 522656, 222 Sqdn., age 23, 01/06/1940, Coxyde Military Cemetery, B

Type: Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: P9377, ZD-?
Operation: Dunkirk
Lost: 01/06/1940
P/O R.A.L. Morant
Made a forced landing, after an attack by a Me109. Evacuated by ship to England.

Type: Spitfire Mk I
Serial number: P9317, ZD-?
Operation: Dunkirk
Lost: 01/06/1940
P/O H.E.L. Falkust
Shot down, taken Prisoner of War.

19/06/1940: Intercept, UK

On the night of June 19 1940 Tim Vigors returned from a night out somewhat the worse for wear for drink, and retired to bed at his base at Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire. When a Tannoy message called for a volunteer to intercept German aircraft which had crossed the coast, Vigors took to the air wearing his scarlet pyjamas under a green silk dressing-gown. He shot down another Heinkel.

back up

E Burton 'Go straight ahead: Battle of Britain diary of 222 Squadron RAF' (Square One 1996)
Oxspring 'Spitfire Command' (Reprinted 2006)
Vigors 'Lifes too short to cry: memoir of a Battle of Britain ace' (2007)

The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (402960) Sergeant Edwin George Enright, No. 72 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Second World War.

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (402960) Sergeant Edwin George Enright, No. 72 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Second World War.

402960 Sergeant Edwin George Enright, No. 72 Squadron, Royal Air Force
KIA 8 December 1941
No photograph in collection

Story delivered 4 October 2016

Today, we pay tribute to Sergeant Edwin George Enright, who was killed on active service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Born in the small town of Bruthen near Bairnsdale in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, Edwin Enright was the son of Edwin Patrick Enright and Eileen Mary Enright. Growing up, he attended Bruthen Central School before attending Essendon High School in Melbourne. A keen sportsman, Enright was a boxer he played cricket, Australian football, and tennis, and was involved in swimming and riding.

Following his schooling, Enright passed his exams at Melbourne University to become a school teacher. Before commencing his teaching career, he spent a year in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

On Remembrance Day 1940 Enright enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. He soon commenced training as a pilot and in July 1941 embarked in Sydney for overseas service, first to Canada, then Britain. As part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, Enright was one of almost 27,500 RAAF pilots, navigators, wireless operators, gunners, and engineers, who, throughout the course of the war, joined squadrons based in Britain.

Enright arrived in Vancouver in March 1941 and undertook further specialist training in Canada before embarking for Britain the following July. There he was posted to No. 72 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which was equipped with Spitfires.

On 8 December 1941 Enright took off for a sweep over northern France, flying as part of Biggin Hill Wing. Ten miles over the French coast, enemy aircraft were sighted and engaged. As the attack was broken off, Enright’s Spitfire and the Spitfire accompanying him were attacked by a squadron of Messerschmitt 109Es. The accompanying Spitfire saw nothing more of Enright and radio contact was lost.

Sergeant Enright had been killed in action. He was 29 years old.

His body was not recovered, and his name is commemorated upon the Air Forces Memorial overlooking the River Thames which lists all British and Commonwealth airmen with no known grave.

Enright’s name is listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 Australians who died while serving in the Second World War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Sergeant Edwin George Enright, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

INVASION 1779 Part I

The Westminster Magazine covered the events at one such camp held at Coxheath, near Maidstone, Kent, during the summers of 1778 and 1779. By all accounts, this camp was on a massive scale involving 17,000 troops as well as civilians, many representing the 700 retailers who had come from London to service the soldiers. The paper quoted a letter from an officer of militia in August 1778 to his friend: “We are frequently marched out in considerable bodies to the heaths or commons adjacent, escorted by the Artillery, where we go through the various movements, maneuvers and firings of a field of battles. In these expeditions, let me assure you, there is much fatigue, and no little danger…the most grand and beautiful imitations of action are daily presented to us and, believe me, the army in general are becoming enamored of war, from the specimens they have seen of it.”

France had joined America as an ally in the war against Britain in 1778, still feeling humiliated by the loss of territories after the Seven Years’ War. With this opportunity to avenge their defeat and adjust the balance of power within Europe, the old plans for an invasion of Britain were revised. Although the last war had drained the resources of both countries, in France there had been a determined effort to improve the armed forces, especially the navy. This was not the case in Britain, and by the time the two countries were at war once more, many ships in the Royal Navy were facing repair or replacement. Even so, the French navy was not strong enough to send ships to help the Americans, defend French overseas territories and provide protection for an invasion of Britain. What France also needed was the Spanish navy.

Both France and Spain agreed on the idea of an invasion of Britain, yet it took months to settle the details. France thought that Britain’s strength lay in its control of the English Channel, the anchorage at Spithead and the nearby naval base at Portsmouth, and so wanted to seize those key places. Spain, perhaps more realistically, believed that any invasion of southern England would force Britain to relinquish Gibraltar in return for a withdrawal of the invading forces. In the final version of the invasion plan, it was decided that the French and Spanish fleets would meet up no later than mid-May 1779 off the port of Corunna in north-west Spain. Together, they would head for the English Channel, and, with the protection of this combined fleet, a French invasion force would cross the Channel from France and capture the Isle of Wight, Gosport and Portsmouth. Various alternative targets, such as Plymouth and the Channel Islands, were also chosen in case of unforeseen events.

Without a common language or signalling system, there was plenty of scope for confusion, while a string of last-minute changes added to the problems of the two navies working together. From the outset, delays occurred because the Spaniards insisted on a formal statement of their grievances with Britain and a declaration of war, which they would only undertake after the French fleet had left the port of Brest in north-west France and was heading for the rendezvous. Under this additional pressure, the French commander Admiral d’Orvilliers set sail in early June, already a month late, with insufficient food, water and medicine, no lemons to combat scurvy and unsuitable recruits as sailors and soldiers. A week later, the rendezvous was reached, and a vessel went into Corunna to inform the Spanish fleet.

The British government was well aware of events in France and Spain, including the preparations of the invasion fleet, because it assembled intelligence from a variety of sources, such as captains of naval and merchant ships, smugglers, friends of Britain in neutral countries, British residents still living in France and, of course, spies. Most nations had their own intelligence network, and those of Britain and France were particularly active. In every major port, spies were observing the movements of shipping, and in Britain there was a constant watch for potential spies and saboteurs. The General Post Office had a specific department dedicated to the interception and copying of dispatches and correspondence to and from foreign countries, which often operated similar systems themselves. To combat this, letters were sent in code, and the Post Office had a cipher department that decoded letters for government and official bodies before passing them on, as well as attempting to decipher foreign letters written in code. Another source of information was the network of consuls and ambassadors in neutral countries, which had included Spain until the official declaration of war.

Detailed intelligence about the preparations of the Franco-Spanish fleet had already found its way to Britain. When part of the Spanish fleet was being fitted out in the port of Cadiz, the British consul there, Josiah Hardy, was well placed to pass on reports. On 25 May he wrote in code to Lord Grantham, who was the British ambassador at Madrid: ‘Orders came yesterday to get the whole fleet now here completely equipt for sea on the first of next month, the ships are to come down into the bay in order to be ready for sailing. They are to be formed into three divisions, one of which is to sail immediately under the command of Vice Admiral [Don Antonio] Ulloa and will be eight ships of the line & two frigates.’ The actual coded passage began ‘kwnbwr. mlyb. dbrxbwnld. ak. &bx. azb. ezkso. gsbbx.’, representing the words ‘Orders came yesterday to get the whole fleet’. This is a substitution code, where k = o, w = r, d = n, e = b, r = s, and so on, but such codes are relatively simple and easy to break. Hardy’s letters are unusual in this respect, because most letters were written in a numerical code, constructed from a table where each word was represented by a specific group of numbers. Surviving letters to and from Eliott on Gibraltar used a stronger, numerical code, not a simple substitution code like Hardy’s.

As a result of all the intelligence flowing back to London, preparations were being made for a defence against invasion. The biggest problem was a shortage of men for both the army and navy. They were all – technically – volunteers, but countless rank-and-file volunteers (‘privates’) were lured into the army by dubious recruiting methods, while the navy frequently resorted to forcible recruitment by press-gangs. The army units assigned to the defence of Britain were greatly under strength, but were bolstered by the militia and fencibles. The militia was the army reserve, raised locally by ballot and, despite any training, largely inexperienced. Coxheath Camp near Maidstone in Kent became the biggest camp for training completely raw militia conscripts from all over the country, forming a strategically placed reserve against invasion. The fencibles were similar forces, but their service was strictly limited in duration and confined to a particular area. Taken together, the army, militia and fencibles appeared to be a strong defensive force, but the quality of these troops varied enormously, and many were barely fit for any military service.

Units of fencibles were being hastily recruited and trained all over Britain, and John Macdonald, an unmarried teacher of about twenty-six years of age, was one of many who joined a regiment in Scotland, enlisting in the North Fencibles during the summer of 1778. A few months later at Inverness, he was persuaded to join the second battalion of the 73rd Highland Regiment by its colonel, George Mackenzie, who had heard him play the Highland bagpipes. The 73rd was originally raised for the war in America, mostly from the remote Scottish Highlands of Ross-shire and Cromarty, but the first battalion would be sent to Africa and India and this second battalion to Gibraltar. Being too late to travel on board the transports, Macdonald made his own way to Portsmouth, the first time he had ever left the Highlands, and in June 1779 he sailed with the rest of the troops to the naval base of Plymouth.

After almost a month, on 24 July, Macdonald said that they ‘received an order to remove from Dock Barracks and encamp a little beyond Maker Church, on Lord Edgecomb’s estate in Cornwall. The troops which composed this camp were the 1st battalion of the Royal Scots on the right, the Leicester and North Hampshire militia regiments in the centre, and the 2nd battalion of the 73rd regiment on the left.’6 Although soldiers like him may have been unaware of why they were shifting position, regiments were being strategically placed in vulnerable areas, and in their case it was to strengthen the defences of Plymouth in the light of the intelligence about the invasion fleet. The Edgecumbe estate, where Macdonald was camped, was on the west side of Plymouth Sound, separated from the town of Plymouth and the naval base by a narrow stretch of water. Troops were stationed here to prevent any invaders from coming ashore and bombarding the town and dockyard.

Although the French fleet arrived off Corunna by 10 June, six weeks passed while Don Antonio d’Arce, the admiral in charge of the Spanish fleet, stalled and wasted time until finally ordered by his government to sail. By now, Spain had officially declared war on Britain and the siege of Gibraltar had begun. After all this waiting, the French fleet found that their inadequate supplies were rapidly dwindling, and sickness had also taken hold, with seamen falling ill with smallpox and fevers. It was not until the end of July that the combined fleet finally set sail for Britain and was almost immediately caught by adverse winds that delayed them reaching the English Channel. It was not an auspicious start to the invasion.

In mid-August, close to Falmouth in Cornwall, the 74-gun battleship HMS Marlborough, accompanied by the Ramillies, Isis and Cormorant sloop, came across the invasion fleet. Believing the ships to be British, they only just avoided capture. For speed, the Marlborough’s first lieutenant, Sir Jacob Wheate, travelled in the Cormorant to Plymouth, from where he used a relay of horses to rush to London with the news that a huge French and Spanish fleet of over sixty warships had arrived. Before long, it was spotted from the Cornish coast, creating sheer panic, as newspapers reported:

Extract of a letter from Falmouth … On the 15th inst. about twelve at noon, we were much alarmed by seeing a great fleet. On their near approach they appeared to be the French and Spanish fleets, consisting to the best of our knowledge of 62 sail of the line, and about 40 inferior sail. They remained here till three this afternoon, and then steered to the eastward. Most of the inhabitants on their approach sent their families and effects away to different parts. We have about eight companies of militia, and a great number of miners [mainly tin miners], who paraded the town and harbours all night and day. This place is in confusion, everything is at a stand. We illuminated all our windows, and no person was in bed the whole night.

While Lieutenant Wheate headed for London, the Hampshire Chronicle related that the invasion fleet was next seen off Plymouth: ‘Monday, August 16. This morning at break of day the Cormorant arrived and put on shore Sir J. Wheate, with intelligence of the combined fleet having entered the channel … At one o’clock the flags were hoisted on the Maker [church tower], being the signal for seeing the enemy’s fleet. The garrison was immediately put under arms, the avenues into the town and dock secured, and the troops sent for from the adjacent camps.’ By now, the 73rd Regiment had been in their camp near Maker church for three weeks, and Macdonald recalled their initial sighting of the enemy fleet:

During our stay in this camp, the French fleet, which was so much dreaded, appeared off the Ram-head [south-west end of Plymouth Sound] some of them sailed close by the Sound and had a fair view of the garrison of Plymouth, the shipping, &c. The formidable appearance of this fleet, and the nearness of their approach, struck such terror into the breasts of the inhabitants of that coast, that the most part of them left their houses and fled to the interior of the country, taking their cash and most valuable effects with them.

According to the Hampshire Chronicle, vessels were immediately sent from Falmouth and Plymouth to alert Sir Charles Hardy, Vice-Admiral of the Channel Fleet, ‘and the vessel was promised a reward of one hundred guineas, that first reached Sir Charles with this intelligence’. Previously governor of Greenwich Hospital, Hardy had earlier in the year been put in charge of the Channel Fleet, in what was a political rather than a military appointment. He was sixty-four years old, in poor health (he would die the following year) and had not served at sea for twenty years. The Channel Fleet was seriously undermanned, and many seamen were suffering from infectious diseases such as typhus, largely due to press-gangs being used to augment the crews. These gangs took anyone they could find, including those already ill, and when disease spread through the crews, depleting their numbers, the press-gangs were forced to supply even more men. Hardy had struggled to get his ships and crews fit for sea and take on sufficient stores. Repeatedly criticised for tardiness, he was now on his appointed station, west of the Scilly Isles, trapped by contrary winds that made it impossible to sail eastwards to engage the invasion fleet.

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