The Royal Air Force During World War 2
40 to 49 Squadrons

No. 40 Squadron

Squadron Codes: OX, BL

Motto: HOSTEM A COELO EXPELLERE (Drive the enemy from the sky)

The squadron formed on 26 February 1916 at Gosport in Hampshire, going to France in August as a fighter squadron. Heavily engaged while flying FE8 pusher aircraft on the western front, the obsolescence of its aircraft showed in March 1917, when nine squadron FE8s were shot down while on patrol by Jasta 11 under Manfred von Richthofen, the famed ‘Red Baron’. The unit immediately re-equipped with the Nieuport Scouts and even more Formidable SE5As arrived in October. With these, the squadron went on to become an outstanding fighter squadron, staffed by many bright and capable pilots including the then Lt ‘Mick’ Mannock, the RAF’s greatest ace of World War I who scored six kills while with the unit. The Mannock link would be continued in the 1930’s when the squadron adopted a broom as its squadron insignia to echo Mannock’s famous saying: ‘Sweep the Huns from the sky’. By the end of the war, the squadron had destroyed 130 enemy planes and 30 balloons.

 

After the start of the Second World War In September 1939, the unit went to France with the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF). At the time, it was equipped with obsolete Fairy Battles, but the unit returned to England in December to reequip with Bristol Blenheims.

 

Subsequently posted to No 2 (Light Bomber) Group, the unit continued operations over France, flying from RAF Wyton. In the summer and early autumn months of 1940, while the Battle of Britain raged overhead, the squadron struck at German invasion barges assembling off the French coast. In any case, the barges were never used and in November, the unit became a night-bombing squadron, receiving Wellington heavy bombers. It soon transferred to No 3 Group.

For some time, the squadron operated as a regular night bombing unit with 3 Group, but from October 1941, began sending detachments to Malta on a rotational basis. On 14 February 1942, one such detachment at Malta became 40 Squadron. The other 40 Squadron in England renumbered to 156 Squadron. Moving to Egypt as the aerial siege in Malta intensified, the squadron re-equipped with new Wellingtons and operated from the Canal Zone against enemy-held targets in Libya. Over a year passed in this manner. Then in early 1943, following the capture of Tunisian airfields, No 40 moved forward and in December, relocated to Italy, from where it was able to hit targets north of the Appenines and in the Balkans. Remaining in Italy for the rest of the war, the squadron returned to Egypt in October 1945, where it disbanded on 1 April 1947.

​Aircraft

Battle – Jul 1938 to Dec 1939

Blenheim Mk IV – Dec 1939 to Nov 1940

Wellington – Nov 1940 to Mar 1945

Liberator B Mk VI – Mar 1945 to Jan 1946

Squadron Commanders

S/L HC Parker – Feb 1938 to Jun 1940

W/C DHF Barnett – Jun to Dec 1940

W/C EJP Davey – Dec 1940 to Aug 1941

W/C LG Strickley – Aug to Nov 1941

W/C PG Heath – Nov 1941 to May 1942

W/C RE Ridgeway – May 1942 to N/A

Airfields

Abingdon, UK – 8 Oct 1932

Betheniville, France – 2 Sept 1939

Wyton, UK – 3 Dec 1939
Alconbury – 2 to 14 Feb 1941
Luqa, Malta – 14 Feb 1941
Shallufa, Egypt – 1 May 1942
Kabrit – 20 Aug 1942

LG.222A, North Africa – 7 Nov 1942

LG.104 – 12 Nov 1942

Luqa, Malta – 25 Nov 1942

LG237, North Africa – 20 Jan 1943
Gardabia East, Tunisia – 15 Feb 1943

Gardabia South – 13 Mar 1943
Kairouan – 26 May 1943

Hani – 25 Jun 1943

Oudna I – 18 Nov to 4 Dec 1943
Cerignola, Italy – 16 Dec 1943
Foggia Main – 30 Dec 1943 to 21 Oct 1945

Operational Performance (While with Bomber Command)

 

Raids Flown

2 Group Blenheims – 93 bombing, 13 reconnaissance, 3 sweeps
3 Group Wellingtons – 90 bombing

Totals: 186 bombing and sweeps, 13 reconnaissance = 199 raids

 

Sorties and Losses

2 Group Blenheims – 526 sorties, 53 aircraft lost (4.2 percent)
3 Group Wellingtons – 730 sorties, 31 aircraft lost (4.2 percent)

Totals: 1,256 sorties, 52 aircraft lost (4.2 percent)

An additional 3 Blenheims were destroyed in crashes.

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV, RAF Alconbury, Late-1940 Despite being an improved version of the earlier Blenheim Mk I, the Mark IV nevertheless did not enjoy much success as a daylight bomber. Heavy losses over Europe prompted a change to night operations or withdrawal to second line units. 

The Victoria Cross
Flight Sergeant George Thompson, Scotland. Died of Wounds, Age 24

A wireless operator aboard a Lancaster during a fateful day-raid on the Dortmund-Ems Canal in Germany on 1 January 1945, George Thompson had left school at the age of 15 to start a four apprenticeship in Kinross to become a grocer. When war came, he quickly abandoned this profession and like so many others joined the RAF in the summer of 1940. Given differed service, Thompson then joined the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), his desire to get into the air force not to become reality until 1941 when he was assigned to ground crew training. Far from discouraged, he pursued his boyhood interest in wireless transmitting and finally placed as the wireless operator aboard a Lancaster in April 1944, with sergeant’s stripes on his arms.

Invited to join a crew by the lead pilot, Flying Officer Harry Denton, a New Zealander, while at 14 Operational Training Unit, Thompson quickly took up the offer and together both men joined 9 Squadron on 29 September 1944. Eager to get into action, the crew unfortunately found little of it. In October they managed three sorties, in November none and in December just one. The January 1 raid was intended to be their show opener but already there were signs that the operation carried bad luck.

Just before takeoff, as they taxied on the airfield towards the main runway, Denton and his crew had just taken off and were turning slowly at 500 feet when they saw another Lancaster trying to take-off, speed off the runway and explode in gigantic jumble of flames, the bright light cutting through grim, early morning darkness. To make matters worse, a second Lancaster following did not do any better and slid across the grass at the far end of the runway before slithering to a halt.

Denton and his crew joined another 100 crews over Northern France and headed for their objective. Soon the canal came into view and the bombardier, Sergeant Ron Goebel, dropped the Lancaster’s entire compliment of twelve 1,000lb bombs. Just as the last bomb fell away, an 88mm shell plunged into the mid-upper turret as a second destroyed the nose, blowing up the bombardier position and shattering the cockpit canopy. Although knocked unconscious by the blast, Denton came too moments later and punched the fire extinguisher button to smother flames creeping up near the engines. But the aircraft's controls had been hit.

Denton fought with the stricken Lancaster to keep it from drifting to the left. Fresh air bellowing in from the blasted Perspex canopy raged through the plane fanning flames near mid-upper turret. A blazing fire erupted, fed by severed hydraulic fluid lines. At this point, Goebels miraculously appeared, his face blackened and carrying a parachute, having somehow survived the disintegration of the bombardier’s position.

Meanwhile Sergeant Ernie Potts, the mid-upper gunner, was in a precarious position. Knocked out and surrounded by flames around the stricken turret, he had no inkling of the efforts of George Thompson, who without gloves was attempting to extricate him from the blaze. Just as Pott’s clothes caught on fire, Thompson managed to reach in and pulled the unconscious man to safety.

At the aircraft's tail, a similar fate was overtaking the rear turret gunner, Sergeant Hayden Price who being aware of his situation, was waiting to die. Just as he lost all hope he heard banging on the turret bay door and George Thompson appeared. His clothes were ragged and burned away with fire-induced blisters and large tracts of blackened skin appearing on his legs, hands and face, Thompson behaved as though he was oblivious of his injuries. Quickly freeing the rear gunner, he quickly put out the fires on Price’s clothes with his bare hands before helping him along the fuselage to Potts. By now in near collapse due to the sheer weight of his injuries and exhaustion, Thompson carried on up the fuselage in the freezing wind racing through the broken fuselage, towards the cockpit to inform Denton that the wounded gunners were incapable of bailing out.

His pilot barely recognized him. As they soared over the Rhine, the enemy ack-ack began to pound the aircraft again, knocking out the inner starboard engine. With just two engines remaining, the Lancaster began to lose altitude. Denton managed to crash-land the aircraft upon a field in friendly territory. As the Lancaster slid across the earth, it broke into two. All of the crew escaped the wreckage. However, Potts died the next day and Price needed extensive plastic surgery before he was declared fit again. As for Thompson, with penicillin and treatment for his burns, he began to make a rapid recovery until he was laid low by pneumonia. He died on January 23, 1945. A posthumous Victoria Cross announced on February 20 in the London Gazette.

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