The first major RAF flypast of the post-war period took place on 15 September 1945. Part of the nationwide Thanksgiving Week events, it commemorated the day in 1940, generally considered as the crucial point of the Battle of Britain, when the Luftwaffe lost 61 aircraft and the RAF 28.
While no details of the units involved were reported in The Aeroplane Spotter or Flight, North Weald was chosen as the airfield of departure. The operations record book of HQ No 11 Group noted that 12 Spitfire IXs would precede the various formations, flying over the route some two minutes ahead of the other squadrons. They were led by Gp Capt Douglas Bader, the other pilots being his fellow Battle of Britain veterans Gp Capts Stan Turner and Frank Carey, Wg Cdrs Bob Stanford-Tuck, Denis Crowley-Milling, Keith Lofts, John Ellis, ‘Bill’ Wells, Billy Drake, Tim Vigors and Peter Brothers, and Sqn Ldr Roy Bush. Even then the absence of a Hurricane, despite availability of several, was commented upon.
First to take-off were Coastal Command squadrons of rocket-equipped Mosquito FBVIs and Beaufighter TFXs, followed 20 minutes later by Mustangs, Tempest IIs and Vs, Typhoons and Meteors. The whole formation of about 300 aircraft arrived over North Weald and set off for London, arriving over St Paul’s Cathedral at 12.40hrs. Less than half an hour later they were back at North Weald.
The Flight reporter flew in a Beaufighter, stripped of all excrescences and the gun ports covered to give a few extra knots. After a couple of circuits following take-off the ‘Beaus’ headed for Bradwell on the east coast, gradually catching up with the Mosquitoes. Two more wide turns were made over the sea, and then course was set for London.
“As the capital was approached at 230kt, the fighters came in from the starboard beam to take up their positions below the Mosquitoes and Beaufighters”, the writer continued. “Two circuits over London and its environs were made omitting, strangely enough, the south-eastern suburbs. They, surely, deserved a show more than anyone. The route was Ilford, Poplar, Hyde Park, Northolt, Northwood, Elstree, Finchley, Hackney, Deptford, Wimbledon, Deptford, Teddington, Welsh Harp, Finchley and out over Ponders End and back to North Weald.”
A significant number of RAF stations were opened to the public in honour of the Battle of Britain anniversary, starting a long-standing tradition. Another element of Thanksgiving Week, meanwhile, began in London’s Hyde Park on 16 September 1945, when a small display of captured German aircraft was opened. Reporting on this, The Aeroplane Spotter “felt that in view of the vast numbers of German types flying in this country, the display was disappointing in its small size”. The organisers erected a notice urging visitors to remember the menace that these aircraft had been and to give thanks by saving.
Gp Capt Douglas Bader climbs into Spitfire IX RK917, bearing his personal ‘DB’ code, ready to lead the 1945 London flypast. At the time Bader commanded the Essex Sector of No 11 Group. KEY COLLECTION
Junkers Ju 88G-6 Werknummer 622838 on show in Hyde Park. AEROPLANE
The Americans open their doors
The Americans celebrated Air Force Day on 1 August 1945, and a number of US bases in Britain opened their doors for the occasion. For many members of the public it was a first chance to get ‘up close’ to Army Air Force aircraft types that had flown from these shores, and the opportunity was taken with enthusiasm. For example, at Duxford — more correctly, at the time, Army Air Force Station 357 — some 5,000 people were recorded as attending. There they could inspect at very close quarters a number of the 78th Fighter Group’s P-51D and P-51K Mustangs, some with panels off. Photos also show that at least one visiting P-47 Thunderbolt and B-17 Flying Fortress were present, too.
The 78th had flown its last combat mission of the European war on 25 April, escorting No 617 Squadron Lancasters on a raid against Hitler’s residence at Berchtesgaden and AAF B-24 Liberators that had attacked railway installations around Salzburg. At the time of Air Force Day it was expecting to be transferred to the Pacific theatre, but the dropping of the atom bombs and Japan’s surrender changed all that. Instead, exactly a month on from its Duxford ‘open house’, there came for the group news that it was to return Stateside and disband.
Visitors to the 78th Fighter Group’s open day at Duxford on 1 August 1945 climb over P-51D Mustang 44-14251 Contrary Mary. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION
EXHIBITION OF GERMAN AIRCRAFT AND EQUIPMENT
“The object of this exhibition”, the introduction to its catalogue said, “is to give the visitor a general idea of the aircraft and equipment in use with the German Air Force at the end of the war”. The assembly of captured machines — all German except for one Italian aircraft — brought together at RAE Farnborough in October and November 1945, open to the general public from 10-12 November, was exceptional. It was described in The Aeroplane Spotter for 15 November as “three glorious field days” for recognition enthusiasts, and “the most magnificent display of aircraft yet shown in Great Britain”. Referring also to the fact of many new British aircraft also being displayed, Flight said, “one-day visitors found themselves suffering from a form of cerebral indigestion after any sort of endeavour to cover the whole thing in a few hours.”
For many the opportunity to see close-up a wide range of captured German aircraft was undoubtedly the main attraction. The Aeroplane Spotter expressed the hope that some would find their way to London — more, it presumably meant, than had been part of the earlier Hyde Park exhibition it considered so limited. “We feel strongly”, it said, “that the people who have stood up against Germany for over six years should be entitled to see what all their ‘sweat, blood and tears’ has brought to a complete standstill, namely, Germany’s war-making power.”
Some of this the Spotter found less than impressive. Discussing the ground display of items such as “bombs, armament, flying equipment, motors, cameras, gun turrets and radar”, it said: “…the observer could judge that far from being superior to British equipment, many of the German counterparts were far behind in efficiency and practical application.”
In flight were demonstrated, amongst others, what Flight called “two of the less lethal German jet aircraft”, a Me 262A-1 and He 162A-2. Its correspondent praised the “courage” of the two RAE pilots who flew them, given their “fantastic stalling speeds and grimly extended take-off runs”. This was prior to the accident on 9 November that claimed the He 162, its pilot Flt Lt Marks and a serviceman on the ground when the aircraft suffered a structural failure in the course of performing aerobatics. Even so, he conceded, they “showed how near we might have been to a possible loss of air supremacy”, going on to describe the entire occasion as “a monument to German ingenuity and energy, while, by its very diversity, demonstrating a state of panic at a time when they must have known that the end was near.”
In one of the Farnborough hangar displays was shown this Horten Ho IV glider, next to Junkers Ju 88G-6 Werknummer 623193. AEROPLANE
FuG 220 radar-equipped Ju 88G-1 night fighter Werknummer 712273 of III./NJG 2 landed mistakenly at Woodbridge on 13 July 1944 and fell into RAF hands. It was serialled TP190. By the time of the Farnborough exhibition, an RAF roundel had been applied in the centre of the swastika on the fin! AEROPLANE
On 8 June 1946 the RAF made its aerial contribution to the Victory Day celebrations — staged a year and one month after VE Day itself — in the form of a flypast over London. The weather on the day was appalling, with heavy rain, low cloud and poor visibility, but the aerial parade took place as scheduled. GCI stations at various points along the route controlled the six streams of aircraft.
Extensive planning details of the event are held by the National Archives in Kew. Aircraft speeds quoted during practice were 149mph for the Sunderlands, Lancasters 184mph, Fleet Air Arm aircraft and Spitfires 220mph, and jets at 290mph, the latter to be raised if possible. The Tempests, Mosquitoes and Beaufighters were not mentioned, and neither were the Halifaxes — presumably the latter were a last-minute addition.
After overflying Buckingham Palace, the stream would continue west as far as Kew Bridge where the Sunderlands, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Beaufighters and Meteors would turn starboard and circuit north London. The Firebrands, Fireflies, Seafires, Spitfires and Tempests would turn to port and circuit South London, the Vampires returning directly to base. If the Meteors were likely to be short of fuel, North Weald would refuel them. The Hornets were not mentioned here, but since their base was at Horsham St Faith they presumably joined the north London circuit.
The flypast involved a lot of additional work and planning to accommodate units and personnel. The three Tempest squadrons from Germany were detached to Chilbolton, and three Mosquito units to Manston. The number of personnel needing to be transported to and from Germany would be 117 for the Tempests and 166 for the Mosquitoes, while spares also had to be arranged.
All squadrons had to be concentrated at their flypast bases by 3 June for a full-scale practice, and the aircraft of all section leaders and deputy leaders were to be fitted with MkIII Gee or a satisfactory alternative means of identification by GCI. It was proposed to set up a Eureka beacon on top of Admiralty Arch, Bush House or a similar building, while a line of sodium lights at approximately one-mile intervals was laid along the route to assist in bad visibility — a good plan, as it turned out. All squadrons would carry VHF and the ‘starting line’ GCI would be at Hornchurch for last-minute instructions; aircraft would be over London between 12.00 and 12.20hrs.
Flight’s representative flew in a Mosquito of No 4 Squadron from Germany. The unit had arrived at Manston from Gütersloh with Nos 21 and 107 Squadrons, all flying Mosquito FBVIs. The weather at Manston was fine, even shirt-sleeve order, but during the preliminary sweep over East Anglia to join the main stream on the run-in to London it deteriorated rapidly. The Wing Leader, Wg Cdr Corkery, had to make a hasty departure with engine trouble, but deputy leader Sqn Ldr Golightly took over and an airborne spare filled the gap.
Sodium lights and flares on Fairlop airfield were just discernible, but by now conditions were extremely bad. Frequently the aircraft ahead — one machine’s length away — would be out of sight, but they passed over the saluting base at 1,000ft exactly on time, the leader calling out the codewords to ground control: “Mint Sauce — Iceberg No 4 Squadron.”
The Aeroplane’s correspondent joined the only Beaufighters in the flypast, from No 254 Squadron at Thorney Island, a torpedo-bombing unit in No 19 Group, Coastal Command. Thorney was also the base for No 248 Squadron’s Mosquito FBVIs in the flypast. The Beaufighters encountered bad weather all along the route and on the run-up to Luton, where they headed east to Stowmarket and picked up the other aircraft in the stream with callsign ‘Iceberg’. From there they flew down past Colchester to Foulness, turning in over Southend towards Fairlop with windscreen wipers in action all the way. Past London, the Beaufighters broke up and flew back to Thorney. There nine aircraft were waiting to land, but not one could be seen from another! The No 248 Squadron Mosquitoes did not return to Thorney, some landing at Ford, but the Aeroplane journalist did not know where the others went.
To return to the flypast, it was led by a single Hurricane flown by a Battle of Britain pilot, followed by three Sunderland Vs from No 201 Squadron at Calshot, three Halifax VIIs of No 297 Squadron at Brize Norton, and 12 Lancaster IIIs operated by No 35 Squadron at Graveley. The latter, famously, were later to fly to America in the Operation ‘Goodwill’ visit.
After the heavies came the twin-engined aircraft. There were 72 Mosquitoes of various marks: NF30s of Nos 25 and 29 Squadrons from Boxted, 219 at Acklington, 264 at Wittering, 85 at Colerne and 151 at Exeter, while the FBVIs were from Thorney Island’s No 248 Squadron and units over from Germany as mentioned earlier. A sole formation of Sea Mosquito TR33s came from 811 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm at Ford, then followed the No 254 Squadron Beaufighters and more FAA units — 813’s Firebrand IVs from Ford, 816’s Firefly Is from Lee-on-Solent and 807’s Seafire XVIIs, also stationed at Lee.
The actual number of Spitfires taking part was not mentioned in the reports, but there were certainly a large number. MkIXs were from No 164 Squadron at Middle Wallop, 165 at Duxford and 130 at Manston, while the XVIs were provided by 19 at Wittering, 587 at Tangmere, 691 at Weston Zoyland, 65 at Duxford, 287 at Acklington and 567 at West Malling. No 41 Squadron’s Wittering-based Spitfire F21s were the sole examples of that mark to be involved.
Operating from Horsham St Faith were No 64 Squadron’s nine Hornet Is, followed by Tempest IIs of No 54 Squadron at Chilbolton, and three squadrons of Tempest Vs from Germany: 3, 16 and 33, operating from Manston. Bringing up the rear were six squadrons of Meteor IIIs from Bentwaters and Boxted — 56, 74, 245, 234, 222 and 263 — and finally Vampire Is from No 247 Squadron at Odiham, operating from West Malling.
I was staying with grandparents at Pagham Beach near Bognor on this auspicious day, so did not expect to see any of these aircraft, but my notes on that day are as follows: squadrons of Beaufighters and Mosquitoes formed at 12.05, Firebrands at 12.15 and Spitfires and Seafires at 12.20 over the coast. The Beaufighters had arrived above Bognor at 11.55 and orbited with Mosquitoes until about 12.10, followed after two orbits by Firebrands at 12.15, 40 Spitfire XVIs and 10 Seafire XVIIs, the latter with long-range tanks.
A number of aircraft returned at about 300ft under ten-tenths cloud and heavy rain between 13.20 and 13.50, the Seafires flying straight across whereas the Mosquitoes and Sea Mosquitoes orbited for some time. Two Fireflies returned along the beach at 16.45.
It had originally been suggested to hold a night flying sequence with aircraft dropping parachute flares and being illuminated by searchlights, but it was considered that the flares would be dangerous if the parachutes failed to open — a wise precaution! Bomber Command was to supply four aircraft, but in the event this idea was dropped.
Close formation flying by the Beaufighters of No 254 Squadron. VIA BARRY WHEELER
An in-cockpit view of the 1946 Victory Day flypast, captured from within the Beaufighter element. AEROPLANE
The Sea Mosquito TR33s of 811 Squadron at Ford await the flypast. VIA BARRY WHEELER