RAF Squadrons in May 1940

A trio of Bristol Blenheim IV bombers.

A trio of Bristol Blenheim IV bombers. The Blenheim was found to be extremely vulnerable to modern fighters.

Aircrafts and bases of the Royal Air Force on May 10, 1940

In January 1940 it was decided to unite the Air Component and the Advanced Air Striking Force under the command of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief British Air Forces in France, Air Marshal Barratt. As soon as possible after its arrival in France, the RAF took part in operations which brought it in contact with German aircraft. Although a number of German machines were shot down, RAF losses were heavy as many of their planes (the Fairey Battles and Blenheims for example) were found to be inadequately armed and ill-suited to combat with modern fighter planes like the Messerschmitt Bf109.

Britain was anxious not to squander its precious aircraft by using them as a sort of fire brigade at the beck and call of the Allied land forces. The RAF wanted to ensure that its bombers were only used to cause maximum destruction to the enemy, although strategic bombing of targets in Germany was only authorised on 15 May 1940. Fighters based in France and England were to be deployed against the enemy as long as it did not impair Britain’s ability to defend herself. On 10 May 1940, 416 of Britain’s total number of 1,873 first-line aircraft were stationed in France, but on 20 May it was decided to bring back to England the remaining 66 fighters so that they could continue the war from English airfields.
The first phase of the German plan for the invasion of England was to gain control of the air and so during the months of July and August 1940 the RAF prepared its forces for the inevitable battle against the Luftwaffe.

Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters of No.80 squadron in North Africa

Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters of No.80 squadron in North Africa. The unit was later moved to Greece to support the Greek army.

The responsibilities of the RAF in the Mediterranean theatre were complex and wide-ranging, covering a vast geographical area and calling for action in a variety of different roles ranging from ground support work to strategic bombing. Until 1942 the RAF was often short of aircraft and equipment but following the Axis defeat at El Alamein and the arrival of American forces in North Africa the RAF was able to build up a material superiority that was to play a decisive part in securing victory in the Mediterranean.

The peacetime responsibilities of the Air Officer Commanding, Middle East, encompassed the air forces in Egypt, Palestine, the Sudan, and Kenya, but in the event of war he was also to control the air element in Aden, Malta and Iraq. This vast Command was subsequently expanded to include Persia and the remainder of the Mediterranean theatre up to 100 miles west of Malta. The period between September 1939 and the Italian declaration of war in June 1940 was used to build up the RAF’s capabilities in the Middle East within the limitations imposed by the maintenance of the air defence of Great Britain and by operations in France. Yet when Italy declared war the RAF was still greatly outnumbered by the Regia Aeronautica, with the Middle East Air Force comprising only 29 squadrons many of which were equipped with aircraft approaching obsolescence.
The Middle East Air Force was to operate against the Italians in two main theatres, the Mediterranean, and East Africa and the Red Sea; the first attacks being launched on 11 June 1940.
By the end of the year a considerable measure of air superiority had been achieved but a further battlefront was created by the Italian invasion of Greece on 28 October, to which the RAF responded by sending nine squadrons to support the Greek Army.


Active RAF Squadrons on 10 May 1940
Sqn Base Planes Sqn Base Planes
1 Berry-au-Bac (France) Hurricane I 2 Abbeville (France) Lysander I, II
3 Merville (France) Hurricane I 4 Monchy-Lagache (France) Lysander I, II
5 Fort Sanderman (India) Wapiti IIA 6 Ramleh (Palestine) Lysander I, II
7 Finningley Hampden I 8 Khormaskar (Aden) Vincent, Blenheim I
9 Honington Wellington IC 10 Dishforth Whitley IV, V
11 Ismalia (Egypt) Blenheim I 12 Amifontaine (France) Battle
13 Douai (France) Lysander I, II 14 Amman (Palestine) Wellesley
15 Alconbury Blenheim IV 16 Bertangles Lysander II
17 Hawkinge Hurricane I 18 Meharicourt (France) Blenheim IV
19 Horsham St Faith Spitfire I 20 Kohat (India) Audax
21 Watton Bleinheim IV 22 North Coates Beaufort I
23 Wittering Blenheim IF 24 Hendon various communication types
25 North Weals Blenheim IF 26 Dieppe (France) Lysander I, II
27 Risalpur (India) Wapiti IIA, Hart, Tiger Moth 28 Kohat (India) Audax
29 Debden Blenheim IF 30 Ismalia (Egypt) Blenheim I, IF
31 Peshawar (India) Valentia 32 Biggin Hill Hurricane I
33 Mersa Matruh (Egypt) Gladiator 34 Tengah (Singapore) Blenheim I
35 operational training unit - 36 Seletar (Malaya) Vildebeest III
37 Feltwell Wellington IA 38 Marham Wellington IA, IC
39 Heliopolis (India) Blenheim I 40 Wyton Blenheim IV
41 Catterick Spitfire I 42 Thorney Island Beaufort I
43 Wick Hurricane I 44 Waddington Hampden I
45 Fuka (Sudan) Blenheim I 46 transfer on carrier Glorious to Norway Hurricane I
47 Khartoum (Sudan) Vincent, Wellesley 48 Thorney Island Anson I, Beaufort I
49 Scampton Hampden I 50 Waddington Hampden I
51 Dishforth Whitley IV, V 52 operational training unit
53 Poix (France) Blenheim IV 54 Hornchurch Spitfire I
55 Ismalia (Egypt) Blenheim I 56 Garvesend Hurricane I
57 Rosieres-en-Saneterre (France) Blenheim IV 58 Linton-on-Ouse Whitley V
59 Poix (France) Blenheim IV 60 Ambala (India) Blenheim I
61 Hemswell Hampden I 62 Tengah (Singapore) Blenheim I
63 operational training unit - 64 Church Fenton Spitfire I
65 Hornchurch Spitfire I 66 Duxford Spitfire I
70 Habbaniya (Egypt) Valentia 72 Acklington Spitfire I
73 Reims (France) Hurricane I 74 Hornchurch Spitfire I
75 Feltwell Wellington I, IA, IC 77 Driffield Whitley V
78 Linton-on-Ouse Whitley V 79 Biggin Hill Hurricane I
80 Amriya (Egypt) Gladiator 81 Amiens (France) Tiger Moth (communications)
82 Watton Blenheim IV 83 Scampton Hampden I
84 Shaibah (Iraq) Blenheim I 85 Lille (France) Hurricane I
87 Lille (France) Hurricane I 88 Mourmelon (France) Battle
92 Northolt Spitfire I 94 Sheikh Othman (Aden) Gladiator
97 Driffield (disbanded May 20) without aircrafts 98 Chateau Bougon (France) Battle
99 Newmarket Wellington I, IA, IC 100 Seletar (Singapore) Vildebeest II, III
101 West Raynham Blenheim IV 102 Driffield Whitley V
103 Betheniville (France) Battle 104 operational training unit
105 Villeneuve-les-Vertus (France) Battle 106 Finningley Hampden I
107 Wattisham Blenheim IV 108 operational training unit
110 Wattisham Blenheim IV 111 Wick Hurricane I
112 Helwan (Egypt) Gladiator, Gauntlet II 113 Heliopolis (Egypt) Blenheim IV
114 Conde-Vraux (France) Blenheim IV 115 Marham Wellington IA, IC
139 Plivot (France) Blenheim IV 141 Grangemouth Defiant I, Gladiator, Blenheim IF, Battle
142 Berry-au-Bac (France) Battle 144 Hemswell Hampden I
145 Tangmere Hurricane I 148 Stradishall Wellington IC
149 Mildenhall Wellington I, IA, IC 150 Ecury-sur-Coole (France) Battle
151 North Weald Hurricane I 152 Acklington Spitfire I
185 operational training unit - 201 Invergordon Sunderland I
202 Gibraltar London II 203 Sheikh Othman (Aden) Blenheim I, IV
204 Sullon Voe (Shetland Is) Sunderland I 205 Seletar (Ceylon) Singapore III
206 Bircham Newton Anson, Hudson 207 operational training unit
208 Heliopolis (Egypt) Lysander I, II 209 Oban Lerwick I
210 Pembroke Dock Sunderland I 211 El Daba (Egypt) Blenheim I
212 Heston Blenheim IV, Spitfire I 213 Wittering Hurricane I
214 Stradishall Wellington I, IA, IC 216 Heliopolis (Egypt) Valentia, Bombay
217 St.Eval Anson, Beaufort I 218 Mouscou Femme (France) Battle
219 Catterick Blenheim IF 220 Thornaby Hudson
222 Digby Spitfire I 223 Khartoum (Sudan) Wellesley
224 Leuchars Hudson 225 Odiham Lysander
226 Reims (France) Battle 228 Pembroke Dock Sunderland I
229 Digby Hurricane I 230 Alexandria (Egypt) Sunderland I
232 not operational - 233 Leuchars Hudson
234 Church Fenton (from May 22) Spitfire I 235 Bircham Newton Blenheim IVF, IF
236 Speke Blenheim IF 237 Nairobi (Kenya) Audax, Hardy
240 Invergordon London II 242 Church Fenton Hurricane I
245 Leconfield Hurricane I 248 Gosport Blenheim IVF
253 Kenley Hurricane I, Battle 254 Hatston Blenheim IV
263 Turnhouse Gladiator 264 Martlesham Heath Defiant I
266 Martlesham Heath Spitfire I 269 Wick Anson
271 Doncaster Harrow (Transport) Bombay, Ford 5 273 China Bay (Ceylon) Vildebeest, Seal
500 Detling Anson 501 Bethenville Hurricane I
502 Aldergrove Anson 504 Debden Hurricane I
600 Manston Blenheim IF 601 Tangmere Hurricane I
602 Dyce Spitfire I 603 Turnhouse Spitfire I
604 Northolt Blenheim IF 605 Wick Hurricane I
607 Vintry-en-Artois (France) Hurricane I, Gladiator 608 Thornaby Anson
609 Drem Spitfire I 610 Biggin Hill Spitfire I
611 Digby Spitfire I 612 Dyce Anson
613 Odiham Lysander, Hector 614 Odiham Lysander
615 Abbeville (France) Hurricane I, Gladiator 616 Leconfield Spitfire I

Note: Squadron Nos. 400 to 499 were squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force. Not all numbers were used and unfortunately there are no detailed information available.


Overview of Royal Air Force squadrons equipment and location:
Aircraft England France, Norway Mediterranean,Middle East, Africa India, Malaya Total
Hurricane 16 9 - - 25
Spitfire 19 - - - 19
Gladiator 1 - 4 - 5
Blenheim IF, IVF 9 - - - 9
Defiant 2 - - - 2
Vildebeest - - - 3 3
Wellesley 1 - 2 1 4
Blenheim 9 6 9 4 28
Battle - 8 - - 8
Wapiti - - - 1 1
Beaufort 4 - - - 4
Whitley 6 - - - 6
Hampden 8 - - - 8
Wellington 8 - - - 8
Hudson 4 - - - 4
Anson 5 - - - 5
Lysander 4 4 2 - 10
Audax - - - 2 2
Valentina - - 2 1 3
Tiger Mouth - 1 - 1 2
London 1 - 1 - 2
Singapore - - - 1 1
Lerwick 1 - - - 1
Sunderland 4 - 1 - 5
Total 102 28 21 14 165

The RAF squadron strength was between 6 and 18 aircrafts.


 

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