RCAF 420 Squadron (PT)
City of London: "Snowy Owls"
These web pages are my small tribute in memory of my father, Bert Parker (1917-2009) and the men and women of 420 Squadron with whom he served. In particular, Frederick "Freddie" Way, Floyd "Skip" Rutledge, and Don "Squeak" Hatfield who remained in contact with my father all their lives.
Bert Parker War Service:Bert Parker, enlisted in the RCAF on August 15, 1941.
On September 12, 1941 he arrived at St. Thomas, Ontario to begin training as a fitter (engine mechanic).
St. Thomas Photos:
Upon completing his training and embarkation leave he arrived in Halifax on March 26, 1942. He was shipped overseas on the M/S Batory on May 3, 1942. On May 11, 1942 the ship docked in Scotland. He arrived at 420 Bomber Squadron, based at Waddington, on June 11, 1942 and served with A-Flight in England and North Africa as a "fitter" until being discharged in September 1945. Bert was promoted to Corporal in December 1943. In January 1945 he was Mentioned In Despatches in the King's New Year's Honours list for distinguished service. The citation reads: "PARKER, Corporal Bertram (R115948) - Mention in Despatches - No.420 Squadron (No.62 Base) - Award effective 1 January 1945 as per London Gazette of that date and AFRO 425/45 dated 9 March 1945. Recommended for MiD, 22 July 1944 by the Commanding Officer, No.420 Squadron, who wrote: Corporal Parker has displayed a very fine example in his section by maintaining a high standard of efficiency. He is a conscientious and willing worker and has proved himself to be a very capable NCO. His untiring efforts have been an inspiration to all."
420 Squadron History:
On December 19, 1941, 420 Squadron was formed in RAF 5 Group at Waddington airbase four miles south of Lincoln. 420 Squadron was one of the first three squadrons formed during World War II that were to be fully Canadian. 408 Vancouver Squadron was formed seven months earlier on April 23, 1941 in 4 Group and 419 Moose Squadron was formed on December 15, 1941 in 3 Group just four days prior to 420 Squadron's formation. On January 1, 1943 these three squadrons became the basis for RCAF 6 Group.
The first CO of the squadron was J. Collier who was followed by WC D.A.R. Bradshaw on April 30, 1942. The squadron flew the Handley Page Hampden Mark I from January 1942 to the first week of August of that year. The squadron then moved to a nearly completed airfield just north of the village of Skipton-on-Swale, 7 miles west of Thirsk. Here it began the conversion to the Vickers Wellington Mark III. It also was transferred from 5 Group to 4 Group. When it became operational in the Wellington it flew from Leeming airbase as the Skipton-on-Swale air base was not fully functional.
In mid October, 1942, the squadron moved to Middleton St. George, 6 miles east of Darlington. It became a part of Canadian 6 Group on January 1, 1943. On April 12, 1943 CO Bradshaw was replaced by W.D. McIntosh, DFC.
In May, 1943 the squadron, along with 424 and 425 squadrons, was deployed to North Africa to become 331 Wing of RAF 205 Group. On May 16 most of the squadron personnel boarded a ship in Liverpool and nine days later arrived in Algiers. Two days later it was transported to Boufarik, Algeria. Then on June 16, the squadron was moved to a newly created airstrip "Zina" scraped out of the barren plain 22 km sw of Kairouan, Tunisia. The squadron's twenty Wellington Mark X's were flown from England to Africa on June 1. The squadron flew its first operational mission as part of 331 Wing on June 26. The Wing came under the jurisdiction of 205 Group RAF on July 9. From Zina, it actively took part in the campaign against the Axis powers in Sicily and Italy. On September 29 it moved to Hani/East. The squadron's final operational sorties occurred on October 8. It left for Algiers by train on October 18, arriving three days later. On October 26 the squadron was loaded on the SS Samaria, which sailed for Liverpool the following day.
The SS Samaria arrived in Liverpool on November 6, 1943. The squadron disembarked and was transported to Dalton airbase. From Dalton it was moved to Tholthorpe, 12 miles northwest of York, on December 12, 1943. At Tholthorpe the squadron converted to the Handley Page Halifax Mark III. The squadron remained at Tholthorpe until the end of the war. McIntosh was replaced as CO by G. A. McKenna on April 6, 1944. McKenna, in turn, was replaced by G.J. Edwards on October 24, 1944. W.G. Phelan DFC took over as CO on November 25, 1944. The last CO the squadron had during World War II was F.S. McCarthy who succeeded Phelan on January 30 1945.
The last bombs dropped by the squadron's Halifaxes occurred on April 18, 1945. The squadron was on ops April 22, 1945 but did not drop their payloads due to cloud cover and orders from the Master Bomber.
The squadron began converting to the Avro Lancaster Mark X in mid April, 1945 but hostilites in Europe ended prior to the squadron becoming operational on the Lancaster. The squadron aircrews flew their Lancasters to Debert, Nova Scotia. Those personnel not transported by air were sent to Canada by ship. 420 Squadron ended its mission in England on June 14, 1945. At Debert the squadron prepared to be a part of Tiger Force for attacks on Japan, but Japan surrendered before the squadron became operational in the Pacific Theatre.
420 Squadron Battle Honours:
English Channel and North Sea 1942-44; Baltic 1942; Fortress Europe 1942-44; France and Germany 1944-45; Biscay Ports 1942-44; Berlin 1944; Ruhr 1942-45; Normandy 1944; Rhine, Biscay 1942-43; Sicily 1943; Italy 1943
City of London: The Snowy OwlsAs 420 Squadron was to be a predominantly Canadian squadron shortly after its formation the squadron was adopted by the City of London, Ontario via the National Air Force Association adoption program. During Bradshaw's tenure as CO in 1942 a request was made by the squadron to the chapter to provide a stuffed snowy owl to serve as mascot for the squadron. The requested owl was duly procured and delivered to the squadron. Hence the squadron's nicknames.
On November 9, 1943 the London Ontario Air Force Wives Association asked if they could adopt the squadron. Their request was gratefully accepted and a cable to Mrs. Pidgeon was sent to that effect. So the squadron became informally known as the "City of London Squadron." Ties continued between the city and squadron throughout the war. On Oct 15, 1944, W/C Brickendam visited the squadron to assess how the City of London Women's Air Force Auxiliary could improve the welfare of the men serving with the squadron by supplying "comforts". Shortly there after the squadron raised a $500 Victory Bond in honour the women's auxiliary.
Misc. Papers and Maps:
King & Queen Visit to Linton on Ouse:
420 Squadron was involved in two major activities, dropping bombs and mining coastal waters. Bomber Command had a number of bombs in its main arsenal. There were general purpose bombs of sizes from 250 lbs to 2000 lbs. "Cookies", that were made from a thin metal canister filled with explosive, weighed in at 4,000, 8,000 or 12,000 lbs. The latter were one or two 4,000 lb cookies connected together. (There were also special purpose bombs used by modified Lancasters such as the spinning/bouncing "dambuster" and the huge 22,000 lb Grand Slam and the 12000 "tallboy" which were used to destroy hardened submarine pens, deep bunkers and tunnels. All were designed by Sir Barnes N. Wallis who also was the genius behind the geodesic design of the Wellington.) Incendiaries, fire starting bombs, were mostly of the 4 or 30 lb variety, some of phosphorus, that were packed in containers. When the container fell from the bomber it would break apart releasing its "bomblets". Many of the incendiaries and general purpose bombs had delayed fuses that would explode hours or even weeks after they were dropped (Dunmore and Carter 1992).
As well as dropping bombs 420 Squadron was heavily involved with aerial minelaying, also known as "gardening", along the European coast line and in some major inland waterways. This technique proved very successful in damaging German shipping as well as involving many men and resources needed to continuously sweep for mines. 6 Group, according to Dunmore and Carte (1992), was the premier mining group in Bomber Command. Aerial mining involved precision flying from a "fix" to a specified locale where the mine would be dropped. The mines weighed from 1000 to just under 1900 lbs. Early versions had to be dropped from a very low altitude and at a specific speed or they would explode or be damaged when they contacted the water. Later mine designs enabled the bombers to fly much higher. The mines dropped would lay on the bottom until detonated by a ship's propellor sound or metal hull. The mines were battery operated so they had a limited life expectancy. "Gardening parties" were not milk runs. Flak from shore batteries or mobile flak ships and prowling night fighters protected the German coastal waters and caused many losses. Other dangers were the weather and flying into the black sea due to faulty instruments and/or weather.
A third mission 420 Squadron flew was that of dropping propaganda leaflets, "nickelling" over cities and towns in enemy held territory. While these were not as glamorous as bombing or minelaying they were considered essential to the Allied war effort and not without risk.
420 Squadron Statistics (based on Middlebrook and Everitt, 1990 and squadron logs)The squadron flew 3,479 operational sorties while completing 314 missions as part of Bomber Command during World War II flying over Europe. The majority, 79% (247), of these were bombing missions. Mine laying accounted for 18% (47) and the remaining missions were related to leaflet dropping (eight missions) and weather reconnaissance (two missions). It also participated in a number of channel searches for downed aircraft. The squadron had the fourth highest number of sorties of all RCAF squadrons flying over Europe. Only 405, 408 and 419 squadrons had higher numbers of sorties. Its loss rate of 1.7% (60 planes) was the lowest of these squadrons and was the fourth lowest of all 6 Group squadrons in Europe. Additionally, from May to November 1943 420, with 424 and 425 Squadrons, was part of 331 Wing, RAF 205 Group stationed in North Africa. Here 420 Squadron was involved in 65 bombing missions and completed 641 sorties plus seven (eleven sorties) nickelling missions against Sicily and Italy. In North Africa it had eight losses, two of which occurred over the Bay of Biscay during the squadon's transit from England to North Africa prior to it becoming operational.
During the Hampden period the squadron flew 44 bombing and 37 mine laying missions as well as eight nickelling and one weather mission for a total of 535 sorties. During this phase it incurred 19 losses (3.6%). Flying Wellington Mark III's and Mark X's in the European and Mediterraean theaters the squadron was engaged in 108 bombing missions, 20 minelaying missions, seven nickelling and a single weather mission for a total of 1119 sorties. It lost 22 (2%) planes while flying Wellingtons. The majority, 60% (2477), of the sorties flown during the war by the squadron was while they flew Halifax Mark III's. These were all bombing missions over Europe from February 15, 1944 to April 22, 1945. During this period only 1%, 25 bombers, were lost. The squadron never flew the Lancaster on ops.
Bibliography and Resources:
The main reference for these pages are the many yards/meters of microfilm that make up the RCAF Operational Records Books for 420 Squadron from the Library and Archives Canada/C12293 and C12294, The ORB's provide a daily report of the squadron's activities. Often these are very detailed documents relating the weather, important visitors, postings and activities as well as the expected details of operations. Unfortunately, some of these records have errors or are illegible, likely due to the number of carbon copies that had to be typed, the typists and the microfilm copying process. And, some are even hand written to make things worse! Not to mention that the records are not in chronological order. For the European Theater Middlebrook and Everitt (1990) and Dunmore and Carter (1991) provided valuable supplemental information as well as information pertaining to losses. Further information related to losses in the European Theater are drawn from WH Chorley's series "Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War" (1942, 1943, 1944, 1945).
For the period 420 Squadron spent in North Africa as part of 331 Wing 205 Group I have supplemented the squadron's ORB's with information from the ORB's from 331 Wing and 205 Group RAF that were researched for me in London by R. O'Hara of Public Record Searches.
Adkin, F.J. 1983. From the Ground Up: A History of R.A.F. Ground Crew. Airlife Publishing, Shrewbury, England.
Barker, R. 1967. The Thousand Plan: The story of the first thousand bomber raid on Cologne. Pan Books, London.
Baumbach, W. 1960. The Life and Death of the Luftwaffe: Germany's "Lost Victories" of the Air. Translated by F. Holt.Ballintine Books, New York.
Brickhill, P. 1954. Reach For The Sky: The story of Douglas Bader, CBE, DSO, DFC. William Collins Sons and Co. Ltd. England.
Brickhill, P. 1971. The Dam Busters. Pan Books, London.
Brown, D. 1996. Aerodromes in North Yorshire and Wartime Memories. David Brown, Stockton-on-Tees, England.
Caidin, M. 1962. The Night Hamburg Died. Ballintine Books, New York.
Chorley, W.R. 1998. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War 1945. Vol. 6. Midland Publishing Ltd. Hersham.
Chorley, W.R. 1997. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War 1944. Vol. 5. Midland Publishing Ltd. Hersham.
Chorley, W.R. 1996. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War 1943. Vol. 4. Midland Publishing Ltd. Hersham.
Chorley, W.R. 1994. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War 1943. Vol. 3. Midland Counties Publishing Ltd. Earl Shelton.
de la Ferte, Sir P.J. 1961. The Forgotten Ones: The Story of the Ground Crews. Hutchinson
Dunmore, S and W. Carter W. 1991. Reap the Whirlwind: The untold story of 6 Group, Canada's bomber force of World War II. McClelland and Stewart Inc. Toronto.
Garbett, M. and B. Goulding. 1992. Lancaster. Promotional Reprint Co. for Bookmart Limited, Enderby, UK.
Gibson, G. VC, DSO, DFC. 1946. Enemy Coast Ahead. Michael Joseph Limited, Great Britain.
Chappell, F.R. 1992. Wellington Wings: An RAF Intelligence Officer in the Western Desert. Crecy Books Ltd.
Galland, A. 1968. The First and the Last: The rise and fall of the Luftwaffe: 1939-1945. Ballantine Books. New York.
Gunston, B. 1988. The Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Salamander Books, London.
Harvey, J.D. 1982. Boys, Bombs, and Brussels Sprouts: One man's irreverent account of flying for Canada with Bomber Command. McClelland and Stewart Limited, Canada.
Hillary, R. 1942. The Last Enemy. Macmillan London Ltd, London, England.
Jones, R.V. 1980. Most Secret War: British Intelligence 1939-1945. Coronet Books, London.
Lake, J. 1999. Halifax Squadrons of World War 2. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England.
Lihou, M. G. 2007. Out of the Italian Night: Wellington Bomber Operations 1944-45. Pen and Sword Aviation, Barnsley, England.
McKay, R. 1989. One of the Many. General Store Publishing House Inc, Burnstown, Ontario, Canada.
Middlebrook, M and C. Everitt.1990. The Bomber Command War Diaries, An Operational Reference Book: 1939-1945. Penguin Books Canada, Toronto, Canada.
Moore, C. 1995. Lancaster Valour: The Valour and The Truth. Compaid Graphics, Warrington, England.
Peden, M., QC, DFC. 1979. A Thousand Shall Fall. Canada Wing, Stittsville.
Rapier, B.J. and C. Bowyer.1994. Halifax, Wellington. Promotional Reprint Co. for Bookmart Limited, Enderby, UK.
Read, S. 2008. The Killing Skies: RAF Bomber Command at War. Spellmount Limited, Chalford Stroud, UK.
Rivaz, R.C. DFC. 2003. Tail Gunner. Sutton Publishing, Stroud, England.
Sainty, P. J. 1988. "Zig-Zag"- The Hampdens of 420 (RCAF) Squadron. P.J. Sainty, Derby, England. And pers. comm.