Coastal Command Maintains Constant Vigilance

Royal Air Force 1939-1945- Coastal Command

A Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945.

A Mosquito of the Banff Strike Wing in action in the Kattegat on 5 April 1945. There the Mosquitos discovered a convoy of seven ships evacuating Germans troops back to the Fatherland. In the ensuing attack a flak ship and a trawler were sunk, but one No 235 Squadron Mosquito struck a mast and spun into the sea, killing its crew. Losses among the embarked German troops were heavy. (photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

 

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 314) Two Lockheed Hudson Mark Is of No. 206 Squadron RAF based at Bircham Newton, Norfolk, flying at low-level over the North Sea during a reconnaissance sortie by five aircraft of the Squadron to observe the movements of German warships in the Heligoland Bight area. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205190911

 

RAF Coastal Command was known as the “Cinderella Service” since they received nothing but hand me down aircraft from Bomber Command and anyone else they could find to scrouge aircraft. The planes pictured above are Lockheed Hudson’s orignally built for the Royal Air Force.

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 282) Lockheed Hudson Mark I, P5120 ‘VX-C’, of No 206 Squadron RAF based at Bircham Newton, Norfolk, on a patrol over the North Sea. This aircraft was written off in a landing accident at Bircham Newton on 20 June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205190910

 

While useful, the planes were slow, 246 mph or 397 km/h, and range limited, 1,960 miles or 3,150 km. Keep in mind these specifications are for a properly maintained aircraft operating under good conditions. In operational service, I presume they were marked down for a range of 1600 miles. That would be 800 miles out over the ocean and 800 miles back. Even then, in bad weather, that would be pushing it.

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 339) The wireless operator/air gunner of a Lockheed Hudson Mark I of No. 206 Squadron RAF based at Bircham Newton, Norfolk, signals with an Aldis lamp to four other aircraft of the Squadron to ‘close formation’ while returning from a reconnaissance sortie in the Heligoland Bight area. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208466

Communications were problematic. Given the crewman isn’t on oxygen and is wearing a short sleeve shirt, the plane must be flying low and it must be summer.

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 296) The interior of a Lockheed Hudson Mk I of No. 206 Squadron RAF, June 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208462

 

In the first years of the war the main task of Coastal Command was maritime patrol and reconnasiance of the seas surrounding Great Britain.  This task included attacking U-Boats, protecting Channel convoys, protecting Atlantic convoys, and occasional search and rescue.

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (C 3691) An airborne lifeboat is parachuted by a Lockheed Hudson of No. 279 Squadron RAF to the crew of a USAAF Boeing B-17 who had difficulty in getting into their dinghy after making a forced landing in the North Sea. 279 Squadron were based at Bircham Newton, Norfolk, at this time. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205023209

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: COASTAL COMMAND (CH 7501) Sunderland II W3984/RB-S of No 10 Squadron RAAF, October 1942. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218958

 

The demands placed on Coastal Command were far beyond its capabilities as the pilots lacked training and the entire command suffered from a lack of aircraft and ground support. Finally, Coastal Command was placed under the tactical command of the Royal Navy in late 1940 and slow improvement began. But it took a long time.

 

THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC 1939 – 1945 (CH 7504) Allied Aircraft: A Short Sunderland Mk II flying boat of 10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, used for reconnaissance and anti-U-boat duties Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194548

One of the mainstays of Coastal Command in the early years was the Short Sunderland flying boat. (The plane was built by Short Brothers, Ltd. ‘Short’ is not a reference to the size of the plane)

The pilots and air crew performed a monotonous mission well. There were many crews who flew thousands of hours of reconnaisance patrols and never saw anything during the entire war. The ocean is a big place.

ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CH 413) The two side-gunners in a Short Sunderland Mark I of No. 10 Squadron RAAF, mount watch from their positions by the open dorsal hatches mid-way along the fuselage, during a flight. Two .303 Vickers K-type gas-operated guns were usually fitted in these positions during operations Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208474
THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC 1939-1945 (CH 13997) Anti-Submarine Weapons: Leigh Light used for spotting U-boats on the surface at night fitted to a Liberator aircraft of Royal Air Force Coastal Command. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194543

 

From the website historyofwar.org:  “The Leigh Light was developed to solve a problem with anti-submarine radar during the Second World War. By 1941 the British had developed radar systems capable of detecting a surfaced U-boat, but interference from the surface of the sea meant that the radar signal would be lost during the final attack run.

The solution to this problem was to fit a bright light to the attacking aircraft. [A design] … by Squadron Leader Humphrey de Verd Leigh, used a controllable spotlight suspended below the belly of the aircraft….”

The blinding white Leigh light was often the last thing a UBoat kommandant saw before depth charges were dropped on top of him.

THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC 1939-1945 (CH 14001) Anti-Submarine Weapons: A Royal Air Force Liberator illuminated by a Leigh Light on the airfield at St Eval. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194544

 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/