August 1943 – October 1944: Royal Air Force
During this period, Dunsfold Aerodrome was HQ for the Medium Bomber No 139 Wing, RAF, comprising 98, 180, 320 (Netherlands) Squadrons, part of the Second Tactical Airforce.
No. 98 Squadron RAF
Dunsfold, Surrey between 18 Aug 43 – 26 Mar 44
Dunsfold, Surrey between 10 Apr 44 – 16 Oct 44
Commanding Officers No. 98 Squadron:
Wg Cdr A. M. Phillips 18 Aug 43
Wg Cdr R. K. F. Bell-Irving 9 Apr 44
Wg Cdr J. G. C. Paul, DFC 15 May 44
Wg Cdr L. G. Hamer 16 Sep 44
Squadrons 98 and 180 arrived in August 1943, and 320 arrived six months later. All three squadrons flew Mitchell bombers; “They took part in a large number of bombing missions over Europe, attacking a wide variety of targets and establishing a reputation for highly accurate attacks”. (12) They were at the forefront of the Allied offensive against the V-1 sites in northern France, and. 13 (The V-1s – also called “buzz bombs” or “doodlebugs” – were flying bombs, and could be described as early guided or cruise missiles, and were aimed from the continent towards London. (14)
No. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF
In 1940 no. 320 (Netherlands) Squadron RAF was formed by members of the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service, who had flown from the Netherlands when it was invaded. On 12 June 1944 Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands visited Dunsfold to award medals (15). In all, 320 Squadron were awarded the Dutch Military Order of William four times and the Dutch Airman’s Cross, 176 times. (16)
ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CH 12862) North American Mitchell Mark IIs of No. 98 Squadron RAF taxying along the perimeter track at Dunsfold, Surrey, for a morning raid on targets in northern France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210539
The RAF 320 (Dutch) Squadron October 1943 – flying Mitchells from the UK
Shortly before D-Day, on 18 April 1944, General Eisenhower, then Allied Supreme Commander, visited Dunsfold, presumably to give a pre-D-Day morale talk. (17) The D-Day orders for Dunsfold were issued on 3 June: “to cause maximum delay to the movement by road and rail, by enemy forces at night”. 18The action started early in the morning of 6 June when all three Squadrons were in action to support the D-Day landing.
News correspondents had been frequent visitors to Dunsfold in the build up to D-Day and Ronald Walker from the News Chronicle flew in one of the Mitchell bombers from Dunsfold, his report appearing in the newspaper the next day. He wrote:
“The crews of three Mitchell bomber squadrons of this station who were sent on bombing missions to France in the early hours of this morning did not know that they were taking part in the invasion of Europe.” (19)
The next night, 60 Mitchell bombers were dispatched against the enemy. (20)
Following D-Day, in September 1944, all three squadrons of Dunsfold bombers were also involved in the unsuccessful Operation Market Garden, best known for the bitter battle for the bridge at Arnhem. 139 Wing lost several aircraft to enemy flak and fighters in these operations. (21)
By the end of the war “at least 1/3 of all crew lost their lives, and 40% of all Mitchells were lost” (22). During the six months 320 Squadron was at Dunsfold, it is reported that 156 members died and 57 were lost. (23) The casualty rate amongst airmen was generally very high: “Half of all aircrew were lost before they had even completed ten missions”. (24) Not all losses were due to enemy action and there were many accidents).
Link to record of crashes.
The three squadrons — 98, 180 and 320 — departed for the continent in October 1944 (25)
There are two plaques in Dunsfold commemorating the presence:
For 98 Squadron: on Rose Cottage (now Canada House):
“From its wartime headquarters in this cottage in 1944. No.98 Squadron, RAF was launched the invasion of Europe led by Wg Cdr G J C Paul”.
For 320 Squadron: a plaque in Dunsfold church along with its colours. (26)
Operation Exodus was the repatriation of British Prisoners of War (POWs) from the continent. Dunsfold Aerodrome was designated an “Air Arrival Centre” where No. 2 Hangar was decorated with flowers to welcome the troops home and a medical inspection tent was set up. Between the 15 April 1945 and 25 June 1945, 47,529 ex POWs passed through Dunsfold Aerodrome. This accounted for 85% of the POWs repatriated by the RAF. On one day alone – 9 May – 160 aircraft delivered 3,953 personnel: just 24 per aircraft, in accordance with Bomber Commands’ Operation instructions. But the daily count was often over 100 flights. As can easily be imagined, there were emotional scenes, with men falling to their knees to kiss the ground.(27)
10 Delve, 1985: p81; McCue, 1991: p289. But the details given differ. 11 McCue, 1991: pp33-62.
12 Delve, 1985: p79.
13 McCue, 1991: p73.
15 Manschot, 2016: p27.; McCue, 1991: pp128-129.
16 Wings & Wheels, 2016. For a film of Squadron 320 at Dunsfold in 1944, see Imperial war Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060021111 [Accessed 31 January 2017].
17 Wings & Wheels, 2016; Delve, 2005: p79.; McCue, 10992: p107. There is film of his visit in the Imperial War Museum: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060019799 .
18 McCue, 1991: p117.
19 McCue, 1991: p121-125.
20 Ashworth, 1985: p83. McCue, 1991: pp125-126. For other details of action from Dunsfold, see Jacobs, 2009: pp195-198.
21 Jacobs, 2009: p198. McCue, 1991: pp160-169.
22 Manschot, 2016: p27.
23 Wings & Wheels, 2016. 24 BBC, 2011.
25 Delve, 2005, p79.
26 Delve, 2005: p81.
27 Clutton-Brock, 2003: pp 149-150; McCue, 1991: pp 190-194; Ashworth, 1985: p83.