RCAF Squadron 414 History – RCAF Base Dunsfold
No.414 Squadron RCAF was formed at RAF Croydon in August 1941 and was the twelfth RCAF unit formed overseas. It was also the second Canadian squadron to be designated in the Army Co-Operation role along with the 400 Squadron RCAF, both squadrons formed No.39 Army Co-Operation Wing. 414 Squadron took the name “City of Sarnia Imperials” and became known as the Black Knight Squadron. Their badge was a Black Knight upon a White Horse on a cloud with the motto is “totus veribus” (With all our might).
At the time of formation, 414’s first aircraft were Curtiss Tomahawks (and some Westland Lysanders), and during the first year it was mainly undergoing training for its future reconnaissance and ground attack role. In June 1942, the Tomahawks were replaced with the new North American Mustang Mark IA. This aircraft performed very well at low height and was suited to its future role of reconnaissance at low levels. The Mark IA had cameras mounted directly behind the cockpit.
As an Army Co-operation Squadron, their purpose was to supply Allied Army Intelligence with information regarding enemy locations, movement and facilities. Photos and pilot reports after a sortie became highly valued data, particularly in the months leading up to D-Day and on the advance across Europe.
414’s first offensive operation was to provide air cover during the mainly Canadian forces raid on Dieppe on August 19, 1942. P/O Hollis Hills, an American in the RCAF, was the first Mustang pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft during this operation.
414 is currently still active and based near Ottawa Ontario as an Electronic Warfare Squadron. Wikipedia entry
The Dunsfold Experience
December 3, 1942-January 31, 1943
After 15½ months at RAF Croydon, orders were received by 414 Squadron on December 3, 1942 to move to RCAF Dunsfold. The Commanding Officer, W/C. Roy Begg was the first member of the squadron to arrive on December 4. The remainder of the aircraft and pilots were delayed by weather conditions and arrived over the next few days. The entire Squadron, consisting of 17 aircraft, 22 pilots, 242 ground and support staff and 25 vehicles, were settled in and operational on December 6. By all accounts, the members were initially pleased with the new quarters, in spite of the fact that the airfield was incomplete. From December 6 –18, weather conditions severely limited flying activities, and a number of comments were recorded regarding the muddy conditions that made life unpleasant in the camp areas of the airfield. The balance of the month recorded some flying, but the majority was for training purposes.
On December 10th, only 4 days after arrival at Dunsfold, LAC Paul Colbourne of No.6414 Servicing Echelon was killed as a result of an accident during ground testing of aircraft armaments.
In January, with improved weather, the Squadron began flying defensive patrols. Regular two aircraft formations covered the area from Selsey Bill west to St. Catherine’s Point and Selsey Bill east to Shoreham. These patrols usually lasted one hour and 10 to 15 patrols were flown daily. Members of the Squadron were also flying air to air firing practice missions from RAF West Zoyland for the two-week period before they left Dunsfold on January 31, 1943 and transferred to RAF Middle Wallop for a three-week period.
February 20, 1943-April 9, 1943
The return to Dunsfold began on February 20,1943, with the first aircraft arriving on February 23. By February 28, the entire air and ground crew elements had settled in. The contingent consisted of 22 aircrew, 240 ground crew and support staff, 33 vehicle and 16 aircraft. For the first two weeks in March the Squadron participated, together with 430 Squadron, in Exercise Spartan with the British Second Army (in reality the First Canadian Army).
430 Squadron was to be the third and last RCAF Army Co-operation Squadron and the last Canadian Squadron formed overseas. This completed the elements of 39 Wing RCAF, which now included 400, 414 and 430 Squadrons.
During March, 414 again flew mostly training missions with 347.5 hours in training and 5 hours on operations. One of the highlights for the pilots was a bicycle tour to The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold for dinner on March 20.
On March 27, a reconnaissance flight into France with two aircraft, was unsuccessful due to weather and upon return, F/O Hugh Steeves was caught in deteriorating cloud conditions and crashed into a hillside near Shoreham and was killed. On April 1st, another 414 pilot, F/O Ray McQuoid, was Killed In Action while on a 2 aircraft offensive (Rhubarb) mission over St. Pierre, France.
Eight days later, the “Black Knight” Squadron vacated Dunsfold for the second time at 18:00 hours after 49 days in residence.
June 20, 1943-July 4, 1943
Their third and final stay (14 days) at Dunsfold began on June 20, 1943, with the entire wing settled into accommodation the next day. The purpose of the move was to have the Squadron participate in Exercise Eagle, which was a joint exercise with the other two Squadrons (Nos. 400 and 430) of No.39 Wing.
On 28 June 1943 the squadron’s name was changed to 414 Fighter Reconnaissance Squadron to reflect its reconnaissance and ground attack role.
During this period at Dunsfold, the Royal Canadian Corp of Engineers built an experimental temporary runway system, which they would periodically blow up and demonstrate their ability to repair it in a timely manner.
The final posting at Dunsfold for 414 Squadron concluded on July 4, 1943 when they moved to other bases in England before D-Day. In early in August 1944, 414 Squadron converted to Spitfire IXs and started to operate from airfields in Normandy from the 15th August.
They continued to supply Allied Intelligence with daily reports and photos of enemy movements and locations until May 1945 when the Squadron was disbanded in Lunenburg, Germany at the end of hostilities.
Text compiled by Ron Stover from 414 ORB, Logbooks, 414 Squadron History Book and the RCAF Squadrons Overseas Book. Personnel photographs from F/L George Burroughs DFC War Scrapbook. Additional text from Frank Phillipson.