No 489 Sqn was formed on the 12th of August 1941 at Leuchars airfield in Scotland, a Royal Air Force Coastal Command station. The intention being to employ the squadron in the campaign against the enemy's communications in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. The formation of the squadron began quietly with the arrival of a few officers at Leuchars early in the month. Among them were Wing Commander Brown, an experienced English pilot, who was to command the new unit, and Squadron Leaders Sandeman, of Glasgow, and Evans, a Londoner, the first flight commanders. During the next weeks more officers and men, some of whom had already flown with coastal command, were posted to the squadron. Among the early arrivals were Flight Lieutenant Dinsdale, who was later to command the squadron, and Pilot Officers Hartshorn and Richardson, both of whom were to distinguish themselves in operations against the enemy. Gradually the squadron began to take shape. A few Beaufort aircraft arrived and training commenced. At first this training was confined almost entirely to the pilots, but later crews began to form and practise the tactics which they would soon employ in real earnest. Bombs were dropped on a dummy ship in a field and dummy torpedoes were launched against targets off the coast. There were long flights over land and sea so that the members of the each crew could learn to work together as a team. Meanwhile New Zealanders continued to join the squadron singly and in groups until, by December 1941, the proportion was sufficient to give the unit a definite New Zealand character. Unfortunately, completion of operational training was hindered by the shortage of torpedo-bomber aircraft, which lead to re-equipment first with Blenheims and then in March 1942, with Hampdens. By that time the squadron had moved to Thorney Island in the south of England, and it was from this airfield that the squadron began operating over the Bay of Biscay early in May on anti-submarine patrols. A few months later the squadron returned to Scotland to take up the role for which it was originally intended and in which it subsequently served with distinction - searching for and attacking enemy shipping along the Norwegian coast and in the North Sea.
No 489 New Zealand Squadron was to play a prominent part in anti-shipping duties during the second half of 1942, but unfortunately in the early months the unit experienced a period of difficulties and frustration. Training on Beaufort torpedo aircraft had almost been completed by January when, owing to the withdrawal of these aircraft from Coastal Command for urgent overseas requirements when production could not meet the increased commitments, the squadron was temporarily equipped with Blenheims. Training was then begun on these aircraft and continued to February, but crews had to contend with indifferent weather and shortage of dual aircraft. The new squadron suffered a further setback early in March when it was moved from Leuchars, in Scotland, to Thorney Island in the south of England. Meanwhile satisfactory trials had been carried out with Hampden aircraft and it was decided to allot this type to the New Zealand unit. The Hampdens began to arrive towards the end of March, when flying training and practice bombing were continued.
The original role for No. 489 Squadron was reconnaissance and strikes against enemy shipping plying between Spanish and enemy-occupied French ports, but the contemporary shortage of aircraft for operations against U-boats crossing the Bay of Biscay led to the diversion of the Squadron's major effort to anti-submarine patrols. The first sortie was flown on 11 May 1942 and throughout the next two months the patrols were continued, some extending as far south as the coast of Spain. No attacks were made on German submarines during these sorties, but this was not the result of lack of keenness on the part of the aircrew. At this period the air patrols were forcing the enemy's submarines in the Bay of Biscay to surface mainly at night, and by helping to maintain the pressure day by day against the enemy the squadron made a contribution to the Battle of the Atlantic at a very difficult period.
The first patrols were not entirely without incident. On 22 May 1942, while returning from patrol in the Bay of Biscay, one of the Hampdens was attacked by a Henkel about fifty miles south of Land's End. The rear gunner succeeded in driving off the enemy aircraft and no damage or casualties were suffered. A more serious encounter with enemy fighters, in which Flight Lieutenant Hartshorn and his crew were fortunate to survive, took place on 13 June, some 25 miles west of Ushant. The wireless operator, Flight Sergeant McGill-Brown, was changing accumulators with the help of the rear gunner when by chance he looked up and saw two Focke-Wulf 190 fighters diving in from the starboard quarter. He shouted a warning to Hartshorn, who immediately took the Hampden down to sea level and jettisoned the depth-charges. Then he began weaving violently, judging his moves by watching the line of canon shells churning up the calm sea. The enemy fighters had now closed to point blank range, and Brown, who was firing a machine gun through the starboard window, was hit by a canon shell and fell back on the floor of the aircraft with his right knee shattered. At the same moment the navigator was knocked unconscious by shrapnel wounds in the back. In the rear turret the English gunner, Pilot Officer Jordan, who was giving avoiding directions to his pilot, held fire until one of the Focke-Wulfs filled his gun sight, then he gave a long burst. The fighter turned sharply away and made off towards France, leaving a long wake of black smoke streaming from its engine. The second Folke-Wulf, however, continued to attack and made persistent efforts to silence the rear gunner. Meanwhile Brown, although bleeding profusely, had crawled back to his gun and by clinging to the interior struts, brought it again into action. Shortly afterwards the enemy broke off the engagement and the Hampden landed safely at St. Eval half an hour later. The squadron received a message of Congratulations from Air Chief marshal Sir Phillip Joubert, sent to the commanding officer, Wing Commander Brown.
By the end of June aircraft had become available to Coastal Command for the Bay offensive, and this enabled No. 489 Squadron to be withdrawn from operations to continue its training as a torpedo-bomber squadron. In the second week of July the unit moved to Tain, near Invergordon, were tactical torpedo training was resumed in earnest.
It was with the Hampdens that the New Zealand torpedo-bomber squadron now began patrols and attacks against German shipping along the coast of Norway. By the end of July the crews had completed their training on torpedo-bombers and the unit commenced a move to Skitten, a new aerodrome forming a satellite to the long established Royal Air Force station at Wick in north-east Scotland. Conditions were far from pleasant in this remote corner of Scotland, but the men soon settled down in their new quarters and before long had established friendly relations with the folk in the district, from whom offers of hospitality were soon forthcoming. Within a few days of arrival, on 11 August, No. 489 Squadron undertook its first mission off the Norwegian coast. This was a search for the German battleship Lutzow which had been reported off the southern coast of Norway. Flying Officers Richardson, Latta and Nilsson, Warrant Officer Dunn, and Sergeant A.H.Jones were among the New Zealanders who made the reconnaissance. The Hampdens patrolled to the north and east of Lister, but visibility was extremely bad and the crews were unable to report any sighting. The bomber in which Sergeant G.A.Jones flew as air gunner was not heard of again after setting out from base. Documents captured with the Lutzow reveal that this aircraft was probably successful in locating the enemy warship, although its subsequent fate is uncertain.
August saw the squadron credited with torpedoing, a 3000-ton merchantman off the Norwegian coast, and probably shooting down a Nazi fighter; their first victories. The flight included Flying Officer J.J.Richardson and Pilot Officers J.H.Reason, T.O.G.Murray and S.Latta.
In the following weeks the Hampdens searched for enemy shipping along the south-west coast of Norway and also flew anti-submarine patrols to the north of Scotland. An interesting mission was flown on 21 August by Flying Officer Tidy and his crew, who met and escorted the aircraft carrier Victorious and the battleship Rodney during the last stage of their passage to Scapa Flow. Early September patrols over the northern waters were uneventful, but during the third week the squadron suffered its second loss when Flying Officer Murray and his crew failed to return from patrol. A message received from the Hampden nine hours after take-off indicated that it had been battling against head winds, was short of fuel and would have to land in the sea. Intensive air searches during the next few days proved fruitless.
On 17 September No. 489 Squadron's patrols were rewarded by a sighting and attack. An early morning reconnaissance had reported a convoy south of Stavanger and three Hampdens took off to intercept. They were captained by Flying Officer J.J.Richardson, Flying Officer Mottram, the English tennis player, and Flight Sergeant Strain, a Scot from Prestwick. Course was set in formation for a point off Obersted, but as the torpedo-bombers approached the Norwegian coast a further sighting was received from a reconnaissance aircraft. They altered course and soon sighted the enemy convoy, which consisted of one vessel of some 5000 tons and a smaller tramp steamer, accompanied by five escorts of the trawler type. The three Hampdens immediately closed to the attack and torpedoes launched by Morttram and Richardson struck the largest ship within a few seconds of each other. According to one of the rear gunners, "the sides of the ship appeared to swell between the funnel and the stern and when they could swell no more, they burst. After the explosion, part of the vessel was hidden by a mass of white foam, in which black smoke and bits of the ship itself were mixed". Meanwhile the torpedo from the third Hampden had run across the bows of this vessel and was last seen heading for the stern of the smaller ship. Enemy fighters now appeared on the scene and it was only with difficult that the Hampdens succeeded in shaking them off and returning safely to base.
A few weeks later, on anti-shipping reconnaissance between Egero and Naze, Richardson and his New Zealand crew, consisting of Flight Sergeants McKenzie and Hyde and Sergeant Gaskill, sighted a transport of some 4000 tons. The ship's gunners opened fire, but Richardson immediately went in to launch his torpedo and it was seen to strike the enemy vessel almost amidships. While turning away the Hampden was hotly engaged by a Junkers 88, but the gunners were able to drive it off and the bomber returned to base without further incident.
As winter approached, the crews flying patrols along the Norwegian coast frequently met low cloud, sea fog or storms. Such conditions prevailed on 7 November when five Hampdens took part in an extensive but unsuccessful search for the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, which was believed to be off the south-west coast of Norway. Patrols on the 15th, however, proved more fruitful. On that day eleven Hampdens were ordered to search the north-west coast of Norway in the neighbourhood of Stadlandet, the point on the Norwegian coast where enemy ships in their southward journey were forced to leave the shelter of the chain of islands along the coast. On reaching their patrol area the formation divided, and shortly afterwards three Hampdens - two of them piloted by Flying Officer Nilsson and Warrant Officer Dunn sighted a small convoy. The bombers turned in and launched their torpedoes, but unfortunately two broke up in the extremely rough sea. Dunn's torpedo was seen to hit the rear vessel in the convoy. A great sheet of spray covered the ship, and when this subsided she was seen to be listing heavily and settling in the water. On the return flight, as so often happened, the tired crews flew through rain and sleet to find considerable haze over their base and landing proved difficult.
Two further successes were achieved by the Hampdens before the end of the year. On a night patrol near Kristiansand, Flying Officer Freshney sighted a merchant ship of some 2000 tons silhouetted in the moonlight, and by approaching out of the darkness was able to release his torpedo and get clear before the German gunners could open fire. As the Hampden turned away the rear gunner saw "a large orange-coloured flash and a shower of sparks". Pilot Officer Shallcrass and his crew used similar tactics in a night attack early in December. Finding a convoy in the narrow channel between steep cliffs and a number of small islands, a low approach was made from behind one of the islands. The torpedo was then launched at the largest ship in the convoy, and the Hampden was weaving its way out among the islands before billowing smoke indicated that the surprise attack had been successful.
The squadron completed 1942 with a good record, sinking eight German ships off the coast of Norway. Scorers were Flying Officer J.J.Richardson, one and one shared; Flying Officer Fresney, one; Warrant Officer R.C.Dunn, one; a Scotts Pilot, two, with Pilot Officer F.N.Shallcrass and Sergeant H.R.F.Smith in his crew; two English pilots, two more, with Sergeant E.A.Hurley and K.Moore in their crews.
Bomber Command's minelaying campaign during 1943 was supplemented by torpedo and bombing attacks carried out mainly by Beaufighter and Hampdens of Coastal Command. The torpedo now the principle weapon and there were two main areas of attack, the Dutch coast from Frisian Islands to Rotterdam and the south-western coast of Norway. In both these regions there was to be a steady development of aerial attacks during 1943. Operations fell into two main classes - the 'Rover' patrol flown by small formations of from two to six machines and the 'Strike' by larger forces with fighter escort, against targets previously located by reconnaissance aircraft. Rover patrols were more frequently employed along the Norwegian coast where convoys were less heavily defended; Strike Wings were gradually developed for attacks off the Dutch coast where there was usually stronger opposition.
At the beginning of the year No. 489 New Zealand Squadron was one of several Hampden squadrons employed in patrol and attack along the Norwegian coast. This New Zealand torpedo-bomber squadron had been formed at Leuchars in Scotland in August 1941 and had experience a chequered career. The early training was interrupted by shortages of torpedo aircraft and some months elapsed before No.489 was finally equipped with Hampdens discarded by Bomber Command. Then its role was suddenly changed to anti-submarine work and the first operation sorties were flown over the Bay of Biscay. It was not until July 1942 that the squadron return Northwards to take up its originally intended task of attacking enemy shipping in northern waters. During the closing months of that year there were several successful attacks on enemy ships; the Hampdens also flew escort patrols to naval forces proceeding to and from Scapa, covered convoys bound for Russian Artic ports and searched for U-boats travelling to and from bases in Norway.
January 1943 found the New Zealand Squadron based at Wick on the north-east coast of Scotland under the command of an English pilot, Wing Commander Darling. New Zealanders now made up a substantial part of the aircrew strength of the unit but there was still strong representation from other parts of the Commonwealth, from Canada and Australia as well as from the British Isles. Squadron Leader Evans of London and Squadron Leader James of Ross-on-Wye were the flight commanders, while lieutenant Mottram of Coventry, Flying Officer Pedersen, a Danish pilot, Warrant Officer Dubbery from Essex and Warrant Officer Strain, a Scot from Glasgow, all won distinction as captains of aircraft during 1943. New Zealand pilots who had notable success in operations with the squadron at this time were Flying Officer Richardson, Flying Officer Freshney, Flying Officer Moyniham, Flying Officer Pettitt, Flying Officer Latta and Warrant Officer Dunn.
Richardson and his crew were lost in mid-January whilst attacking enemy ships off the Naze. The first run was unsuccessful as Richardson's vision was spoilt by oil from and overgreased front gun. Accurate anti-aircraft fire was met as he turned to make a second attempt, and it was during his second approach that the Hampden was shot down by the ship's gunners. Fortunately the crew survived the crash-landing on the sea and were picked up by the enemy shortly afterwards. A few weeks later Fresney's Hampden was shot down whilst he was leading the attack on a convoy off Kristiansand; all the crew were lost.
The low-level approach necessary to aim torpedoes meant that aircraft usually had to face an intense barrage of flak from the ships' guns and sometimes from shore batteries as well. In a typical attack early in April against a well-defended convoy off Obrestad two of the four Hampdens were lost. One machine crashed into the sea just after dropping its torpedo, while the second was shot down by a fighter after it had been hit by flak; a third Hampden managed to escape after a cannon shell had passed through its tail.
As the months passed the obsolete Hampdens faced further hazards. Not only did the Germans begin to install their latest single-engine fighters, the Focke-Wulf 190s, in Norway, but they also employed considerable cunning in the movement of convoys. These would often sail at night or in poor visibility by day. At other times they would lie at anchor, hidden close up to the steep cliffs of the Norwegian fiords, where they were difficult to locate and attack.
The Norwegian coast, awe-inspiring in appearance, was not the most pleasant area to patrol at any time. Navigators found the coastline most difficult because of it monotonous similarity. Often the first landfall would be a cluster of islands, giving way to mountains and fiords in the background. Conditions were seldom suitable for good reconnaissance and the times when crews could have a good look round were so few that they could not get to know the whole of that wild and rugged coastline from Aalesund in the north to Kristiansand in the south.
The weather in that region was most treacherous and subject to sudden and violent changes. An aircraft might be flying in thick cloud almost down to sea level when suddenly it would come out into clear skies and bright sunshine; then it fell easy victim to enemy fighter patrols. Again, whilst exploring channels for possible targets, crews needed to be sure that the particular channel they entered had an outlet to the sea at the other end. It could be most disconcerting to find the aircraft heading for a wall of rock, especially since some of the fiords were so narrow that a modern aircraft could not easily turn in them, while the cliffs on either side were so high that is was difficult to climb over them at short notice. Low flying along these channels amongst the islands could however be most exhilarating, and sometimes crews would receive an encouraging wave from friendly Norwegians. But they might equally well be greeted with a burst of anti-aircraft fire, for the Germans had established concentrations of flak guns at certain points along the coast, and a machine flying into such an area could find itself in a very unpleasant situation. However, as the Germans usually placed their guns half-way up the sides of the fiords, Allied airmen found that by flying very low they forced the Germans to depress their weapons so far that they were firing at each other across the water.
Eighteen attacks on enemy ships were reported by No. 489 Squadron during the first half of 1943. An early success was shared with No. 455 Australian Squadron when at dusk one evening towards the end of January seven Hampdens, four of them from No. 489 Squadron, attacked the 3200-ton Abrensburg close to the coast near Stavanger. They met sharp ani-aircraft fire from the ship and shore batteries also intervened to divert their attack. But the Hampdens went in to drop their torpedoes at low level and score hits. There were large explosions, debris was hurled into the air, and a cloud of smoke rose from the ship. A few minutes later crews had the unusual satisfaction of seeing her sink by the stern.
April 1943 was a particularly active month for the New Zealanders. On the 4th a large merchant ship, estimated at some 7000 tons, was torpedoed by Latta. After the attack his crew saw the vessel heading for the shore, very much down in the bows and listing heavily; she subsequently became a total loss. A few days later hits were reported on a tanker and one of two merchant ships in convoy near Stadlandet. Of his attack on the tanker Flight Lieutenant Willis relates:
Two of the four Hampdens which made this attack were shot down. The first, captained by Flying Officer Latta, was heavily hit during its approach and crashed into the sea shortly afterwards. The second, captained by Flying Officer Wheeler, was shot down by a German fighter. Warrant Officer Dubbery saw a hit on one of the merchantmen but reported being twice attacked by enemy aircraft and having to switchback to avoid their cannon fire. In another action only a few weeks later Dubbery and his crew of three New Zealanders was shot down by German fighters. They survived the crash-landing on the sea and, after five hours in their dinghy, were picked up at dusk by a Finnish ship which had nearly run them down. As the Finns were allied with the Germans against Russia at this time, the airmen were landed at Egersund that night and became prisoners of war.
Towards the end of April two hits on merchant ships in convoy near Obrestad were reported after an attack by four Hampdens. They were led by Squadron Leader Hughes, who had taken over a flight at the beginning of this month. In another action which Hughes led against a convoy off the Naze, intense opposition came from both ships and shore batteries. Enemy fighters also appeared on the scene and crews were unable to see the result of their attacks. However reconnaissance aircraft flying over the scene shortly afterwards found one of the ships, a large vessel of some 6000 tons, lying on the rocks close to the shore, a total wreck.
In the ten months ended May 1943, the squadron had attacked at least 85,000 tons of enemy shipping off the coast of Norway and destroyed 10,000 tons (seen to sink), probably destroyed 12,000 and damaged 28,500 tons. This was a fine record for a squadron flying in some of the worst weather that any operating from Britain had to meet. There was an icy wind almost daily and thick expanses of mist and low cloud were frequent round the aerodrome. Then they had to fly 400 to 500 miles over seas to Norway and do the job in the face of opposition from flak escorts, Focke-Wulfs and Heinkels, Junkers 88's, Blohm and Voss three engined flying boats. Convoys hugging the coast also had protection from shore-based batteries.
The summer months saw a considerable part of No. 489's effort diverted to anti-submarine patrol in the area to the north of Scotland. There were also several air-sea rescue missions. On one such occasion a dinghy containing the crew of a Fortress aircraft, which had been shot down after attacking and sinking a German U-boat, were found after a sustained search. It was then kept under observation for two days by relays of Hampdens until the survivors were picked up by a surface vessel.
By June four D.F.C.'s had been awarded to members, one to Flying Officer J.J.Richardson for consistent and outstanding work. Pilot Officer R.C.Dunn was then one of the oldest inhabitants, whose leadership in one attack earned praise from the naval commander-in-chief and the Air Officer Commanding Coastal Command. The Minister of Defence, Hon.F. Jones, told them, at about this time: "You are doing a great job".
August 1943 brought a change of leadership for No. 489 Squadron when Wing Commander Dinsdale succeeded Wing Commander Darling as squadron commander. Dinsdale was a New Zealander who had served with Coastal Command since the out-break of war. He had commenced his first operational tour with No. 42 Torpedo Bomber Squadron on 3 September 1939 and had flown with this squadron in the early operations off the Dutch and Norwegian coasts. He had taken part in a torpedo attack on the German battleship Lutzow and led a flight of Beauforts against the three German war ships fleeing up the Channel. Later in May 1942, he had led a daylight torpedo attack against the Prinz Eugen in a Norwegian fiord and scored a torpedo hit on the warship.
The appointment of a New Zealander to command the squadron came at an appropriate moment in its development, since it was now about to re-equip with Beaufighter aircraft and enter upon a most successful phase of operations. At the beginning of October No. 489 began a move to Leuchars, in south-east Scotland, and it was withdrawn from operations to carry out re-equipment and training with the new machines. Shortly afterwards No. 455 Australian Hampden Squadron, which was later to combine with 489 to form an ANZAC Strike Wing, was also withdrawn from the line for the same purpose.
Before the move took place, however, No. 489 Squadron scored one more success with the Hampdens. This was on 16 September when, during a Rover patrol along the south-west coast of Norway, four crews sighted and attacked a small convoy lying in a fiord. The formation was led by Flying Officer Moyniham, who scored a torpedo hit on a medium-sized merchant vessel. It later sank. Moyniham told afterwards how they had sighted the two merchant vessels and their escorts lying close inshore and apparently forming up a convoy. "All five ships and the shore batteries opened fire with both light and heavy flak", he said. "We dropped our torpedoes and my rear gunner saw the leading ship almost obliterated with spray as the torpedo exploded near its bow. We didn't stay to see any more as there was no cloud and we expected enemy fighters". Although one of the aircraft in the formation received slight damage from flak during this attack, all returned safely to base.
Some of the squadron's Hamdens, now accorded an honourable retirement, had been on operations for as long as the squadron had been in action. 'A' for Apple, with its villainous crest of a Hampden rampant, had flown twenty-six sorties. It took part in the sinking of the 5000 ton Karpfunger in September 1942, the squadron's first success against enemy shipping. 'G' for George was an even greater veteran. It was this aircraft which had been in combat with two enemy fighters over the Bay of Biscay on 13 June 1942, and which lived to fly another thirty sorties and also take part in the sinking of the Karpfunger. Another veteran was 'S' for Sugar, which had begun its career in June 1942 and had led the attack on the 3200-ton Abrensburg on 29 January 1943. It did another twenty three trips with the same crew and then another ten, during which time it was damaged and rebuilt, and returned to operations.
During the year's operations from Scotland, the Hampdens of No. 489 Squadron had been credited with the sinking of 36,000 tons and the damaging of a further 30,000 tons of enemy shipping, including tankers, ore ships, transports and coasters. The aircraft had flown both by day and by night searching for targets along the Norwegian coast, and often when there was little cloud cover to give the slow Hampdens a chance against fighters, they had gone in to attack. The crews had not always been able to see the results of their attacks, but some of them had been dramatic and were later confirmed by photographic reconnaissance or from intelligence sources. Altogether 1943 had been a very successful year for the squadron, but even better results were expected when, re-equipped with Beaufighters, it returned to the front line in January 1944.
On the 14th eight aircraft, three of them carrying torpedos and five flying as anti-flak cover, took off from their new base at Leuchars to patrol in the Lister area. Shortly after making landfall, two merchant ships, accompanied by four escorts, were sighted. The Beaufighters immediately went in to attack. A large explosion was seen near the bow of a larger merchantman, estimated at 4000 tons, and this was followed by a black cloud of smoke which hung like a giant mushroom for a considerable time. The anti-flak aircraft scored many hits with canon fire on both the smaller merchant vessels and the escorts. All the Beaufighters returned safely although one crew had a narrow escape. Their machine was hit by flak during the attack and when it landed the whole of the nose fell off.
A few days later Squadron Leader Kellow of St. Andrews, Scotland, led eight Beaufighters from No. 489 Squadron on a Rover patrol in the Ergo area. A small merchant ship was their first target, but as the attack began Kellow saw smoke on the horizon which he thought might lead to better targets. Leaving the small ship burning, the formation flew towards the smoke which proved to be an auxiliary minelayer, escorted on either side by M class minesweepers. Two torpedoes were launched at the minelayer. She began to alter course but was unable to avoid being hit. There was a sudden convulsion of water just aft of amidships, followed by a heavy explosion. The ship later sank. Meanwhile her escorts had been attacked by canon fire. Two Messerschmitts approached at low level from land and flew over the ships during the attack but did not give battle, and all the Beaufighters returned safely with only minor flak damage to a few machines.
Several more successful attacks followed during the next two months in which a prominent part was played by Flight Lieutenants Moyniham and Davidson, Flying Officers Gow and Osment, Pilot Officer O'Connor and Flight Sergeant Tapper. Flight Lieutenant Hammond and Flying Officer Fraser newly arrived on the squadron after successful tours in the Mediterranean, also served with distinction during this period.
An unusual and interesting episode occurred in mid-February when New Zealand Beaufighters provided air cover for the British submarine Stubborn which was being towed home after suffering damage from enemy attack off the Norwegian coast. Seven patrols were flown, during which the submarine was escorted for nineteen hours. Two days later the Flag Officer Submarines signalled: "I am most grateful for your valuable help in getting Stubborn safely home."
By March 1944 plans for the formation of an ANZAC Wing in Coastal Command were well advanced. A preliminary operation was flown in the late afternoon of the 6th when four torpedo Beaufighters from the New Zealand Squadron were covered by eight cannon Beaufighters from No.455 Australian Squadron in an attack off Stavanger. A cargo ship of 2000 tons was torpedoed and numerous cannon hits were seen on the escorts and other vessels in the convoy. This action marked the beginning of a partnership which was to last until the end of the war. A few weeks later the ANZAC Wing was established at Langham, in Norfolk, to supplement operations against German shipping along the North Sea coastline, and it was from this base during the next few months that No.489 Squadron was to carry out some of the most successful attacks of its career.
Royal Air Force Station, Langham, was at this time commanded by Group Captain A.E.Clouston, and the high standard of efficiency in operations and the happy spirit which prevailed on the station were due in no small measure to Clouston's dynamic personality. Fine leadership was also displayed by the two squadron commanders, Wing Commander Davenport, who was in charge of the Austrailian squadron, and Wing Commander Dinsdale who led No. 489 Squadron. Typical of the attacks now carried out by the ANZAC Wing from Langham was that launched against a heavily defended convoy near Borkum in the late afternoon of 6 May. The target, which was report by reconnaissance aircraft, consisted of twelve merchant ships accompanied by fifteen escort vessels. Twenty-four Beaufighters, twelve from each squadron, comprised the attacking force, torpedoes being carried by six aircraft from the New Zealand unit.
"The aircraft attacked forward ships of the convoy in the face of intense flak from the surrounding escorts", runs the official report. "This however was silenced to a great extent by the anti-flak aircraft and the "Torbeaus" had little opposition during their run-in. A 3000-ton merchant ship was torpedoed and seen to be on fire and low in the water, while another ship was torpedoed and seen to be on fire and low in the water, while another of 2000-3000 tons, believed to have been hit by a torpedo, was left on fire. A third vessel of 5000 tons was attacked but no hits were observed. However, this ship was on fire when our aircraft left the area. The anti-flak Beaufighters also scored cannon hits on several of the escorts and merchant ships. One Beaufighter of No. 455 Squadron failed to return."
In May 1944 there were several notable actions over Dutch coastal waters. On the 14th the target was a convoy of four ships protected by six escorts, sighted off Ameland in the Frisian Islands. Six Beaufighters from No. 489 carried torpedoes, and a further six aircraft from the New Zealand Squadron, together with twelve from No. 455 Squadron, made up the anti-flak force. Flight Lieutenant T.H.Davidson led the Torbeaus in low over the sea; they had to fly through a curtain of anti-aircraft fire but as they broke away crews saw that several torpedoes had scored hits. On one 2000-ton ship which Davidson and Flight Sergeant Langley attacked there was a huge explosion followed by a cloud of smoke and flames. It was soon blazing furiously. A great column of smoke rose from a second ship at which Flying Officer J.G.Gow and Flying Officer Fraser had aimed their torpedoes, and a minesweeper appeared to be listing badly. In addition, many canon strikes were seen on the other merchantmen and on several of the escorts. During the attack, however, the Beaufighter piloted by Flying Officer I.A.Pettit was shot down and four other machines were hit and damaged by flak; one of them had to make a crash-landing on return to base.
Whilst attacking another well defended convoy a few days later, (19 May 1944) No. 489 Squadron lost two more Beaufighters. One was flown by Flying Officer Cameron of Inverness, and his navigator L.Wright, the other by Warrant Officer A.Wright with his navigator McQuaker. The pilot of a third, Flight Sergeant M.Langley, was badly wounded in the throat, arms and thigh whilst approaching to drop his torpedo, but despite these injuries he completed his attack and then aided by his navigator, Flight Sergeant E.G.Parrish, flew his damaged machine back across the North Sea to make a successful night landing. Langley, weak from loss of blood, collapsed at the controls as his Beaufighter came to rest. Langley was awarded the CGM and his navigator Parrish the DFM, Langley was never declared medically fit to resume operations and was posted to instructional duties. The other five Beaufighters were all damaged, but returned safely. They were piloted by Flying Officer W.A.Fraser with navigator Crittenden, J.Reynolds with navigator J.Summers, J.Simpson with navigator J.Lawlor, A.Lynch with navigator P.Gifford and Pilot Officer E.F.G.Burrowes with navigator Flight Sergeant D.Young.
In the last weeks before D Day the New Zealand Beaufighters flew patrols along the enemy coast in search of E-boats and other light naval craft that were operating from bases between Ijmuiden and Cherbourg. Such patrols marked the first stage of operations designed to ensure that the Allied invasion fleets would not be molested by surface craft during their passage to Normandy from ports in southern England. The main NEPTUNE operations-the naval component of OVERLORD-were planned to begin on the eve of D Day when squadrons of RAF Coastal Command and the Fleet Air would co-operate with surface vessels of the Allied navies in a wide and complicated pattern of patrols which, it was hoped, would seal the eastern and western entrances to the Channel.
No. 489 Squadron played its part in the anti-E-boat operations, with Wing Commander J.S.Dinsdale, Squadron Leaders D.H.Hammond and F.K.Moyniham and Flight Lieutenant T.H.Davidson each leading formations in patrol and attack. There were also several operations against enemy ships along the Dutch coast. On 15 June, when eleven Beaufighters from the squadron were among the force of forty aircraft, from Canada, Australia and England, which made a daylight attack in that area, the main target was an 8000-ton merchantman and an E-Boat depot ship; they were accompanied by seventeen minesweepers and anti-aircraft escorts. In a well co-ordinated attack, both the larger ships and one of the escorts were sunk without a single aircraft being lost (Editors Note: One Mustang ditched). The New Zealand Squadron, on this occasion, acted as part of the anti-flak escort, raking the anti-aircraft gunners on the escort ships with their cannons. They were lead by Hughes, and the New Zealanders who took part in the operation included Flying Officer R.H.Tonks of Wellington, Flying Officers A.R.Osment, E.R.McKegg and Pilot Officer J.J.O'Connor all of Christchurch, Pilot Officer E.F.G.Burrowes, of New Plymouth, Warrant Officers W.R.Tuck of Auckland, R.Shand, and Flight Seargeant C.V.Brittain of Auckland and Flight Sergeant D.Young.
A fortnight later, in a dusk attack on a convoy off the Frisian Islands, crews from No.489 Squadron scored hits on at least two cargo ships; one was seen to blow up and another set on fire. Further attacks were made during the following weeks. On one of these it lost Moyniham, a most popular and efficient pilot, who had recently been award the D.F.C. and appointed Squadron Leader. He led five Beaufighters in an attack with cannon shells against four heavily armed minesweepers off Hook of Holland. His aircraft caught fire. He managed to level out before touching the sea, but the Beaufighter sank rapidly, although Gow and Fraser circled the spot for some time, they saw no sign of survivors. Moynihan's loss followed quickly on the death of Kellow, who was killed in a flying accident on the 5th. Both were mourned by the squadron, for they were fine pilots and excellent leaders. The diminishing threat of German surface craft in the Channel area enabled the Beaufighter squadrons to return to their campaign against Dutch and Norwegian coastal convoys much sooner than expected.
Beaufighter and Mosquito operations over Norwegian waters were intensified during the winter - in the short daylight hours of December 1944 more ships were sunk in this area than ever before in a single month. When it was found that enemy convoys seldom sailed in daylight, the Strike Squadrons carried their attack into the small landlocked anchorages and into the deep fiords against whose precipitous cliffs vessels would often be moored in an effort to escape detection. To reach such targets crews often had to fly far inland over snow-covered peaks and then make their final approach in a swift dive down the side of a steep mountain. The German fighter squadrons in Norway were still active and of high morale so that interceptions were frequent, and on one occasion over forty Messer-schmitts and Focke-Wulfs attacked a British formation. However, long-range Mustang fighters now gave cover on most missions, and though damage and casualties were sometimes quite heavy the Strike Wings were never prevented from reaching their targets. The havoc and destruction they caused is reflected in the contemporary reports of the Reichskommissar for Shipping which complain increas-ingly of ŒThe catastrophic round journey time of ships on the Norwegian coast and the heavy losses due to enemy action'
The scale of attack during the last four months of war was particularly heavy and during that time Coastal Command aircraft sank over 180,000 tons of enemy shipping. This brought their total for the war to 690,000 tons, which represented a loss to the Germans of 486 ships. The additional loss to the enemy through the delays and damage which the attacks occasioned cannot be measured so exactly, but it was certainly substantial.
Three New Zealanders, Wing Commanders G. D. Sise, E. H. McHardy, and D. H. Hammond, achieved particular distinction as leaders of Strike formations during the last year of war. McHardy had been with Coastal Command from the early days and was prominent in leading Beaufighters from bases in East Anglia and later from Scotland. Hammond, who had come to Coastal Command after a successful career in the Middle East, also led Beaufighters notably in the big raid on Den Helder in September 1944; he further distinguished himself as flight leader and later in command of No. 489 New Zealand Squadron.
Wing Commander Sise, who led the Banff Mosquito Wing on many of its most successful missions, was regarded as Coastal Command's leading ship-buster'. He was indeed, as one citation puts it, 'a fine pilot and brilliant leader who displayed great gallantry in Operations against the enemy.' Typically, one day in November 1944 whilst leading the attack on ships in Floro harbour, his Mosquito was hit and an engine set on fire, but he continued with the attack and then flew the damaged machine back across the North Sea. Shortly afterwards Sise led thirty-four Mosquitos into Nord-gulen Fiord to attack a convoy sheltering there. The ships were hidden at the far eastern end which is enclosed by very high mountains, and the attack had to be made in a steep dive down the sides of precipitous cliffs; nevertheless, almost all the ships were hit by rockets or cannon fire and two of them were left burning furiously. By the end of the war Sise had completed over 150 operational sorties and had been awarded bars to both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order.
No.489 New Zealand Squadron operated with the 'Anzac' Beaufighter Wing which also included an Australian and a British squadron. Led by Wing Commander Robertson and Wing Commander Hammond , the New Zealanders flew no fewer than 1250 sorties during the last year of the war, mainly in patrol and attack over the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. On wing strikes the Beaufighters frequently carried torpedoes and acted as the main striking force, but on occasion they also operated in the anti-flak role, flying in ahead to saturate the enemy defence with their cannon fire. Hammond, Flight Lieutenants T. H. Davidson, J. G. Gow, A. R. Osment, and McKegg were among the pilots who led formations in these duties with notable success.
During the summer of 1944 the New Zealanders flew from Langham airfield in Norfolk, taking part in twelve wing strikes against enemy ships in the Dutch coastal waters and in two large attacks on the well-defended anchorage at Den Helder. August was a particularly successful month. On the 10th, Hammond led ten Beaufighters carrying torpedoes in a dusk strike against a convoy that had just sailed from the Weser. There were five cargo vessels escorted by ten flak ships. A merchantman of between 4000 and 5000 tons was twice hit by torpedoes and left burning furiously. Another cargo vessel was also hit and six of the escorts were set on fire; one of these blew up and another was left sinking. Five days later, twelve New Zealand Beaufighters were among the force of thirty-two aircraft which attacked a convoy off Heligoland and set two cargo ships and five of the escorts on fire. On the 29th, in the same area, New Zealand crews scored more torpedo hits on two large cargo vessels. All these attacks were made in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire and many of the Beaufighters were badly shot up. During this one month No.489 Squadron lost five aircraft with their crews.
Night rover patrols also produced their share of incident. It was during one such mission that Warrant Officer Mann and his crew had a most unenviable experience. Flying in to drop a torpedo, their machine hit the mast of one of the ships. Although part of the starboard wing was torn away, Mann was able to make a landing on the sea, but owing to the weather it was eight days before he and his Lancashire navigator, Flight Sergeant Kennedy, were rescued. During that time they made every effort to put as much distance as possible between them and the enemy coast. Shortly afterwards, undeterred by this experience, they returned to their squadron, to continue flying until the end of the war.
In October 1944 the Anzac Wing moved north and for the rest of the war it operated over Norwegian waters from the airfield at Dallachy, some 30 miles east of Inverness. Here, on the north-east coast of Scotland, the airfield was exposed to the full force of the frequent gales which swept in from the North Sea, so that aircraft had to be moored down or else protected by small hangars or earthen mounds. When the winter storms were at their height it was difficult to move about the airfield and the wide dispersal of buildings and Nissen huts where crews slept did not help matters. 'We shall not easily forget that last winter of the war,' writes one pilot. 'Taking off from the ice-bound or snow-covered field we sometimes flew 400 miles across the North Sea to find the Norwegian Coast shrouded in mist or low cloud. Flying among the islands and into the fiords in search of ships hiding there was rather hazardous since some of the passages were so narrow that there was little room in which to manoeuvre one's machine.'
However, despite the difficulties of both climate and terrain, operations were maintained at a high level, with crews of No.489 Squadron taking part in many large strikes and also flying rover patrols by day and night in search of targets. Here are extracts from contemporary reports of several notable operations in which the New Zealanders were well represented:
Vilnes Fiord, 9 December: Twenty-three Beaufighters attacked a 2,000 ton cargo ship. Showers of debris were thrown into the air and the vessel was last seen heading for the shore under a heavy pall of smoke.
Forde Fiord, 9 February: Thirty Beaufighters sighted and attacked a Narvik class destroyer. The fiord is narrow and flanked by steep hills; consequently it was impossible for all the aircraft to attack together. They also had to fly through an intense barrage put up by both ships and land batteries. Nevertheless the destroyer and two auxiliaries were hit. Six of our aircraft were shot down by flak and a further three by enemy fighters.
Egersund Fiord, 28 March: Two cargo ships and an escort vessel were seriously damaged after attack by twenty-eight Beaufighters from Dallachy. Formidable anti-aircraft fire was experienced and four Beaufighters did not return from this strike.
Apart from these wing strikes, there were also some fine individual efforts by No.489 Squadron crews. On a night rover patrol towards the end of February, Flying Officer Taylor torpedoed the 2500-ton Alsterstum. She was carrying a cargo of mines, and when his torpedo struck home Taylor saw 'a sheet of flame followed by an intense glow which culminated in a shattering explosion.' A few weeks later Warrant Officer Priest torpedoed a 3000-ton cargo vessel in the Skagerrak; flames from the burning ships were still visible when the Beaufighter was 20 miles away on its homeward flight.
During the period from its formation in August 1942 to April 1944, crews of the New Zealand squadron were responsible for the destruction of eleven ships totalling 38,700 tons and the damaging of a further thirteen ships totalling some 40,000 tons. From May 1944 until the end of the war No.489 Squadron formed part of the Anzac Strike Wing which sank nineteen ships of 67,000 tons and twelve escort vessels. A further eighteen cargo ships, together with forty-nine escorts of various types, were damaged. The cost of these successes was not light for the squadron lost thirty-one aircraft during its operational career; only a fortunate few of the crews survived.