7 Squadron… a short history

          

 

 

                                            7   SQUADRON

 

 

 

                         So stand by with your glasses ready,

                       

                         This world is a world of lies,

 

                         Here’s to the dead already,

 

                         And here’s to the next man who dies.

           You will remember this as being an old song from the First World War, and we had our songs too, perhaps a bit more bawdy, from our war, too, and I don’t doubt the present fliers have their songs, too.

          Some squadrons have all three, many had two, some had one and some were in existence for too short a period not to have had one..

          I am pleased that 7 Squadron is one off the oldest of them   7’s 70th dinner with Dick & Stella – toast to “The Originals.”  In 1984..

          I was surprised to find that even back in 1914 there was a Central Flying School, and that one off the members was Captain J. M. Salmond, promoted toMajor to Command 7 Squadron on 1st May 1914.   He became Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Salmond.

          Its initial strength was one officer, two sergeants and an air mechanic, soon to be increased to 2o officers, 2 sergeants and 12 air mechanics, with 2 Sopwith Scouts, one BE 8 and two Maurice Farmans to bring it up to operational status.   It was used to bring other squadrons up to strength.

          It was reformed with 11 officers, 14 NCO’s and 51 air mechanics.   Yet another of its Flight Commanders was Captain Dowding, later to win fame as Air Chief Lord  “Stuffy” Dowding, Commander, with a mixed bag of aircraft – 2 Moranes, 2 Bleriots, 2 Henri Farmans, 3 BE8’s and one or more Vickers Gunbuses.

          Although it was not fully operational, it went hunting for Germans who were intent on raiding London.   The squadron spawned two new squadrons in addition of training for others, it eventually reached operational status in its own right and was posted to France in March 1915.

          The Royal Flying Corps was an Army branch and under their command.  Its main task was tactical reconnaissance, artilley observation and light bombing.   They would seek out and destroy enemy observation posts on high buildings, and their balloons.    We also had to observe our own fall of shot and make a signal to their HQ.   At some time during the battles we were equipped with R,T.   There were no bomb racks and the observers dropped their bombs by hand.   When necessary planes would indulge in aerial combat so that it was very much a general purpose squadron.   It was equipped with 2 Moranes, 2 Bleriots, 2 Farnams, 3 BE8’s and Vickers Gunbusses   Its personnel was now 11 officers, 14 NCO’s and 51 Air Mechanics.  It was soon increased by two flights of RE5’s.

          It was fully operational from March 1915 and engaged in one of its various roles in all the major battles – the Somme, Ypres, etc and was soon issued with Bristol Scouts for defence.  It also patrolled the coast at one time.   My own uncle was an observer with 7 Squadron, and I wish I was able to question him, but he died many years ago.   He is recorded in Squadron records still held on the Squadron

          On 31st July an RE5 staggered back to St. Omer with control wheel and throttle control damaged as well as structural damage to wings and fuselage.   It had been flying on a recce patrol over Ostend, Bruge and Ghent, flying low to obtain information required when he came under heavy fire.   A shell burst, shrapnel hitting the aircraft and injuring the crew.   The pilot, Captain John Liddell was momentarily unconscious, but came to and his efforts managed to bring the aircraft under a degree of control.   He continued his patrol for another 30 minutes before making a successful landing.

          Liddell had joined the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders where he became interested in flying and passed his pilots certificate in July 1914.  He went to France with his regiment he was involved in bitter fighting, was promoted to Captain and awarded the Military Cross.   He was injured .and invalided home.   When fit again he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in May 1915.

         Those who lifted Liddell from his smashed cockpit would have realised that within 3 weeks his award of the Victoria Cross would be announced in the London Gazette, saving the life of his observer, Lt R.M. Peck.   Nor could they have realized the gallant pilot who smiled at them and smoked cigarette would succumb to his injuries four weeks later.   Despite immediate attention the doctors could not arrest septic poisoning and he died on 31st August ‘

          This was the second V.C. to be awarded for gallantry in the air and his name stands at the head of a long list of the many awards for valour awarded to the men who served with 7 Squadron      

          Another innovation on behalf of the 1st Australian Division was Photo Recce within four or five hours after the demand.   They were of greatest assistance in locating our own and the enemy positions, forming the basis on which they issued orders.   Until now the BEF looked upon such new innovations with disdain as they were not within war as they knew it..

       In May 1917 the squadron was re-equipped with the better and more modern RE8’s with a top speed of 102 MPH and ceiling of 13000 feet, with a duration of four and a half hours.   It took the sting out of the modern German fighters.   The RFC now had 750 aircraft

and become a force to be reckoned with.

          It is most interesting to look through the War Diaries.   Not only do they record casualties and deeds of valour resulting in death or grave injury, but they also record the operations successfully performed.

          One of the BE2Ds met a hostile machine whilst on patrol.   They fired 7 or 8 shots and flames broke out below the centre of the fuselage of the enemy which dived enveloped in flames behind our lines.

          Another of our planes was operating with one of our howitzer batteries succeeded in destroying 4 pits of one enemy battery, causing 2 explosions and destroying 3 guns in a second battery.

         A Captain sighted 8 German Field guns in a sunken plane which he promptly shot up.

         Two crews were lost due to attacks by one of the German “packs”.    This became known as “Bloody April” 1917..   One of the Wireless Operators recorded they were up on the Somme paying a visit to the batteries when he was wounded and lost a leg.

          The squadron was moved to support the front at Arras, afterwards being adjudged as in need of a rest and re-equipment, and was ready for the Third Battle of Ypres.   One of their new RE8’s, whilst engaged on photo recce was attacked by 2 Abaltross’   One was shot down by the observer and the other was driven away.   That same day another RE8 was attacked by 8 Albatross.   One was shot down with 60 rounds close range fire, and continued with his task after the others had fled..

          7 Squadron has the reputation for being first in so many ways, but one very important one was the use of Radio Telephony rather than WT.

          Its moto is Per Diem, Per Noctum – By Day, By night and even in 1918 it was flying on night ops, mainly recce I suppose.

         And so that war was coming to an end.  It became part of the Army of Occupation in Germany, but was returned to UK where it was now disbanded.   During this time the RFC had become the Royal Air Force (RAF), a force in its own right and without any control from the Army.

          The squadron historian was unable to let me have the totals for the whole war, but did supply them for the period May to October 1918.   Six enemy aircraft were destroyed during that time.   Our casualties were 41 killed, 21 missing, presumed dead, 18 P’s o war,

 60 wounded.   Decoration awards were2 Belgian Croix de Guerre,1 MC, 1 Bar to MC, 6 DFC. 1 OBE.

          They were disbanded , leaving a high reputation, but were soon reformed.

         As after most wars the forces were run down numerically, and it was the case with the new RAF.   However it was not long before the RAF reorganised itself with new Commands – Fighter, Coastal, Training and Bomber.   It could not do without Heavy Bomber Squadron and 7 Squadron became the Premier Heavy Bomber Squadron and posted   to Bircham Newton.   It was equipped with two, heavy bombers with crews of three, and armed with twin Lewis machine guns in the nose and midships positions.

         They did much conversion to feed aircraft for the deserts of Iraq and Egypt, where it gave rebirth to 9,58 and 99 squadrons.   One of the Flight Commanders looped a Vimy but it was said never to have flown again.

          At the end of 1924 the Squadron was equipped with Vickers Virginia’s  known as “Ginnies”.   Though development of the Vimy it was of metal construction covered

with fabric..  It had a top speed of 108 MPH at 5000 feet and its bomb load was increased to 3000lbs with a service ceiling of 15500 feet.   One developed on 7 Squadron had two nacelles fitted to the upper wing for gunners.   Having acted on conversion work, the Squadron concentrated on night flying as an essential task, and without modern equipment there were several crashes.

          Parachutes were issued to aircrews in 1926.

         Some of you may be aware of the Laurence Minot Trophy, the premier award for bomb aimers and navigators.   It was presented to the RAF by his father in memory of his son who was shot down and killed in 1917.

          Its new CO, Wing Commander Portal enter the Squadron in the first competition, with himself as bomb aimer, flown by one of his Flight Commanders.   1n 1927 7 Squadron became the first winners of that competition and its number engraved.   Portal went on to become Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Portal of Hungerford, Commander in Chief in 1940 and Chief of Air Staff 1940 to 1946.

          The 1927 award and inscription was the first of nine , more than any other squadron, the Ginnie being replaced by Handley Page Handforth and was fitted in 1931 with first electrical bomb release.

          The various aircraft used between the wars – the annual long distance race was won by

7 Squadron,, and included Wellesleys, Whitleys and Hampdens, during which time it spawned 102 and 76 squadrons..   It was organised to support the Air Defence of Great Britain in which it was involved in a variety of exercises, viz. Command, Searchlight cooperation, and fighter affiliation, and when war broke out it was at Leeming with Hampdens.   It was combined with 76 Squadron in training role to form No. 16 O.C.U. before being disbanded in April 1940.

          It was reformed in August 1940, having been selected to receive the Short Stirling, the first of the RAF’s new generation of four engined heavy squadrons, and sent to Oakington, its operational base.  It was built like a Rolls Royce – a gentleman’s aircraft, but had severe limitations in the operational field.  The first ones did not have a dorsal fin turret, and there was even one with side guns..

          The squadron made several day light raids, and one of our gunners had a score which would make some fighter pilots turn green, his instructions to the pilot were excellent  , and he would seem to be talking to the fighter pilot – “Come in, I’m not going to waste ammo on you.   I won’t fire until I can see the whites of your eyes.”   We made quite a number of ops to Brest, where they had the pocket battleships, Scharnhorst, Gneisman and Prinz Eugan.  Brest had become the most heavily defended target in Germany.

          A boffin pilot was attached to the squadron.   Roger Reece, using a specially equipped Stirling to make evening trips to Brest.   The special equipment was, I understand, what finished up as “Oboe”   On 18th December 1941 the RAF mounted what was the first large number of heavy concerted attacks.   There were 9 of our own squadron leading the raid, followed by another 9 from 15 squadron.   Each of two Halifaxe squadron provided another 18 planes and, I think, 9 Manchesters.   We reach the target area about mid day.   Our CO had a flight of three, with one of the flight commanders on his port side.   We were the outer (right hand) aircraft of our flight under Bill Jennens.   As we approached I saw the “Hun in the sun”, circling round waiting for our approach.   I was in the front turret that day and the other w/op was in the dorsal turret.   We took the brunt of the attack.   That day we were trying new tactics and dive bombing, although it was more like a steep glide, and using 2000 pound armour piercing bombs.   Just as we went into our dive the mid upper came through that we were on fire, and the intercom went dead.   To say I was worried is hardly correct, but I had faith that if we were to bale out, someone would come to my turret.   Inter com came live again after we had dropped the bombs and levelled out.   I saw Jennens crew baling out, but could not count them.   I was told the hydraulics to mid and rear turrets had been severed by a shell.   The mid upper had left his turret just as we went into the dive.   The floor was flooded with the fluid and he slipped into the flames, being rolled and over and putting out the flames.   Fortunately he was wearing the full Irvin suit, which was ruined, but saved him from burns,   The rear gunner stayed in his turret, operating it by hand and drove enemy away.  We managed to get away, Jack having made 3 “kills” and I had one probable which could not be confirmed.   Half was across the channel we came across two Spitfires, which formated on us, had a good look at our damage, only leaving us when the English coast was just ahead.   I met one of those Spitfire pilots, Bill Cummins in the bed next to my own in Stalag Luft 111.   We got down safely at Bourns, our satellite drome.   Shorts examined it and said that by all the laws of aviation it should not have carried on flying, and took 6 months to get back into sufficient condition to fly it back home.   Incidentally, our photograph showed a hit.   It was just the third trip as skipper for Warrant Officer “Buck” Tayler, but he was awarded the DFC.

         We were taken off ops in January 1942 while “Gee” was fitted and the navigators were trained in its use.   During this time we did exercises using different flares, and reporting on the benefits of each.   It included one in which a number of aircraft, using various flares, “raided” a small village on the Isle of Man, while we circled round.   It is expected that these were the flares you saw dropped by Pathfinders.

         Fg Offr Heard, an Australian, who had been with our flight over Brest went missing and the War Diaries showed “Nothing heard after take-off” but he had been captured.   Another crew with one operation more than we had went missing with Group Captain Massey as his second pilot.   Apparently he had been briefed to run an OTU in USA, who had not yet started ops.   That crew, “Farmer” Winch was going with him, and their own Stirling and crew.   I was walking the circuit with him at Dulag Luft after we had been shot down on our last op, to Emden, on 5th June 1942.   He told me then it was touch and go whether Winch or ourselves was going with him.   Winch had more ops, though our skipper, Buck Tayler was the more experienced pilot, having been an exceptional test pilot..   We had done several gardening” trips in the Bay of Biscay to seal the ports and between Denmark and Sweden.

          Lord Trenchard and Shorts hosted a dinner for some crews in London and during speeches it was announced that since February 1941 the squadron had dropped 1600 tons of bombs in 525 sorties at a cost of 29 aircraft and 1999 personnel killed, wounded or taken prisoner.   Awards to the Squadron included 1 DSO, 12 DFC’s, and 12 DFM’s and 34 enemy aircraft claimed as destroyed.

          We had used GEE since March 1942, usually going in first to start fires etc, using incendiary bombs.   Gee equipment was top secret, and to prevent its falling into enemy hands all the components were fitted with incendiary devices, connect to IFF opposite the main door. The detonaters were screwed into place on a long, thin thread which, when it stopped “biting”, could be pulled out safely.   I was extracting it from the transmitter in the bomb aimers position when it exploded in my face.  I saw a flash as the metal case was blown open, then I was blind.   As luck would have it we were first back that night and Jack had positioned the rear steps and the Station Commander, who wanted to know we had got on fell backwards off the steps as the IFF exploded in front of him.   I was taken to hospital for operations on my eyes.   Years later I was told I was going to be Court-martialled for destroying the equipment, until it was revealed we had been damaged in battle and the electrical circuits damaged.`

          The squadrons’ bombing efficiency earmarked it for one of the four squadrons which would form a new group, No 8 Group, the Pathfinder group.   Its job was to find and, using flares, to mark the target, making corrections as necessary.   To do the job more accurately Master Bombers were briefed to circle the target for the whole raid, with reserves in case they were shot down, whereupon they took over.   They herded the main force onto the target, keeping an eye open for stragglers.   It was a highly dangerous task, one in which many were lost and several “gongs” awarded..

         Much is heard about Little Staughton.   One of 7’s flights was detached and sent there

to form 582 squadron.

          The end of 1944 and start of 1945 saw the end of hostilities finally in sight.   I have heard it said quietly that 7 Squadron was perhaps the most experienced Pathfinder unit in Bomber Command.   From 3rs September 1939 to VE Day they had flown 5060 sorties of which 405 were to Berlin.   They lost 157 aircraft and over 800 aircre were killed.   Awards presented to members of the Squadron during that time were 1 CGMedal, 1 MC, 1 GM, 35 DSO’s and one Bar, 327 DFC’s and 38 Bars, 135 DFM’s and 1 Bar, 1 MBE, and 1 Silver Star (USA).

          As part of the peacetime reduction, some experienced crews were posted to Transport Command.   The Stirling had already been replaced by Lancasters, and they were adapted for use in the Far East, as part of Tiger Force.   In the event that the atomic bombs had been dropped, they became unnecessary, but low level navigation and visual bombing techniques  were perfected and scramble take offs were practiced.   Nine aircraft could leave the ground within 20 minutes of the initial warning, and the best landing time in formation was 107 seconds, some of it based in Singapore

         The outmoded Lancasters were replaced by Lincolns, and spent time adapting the skills learnt in the Lancaster to the basically similar Lincoln.   The Lawrence Minot featured again when 7 Squadron won it once again in 1951.

         The Squadrons’ was war was not yet over.   In 1953 they were fighting again in Malaysia in which a cousin and Flight Engineer was the third member of our family to fly with No 7 Squadron.   In 1955 it again, won the Lawrence Minot Trophy.   However, the Lincoln and similar planes were becoming something of an anachronism in the new era of jets No 7 was disbanded.   The 7 Squadron Standard became the first to be laid up in the Battle of Britain Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

          Just    as the Stirling was the first four engined aircraft, so was the squadron the first to be leading the new generation of jet powered “V Bombers” with the Vickers Valiant.  During the queen’s Birthday fly past, eight Squadron aircraft led the formation.   Its operational ceiling was 50,000 feet and it would cruise at 0.75 mach..   Its two Navigators and the Air Electronics Officer wear seated looking aft with an array of electronic gadgetry between them.   The pilot and co-pilot were stepped up and forward    As with the Stirling it was a “gentleman’s” aircraft to fly, but there was a problem – metal fatigue which caused its early retirement.

         It lay dormant for a number of years, when it was reformed with the Canberra, a jet   “Target Facilities” role.   It was pressurised, flew at 50000 feet and flew at .84 mach.   It is available for sophisticated towing, including that for air to air refuelling.   Although no longer a front line, it still maintained its professionalism and was ready for the next phase.

 

         Until now it always had fixed wings, and there was a number of trained helicopter crews ready for a squadron.   They expected to be allocated a high squadron number, and amazed when they got “7″.   They knew of its history, and its outstanding reputation, and realised they had something to live up to, and determined to do so.   As you will know the Chinook, which they operated was a heavy lift, twin rotor.   The war against the Argentine had commenced, and half the squadron was sent out by ship, while half attended the reformation parade.   I took Dick and Stella Ormerod with me, and found the ceremony quite moving, not least because Roger Reece, who dated from 1941 and had taken Holy Orders joined with the Padre in conducting the service.   The ship with some of our planes was sunk.

          They did very well, assisting the Army lifting their gear and armaments and moving men as required.   Even after all this time one of the Chinooks remains there – surely this must be the most far-fling commands

         Upon return they were based at Odiham, where other types of helicopter were already stationed.   They became the Special Forces Flight -go anywhere, do anything Forces Flight.   

           One day Martin Mayer had been sitting peacefully when he received urgent instructions to send two Chinooks over to Aktotiri, Cyprus.   He did not know how long for, how much gear or why – just get over there as quickly as possible.   The stand-by crews were sent across Europe in a rush and found out that the Embassy had been bombed and they were to provide access in and out.   Akrotiri is full of “Top Dogs” who belted up and down the Med, wasting fuel and boasting how many machs they had reached, and looking down on the “Whirleybirds.”.   Eventually one of our crews could stand it no longer and asked “and how bullet and shell holed did you come back  today?”.   The insults ceased abruptly.   Martin Mayer said it must have been like “Happy Valley” as his father described from his time on No 7 during the war.   And so our reputation was even more established as a “go anywhere, do anything” squadron and became the Special Forces Flight.

          7 Squadron trained as S.A.S. AND S.B.S.   I discovered this during one of those Temptation Island contestants was pilot who was now flying freight aircraft.   A couple of programs later he was said to have been in the RAF and had SAS Training.   I mentioned this to one of the squadron who told me he was ex-7 and they all had the training.

          There is a counter terrorist unit at Hereford and at least one of the aircraft is on duty twenty four hours a day, with unknown exercises once a month, with a Chinook in charge and Lynx helicopters with SAS or SBS snipers.   I have seen a description of one of them and it seemed pretty “hairy” for an exercise.   The most frightening of all was the oil rigs.  It was a government fear that an effort might be made to high jack or sabotage one.

 

Each Chinook carried two Range plus the required number of men.     Two teams went in as the vehicles were being unloaded.   They sorted  out things and established an explosion.   It involved roping the rear of the train to the Chinook and hovering elsewhere beneath the level of a cliff.   The operation took some three hours but was successful

   Saddam started to fire Scud missiles at Israel.   To find out where they were launched, and the SAS was to sent – but they had to be taken behind enemy lines.  And who but the Special Services Flight.

         We were now in enemy territory and laden with the very latest avionics and electronic equipment, and it was not too long until they reached Kuwait, having avoided Saddam’s missiles.   Some aircraft landed and well greeted, but SF prepared for missiles and other “nasties”, which never arrived..   The airfield was a mess anyway, studded with bomb craters but half could be used. And we assisted with its safety.   We had a short break then we had to assist Kurds to get to Southern Turkey, then back to UK and the routine of stand-by and training exercises.

 

         It was during this time that they had the tragedy on the Mull of Kintyre initially blaming the pilot.   The Squadron did not agree as they had such confidence and it took 7 years to clear his name.

         SF Flight saw business in Bosnia and other states, and I believe it still has a small presence there.

         But then came the troubles in Sierra Leone.

          Not long after going to bed the C.O’s phone rang with instructions to get to Sierra Leone as soon as possible with all equipment and personnel.   It was not known what spares might be available, so they took their own.   One of the Range Rovers had a lot of special equipment on board ready for desert, etc battle.   Our own ground crews were also SAS trained, and would make the entire journey and each plane had its maximum of SAS men.  They bunked as they were able, and the journey commenced about breakfast.   The only stops were for fuel and to change pilots, spare crews being leapfrogged by jets.   They made one stop to be told that that country had not given diplomatic clearance.   The OC’s answer to that was “F— you!   We are going with or without clearance” and they went.   I understand the trip was done in 27 hours.

 

         The routine seems to be that the SAS men exit and form a defensive cordon so that the ground crews can get on with their work in safety.   On one job there they were operating 350 miles behind enemy lines.   It could have been the rescue of a (black) brigadier but I think that was just one operation deep into enemy territory.   The C.O. was not fully dressed in uniform and the brigadier ordered him to be properly dressed and call him “Sir”.  It is not re corded what the answer was

 

         I understand three DFC’s were awarded for operations, but none was published in the London Gazette.   The citations would have revealed too much.   I have tried to discover information about events out there, but they are on the Secret List and will not be available for several years.   There is precedent for this amongst recently opened files from WW1.

         At our November reunion it was announced that the future of Odiham is assured.   The Chinooks of the Army and Navy with SAS and SBS are being moved there under a unified command under the immediate past C.O. OF 7 squadron.

          The Min. Defence wished to “lose” 7 Squadron in the name, but the Air Board refused to allow it on the grounds that they have a squadron history which should not be allowed to die.   They have also been asked to consider that it should be known as “7 (PFF) Squadron” being an original and the only RAF one remaining (405 RCAF is the only other).   Wing Commander Sharpe commanded the squadron during the Sierra Leone campaign, in which 7 was first to arrive as it was during the Gulf War. 

           I doubt whether any other squadron can boast three most distinguished Marshals of the Royal Air Force and one V.C.

 

 

 

William ‘Bill’ Goodman

 

     

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