443 Squadron has enjoyed
an eventful and active existence since it was conceived as a unit in
Dartmouth, NS, on April 20, 1942. Initially, the squadron was tasked
to fly defensive patrols over Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, but the
demands of war saw 443's transfer overseas and service with the Second
Tactical Air Force. The squadron served throughout Europe until it was
finally disbanded on March 15, 1946. The squadron was reformed on
September 1, 1951 in Vancouver, BC for the purpose of "carrying out
air and ground training covering all aspects of fighter squadron
operations". Over the next thirteen years, the role, equipment, and
personnel changed frequently but it was not until March 31, 1964, that
austerity spelled disbandment of the squadron.
On September 3, 1974, ten years later, the old Navy HS-50 Squadron was
split, and one squadron was designated HS 443. From 1974 to 1989, the
squadron was located at CFB Shearwater, carrying out the role of ASW
(antisubmarine warfare) with the Sea King helicopter. In 1989, the
squadron was moved to the west coast and based at Victoria
International Airport near Patricia Bay, BC. Squadron responsibilities
included providing Helicopter Air Detatchments (HELAIRDETs) to support
Canada's Pacific Fleet. The squadron's motto was, and remains today,
Our Sting is Death".
Operational Training In Canada July
1942 - December 1943
The Fighting Four Hundred
and Forty-Third Squadron of the RCAF began in Canada under the
designation of No. 127 Squadron. It was created as a result of Japan's
entrance into the war in December 1941 and the build-up of the German
U-Boat activities in the Atlantic in early 1942. This led to the
requirement of strengthening Canada's defence structure on both
coasts. Shipping was being protected from surface and sub-surface
threats by many newly formed bomber, reconnaissance, and fighter
squadrons. No. 127 Squadron was just one of the new fighter squadrons
formed to bolster the air defences of Eastern Air Command.
Although the official birth date of No. 127 Squadron, as given in the
organization order (SOO 57 of 17 April 1942), was April 20, 1942, the
actual formation took place several weeks later. It was originally
planned to form at Sydney, NS, but due to the increased work load
associated with the setting up of so many new squadrons in such a
brief time, it was impossible to carry out the plans as they were
originally drafted. On June 24, the "Place of origin" was amended to
Dartmouth, NS, and in a few days, No. 127 Squadron came to life with
an orderly room, a stores office, and a small staff. Effective July 1,
F/L W. P. Roberts was appointed Officer Commanding, and P/U C. R.
Slipp was named his adjutant. By July 4, the organization of the
squadron had reached the point where the first daily routine order
could be issued.
At first, flying training was carried out in co-operation with No. 126
(F) Squadron which had also been formed at Dartmouth in April 1942.
This training continued until July 18th when six officers and thirteen
Sergeant pilots were posted from 126 to 127 Squadron. At the same
time, more airmen arrived and the new unit took on a definite shape.
It was divided into two flights with F/O C. G. Pennock and P/O E. B.
Hart as commanders. By the end of July, No. 127 Squadron had grown to
a strength of eight officers and thirty-seven airmen, with a
complement of eleven Hurricane fighters and three Harvards.
By August 1942, No. 127 Squadron was deemed ready for operational
taskings and was ordered to leave for Gander, Newfoundland, to perform
a protection role for the air base. The seven pilots (P/Os P. C.
Holden and D. M. Walz, and Sgts J. H. Bishop, H. L. Eakes, A. Frombolo,
M. Humphries and J. R. Murray) and twenty-four ground crew embarked at
Halifax on August 17 for a pleasant voyage to St. John's,
Newfoundland, arriving on August 19. There, they boarded a train for
Gander and arrived 24 hours later after an arduous trip.
Meanwhile, six pilots, F/L Roberts, F/O Pennock, P/O Hart and Sgts M.
W. Brown, A. R. Taylor and G. E. Tribier, accompanied by two ground
crew members, departed for Sydney on August 11. They picked up four
Hurricane I aircraft from No. 128 Squadron and flew them together with
two Harvards from No. 127 Squadron, across to Gander by way of
Operational flying at this reunited squadron consisted of patrols and
scrambles and occasional investigations of unidentified aircraft,
although no enemy ever entered this territory. Varied exercises such
as cross-country flights, formation flying, aerobatics, airfiring,
battle climbs to 20,000 and 30,000 feet, night flying and bombing
practice (after receiving the Hurricane IIs in October 1942), kept the
squadron pilots sharp. At Gander, each pilot averaged 30 hours per
month with over 343 hours being flown.
Aerial search training for missing aircraft was first used on November
22, 1942, when F/S A. R. Taylor took off in Hurricane JIB 5487 to
carry out night aerobatics and circuits. When he failed to return, a
search was initiated and at 1045 the next morning, F/S G. E. Tribner
sighted the missing pilot near Indian Bay Pond about 15 miles
northeast of the base. After being picked up by a Canso, uninjured but
suffering from exposure, he reported that the Hurricane had flicked
into an inverted spin when he was attempting a roll off the top of a
loop. When he could not regain control, he took to his parachute. Mary
Divine, the parachute packer, was as happy as F/S Taylor about its
Just two weeks later, Sgt Bockman disappeared while on a low flying
exercise. On the fifth day of searching, Sgts A. Frombolo and D. F.
Bridges found him near Great Gull Lake about 70 miles southwest of
Gander. On this occasion, a Canso dropped food and blankets, and a
small Taylorcraft from the United States Army Air Force landed to fly
him back to base. After minor repairs were carried out, the Hurricane
was flown back to base in February by F/S M. W. Brown.
Although the squadron did not have to search for its own personnel
again, it did several hunts for aircraft missing during the winter of
1942-43. On December 10, 1942, No. 127's pilots located an airman from
the crew of a missing Boston and nine days later, P/O A. R. Taylor
(note the promotion) found the crashed aircraft. Early in January, F/O
D. M. Walz spotted two members of the crew of a Canso from No. 5
Squadron; on the following day the wreckage was sighted on the far
side of Gander Lake and a rescue party was directed to the spot by
127's aircraft flying overhead. A few days later, emergency rations
were dropped to the crew of a Fox Moth. In February, the squadron
located a downed Liberator and helped to fly a medical officer and
emergency supplies to the scene.
If you have ever been frustrated by an old car that you could not keep
serviceable, then you will understand the elation that No. 127
squadron pilots felt when they got new Hurricane IIs to replace the
aged Hurricane Is in October.
Along with equipment changes came changes of personnel. On November
27, 1942, F/L Roberts handed over command to the former OC of No.
126 Squadron, F/L Paul A. Gilbertson. January 20, 1943, saw the
original Adjutant F/O Slipp succeeded by P/O J. F. B. Lawrence. Six of
the original thirteen pilots (Walz, Humphries, Eakes, Holden, Brown
and Frombolo) completed the Gander tour while F/Os Hart and Pennock,
P/Os Taylor and Tribner, and F/Ss Bishop and Murray left the squadron
between January and June 1943.
The new pilots who joined the squadron at
Gander (and remained at least a month) included Sgts G. E. Urquhart
and P. G. Bockman (November), F/L Gilbertson, Sgts L. B. Foster, D. F.
Bridges and W. I. Williams
(obituary) (December), P/O J. Yule (January 43), F/Os
F. W. Ward and C. E. Scarlett and P/O G. F. Ockenden (April), P/O A.
J. Horrell and F/S J. C. Badgley (May), P/Os S. Bregman and W. A.
Aziz, Sgts H. W. Summerfeldt and M. R. Sabourin (June).
There was not much change until May 23, 1943,
when personnel previously attached to the squadron were posted in,
thereby increasing its strength to 106 (thirteen officers and
ninety-three airmen). As a result, aircraft serviceability was much
improved. Gilbertson was promoted to squadron leader (effective May 1,
1943) in response to the increase in strength. Through his
inventiveness, a new superior wring tip aerial was installed on the
squadron's Hurricane IIs.
In the spring of 1943, No. 127 gave assistance
to local antiaircraft batteries in range calibration. In conjunction
with Fighter Control at Gander, it also carried out practice ground
control intercepts on raiding aircraft. Forest fires were always a
hazard during the dry seasons, so patrols were flown over these areas
and the base was saved by quick action the first summer that the
squadron was in Gander.
Outside visitors were welcome additions to the
squadron's social life. The Governor-General of Canada and Princess
Alice visited the station shortly after No. 127 arrived, and in May of
1943, the Governor- General of Newfoundland and Lady Walwyn saw a
demonstration of formation flying by six Hurricanes and four Harvards.
Although the Gander tour was remarkably
accident-free with the exception of the two previously mentioned air
searches, two mishaps of note occurred. On February 22, 1943, Sgt H.
L. Eakes had to crash-land ten miles from base when his engine failed.
He escaped uninjured. F/O P. C. Holden, on July 10, 1943, made a
perfect 'deadstick' gliding landing downwind when his engine burst
into flames while he was carrying out an airframe and engine test.
Six days later, Holden located a burning fishing schooner from which a
small boat loaded with survivors was making for land. Group
Headquarters congratulated his report and he was once again in the
On July 23, No. 126 Squadron exchanged duties
with No. 127 Squadron and the squadron returned to Dartmouth. Aircraft
strength increased to fifteen Hurricane XIIs and four Harvards.
Personnel strength averaged 120, of which 23 were pilots. It was now a
full-sized squadron and was averaging about 500 flying hours a month.
While at Dartmouth, P/O M. W. Brown, Sgt
Frombolo, F/O P. C. Holden, F/S H. L. Eakes and P/O Humphries departed
on postings, leaving only D. M. Walz of the original thirteen pilots.
F/O F. W. Ward also left the squadron in the Fall of 1943. Newcomers
were F/L W. V. Shenk, P/Os T. G. Munro, P. E. Piché and F/S P. E.
Ferguson (July), F/O A. Hunter and P/O A. G. McKay (September), P/Os
L. Perez-Gomez, W. A. C. Gilbert and L. H. Wilson (November). The
squadron adjutant, F/O J. G. B. Lawrence, re- mustered to aircrew and
left in November. F/O C. E. Scarlett took over his duties
temporarily. The photo below of the Hornet's on patrol in their
Hurricanes was taken by F/S Percival Edward (P. E.) Ferguson.
While at Dartmouth, No. 127 Squadron suffered
its only fatal casualty when F/S M. R. Sabourin was killed in a crash
on the marshy shore near Hubbard's Cove, in the northwest area of St.
With the reduced scale of enemy activity on
the east and west coasts of Canada, the RCAF was now able to release
six fighter squadrons for duty overseas. During the hectic activities
of preparing for departure, the new adjutant, F/O A. M. Cronsberry,
arrived to relieve F/O Scarlett. At the same time, the Squadron
learned that Paul Gilbertson, their Officer Commanding for over a
year, would not accompany the unit overseas. Their disappointments
were relieved when knowledge of their new commander-designate arrived.
S/L H. W. McLeod, DFC and Bar, one of the outstanding fighter pilots
in the RCAF, would lead them. In Malta, McLeod had destroyed thirteen
enemy aircraft and damaged many others during the heavy fighting in
the summer and autumn of 1942.
On the morning of December 23, 1943, the
advance party of No. 129 Squadron arrived to take over No. 127's
duties at Dartmouth and a happy band of officers and airmen boarded a
train to take them home on embarkation leave. So ended No. 127
Squadron's tour in Canada. The squadron's flying personnel now
included: S/L H. W. McLeod, F/Ls D. M. Walz and M. V. Shenk, P/Os E.
H. Fairfield, A. J. Horrell, A. Hunter, G. F. Ockenden and C. E.
Scarlett, P/Os W. A. Aziz, S. Bregman, L. B. Foster, W. A. C. Gilbert,
T. G. Munro, L. Perez-Gomez, L. P. E. Piché,
W. I. Williams (obituary) and L. H.
Wilson, W02 D. F. Bridges, F/Ss P. G. Bockman, P. E. Ferguson and G.
E. Urquhart, and Sgt H. W. Summerfeldt.
Operational Training In England February -
After a short embarkation leave, the squadron
personnel reported to No. 1 "Y" Depot at Lachine for transport to
Halifax, where they boarded the "Pasteur" on January 20, 1944, and
sailed for overseas. The squadron landed at Liverpool on the last day
of January and remained at No. 3 Personnel Reception Center at
Bournemouth until February 13. It was here that the Fighting Four
Hundred and Forty-Third began on February 8, 1944. Earlier in the war,
the Royal Air Force had allocated a special block of numbers to the
Dominion Air Forces, the Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons "overseas"
were assigned the No. 400 series. No. 127 became No. 443.
The squadron now had only twenty-three pilots,
plus a medical officer and three airmen. All the ground crew were
posted to No. 6443 Servicing Echelon and since no adjutant was
provided for, lucky F/O C. E. Scarlett assumed those duties after all
the practice that he had in Canada.
Bournemouth, 443 Squadron journeyed north to Digby, an RCAF Station in
Lincolnshire. At Digby, the squadron became part of No. 144 (RCAF)
Airfield which was in the process of forming under the command of W/C
J. E. Walker, DFC and two bars. W/C J. E. Johnson, DSO and Bar, DFC
and Bar, an outstanding RAF fighter "Ace", was named Wing Commander
Flying to lead the Airfield on operations. Two other new arrivals,
No. 441 (formerly No. 125) and No. 442 (formerly No. 14), became
associated with No. 443. The airfield was a component of 83 Group in
2nd Tactical Air Force which was to be the air support for the Army
during the invasion of Western Europe.
Shortly after arriving in Digby, the first
Spitfire MK VBs arrived and on February 23, training flights began.
Serviceability of personnel due to the cold, wet weather and
serviceability of aircraft due to age, lack of parts and experienced
personnel, caused problems until the Spitfire MK IXBs arrived on March
Two new pilots, F/S R. A. Hodgins and F/L W.
A. Prest, joined the Squadron before it moved to Hoimsley South in
Hampshire. Camp kits became the order of the day as the squadrons
practiced mobility and slit trench digging for future use. Besides
harmonizing the guns on their aircraft, the squadron learned escape
methods from F/L Oliver Philpot, the author of Stolen Journey,
who was the "third man" in the famous "Wooden Horse" escape.
While the squadron was away at Hutton
Cranswick in Yorkshire to practice bombing, air combat and
air-to-ground firing, the Airfield moved from Hoimsley to
Westhampnett. The rail party returned to the new location April 5th,
but the fogbound pilots took three more days to set up their tents and
answer their mail. With No. 441 and No. 442 already started on
operations, No. 443 flew sector reconnaissances and several sorties
over the Channel. Several new pilots joined No. 443 as the squadron
completed training in England. F/Ls I. R. MacLennan, DFM, Hugh Russel
and E. B. Stovel, F/O J. R. Irwin and G. R. Stephen, and P/O R. B.
Henderson arrived to help form "A" Flight under Ian MacLennan and "B"
Flight under Bill Prest.
Prelude To Invasion April - June 1944
Two months after arriving at Digby, 443
Squadron pilots S/L McCleod, F/Ls Prest, Walz, MacLennan, and Stovel,
F/Os Perez-Gomez, Scarlett, Fairfield, Gilbert, Hunter and Stephen,
and P/O Bockman left Westhampnett to provide top cover for a formation
of Bostons bombing a target at Dieppe. D-Day preparations continued in
earnest between April 13 and June 5 with more than 487 sorties being
On April 19, while escorting a Marauder
formation to bomb Malines, S/L McLeod scored the squadron's first kill
and his fourteenth personal kill. His combat report, the first of more
than 60 filed by pilots of 443 Squadron, read: "I was flying White 3
on the starboard side of Ramrod 753. When proceeding east of Louvain
at zero feet, my number two (F/L Russel) reported a Do. 217 at three
o'clock, same level. White 1 (W/C Johnson) told me to attack. I cut in
behind the Do. 217 firing a four second burst from 300 to 100 yards
from dead astern. Many strikes were observed: large pieces flew off
and the starboard engine burst into flames. I broke under him to avoid
the debris, as my windscreen was covered with his oil. He pulled up
sharply to starboard several hundred feet and then spun in, exploding
in flames. My engine had cut, so I returned to base with White 4. I
claim one Do. 217 destroyed. Rounds fired 79 cannon, 200 machinegun."
Bomber escorts for Bostons and Mitchells over
the Crecy area, St Omer, and as far as Coblenz, Germany, fully
occupied the squadron, which moved to Funtington, Sussex on the 22nd.
On the morning of the 25th, W/C Johnson led No. 441 and 443 Squadrons
on a sweep around Paris. They encountered six FockeWulfs and destroyed
them, two kills by "Johnny", one by F/L Hugh Russel and F/L Walz and
two by No. 441 Squadron. Only three of 443 pilots returned directly to
base; four ended up in Exeter, and ". . . two crashed near Warmwell
when their fuel ran out." Later that evening, the squadron flew close
escort to Marauders over Cherbourg.
F/Ls Prest, Russel and Walz, F/Os Gilbert and
Scarlett, and P/O Hodgins practiced dive-bombing on a flying-bomb site
south of Dieppe on the 26th; more bombs were dropped on railway
bridges south of Cherbourg. Then, on May 3 and 4, the final full-scale
dress rehearsal prior to invasion occurred.
In the early morning of May 5, W/C Johnson
took his whole wing on a fighter sweep over the Lille area which
claimed four Luftwaffe FW 190s. Johnny Johnson accounted for one (his
28th destroyed); Wally McLeod dog-fought another into the turf; and
No. 441 Squadron claimed two more Huns. Whether escorting Mitchells,
American A20s or Marauders to bombing sites, the squadron's Spitfires
were always on the look-out for enemy movement on the ground, and
often used barges or motor lorries for target practice.
From Funtington, the Airfield moved to Ford,
near Littlehampton, on the Sussex coast. Mobility was practiced often,
as were route marches to condition the men for the vigorous field
life. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, the AOC of 2nd TAF, frequently
visited the 144 Airfield to reveal bits of what lay ahead and to check
on readiness. At RAF Station Ford, the designation 144 Airfield was
changed to 144 Wing and the Calgary Malting and Brewing Company sent
the first in a series of gifts (4,000 cigarettes) to make the stay
more pleasant. After days of poor weather, No. 443's pilots were able
to see and destroy an old chateau between Dieppe and Le Treport.
Fighter sweeps around Laon, Cambrai, Paris, Chartres, Jamappes and
Denain showed that "Jerry" was still conserving his fighter forces and
relying on the flak battery for defence. Ground targets were also
attacked, near Ghent, Bruges and Le Havre.
In the early evening of June 4, S/L McLeod led
a formation of eleven aircraft on the squadron's last pre-invasion
operation. The task was to knock out an enemy radar post on the coast
ten miles west of Fecamp, and as was to be expected, the ground
defences put up an intense, although futile, barrage. Four direct bomb
hits were seen, in addition to other near misses within damaging
By this time, the squadron knew that the long
expected invasion was only hours away. The invasion markings (broad
black and white bands) were painted on the Spitfires. No. 443 Squadron
now had twenty-eight pilots on strength. S/L H. W. McLeod, F/Ls A.
Hunter, W. A. Prest, W. V. Shenk and D. M. Walz, F/Os W. A. Aziz, E.
H. Fairfield, P. E. H. Ferguson, L. B. Foster, W. A. C. Gilbert, A. J.
Horrell, R. A. Hodgins, T. G. Munro, G. F. Ockenden, L. Perez-Gomez,
L. P. E. Piché, C. E. Scarlett, and
W. I. Williams (obituary), and F/S G. E. Urquhart had all been with the squadron since the beginning of its
overseas tour in February. F/Ls I. R. MacLennan, H. Russel and E. B.
Stovel and F/Os R. B. Henderson, J. R. Irwin and G. R. Stephen, had
joined in March and April. More recent additions were F/L G. W. A.
Troke, DFC (on April 28) F/O W. J. Bentley (on May 16) and S/L J. D.
Hall (on May 26).
In the evening of June 5, the pilots also flew
a protective patrol over convoys moving out into the Channel, then
gathered in the intelligence hut to be briefed by W/C Johnson on the
great undertaking that was already under way. D-Day was at hand!
The Battle Of Normandy June-August 1944
There was very little sleep for anyone on the
eve of D-Day. Reveille came early on June 6 and by 0430, the pilots
were ready for the first call to action. At 0620, S/L McLeod led
twelve pilots to patrol the beachhead between Courseulles and Le
Havre. After landing at Ford at 0825 for a hurried breakfast, the
squadron flew again at 1125, 1540, and 1945, for 95 hours on 48
sorties. F/L MacLennan (obituary
from Daily Telegraph, Feb 2014) became the squadron's first casualty on
operations when glycol leaks forced him down in enemy-held territory
near Cabourg. F/O Piché, his number two, saw him scramble out of the
Spitfire and run towards some farm buildings before being captured.
F/L F. A. W. J. Wilson, DFC, was posted to No. 443 to replace
MacLennan as "A" Flight Commander. 443 Squadron were given
the designator ''2I' and this insignia was painted on all Squadron
aircraft ahead of the Air Force roundel.
As an afternoon flight on the seventh was
nearing completion, F/L Prest spotted four Messerschmitts, damaging
one while F/L Hugh Russel and F/O G. F. Ockenden combined to blow up
another. Later S/L Hall's Spitfire absorbed several bullets and F/O
Henderson luckily walked away after engine failure forced him down.
Weather scrubbed most flying on the eighth and
ninth, but history was almost made on June 10 when five of the
squadron's pilots landed in France just two hours after an RAF
Squadron and a Polish unit had made the first operational landings on
the Normandy coast.
Near Rouen, on the eleventh, F/O Hodgins
attacked a locomotive, making a direct hit on the boiler. A few nights
later, S/L McLeod and Hodgins spotted three or four Do. 217 bombers
heading towards friendly territory. The dim dusk light made
identification hazardous but when a Dornier opened fire on Hodgins, he
responded with several bursts that sent it exploding into the water.
McLeod also destroyed his foe.
NORMANDY NEMESIS Issued with Air Combat Paintings Volume VI
RAF & Commonwealth Edition
When Johnnie Johnson led the Mk IX Spitfires of his 144 Canadian
Wing to temporary airstrip B.3 near the village of St Croix sur
Mer, a few miles inland from the Normandy beach head, they were
making history. As they landed on the hastily constructed
Summerfield mesh tracking runway on D-Day plus 9, they became
the first Allied air force unit to be based in former occupied
Europe, and the first to operate in France after D-Day. Mk IX
Spitfires of 443 Squadron RCAF, based at St Croix sur Mer tangle
with a group of Fw190s whom they had encountered on a fighter
sweep near Alençon, in southern Normandy on 23 June 1944. During
the melée that followed, their Squadron Leader, Wally McLeod,
quickly destroyed two Fw190s, whilst another Fw190 was badly
The morning of June 15 saw the beginning of
the move which made 144 Wing the first RCAF fighter wing to be based
on the continent. The dust at St Croix billowed skyward in huge
columns as aircraft scurried about. First operations from Normandy on
the 16th were a mixture of success, with Wally McLeod and Johnson
getting more "destroyed", and tragedy,
when Walz, Hall, Russel and Perez-Gomez were shot down (the latter
three being killed). Walz, luckily, took to his parachute before his
plane exploded, and hid himself with branches and grass. German search
patrols passed very close several times without seeing him. That
evening, he crawled out of the danger area, which was still teeming
with Germans, and found new shelter in a wheat field. Here, farmers
aided him with food and clothing, and soon the "underground" put him
in touch with advancing American forces who reunited him with his
S/L McLeod's above-mentioned "destroyed" was
his 17th and earned him the Distinguished Service Order. By the time
this award was promulgated, his score was up four more.
After some futile dive-bombing on the 17th,
poor weather grounded the squadron for three days. On the
twenty-third, No. 443 joined No. 442 for a fighter sweep over the
battle lines. Johnson spotted five FW 190s heading eastward and led
his section down to attack, followed by McLeod with Blue section. In
attempting to chase the FW 190s up through the clouds to the awaiting
bullet barrage of Johnson, McLeod engaged and destroyed two FockeWulfs
using only 26 shells from each cannon. Shenk and Prest experienced gun
stoppages due to the dust and their Huns escaped.
On June 24, the squadron began armed
reconnaissance (A/R) along roads behind the lines in search of enemy
motor transport. Scrambles to intercept enemy raiders provided more
instances of dust clogging aircraft guns.
While on an A/R mission, intense and accurate
flak forced abandonment of that task. Ground control reported enemy
aircraft in the vicinity and vectored No. 443 to intercept. F/O G. R.
Stephen followed a group of eight or ten FockeWulfs and was able to
close within 300 yards for a kill. Blue section meanwhile was in hot
pursuit as F/O W. A. C. Gilbert, F/L G. W. A. Troke and F/O R. A.
Hodgins combined for a kill. F/L W. V. Shenk was also inflicting
damage to a FockeWulf when his gun failed thereby robbing him of a
On Dominion Day, a scramble intercepted six
long nosed FW 190s carrying bombs. They turned to meet the Spitfire
attack and closed head on exchanging bursts with neither side making
strikes. It was almost two weeks before No. 443 again encountered the
During the first two weeks of July, No. 443
carried out 34 operations, of which 19 were armed recces, the others
patrols or scrambles. These A/R sorties counted 24 vehicles destroyed
or "flamers", 11 "smokers" and 21 damaged.
While leading a quartette of 443 aircraft, F/L
Prest was attacked by fifteen enemy fighters. The Spitfires quickly
considered the odds and vanished into the clouds.
During this period, the Wing spent four weeks
at St Croix and was feeling quite "settled" although the dust was a
constant problem. Mr. G. Greenough tells of how he and his fellow
maintainers used coffee cans filled with sand and petrol as stoves to
make their coffee, and heat their monotonous diet of canned foods.
F/L F. A. W. J. Wilson came to the end of his
second tour early in July and handed over "A" Flight to
F/L J. G. L.
Larry Robillard, DFM, from No. 442 squadron. He had proven himself
early by destroying an ME 109 on one of his first sorties over France.
On July 2, 1941, after destroying two opponents, he was shot down
while attempting to protect some comrades who had been forced to bale
out. Larry was able to evade capture and made his way across France
and Spain to Gibraltar then back to England. For his air victories and
successful evasion, he received the DFM.
Reorganization broke up 144 Wing in July. No.
443 joined 127 Wing with Nos. 403, 416 and 421, and moved from St
Croix to Crepon on the afternoon of July 14.
During its time with 144 Wing, S/L McLeod's
squadron destroyed thirteen enemy aircraft (McLeod 6, Walz 2, Hodgins,
Gilbert, Stephen, Russel one each and Russel and Ockenden sharing one)
and damaged five, (Prest 3, Shenk 2). In ground attacks, the squadron
destroyed two locomotives and 42 vehicles, and damaged 15 mechanized
enemy transport (MET) "smokers", two engines, a barge, a signal house
and 42 mechanized vehicles.
W/C J. E. Johnson succeeded W/C R. A. Buckham
as Wing Commander Flying at 127 Wing. The commander of 127 Wing
was G/C W. R. MacBrien who took over at this time from W/C M. Brown.
The Squadron's operations with the new wing
followed the same pattern as before with frequent A/R sorties.
Additionally, every third or fourth day the squadron carried out
defensive front-line patrols.
On the afternoon of July 20, S/L McLeod began
closing on a FW 190, but before he could fire, the pilot baled out.
Meanwhile the other section of Spitfires, led by F/L Robillard,
encountered a group of 30 FockeWulfs at 4,000 ft over Bernay. Larry
quickly polished off one and then his section "nipped smartly away,
the odds being too great".
Jerry's flak was becoming increasingly "hot"
as he sought to protect his transport from this constant nibbling. F/L
A. J. Hornell and F/L W. A. Prest were hit but got home safely. F/O T.
G. Munro was unable to glide back to our lines when his engine
faltered. After taking to his parachute, he was captured and held
prisoner until exchanged on medical grounds early in 1945.
The third armed recce on the 26th proved
interesting. While reconnoitering southeast by Dreux, the squadron
came upon a dogfight between at least twenty enemy fighters and some
Allied Mustangs. The Spitfires soon dispersed some of the enemy and
chased two as far as Paris.
On the July 30th, No. 443 was scrambled to
intercept thirty plus ME 109s south of Mortagne. McLeod and Bentley
got kills fairly quickly while Hodgins engaged seven of the enemy on
the deck. On rejoining McLeod, Hodgins engaged the second 109, a good
burst hit along the fuselage and made the coupe top fly off. Just as
he was about to finish him off, he saw tracers passing over his own
wing tip and broke away to return home with McLeod.
In early August, the pilot strength rose from
25 to 27. At that time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the
beachhead in Normandy to address 127 Wing personnel. Leave was
reintroduced in early August with F/L Robillard and F/O Ockenden being
the first lucky pair to soak up the joys in the "Land of Mild and
Bitter" for a week.
August was an eventful month, culminating in
the "Falaise pocket" and the end of the Battle of Normandy. Armed
recces on moving targets or bridges, railway junctions and buildings
were the order of the day. F/O W. J. Bentley became the first casualty
of these activities when his Spitfire developed a glycol leak. He
crashed before he could take to his parachute.
During the first two weeks of August, only one
Nazi aircraft was sighted, and F/L Troke literally scared the pilot
out of his seat before any shots were fired. Meanwhile the British,
Canadian and American forces were encircling the enemy, causing them
to flee in confusion. From the fifteenth to nineteenth, hundreds of
German vehicles were left destroyed, damaged, smoking or in flames as
On the twenty-third, while leading No. 443 and
No. 421 on a fighter sweep around Paris, W/C Johnson sighted 60 to 80
enemy aircraft approaching head-on in two groups. Johnson instructed
No. 421 to engage the higher group while he led No 443 into the lower
formation of 30 or 40 fighters. The next few minutes saw the 20
Canadian Spitfires dogfight their opponents in one of the greatest air
battles in weeks. Twelve of the German aircraft were destroyed while
our Wing lost only three. F/O G. F. Ockenden was credited with two
destroyed and one damaged while Johnson got two and Horrell, Robillard
and Fairfield accounted for one each. German road and air activity was
now slowing noticeably.
The Battle of Normandy was over. Hitler's
Atlantic Wall had been smashed and his armies were falling back now on
the Siegfried Line. Since D-Day, No. 443 Squadron had made 1,933
sorties on patrols, armed reconnaissances and fighter sweeps. It had
destroyed 19 enemy aircraft in combat and engaged eight more. On the
roads, it took credit for 152 "flamers", 150 "smokers", 194 damaged,
and the destruction of a locomotive.
On these operations, eight pilots had been
reported missing; four were presumed dead, three were taken prisoner,
and one pilot evaded capture and rejoined the squadron.
Arnhem and Nijmegen September, October 1944
The rapid retreat of the Germans eastward from
the Falaise pocket soon left the squadrons on the Normandy beachhead
out of effective range of the battle front, making a move necessary.
No. 443 left Crepon on August 26 and flew 90 miles south-eastward to
Illiers l'Eveque, which had been used by the Luftwaffe. Even as the
squadrons arrived, they were still almost out of reach of the front,
and petrol was becoming a problem.
Shortly after arriving at Illiers, F/O G. R.
Stephen's tour expired and F/S C. G. Stevenson took his place. The
pilots were still going in pairs for a week of leave in England, but
now the groundcrew were able to get away to Paris and taste the joys
of that entertaining city.
Le Culot, Belgium, became the squadron's next
home on September 21. German barracks were used instead of the
tents. Here F/L E. B. Stovel took over from F/L Larry Robillard as "A"
flight commander and F/O Phil Bockman returned after his injury in
April. About this time, a great airborne assault was aimed at three
key points in the Netherlands: Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem. Two of the
three were taken but the "Red Devils" of the 1st British Airborne
Division fought nine days for the bridge at Arnhem before withdrawing
September 25. A movie entitled "A Bridge Too Far" immortalizes their
fight. No. 443 began patrolling the Nijmegen area and bombed railway
Enemy flak had been intense and F/O L. D.
Sherwood's Spitfire was hit. His companions saw him crash and burst
into flames near Nijmegen. No one had seen him take to his parachute,
but a month later he returned to visit the Squadron on his way to
England for leave and a rest.
After uneventful patrols on the morning of
September 27, W/C Johnson destroyed his 38th (highest total in RAF)
enemy aircraft in a melee over Rees on the banks of the Rhine. F/O
Rooney Hodgins forced another Messerschmitt away from his commander
and got another destroyed for himself. F/L H. P. Fuller gave the
"tail-end Charlie" of the German formation bursts of cannon and
machine-gun fire to do it in. F/L E. B. Stovel, F/O Gilbert and F/L
Walz also tallied one each.
But these victories were won at a heavy cost.
S/L H. W. McLeod, DSO, DFC and Bar, who had 21 enemy aircraft to his
credit and was the top-scoring day-fighter pilot in the RCAF, was
While returning from a low patrol, F/L Troke
saw ten enemy aircraft ahead but soon 50 to 75 ME 109s and FW 190s
came through the clouds in front of the Spitfires. In the dogfighting
that followed, the twelve Canadian pilots fought brilliantly against
tremendous odds and shortages of petrol. Seven of the enemy went down
and three others were damaged without any loss in personnel to the
squadron. September 29 was amazingly successful for the other RCAF
squadrons as well. No. 416 destroyed six, damaged five; No. 421 three
and one; No. 421 tallied 8 and 3; No. 412 scored 14 destroyed and six
damaged and 441 added 3 destroyed for a total of 39 destroyed, 3
probable, and 15 damaged by the six Canadian squadrons.
On the thirtieth, after several uneventful
patrols, the squadron landed at their new base at Grave in the
Netherlands. At Le Culot, No. 443 Squadron had its best hunting with
eleven enemy fighters destroyed, two more probably destroyed and three
damaged. The squadron lost one pilot and another spent four weeks
behind enemy lines. The total in five days for the eight Canadian
Squadrons was 97 destroyed, three probably destroyed and 39 damaged.
Grave, S/L A. H. Sager
succeeded S/L McLeod as CO after having served with three of the
squadrons in 127 Wing. He had destroyed five and damaged five Nazi
fighters before joining No. 443. Three new pilots, F/O Q. A. Dodson,
F/L T. R. Watt and WO R. L. Gaudet also came to the squadron at Grave.
Besides sighting "vapour trails" from V-2
rockets and escorting His Majesty the King from Eindhoven to Brussels,
life was uneventful in Grave. The weather got worse and grounded the
squadron for six consecutive days.
A few days later, on October 11, F/Os Piché
and Horrell left for Antwerp in the squadron's Auster. Horrell was to
pick up a replacement Spitfire while Piché flew on to Brussels to
arrange accommodation for the servicing personnel when leave finally
started for them in mid-October. They were never heard from again
although the burned-out wreckage of the Auster was found near Deurne.
On April 23rd 2017, in the small
village of Ysselsteyn Netherlands, there was a ceremony to unveil
a monument to two fallen 443 Squadron members: F/O Paul Piché
and F/O Art Horrell. In attendance was Colonel Michael Hogan,
to the Canadian Embassy of the Netherlands and his wife, Tracy
One highlight of the three weeks at Grave
occurred when the new "B" Flight Commander, H. P. Fuller, acted as
master of ceremonies for the squadron party on October 20. Skits,
musical acts, and an eight-piece orchestra from the servicing echelon
proved that much talent lay hidden under RCAF uniforms.
The most outstanding feature at Grave was not
the weather nor operations nor the parties. It was enemy bombing! With
the front lines only a few miles away, the men needed no urging to dig
slit trenches by their tents and wear steel helmets as ME 262s
frequently nipped across to drop a pocket of anti-personnel bombs on
Winter In Belgium
On October 22, due to heavy rains flooding the
landing strip at Grave, the squadron moved back to Melsbroek,
north-east of Brussels. Because of a lack of telephone communication,
transport, and the fact that commissioned and non-commissioned
personnel were quartered at different sites some distance from the
field, operations were severely curtailed.
For the next fortnight, 443's major tasking
was to supply fighter support to 137 and 139 Bomber Wing, also flying
from Melsbroek. In addition to the Mitchell bomber escorts, 33
uneventful patrols were flown in the areas around Venraij and Maas.
The low total of 114 sorties between October 28 and November 11 was
also caused by weather; fog and rain again grounded the squadron from
November 12 to 17.
During this period, F/O W. B. Dalton, WO P. C.
Gomm, a Brazilian, and P/O A. B. Clenard joined the squadron. In
addition, F/O L. D. Sherwood, who had been shot down behind enemy
lines a month earlier and evaded the enemy, rejoined 443. Tour-expired
pilots included Hodgins and Stovel, who were both posted back to
England. Hodgins' squadron record included three destroyed, one
probable, and one damaged aircraft, and an award of the DFC. F/L P. G.
Blades replaced Stovel as "A" Flight Commander, the latter being
homeward bound to Canada.
On November 4, squadron aircraft moved to
Evere, closer still to Brussels, though billets remained unchanged.
However, the improved social life resulted in one marriage within a
month. Also about this time, 443 became the "Hornet" squadron with the
warning motto "Our Sting is Death", and was 'adopted' by a sponsor
group in the city of Regina.
For the next month, after flying was resumed
on November 18, the squadron flew continuous but uneventful patrols
over the battle front area between Weert and Roermond. No enemy
aircraft were engaged and aircrews had to settle for strafing ground
targets such as vehicles, trains, factories, and gun positions, with
excellent results. Heavy flak from ground targets did not result in
any squadron losses, but an aircraft engine failure caused two
Spitfires to crash. The pilots, F/Os A. M. Thomas and D. J. Wegg,
flying for 1944 terminated after missions on the fifteenth and
eighteenth of December in the Aachen to Trier area of the Siegfried
Line. Here Von Rundstedt launched the famous "Battle of the Bulge",
but weather and cloud prevented 443 from being effective, and
premature removal of radio transmitter crystals in anticipation of Air
Gunnery Practice in England, resulted in missions on the eighteenth
being complete fiascos.
December departures from the squadron included
F/Os G. F. Ockenden and W. A. G. Gilbert, both who had joined the
squadron in Canada, and F/O A. M. F. Thomas.
Gordon Ockenden left with a
score of four and one half destroyed ME 109s, a damaged FW 190, and
the DFC. Posted in were F/O H. F. Ulmer, F/L W. I. Gould, F/O T. C.
Gamey, P/O K. M. Cooke, and F/O R. D. Marsh.
On December 18, after an abortive patrol over
the lines, the squadron flew to England and Armament Practice Camp at
Warmwell. It had been six months since they left England, and their
return over the festive season did much for morale. In addition, while
n England, the squadron celebrated the award of a DFC to their
Commanding Officer, S/L A. H.
Sager, who had downed five enemy aircraft.
On January 3, 1945, 443 returned to Evere, to
find that a Luftwaffe "Blitz" had shot up their airfield as well as
other air bases in Belgium and Holland. The squadron lost two
Spitfires, left behind at Evere, in his attack. The next day, the
Hornets were back at work flying armed patrols.
On January 5, while strafing two factories in
the Munster area, heavy flak resulted in the loss of F/O T.C. Gamey.
F/L Walz received a minor leg injury, but brought his shot-up aircraft
back to base. Weather lien grounded the squadron until January 13. On
the tenth, a disabled Fortress crash landed and burned at Evere;
moments later a bomb exploded, severely injuring LAC W. E. A. Frazer,
one of the squadron's armourers. Two of the Fortress' crew of nine
On the thirteenth and fourteenth, good weather
permitted armed patrols in the St Vith and Houffalize area. Here they
found over 200 German vehicles retreating from the "Bulge". Over
several sorties, 443 destroyed five and damaged twenty-nine. Flak
destroyed F/L E. H. Fairfield's aircraft and punched a large hole in
the wing of F/L "Bub" Fuller's Spitfire. However, the only casualty to
the Hornets resulted when Fairfield bailed out and slightly injured
Bad weather on the week of January 15-21
resulted in only two operations in the Munster area. The highlights
were three destroyed or damaged vehicles, and a close call for F/L W.
J. Sherman when his oxygen system failed at 20,000 feet.
January saw G/C W. R. MacBrien, OBE, Commander
of 127 Wing, replaced by G/C P. S. Turner, DSO, DFC, a Canadian with
experience in both the Mediterranean and European theaters. Three
squadron NCO pilots, Stevenson, Gomm, and Gaudet, were promoted to
pilot officer, and a new pilot, P/O M. C. Tucker was posted in. Two
other important January changes were the quartering of aircrew closer
to the field, and the arrival of the first Spitfire XVIs to place the
IX model. The changeover to the newer 'Spit' was completed by
Improved weather on the twenty-second
permitted Art Sager to lead
his formation into the RheineMunster area. Coming onto an enemy
aerodrome, Sager, with F/O Marsh, damaged an enemy aircraft attempting
to take off, as well as several ground vehicles. Returning home, they
added a staff car and mobile flak wagon to their day's total. That
afternoon, 443 leaflet-bombed Heinsberg, Erkelens, Straelen, and
Geldern. The squadron diary stated "We expect immediate capitulation
of all four places".
The three sorties flown on January 23 saw nary
a single enemy aircraft. The third, into the Stadtkyll area, did
result in the destruction or damage of twenty-four German vehicles.
The Nazi military appeared to be in hiding.
Poor flying conditions for the rest of the
month resulted in only a VIP escort to England on the twenty-fifth,
and an uneventful armed recce on the twenty- eighth. The six VIP
escort pilots did get a three day break in England, thanks to the duff
Dundas Star News
March 16th, 2016
By Debra Downey
Second World War veteran Alexander Hunter has been awarded the
rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of
Alexander Hunter, centre, was presented with the medal by the
Royal Canadian Legion’s zone commander John Murphy, right, and
Gord Sharp, president of the Dundas branch.
Hunter, 96, was born in Clydebank,
Scotland, and immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of
four. He served in the RCAF 443 squadron and held the rank of
flight lieutenant. Hunter flew a number of planes during the
Second World War — the Spitfire, Harvard and Yale, to name just a
few. His squadron was the first to land in France on June 15,
1944, and Hunter flew a Spitfire over the beaches of Normandy on
D-Day to provide the ground troops with support.
“It is an honour to receive this medal in recognition of my
“I’m receiving this for everybody that took part in the invasion,”
Hunter said of being awarded rank of Knight of the French National
Order of the Legion of Honour.
“Its nice that France has recognized survivors who can speak for
those who have passed away. It is an honour to receive this medal
in recognition of my service.”
Hunter built a house on York Road in Dundas in 1954 and still
lives there today. He married his sweetheart, Marie Hackwell, who
passed away in 1999, and the couple has two children, Carol and
At the end of January, F/L H. P. Fuller became
tour expired and Don Walz took over 'B' Flight. In February, F/L A.
Hunter, F/O P. E. H. Ferguson, F/O L. B. Foster, F/L R. B. Henderson,
F/L J. R. Irwin and F/L P. G. Blades followed Fuller. F/L L. E. Hunt
replaced Blades as "A" Flight Commander. The squadron also lost P/O R.
L. Gaudet, posted out on medical grounds. This left only Phil Bockman,
Fairfield, and Don Walz of the original twenty pilots posted overseas
from Canada a year earlier. Replacement pilots were F/L J. C. Turcott,
F/O's J. Collins, H. A. Greene, M. J. S. Clow, S. E. Messum, G. A.
McDonald, J. W. O'Toole, and WO C. J. Grant. As well, F/O C. E.
Glover, Hornet adjutant, was replaced by P/O C. W. Kroeker.
In February, weather grounded the squadron for
thirteen days. However, on every occasion possible, the Hornets were
launched to strike again at the tottering Third Reich. Thus, they
averaged twenty-two sorties a day on the fifteen flyable days.
On February 2 and 3, the squadron flew escort
for the Mitchells on an uneventful recce of the Munster and Hamm
areas. On the sixth and eighth, the flying program was again repeated,
but the armed recce found and destroyed two locomotives, damaged two
more and shot up eight freight cars. On the tenth, the squadron's
train smashing continued, with two rail engines damaged. The bomber
escorts and patrols of February 11 saw no activity due to low cloud
cover, identical results following on the thirteenth, the squadron's
On St. Valentines day, S/L Art Sager led the
Hornets on three dive-bombing missions against German rail junction
points. With virtually no flak opposition, results were excellent;
twelve direct hits and fifteen near misses. A station house and twelve
freight cars were also destroyed. Weather permitted the squadron to
fly escort to Lancasters on the sixteenth; the four bomber attacks
devastated Wesel, but the squadron scored no targets. Fog grounded 443
for the next four days.
The twenty-first of February saw two armed
recces destroying four vehicles and damaging twenty-five more. They
also encountered a train "Flak Trap" and an airfield of dummy aircraft
which they passed up. A total of thirty-six sorties were launched the
next day. But since the Germans were hiding, there were no new kills
added to the squadron tally.
The twenty-fourth was more eventful. The
second sortie resulted in three destroyed and three damaged vehicles.
F/L Walz was shot down behind enemy lines for the second time.
However, this time he was taken prisoner and had to be replaced as B
Flight Commander by F/L H. C. Charlesworth. The third patrol, like the
first, found no targets.
The next day, ten pilots tried dive-bombing
moving trains, but with no hits. They were then bounced by two FW 190s
who quickly hid in the cloud cover. Next, two Me 262s were spotted,
but the "Spits" could not catch the faster jets. On the way home, P/O
Gomm's propeller split, and he had to dead stick land near Asch, in
northeastern Belgium, where he hitchhiked back to Evere.
During the rest of February, the squadron was
grounded due to weather. On March 1, two sorties in the Munster and
Hamm areas under heavy flak resulted in only one destroyed vehicle.
The next day, the Hornets flew their last missions from Evere, again
their task was to cut rail lines. They recovered at Petit Brogel,
their home for the next four weeks.
Squadron statistics for their stay in the
Brussels area were not impressive, mainly due to the poor weather. In
November, 201 sorties resulted in 275 hours flying. December, with the
Hornets in England for a fortnight, saw only 145 sorties totaling 186
hours. 165 sorties and 216 hours was the January total which was
considerably lower than the 326 sorties and 536 hours flown in
February, despite only fifteen flying days. However, the move of
squadron aircrew to the airfield likely helped raise the flying
From The Rhine to the Elbe March - May 1945
In preparation for the final Spring offensive
by the Army, G/C Turner's Wing moved closer to the front. Petit
Brogel, near the Belgium-Dutch border, became the Hornets' new hive on
March 2. Here, metal tracking was laid on the roads and parking
strips, to minimize the bog that had been encountered in Grave.
Although 562 sorties were flown here, all the the excitement came in
the last week.
From March 3 to 22, air activity was
comparatively quiet. Fighter sweeps, A/Rs and patrols took No. 443
pilots over Nordhorn, Rheine, Emmerich, Dinslaken, Kempen, Nijmegen,
Osnabruck, Munster, Burgsteinfurt, Bocholt, Geldern, Dorsten and
Winterswijke, but proved uneventful.
F/O F. R. Kearns and F/L E. H. Fairfield had
now become tour-expired and were replaced by F/Os H. R. Hanscom and G.
Brogel was not a great social event although Art Sager directed an
excellent wing concert which
packed the house. After the March 21 and 22 rest, both air and land
offensives rose to a final overwhelming peak. Forty-four sorties on
the twenty-third found only some light flak and a few vehicles, two of
which were damaged. No. 443 flew four uneventful patrols on the
twenty-fourth, except for F/L Charlesworth's engine failure which
caused him to crash land on the air field. Some aircraft and vehicles
were sighted but only a few of the MET were destroyed.
On the departure of S/L Art Sager, DFC, after
six months in command of No. 443, S/L T. J. De Courcy, formerly a
flight commander in No. 421, took over. On March 30, his first lead
mission dropped five of twelve bombs directly on a factory in the
Enschade-Munster area. F/L J. R. Watt led a second bombing mission
that cut two railways and destroyed a couple of buildings by a
railroad junction. On the thirty-first, F/O G. A. McDonald had to bale
out and spent a month in a POW camp after only a month of operations.
This patrol landed at the wing's new base at Eindhoven.
As the armies swept forward into north-western
Germany, the fighter squadrons of 2nd TAF followed close behind. After
twelve days in Eindhoven, the Hornets flew to Rheine for a day as the
Wing advanced to Diepholz for a fortnight before advancing to
Reinsehien for a few days of operations. Despite these moves, the
squadron peaked to 829 sorties and the pilots flew 1244 hours, which
was almost as high as the two previous months combined!
Persistent poor weather in early April
necessitated weather recces to see if conditions were fit for
operations. On one of these missions, F/O S. E. Messum was killed by
Patrol lines kept shifting ahead as the armies
advanced. On the twelfth, the first and second A/Rs led by F/L Terry
Watt inflicted much damage on Oldenburg area and S/L De Courcy led his
bombing mission successfully on a well-defended freight yard with much
damage being observed.
On April 13, the aircraft and pilots rejoined
the ground staff at Diepholz for a fortnight of patrols and armed
reconnaissances from the fairly comfortable permanent Luftwaffe
barracks. S/L De Courcy's patrol had a successful score of 18 of the
44 vehicles claimed on the eighteenth. Two recces led by F/L H. C.
Charlesworth left the autobahn and adjacent roads near Hollenstedy
littered with destroyed Hun transport. On these operations, the pilots
noticed that the enemy was once again using the Red Cross emblem to
give immunity to his transport, for staff cars and guns were seen
mixed in with convoys of ambulances.
On April 20, Adolf Hitler's last birthday in
his tottering empire and crumbling capital, the Hornet squadron had
the honour of escorting General Eisenhower on a flight from Venlo to
Diepholz to visit General Montgomery.
While attacking a train near Goldberg, Bob
Marsh's Spitfire was downed by flak as he attacked a train. After a
fortnight of surviving on potatoes and wild duck eggs, Marsh returned
to the squadron. F/O H. R. Hanscom did not return from his mission.
Although the war was now clearly in its last
stages, the enemy flak gunners were fighting through to the bitter end
and they gave P/O Pero Gomm and F/O Phil Bockman an impressive
demonstration of their accuracy when they returned with several holes
in their Spitfires. On another patrol, several vehicles were destroyed
and a couple of Arado 234 jets escaped with possible damage. While the
Hornets were assisting the Second Army occupying Bremen, they noticed
40 or 50 enemy aircraft clustered on Schwerin aerodrome. S/L De Courcy
led eight Spitfires in two sections at 5,000 feet until they were
about ten miles from the aerodrome. They dived to the deck and at 320
mph made a strafing run across it at ground-level from west to east.
In all, there appeared to be about 60 JU 87s (Stuka), FW 190s, JU 88s
and other assorted types parked in several lines. Tommy De Courcy
reported, "I kept on spraying as I went." Greene, Dobson, Conway,
Finley, Taylor, Tucker and Dilworth had similar claims. The Hornet
attack was so well coordinated that flak did not open until they were
well clear of the field.
An hour and a half later, De Courcy, Dodson,
Finley, Taylor, Tucker, Dilworth, Dalton and Watt used the same
tactics at Neustadt aerodrome where about 25 Me 109s and FW 190s were
parked. Although much damage was reported, F/O A. J. Dilworth crashed
in flames on the aerodrome when met by vicious flak. Dilworth was a
new pilot who had joined 443 just a week before he was killed in
The next morning, two more pilots were missing
when F/O W. G. Conway hit a telephone pole while strafing vehicles and
F/L Terry Watt's glycol leak caused him to crash. Both pilots were
returned shortly after hostilities ended. While at Diepholz, No. 443
squadron destroyed four aircraft and damaged fourteen more in attacks
on airfields. The pilots also claimed more than four railroad cuts,
one building, 68 motor vehicles, 13 horse-drawn transports, and four
freight cars destroyed, as well as eight locomotives, 13 freight cars,
135 MET and seven horse-wagons damaged. Here, the Hornets lost five
pilots and had several others wounded or injured.
Bad weather forced three pilots to land at
Reinsehien and the next day, April 28, the remainder of the squadron
followed. This new field allowed 127 Wing to closely support the
Second Army on its final drive. W/C J. F. Edwards, a veteran of the
Western Desert where he had won the DFM and DFC and Bar, had succeeded
W/C J. E. Johnson as Wing Commander Flying early in April. He
led patrols over Lubeck and witnessed a dogfight between some RCAF
Spitfires and some Mes and FWs that had tried to bomb the bridgehead.
The Hornets were not able to get into the scrap but saw six of the
enemy dive to their death.
On May Day, F/L Warman led six pilots on a
shooting spree that destroyed 16 vehicles and damaged 21 more. The
next day, S/L De Courcy, F/L Turcott and F/Os Morrow and Hill
accounted for 32 vehicles of the squadron total of 17 MET destroyed
and 31 damaged for the day. The diary commented: "Everything is mixed
up now. Pilots don't know whether they are in Russian, German or
British territory. The Germans are starting to blow up their aircraft
and aerodromes." On one sortie, Warmar and Dalton saw 30 railway
wagons explode and Dodson and Sim reported several aircraft burning on
the ground so the British would not get to use them.
The Hornets also took an active part in
demolition of the Luftwaffe. F/O H. F. Packard riddled an HE III so
thoroughly that the port engine tumbled out of its mounting. Two more
Heinkels were damaged by Finley, Clow and Stevenson.
On May 3, the British Second Army made contact
with the Russians at Grabow and drove through to the Baltic coast at
Wismar and Lubeck. The fighter pilots shifted their activity
northward. Twenty-six MET were destroyed, 47 were damaged; eight
freight cars and four locomotives were shot up, six of the cars being
destroyed; a trawler was sunk and seven more were well battered. While
returning from the day's final operation, S/L De Courcy and five
companions attacked a JU 88 coming across Eckernforder Bay; Sim,
Marshall and the CO peppered it into a field. It was the Hornet
squadron's 36th and last victory in air combat.
More ground targets and shipping strikes on
May 4 destroyed five and damaged a further five vehicles. When the
pilots landed at Reinsehlen at four o'clock that afternoon, No. 443
Squadron's part in the long struggle was over. On the heath at
Lunenburg that day, the German forces in Holland, north-western
Germany and Denmark had surrendered unconditionally to Field-Marshal
Montgomery, the cease fire to be effective at 0800 on May 5.
The squadron's work in the last few days had
earned S/L De Courcy and Hart Findley DFCs.
Post War May 1945-March 1946
When VE Day ended the war in Europe, No. 443
Squadron had 29 pilots on strength, led by the Commanding Officer S/L
T. J. De Courcy, and including H. R. Finley and R. P. Marsh, both
recently returned from enemy territory.
Most of the pilots were more than half way
through their tours and could expect early repatriation, although some
volunteered for the Pacific and others to remain in Europe with the
occupation forces. The weeks immediately following cessation of
hostilities were filled with rumour and speculation. While waiting for
the inevitable uncertainty to be clarified, the squadron continued
practice flying, did escort jobs for Dakotas flying to and from
Copenhagen, and participated in "fly pasts" over Bremen and other
German cities and former Luftwaffe airfields.
There now was much free time for sports, leave
and decorating Spitfires with names and yellow hornet badges and the
There was a tragic loss in early June when S/L
Tommy De Courcy was killed in a car accident near Hamburg. In simple
words, the squadron diarist paid tribute to their Commanding Officer.
"It is beyond the power of this narrator to fittingly express our
emotion. He was deeply admired and respected among the members of his
squadron, and will be sincerely mourned by all who knew him. S/L H. R.
Finley took command of the Hornets.
Late in June 1945, the squadron was informed
that it had been selected for the British Air Forces of Occupation in
Germany. As part of No. 126 Wing, along with 411, 412 and 416
Squadrons, they moved to Uetersen in early July, and were soon on the
scrounge to make their new home habitable. Apart from the diversions
of an air show in Brussels and various sports endeavours, the summer
is probably summed up by this quote from the squadron diary "Don't
they ever have summer in this horrible country."
During formation practice in September, a
mid-air damaged three Spits, but all pilots escaped without serious
injury resulting in this quote "The squadron just doesn't believe in
tight formation anymore."
The end of September 1945 saw most pilots who
had flown on operations with No. 443 start home on the repatriation
mill. This included Phil Bockman who had started in November 1942 with
a five month break due to injury. Hart Finley's tour also finished as
he departed westward for Canada. As a result, only eight pilots
remained of the group which had comprised the squadron on VE Day.
The replacements continued to arrive including
the new Commanding Officer, S/L C. D. J. Bricker DFC, a veteran
fighter-recce pilot who had distinguished himself on photo missions
with No. 430 Squadron.
Autumn and winter found sports and prevalent
fog hampering flying. In addition to continuous personnel changes, by
year's end the squadron was composed entirely of "Occupational
A valiant effort was made on the last day of
1945 to attain the squadron's monthly flying hours. Although the final
total fell about one hour short of target, 443 held first place among
the squadrons and received honourable mention in 83 Group's report for
having fewest accidents per flying hour; the Squadron had been
accident free for 10 weeks. In January 1946, the Hornets began
converting to Spitfire XIVs received from disbanded Belgian and
The squadron's no-accident flying record
received a rude jolt January 18 through no fault of the Hornets. Three
Spitfires were flying in formation over the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal when
a USAAF Thunderbolt came along diving straight into F/L Roosenti's
machine, tearing off the port wing. The aircraft rolled over and burst
into flame, but the pilot was able to get free and parachuted to
safety with just a few cuts and bruises.
After the extensive changes in personnel in
the last months of 1945, there were fewer alterations in the new year.
Since No. 443's arrival in the overseas theater, the airmen who
serviced the aircraft had belonged to a separate unit, 6443 Servicing
Echelon. This "paper" distinction was abolished, and the airmen were
posted to Squadron strength (23 pilots, approx 95 servicing).
On March 8, 1946, flying activities ended, and
after the rumour-mongers had enjoyed three days freedom to spread
their "gen", it was officially announced that the Wing was being
disbanded, dispelling the squadron's hopes that it would return to
Canada—the way it had departed—as a unit. The pilots were posted to
Topcliffe for repatriation; the ground crews were posted to other RCAF
units overseas or (the luckier chaps) to England for repatriation. And
on March 15, 1946, No. 443 Squadron officially ended its tour with the
British Air Forces of Occupation. Most of the personnel remained at
Uetersen for a few days longer; the pilots flew their aircraft across
to England on the 19th and by the end of March, virtually everyone had
gone and 126 Wing was disbanded.
At the time of disbandment the Hornets
comprised: S/L C. D. Bricker DFC, F/Ls F. E. Hanton DFC, W. H. Gill
DFC, C. B. Murray DFC, T. S. Burleigh, L. J. Burnett, K. S. Meyer, J.
H. Cook, N. H. Rassenti, F/Os 0. A. Dodson, W. A. Marshall, C. J.
Stojan, H. Sewell, R. E. Lowry, L. A. Pyke, R. W. Perkin, D. A.
Mitchell, C. J. Grant, J. H. Tetros, J. H. Syrett, J. K. Burns, and
P/Os J. A. Arsenault and M. W. Richman. Of these, Dodson, Grant and
Marshall had been with No. 443 since before VE-Day.