Feature extract:cAntipodean Night Hunters
Andrew Thomas outlines 456 Squadron RAAF’s time as a de Havilland Mosquito night-fighter unit during the Second World War.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s 456 Squadron received its first three Mosquito IIs, equipped with the AI Mk.IV radar, at Valley on Anglesey on 30 December, 1942. By the end of January 1943, it had 17 of de Havilland’s elegant masterpieces on strength and it was destined to be the sole RAAF night-fighter squadron within Fighter Command during the war.
The Australian unit began Mosquito operations on 22 January when Sqn Ldr Hank Richards in DZ297/RX-R flew a night patrol. By the end of February it started flying offensive ‘Ranger’ sorties over occupied Europe for which one flight moved south to Colerne in Wiltshire. (Ranger was the codename for missions designed to draw up and engage enemy fighters.)
At the end of the month the rest of the unit moved down to Middle Wallop in Hampshire, as part of 10 Group, usually under the control of Sopley radar site. Plt Off Col Griffin, a newly arrived pilot recalled: “The Mosquito was fast, smooth and popular. I was one of the lucky few. We were posted to Middle Wallop, based between Salisbury and Andover in Hampshire, for three or four months. Our duty was to fly over their fields and make a nuisance of ourselves. Drop flares and bombs or shoot up planes on the ground. Our mere presence didn’t terrorise them, but it did scare them.
“It was dangerous, because you never knew how high above the ground you were. We’d fly over at about 10,000ft and come down to around 1,000ft. The German airfields were defended with multiple guns. Some of the intruders would bomb runways as well. I have nothing but praise for the Mosquito. It had two engines, which made a single engine landing tricky, because it was so streamlined. With one operational engine, when the undercarriage was lowered, you needed a lot of power. Recovery took 1,000ft, so if you were below that, then you were committed to the landing. My navigator was H P ‘Hoppy’ Williams.”
Rangers were also flown and between Lamballe and Alençon in France on the night of 17-18 April and two trains were damaged. Another notable sortie was on 6 May when Fg Offs Peter Panitz and ‘Hoppy’ Williams shot up six trains in the St Méen area of France. However, after one Ranger on the 30th, Mosquito II HJ701/RX-C flown by the CO and Fg Off Don Shanks crashed seriously injuring them. Two days later W/O ‘Red’ Ratcliffe and F/Sgt Ron Lowther were lost during an afternoon sortie over France in DZ308/RX-V.
This feature concludes in the January issue, which is in the UK shops now.