No. 111 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.111 Squadron was the first RAF squadron to receive the Hawker Hurricane, and served as a fighter squadron throughout the Second World War, taking part in the campaign in France in 1940, the Battle of Britain, Operation Torch and the invasions of Italy and the south of France.

The squadron had been reformed as a fighter squadron on 1 October 1923, and had been equipped with a series of biplanes, including the Grebe, Snipe, Siskin, Bulldog and Gauntlet. The Hurricanes arrived in January 1938, giving them a year and a half to become proficient with the new monoplane fighter before the outbreak of the Second World War.

At first the squadron was based in the south of England, where rogue barrage balloons were its main opponent - the squadron managing to shoot down eleven of them on 4 October 1939. The outbreak of war found the Navy's main base at Scapa Flow very vulnerable to air attack, and so in December No.111 become one of a number of Hurricane squadrons to move north to Scotland. By the start of 1940 it was part of a three-squadron fighter wing based at Wick, and by March the Navy was able to return to Scapa. This attracted the Germans, and the squadron achieved its first victory in early March. More major attacks began during the German invasion of Norway, as the Luftwaffe attempted to stop the Royal Navy from intervening. The first raid, by a strong force of He 111H-3s, came on 8 April, and a busy period followed.

The start of the German offensive in the west changed the RAF's priorities, and on 13 May 1940 the squadron moved south to Northolt. On 16 May one flight from No.111 Squadron joined with a flight from No.253 to form 111/253, one of three composite squadrons formed in an attempt to reinforce the RAF in France. The theory was that these units would be based in Britain, but would operate from a French airfield for half of each day, leaving half of each squadron in Britain.

This neat plan wasn't always followed. On 17 May B Flight was based at Abbeville (without making contact with the Germans), but on the following day A Flight was at Lille/ Marcq (where it claimed a number of Bf 110s and a Do 17) and B Flight at Vitry as part of the composite unit (claiming a Hs 126, a Bf 110 and a Ju 88 for the cost of at least one pilot and two aircraft destroyed on the ground). On 19 May the composite unit 111/253 operated from RAF Hawkinge, and flew a patrol over Cambrai-Le Cateau. This time No.111 pilots claimed four He 111s destroyed, a probable Bf 109 and a damaged Bf 110, but at the cost of two pilots killed and a third aircraft shot down. During this brief period the squadron was credited with 13 confirmed victories, and four probables, at the cost of five Hurricanes and three pilots killed.

The squadron was also involved in the fighting over Dunkirk, and in the early phase of the Battle of Britain, when it gained a reputation for carrying out daring head-on attacks on German bombers. After suffering heavy losses in August the squadron was moved north to rest in mid-September, moving back south in the summer of 1941 to take part in fighter sweeps across Northern France. By this point the Hurricanes had been replaced by Spitfires.

Towards the end of 1942 No.111 Squadron became part of the force allocated to Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. On 14 November it flew into the forward airfield at Bone, where it almost immediately came under German attack. In December it was one of five Spitfire squadrons attempting to use Souk el Arba during the early stages of the attack on Tunis. Here it was badly affected by the December rains that forced Eisenhower to cancel the advance.

The squadron remained in North Africa until the fall of Tunis. It then moved to Malta, and provided fighter cover during the landings on Sicily. The squadron then moved to Sicily to support the landings on the Italian mainland. In September 1943 it moved to Italy, and followed the advancing troops as they moved north. A brief diversion took place in July 1944, when No.111 moved to Corsica to support Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. The squadron then moved to bases in France, and once again followed the armies north, until in October 1944 returning to Italy.

The last few months of the war saw the squadron act as a fighter-bomber unit. At the end of the war No.111 formed part of the occupation forces for Austria and northern Italy, remaining there until it was disbanded in May 1947.

Aircraft
January 1938-April 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
March-May 1941: Hawker Hurricane IIA
April-May 1941: Supermarine Spitfire I
May-September 1941: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
August 1941-October 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VB
November 1942-January 1944: Supermarine Spitfire VC
June 1943-May 1947: Supermarine Spitfire IXC

Location
July 1934-October 1939: Northolt
October-December 1939: Acklington
December 1939-February 1940: Drem
February-May 1940: Wick
May 1940: Northolt
May 1940: Digby
May-June 1940: North Weald
June-August 1940: Croydon
August-September 1940: Debden
September 1940: Croyden
September-October 1940: Drem
October 1940-July 1941: Dyce
   October 1940-April 1941: Detachment to Montrose
July-November 1941: North Weald
November-December 1941: Debden
December 1941: North Weald
December 1941-June 1942: Debden
June-July 1942: Gravesend
July 1942: Debden
July-September 1942: Kenley
September 1942: Martlesham Heath
September-October 1942: Fowlmere

November 1942: Gibraltar
November 1942: Maison Blanche
November-December 1942: Bone
December 1942: Souk-el-Arba
December 1942-May 1943: Souk-el-Khemis
May 1943: Protville I
May-June 1943: Mateur
June-July 1943: Safi
July 1943: Comiso
July-August 1943: Pachino South
August-September 1943: Panebianco
September 1943: Cassala
September 1943: Falcone
September 1943: Montecorvino
September-October 1943: Battipaglia
October 1943-January 1944: Capodichino
January-June 1944: Lago
June 1944: Tre Cancelli
June 1944: Tarquinia
June-July 1944: Grosseto
July 1944: Piombino
July-August 1944: Calvi
August 1944: Ramatuelle
August-September 1944: Sisteron
September 1944: Lyon/ Bron
September-October 1944: La Jasse
October-November 1944: Peretola
November 1944-February 1945: Rimini
February-May 1945: Ravenna
May 1945: Rivolto
May-September 1945: Klagenfurt

Squadron Codes: TM (Hurricane I), JU (Spitfire)

Duty
1939-1942: Fighter Squadron, Britain
1942-1945: Fighter Squadron, North Africa, Italy, France

Books

Hurricane Aces, 1939-40, Tony Holmes. A look at the men who flew the Hawker Hurricane during the first two years of the Second World War, when it was arguably the most important front line fighter in RAF service. This book covers the Phoney War Period, the German invasion of the West, the Battle of Britain and the early use of the Hurricane in North Africa and from Malta. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 December 2009), No. 111 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/111_wwII.html

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