No. 120 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.120 Squadron was the first squadron in Coastal Command to receive the Very Long Range Liberator, the aircraft that closed the Atlantic Gap and played a major part in the defeat of the U-boats.

The squadron was reformed at Nutts Corner on 2 June 1941, and was equipped with the Liberator from the start. Anti-submarine patrols began on 20 September, and had an immediate impact. One example was the journey of convoy HG76 (home bound from Gibraltar). For four days the convoy sailed across the air gap between Gibraltar and home-based aircraft, and came under persistent U-boat attack. On the morning of 22 December a Liberator from No.120 Squadron arrived over the convoy when it was still 750 miles from Nutts Corner. One U-boat was attacked by this first aircraft, and three more were forced to submerge by second, effectively ending the attack on the convoy.

No.120 Squadron remained the only Liberator squadron in Coastal Command for much of 1942. Even here the supply of the very long range Liberator Is was limited, and by August 1942 the squadron only had five of these aircraft, with the rest made up of long range Liberator IIs and IIIs, which had 600 miles less range.

The value of the Liberator was demonstrated on a regular basis. On 8 December 1942 one Liberator from No.120 reached convoy HX.217 in the mid-Atlantic just as a wolf-pack was attacking. The aircraft dropped its depth charges on U-611, which sank, and then drove six more U-boats off with its cannons.

By February 1943 the number of Liberator squadrons in Coastal Command had finally started to rise. Nos.86 and 224 Squadrons of the RAF had the type, and the US 1st and 2nd Antisubmarine Squadrons were also operating with the Command. By this point a detachment from No.120 was operating from Iceland, and in April the entire squadron moved there, helping to close the Atlantic gap.

1943 was the key year in the Battle of the Atlantic, and No.120 Squadron at Iceland played its part. In March the Germans achieved one of their greatest successes, during the attacks on convoys HX.229 and SC.122 (16-20 March). No.120 Squadron managed to get aircraft over this battle, although not until 1655 hours on the 17th, bad weather on Iceland causing a delay.

The squadron had more success during the Allied victory around convoys ONS.5 and SC.130 in May, and during the battles around ONS.18 and ON.202 in September.

The squadron moved from Iceland to Ireland in March 1944, and continued to fly anti-submarine patrols until the end of the war, achieving one certain victory in 1944 and two in 1945. The squadron was disbanded on 4 June 1945.

The squadron was credited with sinking nineteen U-boats, fifteen of which can be traced:

U-189

23 April 1943

East of Cape Farewell

U-200

24 June 1943

SW of Iceland

U-225

15 February 1942

North Atlantic

U-258

20 May 1943

North Atlantic

U-296

22 March 1945

Irish Sea

U-304

28 May 1943

SE of Cape Farewell

U-389

4 October 1943

Denmark Straits

U-470

16 October 1943

SW of Iceland*

U-540

17 October 1943

E of Cape Farewell*

U-597

12 October 1942

SW of Iceland

U-611

8 December 1942

N Atlantic

U-623

21 February 1943

N Atlantic #

U-635

6 April 1943

SW of Iceland

U-643

8 October 1943

S of Iceland*

U-740

9 June 1944

SW of Scilly

U-1017

28 April 1945

Atlantic

* Shared Victories
# Possible

Aircraft
June 1941-February 1943: Consolidated Liberator I
December 1941-December 1942: Consolidated Liberator II
June 1942-January 1944: Consolidated Liberator III
December 1943-January 1945: Consolidated Liberator V
December 1944-June 1945: Consolidated Liberator VI and VIII

Location
June 1941-July 1942: Nutts Corner
July 1942-February 1943: Ballykelly
   September 1942-April 1943: Detachment to Reykjavik
February-April 1943: Aldergrove
13 April-March 1944: Reykjavik
March 1944-June 1945: Ballykelly

Squadron Codes: OH, J, K

Duty
February 1943: No.15 Group, Coastal Command

Books

The Cinderella Service: RAF Coastal Command 1939-1945, Andrew Hendrie. A complete history of RAF Coastal Command during the Second World War, based on the author's PhD and thus backed by some very impressive original research. Covers the Command's aircraft and weapons as well as the anti-submarine, anti-shipping (both military and merchant) campaigns, and Coastal Command's own 'Cinderella' functions of air-sea rescue, photo-reconnaissance and the meteorological flights [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (3 December 2010), No. 120 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/120_wwII.html

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