No. 172 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.172 Squadron was the first squadron to be equipped with the Leigh Light Wellington, and played a major role in the early development of Coastal Command, having a particularly successful year during 1943.

In February 1942 Sir Philip Joubert, the then head of Coastal Command, convinced the Air Ministry to let him form a full squadron of Leigh Light equipped Wellingtons, despite having earlier been a supporter of the rival Helmore Light. The first step came on 8 March with the formation of No.1417 (Leigh Light) Flight, which became No.172 Squadron at Chivenor on 4 April 1942. Five experimental aircraft had arrived by May, and the squadron flew its first night patrol on 3 June 1942. During this patrol the Italian submarine Luigi Torelli was found and attacked twice and suffered damage that forced it to make for Spain, where it was nearly interned. This was reported as two attacks on U-boats, and the concept of the Leigh Light was seen to be effective. The squadron's first victory came in the following month when on 5 July it sank U-502, Coastal Command's first U-boat kill and one of two in July. This was the only success during 1942, a year that also saw seven aircraft detached to Wick for operations over the North Sea (from August). On 14 September this detachment formed the basis of No.179 Squadron.

1943 was the squadron's most successful year. Its first victory came on 19 February when it sank U-268 over the Bay of Biscay, but the key to its most successful period was the arrival of ASV Mark III radar. This was sensitive enough to allow the Wellingtons to get close to the U-boats before the light was turned on, thus making it much harder for the U-boats to evade the attack. The radar arrived in March, and the squadron's first victory with it came on 20 March when G for George, flown by Flying Officer P. H. Stembridge, caught U-665 in the process of crashing diving and hit it with Mk XI Torpex depth charges. This victory came two days into Operation Enclose, Coastal Command's first large scale campaign over the Bay of Biscay during 1943. During this period the squadron achieved a rate of one sighting for every four sorties, and sank six U-boats between March and July, four of them to the north-west of Cape Ortegal.

After this impressive burst of success the squadron settled down into the rather more mundane routine of anti-submarine patrols in increasingly safe waters, while the longer range Liberator squadrons continued the active battle against the U-boats. Only two more victories were achieved by the squadron, both in January 1944. One of these came to the north of the Azores, where a detachment was then based. In September 1944 the squadron moved to Northern Ireland, from where it carried out patrols over the Atlantic until disbanded on 4 June 1945.





5 July 1942

West of La Rochelle


19 February 1943

Bay of Biscay


20 March 1943



10 April 1943

Bay of Biscay


24 June 1943

NW of Cape Ortegal


24 July 1943

NW of Cape Ortegal 549


3 July 1943

NW of Cape Ortegal


29 July 1943

NW of Cape Ortegal


30 January 1944

W of Bordeaux


31 January 1944

N of Azores

April 1942-March 1943: Vickers Wellington VIII
December 1942-October 1943: Vickers Wellington XII
August 1943-June 1945: Vickers Wellington XIV

April 1942-September 1944: Chivenor
    August-September 1942: Detachment to Skitten
September 1944-June 1945: Limavady

Squadron Codes: B, L, OG

1942-1945: Anti-Submarine, Coastal Command

Part of:
15 February 1943: No.19 Group; Coastal Command


Wellington in Action, Ron Mackay. A well illustrated guide to the development and service career of this classic British bomber. Mackay looks at the early development of the Wellington and the unusual geodetic frame that gave it great strength, the period when the Wellington was the mainstay of Bomber Command and the many uses found for the aircraft after it was replaced in the main bomber stream.
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 January 2010), No. 172 Squadron (RAF): Second World War,

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