No. 223 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.223 Squadron went through two incarnations during the Second World War, first as a medium/ light bomber squadron in the Middle East and second as an electronic counter-measures squadron in Bomber Command.

The squadron reformed at Nairobi on 15 December 1936 around a detached flight from No.45 Squadron. At first it only had a single flight, using the Gordon until February 1937 then the Vincent from February 1937 to June 1938. In June 1938 the squadron received the Vickers Wellesley, Barnes Wallis's first geodesic bomber. After the Italian entry into the war in 1940 the squadron became one of the very few to take the Wellesley into combat. In June 1940 it began to carry out bombing raids over Italian East Africa from its base in the Sudan. The squadron moved to Aden at the start of the Italian invasion of British Somaliland, from where on 18 August four of its Wellesleys bombed the Italian airfields at Addis Ababa, destroying a number of aircraft including the Duke of Aosta's private aircraft.

Martin Baltimores on Malta, 1943
Martin Baltimores
on Malta, 1943

In April 1941 the squadron moved to Egypt, where it became an Operational Training Unit for squadrons converting to the Blenheim, Maryland, Boston and Baltimore medium bombers in the Middle East. Between October 1941 and January 1942 a detachment from the squadron used the Maryland for strategic reconnaissance missions over the Western Desert.

The squadron then converted to the Baltimore, resuming full time bomber operations in May 1942, just in time to take part in the Battle of Gazala, Rommel's successful offensive that only ended at Alamein. By the end of the year the tables had been turned. The squadron advanced west through Libya in the aftermath of the British victory at El Alamein, reaching Tunisia in April 1943.

In July 1943 the squadron moved to Malta to attack tactical targets on Sicily during the preparations for the invasion (the aircraft moved first and were only joined by the ground echelon in August). In September the squadron moved to Italy, and was used to attack enemy communications. On 12 August 1944 it was renumbered as No.30 Squadron, SAAF.

On 23 August 1944 the squadron reformed for a second time at Oulton, this time as the second 'Jostle' unit in No.100 Group of Bomber Command. The squadron was equipped with a mix of B-24Hs and B-24Js from the US 8th Air Force and used these aircraft on radar counter measures and electronic intelligence missions to support Bomber Command's main force. 'Jostle' itself was radar jamming equipment. The B-24 could carry up to thirty jamming sets, and carried two special operators to work the equipment. Their role was so secret that the rest of the crews didn't know what they were doing!

In Mid July 1944 the squadron was given Big Ben equipment, which was mistakenly believed to be able to jam the guidance system of the V-2 Rocket. The first Big Ben patrol came on 19 September (this was also the squadron's first counter-measures mission with the Liberator). The Big Ben sorties involved four hour long daylight stints off the Dutch coast, but it soon became clear that it was having no effect, and the equipment was removed in November. The squadron's last daylight patrol had already been flown, on 25 October, and after that it flew at night to support the Bomber stream.

The squadron flew two main types of missions. The most common were spoof raids using 'window'. One line of aircraft would use 'window' to create a radar screen over the North Sea. Another flight of eight aircraft would then emerge from this screen and use 'window' to create the impression of a raid heading for a particular target. Once the German fighters were heading for the wrong area the main raid would then emerge from the screen. Once the Germans became used to this plan and ignored the feint the order of events was reversed, with the main raid leaving the radar screen first. The second sort of mission saw two or three jamming aircraft accompany the main force, then circle above the target using their jammers against German radar.  

By December 1944 all of the squadron's aircraft were carrying Jostle, Carpet (designed to jam Wurzburg radar) and Piperack (for use against SN-2 radar). The squadron's jamming aircraft would remain over the target after the main force had left in an attempt to protect stragglers against German attack.

In March 1945 the squadron began to convert to the B-17 although some B-24s were retained to the end of the war. The squadron's last operational mission came on 2-3 May 1945 when it carried out a spoof 'window' raid over Kiel during the final Bomber Command raid of the war.

Aircraft
June 1938-April 1941: Vickers Wellesley I
May 1941-February 1942: Martin Maryland I
May 1941-January 1942: Bristol Blenheim I
October 1941-January 1942: Douglas Boston III
January-June 1942: Martin Baltimore I and II
June 1942-October 1943: Martin Baltimore III and IIIA
June 1943-February 1944: Martin Baltimore IV
February-August 1944: Martin Baltimore V
August 1944-July 1945: Consolidated Liberator IV
April-July 1945: Boeing Fortress II and III

Location
December 1936-September 1939: Nairobi
September 1939-January 1940: Summit
January-May 1940: Khartoum
May-December 1940: Summit
    August 1940: Detachment to Aden
December 1940-April 1941: Wadi Gazouza
April 1941-April 1942: Sandur, with detachments to:
     October-December 1941: Fuka
     December 1941-January 1942: El Gubbi
     January 1942: Tmimi
     January-February 1942: Sidi Azeiz
April-June 1942: Maaten Bagush
June 1942: Amriya
June-September 1942: Qassassin
September 1942-March 1943: Amriya
March 1943: Sirtan West
March 1943: Sirtan North
March-April 1943: Ben Gardane
April 1943: Medenine Main
April-June 1943: La Fauconnerie
June 1943: Enfidaville South
June-August 1943: Reyville
    July-August 1943: Detachment to Luqa
August 1943: Monte Lungo
August-September 1943: Gerbini 3
September-October 1943: Brindisi
October 1943-March 1944: Celone
March-June 1944: Biferno
June-August 1944: Pescara

August 1944-July 1945: Oulton

Squadron Codes: AO (Wellesley), 6G (Liberator and Fortress)

Duty
1936-1941: Wellesley Bomber Squadron, Middle East
1941-1941: Operational Training Unit for medium bombers, Middle East
1941-1943: Bomber Squadron, Mediterranean and Italy
1944-1945: Electronic Counter Measures, Bomber Command

Part of
September 1939: Sudan Wing; RAF Middle East
11 November 1941: No.202 Group; RAF Middle East (As OTU)
27 October 1942: No.232 Wing; HQ Western Desert; RAF Middle East
10 July 1943: No.232 Wing; Tactical Bomber Force; North African Tactical Air Force; Northwest African Air Forces; Mediterranean Air Command
23 August 1944 onwards: No.100 Group, Bomber Command

Books
 Consolidated B-24 Liberator (Crowood Aviation), Martin W. Bowman. A well balanced book that begins with a look at the development history of the B-24, before spending nine out of its ten chapters looking at the combat career of the aircraft in the USAAF, the US Navy and the RAF. cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 February 2011), No. 223 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/223_wwII.html

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