No. 39 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.39 Squadron began and ended the Second World War as a regular bomber squadron, but spent the four years from January 1941-January 1945 operating as a maritime reconnaissance and anti-shipping squadron, serving around the Mediterranean.

In the years before the Second World War No.39 Squadron had been based in India, but in August it took its Blenheims to Singapore. In April-May 1940 the squadron moved west to Egypt, but in May, with Italian entry into the war increasingly likely, the squadron moved to Aden.

After Italy entered the war No.39 Squadron made a series of bombing raids on targets in Italian East Africa, supporting the British invasion of Eritrea.

In January 1941 the squadron converted to the Boston Maryland, and flew them alongside the last Blenheims on maritime reconnaissance missions from Egypt. August saw the arrival of the Bristol Beaufort torpedo-bomber, along with a number of crews from No.86 Squadron, although the first torpedo attack would not be made until 23 January 1942 (a unsuccessful attack on a 20,000 ton liner). Anti-shipping operations began earlier, in September 1941, and in October the squadron began to take part in Operation Plug, an attempt to prevent enemy shipping from operating in the waters around Greece and Crete.

During the first part of 1942 a detachment from the squadron was based on Malta, and in August 1942 that detachment merged with ones from Nos.86 and 217 Squadrons to form a complete squadron. Those members of No.39 Squadron still in Egypt joined No.47 Squadron.

The squadron remained on Malta until February 1943 (apart from a brief period back in Egypt in October-November 1942). During this period the squadron carried out an attack on the Italian battle fleet (15 June), hitting one battleship and one destroyer. Its main duties were mine-laying sorties and attacks on enemy shipping. At the end of 1942 the squadron operated in support of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.

In June 1943 the squadron moved to Protville (Tunisia) to convert to the Bristol Beaufighter. Nos.39, 47 and 144 Squadrons formed No.328 Wing and from July-September took part in anti-shipping strikes. In February 1944 the squadron moved to Sardinia, from where it attacked targets on the south coast of France. In July 1944 the squadron moved to the Italian mainland to attack targets in the Adriatic and on the Yugoslav coast. It also flew night intruder raids over northern Italy.

In October 1944 the squadron began operations against the Greek ELAS guerillas, and from December 1944-January 1945 a detachment even moved to Athens. At the same time the squadron began to convert to the Marauder bomber. Regular bombing missions began on 7 February 1945 and the squadron continued to operate against targets in northern Italy to the end of the war.

Aircraft
August 1939-January 1941: Bristol Blenheim I
December 1940-January 1941: Bristol Blenheim IV
January 1941-January 1942: Martin Maryland I
August 1941-June 1943: Bristol Beaufort I and II
June 1943-February 1945: Bristol Beaufighter X
December 1944-September 1946: Martin Marauder III

Location
August-September 1939: Tengah (Singapore)
September 1939-April 1940: Kallang (Singapore)
April-May 1940: Lahore (Pakistan)
May 1940: Heliopolis (Egypt)
May-December 1940: Sheikh Othman (Aden)
December 1940-January 1941: Helwan (Egypt)
January-March 1941: Heliopolis
March-May 1941: Shandur
May-October 1941: Wadi Natrun
October-December 1941: Ikingi Maryut
December 1941-July 1942: L.G.86
July-August 1942: Shandur (Egypt)
August-December 1942: Luqa (Malta)
December 1942-January 1943: Shallufa
January-June 1943: Luqa
    February-June 1943: Detachment to Gianaclis
June 1943: Protville II (Tunisia)
June 1943: L.G.224 (Egypt)
June-October 1943: Protville II
October 1943: Protville II
October-November 1943: Sidi Amor
November 1943-February 1944: Reghaia (Algeria)
February-July 1944: Alghero (Sardinia)
July 1944-June 1945: Biferno (Italy)
   December 1944-January 1945: Detachment to Hassani (Athens)

Squadron Codes: XZ (Blenheim), Y (Beaufort), F (Beaufighter, Marauder)

Duty
August 1939-April 1940: Singapore
May-December 1940: Bomber squadron, Aden
January 1941-January 1945: Anti-shipping, maritime reconnaissance, Mediterranean
February 1945 onwards: Bomber Squadron, Italy

Books
Blenheim Squadrons of World War Two, Jon Lake. This book looks at the entire RAF service career of the Bristol Blenheim, from its debut as a promising fast bomber, through the deadly disillusionment of the blitzkrieg, on to its work in the Middle East and Mediterranean, where the aircraft found a new lease of life. Lake also looks at the use of the Blenheim as an interim fighter aircraft and its use by Coastal Command. cover cover cover
Bristol Beaufighter, Jerry Scutts (Crowood Aviation). A detailed look at the development and service career of the Bristol Beaufighter, the first dedicated night fighter to enter RAF Service. Superceded by the Mosquito in that role, the Beaufighter went on to serve as a deadly anti-shipping weapon, and to earn the nickname "whispering death" over the jungles of Burma. cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 October 2008), No. 39 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/39_wwII.html

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