No. 46 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.46 Squadron began the Second World War as a Hawker Hurricane squadron, fighting in Norway, in the battle of Britain and on Malta. It then became a Beaufighter day and night fighter squadron, operating around the Mediterranean, before in 1945 returning to Britain to become a transport squadron.

No.46 Squadron converted to the new Hawker Hurricane in February 1939. At the outbreak of the Second World War the squadron was based at RAF Digby, just to the south of Lincoln, from where it flew convoy escort missions off the East Coast, with a brief move to Acklington, on the Northumbrian coast, from early December to mid January 1940.

On 9 May 1940 No.46 Squadron embarked on HMS Glorious and departed for Norway. The squadron's involvement in the Norwegian campaign was almost entirely disastrous. The trip to Norway cost two aircraft, and needed two attempts, and the squadron was only operational from 26 May until 7 June, by which time the German invasion of France and the Low Countries meant that every modern fighter aircraft was needed elsewhere. The evacuation began with a technical triumph, when the squadron's Hurricanes landed on the deck of HMS Glorious, despite lacking all of the normal carrier equipment, but it ended in tragedy when the Glorious ran into the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and was sunk. Only two of the 59 RAF personnel onboard the ship survived, both pilots from No.46 Squadron, while three more pilots escaped from Norway on the troopship MV Arandora Star.

Despite this disaster the squadron was operational again by the end of June (once again at Digby). August saw a brief spell at RAF Duxford, but the real return to combat came at the start of September, when the squadron moved south to take part on the later stages of the Battle of Britain.

The squadron briefly returned to the north early in 1941, before in May it began a move to the Middle East that would not be completed for an entire year. While the ground crews arrived in the Middle East on schedule, the pilots were diverted to Malta, where they took part in the defence of the island. On 22 July 1941 the remaining pilots were absorbed by No.261 Squadron.

On 8 May 1942 the squadron moved to Idku, where the ground crew were joined by a detachment of Beaufighters from No.89 Squadron. The reformed No.46 Squadron quickly began operations as a night and day fighter unit, patrolling over Egypt and protecting coastal shipping. In August 1943 the squadron gained some offensive duties, beginning with intruder missions over the Greek islands, while fighter detachments were scattered around the eastern Mediterranean. From July to December 1944 the squadron operated the de Havilland Mosquito alongside the Beaufighter, before on 13 December it left the Middle East and returned to Britain.

On 9 January 1945 the squadron reformed as a transport squadron, equipped with the Short Stirling. Three months later the squadron began to fly troops out to India, a task it continued to perform until the end of the war.

Aircraft
February 1939-December 1940: Hawker Hurricane I
December 1940-May 1941: Hawker Hurricane IIA
May-June 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
May-July 1941: Hawker Hurricane IIC
May-July 1942: Bristol Beaufighter I
May 1942-December 1944: Bristol Beaufighter VI
April-July 1944: Bristol Beaufighter X
July 1944-December 1944: de Havilland Mosquito XII
February 1945-March 1946: Short Stirling V

Location
November 1937-December 1939: Digby
December 1939-January 1940: Acklington
January-May 1940: Digby

May 1940: Skaanland and Bardufoss
May-June 1940: Bardufoss

June-August 1940: Digby
August 1940: Duxford
August-September 1940: Digby
September-November 1940: Stapleford Tawney
November-December 1940: North Weald
December 1940-February 1941: Digby
February-March 1941: Church Fenton
March-May 1941: Sherburn-in-Elmet

June 1941: Luqa
June-July 1941: Hal Far
July 1941: Kasfareet
July-September 1941: Abu Sueir
September 1941-May 1942: Kilo 17
May-July 1942: Idku
July 1942: El Khanka
July 1942-December 1944: Idku, with detachments around Middle East

January 1945-October 1946: Stoney Cross

Squadron Codes: PO, C, N, R

Duty
Day Fighter Squadron: 1937-July 1941
Day and Night Fighter Squadron: May 1942-December 1944
Transport Squadron: January 1945 onwards

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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Hurricane Aces 1941-45, Andrew Thomas. This book covers the later career of the Hurricane, starting with its final months as a front line fighter in Britain in 1941 before moving on to look at its career in North Africa, the Mediterranean and over the jungles of Burma [see more]
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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.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 June 2009), No. 46 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/46_wwII.html

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