No. 540 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No.540 Squadron was a long range reconnaissance unit that was formed from part of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, and that provided cover over most of occupied Europe.

540 Squadron picture of Tirpitz, Tromso, 18 October 1944
540 Squadron picture of Tirpitz,
Tromso, 18 October 1944

The squadron was formed at Leuchars (close to St. Andrews, in Fife), from H and L Flights of the PRU, and was entirely equipped with Mosquitos, using a number of different types of that aircraft during the Second World War. The squadron spent most of the next year and a half based at Leuchars, from where it carried out missions over Norway and the Baltic. Amongst its targets was the battleship Tirpitz, which spent most of its live based in Norway. A detachment was posted at Benson (Oxfordshire), to provide cover over France and Italy, and later a detachment was sent to Gibraltar, from where it covered North Africa and the south of France.

On 22 April 1943 one aircraft from the squadron, flown by Bill White and Ron Prescott, flew over Peenemunde while returning from a mission to Stettin, and produced the first film of the research centre. The squadron flew over Peenemunde repeatedly in the first part of 1943 and was the first to take pictures of the V-1 flying bomb, in November 1943.

The entire squadron moved to Benson in February 1944, but its area of operations remained vast, stretching from the Canary Islands in the Atlantic to Austria. Its main duties were to search for V-1 sites and to watch the French railways. The squadron then covered the D-Day invasion, before returning to duties over the Baltic area.

One of its most famous achievements was the confirmation that the Tirpitz had moved to Tromso after suffering damage in earlier raids. An aircraft crewed by Ft Lt Hubert Charles Sidney 'Sandy' Powell and Ft Sgt Joe Townsend photographed her on 18 October 1944, confirming earlier intelligence reports. This allowed the RAF to carry out two raids, eventually sinking the Tirpitz on 12 November 1944.

In March 1945 the squadron moved to France to carry out a photographic survey of the country. The squadron was disbanded in France on 30 September 1946,

October 1942-September 1943: de Havilland Mosquito IV
December 1942-September 1943: de Havilland Mosquito VIII
July 1943-March 1945: de Havilland Mosquito IX
May 1944-September 1946: de Havilland Mosquito XVI
November 1944-September 1945: de Havilland Mosquito VI
November 1944-November 1945: de Havilland Mosquito 32
November 1945-September 1946: de Havilland Mosquito PR.34

October 1942-February 1944: Leuchars
February 1944-March 1945: Benson
March-September 1945: Coulommiers
September-November 1945: Mount Farm
November 1945-September 1946: Benson

Squadron Codes: A, N, H

1942-1945: Long range reconnaissance

Part of
15 February 1943: No.16 Group; Coastal Command
10 July 1943: Detachment with North Africa Photographic Reconnaissance Wing; North West African Air Forces; Mediterranean Air Command



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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 February 2012), No. 540 Squadron (RAF): Second World War,

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