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No.651 Squadron was the first of fifteen Air Observation Post squadrons formed to provide light aircraft for artillery officers who would observe and correct the accuracy of their own guns.
The idea of an Air Observation Post was suggested in 1938 by Lieutenant-General H.C. Bazeley, RA, at that date a captain and secretary of the Royal Artillery Flying Club. He observed that a large number of artillery officers were also amateur fliers and suggested that they should be equipped with light aircraft which they would use to fly above their own guns (on the friendly side of the front line), using the extra altitude to observe enemy targets that were hidden from ground level. The light aircraft would rely on their low altitude and manoeuvrability to escape attack (it proved very hard for a high speed fighter to shoot down a small aircraft flying slowly in tight circles near the ground, as the fighter would have very little time to attack before it was past its target). Most of the pilots and observers came from the army, while the RAF maintained the aircraft.
The first OP flight was formed in February 1940 and was equipped with Taylorcraft Auster aircraft, a civil light aircraft. The flight went to France but played no part in the fighting. It did manage to escape back to Britain, where the idea gained supporters and opponents - Sir Alan Brooke favoured it while Air Marshal Barratt opposed the idea. Despite the RAF opposition the first OP Squadron, No.651, was formed in July 1941 (officially being activated on 1 August 1941). It spent the next year training in the UK, before departing for North Africa on 30 October 1942.
The squadron went into action in Algeria on 12 November 1942 and was used to support the First Army. Once in combat the squadron dispersed to a wide variety of landing strips located as close as possible to the artillery. No.651 Squadron supported the First Army during the campaign in Algeria and Tunisia (No.654 Squadron joined it in North Africa in December 1942). No.561 Squadron then took part in the invasion of Sicily and the campaign in Italy.
After the war the squadron moved to Egypt, before spending three years engaged in army co-operation duties in Palestine. The squadron survived until 1955, when the wartime squadron was disbanded and No.657 Squadron was renumbered as No.651.
August 1941-September 1942: British Taylorcraft Plus (see Auster)
July 1942-October 1943: British Taylorcraft Auster I
August 1943-August 1944: British Taylorcraft Auster III
May 1944-October 1945: British Taylorcraft Auster IV
December 1944-June 1947: British Taylorcraft Auster V
August 1941-July 1942: Old Sarum
July-August 1942: Dumfries
August 1942: Exxlefechan
August-October 1942: Kidsdale
October 1942-May 1945: Dispersed bases
May-October 1945: Klagenfurt
Squadron Codes: -
November 1942-1945: Air Observation Post, North Africa, Sicily and Italy