No. 438 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War

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No.438 Squadron (RCAF) was a Canadian fighter squadron that served with the 2nd Tactical Air Force, supporting the Allied campaign in north-western Europe, ending the war in Germany.

The squadron had originally been part of the home based RCAF. It had been formed as No.18 Squadron, and equipped with the Armstrong Whitworth Atlas, a single engine biplane army cooperation aircraft.

The squadron was then renumbered as No.118 Squadron, and became a bomber-reconnaissance squadron equipped with a mix of Lysanders and Grumman Goblins (a Canadian built version of the Grumman FF fighter, the first carrier aircraft with retractable landing gear).

The squadron was then converted into a fighter unit, equipped with the Curtiss Kittyhawk, and was based in Alaska and British Columbia to guard against any possible Japanese air attack.

By 1943 it was clear that the danger of any such raids was low, and the squadron's personnel moved to the UK. They arrived on 15 November 1943 and went to the RCAF Depot at Bournemouth, where the squadron was renumbered as No.438 on 18 November (the RAF also has a No.118 Squadron, which was also a fighter unit).

The newly renumbered squadron moved to Digby in Lincolnshire two days later, where it received the Hawker Hurricane IV. These were used for training in ground attack duties.

In January 1944 the squadron moved to Ayr (near Glasgow), where it joined No.143 Wing. In March the Hurricanes were replaced with Hawker Typhoons, and the squadron moved south to Hurn, Dorset.

On 20 March the squadron flew its first operation. Before the D-Day landings it was used to attack German communications targets, radar stations and other targets in France, mainly from Hurn, apart from a brief move to Funtington in West Sussex in April.

After the D-Day landings the squadron flew battlefield support missions, attacking German positions on the front line, headquarters and flying sweeps to attack German transport units behind the front line. The squadron moved to Normandy on 28 June, and took part in the advance east, moving to Belgium on 6 September and to Eindhoven in the Netherlands on 26 September.

The squadron suffered relatively heavy damage during Operation Bodenplatte of 1 January 1945, the last major Luftwaffe operation in the west. Nos.438 and 439 Squadrons were about to take off from Eindhoven when the attack began, so many of their aircraft were caught exposed on the runway. Eight Typhoons from No.438 Squadron and eight from No.439 Squadron were caught lined up on the runway ready to take off. Flt Lt Pete Wilson, the commander of No.438 Squadron, was mortally wounded in the initial attack. During the attack 60 of the 125 Typhoons at the base were damaged, although of these 24 were repaired locally and ten elsewhere, leaving 17 destroyed and nine damaged too badly to be worth repairing.

The squadron remained at Eindhoven until 19 March 1945 when it briefly returned to Warmwell in Dorset. On 3 April 1945 it moved to RAF B.100 Goch. This had been the first RAF base in Germany, and was a temporary airfield with a perforated steel plate runway. The squadron was only there for a few days before moving to Osnabruck. It spent the rest of the war based in Germany, carrying out ground attack sweeps over the German rear areas.

After the war the squadron briefly joined the occupation forces, before being disbanded on 26 August 1945.

Aircraft
November 1943-May 1944: Hawker Hurricane IV
March 1944-August 1945: Hawker Typhoon IB

Location
20 November-19 December 1943: Digby (Lincolnshire)
19 December 1943-10 January 1944: Wittering
10 January-18 March 1944: Ayr (Glasgow)
18 March-3 April 1944: Hurn (Dorset)
3-20 April 1944: Funtington (West Sussex)
20 April-27 June 1944: Hurn
28 June-31 August 1944: B.9 Lantheuil
31 August-3 September 1944: B.24 St Andre de l'Eure
3-6 September 1944: B.48 Amiens-Glisy
6-26 September 1944: B.58 Melsbroek (Brussels)
26 September 1944-19 March 1945: B.78 Eindhoven (Netherlands)
19 March-3 April 1945: Warmwell (Dorset)
3-12 April 1945: B.100 Goch
12-21 April 1945: B.110 Osnabruck
21 April-29 May 1945: B.150 Hustedt
29 May-25 August 1945: B.166 Flensburg
25-26 Augusg 1945: Dunsford

Squadron Codes: F3

Duty
-6 June 1944-: No.143 (RCAF) Wing, No.83 Group, Second Tactical Air Force

Books

 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 November 2021), No. 438 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RCAF/438_wwII.html

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