Douglas Boston in RAF Service

The Douglas Boston was the best of a series of American light bombers to serve with the RAF during the Second World War, serving with ten RAF and SAAF bomber squadrons and three night intruder squadrons. 

The Boston III was often used to replace the Bristol Blenheim. With a top speed of over 300mph and a maximum bomb load of 4,000lb it was a great improvement on the Blenheim. The better known North American Mitchell was actually slower than the Boston, had a higher standard but lower maximum bomb load, but did benefit from a longer range. 

Bomber Squadrons - Britain

The Boston III began to reach Britain in the summer of 1941, having been ordered in 1940 (the Boston I and II were designations given to similar aircraft ordered by the French, and which entered RAF service after the fall of France).

The first squadron to get the Boston was No.88 (Hong Kong) Squadron, replacing its Blenheims in October 1941. Nos.107 and 226 squadrons were next to gain the Boston, but it would be two years before a fourth bomber squadron – No.342 (Free French) – would receive the type.

Nos.99 and 226 squadrons were the first to take the Boston into combat, taking part in the unsuccessful attempts to stop the German warships Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau return to German ports from Brest in February 1942 (the Channel Dash). Only one aircraft from the two squadrons actually found the German ships, inflicting no damage but escaping intact.

The main role of these Boston squadrons was to carry out daylight bombing raids over France, Belgium and Holland as part of the RAF’s policy of “leaning over the channel”. These raids were intended to provoke the Luftwaffe into responding, generally without success, but the Boston did prove to be a capable medium bomber, fast and robust with a useful bomb load. The first proper Boston attack came on 8 March 1942, and was attack on the Matford Works at Poissy.  

During 1943 No.99 and 226 converted to new aircraft while No.342 (Free French) Squadron converted to the Boston. The three Boston squadrons (Nos.88, 107 and 342) formed 137th Wing, 2nd Tactical Air Force. In the first half of 1944 they concentrated on attacking invasion targets in northern France, amongst them coastal defences, German airfields and communications. 

After D-Day the wing moved to France, supporting the Allied armies as they advanced towards Germany. The Boston was slowly phased out during this period – No.107 Squadron was withdrawn and replaced with No.226, which had converted to the Mitchell, and in April 1945 No.88 Squadron was disbanded, leaving No.342 (Free French) as the only Boston squadron still operating in Germany at the end of the war. 

Night Intruder

The Boston III (Intruder) was used by three squadrons – Nos.23, 418 and 605 – as a night intruder, operating over German occupied Europe at night in a role made more famous by the Mosquito, but pioneered in part by the Havoc, the name given to earlier versions of the DB-7 taken from French orders.

North Africa and Italy

The Boston entered service in North Africa with No.24 Squadron SAAF in November 1941, just before the first American A-20s arrived in the area. At first No.24 SAAF used its Bostons on unescorted reconnaissance missions in small groups, and suffered very heavy losses. By the end of December the squadron had to be withdrawn to recover. The squadron returned to the fight in 22 February 1942, this time operating with fighter escorts.

They were joined on 15 March 1942 by No.12 Squadron SAAF. The two squadrons operated together during the desert battles of 1942, which culminated in the second battle of El Alamein. In the period before that battle they were used to attack German tank columns, air fields and lines of communication, while after the victory at El Alamein they carried out a large number of low level attacks. These were dangerous missions and the squadrons suffered heavy losses, but they were able to destroy a large number of the crucial soft skinned transport vehicles needed by the retreating Germans and Italians.

Douglas Boston IIIs over Tunisia, 1943
Douglas Boston IIIs over Tunisia, 1943

The number of Boston squadrons doubled in March 1943 when Nos.18 and 144 converted to the aircraft. All four squadrons were involved in the final fighting in Tunisia, which ended with the German surrender in May 1943. They then took part in the early stages of the fighting in Italy, taking part in the invasion of Sicily and southern Italy. The two South African squadrons converted to the B-26 Marauder in December 1943-January 1944, and for most of 1944 only two squadrons operated the Boston.

The number rose to four again in October 1944 when Nos.13 and 55 squadrons converted to the Boston from the Baltimore. The four squadrons (Nos.13, 18, 55 and 114) formed 232nd Wing, operating the Boston IV and V. The wing operated at night, often carrying out prolonged nuisance raids over German positions, attacking the same point at regular intervals through the night.

Later in 1944 No.13 (from October 1944), No.18, No.55 (from October 1944) and No.114 Squadrons formed 232nd Wing. The Boston IV and V replaced the Boston III and the wing carried out night bombing missions in Northern Italy. A Boston V is credited with carrying out the final night raid in Italy on 30 April 1945. After that the Bostons were used to drop surrender leaflets to isolated German troops. The four squadrons retained their Bostons until 1946.

Douglas Boston Squadrons

13

IV V

Italy, 44-46

18

III IV V

North Africa, Italy, 43-46

23

III

Night Intruder

55

IV V

Italy, 44-46

88

III IV V

First one, Europe 41-45

107

III

Europe 41-45

114

III IV V

North Africa, Italy, 43-46

173

III

Communications

223

III

Training

226

III

Europe 41-43

342

III IV V

Europe 43-45

418

III

Night Intruder

605

III

Night Intruder

12 SAAF

III

North Africa, Italy 42-44

24 SAAF

III

North Africa, Italy 41-43

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 September 2008), Douglas Boston in RAF Service , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_douglas_boston_RAF.html

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