No. 401 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War

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No.401 Squadron, RCAF, was a fighter squadron that took part in bomber escort and fighter sweeps before joining 2nd Tactical Air Force to support the D-Day landings and the campaign in north-western Europe.

No.1 Squadron had been formed in Canada in June 1937, and moved to the United Kingdom in June 1940. It was equipped with the Hakwer Hurricane, and took part in the Battle of Britain. In October it was moved to Scotland for a rest, and remained there until February 1941, when it moved south to Driffield in Yorkshire.

The squadron was renumbered as No.401 Squadron on 1 March 1941, and moved to Digby where it flew on defensive missions.

In July 1941 the squadron began to fly offensive sweeps over France.

In September 1941 the squadron became to convert to the Supermarine Spitfire, and it flew its first Spitfire operations in October. In the same month it moved south to join the Biggin Hill Wing.

The squadron was one of three Spitfire squadrons given the task of escorting the Swordfish of No.815 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, as they attempted to attack Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen as they attempted to return from Brest to German waters during the Channel Dash of 12 February 1942. No.401 and No.121 Squadrons were unable to take off in time to join the attack force over Manston, so decided to try and cut across their route and join them at the coast. This failed, so they turned back to Manston, where they were again unable to find the Swordfish. They then turned back to try and join them over the German ships, but arrived five minutes too late. By this time the Swordfish had attacked without success, and most of them had been lost. The late arriving Spitfires had a brief clash with the German fighter escort, but had failed in their main role.

In August 1942 the squadron took part in Operation Jubilee, the disaster at Dieppe. At the time the air battle was believed to have been won by the Allies, but post-war evidence showed that German losses were much lower than believed.

From then until January 1943 the squadron took part in a mix of bomber escort missions and fighter sweeps, operating from a number of southern airfields.

From January-May 1943 the squadron was based in Yorkshire.

In May 1943 the squadron returned to the south and joined the Second Tactical Air Force.

The squadron moved to France on 17 June 1944, soon after the D-Day landings, and carried out ground attack sweeps, focusing on enemy transport and airfields.

In October 1944 the squadron moved foward to the Netherlands. From its new base it carried out fighter patrols and offensive sweeps over Germany.

On 5 October 1944 the squadron shot down a Me 262, the first to be shot down by the RAF.

On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe carried out Operation Bodenplatte, an attempt to destroy the Allied tactical air forces on the ground. JG 6 was meant to attack the base at Volkel, but instea flew over the RCAF base at Heesch just as No.401 Squadron was preparing to take off. The result was a dogfight in which JG 6's commander, Kommodore Kogler, was forced to bail out. JG 6 lost 23 pilots killed or captured from the 78 who took part in the mission, although not all of them were lost to No.401 Squadron

After the war the squadron joined the occupation forces, before being disbanded on 10 July 1945.

Aircraft
March-May 1941: Hawker Hurricane I
May-September 1941: Hawker Hurricane IIB
September-October 1941-: Supermarine Spitfire IIA
October 1941-July 1942: Supermarine Spitfire VB
July 1942-December 1942: Supermarine Spitfire IX
December 1942-October 1943: Supermarine Spitfire VB
October 1943-May 1945: Supermarine Spitfire IXB
May-June 1945: Supermarine Spitfire XIV

Location
1 March-19 October 1941: Digby
19 October 1941-18 March 1942: Biggin Hill
18 March-2 July 1942: Gravesend
2-28 July 1942: Eastchurch
28 July-2 August 1942: Martlesham Heath
2-13 August 1942: Biggin Hill
13-20 August 1942: Lympne
20 August-23 September 1942: Biggin Hill
23 September 1942-22 January 1943: Kenley
22 January-28 May 1943: Catterick
28 May-20 July 1943: Redhill
20-30 July 1943: Martlesham Heath
30 July-6 August 1943: Redhill
6 August-12 October 1942: Staplehurst
12 October 1943-7 April 1944: Biggin Hill
7-17 April 1944: Fairwood Common
17 April-17 June 1944: Tangmere
17 June-7 August 1944: B.4 Beny-sur-Mer
7-31 August 1944: B.18 Cristot
31 August-1 September 1944: B.28 Evreux/ Avrilly
1-2 September 1944: B.24 St. Andre de l'Eure
2-6 September 1944: B.44 Poix
6-20 September 1944: B.56 Evere
20 September-2 October 1944: B.68 Le Culot
2-13 October 1944: B.84 Rips
13-24 October 1944: B.80 Volkel
24 October-4 November 1944: Warmwell
4 November-5 December 1944: B.80 Volkel
5 December 1944-11 April 1945: B.88 Heesch
11-14 April 1945: B.108 Rheine
14 April-12 May 1945: B.116 Wunstorf
12 May-10 July 1945: B.152 Fassberg

Squadron Codes: YO (Hurricane and most Spitfires), T (Spitfire XIV)

Duty
-6 June 1944-: No.126 (RCAF) Wing, No.83 Group, Second Tactical Air Force

Books

 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 June 2021), No. 401 Squadron (RCAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RCAF/401_wwII.html

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