Squadron Swapovers - 615 and 253 during the Battle of Britain

253 Squadron at Kenley 1st December 1940 L to R, sitting on wing: Sgt. RA Innes - P/O RC Graves – Sgt.A Edgley – Sgt. CB Brown – P/O DA Pennington – P/O DS Yapp L to R standing: F/O AF Eckford – Capt. de Scitivaux – F/O SR Peacock-Edwards – P/O G Marsland – F/Lt. RM Duke-Woolley – S/Ldr PR Walker – F/Lt. RF Watts – F/O Wall (Adjutant) – F/O Henry (Intelligence) L to R sitting: Sgt. AS Dredge – Sgt. BJ Moore – Sgt. EHC Kee (P/O Corkett and P/O Greenwood not present)
The Bristol Bombay in flight
IWM Online collection (IWM CH 2932). AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE (CH 2932) Original wartime caption: The Bristol Bombay in flight. Copyright: © IWM
ROYAL AIR FORCE FLYING TRAINING COMMAND, 1940-1945. (HU 60596A) Oblique aerial view of Prestwick airfield from the west, showing the northern section of the airfield, including the Scottish Aviation Ltd complex, and the threshhold of the 6,600 ft x 300 ft concrete main runway (14/32) under construction (extreme right). Immediately to the left of the runway can be seen the remains of the Scottish Flying Training School buildings.
IWM Online Collection (IWM HU 60596A)

Accounts of the Battle of Britain talk of squadrons being “relieved” or “replaced” by another from elsewhere, but was it simply a case of “A” replacing “B” on the same day and carrying on as normal?

The experience of Kenley’s two original Battle of Britain squadrons shows it could be quite different and their diaries reveal there was a lot more involved than is often recounted. In both instances, the notification of the respective squadron move appears only to have been given on the morning of the event.

64 Squadron had arrived at Kenley on 16 May 1940, seeing continual operations until their replacement by 616 Squadron, from the 12 Group station at Leconfield, on 19 August. The respective squadron diaries reflect the situation each found themselves in at the time. The 64 Squadron diary merely states, “Squadron moved to Leconfield”. Given the experiences of the previous day, when Kenley had suffered its most devastating air raid,  this is hardly surprising. In comparison, the 616 Squadron diary notes “06.30: Squadron released for move to Kenley” adding that 14 aircraft had taken off between “12.40 – 14.10: “Squadron proceeding to Kenley. Believed 64 Squadron who flew back to Leconfield”, seemingly a simple and straightforward squadron handover.

However, the experiences of 615 and 253 in their swap later in the month were somewhat different.

253 Squadron were stationed at Prestwick and Turnhouse in 13 Group, responsible for guarding the Firth of Clyde, so the distances involved were somewhat greater and would require greater co-ordination.  On 29 August, the 615 Squadron Diary notes “Signal received moving our pilots and aircraft to Prestwick, Scotland also 32 airmen by air. The remainder of the squadron to remain at Kenley to look after 253 Squadron who are replacing us”, the 253 Squadron diary is almost a repeat of this.

The pilots, aircraft and the same number of ground crew from 253 Squadron made the move south first on the day. The key to the move appears to have been the availability of transport aircraft to facilitate the ground crew transfer. It transpired that, while 12 aircraft were successfully flown the Prestwick, only 15 of the ground crew were able to make the move in a Bristol Bombay, presumably this was the same aircraft that had brought in some of the personnel from 253 Squadron earlier.

Due to the losses in aircrew suffered in the fighting, 615 Squadron had had to leave some of its aircraft behind. These were collected the following day, when Squadron Leader Kayll with 6 pilots returned to collect them. The remaining selected ground crew headed north in the aircraft bringing the pilots to Kenley.

By the end of August, there were two squadrons split between three bases each operating pooled personnel.

The 253 Squadron return, at Kenley, for 31 August gives the following “19 aircraft, 19 officers and 37 other ranks at Kenley. 1 officer and 121 other ranks at Prestwick. 56 other ranks at Turnhouse.” Even stranger, the powers that be decided to move the 253 Squadron Maintenance Flight from Turnhouse to Grangemouth on 1 September.

253 Squadron finally completed their move to Kenley on 16 September when the Squadron HQ, with the remainder of “A” and “B” Flights, made the journey from Prestwick and the Maintenance Flight arrived from Grangemouth. Whilst the bulk of the remaining 615 Squadron personnel made the journey to Prestwick, by coach and train, on the same day the squadron was not fully reunited until 20 September when the party responsible for the squadron stores and equipment finally arrived.

Sources:
Brue Barrymore Halpenny: Action Stations 4
Bruce Barrymore Halpenny: Action Stations 7
Bruce Barrymore Halpenny: Action Stations 9
The National Archives, Kew

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