History of 410 Squadron

Part I
Training and Waiting

(June 1941 – February 1943)




Early in 1941, as the training schools in Canada got into their stride and the flow of aircrew graduates to the United Kingdom began to increase in volume, the RCAF started forming additional units to join the three squadrons that had been sent overseas in the previous year. With memories of the Battle of Britain and the “blitz" on London, Liverpool, Coventry and other cities still fresh in everyone's mind, priority was naturally given to the creation of more fighter and night fighter units for the defence of the United Kingdom. Between March and June 1941, ten new RCAF squadrons were formed in Britain; of these, three were day fighters, three were night fighters and the remainder were divided between Coastal and Bomber Commands.

No. 410, the last of the night fighter units to be formed, began life at Ayr in Scotland on the last day of June 1941, under the command of S/L P.Y. Davoud,
(1) a very able and experienced Canadian officer. His two flight commanders were F/Ls R.L.F. Day, DFC (RAF) and M. Lipton (RCAF). Robert Day had won his decoration one night in May of that year when he and his air gunner destroyed two enemy aircraft. His squadron, No. 141, was also stationed at Ayr and was equipped with Defiants, a type which No. 410 was to fly for almost a year.

(1) Except where otherwise indicated, personnel mentioned were members of the RCAF

The Defiant was a single-engined monoplane carrying a pilot and air gunner and armed with four machine-guns in a power-driven turret. It had first been used on operations as a day fighter in May 1940 and won several spectacular victories over Dunkirk. Once the enemy fighter pilots became familiar with the new type, however, its advantage was gone, and after one disastrous encounter over the Channel in July 1940, in which No. 141
(2) Squadron lost six out of a formation of nine aircraft, the Defiant was withdrawn from deer operations and assigned to night fighter work.

(2) No. 141 Squadron had provided a nucleus of experienced crews for the new Canadian units.

While awaiting deliver of their aircraft the aircrew of No. 410 Squadron made some familiarization flights on the Defiants of No. 141. One of these flights on 8 July, Sgt.-Pilot B.P. Dawbarn (RAF), who had just been posted to the RCAF unit the previous day, crashed and was killed. He was the first of 60 members of the Cougar Squadron who gave their lives in the war. On the same day No. 410 received its first five Defiants and by the end of the month its (3) full complement of 18 (16 for duty with two in reserve) had arrived. Once the aircraft were delivered, S/L Davoud lost no time getting his crews ready for operations. Before the end of July, F/L Day's "A" Flight was passed as operational and on 5 August it flew its 8 Defiants to Acklington in Northumberland. The next day Headquarters and "B" Flights left Ayr for Drem in East Lothian, near the Firth of Forth. Its training completed, "B" flight was declared ready for duty on 29 August, so that within two months of its formation the whole Squadron had become operational. On 2 September, "A" Flight moved again from Acklington to Ouston, a few miles from Newcastle-upoa-Tyne, where it remained until early in April 1942. During this period personnel alternated between Drem(5) and Ouston, spending about a fortnight away on detachment before returning to base.

3) The night fighters were painted black and carried the squadron letters RA with a third letter to designate the individual aircraft.

(4) In an accident near Gifford that night, Sgt. D.W. Hall and F/S D.G.Cresswell (both RAF) lost their lives when their Defiant crashed into a hill.

(5) A month after the move to Drem S/L Davoud, having seen the Squadron through its formative stages, left to take command of No. 409 Squadron and was succeeded by S/L Lipton. F/L R.M.M.D. Lucas (RAF) was the new commander of "B" Flight. The weeks passed quietly at Drem and Ouston Aircraft and crews were at "readiness" every night, but apart from an occasional patrol or scramble there was little operational activity. Training, however, kept the crews occupied, the Squadron averaging about 350 hours a month, while operational flying averaged only about 25 hours.

Although RCAF in name, No. 410 was, during the early months, largely RAF in personnel. At the end of Novermber, 1941, there were 86 Canadians (12 aircrew and 74 groundcrew) in its total strength of 248 officers and airmen (48 aircrew and 200 groundcrew). The next few weeks saw an influx of RCAF ground personnel, as the "Canadianization" of our squadrons was carried out, and by the end of March 1942, the Cougars had become almost 60 % RCAF (22 out of 51 aircrew and 122 out of 195 groundcrew). At one period there were several Australians in the Squadron and also a Belgian officer, P/0 A.G.T. Van den Branden, while the RCAF contingent included some Americans.

One incident which occurred at Brem brought the Squadron its first decoration. On the night of 8 December, F/L Day had taken off with his air gunner, F/S J.J. Townsend (RAF), on a scramble after a "bandit" reported in the vicinity. Unable to locate the raider, F/L Day was instructed to return to base. The weather and visibility were very poor and as the Defiant came in on the approach run, with undercarriage down, it hit the top of a belt of trees, about six miles from base, and ploughed its way through them. In the process, the wings were torn away and the engine became detached; the Perspex from the pilot's cockpit cover and the turret cupola were also torn away. The aircraft was finally stopped by an almost head-on crash into a large tree, which was demolished, and the fuselage came to rest ten yards beyond the tree, lying on its starboard side with the engine a few feet ahead. The engine and the fuselage caught fire, the flames rising to ten or twelve feet. The flames did not last long as the petrol tanks had fallen out in the wood.

"Although suffering from severe shock and in collapsing conditions, F/S Townsend at once crawled from his turret and assisted his pilot, who, though conscious, was suffering from severe head injuries. The rescuer released the pilot’s harness and, with some difficulty as the pilot's legs were jammed in the rudder pedals, he managed to extricate him. In his dazed condition F/S Townsend did not know that the petrol tanks had fallen out and his anxiety was therefore increased because of the fire near the aircraft's bulkhead. He had just dragged the pilot clear when a civilian arrived who assisted him to carry the injured pilot from the aircraft.

"With great forethought, F/S Townsend inflated and inverted the dinghy to serve as a bed for the injured pilot and wrapped him in his parachute for warmth. Securing the first-aid kit from the fuselage, he administered morphine to the pilot, who was suffering acutely, and applied bandages to his head wounds. He then ensured that the guns, where were apparently undamaged, were made safe. Throughout, this airman, without any thought for his own welfare, although suffering from cuts over the eye and severe shock, displayed most praiseworthy conduct."

The British Empire Medal was awarded to the gallant air gunner whose "every thought (eyewitnesses testified) was for his pilot". Three weeks before the accident F/L Day had taken over "B" Flight from F/L Lucas when the latter was posted to an O.T.U.(*) Lucas returned briefly to his old command until F/L R.G. Woodman (RAF) was designated to take over. Meanwhile F/L D.S. Edwards (RAF) had become C.O. of "A” Flight when F/L Day was transferred to "B".

(*) Webmaster's Note: O.T.U. = Operational Training Unit

Christmas 1941 was a quiet day, life continuing much as on other days. The dispersion of the Squadron between Drem and Ouston somewhat restricted the Yuletide festivities. Two days later the unit was still more dispersed when a detachment of four Defiants was sent north to Dyce for a period of dusk, dawn and night patrols over convoys. Shortly after the arrival of the detachment, Sgt. W.A. DuPerrier was sent out to assist a Coastal Hudson which, with its wireless unserviceable, had become lost on the return flight from Norway. Guided by the ground controller, DuPerrier found the Hudson in the night sky and his gunner signalled the pilot to follow as the Defiant led the way back to Dyce. The Canadian pilot was commended for his presence of mind and initiative.

The Dyce detachment returned home on 8 January 1942. The weather during the first month of the year was naturally consistently poor or bad, with much snow that hampered operations. It had been intended to send another detachment to Dyce and the necessary maintenance personnel had proceeded thither by rail on 25 January, but the weather kept the Defiants earthbound at Drem so long that the ground party was finally recalled after a strenuous week of snow-shifting duty.

February was even quieter than January had been, although the Hun did cause considerable excitement on the night of the 16th when as many as 17 raiders were plotted on the operations board. Both Drem and Ouston scrambled several crews but they had no luck. If the month as a whole was uneventful for the Squadron, Sgt. P.R. Brook had no cause to lament a lack of excitement. One afternoon, just after taking off on a night flying test, his engine developed
"a severe grinding noise" accompanied by white smoke and oil fumes. Brook managed to get the Defiant up to 1000 feet where the air gunner, on the pilot's instructions, baled out and landed safely. Despite the obvious risk he was taking, Brook stayed with the aircraft was able to make a normal landing. A few days later, when making a practice flight, Brook discovered his air speed indicator, altimeter and rate of climb indicator were out of commission. Over the R/T he explained his predicament to another pilot who brought his Defiant alongside and guided Brook in for a perfect formation landing.

The March lion arrived in company with a blizzard which kept everyone busy on the handle of a snow shovel. The enemy too came over several nights that month but No. 410 was still out of luck. One night a crew saw bomb bursts near Farne Island, although control had not reported any raiders in the area. Another night, the 27th, when several Defiants were up on vain patrols for elusive Huns, Sgt, F.E. Haines was heard to instruct his gunner to bale out as some of the aircraft instruments were unserviceable. F/S J.G. Pelletier made an emergency jump, escaping with slight injuries, but Haines
(**) was killed when the Defiant crashed near Morpeth.

Earlier in the month there had been another unfortunate accident at Ouston when P/Os I.b. Constant and W.J. Lewis (**)(both RAF) lost their lives while making a night flying test. Constant was one of the original members of the Squadron and Lewis had been with it since early August; both had only recently been commissioned.

In February S/L Lipton had started giving his pilots some dual instruction on a twin-engined Blenheim, in hope of early re-equipment of his Squadron with more modern aircraft. The pilots made the most of their opportunity and many of them, led by P/O A. Barker, soon went solo. Late in March they learned that their hopes and zeal had not been in vain: Beaufighters were on their way to replace the now old and decrepit Defiants. Minor technical troubles with the latter aircraft were not giving the engineering staff much work and it was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain them in serviceable condition. On 2 April the first of the Beaufighters II's arrived and were surrounded by an admiring throng. A new era was dawning!

"A" Flight returned from Ouston to Drem and No. 410 was united for the first time since early August 1941. To accelerate conversion to the new type, "A" concentrated on twin-engine training on Blenheims at nearby Turnhouse, while "B" took over the operational commitments on Defiants. Re-equipment meant other changes. The air gunners were posted away and in their place came Radio Observers (or Navigators/Radio) trained to operate the A.1. Radar equipment with which the Beaufighters were fitted. This change facilitated further Canadianization of this Squadron, as the first batch of 11 RO's, who arrived from Radio School on 21 April, were all RCAF. The new status of No. 410 also meant a promotion for Lipton who on 1 May became a Wing Commander. At the same time S/L R.J. Bennell arrived as "B" Flight Commander in succession to F/L Woodman and a few days later S/L F.W. Hillock was posted in from No. 406 to replace S/L J.R.C. Young (RAF) in "A" Flight.

While conversion was in progress a few more operations were carried out on the Defiants, the last sorties being made on 28 April. A week later "B" Flight was released from this duty and the Squadron was non-operational for a month to complete the change-over to twins. Before the Defiants went, however, there was another accident in which a new crew, Sgts. R.G. Smith and A.G. MacKinnon (RAF), who had joined No. 410 Just 48 hours previously, met their death. They were making a familiarization flight over their new sector on 11 April, when the aircraft was seen to dive out of low cloud, strike the water and submerge. In ten months on Defiants, No. 410 Squadron had lost one pilot killed and another severely injured on operations, and four pilots and three air gunners killed on training or test flights.

(5) At the end of May 43 out of 51 aircrews were RCAF, and 133 out of 185 groundcrew, i.e., 75% Canadian.

The conversion work was divided into three stages. In “B" Flight the pilots received elementary dual and solo on Oxford or Blenheim twin-engine8. Then they went to "A" Flight for day flying on the Beaufighter and, after S/L Hillock had checked them out as solo on that type they craved up with a Radio/Observer for 25 to 30 hours flying by day. After this the crews did dusk circuits and landings, followed by about ten hours night flying, before being passed as fully operational. The station commander at Drem congratulated the Squadron on the manner in which its personnel tackled the conversion.
"The way the boys are tearing into the air without respite reflects the greatest credit on your leadership, organization and enthusiasm which is seen, in turn, in the hard work and long hours that the ground staff are doing and the way the air crews handle their new equipment." By the end of May, 12 crews had become operational on the Beaus and on the night of 4 June the first sorties, two uneventful scrambles, were made.

On 15 June, No. 410 left Drem for Ayr, its birthplace, exchanging stations with No. 406. Five Beaufighters and six crews, under the command of S/L Hillock, were left behind at Drem, where they remained until end of August. During this time Frankie Hillock was posted to No. 406; S/L G.H. Elms then took charge of the detached flight for a month until he too was posted to the same squadron and was replaced by S/L B.G. Miller. At the same time Hillock returned to No. 410 as C.O. in succession to W/C Lipton who had returned to Canada at the end of July. In the King's birthday honours list in June, Lipton had been Mentioned in Despatches for his outstanding service as flight and squadron commander with the Cougars.

As far as operations were concerned, the two and a half months which the Squadron spent at Ayr and Drem could be summed up in the words
" There was no activity". There were only eleven sorties on scrambles to intercept "bandits" (two of which proved to be friendly aircraft), but only once was a contact made. On that occasion, a scramble by Sgts. R.D. Littlejohn and W.M. Keith (RAF) from Drem, the crew got a "blip" on their A.1. and closed to 400 yards, but the radar want out of commission before a visual was obtained and the enemy got away. The same night a Ju.88 flew across the airfield at Drem, dropping a few bombs that caused slight damage.

If operational activity was at a low ebb there was much flying training and so much air firing practice that at one time the Squadron's supply of ammunition was almost exhausted. On several occasions crews participated in commando exercises, simulating attacks on the landing barges. The demonstrations were most realistic. Several incidents occurred on this training. One night early in July the port engine in F/0 J.H. Devlin's Beaufighter caught fire; then the other engine cut out. With his windscreen coated in ice Devlin could only glide straight ahead and trust to luck. The Beau hit a power pole, ploughed across a field, killing three cows that were lying there, and burned for almost an hour with the war load exploding in all directions. Miraculously Devlin and his observer, Sgt. H.J. Tennant, were able to jump clear and neither sustained even a scratch. It was the Squadron's first major accident since re-equipping. A month later S/L Bennell and P/O P. O'Neill-Dunne (RAF) had an equally miraculous escape when the weather suddenly closed in while they were on a C.C.I. (ground controlled interception) exercise. Flying control attempted to guide the Beaufighter in and, following instructions, Bennell had lowered his wheels and reduced height to 500 feet, when the aircraft hit the ground and was completely wrecked. The crew received only a few scratches and bruises.

6)The “night state" was two crews at readiness.

A fortnight previously, Bennell had participated in a happier episode. On the afternoon of 21 July, a wet, miserable day (there was much bad weather during the stay at Ayr), Bennell and several other officers visited the Trans-Atlantic Operations Room at Prestwick. Quite a little "flap" developed when a number of Fortresses and P.38's, en route from Reykjavik to Prestwick, were unable to pinpoint their position and became lost. After the Canadian party returned to Ayr a call for help was received and S/L Bennell with F/L R.G. Guest (RAF) took off to see what could be done. Despite heavy rains and extremely bad weather, they found the American aircraft and shepherded them safely to base. A few days later Bennell escorted a formation of P.38's from Ayr to Coxhill.

While at Ayr the Squadron celebrated its first birthday with a stag party in the ballroom of a local hotel. A sing-song, musical program, and refreshments followed by an excellent floor show made the occasion
"an outstanding success". Since July 1941, No. 410 had changed from predominantly RAF to a unit that was RCAF in personnel as well as name. Of its 46 aircrew all but seven radio observers were from the RCAF, while 236 of its 313 groundcrew were Canadians. There were some changes in personnel in the summer of 1942 as a number of crews volunteered for service in the Middle East where the Battle of Malta was at its height.

On 1 September the Squadron moved again to Scorton in Yorkshire, once more exchanging places with No. 406. The farewell to Ayr was a sad one as F/Ss N. MacPherson(***) and S.M. Cooksey (RAF) crashed and were killed. At the same time the detached flight at Drem moved to Scorton and No. 410 was reunited once more. The change in locale brought a great increase in activity and a change in luck. There were 19 sorties in September, a total equal to that for the past five months combined, and flying hours jumped to 78. All that was required to make the night fighters' joy complete was enemy activity, and Jerry obliged by coming over quite frequently.

(***)Webmaster's Note: The entry in the original text was a mis-spelling of the MacPherson name and was entered as McPherson.

On the first night a Scorton W/C Hillock and F/L E.P. Sharpe were scrambled and secured contacts, but the raiders took evasive action and escaped. Five nights later (6 September) P/O R.R. Ferguson, with F/O D. Creed as observer, was set up on a G.C.I. exercise when bandits entered the Middlesbrough area at the mouth of the Tees. Guided by vectors from ground control, Ferguson and Creed came within A.1. range of a raider and retained contact until a visual was obtained of a Ju.88 silhouetted against a clear patch in the sky. Closing in to 150 yards dead astern, Ferguson fired two bursts from his four cannons and six Brownings. Vivid explosions of several cannon strikes were seen on the mainplane and fuselage. The Junkers then made a tight turn and dived out to sea where contact was lost. No return fire was noticed but a bullet was later found in the port engine fairing of the Beaufighter. At long last, after more than a year of watching and waiting, the Cougars had opened their scorebook with a damaged Ju.88. Jerry evened the score, however, on the 19th when six crews were scrambled. P/Os S.J. Fulton and R.N. Rivers closed in on a Do.217 for two bursts that apparently missed. But the Dornier gunner was on his toes and let off some accurate shots that so badly damaged the night fighter’s undercarriage and starboard wing that Fulton had to make a crash landing.

There were no further operations in September, but training continued daily and the crews visited local G.C.I. stations to establish personal contacts that were of great value for mutual co-operation between ground and air. An active sports programme, with baseball naturally predominating, was another feature of squadron life at this time. A big party and dance on 15 October symbolized the excellent spirit of camaraderie that existed between air and ground personnel of the unit. S/L Bennell left the Cougars at this time and S/L A. Barker took over "B" Flight.

S/L Bertie Miller, "A" Flight commander, and Sgt. E.H. Collis (RAF) won a "double halo" by surviving two "shaky does" in quick succession. On the last night of September, they were up on an exercise when the Beaufighter went into a spin, falling 12,000 feet before Miller was able to pull out. The next night, when they were 18 miles out over the sea, one engine caught fire, forcing both men to take to their parachutes. Thanks to quick work by rescue launches, they were speedily picked up and returned to Scorton, a bit shaken but eager to fly again.

There was some enemy activity on two nights in October, which resulted in a few A.1. contacts but no visuals. Otherwise "night state” passed uneventfully, and the Squadron prepared to move again. On 20 October, the Cougars left Scorton for Acklington in Northumberland, on exchange with No. 219 Squadron. The move was a welcome one, for coupled with it was news that was greeted with
"loud cheers on sides" – No. 410 was to be re-equipped with Mosquitoes, the most modern type of night fighter.

Immediately after arrival at Acklington, a dual-control Mosquito was delivered and intensive training began. By 3 December, conversion was well advanced, and the first Mosquito sorties were made that night. The Beaufighters remained in service for a month longer, the last sorties being made on 4 January. By the end of that month, the Squadron was wholly equipped with the Mosquito II. Both December and January were active months, totalling 93 operational sorties. Much of the activity was devoted to high altitude day patrols to waylay the Jerry "weatherman" who came over almost every morning to sniff the air, but he was difficult to catch and the "milk train" patrols, as they were dubbed, proved fruitless.

There was some night activity too. Scrambles after raiders on 13 January 1943 were luckless, but another raid nine nights later brought the Cougars their first kill. The lucky crew were F/S B.M. Haight and Sgt. T. Kipling (RAF). Ground control put them on to a target which Kipling picked up on his radar, holding the contact until his pilot got a visual at 600 yards. From its silhouette against the clouds, he identified the bandit as a Do.217. One brief burst at 100 yards range produced a brilliant white flash on one engine. A second burst of 75 rounds from the Hispanos had no visible effect, but the bomber disappeared into the clouds in a steep spiral dive and contact was lost. The Royal Observer Corps, however, saw the aircraft dive into the sea, with a brilliant flash and explosion, five miles off Hartlespool.

About a month before this incident, F/O R.M.G. Currie returned from a night flight to report that he had seen an elderly man with white whiskers and clad in a red suit making a ZZ approach to Acklington airfield on a vehicle powered by eight reindeer. The time was 2359 and the date, of course, was 24 December. The next day No. 410 celebrated its second Christmas overseas; it was not white, except in dreams, but it was filled with good food and good cheer.

In January 1943, F/L W.B. Boggs, an American in the RCAF who had been Squadron Engineering Officer for 15 months, left on posting to No. 6 Group. His services with No. 410 had bean outstanding and it was largely due to his ability, initiative and work that a remarkably high rate of serviceability had been maintained despite three conversions in aircraft equipment.

A crew was lost on 23 January when Sgt. G.G. Mills and Sgt. M. Lupton
(RAF) crashed into the sea while on a training flight. There was another less serious accident some days later when a Mosquito overshot when landing, scraped by the control tower and crashed into a dispersal hut. The aircraft was wrecked but the only injury was cuts and bruises received by a startled occupant of the hut. S/L Bert Miller was posted from No. 410 late in January and S/L R.R. Ferguson took his place as "A" Flight commander.

February was quieter than the two previous months. The crews made a few more attempts to catch "Weather Willy”, and had some scrambles after bandits, chiefly on the night of the 3rd, but there was no joy. An evasion exercise proved more enjoyable, as well as interesting and amusing. Twelve aircrew were driven in a closed vehicle to a point five miles from the aerodrome where they were released one by one. Each man carried a small map of the district and was instructed to try to regain camp without being detected en route. This exercise was part of the training in preparation for a new role which the Squadron was about to undertake.

On 21 February 1943, No. 410 left Acklington for Coleby Grange in Lincolnshire, where it replaced No. 409 Squadron. The move marked the close of the first, long period in the Cougar's history. Hitherto, the Squadron had been in the relatively quiet zone of No. 13 Group in the north. Now they joined No. 12 Group for eight months and embarked upon a much more active and exciting career.

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