By June 1941, the air war over England and continental Europe had been raging for 21 months and Allied fortunes were at their lowest ebb. On the ground, Hitler’s forces, in an overwhelming series of Blitzkrieg operations, had laid waste to most of western Europe, while Nazi U-boats patrolled the North Atlantic shipping lanes with devastating effect on Allied convoys. In the Far East, Japan was preparing for its infamous assault on Pearl Harbor.
This was the situation as the second RCAF bomber squadron to be formed during the Second World War made its appearance. 408 (Goose) Squadron has now served proudly for 60 years.
Highlighted below are some moments in the squadron’s illustrious history over the last six decades.
24 Jun 41 Formed at Lindeholme, Yorkshire, as part of 5 (RAF) Group; W/C Nelles TIMMERMAN, DFC, age 27, Commanding Officer. Aircraft: Handley-Page “Hampden” medium bomber. Timmerman is later to become the first member of 408 Sqn to attain “Air Rank”.
11 Aug 41 First operational sorties. Target: German shipping at Rotterdam docks. Tasks assigned to the Hampden included bombing; ‘gardening’ (mine laying); ‘nickelling’ (propaganda leaflet drops) and for a short time; ‘circus ops’ (daylight bombing missions, fully escorted by Spitfires of Fighter Command).
13 Nov 41 First of two visits to the squadron by King George VI.
15 Nov 41 First medal of gallantry – DFC awarded to F/O D.F.H GIBANNE, as a result of a successful attack against Kiel on 4 Nov 41.
31 Dec 41 Six months after its formation, 408 had flown 343 operational sorties. The cost: six crews killed, eleven Hampdens lost.
12 Feb 42 Nine 408 Hampdens assigned, as part of a 242-aircraft bomber fore, to attack German battleships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen which were attempting to pass through the English Channel enroute from Brest to Kiel. Due to the murky weather, only 39 bombers found their target, including a section of three from 408, led by S/L ‘Tinny’ CONSTANCE. None of the 39 was able to score a direct hit. This was a low point in the fortunes of Bomber Command.
Mar 42 W/C Timmerman completes his tour and is succeeded by W/C A.C. ‘Pitt’ CLAYTON, who himself is screened after three weeks as the squadron’s CO. He is followed by W/C J.D. TWIGG, who becomes 408’s first RCAF commanding officer. (Note: While Timmerman was also a Canadian, he had joined the RAF in 1936). Five months after his appointment, W/C Twigg would become the first of three squadron COs to be killed on operations. The others: W/C A.C. MAIR and his immediate successor, W/C D.S. JACOBS.
May 42 One twin-engine Manchester bomber is assigned to the squadron as part an evaluation program designed to determine if the aircraft, which was much heavier and larger than the Hampden, would be suitable for operations. Equipped as it was with the notoriously unreliable and under-powered Rolls Royce “Vulture” engines, the verdict was ‘no’ and the Manchester was withdrawn from service, modified to include four engines… and became the highly successful Lancaster.
30 May 42 The first ‘1000 Bomber Raid’, including 20 aircraft from 408, against Cologne. A second, similar effort followed on 1 Jun against Essen. 408 sent 21 aircraft.
26 Jul 42 In a raid on Hamburg, Sgt P.L. KEMP flew the squadron’s 1,000th operational sortie.
Sep 42 Conversion to the Handley-Page Halifax begins. By this time the squadron’s Hampdens had flown 1,217 sorties, with a loss of 40 aircraft.
Oct 42 Due almost entirely to the initiative and persistence of W/C Timmerman, the squadron badge, with the Canada goose as the centerpiece and “FOR FREEDOM” as the motto, was approved by King George VI.
1 Jan 43 With headquarters at Linton-on-Ouse, Yorkshire, the newly formed 6 (RCAF) Bomber Group is declared operational. 408, initially equipped with the Halifax (and later with the Avro Lancaster), are one of nine squadrons then under the control of 6 Group. The Commanding Officer: W/C W.D.S. ‘Tiny’ FERRIS.
24 Jul 43 The ‘Battle of Hamburg’ begins. As part of four separate, massive raids on that city, 408 sent 53 Halifax II aircraft. One was lost.
18 Nov 43 The first Bomber Command sortie in what was to become known as the ‘Battle of Berlin’. By its end, on 31 Mar 44, the city would be visited sixteen times. Having flown on eleven of these missions, F/Sgt J. Douglas HARVEY was later cited as the 408 Squadron pilot with the most trips to Berlin – and was presented with a gold wristwatch to mark the achievement.
22 Nov 43 During the ‘Battle of Berlin’, a Lanc II flown by P/O BRAGER completed the squadron’s 2,000th operational sortie. A month later, Brager and his crew are lost over Frankfurt.
30 Mar 44 The end of the ‘Battle of Berlin’ period, with 408 having suffered the loss of 27 aircraft and crews – more than the full strength complement of any bomber squadron in 6 Group. On the same date, during an attack on Nuremburg, Bomber Command suffered its worst losses of the war when, out of the 782 aircraft dispatched a total of 95 aircraft and their crews failed to return. 6 Group lost 14 of the 118 aircraft it contributed – a loss rate of almost 12%, more than twice that normally expected on operations at that time. 408 Squadron itself lost one of the twelve aircraft it had dispatched to Nuremburg.
5 Jun 44 In support of the imminent invasion of France, 408 Lancasters attack the coastal battery at Longues. The following morning, D-Day, 408 breaks all previous records to put 21 aircraft into the air to attack the bridge at Coutances, France – a key crossing for the Germans, who are trying to bring up reserves in an attempt to repel the Allied invasion forces.
24 Jul 44 A raid on Stuttgart, flown by F/O R.A. CLOTHIER and his crew, marked the squadron’s 3,000th operational sortie. Just 5 ½ months later, F/O D.M. WYLIE logged 408’s 4,000th trip, striking Saarbrucken on 13 Jan 45.
26 Jul 44 Invasion support continues. For a raid on Hamburg, 6 Group send 239 aircraft. 22 are lost including 4 from 408.
13 Oct 44 In a rapid change of commanding officers, W/C A.R. MCLERNON is screened, is succeeded by W/C J.F. EASTON, who himself is screened five weeks later, and is followed by W/C F.R. SHARP, who turns out to be the squadron’s last wartime commander.
14 Oct 44 A superb effort on the part of the squadron groundcrews and aircrews alike enabled 17 aircraft to bomb Duisberg in daylight and 18 crews to bomb the same target that night – with no casualties. Amazing!
25 Apr 45 F/L G.H. GROSS and his crew record the squadron’s last operational sortie of the war: Number 4,610.
8 May 45 V.E. Day, 408 is promptly selected as one of the squadrons to join the ‘Tiger Force’ fighting against Japan in the Far East. Before their training and re-equipping to the Lancaster X is completed, American use of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki bring a speedy end of the war.
5 Sep 45 408 is officially disbanded. During its time on operations from 1941 to 1945, the squadron:
· Had flown 4, 610 sorties
· Dropped 11, 340 tons of bombs and mines
· Lost 170 aircraft, both in training and on operations
· 933 personnel were killed, missing or prisoners of war
· 200 decorations were won by squadron members, including 160 DFCs and 30 DFMs
· Eleven Battle Honours were awarded for its wartime operations