No 144 Squadron, RFC, was formed at Port Said, Egypt, on 2Oth March 1918. On 14th August it came under the orders of the Palestine Brigade, Royal Air Force, and by the end of the month it had been fully equipped as a bombing squadron with DH9s at Junction Station.
On the opening of the final offensive in Palestine, No 144 Squadron was with the 4Oth (Army) Wing and had 13 DH9s on charge. There was no special air activity before the offensive so that the enemy should not be warned of our intentions, but No. 144 Squadron made two important bombing raids on Der'a station in conjunction with the operations of the Arab Northern Army under Sherif Feisal and Colonel TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in the eastern area on the 16th and 17th September. When the offensive began on the coastal sector on 19th September an initial bombing offensive was directed against the main Turkish telegraphic and telephonic centres whose positions were known from intelligence sources and from air photographs. No 144 Squadron bombed the central telephone exchange at El 'Affule and the headquarters and telephone exchange of the Turkish Seventh Army at Nablus, and (it seems) effectively cut the enemy's telephone communications at a vital time.
By 20th September the enemy was in headlong retreat. In the west the Turkish Eighth Army had been shattered and its remnants, together with the Seventh Army in the centre, were retiring to their doom. On the following day they were trapped in the Wadi el Far'a and completely wiped out by air attack with all RAF squadrons being concentrated in the attack. No 144 Squadron then co-operated in the advance east of the Jordan, which resulted in the capture of the Turkish Fourth Army.
At the end of September a flight of No 144 Squadron was stationed at Haifa to co-operate with the XXI Corps during its advance on Beirut, but elsewhere, with the rapid pursuit of the enemy, the opportunities and facilities for bombing had diminished. In October the squadron moved to Mudros, Greece, but by the end of the year it had returned to England. It was disbanded at Ford Junction on 4th February 1919.
On 11th January, 1937, No 144 was re-formed at Bicester as a bomber unit and was equipped, at first, with four Boulton-Paul Overstrand aircraft (loaned by its "foster-parent", No 101 Squadron.) No 144 was flying Handley Page Hampdens from Hemswell, Lincolnshire, at the outbreak of the Second World War but did not get an opportunity to do any operational work until the war was nearly three weeks old. Then, on 26th September 1939, its chance finally came when it was ordered to despatch 12 Hampdens to search for and attack enemy naval vessels which had been reported in the North Sea. Flying in two formations of six, the Hampdens approached to within about 12 miles of the German coast but the only naval vessels sighted were two submarines-presumably of unknown nationality and the aircraft returned to base with their bomb loads intact.
The squadron's next mission, another armed reconnaissance over the North Sea on 29th September, was a very different story indeed. Eleven Hampdens, split into two sections - a section of five led by Wing Commander JC Cunningham, the CO, and a section of six led by Squadron Leader WJH Lindley - were detailed to search part of the Heligoland Bight to within sight of the German coast. Cunningham's section left Hemswell at 4.50pm and was not heard from again. Lindley's section found two enemy destroyers in the search area steaming east in line astern at 20 knots but, owing to the destroyers' manoeuvres and "flak" umbrella, only three Hampdens were able to attack; the results were not observed. All six Hampdens returned safely to base.
In the ensuing months the squadron "stood to" for shipping searches on several occasions but only once - on 14th December - was it required to operate; the mission was uneventful.
The first occasion on which No 144 Squadron flew over the German mainland was the night of 24/25th February 1940, when propaganda leaflets or Nickels were dropped on Hamburg. On 6th March, by which time it had Nickelled several other German towns and by which time also it had flown a number of security patrols, the squadron took part in Bomber Command's first attack on a German land objective - the minelaying-seaplane base at Hornum. Just over two months later (by which time minelaying had been added to its duties) No 144 shared in another notable "first" - the first big bombing attack on the German mainland (the exits of München-Gladbach).
The Squadron continued to operate with Bomber Command until 1942, and during this period, in addition to its normal night-bombing attacks and minelaying expeditions, it occasionally undertook certain other tasks such as daylight bombing against German warships at Brest and night-intruder operations against enemy searchlight installations. One night in November 1941, one of the squadron's Hampdens bombed from a very low level and set on fire a 10,000-ton merchantman - the largest of several vessels in an enemy convoy - off the Frisian Islands. It was learned afterwards that Major-General Felix Varda, the commander of the Western anti-aircraft defences, was on board this ship and was among those killed as a result of the Hampden's attack.
On 21st April 1942, the squadron's association with Bomber Command ended when it was transferred to Coastal Command.
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Date Last Updated : Wednesday, April 6, 2005 2:40 AM
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