Bomber Command No.51 Squadron
No. 51 Squadron
Motto: "Swift and sure".
Badge: A goose volant. The goose was chosen as a play on the word " Anson", the type of aircraft with which the squadron was equipped, "anser" meaning goose. The goose is a fast day and night flyer and its species fly in V-formation as a protective measure. The goose, being among the heavier of wild fowl, was thought to be appropriate for a bomber squadron.
Authority: King George VI, December 1937.
No. 51 Squadron, RFC, was formed at Thetford, Norfolk, on 15th May 1916, as a Home Defence Squadron and was originally equipped with BE2c and 'd and BE12 aircraft. Later it received a few FE2b's. In addition to providing protection against air attack, the Home Defence squadrons were also responsible for training pilots in night flying. At the end of 1917 all Home Defence squadrons became service squadrons, and in 1918 No. 51 was given a special single-seat version of the Avro 504K with a Lewis gun fitted above the top centre-section. This model was specially developed for night fighting, but had the added advantage of forming a suitable introductory type for the Sopwith Camel, which was being standardised for night-fighter squadrons.
Disbanded in 1919, No. 51 was re-formed in 1937 as a night-bomber squadron and when war broke out in September 1939, it was flying Whitleys with the Yorkshire-based No. 4 Group. On the very first night of the war - 3rd/4th September - three of the squadron's Whitleys, operating from Leconfield, made, in conjunction with Whitleys of No. 58 Squadron, the first Nickel or leaflet raid over Germany. This was the first occasion that RAF aircraft penetrated into Germany during the Second World War. In 1940, No. 51 began to drop bombs as well as leaflets on the enemy and during the year shared in several notable Bomber Command "firsts", including the first attack on a land target (the mine-laying seaplane base at Hornum on the island of Sylt, 19/20th March), the first big attack on the German mainland (the exits of Monchengladbach, 11/12th May), the first attack on Italy (primary target Fiat works at Turin, 11/12th June), and the first area bombing attack on a German industrial centre (Mannheim, 16/17th December). During the next two years, in addition to continuing its bombing offensive, the squadron participated in two notable paratroop operations: Operation Colossus on 10/11th February 1941, when paratroops (carried in Whitleys of No. 78 Squadron some of which were flown by No. 51 Squadron crews) destroyed an aqueduct in southern Italy; and Operation Biting on 27/28th February 1942, when a raiding party (carried in Whitleys of No. 51 Squadron led by Wing Commander PC Pickard1) captured a complete Wurzburg radar installation at Bruneval, near Le Havre.
From May to October 1942, No. 51 Squadron was attached to Coastal Command and during this period flew anti-submarine patrols from a station in Devon. On returning to Bomber Command and Yorkshire the squadron' was re-equipped with Halifaxes and it continued with aircraft of this type for the remainder of the European war before being transferred to Transport Command on 7 May 1945.
Seldom, if ever, during World War 2 did an RAF bomber land on an English airfield with more damage than No. 51 Squadron's Halifax III MZ465 "Y-Yorker" after its bombing attack on Saarbrücken on 13/14th January 1945.
Nine feet of the nose was chopped completely off when the Halifax collided with another bomber, but it struggled back to this country with only three of its flying instruments still working, to make a perfect landing. Some of the skin on the nose was bent round and gave some protection against the wind which whistled through the aircraft as it flew home at 7,000 feet. But the captain, Flying Officer AL Wilson, of Leicester, and the rest of his crew were frozen as they struggled to keep the aircraft flying. (The navigator and the bomb-aimer, neither of whom were then wearing parachutes, had fallen out of the aircraft at the time of the collision).
The four engines continued to function perfectly after the collision, although the propellers were dented, probably by bits of wreckage which shook loose and flew off the fuselage. The radio was still working five minutes after the collision, but had to be shut off because of shorting; blue sparks were playing around the aircraft and there was danger of fire. In that short five minutes, before the radio was cut off, the operator was able to send out an SOS which was received in England. As a result "Y -Yorker" was given special landing aids when it landed on an emergency airfield. The intercom was unserviceable as well as the ASI, the DR compass, and many other vital instruments for flying and navigation.
"Y -Yorker" dived 1,500 feet after the collision, with the pilot struggling to gain control. He managed to do this and brought the aircraft up to 11,000 feet again. At this height it stalled, but he managed to keep it at 7,000 feet and at this height flew home.
1 W/Cdr. Pickard, who was then No. 51's CO, was already well-known as the pilot of the Wellington "F-Freddie" in the documentary film Target for Tonight, and was later to achieve undying fame as leader of the Mosquito raid on Amiens prison.
Bomber Command WWII Bases:
- Linton-on-Ouse : Apr 1938-Dec 1939
- Detachment at Kinloss on loan to Coastal Command Nov/Dec 1939.
- Dishforth : Dec 1939-May 1942
- Detachment at Andover in Feb 1942 for training for Bruneval raid.
- Chivenor (on loan to Coastal Command) : May 1942-Oct 1942
- Snaith : Oct 1942-Apr 1945
- Leconfield : Apr 1945-May 1945
Bomber Command WWII Aircraft:
- Armstrong Whitworth Whitley II, III, IV and V : early 1938-Oct 1942
- Handley Page Halifax B.II and B.III : Nov 1942-May 1945
- During the 1938 Munich crisis No. 51 was allotted the code letters "UT". In WW2 the sqdn's a/c were coded "MH" & - in the case of "C" FIt's Halifaxes - "LK" & later, "C6".
First Operational Mission in WWII:
- 3rd/4th September 1939 : 3 Whitleys Nickelled over northern Germany.
First Bombing Mission in WWII:
- 13th December 1939 : 1 Whitley bombed an unidentified submarine in the North Sea during a security patrol. The submarine, which had failed to identify itself when challenged by a light signal, subsequently proved to be British. Fortunately the Whitley's bombs fell wide.
First Bombing Attack on a Pre-determined Objective in WW2:
- 19/20th March 1940 : 7 Whitleys despatched to bomb seaplane base at Hornum. 5 ac bombed primary, 1 aborted & the other FTR.
Last Operational Mission in WWII:
- 25th April 1945 : 18 Halifaxes bombed gun batteries on island of Wangerooge.