Tuesday, 29 April 1941

RAF Stradishall

Air Chief Marshal Ludlow-Hewitt visits RAF Stations Mildenhall and Stradishall in his role as Inspector-General of the RAF. Ludlow-Hewitt had been AOC-in-C Bomber Command until his sacking in April 1940 for insisting on intensive operational training in specialist units (OTUs). Without this training many of Bomber Command’s trainee crews would have been lost on operations learning ‘on the job’ in operational squadrons; Bomber Command would have been poorly trained for the night war ahead.

His report on 1419 Flight is critical of the apparent waste of the Flight’s employment during the ‘dark’ period’, approximately half of each month when to all appearances they are idle. The Flight’s Whitley strength is now three Whitleys, plus one in reserve. He recommends that the Flight be made up to eight Whitleys, with a commensurate increase in crews, so that the Flight can be available for normal bombing operations during the ‘dark period’ and released for their special duties during the moon period.

It might have helped if S/Ldr Knowles had been available; at least he could have explained (or have avoided explaining) exactly what the Flight did, and their operational differences from bomber ops. But Knowles is away on duty, and F/Lt Alan Murphy is the Flight’s senior officer when ACM Ludlow-Hewitt arrives. Murphy is yet to fly his first SD operation; if normal practice has been followed, Murphy won’t have been told much about his duties, if anything, and may appear uninformed Air Chief Marshal. The views the Inspector-General takes away with him are coloured by Stradishall’s Station Commander who, despite being informed of the approximate target before any Special Duties operation, is told nothing more.

Why not just attach the three Whitleys and crews to 214 Squadron? Ludlow-Hewitt is aware that with servicing and training the Flight would not be able to complete its commitments during the moon period. He appears unaware of the specialist skills required by SD operations but, to be fair, at this stage the requirements for SD flying are not so dissimilar from Bomber operations. Within a few months methods increasingly differ: the bombers will fly ever-higher, using astro-navigation and new technology like GEE; the SD crews will fly ever-lower, relying on accurate flying between landmarks en route to the target. Now, bombers now fly individually to the target, as do SD crews, but within two years they will form a concentrated ‘stream’ to the target.


TNA AIR 2/5203