History of 97 Squadron



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97 Squadron was formed on 1st December 1917, at Waddington in Lincolnshire, as a training squadron, moving in January 1918 to Stonehenge, before arriving at Netheravon in April 1918. With the First World War nearing its close, the Squadron was equipped with Handley Page 0/400 aircraft, and was sent to Xaffer-Villiers in France for deployment as a night-bombing squadron.

97 Squadron’s first operational sortie was carried out on the night of 19th/20th August 1918 and, by the time of the Armistice, the Squadron had completed ninety-one sorties, during which sixty-four tons of bombs were dropped. There was one notable incident, during a night raid on Cologne, involving a Handley Page piloted by Lieutenant Stewart and Captain Reid, who was observer. Their aircraft came down to 500 feet, through a terrific hail of anti-aircraft fire, and they managed to unload no fewer than sixteen 112lb bombs into a theatre below. It was reported that the raid dealt a crushing blow to the morale of the citizens of Cologne, and both of the 97 Squadron officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for their efforts. In March 1919, the Squadron returned to England, where it was ordered to stand by to proceed to India. Having re-equipped with DH10 aircraft, embarkation for India took place in July that year, with the Squadron’s personnel setting off from Tilbury Docks aboard the troopship, “Mandala”. After a month at sea, the “Mandala” arrived at Allahabad, and an aerodrome was prepared there, with hangars erected outside the fort. In September 1919, “B” Flight proceeded to Risalpur for active service, whilst “A” and “C” Flights went to Lahore, with the Squadron’s first operational sortie being carried out in October 1919. The DH10s were deployed on a variety of tasks, including high bombing, infantry contact, and ground strafing. During a period of three months, 97 Squadron’s aircraft dropped in excess of forty-two tons of bombs, and fired over 20,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, and this work was continued in the first three months of 1920, when the Squadron operated with the Wazir Force; a further twenty-six raids were carried out, with approximately twenty-five tons of bombs being dropped. During this time, some detachments were sent to Karachi, Bombay and Rajkot, to introduce an aerial mail service, the first of its kind in India. Mail was collected in Karachi and flown to Rajkot, before being flown on to Bombay during the following day. On the return trip, from Bombay to Karachi, the 97 Squadron aircraft conveyed both local and English mail, the latter having arrived on the inward bound mail steamer. This experimental service was continued until 31st March 1920, when 97 Squadron ceased to function and was subsumed into 60 Squadron.

Fifteen years elapsed before 97 Squadron was re-formed in September 1935, initially at Catfoss in Yorkshire, prior to moving to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. Equipped with Handley Page Heyford bombers, the Squadron’s next move was to Leconfield in February 1937. Subsequently, in June 1938, 97 Squadron ceased to be an operational squadron, and became part of an air observers’ school. Nine months later, the outdated Heyfords were replaced with Whitleys, and 97 Squadron became a pool squadron within 4 Group.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the Squadron took up another deployment, with a move to Abingdon in Oxfordshire, as part of 6 (Training) Group within Bomber Command. Over the next six months, 97 Squadron did not undertake any operations, although some casualties were sustained in flying accidents during training flights, before the Squadron disbanded when it merged with 166 Squadron to become No 10 Operational Training Unit in April 1940. 97 Squadron briefly re-formed in May 1940, at Driffield, as part of 4 Group, equipped with Whitley aircraft but was disbanded before the end of the month and, again, saw no active service. Early in 1941, a large donation was made to the British Government by the Malay Straits Settlements for the purchase of some Avro Manchester bomber aircraft. In appreciation of this, 97 Squadron was authorised to assume the title of “97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron”, and it was reformed in February 1941, at Waddington. By February 1941 the Avro Manchester heavy bomber had been introduced into operational service by 207 Squadron based at Waddington. A number of experienced aircrew had been converted to the new aircraft on 207 Squadron and by 25th February a decision had been taken to transfer B Flight to form the nucleus of a new squadron – that new squadron was to be 97 Squadron and it was scheduled to operate from RAF Coningsby as part of 5 Group. The Squadron began to convert to using Lancasters in January 1942 and, in March of that year, 97 Squadron re-located to Woodhall Spa.

On 17th April, in conjunction with 44 Squadron, six of 97 Squadron's Lancasters made a low level attack, in daylight, on the MAN diesel engine works at Augsburg. Between June and July, the Squadron's crews took part in 1,000 bomber raids on Cologne, Essen and Bremen. In April 1943, there was another move of station (to Bourn) when 97 Squadron joined 8 Group as part of Bomber Command's Path Finder Force. Twelve months later the Squadron returned to Coningsby, and 5 Group, as a "marker" squadron to help lead the Group against separate targets. On 25/26th April 1945, 97 Squadron completed its final operation of the Second World War.

In all, 97 Squadron lost 123 aircraft on operations in the course of completing 4066 sorties. Personnel from the Squadron won 18 DSOs, one OBE, 228 DFCs, 41 Bars to the DFC, one BEM, 163 DFMs, 2 Bars to the DFM, 2 United States of America DFCs, 2 Belgian Croix de Guerres and one Russian Medal of Valour. Recently the French Government has bestowed the la legion d'honneur to members of 97 Squadron

(the recipients will be listed in future).

In the post-war period, unlike many Bomber Command squadrons, 97 (Straits Settlements) Squadron remained in existence. Naturally, with the end of hostilities, the Squadron’s personnel changed rather rapidly, with many of the distinguished aircrew taking up careers in civil aviation, whilst others returned to their pre-war trades or callings. In July 1946, the Squadron was re-equipped with Avro Lincolns, and there was a change of station five months later when the Squadron moved from Coningsby to Hemswell. Over the next nine years detachments from 97 Squadron saw service in Malta, Ceylon, Singapore and Egypt but, on 1st January 1956, this fine Squadron ceased to exist, and was re-named “Arrow Squadron”. on 1st December 1959, 97 Squadron was reformed in a different guise as 97 (SM) Squadron, and again it operated at Hemswell. Its new role was as part of the UK's missile defence system, using the Thor missile. It remained operational in this role until being disbanded on 24 May 1963, and immediately reformed as a flying squadron, operating with Signals Command at RAF Watton and equipped with Varsity, Canberra and Hastings aircraft. The final disbandment of 97 Squadron came on 1st January 1967 and the Squadron Standard was laid up in Norwich Cathedral. Below is a photograph of the Standard taken inside the cathedral by Bill Goldring.

Bomber Command WWII Bases:

Leconfield : Feb 1937-Sep 1939

Abingdon : Sep 1939-Apr 1940 In 4.40 sqdn merged with No. 166 Sqdn & SHQ Abingdon to form No. 10 OTU

Reformed 1.5.40 as No. 97 (B) Sqdn at: Driffield : May 1940 Disbanded 20.5.40

re-formed 25.2.41 as No.97 (B) Sqdn from nucleus provided by No.207 (B) Sqdn at: Waddington Feb 1941-Mar 1941

Coningsby : Mar 1941-Mar 1942

Woodhall Spa : Mar 1942-Apr 1943

Bourn : Apr 1943-Apr 1944

"A", "B" & "C" FIts detached to Gransden Lodge, Graveley & Oakington, respectively during Aug/Sep 1943.

Coningsby : Apr 1944 onwards

Bomber Command WWII Aircraft:

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley II and III : Jul 1939-May 1940

Avro Manchester : Feb 1941-Feb 1942

Avro Lancaster B.I and B.III : Jan 1942 onwards

Commanding Officers:

Wg Cdr D.F.Balsdon

Wg Cdr J.H.Kynoch

Wg Cdr J.H.H.Collier DSO DFC

Wg Cdr G.D.Jones DSO DFC

Gp Capt N.H.Fresson DFC

Wg Cdr E.J.Carter DFC*

Wg Cdr A.W.Heward DFC*

AFC Gp Capt P.W.Johnson DSO DFC AFC

(* denotes Bar)

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