Wednesday, 26 October 2011

No. 219 Squadron

No. 219 Squadron was formed on 4 October 1939 at Catterick, equipped with Bristol Blenheim IF fighters. The unit's task was to protect  Northern coastal shipping and routes, but it was soon diverted to night operations. The Blenheim fighter version was however a disappointment, and the squadron couldn't effectively counter German raids for the first nine months of 1940.

On 15 August, the day of the only Luftwaffe large scale attack on Northern Britain, 219 Sqn flew to intercept the enemy bombers, but their Blenheim were to slow to catch the fast Ju 88s. In October, the squadron moved south tasked with the protection of London. The Luftwaffe had just started to mount heavy night raids on the capital, and there was a desperate need for nightfighters. The unit began operations and, at the same time, received its firsts Bristol Beaufighter Is. Based on the Beaufort torpedo bomber, the new fighter was a large, fast and well-armed heavy fighter: its four Hispano 20 mm cannnon and six 0.303-in machine guns  gave pilots a never experienced firepower. "B" flight of No.219 Squadron became the first unit to be declared operational on the "Beau" and on the night of 25 October 1940 Sgt Arthur Hodgkinson shot down a Dornier (Do 17 or DO 215), scoring the first of many night victories achieved by Beaufighter pilots.

Successful interceptions, however, were something of a rarity until the end of the 1941 winter. By that time, many RAF squadron were operational with radar-equipped Beaufighters, and the night defense system was now fully operational and effective. For almost two years, No. 219 remained in Southern England countering German night operations, scoring steadily against the enemy and producing a significant number of experienced pilots and aces, before returning to the North in June 1942.

In May 1943, the unit was sent to North Africa, operating from Bone, Tunisia, scoring its first African kill on 30 June. On 6 September, the squadron intercepted a raid on Bizerte, shooting down four Heinkel He 111s. In September the unit moved to Sicily, defending the newly-conquered island from Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe raids. In January 1944 the squadron returned to the Uk, joining the 2nd Tactical Air Force and converting onto the DeHavilland Mosquito. With the "Mossie", the squadron flew night intruder missions over France and the Low Countries, covered Normandy beaches the nights following the D-Day, and then moved to France in October 1944, where it remained until the end of the war.

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