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RAF Church Fenton in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

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- RAF Church Fenton during the Second World War -

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RAF Church Fenton

   No.64 Squadron was formed at Sedgeford on 1 August 1916 as a training unit specialising in low-level flying. It went to France in October 1917 and spent the remainder of the war engaged in low-level fighter patrols and ground attack on the Western front. It returned to Narborough in February 1919, where it was disbanded on 31 December 1919.

In October 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia, and fearing that war might spread into the Suez Canal Zone, 64 Squadron was reformed at Heliopolis, Egypt, by taking one flight from each of No. 6 and No. 208 Squadrons. The Squadron was equipped with the Hawker Demon biplane fighter. As the risk of the Italian invasion receded, the squadron left Egypt for the United Kingdom in August 1936. It was then based at RAF Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, as part of the UK air defences for London. In May 1938 the squadron moved to RAF Church Fenton, North Yorkshire and the unit was re-equipped with Bristol Blenheim Mk I(F) fighters in December 1938.


3rd September 1939 Spitfire Squadron  Number 72 Squadron formed at Netheravon, July 1917, initially as a Training Squadron. It was then based in Basrah from March 1918 until the end of hostilities and disbanded in September 1919.

No 72 (Basutoland) Squadron was reformed 22nd February 1937, when 'B' Flight of No 1 Squadron at Tangmere was increased to squadron strength. It flew Gladiators until April 1939 when Spitfires were delivered. At the outbreak of WWII, No. 72 was at RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire on air defence and convoy protection duties.

3rd September 1939 Spitfire Squadron

17th October 1939 On the move

1st December 1939 Moved again

December 1939 Coastal patrols

13th January 1940  Moved again

2nd March 1940 Moved again

April 1940 Re-equipped with Spitfires

16th May 1940 Relocated

17th June 1940 Disaster

5th Sept 1940 Rest and renewal

19th September 1940 New squadron formed  Under American law, it was illegal for United States citizens to join the armed forces of foreign nations, and in doing so, they forfeited their US citizenship. Nevertheless in 1939 American mercenary Colonel Charles Sweeney had begun raising an American squadron to fight in Europe. He managed to dodge the FBI and Axis agents while illegally seeking pilots in the United States, risking $1000 fines and prison. Initially he wanted them to fight in Finland against the Russians, but his attention soon moved to France. Recruited and financed by Sweeney, over thirty Americans made their way to France before the Germans invaded in May, 1940. Although some joined the French Air Force, none got to fly in France. Several made their way to Britain after the German invasion of France and were recruited into RAF service.

After the fall of France the United States relaxed its concern over British recruiting and in July 1940 the FBI declared that there was 'no wrong done' by Sweeney (although those who had already left to join the Allied forces did not get their Citizenship officially restored until 1944). In Canada WWI Ace Air Vice Marshall Billy Bishop VC and a WWI American pilot, Clayton Knight, created the Clayton Knight Committee with the purpose of recruiting and training Americans for the Royal Canadian Air Force. By the end of 1941 Sweeney and the Committee had recruited over 7,000 Americans (though fewer than 15 percent became pilots). Almost all the pilots went to Britain to serve with the Royal Air Force.

With the steady influx of US volunteers, the RAF agreed to create a new Squadron to be manned by American personnel under British RAF officers, and on the 19 September 1940 No. 71 Squadron was reformed at Church Fenton. Sweeney had designed a unit shoulder patch bearing an American Eagle, giving squadron the title 71 'Eagle' Squadron. Seven of the initial recruits had already seen action in the Battle of Britain as members of other squadrons: Billy Fiske, Eugene “Red” Tobin, Andrew Mamedoff, Vernon “Shorty” Keough, Arthur Donahue, John Haviland and Phil Leckrone. Other recruits came through Canada with Canadian or civilian flying qualifications, and the initial task of the seven experienced flyers was to train their new colleagues.

The Squadron was initially equipped with American-built Brewster Buffalos. Royal Air Force acceptance personnel criticised the aircraft on numerous points, including excessive weight (despite a limited armament and a lack of pilot armour), poor high-altitude performance, engine overheating, unreliability and poor cockpit controls. The aircraft were deemed unsuitable for European conflict as it was being experienced in the Battle of Britain, and Hawker Hurricanes were supplied to replace the Buffalos from November 1940.

 More info.

19th September 1940 New squadron formed

23rd November 1940 Relocated

1st March 1941 Moved again

16th May 1942 On the Move

January 1943 Refitting

July 1943 Convoy escort  In July 1943 No.26 Squadron moved from Detling to RAF Church Fenton in Yorkshire, although one flight was detached and sent to RAF Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland. Their principal duties at this time were convoy escort patrols.

July 1943 Convoy escort

19th Dec 1943 Fighters and bombers

28th Dec 1943 Another Move

8th February 1945 Flooded

20th April 1945 On the Move

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Those known to have served at

RAF Church Fenton

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

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