- No. 17 Squadron Royal Air Force during the Second World War -
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No. 17 Squadron Royal Air Force
No 17 Squadron was formed at Gosport on 1 February 1915 and was an Army Cooperation unit in Egypt and Arabia before spending the rest of the war in Salonica. In December 1918, the squadron sending A Flight to Batum to support the White Russian forces in the Russian civil war. B and C Flights went to Constantinople as part of the army of occupation in Turkey. On 14 November 1919, No 17 was disbanded.
It was reformed again at Hawkinge on 1 April 1924, and formed part of the fighter defence of the UK until the outbreak of World War Two. In June 1939 the Squadron was based at RAF Kenley and received new Hurricanes.
Sept 1939 Patrols
19th May 1940 On the Move
29th July 1940 Battle of Britain
6th August 1940 Aircraft Lost
11th August 1940 Battle over Harwich
11th August 1940 Ports and ships attacked
15th Aug 1940 Eagle Day
15th August 1940 Airfields attacked
18th August 1940 Airfields attacked
19th August 1940 Relocated
21st August 1940 Airfields attacked
25th August 1940 Battle of Britain
3rd September 1940 Airfields bombed
11th September 1940 Battle of Britain
15th Sep 1940 Battle of Britain Day
17th September 1940 Battle of Britain
18th Sept 1940 London bombed
20th Sept 1940
24th Sept 1940 Bad day
30th Oct 1940 Recuperation
4th April 1941 Far North
29th July 1941 Renewal
31st August 1941 Preparation for overseas service
November 1941 Diverted
March 1942 Forced out of Rangoon
29th April 1942 Retreat
June 1942 Defence
17th August 1943 Re-equipped
20th November 1944 Back in the front line
June 1945 Preparations
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Those known to have served with
No. 17 Squadron Royal Air Force
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List
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Stevens pilot 17 Sqd.Could anybody help to find info on this pilot who flew a Hurricane with popeye on port side YB-J N2359, from Debden in Essex. We would like to know of any history of the pilot or plane, thanks.Robert Bayford
Flt/Lt George Arthur Steward DFM 17th Sqd.George was born in 1914, in a small village called Bromeswell, very near to Ipswich in Suffolk. He had been a mechanic with the Ipswich Flying Club. Also he was in the RAF Reserves and was due to come out in the middle of September 1939, but Britain declared war on Germany on September 3rd 1939, and so he had to stay in the RAF. At the beginning of the War there was very little happening because Germany was busy with overcoming Poland. The German method of attack was quick and rapid subjugation of its victims, and the German name of this was blitz krieg. Because of the quietness the Germans called sitzkrieg and the British called it the phoney war.
George was in 17 Squadron based at Martlesham near Ipswich, flying Hurricane single seat fighter planes. RAF planes had two capital letter code on the side of the fuselage, and 17 Squadron had YB. If you look at the Hurricane in Queen’s flight you will see it has YB; the Squadron does not exist any more.
During the phoney war both sides were attacking only military targets and the first raid on Britain was at Rosyth to bomb ships. The big ship the Germans wanted sink was tied up at the quayside and they did not bomb it because civilians would have been killed or injured. We, the Allies, also respected this ideal but as you will see it did not last long for either side.
Meanwhile in Europe Hitler, in charge of the Germans, was working his armies to France, through Holland and Belgium. The French had built a defensive line, known as the Maginot Line to keep invaders out. The Germans just went round the end of it and the Battle of France was on.
There were many British soldiers fighting in France alongside the French. The French kept demanding more fighter planes to go to France to help and at first the squadrons stayed at bases in France. The losses of aircraft was high because the planes were being bombed on the ground and the Germans were overrunning bases. Mr. Churchill, the British leader, said no more and would only authorise fighters going over to France to do battle if they could refuel and come home again. This is where George comes in as 17 Squadron was one of those sent out on the basis.
Although war is a nasty business sometimes there are lighter moments. There is a story that one day 17 Squadron was near Le Mans and some of the pilots found some motorcycles and went racing round the racing circuit. Whether George was one of them I have no idea!
Unfortunately, things were getting worse and the Germans were driving the French and British further and further west to Dunkirk. A decision was made to evacuate as many troops as possible from France to England. Mr. Churchill and Admiral Ramsay met in a room to control the evacuation. The room was next to the dynamo room where there was too much noise for anyone to be able to hear what was being said. The evacuation acquired the name Operation Dynamo. The idea was to commandeer small boats as they could, to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to waiting naval ships.
The RAF, including George, attacked the German Bombers and fighters who were trying to stop the soldiers getting away. A sad thing about this operation was there was a lot smoke from bombs and burning buildings and cloudy weather so that the soldiers could not see what was happening in the sky. Also the Allied fighters were trying to shoot down the bombers before they got to Dunkirk. This made the soldiers think the RAF had abandoned them, so much so that back in England if they saw an RAF man they were very rude to him and in some cases beat him up. Whether George had the same treatment I do not know.
I read a book about the Luftwaffe in which it was related that the Luftwaffe had so many planes lost and damaged, and so many pilots lost and wounded, as a result of the attention of the RAF, that no way could back up an invasion of England. The evacuation lasted from 26th May to 4th June and 338,000 soldiers were taken home.
May I digress here? George was not the only member of the family at Dunkirk. Some Thames sailing barges were commandeered to help and two were skippered by two of my great-uncles, Fred Finbow and Lem Webb. When the evacuation was finished Uncle Lem sailed safely back to Dover with some 250 soldiers aboard. Uncle Fred was not so lucky. Three barges were being towed home in line eastern by Gravesend tug which hit a mine and was blown to bits and sank as did the first barge. The second barge, Uncle Fred’s, rolled over and sank. Uncle was all right and was picked up by the third barge, the “Pudge”, which was undamaged and was able to sail herself home. The “Pudge” when she came out of service was converted into a conference centre in London Docklands. Uncle Lem’s barge ended up in the place as a restaurant until she sank at her mooring and was taken away for repairs.
While this was going on Hitler was building up an invasion fleet in the Channel ports. There were bombing raids on them but George was not involved with this. Hermann Goering, a very arrogant and self-important man, was in overall command of the Luftwaffe and he convinced Hitler to delay the invasion until he had destroyed all the RAF bases in southern England, after which the German army could invade with less resistance.
The stage known as the Battle of Britain was about to start. Until now there were sporadic raids aimed mainly at factories and military places. The battle started on tenth of July and was mainly against convoys in a bid to stop ships from bringing food and other essential supplies to us. Then in August the Luftwaffe began bombing coastal airfields, the in September the attacks on air fields further inland. The RAF were using Spitfires and Hurricanes to attack the German bombers and their protective fighters. The Spitfires were faster than the Hurricanes and so they went after the German fighters and the Hurricanes went after the bombers. One advantage of fighting over England was that when a German plane was shot down the crew was taken prisoner and could not fight again. British pilots, if unhurt, could get back to a base and could be back in the air and fighting again. George was shot down and crash-landed near Maidstone but was unhurt and two Air Raid Wardens took him to a nearby pub for a pint. During this time George was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) for bravery.
Knocked out of the skies. Hitler was becoming more interested in going east to Russia. The German invasion fleet was slowly disbanded. The bombing raids carried on. Then in the winter the Blitz was started in which cities were bombed during the night. Our fighters could not do much because only few fighters had radar to see me the enemy in the dark. George’s Squadron was kept busy with convoy patrols.
During 1941 George was awarded a commission and so became an officer. In the autumn the Squadron went to Tain in northeast Scotland. One day while taking off the plane following hit George’s plane and they crashed and both pilots were killed.
As the winter drew nearer the weather made an invasion more difficult because of the sea conditions. More importantly the RAF had not beenHarry Gray
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