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Thread: Sidearms in the RAF during WWII

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    Default Sidearms in the RAF during WWII

    Hi all,

    I have read somewhere that only RAF officers -- including aircrews-- were issued sidearms. Is that correct? If it is, what was the reason for NCOs not to be issued a pistol or a revolver, even if they were pilots or aircrews?

    Thanks a lot and best wishes,

    Fox.
    Author of Crash in Bayeux - The Last Flight of Sergeant Ferguson (ISBN 979-10-91044-13-4) - www.facebook.com/crashinbayeux.

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    The only reference I have seen indicates sidearms being issued to both Officers and Airmen. This is from "Beam Bombers" by Michael Cumming and refers to security measures after D-Day for the two Oboe Squadrons, 109 & 105.
    [at 105 Squadron] "...all leave would be suspended, six crews would be on standby at 30 minutes readiness, twenty-four hours to the day, and no one else in aircrew would be allowed away from the Flights for more than three hours - and then only on the condition they stayed at the end of a telephone. All Officers and Airmen were to carry arms at all times, an instruction echoed at Little Staughton for aircrew members of No.109; there, when flying was in progress, sidearms were to be left in their lockers and an airman armed with a Sten gun accompanied the crews from the locker room to the aircraft for take-off and then met them at the airfield dispersal point on their return."
    The eventual Station Commander at Little Staughton, G/C Peter Cribb, had gained a reputation for using his service revolver to turn off the light in his hut when he was too lazy to get up. His obituary in the Telegraph said the following:
    "The winter of 1942-43 was especially cold, and both men were anxious to avoid being the last into bed, and thus responsible for switching out the lights. Eventually Cribb circumvented this problem by shooting them out instead with his .38 revolver. Due to the cold and an alcoholic haze, he frequently missed. In the morning his batman would wake him with a cup of tea and inquire: “Shall I reload, sir?”"
    Regards
    Dave Wallace
    Last edited by David Wallace; 31st December 2011 at 18:28.

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    Fox,

    I think your question is almost impossible to answer with a single statement!!!

    The answers depend on where, when and what was going on. I stand to be corrected but I think the following might get you started.

    First, in UK it was not normal for RAF personnel to carry sidearms or rifles, unless the general situation warranted being armed eg high state of anti invasion alert, searching for downed enemy airmen, guards at aircraft crash sites.

    Second, I have not seen or heard of main force bomber crews carrying sidearms (officially).

    Third, tactical aircrew very often did carry sidearms when flying over enemy territory.

    Fourth, personnel in operational theatres overseas were frequently armed, particularly when there was a possibility that the enemy was nearby. For example, in Burma aircrew carried weapons as they were likely to encounter all sorts of threats if they bailed out or crashed in remote areas or behind enemy lines.

    The sort of weapon also needs to be considered. Generally, officers carried revolvers, SNCOs in the later years of the war would have sten guns and airmen rifles. When flying, most people carried revolvers, as a .303 rifle would be too unwieldly to wave about in an aircraft.

    For aircrew, there was often a degree of choice and captured or bartered weapons were not uncommon.

    In the above, I am excluding the likes of service police and RAF Regiment.

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    King Regs clause 2566

    Automatic Pistols
    1 Every officer of the general duties, equipment, accountant, medical and dental branches and every commissioned engineer, signals and armament officer must be in possession of a service type pistol or revolver throughout his period of service on the active list and will be held personally responsible that he so equipped. Every such officer, subject to clause 2, will be entitled to be issued on demand to No.1 Maintenance Unit with one Colt automatic pistol (.455") or pistol revolver No.2 Mark 1(.38") for his personal use during that period.

    ..

    3 Pistols and revolvers held by officers may at the discretion of C.O.s be handed over to the unit or station armoury for safe custody whilst the officers are on the strength of the unit.

    (Officer Records of Service contained a section for the recording of issue and periodic signature to validate possession - Ross)

    Airmen's Arms and Accoutriements

    Rifles, pistols, revolvers and bayonets will be regarded as unit equipment i.e. they will not be transferred to the airman.

    Regards
    Ross
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    I have a group photo of the pilots of 127 Squadron taken at B.79 Woensdrecht on 25 Dec 44.
    It clearly show 1 NCO Sergeant pilots wearing a side arm.
    A second group photo I have was taken at Fairwood Common in Feb 45.
    All the NCO pilots are wearing sidearms.

    Happy New Year to you all
    Andy

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    Side arms were not only carried while operating over enemy territory, but as in the case of 94 sqdn their personnel carried firearms on base while in Greece during the ELAS troubles of December 1944 – January 1945. At one point their base Kalamaki was under threat of attack by the ELAS and arms were carried for self-protection.

    Happy New Year to All.

    Ian

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    Ross,

    Quick question re KRs 2566.

    The phrasing of the clause suggests that it was issued pre-war or very early in the war. I write this because of the words: "...and every commissioned engineer etc etc ..." This appears as though the formal formation of an Engineer Officer Branch had not taken place at the time the clause was issued.

    If this is the case, I wonder whether the practice of issuing revolvers and pistols continued as a personal allocation as the war went on.

    Happy New Year
    Colin Cummings

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    Hi Colin,

    Yup, prewar and wartime clause.

    The issue of KR&ACIs I quote from is the 1943 Issue, hand amended to AL132, May 1944.

    There are also a number of clauses regarding private purchase of side and firearms so they were all permitted to be obtained and retained via number of routes.

    Could have been some commissioned blanket stackers dream to be armed while on duty dealing with incomplete dockets.

    Regards
    Ross
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    Hallo and a happy New Year to you all,

    Just to muddy the waters a little, it seems that in certain squadrons, side-arms were carried by both Commissioned and Non-Commissioned aircrew "in the field" and at home.

    From an officer's diary of 263 Squadron's Norway campaign in 1940, there is meniton that "The gunnery officer of “Furious” has very decently fixed those of us who have lost their R.A.F. revolvers with new ones. The R.N. can get things done in the right way; no bother with auditors etc."

    After landing in the 2nd Norwegian expedition, W/O James of the squadron's Signals section, was killed by UD of his revolver while unloading stores.

    Later on at Warmwell in 1943, a Sergeant Pilot was badly wounded by UD of an NCO colleague's revolver. Happily, this time the victim survived the wound.

    On a purely speculative note, I can certainly imagine that single-seater pilots may choose not carry their side-arms when flying due to the restricted space available. Something like the Webley Mk VI .455 or even the Mk IV .38 which were issued are sizable chunks of steel and the propensity for them to snag on something should the pilot need to "leave the office" in a hurry would be a considerable disincentive! And then there is the unanswerable question of what you would actually do with it should you find yourself on the ground in enemy territory.

    Enough havering from me,

    Jeff

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    The last paragraph of RecklessRat's contribution has tempted me (unwisely I expect) to drift the Thread a wee bit.

    My father, at the time a flight sgt on 684 Sqn in the Far East, brought home his holster for a .38 revolver on his return to UK in 1947. It languished in the house for years but in 1965, I took it with me to Malaya and used it with my .38 Smith & Wesson revolver (automatic pistols could easily jam at 'le moment critique') during my time 'up the jungle'.

    A year later I went to Borneo and because I was going to spend some time skimming over the trees and possibly in harms way, I had the chance to equip myself with something a little more robust to supplement the .38. I chose a pump action Remington, single barrel, shotgun with an eight shot magazine. I picked this weapon for two reasons; first, any unpleasantness was likely to be conducted at fairly close quarters and; second, I was a dreadful shot ( the joke about the officer who fired his gun into the air and missed was probably based on me!!) and a shotgun would increase the chance of hitting something. I mixed my ammunition and had birdshot first (two cartridges) with 'slugs', a sort of solid shot, next and then repeated that, using the last two slots in the magazine for birdshot.

    The only time I did any real damage was 1968, when I fired a couple of 'verry' flare cartridges from a helicopter into a cargo junk off Hong Kong, when it refused to stop. The plea; 'I was only obeying orders' sounds very hollow when you have (nearly) just caused an international incident! I comfort myself that it was all the navy's fault.

    In later years, I converted to the 9mm Browning automatic pistol and I loved it.

    Sorry for the boring story.

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