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Thread: Allocating of Squadron codes...?

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    Default Allocating of Squadron codes...?

    Hello everyone

    Apologies if this is is a daft question, but how were codes allocated to Squadrons decided? For example, and purely off the top of my head, why was 617 Sqn given AJ?

    Was it done by a committee or a certain individual in the RAF? Was there a set system, or was it done completely randomly?

    Regards

    Simon

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    Simon,
    Come on - be real!!!!
    It was (in my humble opinion - which is far from humble!) by a Committee somewhere in the depths of Air Ministry!! They had to make sure that any a/c that fell into enemy hands could not glean vital Int from the Sqn Letters. They had to make sure that no Sqn Letters had rude/sexual/pornographic inferences! (For 'FO' then 1665 OCU, 75 Sqn, and Stn Flt Wick obviously had a problem!!!)
    The Senior Civil Servant in charge of Sqn Letters obviously had to liaise fairly frequently with the Senior Civil Servant in charge of allocating Sqn Numbers. There might have been a frequent need for a number of inter-departmental co-ordination meetings. You have no idea how difficult these things can become!
    And I don't just make mock. I have been, at some stages in my Air Ministry/RAF/MoD/RAFR career(s) involved in such niff-naff and trivia! It does happen!!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Some Sqns were mandated to change their letter once if not twice due to unknown reasons, whilst others appear to have been unaffected . . .

    Off the top of my head, our own Sqn (78) was YY pre war - but changed on 3/9/39 to EY. This was done for national security reason according to records on the Sqn

    460 RAAF who were based at Breighton before 78 moved in had AR on their Wellingtons but changed on conversion to Lancaster after their move to Binbrook

    617 originally with AJ changed to KY (I think?) at some point after their move to Woodhall Spa

    Please correct me if I'm wrong

    Tony H

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    Well Resmoroh/Peter your response was not up to your usual well considered standard I am wondering if you have shares in Barclays Bank? ;-)

    I have tried hard to run down this process at the National Archives without much success and the key book "Combat Codes" by Flintham and Thomas does not provide much help regarding the underlying bureaucracy.

    As far as I can tell the issue of squadron code letters rested with that part of the Air Ministry that was responsible for wireless security. In 1942-43 when the issues arose about squadrons discontinuing squadron codes (especially in Coastal Command) my understanding is that the key concern in wireless security was that the enemy should not be able to link up their monitoring of RAF radio traffic with observations of aircraft and their code letters and so to be able to unravel the RAF Order of Battle.

    The bits and pieces of documents that I have found indicate that it was a two-way relationship and that Groups/Wings/Squadrons were able to request the issue of new code letters. I am not a Bomber Command specialist but it seems to me that a number of BC squadrons were issued with additional code letters because they had so many aircraft. But, as is made clear in "Combat Codes", circulars were periodically issued in the "SD" series (Secret Document?) that occasionally promulgated a long list of codes for every squadron number.

    Finding these SD documents would be very helpful and the only archive that I can suggest that might have them is AHB. Having never been in uniform there is no way in there for me but I am assuming that Andy Thomas would have checked that out. "Combat Codes" and my own observations indicate that something happened in 1944 that, for example, resulted in a lot of Coastal Command units and a lot of squadrons that returned from Italy to 2TAF acquiring new squadron codes. I would be very interested to know what that might have been.

    Steve
    Last edited by SteveBrooking; 4th July 2012 at 19:42. Reason: finger trouble

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    I think I can explain the first part of your question. Coastal Command had dropped the use of squadron codes earlier, and used the individual aircraft letter coupled with a number for the particular squadron at the base. Thus the first squadron was 1 (or no code at all), the second squadron was 2, the third squadron 3. Every base used the same sequence. In 1944 they reverted to the conventional two-character codes, so new codes were issued for most cases.

    For the second, units overseas were allowed to use codes that duplicated those in use in the UK. Sometimes the codes carried by units that moved overseas were then reallocated to other (new) UK units. For example, 607 Sq carried AF from the start of the war, in Fance, UK and India, until being disbanded in the Far East. After they moved to India the AF code was allocated to the Air Fighting Development Unit. So squadrons moving back to the UK may have to have been recoded.

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    With mention of the seminal work on Squadron Codes I took the opportunity to speak to one of its authors and received the following reply.

    The 'codes' or more correctly unit identification letters, were issued by, initially AMO (Air Ministry Order) A154/39) and then subsequently by SD 110. The latter were periodically updated, re-issued and amended. Each list also had instructions that the preceding issue was to be destroyed. As an 'accountable' document and not a letter etc that would be put onto a file, I suspect that this was rigorously done. Certainly neither Vic nor I ever found any, neither did the late Ray Sturtivant who was a real ferret on such matters. Ch 2 of Combat Codes gives as thorough an explanation as to what the system was, but as to whom physically came up with the letter combinations, I have no idea. Certainly, squadron commanders would not 'apply' to have them changed - this was always done by higher authority. For example, DT was used by 257 Sqdn but when in late 1940 pictures were published of their DT coded Hurricanes that also identified them as 257 Sqn in the captions, the 'codes' were ordered to be changed to FM.

    Andy Thomas

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    Thank you for all the replies.

    As Peter implied, I had great visions of various committees and sub-committees despatching memos back and forth across the Air Ministry for the duration of the War.

    It's interesting to hear the security aspect of the codes and the Order of Battle. I guess their motto was 'Confound and Confuse'...!

    Regards

    Simon

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