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Thread: Bomber Command Aircraft 'on squadron strength' statistics: what do they mean?

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    Default Bomber Command Aircraft 'on squadron strength' statistics: what do they mean?

    Probably a very stupid question but where Air Ministry/Group reports refer to number of aircraft on Squadron strength, for example say a Squadron is referred to as having '24 +6' Lancasters does that mean there are a total of 30 Lancaster aircraft on charge with 24 operational at one time (hopefully) and 6 on reserve?

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    Barnsley,
    The form of strength shown in your example is not squadron strength as such, it is the ESTABLISHMENT of the squadron, that is, 24 Initial Equipment, 6 Immediate Reserve, total 30. The total establishment is the AUTHORISED strength, and most squadrons were of a standardised type, such as all Bomber Command heavy (4-engined) squadron would have identical establishment strengths, although there were almost always exceptions. For instance, starting in about 1942, it was decided that Bomber Command squadrons (4-engined) would gradually be upgraded, from two to three flights (a 50% increase in strength) to make the best use of airfields and facilities, by adding a "C" Flight as production of aircraft (and crews from OTU's) permitted. However quite heavy losses and lower production rates than anticipated meant that this was a very slow process, and from memory only about a quarter to a third of BC's squadrons were ever brought up to three-flight strength. ACTUAL strength of units would normally roughly match the total establishment, depending on operational intensity, and rate of losses at the time, although generally production could at least maintain the number of aircraft on strength in each squadron, although technical problems and combat damage could reduce serviceability (aircraft fit for operations on a daily basis), and this was usually expressed by the term "availability", or "serviceability". Nevertheless, BC continued to maintain all its existing squadrons at near-full authorised strength for most of the war, although the conversion to all-4-engined aircraft units took much longer than planned, and required that the earlier twin-engine aircraft (I mean Wellington and to a lesser extent the Whitley) had to retained in production till the end of the war to keep up front line strength, as well as equipping many OTUs and overseas commands as well as Coastal Command. The Stirling was also retained in production for the same reason, although they were gradually removed from the front line as Lancasters and Halifaxes took up the strain. Flying boat squadrons in Coastal Command initially had much smaller establishments than most land based squadrons, but these were later increased substantially.
    The arbitrary classifications of Initial Equipment and Immediate Reserve aircraft rapidly lost their original meaning, and if a squadron was up to full establishment it could be required to mount operations so long as serviceable aircraft and crews were available, up to almost full strength. Later in the war BC squadrons were usually issued with a few additional aircraft, perhaps up to 10% above establishment, and on same operations you could get a Lancaster squadron putting up over 30 aircraft on a single raid. In fact later in the war one of the constraints on operations was a growing shortage of bombs to drop, particularly as many short range daylight raids were being mounted against targets in France, and recourse had to be made to employing American bombs on many occasions. This shortage was partly due to increasing overseas Allied tactical air forces and the work of fighter bombers from Italy to Burma to Japan; it is a miracle that the USA had sufficient supplies of ordnance at this stage, with the rapidly growing fleet of B-29s based in India, then the Marianas making huge demands on American bomb production.
    Another detail of some interest that I came across whilst researching the crewing of 75 (NZ) Squadron (one of the 3-Flight squadrons from about April 1943 onwards) was that the crew establishment (from beginning of war this was traditionally one crew per established aircraft) seems to have been gradually increased during 1944 to be about 1.5 crews per aircraft, then to 2 crews per aircraft during 1945. With seven men per crew, 60 full crews (I kid you not) equates to 420 aircrew in a single three-flight BC squadron. I have never come across any independent confirmation of this practise, but have no doubt that it existed, possibly a cunning move to utilise the services of the many fully-trained crews awaiting posting to operational squadrons by posting them to double stock all existing squadrons which would have the effect of not only halving the exposure of all crews to operational losses (slight as they were at this stage), but in theory it might meant that the existing aircraft could be utilised more intensively (if this was possible). The transfer of disgruntled trained crews, hanging about, doing nothing, in various aircrew holding units or on constant leave as the war in Europe was rapidly winding up may well have been the prime reason for this strategy - just my pet theory!
    Hope this rambling post is of some help in understanding the question of differences between establishment, strength and availability.
    David D

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    David, thank you SO much for your reply that has really cleared the mystery up and given me another line of research into my particular interest, 166 Squadron. 166 was a 3 Flight Squadron, like 75 Squadron. I will now have to look and see how many crews they had per aircraft (30). Not quite sure how I am going to calculate that at any one given time, although it has to be said that the posting records are not bad after 166 actually became a 3 Flight Squadron. Thank you again for your help. B

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    Hi Barnsley - up to Jan '44, the establishment per Flight for heavy bombers was 11 crews. This increased in Jan to 14, although there was quite a lag before Squadrons began to reach the new quota.

    Richard

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    Hi Richard, could you lease tell me the source for those figures? 166 squadron had three Flights in 1945 with between 17 and 15 crews in each. B

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    Hi Barnsley - source is BC ORB, AIR24 - 263 & 264, the appendices to the ORB for January 1944. One of the appendices includes a regular report/forecast for the crew position for the following three months. The report for 28th Jan 44 notes that the position has changed since the previous report (5th Jan) because of the increase to 'the establishment for Heavy Bomber Squadrons from 11 to 14 crews per flight.'

    Richard

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    to follow on from David's post - I think the Unit Establishment of 30 aircraft per Bomber Command Squadron was a desired outcome rather than an actual outcome.

    On 1 January 1945, Bomber Command had:

    8 Pathfinder Mosquito Squadrons with a UE of 20
    2 Pathfinder Mosquito Squadrons with a UE of 30

    41 Lancaster Squadrons with a UE of 20
    12 Lancaster Squadrons with a UE of 30

    13 Halifax Squadrons (excl No. 100 Grp) with a UE of 20
    7 Halifax Squadrons (excl No. 100 Grp) with a UE of 30

    No. 100 Group had a lower UE per squadron than the main force.

    Cheers

    Rod

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