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Thread: Air Delivery Letter Service

  1. #1
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    Default Air Delivery Letter Service

    I have found a lengthy narrative about the Air Delivery Letter Service, composed about February 1945. I have a sense that either FLYPAST or AEROPLANE MONTHLY has carried an article about this within the last ten years. Am I wrong ?

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    Hugh, Hi,
    The Air Delivery Letter Service is in TNA AIR 29/883/3 (not digitised)
    Malcolm’s RAFWEB has it at Northolt - Air Despatch Letter Service Sqn (20 Dec 1944 - 12 Jun 1945).
    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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    Hello,

    Aeroplane Monthly had a 4-5 pager on the ADLS in April 2015.

    http://docdroid.net/HwbRZXp/the-mail...roplane504.pdf

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 8th September 2019 at 11:47.

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    More coups, Peter and mon Colonel. The document I have is dated 16 February 1945, and makes a number of statements which I cannot verify without the unit diary, but which sound plausible. As of February 1945 the main European terminus was near Brussels, with Austers making the final deliveries to field units including HQ, First Canadian Army. Although the unit was primarily equipped with Hurricanes, mention is made of Ansons, Austers and Norseman aircraft. These last were used by American pilots on the run from Brussels to American formations.

    Particular mention is made of F/L Fred Ridgeway (St. Helens, Lancashire) as director of that depot. Also mentioned (alas with no name) is a Canadian pilot who found himself in the middle of a gaggle of German fighters (1 January 1945). “One of the bandits let loose with a cannon burst directly at the inoffensive Auster, and the airmailman sideslipped for terra firma. A convenient open space came up to receive the little plane, whereupon the pilot jumped out and raced for the nearest house, one of the raiders pausing long enough to chase him and pepper his sheltering place.” Another Canadian (F/O John Stevenson, Toronto), heading for the Brussels terminus, evaded the enemy by nipping into the city itself and dodging about the higher buildings there.

    The story also mentions casualties (no names) - “Two ADLS Hurricane pilots were killed when they crashed among the 2,000-foot hills around Dijon, in France, when rainclouds blotted out these miniature but treacherous peaks. Still a third Hurricane vanished into the Channel, nor was its pilot rescued.”

    From my own incomplete compilations of awards, I find at least two relevant cases, viz:

    BURTON, Sydney John, Flight Sergeant (1586897, RAFVR) - No.1322 Air Despatch Letter Service Flight, Northolt - Air Force Medal - awarded as per London Gazette dated 3 April 1945. Public Record Office Air 2/9061, courtesy of Steve Brew, has citation drafted when he had flown 725 hours, 200 in previous six months. “Flight Sergeant Burton is a pilot in Air Despatch Letter Service duties and has completed 25 flights between the United Kingdom and the Continent, many of them in appalling weather conditions. On December 22nd, 1944, when flying to Brussels, poor visibility and fog prevent him reaching the French coast and he decided to return to England. The weather was too bad to land and he was forced to alight in the Solent. He ensured that the official mail was safe by placing in the dinghy and he alighted on the water so efficiently that his Anson aircraft floated and was able to be towed ashore and salved..”

    JONES, John Mostyn Gower, Warrant Officer (1312493, RAFVR) - Air Delivery Letter Service - Air Force Cross - awarded as per London Gazette dated 13 June 1946. Public Record Office Air 2/9670 has recommendation drafted when he had flown 1,998 hours (525 on current duties, 180 in previous six months). “This Warrant Officer has been employed as a pilot in the Air Delivery Letter Service since September 1944. Throughout this period, he has always displayed a high sense of duty and has never let adverse weather deter him from completing a mail run.”

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    Hugh,

    Re the name of the other ADLS pilot on 1 January, 1945:

    II. and III./JG 26's attack on Brussels-Evere.

    Next to take off from Evere were two Austers of the ADLS Flight of 2nd TAF Communication Squadron. Piloted by F/O Stevenson and F/O Harvey they were in for a surprise. Shortly after 09.00 hrs, a second element of No.403 Squadron, piloted by P/O Steve Butte and F/Sgt G.K. Lindsay, prepared to take off. Meanwhile, No.416 Squadron was called to readiness for a 12-fighter patrol. Led by F/Lt Dave Harling, DFC, from Montreal, the Spitfires were takiing along the perimeter track.

    The first inhabitants of Evere to notice the impending German fighter attack were two ADLS pilots. P/O Stevenson made a head-on encounter with the German force and flew through the middle of the formation, weaving violently at low level. It is believed he met JG 27 on its way to Brussels-Melsbroek since one of the pilots of 13./JG 27 claimed an Auster in the Brussels area. However, Stevenson escaped and continued to Ghent, only to find the airfield there being strafed. He returned to Brussels where cover was taken by flying up and down the main streets between the buildings until the raid ended. F/O Harvey, flying the other Auster, was not so fortunate. Having encountered the enemy some 45 miles north-east of Brussels, he attempted immediately to land his Auster on an abandoned tactical strip near Bourg Leopold*. The aircraft had not stopped rolling forward when a German attack holed the starboard wing, so he dived out and ran for cover; he had taken barely twenty paces when another attack set the Auster on fire, and in a short while it was completely burned out**

    * Probably the strip was B.76 Peer.
    ** Operational Record Book 2nd TAF Communication Squadron.
    https://discovery.nationalarchives.g...ils/r/C2504999 (see images 87-8 of 142).

    See:
    Bodenplatte The Luftwaffe's Last Hope - The Attack on Allied Airfields New Year's Day 1945.
    Manhro,John & Ron Puetz.
    Crowborough:Hikoki Publications,2004.
    pp.187 & 197.

    Col.
    Last edited by COL BRUGGY; 9th September 2019 at 15:57.

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    The following is the text of an article (unpaid) intended for the newsletter of the Ottawa Chapter, Canadian Aviation Historical Society:

    Until I can clone myself and enable Halliday Mark II to take up residence in the British National Archives, some stories will have to be incomplete. That of the Air Delivery Letter Service is one of them.

    It begins with my discovery of an RCAF Press Release dated 16 February 1945 about the unit which was established as No.1697 Flight in April 1944, intended to shuttle official mail to and from the Normandy front, using Hawker Hurricanes. The unit was manned by RAF and RCAF pilots who had completed an operational tour and were due for something less stressful. The service commenced three days after D-Day. Upon learning of its existence, I went to the website RAF Commands (http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/for...neral-Category), inquiring about it, and was almost instantly rewarded with reference to an article that had appeared in Aeroplane Monthly in April 2015. Allow me at this point to acknowledge an on-line contributor whose nom-de-plume is “Colonel Bruggy” and who must have bought every aerial history book and indexed every flying magazine published in the United Kingdom.

    Neither the Press Release nor the article gave me anything about Canadians flying ADLS Hurricanes, although the Press Release mentioned that two pilots had been killed flying into hills near Dijon and one had vanished over the Channel (all apparently RAF). No.1697 Flight moved to Evere, Belgium in September 1944 and was soon afterwards disbanded. Its work was taken up by the Second Tactical Air Force Communications Squadron, which also dated from April 1944. At this point the Press Release mentioned three RCAF pilots, but the nature of operations had changed. Anson and Dakota aircraft brought official mail and passengers to Evere; from there Hurricanes and Austers distributed it to field headquarters such a First Canadian Army and 21 Army Group. Also, from Evere, USAAF Norseman aircraft took the mails to American formations.

    I was able to obtain an online copy of the diary of Second Tactical Air Force Communications Squadron from the British Archives, but the results were disappointing. The quality of text challenged eyesight, but more serious (for me) was its failure to specify names (“F/L Jarvis” or “F/L Smith” are useless without initials) and refusal to identify personnel as RAF or RCAF. At this point, the Press Release (with some reservations) came to my assistance.

    Although it had begun as a story about mail-totting Hurricanes, the Canadian document now dealt with RCAF pilots flying the mail by Austers to various headquarters. One in particular was Flying Officer Gordon Harvey Hollingshead of Meath Park, Saskatchewan (near Prince Albert). The Austers were described as “sky-going jeeps” and “motorized grasshoppers”. Their method after takeoff was to adopt low level, contour-hugging tactics “which would probably lose any civilian pilot his license in peacetime.” They thus avoided any intruding enemy aircraft or the attentions of nervous anti-aircraft gunners. If weather closed in, they found a field or highway on which to alight. At First Canadian Army Headquarters Hollingshead arrived at “a 100-yard strip of rusty steel-mesh matting about as wide as the road in front of your house.” Having mastered a gusty cross-wind landing, he taxied up to “the tarpaper-covered shack which is control tower, admin building and maintenance hangar.”

    On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe did break into Allied airspace and two Canadian pilots named Harvey and Stevenson met the enemy “up close and personal.” Unhappily I have been unable to fully identify Harvey (remember, no initials with names in the record book and there were at least three RCAF pilots named Harvey overseas at the time), but his was a stirring adventure. He was pursued by enemy fighters but managed to land in a small field and ran for cover. The Germans reduced the Auster to a flaming wreck.

    The other Canadian, Flying Officer John Arthur Gordon Stevenson (Toronto) was heading for Evere when he was intercepted. “Steve ducked into Brussels and spent the next few minutes dodging in and out among the higher buildings, and generally trying to look like one of the pigeons that operate from the gold-edged spire of the Hotel de Ville.”

    I particularly liked the accounts of the New Year 1945 encounters; narratives usually concentrate on what was happening on the fighter and fighter-bomber fields. Perhaps, too, someone named “Harvey” may read this and recognize their grandfather’s story.

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    Hugh,

    Your kind comments are most appreciated. Thanks.

    Col.

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    Hello,


    I'm interested in the document you have, Hugh. It is possible to have a copy if you have it in digital format ?

    I have copied the ORB of No. 1697 flight at Kew, for the period running from formation in April 1944 up to December 1944, but not later.

    One of the casualties is David Horace Jones, buried in Choloy War Cemetery. Here is his CWGC entry :

    https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/c...-david-horace/

    I happen to have bits and pieces of the Hurricane in which he lost his life, in the Burgundy area in France (near Dijon).

    I'm also interested in another member of the flight, Belgian Alex Nitelet, a former Spitfire pilot with No. 609 Squadron, shot down and wounded during his first op with the Squadron (9 August 1941), who evaded capture. Later agent in occupied France and later despatcher in the SD Squadrons. He "pulled the strings" to be posted to No. 1697 flight in June 1944.

    Joss

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    Some great ripping yarns there, which just goes to show that in a World War, nobody should feel too safe no matter where they may be and what they are doing!
    David D

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    Joss, I shall have the document transcribed and posted here (this may take about a week as I have some other commitments to fulfill). I must say I am surprised at the interest this topic has generated, as evidenced by the number of viewings.

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