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Thread: Ground service, support, and base units

  1. #1
    Niehorster Guest

    Default Ground service, support, and base units

    Some questions about 1944 RAF organization, specifically the service, support, and base units.

    Combat squadrons have a "Servicing Echelon" with a four digit number, of which the last three are the same as those of the squadron it supports, (assuming leading zeros to complete the number). For bombers, the first digit is a "9", fighters "6", etc.
    1/ What size are these "Servicing Echelons"?
    2/ What exactly do they do? Repair, supply, admin, and/or mess, etc.?
    3/ Are they directly subordinate to the Squadron, Station, ... ?
    4/ Who is in charge/commands these echelons?

    There are also "Servicing Echelons", with numbers starting with "3", which do not appear to belong to a specific unit.
    1/ Where do these fit in?
    2/ What size are these "Servicing Echelons"?
    3/ What exactly do they do? Repair, supply, admin, and/or mess, etc.?
    4/ To which command/headquarters are they subordinate to?

    Wings and Sector Stations have "Servicing Wing Headquarters" have four digit numbers, starting with "1"
    1/ What size are these "Servicing Wing Headquarters"?
    2/ What exactly do they do? Repair, supply, admin, and/or mess, etc.?
    3/ Are the directly subordinate to the Squadron or the Station?

    What size were the following units:
    "Group Servicing Section",
    "Servicing Wing Headquarters"
    "Conversion Unit"?
    "Operational Training Unit"?
    "Flying Boat Servicing Unit"

    Many thanks

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Hornsea, East Yorkshire, UK
    Thanked 35 Times in 34 Posts

    Default Servicing Echelons

    Hi Leo

    Servicing Echelons were originally formed in 1941 by taking the ground servicing elements of a flying squadron and making them self contained. The idea was to make squadrons more mobile. A squadron could land at an airfield with a servicing echelon be rearmed, refuelled or receive minor repairs. When a squadron was required to move, it only involved the flying element.

    SEs originally had no squadron 'allegance' and moral within these units began to suffer so in 1944 they were renumbered and 'attached' to a squadron although the flying element could relocate leaving the SE at the old location.

    3000 series - Fighter Command (replaced by 6000 series)
    4000 series - Transport Command
    5000 series - not used, numbers allocated to Airfield Construction Sqns
    6000 series - 2 TAF/ADGB/Fighter Command
    7000 series - ACSEA
    8000 series - Coastal Command
    9000 series - Bomber Command (and 38 Group)

    Malcolm Barrass

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Christchurch, New Zealand
    Thanked 7 Times in 7 Posts


    I wish that I could answer precisely your questions, but I have never seen establishments for the servicing echelons (naturally each type of squadron would require certain numbers of each trade and with appropriate numbers of men in NCO ranks, as you can imagine a 3-Flight squadron of 4-engined bombers (30 plus aircraft) would require considerably more servicing personnel than a squadron of Spitfires (16 plus aircraft). There is quite a good account of the development within the RAF of the "ideal" configuration of servicing personnel for each type of squadron in one volume of the "RAF Narratives", a process which seemed to commence immediately pre-war and was not finally settled until about 1948 with the introduction of the "Three functional wing" station. In Bomber Command in the metropolitan RAF (from my limited knowledge of what happened in 75 (NZ) Sqdn) the full groundstaff seemed to "belong" to the squadron until the introduction of the famous "Base" set up in late 1943 (which were originally named after the main base station, then were numbered with the first number indicating the controlling Group), and on 1st August 1944 the squadron "lost" all groundstaff (apart from the top administrative posts such as Adjutant, etc), although daily servicing continued as usual! There was also a general trend to separate the daily "servicing" of the aircraft from the more intense (and sometimes unscheduled) work to be carried out by the more experienced servicing personnel (particularly of the Fitter variety, such as Fitter IIE and Fitter IIA) who were posted to the strength of the station from the squadron, and who later became the "Base" personnel. Thus the final personnel who remained on squadron strength until they were also eventually absorbed by the "Base" were the men "left behind" who refueled and replenished the aircraft and carried out the routine minor servicing jobs. I would thank that many of the armourer staff were also on station, then base strength too, as it would be far more economical to consolidate all men of these trades in an enlarged Station (or Base) armoury section for the big job of loading the bombs and ammunition, as well as assembling and preparing the bomb load as well as routine servicing of the guns and turrets.
    As to who commanded the servicing echelons, I do know that in the RNZAF in NZ and Pacific the Servicing units (as they wee known in the RNZAF) were directly under the command of the attached squadron so functioned exactly the same as previously when they were part of the squadron, although when two such units were on the same airfield they tended to combine their equipment stores and possibly their armouries. However in the big RAF stations they had a post known as the CTO (Chief Technical Officer) and things tended to be centralized through him, with squadron commanders putting their daily requests to him for action. As the jurisdiction of each "Base" encompassed (usually) three stations, the men on each station tended to remain at that station, although at a pinch they could be shuttled between them in an emergency. However the "Base" organisation was supposed to economise on manpower by the centralisation of assets and direct them to where they were needed, but as Bomber Command itself (through its Group HQ) tended to to set all the "targets" to be achieved and delegated to the Group commanders to execute, it would seem that the pressure to carry out operations in a co-ordinated fashion would simultaneously put equal pressure on all the squadrons at a particular station at the same time. Still, you can see that this would allow the officer i/c of the station armoury could direct his manpower to arm the aircraft of squadrons A and B in turn, using the same equipment, and sufficient time would have to be allowed once the nature of the bombload was known to permit the assembly, transport and loading of all these bombs in the aircraft prior to take off time.
    Hope these give a few ideas on how the centralisation of servicing was supposed to economise on manpower and equipment, although the problems tended to differ greatly between commands (where heavy bomber squadrons tended to be static at fixed locations) and, say, fighter squadrons on the Continent where they had to be remain very mobile, and possibly subject to being overrun by the enemy, which is where the "servicing commandos" came into the picture.
    I also remember that in Coastal Command (where the whole subject was first explored), it was stated that the only way to ensure 100% serviceability was to stop flying! However thay had to get past that state of mind and come up with something better than they had.
    David D

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