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Thread: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

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    Default 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    I'm in the middle of investigating my grandfather's RAF career, and rather than carrying on derailing the Bulldog thread I'd best start my own!

    He ended up as Squadron Leader James Watson (AFC), and in the 1930s he was in 3F Squadron. I've got his service records with his movements and postings so I know where they were, but I'd love to find out any more details about what they were doing, particularly while they were in Port Sudan and Khartoum. I'm missing the logbook from Sept 1932-Jan 1937.

    I do know he was in the aerobatics team in 1937 and flew in the Empire Air Day aerobatics display at Meir (Gladiator K7894) and possibly Kenley - logbook says display MEIR and MEIR > Kenley on the right day and the RAF display at Hendon later that same year (which I have found on youtube).

    I've spoken to a couple of people at the 3F Squadron association who've been really helpful and are doing some asking around, and I've got the book about the squadron's history on its way. Don Clark on here has pointed me to the ORB for the squadron so that is next to investigate but are there any other resources anywhere I can find out more detail about what they would have actually been doing?

    The other interesting bit about his service was that he was at Habbaniya in 1941 for the Anglo-Iraqi war and I found a massive MOD document that goes through that day by day - comparing that to the logbook was properly eye-opening.

    Other than that, the Syria invasion when he was briefly (a couple of months only) in the X Flight striking force in 27 Squadron, and another brief stint in Coastal Command in 1946 for Operation Sallyport, he was an instructor from 1938 to the 1950s, when he moved to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down, and then moved into Air Traffic Control after retiring from the RAF.

    I've got an album of photos here - https://flic.kr/s/aHsmQ2fepR - if any of the other people, planes or photos can be IDed I'd absolutely love to know (again thanks to Don Clark for info so far). I've got all sorts of 'desert' photos that might be Sudan, might be Iraq/Syria, or might be Zimbabwe, where he went after Iraq.

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Mehitabel


    Thanks for this interesting post and the other one listing bulldog Serials with 3 Sqn - If you private message me with a contact email address I have a couple of files I can send you

    Kind Regards

    Paul

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Thanks Paul!

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Re "Habbaniya in 1941" and "massive MOD document"

    Expect you're referring to
    Air Historical Branch Narrative: Middle East Campaigns Vol VIII The Campaign in Iraq May 1941
    112 pages, 5.55MB, PDF, text searchable (within OCR limitations)
    inc Appendices various and a fabulous map set.

    If not, free to download on line at AHB docs collection here:
    https://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisat...n-narratives1/

    Draws heavily on AVM D'Albiac's despatch on Air operations in Iraq
    which is rather harder to find.

    For 3 Squadron, between your family collection, the Sqn Operations Record Book , Long's Three's Company, and the Sqn Assn, you're pretty well set, I feel - others may have more to offer.

    The only other source I can think of that might interest, for personnel of the time, are 1930s issues of the official Air Ministry Air Force List - in prewar issues, each Squadron had an entry showing locations and a roll of current Officers. These occasionally turn up on eg bookfinder.com, but 1930's issues tend to be astronomically priced.

    Assuming you are in the UK, far better to view any issues of interest in eg British Library (for example, 1933)
    or RAF Museum (Reading Room opens again 31 Aug)

    For example, I have the March 1939 issue: the last with such details for the duration of the War.
    Although out of period I think for your grandfather, at least as an example of what to expect for earlier years, I've put up the Mar 1939 page for both 3 and 4 Squadrons.
    Easiest to read as an image. I'll leave it up for a few days.

    Last edited by Don Clark; 10th August 2023 at 12:04.
    Toujours à propos

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    Mehitabel (10th August 2023)

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Hi Mehitabel,

    Further to Don Clark’s post, I recently discovered a 1928 and 1932 Air Force List online via Google Books. They are searchable which makes things much easier!

    https://www.google.com.au/books/edit...C?hl=en&gbpv=0
    https://www.google.com.au/books/edit...C?hl=en&gbpv=0

    The pages may not offer anything further to your grandfather’s service. However you mentioned John Peter Whitehead in your other post. A John Whitehead can be traced in the above volumes, although unsure if the same man? Looks like he was attached to the Fleet Air Arm for a few years.

    John Whitehead
    16 (Army Co-Op) Sqn - 26 Jul 30
    446 (FSR) Flt - 15 Sept 32
    821 Sqn - 2 May 33
    RAF Base Leuchars - 22 Oct 34

    regards, Drew

    Also this might be of interest if you have not already seen it
    https://storyofwar.com/background/c-...iraq-may-1941/
    Last edited by AUS; 10th August 2023 at 12:53. Reason: Additional reference link

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    Mehitabel (10th August 2023)

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Yes Don, that's the massive document! I could read that and compare it - and things like this really brought it to life (I've done a big google doc for the family about his entire career.)

    Logbook: 3 May - 3 bombing missions (Audax). Petrol system shot through on the third.

    MOD doc: During this day’s operations the aircraft of No. 4 S.F.T.S. made 119 sorties and dropped some 12 tons of bombs. Their losses were one Oxford destroyed on the ground by shell fire and one Audax severely damaged, while the enemy's losses were one Savoia shot down (unconfirmed) at Habbaniya, and one fighter aircraft at Rashid.

    Logbook: 4 May - 2 bombing missions (Audax)

    MOD doc: The aircraft of No. 4 S.F.T.S. attacked the enemy throughout the day; three of the Oxfords (flying in V formation) carried out pattern bombing from a height of 4,000 feet on enemy positions on the plateau, while the Audaxes dive-bombed with 25O lb bombs (fused at 11 seconds to allow for diving and greater accuracy). In all 53 sorties were made and 3.5 tons of bombs dropped on enemy gun positions, troops and transport.
    He also had the only Gladiator-on-Gladiator shootdown of that conflict, according to wikipedia!

    AUS - I've been speaking to James Dunford Wood who has that storyofwar site too - although grandad's logbooks don't mention his father, he did teach several other people mentioned in the diaries and his book. Thankyou for the leads on 'possibly Uncle Jack' as well, I'll follow those up!

    It's so interesting once you start looking!!

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    The best book I read in

    On the battle of Habbaniya from one who was there is

    https://www.abebooks.co.uk/978075242...0752420372/plp


    Though I have not got my copy anymore and second hand one on Amazon expensive

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    Don Clark (12th August 2023)

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Well thanks to the ORB I've found some interesting bits and pieces - grandad was a semifinalist in the RAF boxing championship in the lightweight category in 1934! Two months before his first child was born, having got married earlier in the year to - I am pretty sure - A/Sergeant Pilot J P Whitehead's little sister. Uncle Jack joined the squadron 2 weeks after grandad but he's not mentioned again anywhere in this, so next up I will be hunting down the references AUS found!


    They don't seem to have done a lot in Sudan while they were out there though, it all looks like flight attack practices. They did a 'low flying attack against the Cameron Highlanders marching in column - Highlanders were supplied with four ground camera guns. Two films exposed, No of hits: 5'. I am assuming this is also a practice since the Cameron Highlanders were a Scottish regiment!

    And also apparently their display at the Hendon RAF display in '37 was 'quite good'. I thought it was better than that but then I'm biased. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPFHXyL0CNw

    I've found things for the empire air day that year at plenty of locations - but not the one grandad was in (Desford). 'P.O. D.B. Hobson, P. d'A. Lister & P. Sgt Watson gave display of synchronised aerobatics at Desford & Stoke.' Mum always said he was a precursor to the red arrows.


    And I've realised I was looking for the wrong squadron for his time in Syria - it was 127, not 27, so no wonder I couldn't find anything. But they only existed for a few weeks and I presume there isn't such a thing as an ORB for the 4 FTS? I can't find anything for that time period on the national archives, anyway.

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Operations Record Books were (are) required to be kept by, essentially, all RAF Units.
    In peacetime, usually just the Form 540 Summary of Events, possibly with Appendices.
    When/if a period of war-like ops occurred, the Daily record Form 541 was also to be kept.

    AIR 27 is the set for Squadron Operations Record Books: only those are digitised and currently free to download.
    Here's the list of 127 Squadron entries, per "Advanced Search"
    https://discovery.nationalarchives.g...q=127+Squadron

    AIR 29 is the set for a range of other units, including FTS. AIR 29 notes, from the NA hierarchy listing:
    "Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence: Operations Record Books, Miscellaneous Units
    This series consists of Operation Record Books (form 540) and appendices (form 541) for units of the RAF other than Commands, Wings, Squadrons or Stations. Also included are some ORBs for Dominion Air Force units operating as part of the RAF during the Second World War. Although the system of Operation Record Books started after the First World War, few Books in this series date from before the mid 1930s."

    In AIR 29 items are not digitised: either a personal visit to UK National Archives Kew, or get a research service to visit and photograph the item/period you want.
    I choose to use Lee Richards' @rchive service, prompt, good image quality, and very reasonable pricing. https://www.arcre.com/

    So, 4 Flying Training School, later 4 Service Flying Training School, has an Operations Record Book.
    It's just kept in AIR Class 29 (AIR 29 for short) as AIR 29/554 and AIR 29/555 see:
    https://discovery.nationalarchives.g...ils/r/C4100263 and
    https://discovery.nationalarchives.g...ils/r/C4100264

    You'll get more familiar with NA Discovery: for example, browsing from an entry by hiererachy can be revealing, and Advanced Search gets better focussed results than the base Search page (that uses "all words" as it's startpoint!).
    You might find these NA Research Guides of interest:
    https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/...r-air-services
    Somewhere there there's also a doc explaining the various AIR classes and what's in each.

    On Operations Record Books use, usage and accuracy, you might find my own notes of some interest:
    http://www.211squadron.org/squadron_records.html

    And just possibly, given all the work you've already achieved, still perhaps something of use or interest here also:
    http://www.211squadron.org/do_it_yourself.html
    for example, Mistakes
    Last edited by Don Clark; 13th August 2023 at 00:54.
    Toujours à propos

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    Default Re: 3(F) Squadron in the 1930s

    Hi Mehitabel,

    This has been a fascinating thread to follow and Don Clark has offered plenty of useful leads.
    Looks like you are making some valuable inroads with your research!

    You might find the following a useful tool for searching ORBs.
    http://www.rafcommands.com/archives/...e-na-pro-site/

    Andy Ingham is the expert on 127 Sqn RAF. Not sure when the website was last updated and also unsure if he is on this forum.
    http://www.127squadron.co.uk

    Although not directly related you may come across two names in relation to 4 FTS at Habbaniya - Daniel ‘Dan/Eddie’ Edward Cremin and Alfred Markham Young. Both were Australians in the RAF and Cremin particularly seemed to have followed a similar path as your grandfather and was with 127 Sqn RAF.

    You might have seen this before? Some useful resources listed at end of article.
    http://surfcity.kund.dalnet.se/commonwealth_watson.htm

    regards, Drew

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