Aircraft Operated by XXIV Sqn from the Outbreak of WWII until the fall of France

Simon Batchelor, our XXIV authoritative aircraft historian, has put together a summary of the aircraft operated by the Squadron from the outbreak of WWII until the fall of France. By coincidence, it does include the DH 95 Flamingo, the focus of the Great Ouseburn commemoration.

World War II Rapid Changes in Role and Equipment, The outbreak of war until the fall of France

At the start of WWII the squadron was tasked with delivery of post in the Air Despatch Letter Service (ADLS), transportation of important persons on war service and a continuation of its normal communications duties. Civil aircraft were impressed for RAF use and a number of De Havilland aircraft were transferred from airlines to 24 squadron. These were used for the ADLS and transport of personnel around the country and to France. To cope with the increased tempo and scope of work more men and machines were posted in and the Squadron was reorganised. C flight was responsible for the ALDS and transport of VIP’s, A&B flights were pooled and the establishment increased with DH Rapides, DH Flamingoes, Lockheed Electras, and Percival Q6,s joining the existing aircraft held by the Squadron.

Airspeed Envoy

A special version of this twin engined low wing monoplane with retractable undercarriage had been used by the Kings Flight before the war, marked as G-AEXX. It was kept at RAF Hendon, and maintained by 24 Squadron, it had the distinctive blue and red Brigade of Guards colour scheme, At the outbreak of war it was transferred to the RAF painted in camouflage and given its proper serial L7270. Another civil example G-AFWZ was impressed as X9370, and used until destroyed in an Air Raid on the 8th October 1940. Seven aircraft were ordered as Envoy IIIs for the RAF, and of these P5626 served with 24 Squadron from August 1940 until February 1942.

The Envoy was the forerunner of the Airspeed Oxford, which was used by the RAF in large numbers, and also by 24 Squadron

De Havilland DH95 Flamingo

This all metal high wing twin-engined civil airliner was quite a departure for the de Havilland Company, whose previous designs had principally been wooden biplanes. Including such innovations as retractable undercarriage, flaps, and feathering propellers the Flamingo was quite a step up from the aircraft operated by the squadron. In October 1939 G-AFUE the prototype which had first flown in 1938 was issued to 24 squadron after use by Guernsey & Jersey Airways Ltd. It was followed over the next few months by 3 service models, called officially Hertfordshires, and two other civil production aircraft. From what I have been able to discover they were not used a great deal, and due to low clearance often bottomed out on the rough grass airfields they used.

In service, in common with a number of civil aircraft they were operated in camouflage, but with civil registrations still applied. Service serials being applied at major overhauls. During the phony war period, before Germany invaded, Winston Churchill was flown to a number of places in France. Notably General Charles de Gaulle was flown from Bordeaux to London and back on the 16th June 1940, and on the 17th was flown back to London to form the Free French government in exile.

A number of different aircraft types were given names in 1942 and the Flamingos included R2765 (Lady of Hendon),R2766 (Lady of Glamis), AE444 (Lady of Ayr).

On a sadder note two aircraft were involved in fatal crashes, R2510 23/10/40(11 dead), and R2764 30/04/42 when 6 died. The fatalities in the latter accident included 4 Russian officers who were on a mission to Britain. This accident almost causing a major diplomatic incident, with sabotage being suspected.

Percival Q6 Petrel

These handsome twin-engined executive transport and feeder airliners were designed by Edgar Percival as a scaled up Vega Gull and the first flew in 1937. A number were ordered as DH Rapide replacements by such customers as Sir Philip Sassoon, the former Secretary of State for Air who was the first customer. His aircraft G-AFFD survived impressment and service with 510 Squadron, a 24 Squadron offshoot, to be the sole surviving Q6.

The RAF ordered 6 no as Percival Petrels and aircraft P5635, P5636 were delivered to 24 Squadron in 1939, P3638  served later together with the impressed civil aircraft. G-AEYE (X9328) the prototype, G-AFHG which was left behind in France after the defeat in 1940, G-AFKG (X9363), and G-AFMT (X9454). All of these were operated with fixed trousered undercarriage, although some of the Q 6’s were delivered with retractable main wheels.

These aircraft were allocated as transports for senior air staff, and used for VIP flights. I like to use a story to illustrate the use of each aircraft, but with the Q6 I would just like to show how different things were in wartime. Flt Lt S A Stevenson flew Lord Cherwell, Churchill’s scientific advisor, and most important VIP, in a Q6 X9363, to Coltishall after only 11 flights as pilot and a total of 16 and a half hours in the air.

Lockheed Hudson Mk1

This aircraft was a development of the Lockheed 14 Super electra civil airliner, ordered by the British Purchasing mission to the USA as a reconnaissance bomber. Principally to replace the Avro Anson, which was out dated in that role before WWII began. Of the original aircraft delivered to the RAF N7364 was delivered as a transport aircraft to 24 Squadron without a turret, it was soon transferred under civil marks G AGAR to Sidney Cotton who used it for secret reconnaissance flights during the Phoney war, before the invasion of France. 24 Squadron flew every mark of Hudson delivered to the RAF, notably on the very hazardous shuttle service to Malta flying in personnel and urgent supplies. These included the delivery of the George Cross awarded to the people of Malta, in recognition of their Bravery, by a Mk III Hudson AE533 piloted by F/O Honeyman on the 6th May 1942

Lockheed 10-A Electra

This commercial aircraft, operated by a number of US and British airlines was designed in 1933 and first flew in 1934. A low wing twin-engined monoplane with twin fin it could carry a crew of 2 and 10 passengers at a cruising speed of 190mph. 148 were built as airliners, service transport, and executive versions and they served all over the world before WWII, including South America, another was built for the US Army Air Corps as the first fully pressurised aircraft. One aircraft was also used by Amelia Earhart on record breaking flights in 1936 and 1937, and she was flying “X16020” when she was lost on her final flight.

On the 5th October G-AEPR, a British Airways machine was impressed and delivered to 24 Squadron, the first of 4 operated between 1939 and 1942. The others were G-AEPN (W9105), G-AEPO (W9106) and G-AFEB (W9104), all ex British Airways aircraft.

G-AEPR was an historic aircraft having flown Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to his meetings with Adolf Hitler on the 15th and 30th September 1938.

W9105 was destroyed in an air raid on RAF Hendon on the night of the 6/7 November 1940, but these aircraft were intensively used, transporting senior officers around Britain.

De Havilland DH80A Puss Moth

This high wing club and touring monoplane first flew in 1929, a number were impressed at the start of the war and G-ABSO (X9439) was delivered to 24 squadron on the 2nd October 1939. G-ACIV (ES954) was taken on charge in October 1942,as was G-ACTV (AX868) and after a short period both were released to 510 Squadron charge when that squadron was formed a a communications squadron using 24 Squadrons A Flight as a basis.

Aircraft HM534 formerly the US Air Attaché’s aircraft was stored at Hendon and taken on charge by 24 Squadron upon impressment

Pre war Puss Moths were used for record breaking flights, Jim Mollison an ex 24 Squadron trainee pilot flew G-ABXY via the Sahara and West coast of Africa to reach the Cape in record time in 1932.

De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth

By providing a new fuselage containing a passenger compartment for up to 4 passengers and open pilots cockpit, married to DH82 Tiger Moth wings tail plane undercarriage and engine mounting, De Havilland produced an aeroplane capable of really economic operation. First flown in 1932 the Fox Moth found a ready market in Britain and the Empire. The Prince of Wales kept one G-ACCD at Hendon under the care of 24 Squadron in 1933. They were manufactured in Britain, Canada and Australia, and they were produced after the war in Canada using Tiger Moth components.

Fox Moth G-ABUT (X9304), the third DH83 built, was taken over by 24 squadron on  the 14th September 1939 and used until July 1940.

It was undoubtedly used for communications duties but the Operational records that survive do not record its use.

De Havilland DH84 Dragon

The success of the Fox Moth encouraged de Havilland to design a larger twin-engined machine, these were built in some numbers in Civil and Military versions in Britain and Australia. The Prince of Wales purchased one to replace his Fox Moth, G-ACGG which was a 4 seat VIP version DH84 mk1. Once again it was kept at Hendon under the care of 24 Squadron, and during WWII it served with 24 Squadron.

G-ADDI a DH84 Mk2 was taken over from Great Western and Southern Airlines in September 1939 and used for a short time still with Civil registration. Following that G-ACIU (X9395) was taken over for VIP work and it was flown out to Rheims in France in March 1940, where 24 Squadron had a detachment operating. It was damaged during take off on 29/04/40, and was set fire to and abandoned in the face of the German advance.

G-ACMJ was operated as X9396 until 1941, G-AECZ was used under civilian marking for a short time in 1939, all the Dragons provided valuable service until they could be replaced with military Rapides

De Havilland DH85 Leopard Moth

Designed as a successor to the Puss Moth, the Leopard Moth first flew in 1933, and 132 were built over the next 3 years, G-ACMN (X9381) was impressed in 1939 from Personal Airways Ltd. It entered service with 24 Squadron  on the 24th September 1939, and served with numerous units until the end of the war when it returned to civilian ownership. G-AHDB (W9371) was used during 1941, as was AW156, at that time E flight held large numbers of ex civil aircraft of various types.

These aircraft were built of wood with plywood covering, a reversion to old practices after the Metal framed Puss Moth

De Havilland DH87 Hornet Moth

This cabin biplane was designed to with side by side seating and dual controls for use as a trainer to supersede the Puss and Tiger moths, where the pupil and instructor sat in line in open cockpits and struggled to communicate. Some air handling problems, which were cured with a change to the wing planform, took a while to resolve but by the model DH87B  the aircraft became a popular type.

One MkA G-ADJZ (X9444) was impressed in 1940 and Sqn Ldr Stevenson was still flying it in civilian marks in 1941. Stevenson who joined 24 Sqn in May 1940 was something of a Hornet Moth specialist having a number in his log book. A lot of the flights were of a communications nature flying doctors and middle rank officers, and test flights with junior non-commissioned airmen as ballast. A MkB G-ADKB (W6421) was impressed in January 1940 and used until august 1940. On the 31st July 1941 Hornet Moth serial G-AFOE was being used to survey suitable placement sites for heavy anti-aircraft guns when it struck a mountainside 16mile south of Limavady, both the pilot and passenger were killed.

Douglas DC3

Before the military DC3 Dakota was operated by the RAF two SABENA civil DC3’s OO-AUH & OO-AUI, were allocated to 24 Sqn on the 11th May 1940, flown by their civilian crews and accompanied by a 24 Sqn officer.

OO-AUH has probably the strangest career of any aircraft flown during WWII, it was operated by the Belgians, the RAF, the Vichy French, the Italians and finally by the Germans surviving until 1945 when it was discovered at Flensburg on the 2nd May 1945, where it was sadly scrapped. The very interesting story of this aircraft is recounted in issue 13 of the Air Enthusiast magazine published circa 1980.

Whilst operated by the RAF it was camouflaged with yellow undersides, but retained its original serial and Belgian roundels

Savoia Marchetti SM73

These 3 engine Italian designed and Belgian built (by SABCA) were low winged monoplanes with fixed undercarriages. They were operated by SABENA the Belgian Airline from 1937 and two OO-AGY & OO-AGZ were flown to the UK on the 9th May 1940.

As the DC3 above two SM73s from Sabena operated by their civilian crews were allocated to 24 Sqn on the 11th May 1940. They flew increasingly dangerous flights conveying war material to northern France as the German advance continued. On the 23rd May the RAF lost 5 of the SABENA fleet aircraft which had been allocated to them, causing the Belgians to reconsider their use by the RAF. Some aircraft were flown to Marseilles and then on to the Belgian Congo whilst others like the DC3 described above went on to use by other forces.

Armstrong Whitworth Ensign

This elegant 4 engined monoplane airliner was designed pre war for Imperial Airways, and in May 1940 G-ADST “Elsinore” was transferred from civil operation to E Flight. On the 25th of May it was due to fly ammunition to Norway in support of the Norwegian campaign, but it was diverted to transport 37 servicemen from Lossiemouth to Wattisham. Shortly after it was returned to BOAC for their use.

This aircraft was amongst the collection of civil aircraft hastily allocated to 24 Squadron, and probably flown by it civilian crew. When looking at the details below take a moment to consider the size of the aircraft and the power available, it was longer than a Hercules and its wingspan only 9ft shorter. It also had less power available from all four engines than one of the Hercules turboprops, apparently it took a minute to climb 500ft and the undercarriage had yet to retract!

Avro Anson Mk1

Some Avro Anson Mk1’s were delivered to the Squadron, and they were used from June 1938 to December 1940. . The Anson was first delivered to the RAF in 1936, and they were the first low wing monoplanes with retractable undercarriage to be operated by the service. Initially ordered as maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Anson found enduring fame as Faithful Annie in a number of roles the last variant leaving service in 1968. The aircraft issued initially to 24 Squadron were used for Aerodrome Improvement work (K6390) and beam approach development work. Records on their use include R3395 being used for VIP transport, which was fired at from the ground on the 15th August 1940, according to the “Anson File” published by Air Britain. For this to be worthy of note I presume that this was over the UK.

R3436 was struck off after hitting HT cables in a forced landing in Barnet, only a few mile north of Hendon on the 23/11/40, there are no records of casualties. Later in the war further Ansons were issued to the Squadron as dedicated transport and ambulance aircraft

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4 Responses to “Aircraft Operated by XXIV Sqn from the Outbreak of WWII until the fall of France”

  1. Kirsty Johnstone Says:

    Hi! I am just reading a book “War Torn Skies Over Hertfordshire” and noticed – as mentioned in your archive – that Avro Anson R3436 crashed at Barnet on November 23rd 1940 after hitting HT cables – have you any idea where this incidenet occurred? I noticed a query in a local museum relating to memories of a crash in WW2 to which the answer was that there were none in Barnet. Any info would be greatly appreciated! Thank you very much.

    • the24sec Says:

      Kirsty – thank you for your comment about the Avro Anson, well spotted. I will forward your request onto Simon Batchelor, our XXIV authoritative aircraft historian, who picked up the original reference in the above post to see if he can assist.

  2. the24sec Says:

    Reply on behalf of Simon from his email to Kirsty:-

    “In the book, RAF Aircraft P1000-R9999 published by Air Britain 1996, they have R3436 crashing whilst attempting a forced landing at Wheatsheaf Lane Barnet 23/11/40. It also states that the aircraft hit High Tension cables.

    The information in the book is compiled from official records.
    Sadly the 24 Squadron records from that time were destroyed in an air raid. I have checked my other books on the Avro Anson & Transport aircraft losses, and I can find no more information.”

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