Souther Field, Americus, Georgia Revisited

This picture was taken in 1942…

Theo in training mod

Collection Theo Griffiths DFC

These were also taken in 1942…

bunty5

Courtesy Graham Padden (paddeng@padden.eu)
Collection Gerald Thomas Padden (1922-1942)

bunty3

Courtesy Graham Padden (paddeng@padden.eu)
Collection Gerald Thomas Padden (1922-1942)

bunty7

Courtesy Graham Padden (paddeng@padden.eu)
Collection Gerald Thomas Padden (1922-1942)

Theodore Griffiths

Collection Theo Griffiths DFC

buntyjpg_edited

Courtesy Graham Padden (paddeng@padden.eu)
Collection Gerald Thomas Padden (1922-1942)

class-42-d

In 1942, both Theo Griffiths and Gerald Thomas Padden were in the same class at Souther Field, Americus, Georgia.

Theo Griffiths’ story is here on this blog.

Gerald’s story will be told here.

The End of the Beginning

This is post no. 384, and the end of the beginning of this blog about RAF 23 Squadron.

I will repost for you the first  article I wrote in 2010 so you won’t have to search for it…

This blog about RAF 23 Squadron wasn’t  meant to pay homage  only to a French-Canadian  Mosquito pilot from Bromptonville, Quebec,  a small town in the Eastern Townships.

Eugene Gagnon

Eugène  Gagnon DFC

Since  2010, a 84 year-old man had been  trying  to convince  the  people of Bromptonville to pay homage  to Eugène  Gagnon, a hometown boy,  who had died  in a plane  crash near Windsor Mills  on October  21st, 1947. Eugène had never talked much about what he did in the war with the RCAF let alone with the RAF.

Eugène Gagnon was like a brother to Marcel Bergeron.

In 2010, Marcel asked for my help to find more about  his war hero when  he was just 14 years-old. At first he didn’t not have much information to go on, only Eugène’s discharge papers…

And a knock on the door of a World War Two veteran.

This is really how this blog started. A knock on a door!

First post April 5, 2010

This could be the start of the amazing story of the airmen of a forgotten squadron in Little Snoring.

Please leave a comment…

Little Snoring - June or July 1945

Picture taken in 1945 before the squadron was disbanded (Courtesy Tom Cushing via Peter Smith)

Squadron 23

No. 23 Squadron formed at Fort Grange, Gosport on 1 Sep 1915 under the command of one of the RAF’s most experienced operational pilots – Captain Louis Strange. After a brief period attempting to counter German airship flights over London, the Squadron moved to France with its FE2Bs initially employed on escort duties. By early 1917, Spad single-seaters had arrived, and were being used on offensive patrols. By the end of the War, the Squadron had converted to Dolphins, and flew these until disbanded at the end of 1919.

On 1 July 1925, No. 23 Squadron reformed at Henlow with Snipes, but these were replaced shortly after with Gloster Gamecocks. In 1931, the Squadron was tasked with carrying out trials on the new Hawker Hart two-seaters, taking the production version, known as Demons, on strength in 1933. It wasn’t until late 1938 that the squadron received its first monoplanes in the form of Blenheims, and these were used as night-fighters in the early days of World War II whilst based at Wittering. In 1941, Havocs replaced the Blenheims, and these were used with great success in the intruder role, until themselves replaced by the Mosquito in mid-1942. At the end of the year, the squadron moved to Malta in support of allied operations in the Mediterranean before returning to the UK in 1944.

In September 1945, the Squadron had disbanded, reforming a year later at Wittering with Mosquito night-fighters. By late 1953, Venom night fighters had joined the Squadron, before Javelin all-weather supersonic fighters replaced these in 1957. In 1964, the Lightning replaced the Javelin, and it was with this classic aircraft that the squadron continued until Phantoms were received in late 1975, this coinciding with a moved to Wattisham in Suffolk. After the Falklands War in 1982, the Squadron occupied Port Stanley airfield until reduced to a Flight of four aircraft in 1988, reforming at Leeming with Tornado F3s. Defence cuts following the end of the Cold War saw the unit disbanded in March 1994. No. 23 Squadron was again reformed, this time as part of the Waddington AEW Wing in 1996, sharing not only the aircraft with the already established No. 8 Squadron, but operational duties in Europe and the Gulf.

The Squadron was officially disbanded on 2 Oct 2009.

This Squadron has been virtually reformed…

logo

If you have any information about 23 Squadron and you wish to share what you know, you can contact me using this form.

La médaille de l’Assemblée nationale du Québec

dsc07384

On November 11th, 2016, this medal was awarded posthumously to Joseph Achille Eugène Gagnon who flew 33 operations with RAF 23 Squadron.

Operational record 004 modified

Eugène Gagnon never received any recognition from his hometown of Bromptonville except when he died on October 21, 1947.

Early in 2016 I had received a phone call from Clément Gagnon, a man who was looking for veterans to honour with a medal given by l’Assemblée nationale du Québec. On November 11, 2016, Jacques Gagnon, Eugène’s nephew, received the medal from a member of the National Assembly of Quebec.

When Maxime Laporte, the President of the Société St-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal, mentioned the fact in his presentation of the medal that Eugène Gagnon had flown 33 night operations mostly over German airfields, murmurs were heard from the people attending the commemoration.

dsc07365

When Jacques Gagnon heard those, he felt a tremendous pride as well as a profound humility when he received the medal.

bergeron1

Crew A – Denyer and Graham

I am so glad  Eddy  wrote  back about  his  Uncle seen  on the left.

1 - His Crew

Harold Stone could not remember who was in Crew A.

I found it in cyberspace…

Douglas A20 Havoc crash – RAF Ford – 9th July 1941

A brief story of how two young men trained together, flew together and died together. 

Sergeant Robert Denyer (Pilot) 927380 RAF  23 Squadron (Night fighters).  Died 9th July 1941

Flight Sergeant Donald Graham (Air Gunner) 628544  RAF 23 Squadron (Night Fighters) – died with his pilot on 9th July 1941

They are both buried in the CWGC section of the church graveyard at St. Mary’s at Clymping, Sussex

Robert Denyer and Donald Graham were assigned to night fighter duties with 23 Squadron and were based at RAF Ford, Sussex.  They had flown together as a crew for a few months and had initially trained together on Bristol Blenheims.  As far as I can make out they flew nearly every one of their flights as a crew together.

They lost their lives when their Douglas A20 crashed on 9th July 1941 but prior to this they had a close shave whilst training at RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire on 23rd June 1941.  They were flying at night in Blenheim L1403 when one of the engines suddenly stopped and disintegrated in mid-flight.  Both Denyer and Graham evacuated the aircraft and baled-out at 1500 feet. Denyer was uninjured and Graham was slightly injured.

At the beginning of July 1941 the squadron moved to RAF Ford, Sussex and were re-equipped with the Douglas A20 Havoc (also known as the ‘Boston’).  Sgt Denyer and Sgt Graham were assigned A20 Havoc serial number BJ485.

On the night of 9th July 1941 a number of aircraft from 23 Squadron took part in night training exercises. All the aircraft took off from RAF Ford on what was primarily one of a number of training flights to familiarise the crews with the A20 Havoc. Sgt Denyer was the pilot of Havoc BJ485  and Sgt Graham was the Air Gunner.   During the night training flight the aircraft had a major mechanical / engine malfunction and crashed.  Both Sgt Denyer and Sgt Graham died.

About Blenheim L1403 near Little Fenton.

On 23rd June 1941 this trainee night-fighter crew were carrying out a training flight when one of the Blenheim’s engines broke apart in the air and the aircraft became uncontrollable. The two on board abandoned the aircraft from 1500ft which then crashed near Little Fenton, not far from the airfield at 03.00hrs. It was later found the engine had failed through oil starvation. A letter found on the superb RAF Commands forum website give additional information as to what happened to this crew after this incident, as prior to leaving the OTU this crew were one of two to volunteer to join an “intruder” operational squadron.

Pilot – Sgt Robert Gordon Denyer RAFVR (927380). Uninjured.

Air Gunner – Sgt Donald Clinton Charles Graham RAF (628544), of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Slightly injured.


Robert Denyer and Donald Graham were soon posted to 23 Squadron, and both lost their lives on 9th July 1941 during “night operations” when their aircraft, Havoc BJ485 crashed soon after taking off from Ford airfield after it had suffered some form of engine failure. It is believed they were learning to fly the Havoc type when the crash occured. Both are buried at Clymping Churchyard, Sussex. F/Sgt Graham was twenty four years old, Sgt Denyer’s age is not given in the CWGC online register but he was probably born in the Reigate area of Surrey in 1921, he was the son of Henry and Louisa Denyer (nee Appleyard).


Blenheim L1403 was built to contract 527114/36 by The Bristol Aeroplane Co. Ltd. at Filton as a bomber variant and was awaiting collection in November 1938. It was initially taken on charge by 34 Squadron at Upper Heyford the following month but was transferred to 21 Squadron based at Watton in March 1939. In late 1939 the aircraft was transferred to 90 Squadron at Upwood but on 4th April 1940 90 Squadron and 35 Squadron merged, the aircraft later became attached to 17 OTU at Upwood when it formed on 8th April 1940 but shortly after this date it was flown into MU for conversion to MkIf status, it next appeared on charge with 23 Squadron at Collyweston during the summer of 1940 before moving with the unit to Ford on 12th September 1940. Before the end of 1940 it had a spell on the books of 600 Squadron at Catterick and 219 Squadron at Tangmere. In early 1941 it returned to the care of 23 Squadron at Ford but 23 Squadron ceased operating Blenheim MkIf’s in April 1941 so the aircraft was transferred to the newly formed 60 OTU at Leconfield on 28th April 1941. 60 OTU were moved to East Fortune on 4th June 1941 and their role as a Blenheim OTU ceased so the aircraft was transferred to 54 OTU at Church Fenton. As a result of the incident detailed above on 23rd June 1941 Cat.E2/FA damage was recorded.

bristol_blenheim_excc

Blenheim Mk I

Harold Stone Another Unsung Hero

Eddy  mentioned  his name also in his message…

From the web (a site called WWII Stories) entries by a Harold Stone, a pilot on 23 Squadron, states  that his crew (two New Zealanders) and my Uncle’s crew were transferred to 418 on the 15th of December, 1941.

***

This was found on RAF Command Forum

Re: 1 Sept 1941 23 Squadron Intruder/Havocs 

Author: sussexresearch 
Time Stamp: 
21:49:16 16 November 2005 
Post: 


Hi Luc

This is not immediately related to your question but as this tells of Havocs of 23 sqd at the time of your crash, it may be of interest. I received this letter some two years ago via the 23 Sqd archivist. It originated from a Harold Stone.

“I think it may put things into perspective if I point out that at the time of joining my first operational Squadron (No. 23 at Ford), I had 203 hrs.5 mins. flying under my belt of which only 4 hrs. were dual night flying and 31hrs.5mins was solo night flying. Prior to leaving OTU a call was made for volunteers for two crews to go onto Intruder operations. Not knowing anything about what this entailed, I was one of the two volunteers posted to Ford together with another crew who was to join another Squadron based there. My memory does not extend to remembering the names of the other crews so I will refer to them as crew A (my fellow 23 member) and crew B the other. My Canadian rear gunner (Sgt. Louis Nault) went with me and I was allocated a New Zealand observer (Sgt Frank Hogg).

Imagine our surprise and, I must say, consternation to find that the planes we were to fly on night operations were Havocs which had been intended for France but arrived too late for any action there. The instruments and instruction manuals were in French! The engineers told us that, if the instrument needles pointed to quarter past the hour everything should be performing OK. If not, we should try and determine what the faulty instrument was from its appearance. Naturally, no dual was available or possible. The bank of some thirty switches on a panel had illuminated tips to show their position at night but this was of little consequence, as we had no idea what they were for.

Within a few days, the B crew was seen to come out of cloud over the channel and go straight in. No one had any idea what had gone wrong.

After having 11 hrs. Daytime practice flying Crew A and ourselves had our first shot at night flying. Crew A took off ahead of us and as it climbed to about 300ft. it plunged to earth exploding in a fireball. We were already on our way down the runway and took off over the crash site flying for 1hr. 5 minutes before returning to base.

Five nights later we had a further stab at night flying only to find that as we climbed away, at around 3 to 4 hundred feet, all the instruments went haywire, the port wing dropped sharply and we were on our way down! Full rudder failed to pick up the wing so I reached for the throttles only to find that the port throttle had crept back. I was able to correct the situation by re-applying full throttle and not feeling too good terminated the session after 40 minutes. On landing we discovered that this American made plane did not have a friction nut to secure the throttles whilst at full throttle as had all the English planes we had flown previously. Thereafter I made sure that I had my hand on the throttles until we reached normal climbing speed and able to throttle back. There is no doubt in my mind that this problem was the cause of Crew A’s crash.”

After experiences like this, I am constantly amazed that we won.

Phil

NOTE: Crew A were Denyer and Graham.

 Robert Denyer and Donald Graham were soon posted to 23 Squadron, and both lost their lives on 9th July 1941 during “night operations” when their aircraft, Havoc BJ485 crashed soon after taking off from Ford airfield after it had suffered some form of engine failure. It is believed they were learning to fly the Havoc type when the crash occured. Both are buried at Clymping Churchyard, Sussex. F/Sgt Graham was twenty four years old, Sgt Denyer’s age is not given in the CWGC online register but he was probably born in the Reigate area of Surrey in 1921, he was the son of Henry and Louisa Denyer (nee Appleyard).

ALCORN, F/O Douglas Henderson (J15842) – DFC

Eddy mentioned his name last time…

From the web (a site called WWII Stories) entries by a Harold Stone, a pilot on 23 Squadron, states  that his crew (two New Zealanders) and my Uncle’s crew were transferred to 418 on the 15th of December, 1941. In February 1942 he changed Observer to a Canadian, Sgt. Doug (Ollie) Allcorn, with whom he carried out 25 sorties. Sgt Allcorn is mentioned on page 21 of the RCAF Honours and Awards 1939-1949 and Harold Stone is the pilot he mentions in that citation.

***

ALCORN, F/O Douglas Henderson (J15842)
– Distinguished Flying Cross
– No.418 Squadron
– Award effective 11 November 1943 as per London Gazette dated 16 November 1943 and AFRO 113/44 dated 21 January 1944.

Born at Andover, New Brunswick; home in Toronto; enlisted Toronto 23 October 1940.
Trained at No.2 ITS (graduated 24 January 1940), No.5 BGS (graduated 1 September 1941), No.3 AOS (graduated 21 July 1941), and No.1 CNS (graduated 13 October 1941).
Commissioned 1942.

Presented with medal Toronto October 1947. Photo PL-7150 shows him as a Sergeant receiving instruction on a Browning machine gun, January 1942; PL-7291 shows him in March 1942 standing beside Boston aircraft.

This officer has flown on intruder operations since March 1942, acting as navigator on a large number of operational sorties. He has patrolled the majority of the heavily defended enemy airfields in France, Belgium and Holland and damaged much railway transport. A skilful navigator, Flying Officer Alcorn has assisted his pilot to avoid fire from enemy defences and searchlights and shown exceptional ability in locating targets in adverse weather. His conduct at all times has been worthy of the highest praise.

NOTE: Public Records Office Air 2/8992 has recommendation raised on 13 September 1943 when he had flown 45 sorties (134 hours 30 minutes) which is more detailed and has a sortie list:

26 Mar 42
Ghent
Bombed oil refineries

28 Mar 42
Gilze
Intruder – bombed drome, one enemy aircraft seen.

17 May 42
Schipol
Intruder – bombed drome.

30 May 42
Soesterburg
Bombed aerodrome

1 June 42
Leeuwarden
Intruder

8 June 42
Leeuwarden
Intruder – bombed Soesterburg-Leeuwarden

10 Jun 42
Amiens
Calibration

22 Jun 42
Chievres
Intruder

27 Jun 42
Amiens

13 Jul 42
Schipol and Soesterburg
Intruder

23 Jul 42
Gilze
Intruder; chased three enemy aircraft.
Attacked one enemy aircraft over drome through intense flak.

28 Jul 42
Roadstead off Dutch coast.

28 Jul 42
Leeuwarden
Intruder

31 Jul 42
Eindhoven
Bombed Philips Works at 500 feet; direct hits.

31 Jul 42
Leeuwarden
Intruder

10 Aug 42
Soesterburg and Schipol
Intruder

17 Aug 42
Chartres-Orleans
Intruder

20 Aug 42
Criel-Beauvais
Intruder

28 Aug 42
Juvincourt
Intruder; one train destroyed, one train damaged.

13 Sep 42
Leeuwarden
Intruder

17 Sep 42
Melun-Bretigny
Attacked one enemy aircraft; no claim.

15 Oct 42
Brussels-St.Trond
Intruder; one enemy aircraft – too far.

24 Oct 42
Melun-Bretigny
Intruder; one train destroyed, two trains damaged.

16 Nov 42
Ghent
Nickelling

28 Nov 42
Melun-Bretigny
Intruder – one train damaged.

2 Dec 42
Evereux
Intruder

4 Dec 42
Huy and Hunnut
Nickelling

20 Dec 42
Bourges-Avord
Intruder

23 Dec 42
Boulogne-Le Havre
Roadstead

7 July 43
Evereux
Intruder

12 Jul 43
Tours-Orleans
Intruder; bombed railway yards at Elbeuf.

16 Jul 43
Rennes
Intruder; bombed drome; one train damaged.

17 Jul 43
Bourges-Avord
Intruder; bombed hangars at Bourges Orleans

18 Jul 43
Orly
Bombed railway junction and barges

25 Jul 43
Deelen
Flower; bombed drome.

26 Jul 43
Evereux
Flower; bombed drome.

29 Jul 43
Courmeilles
Intruder; bombed drome.

30 Jul 43
Florennes
Aborted; engine on fire.

2 Aug 43
Vechta
Bombed target area; cannon fired buildings and Alchmar aerodrome.

8 Aug 43
Rennes
Intruder; bombed target area.

10 Aug 43
St.Dizier
Aborted; recalled, bad weather.

12 Aug 43
Cambrai-Merville
Intruder; bombed Merville drome.

13 Aug 43
Dijon
Intruder

15 Aug 43
Evereux-St.Andre
Intruder; bombed Evereux drome.

16 Aug 43
Kerlin-Bastard
Intruder; bombed drome. Shipyard lights at Lorient then doused for duration patrol; one train damaged.

19 Aug 43
Tours
Intruder; bombed marshalling yards at Orleans; great explosions.

23 Aug 43
Stade and Nordholz
Intruder

This officer has been on intruder operations since March 1942 and has acted as navigator on 45 offensive sorties. He has at all times showed the greatest possible keenness to engage in operations against the enemy and has shown exceptional skill in locating targets under all conditions. The pilots with whom Flying Officer Alcorn has flown have damaged several enemy aircraft over their own bases, bombed and patrolled practically all the heavily defended aerodromes in France, Belgium and Holland and damaged much railway transport. He has consistently shown great presence of mind in helping his pilot to avoid gunfire and to take successful evasive action when engaged by searchlights and has gone out of his way to give advice to navigators less experienced than himself. Flying Officer Alcorn’s value in keeping up the present high standard of morale in this squadron cannot be overestimated.