No. 86 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

No. 86 Squadron (RAF): Second World War

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No. 86 Squadron (RAF) during the Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.86 Squadron served with Coastal Command during the Second World War, first flying anti-shipping strikes with the Blenheim and Beaufort before converting to the very long range Liberator to fly anti-submarine patrols.

The squadron formed at Gosport on 6 December 1940. Operations began on 28 March 1941, and the squadron used its Blenheims on convoy escort duty until June. In June the Beauforts arrived, and in mid-July minelaying operations began. These were followed by reconnaissance and air-sea rescue duties, before in November 1941 the squadron began to train to use its Beauforts as torpedo-bombers.

The first torpedo-bomber sorties were flow on 12 December 1941. Early in 1942 the squadron moved south-west to St. Eval, and spent three months flying anti-shipping missions off France, before moving to Scotland to perform the same duties off Norway.

In July 1942 the squadron's Beauforts were sent to the Middle East and the squadron was reduced to a cadre, in preparation for the arrival of the Liberator. The first aircraft arrived in October, and were used to train crews from No.160 Squadron, before the squadron's own aircraft arrived.

Long range anti-submarine patrols began on 16 February 1943, once again from St. Eval. The Squadron moved to Northern Ireland in March and to Iceland in March 1944. After three months on Iceland the squadron returned to Scotland, from where it continued to fly anti-submarine patrols until the end of the war. On 10 June 1945 the squadron transferred to Transport Command and was used to fly troops out to India until it was disbanded on 25 April 1946.

No.86 Squadron Picture Gallery

December 1940-July 1941: Bristol Blenheim IV
June 1941-February 1942: Bristol Beaufort I
January 1942-August 1942: Bristol Beaufort II
October 1942-August 1944: Consolidated Liberator IIIa
March 1943-February 1945: Consolidated Liberator V
February 1945-April 1946: Consolidated Liberator VIII
August 1945-April 1946: Consolidated Liberator VI

December 1940-February 1941: Gosport
February-March 1941: Leuchars
March-May 1941: Wattisham
May 1941-January 1942: North Coates
January-March 1942: St. Eval
March-July 1942: Wick
July 1942-March 1943: Thorney Island
March-September 1943: Aldergrove
September 1943-March 1944: Ballykelly
March-July 1944: Reykjavik
July 1944-August 1945: Tain
August 1945-April 1946: Oakington

Squadron Codes: BX, XQ

Coastal Command: Convoy Escort, 1941; Minelaying 1941; Anti-shipping strikes 1942, Anti-submarine patrols 1943-45.


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No. 86 Squadron Royal Air Force

during the Second World War 1939-1945.

  • Daly Morris James. Flt.Sgt. (d.27th May 1942)
  • Goodwin Dennis Raymond.
  • Harper Denis Reginald James. PO (d.24th November 1941)
  • Pordage Harry. F/Sgt. (d.18th November 1944)

The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

Pilot training in the wartime Royal Air Force - Part I

A skinny raw recruit aged seventeen years and eight months, I was instructed to report one September day in 1940 at RAF Uxbridge for what was called induction. In the midst of a war, I had told these people that rather than waiting to be called up I wished to serve my country as a volunteer fighter pilot. This would be both spectacular and individual, I felt. I doubt whether at that age I comprehended other necessary requirements of wartime service in this capacity, such as manliness, tight discipline, technical skill, endurance, and unremitting courage. My motivation was youthfully simple: only the best suffices.

It is better to be a volunteer than a conscript, so I volunteered. It is admirable to try the untried, and mistrustingly trust the insubstantial air, so I chose for my service His Majesty’s Royal Air Force. Pilots take command over other aircrew, and it is best to be a commander, so I enrolled as a pilot. It is preferable to be in sole charge of one’s destiny rather than dependent on others, so I elected to face the enemy alone in a petrol driven fighter plane. My intellect was stronger perhaps than my imagination. While waiting to be summoned I studied the subject, using a little book called Teach Yourself to Fly by Nigel Tangye. I composed aeronautical crosswords. A magazine called The Aeroplane Spotter, which was full of information about wartime aircraft recognition, published these efforts and paid me a guinea a time.

The RAF took me at my word, but had to make sure I would meet their requirements. One memory of that day at Uxbridge concerns the ritual I later learnt was known as FFI, standing for ‘free from infection’ (but it was best not to stand). It was supposed by the authorities of the RAF that the eager youths under their superintendence were prone to rush out at the slightest opportunity and enjoy illicit sexual commerce with low women, thereby incurring the expensive risk of venereal disease. This supposition was based on a general perception of how young men are wont to behave. At that time I knew no young man who behaved like that. Certainly the young man that I was did not. Nor did any of my friends, that I knew of.

The counter to this officially perceived risk of disease was an FFI inspection. A row of officers sat at deal tables. Before them paraded the young men, in single file and a state of nudity. When one of the young men reached the inspecting officer he halted, and smartly turned right. The officer then stared fiercely at the youth’s precious possession. When at last the officer gestured, it was expected that the youth would with his hand lift the fleshy apparatus to reveal the medical state of what lay beneath. Were there any signs of venereal disease? In my experience invariably not. I must have undergone this necessary ordeal a hundred times in my RAF career, but not once did an officer find what he was supposed to be looking for — either in me or anyone else present. I never felt any resentment about that, for I dimly realised that not all youths are pure and I accepted that it was therefore a necessary if regrettable precaution.

At Uxbridge that day, I was required to undergo a medical examination to ensure I was physically fit for the ordeals that lay ahead. Arrived at the medical examination room I was brusquely instructed to strip. When, out of caution even more than shyness, I left on my underpants the order swiftly came to remove them. The RAF medical authorities thought it right to conduct their entire scrutiny, lasting nearly an hour, with their slender young victim nude and defenceless. This was my first experience of such conditions.

There were a succession of medical tests, which I found a severe trial. My tendency to cringe, rather than stand upright in manly fashion, met a faintly sneering response. The bowed shoulders, hands in front of crotch, were probably registered as despicable indications of weakness and immaturity. Not what was required of potential fighting men in the midst of deadly war. Nevertheless I was undeniably healthy. I was just over the lower age limit for volunteer recruits. I had to be passed fit, and was. But was I mentally and emotionally fit? There were no tests for that. The inspecting officers didn’t seem to perceive that I was still young and tender, far below my calendar age in physical and psychological development. They passed me.

As I moved homewards to Rayners Lane on the Piccadilly line of the London underground railway, I reflected tensely on these Uxbridge experiences. Clearly my idealistic bravado was about to be tested by reality.

I may have been young and tender, but I was no fool even then. I read in the newspapers that the Government had set up a scheme whereby incoming aircrew cadets of officer potential could start their training with a six-month university course. I applied naming Oxford University, since I knew it was the best there was. An answer came back offering me a place at the University of St Andrews, which after hasty research I gathered was an obscure dump in Fifeshire. I made further enquiries, and concluded this grim Scottish outpost might not be so bad after all for an English lad. It was the oldest university in Scotland, just as my preferred Oxford was the oldest university in England. I consulted my oracle Andrew Lang and discovered that he had been to both universities. Of the Scottish one he wrote-

St Andrews by the Northern Sea,
That is a haunted town to me!

It seemed promising: I rather fancied a haunted town. There was really no choice, so I accepted the offer. St Andrews thereafter became a haunted town to me also. Lang, as I later discovered, was equally enthusiastic about Balliol. He wrote a poem beginning ‘God be with you, Balliol men!’ Still later, having experienced at first hand the twentieth century actuality of godless Balliol (and always a cricket lover), I came to prefer Andrew Lang in a different vein as shown in his poem Brahma-

If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he’s bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They too shall perish unconsoled.

I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.

I reported again to Uxbridge, and was given my RAF number. It was 1334088, and never to be forgotten. (Also never to be forgotten was my later RAF officer’s number 191712.) I was given a paybook, and an advance of pay. This took the form of a five-pound note, a large piece of white tissue paper bearing Bank of England promises printed in extravagant black script. I had heard of such things, but never before seen one. I swallowed in awe, and tucked it carefully into an inner pocket. I was pleased to be in possession, for the very first time in my young life, of immeasurable riches.

At Uxbridge I was also given my rough blue uniform and white canvas kitbag. The latter was designed to hold all my possessions, and to accompany me wherever I went. At the top it was held together by a brass padlock inserted in the brass-rimmed eyeholes designed for that purpose. Cleverly, the padlock was wide enough to form a handle by which the kitbag could be carried.

A lorry took us from Uxbridge to Euston, where we boarded a train to Scotland. It was of course a steam train, of imposing proportions. Never before had I undergone such a long journey. It made a deep impression on me. I remember awaking to see the dawn breaking over Newcastle as our train crossed the high-level bridge. A noble sight, I felt it was. It thrilled me in the way only the very young can be thrilled, as they set out on their life’s journey.

At St Andrews there was a University Air Squadron, based near the village of Leuchars in Fifeshire. The commandant was Flight Lieutenant Ritchie, a strong thirtyish man with a blue chin and abrupt manner. Later I realised he had a difficult task, and performed it well.

On arrival I was shown to my room in a modern block. I opened a drawer and found within it two brown albums. Each contained five large graphite gramophone records, amounting to a single symphony. One was Dvorak’s New World. The other was Beethoven’s Fifth. They meant nothing to me, except for that name Beethoven. I remembered those interminable boring sonatas Mother used to play from a red book on the piano at home. That was what Beethoven meant to me at that time: boredom. How strange it now seems! I am reminded of Browning’s Memorabilia-

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
And did he stop and speak to you
And did you speak to him again?
How strange it seems and new!

The royal burgh of St Andrews at once captured my fancy. A dramatic knee-length scarlet gown, collared in mulberry velvet, became mine. Informed that this was the academic dress of a student such as I now was, namely a Bejant or freshman, I at once grasped its capacity for dramatic contrast with the surrounding grey stones. All the buildings, ruins, quays and rocks of this ancient seaport were of a uniform sombre hue. I saw it as my function, under the authority of a long-standing rule and tradition now embracing me, to brighten these drab environs. On the jetties and walks I postured in the vivid scarlet gown, but only briefly. Almost at once I was cut down by elders who indicated that the obvious is not necessarily the accepted way. I absorbed the lesson, and quickly passed on.

This first intake under the new RAF scheme consisted of fifty-five aircrew cadets, of whom only thirty were to survive the war. Most were boys from famous English or Scottish public schools and I prepared myself to be overwhelmed. Yet surprisingly, there were some even of these who seemed to look to me for a lead.

The lectures in what was called natural philosophy attracted my interest, mainly because of the personality of the lecturer. He had the resounding name of Professor Sir D’Arcy Thompson FRS, and possessed a persona to match. Meat was scarce in those wartime days, and Sir D’Arcy was a man of lively appetite and perceptions. When a whale was washed ashore near the town quay he decided to do his duty by the famished undergraduates of St Salvator’s Hall. He seized a cleaver from the college kitchen, marched down the hill in his full academicals, and hacked from the carcass a hefty steak. This was served up for dinner in Hall that night. While disliking both the flavour and the texture, I admired the brio that had brought this unknown dish before us. I strove manfully to enjoy it. Later the whole British population had this rubbery marine meat inflicted on them. It even became part of the official meat ration. No one ever liked it, but we were instructed that the nation had to keep up its strength.

I have three other memories of my time as a youth in St Andrews by the Northern Sea.

The first has to do with leadership. Flight Lieutenant Ritchie impressed upon us the need for this quality. In response I felt I had to take the lead in something, and decided to organize a snooker championship. This now seems to me inexplicable: I was not even very good at snooker. Naturally, to show a lead, I myself took part as a contestant in this championship - expecting to be soon eliminated. However at every round I won, to my growing embarrassment. I arrived in the semi-finals. In anxious discussion with my friends I found them supportive. They did not seem to see anything wrong in the organiser of the tournament threatening to win the trophy. Thankfully that did not happen, and I duly lost the penultimate match.

Then I was faced with a problem. As the organiser of the snooker championship, I had to buy the trophy which was to be presented by Flight Lieutenant Ritchie to the winner. I walked down to the town jeweller and was faced with a difficult choice. With the small amount of money at my disposal should I buy for the prizewinner a large ostentatious cup of plated silver or a very small unpretending cup of pure sterling silver? After agonizing, I settled for the former. Ever since I have felt I was wrong - but the winner seemed happy with his large trophy. Flight Lieutenant Ritchie presented it to him, with a neat little speech. In it he acknowledged my qualities of leadership, so it seemed I had done something right.

The second memory is very important to me. I was sitting in the students’ common room listening to the radio churning out popular music when I felt a sudden powerful tug within. It was an unexpected desire to listen instead to what is called classical or serious music. Never before had I felt the slightest wish to hear that sort of music, so why did the message come at this moment? I can only conclude that it was an incident of maturing, a part of growing up. Over half a century later, around the sixtieth anniversary of VE Day, I wrote the following to a radio request programme of which the presenter was Brian Kay-

‘My request is for Brahms’s Academic Festival overture. This is in connection with your World War II theme. I was an RAF pilot in World War II. In 1941 the Air Ministry started a programme of six-month university courses as initial training for RAF aircrew cadets. I was on the first of these to be held at St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university. There were 55 cadets on my course in 1941, 25 of whom did not survive the war. I was 17, and remember that it was while listening to the radio in the student common room at St Andrews University that I suddenly woke up to the fact that classical music was essential to me. I bought a portable gramophone in St Andrews town which I took around with me during my wartime service in Britain, Canada (flying training), and the Mediterranean (antisubmarine patrols with 221 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command). The Academic Festival overture was the first classical music record I bought.’

This request was duly played on 26 June 2005. When back in 1940 I went home on leave to my mother, father, sister and grandfather I found that none of them accepted my sudden liking for serious music. They thought I was pretending, posing, putting on airs. Even my piano-playing, Beethoven sonatas, cap-and-gown mother thought I was insincere in this proclaimed liking. Even my soprano sister, who had become a pupil at the Guildhall School of Music in London, thought I was putting on an act. It has been the same with others in later years. I find that strange, and rather sad. I was hurt in my youthful feelings, because my love of serious music was genuine. Yet throughout my life ever since I have been surrounded by people who did not share or accept it. That was their loss, for they missed out on what I am privileged to know is one of the greatest wonders of our western culture.

My final memory of those days at St Andrews concerns gambling. I had learnt from the example of my father the ruinous effect of an addiction to this vice (in his case concerned with racehorses). At St Andrews the students became very fond of the card game known as pontoon (vingt-et-un). We played it every night, for small stakes. Then one day some members of what was known as ‘the school’ came to me and said they thought one of our number was cheating. The fair-haired X (as I shall call him) was a popular, likeable youth — but still they said he was cheating. What was to be done? Why were they looking to me? Could it be because I had taken the lead in organising a snooker tournament? It seemed unlikely, but it was happening.

These youths, my friends, said there was only one thing to be done. X had to be confronted. Who is to do that? I asked the question, knowing what answer they would give. I was to do it. On the next occasion when we gathered to play cards fair-haired X was there, with his usual confident look. All eyes were on me. I was expected to speak out, and rid them of this blight. I felt, not for the last time, that I had to do what was expected of me. So I spoke to X, very quietly. "Some of the lads think you cheat, and don’t want to play with you any more", I said. X flushed to the roots of his hair. I gazed steadily at him, saying no more. Slowly he rose from his seat. Then he ran out of the room. I heard a muffled sob. No more did we play pontoon. The zest had gone out of it.

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Canadair F-86 Sabre

The Canadair Sabre Jet was the mainstay of the RCAF and NATO forces during the early years of the Cold War, helping to counter the air threats from Soviet fighters behind the Iron Curtain.

Canadair F-86 Sabre

The Canadair Sabre Jet was the mainstay of the RCAF and NATO forces during the early years of the Cold War, helping to counter the air threats from Soviet fighters behind the Iron Curtain.

F-86 and the Cold War

In 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War, the Canadian government decided to re-equip the RCAF with the F-86 Sabre Jet. Canadair of Montreal, Quebec was contracted to build an initial batch of 10 aircraft, but with the outbreak of the Korean War, the order was increased to a production batch of 100 aircraft.

The first Canadian Sabre Jet took to the skies two years later, and between 1950 and 1958 a total of 1,815 Sabre Jets were built in Canada.

Six versions of the Sabre were built by Canadair, with the aircraft serving overseas during the Korean War and in Europe during the Cold War where they were stationed in the UK, France and West Germany.

The Sabre proved itself as a fast, reliable and highly manoeuvrable aircraft and was eventually regarded as the "best dogfighter" of its era.

NATO Support

By 1951, Canada was committed to supporting NATO in Europe. Twelve squadrons and three hundred aircraft of 1 Canadian Air Division were moved across the Atlantic to Europe plus the equipment and personnel to fly and maintain them.

The first two squadrons of Sabres were shipped to England aboard the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent, but because of the time required to cross the Atlantic the remaining ten squadrons were flown to their European bases. This was called "Operation Leap Frog."

The Leap Frog route covered 5600 kilometers and took nine hours of flying at 625 km/hr. The fastest Atlantic crossing took seven days and the longest, 30 days. Poor flying weather was the major cause of flight delays.

Once in Europe, 1 Air Division was broken down into four Wings and each Wing hosted three squadrons. Between 1954 and 1957, the overseas ferry unit completed thirty crossings of the North Atlantic and delivered more than eight hundred aircraft to the RCAF, Royal Air Force, and other NATO members without the loss of a single pilot.

Overseas Operations

In Europe, the F-86 Sabre provided daylight air defence against the Warsaw Pact. 1 Air Division were on alert from daybreak to nightfall, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Eight aircraft maintained five minute alert status and eight maintained fifteen minute status. This alert status rotated between two wings for a one-week period.

While on alert, the five-minute aircraft were often ordered to scramble by the RCAF Radar unit in Metz, France. These scrambles were ordered without prior notice and, once airborne, the pilots were advised that it was a practice to test their reaction time. Mandatory scrambles were ordered to intercept any aircraft that could not be identified by NATO radar stations.

To maintain NATO standards, each squadron deployed to a weapons range and practiced air gunnery twice a year. The camps were initially held in Rabat, Morocco and later at Decimomannu in Sardinia. Four aircraft fired on a flag towed by another aircraft. Rounds from each aircraft were coloured so it would leave a distinctive mark in the flag. NATO required a minimum score of 20%.

Canadian pilots established themselves as excellent marksmen. In 1958, an annual gunnery competition was established called "The Guynemer Trophy", which Canada won every year until 1962.

The Golden Hawks

To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the RCAF and the 50th anniversary of powered flight in Canada, the RCAF formed an aerobatic flying team of Canadair Mk.5 Sabres in 1959. The six-plane team flew 63 shows in their first season.

The Golden Hawks proved so popular that they continued to perform for five more years. In 1961 the aircraft were upgraded to the Mk.6 Sabre and one more jet was added to the team. The Golden Hawks flew a total of 317 shows across North America before they were disbanded in February 1964.

The F-86 Sabre at the AFMA

The Sabre Mk. 5 Serial No. 23338 was built by Canadair of Montreal, Quebec in 1954. It was one of 370 Mk.5's built by Canadair with the majority designated for deployment to RCAF squadrons in Europe.

However this aircraft was first deployed to the Central Experimental and Proving Establishment (C.E.P.E), Winter Experimental Establishment at RCAF Station Namao, Alberta in October 1954, before being sent to France with the 416 "Black Lynx" Squadron, No.1 Air Division, No.2 Wing in Grostenquin, France.

After 10 months in France the aircraft was sent back to the No.1 Operation Training Unit in Chatham, New Brunswick in August 1955. It remained there until May 1968 when it was transferred to the Sabre Transition Unit in Chatham, NB.

In September 1970 it was struck off strength with the RCAF and sold to the Maritime Aircraft Repair & Overhaul/Target Air Limited, in Moncton, New Brunswick.

The Black Cat

In the early 1980's the Sabre was acquired by Flight Systems, Inc of Mojave CA, and converted into a QF-86E drone for target practice. This program was designed to test anti-aircraft systems and involved the installation of remote control hardware into the airframe so the aircraft could be flown unmanned. Almost 60 Canadair Sabres took part in this program where a majority were eventually shot down during tests of ground-to-air missiles.

Sabre 23338 was given the US Registration number N4689N and between 1984 and 1988, it flew as many as 13 unmanned sorties and survived the program. Sabre 23338 was apparently shot at by ground-to-air missiles nine times with each one missing. Afterwards this lucky aircraft was given the nickname "Black Cat".

The Sabre was transferred to Chanute AFB, Illinois in 1988 and then Holloman AFB, New Mexico in the early 1990's. It returned to Mojave, CA in the late 1990's after it was sold to a private buyer. In 2006 the aircraft made its final flight when it was purchased by Aviation Classics and flown to Reno, Nevada by USAF pilot John Penney.

The aircraft was dismantled for restoration but ended up in long-term storage. In 2015 the aircraft came up for sale, and Gerry Morrison of the Air Force Museum Society of Alberta flew down to view the aircraft, and purchased it the next day.

The aircraft was shipped back to the Air Force Museum in Calgary, and after 2,000 hours of restoration work by a group of dedicated volunteers, the Sabre Jet was unveiled in 2016 at the Ken and Roma Lett, Cold War Museum in Calgary, Alberta.