Per Purum Tonantes "Thundering through the clear air"

First World War

No. 61 Squadron was formed at RAF Rochford, Essex, on 24 July 1917 or on 2 August of that year, as one of the first three single-seater fighter squadrons of the London Air Defence Area intended to counter the daylight air raids. It was equipped with the Sopwith Pup. The squadron first went into action on 12 August, when a formation of 10 Gotha bombers came in over the mouth of the Thames. Sixteen Pups of No. 61 Squadron took off to intercept them and succeeded in turning the enemy back, but not before two bombs had been dropped near No. 61's hangars on Rochford Aerodrome. In 1918 the squadron was re-equipped with SE5s, but before the Armistice was signed it began to change over to Sopwith Camels. The squadron used these and from January 1919 also some Sopwith Snipes until disbanded on 13 June 1919.

 

Second World War
No. 61 Squadron was re-formed on 8 March 1937 as a bomber squadron, and in World War II flew with No. 5 Group, RAF Bomber Command. The squadron's first operational mission was on 25 December 1939, comprising an armed reconnaissance over the North Sea by 11 Hampden bombers. This was followed on 7/8 March 1940 by the first bombing mission, when one Hampden, during a security patrol of Sylt-Borkum-Norderney, bombed an enemy destroyer which opened fire on it.

The unit took part in many notable operations including:

  • The first bombing raid on a German land target (Hornum, 19/20 March 1940)
  • The first big bombing raid on the German mainland (Monchengladbach, 11/12 May 1940)
  • The first bombing raid on Berlin (25/26 August 1940);the attacks on Le Creusot and Peenemünde (17 October 1942 and 17/18 August 1943, respectively)
  • The successive drainings of the Dortmund-Ems and Mitteland Canals (late 1944)
  • The attack on Wesel just before the crossing of the Rhine (23/24 March 1945).

Beginning operations with Hampdens, the squadron converted in July 1941 to the more modern Manchesters and later (spring 1942), Lancasters. Four of its Lancasters; ED860 "N-Nan", EE176, JB138, and LL483, each became veterans of more than 100 operational sorties. Records show that in the case of the first three aircraft, the long road to their centuries included participation in the raid on 3/4 November 1943, when Flight Lieutenant William Reid of No. 61 Squadron won the Victoria Cross.

In the summer of 1942 No. 61 was twice loaned to RAF Coastal Command for anti-submarine operations in the Bay of Biscay. It was detached from its base in Rutland to St Eval in Cornwall, and on the very first occasion that it operated from there, 17 July, a crew captained by Flight Lieutenant PR Casement (Lancaster I R5724) became the first Bomber Command crew to bring back irrefutable evidence that they had destroyed a U-boat at sea, in the form of a photograph showing the U-boat crew in the water swimming away from their sinking vessel.

The squadron's last operational mission in World War II was on 25/26 April 1945, when 10 Lancasters bombed an oil refinery and tankerage at Vallø (Tønsberg), and 4 other Lancasters aborted. The last mission before VE Day was on 6 May 1945, when the squadron's Lancasters ferried 336 ex-POWs home to the UK from Europe.

Post-war

No. 61 Squadron re-equipped with Avro Lincolns in May 1946. These saw action in Malaya as part of Operation Firedog and in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising. The squadron became an English Electric Canberra squadron at RAF Wittering in 1954. These took part in the Suez crisis of 1956. No. 61 disbanded on 31 March 1958.

Aircraft and Bases of 61 Squadron

From To Aircraft Variant
Aug 1917 Jan 1918 Sopwith Pup  
Dec 1917 Oct 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5 SE.5a
Oct 1918 Jun 1919 Sopwith Camel  
Jan 1919 Jun 1919 Sopwith Snipe  
Mar 1937 Apr 1937 Hawker Audax  
Mar 1937 Jan 1938 Avro Anson Mk.I
Jan 1938 Mar 1939 Bristol Blenheim Mk.I
Feb 1939 Oct 1941 Handley Page Hampden Mk.I
Jul 1941 Jun 1942 Avro Manchester Mk.I
May 1942 May 1946 Avro Lancaster Mks.I, III
Oct 1942 Mar 1943 Avro Lancaster Mk.II
May 1946 Aug 1954 Avro Lincoln B.2
Aug 1954 Mar 1958 English Electric Canberra B.2

 

From To Base
Jul 1917 Jun 1919 RAF Rochford
Mar 1937 Jul 1941 RAF Hemswell (Detachment at Wick during Nov-Dec 1939) for ops with Coastal Command )
Jul 1941 Oct 1941 RAF North Luffenham
Oct 1941 May 1942 RAF Woolfox Lodge
May 1942 Nov 1943 RAF Syerston (Detached to RAF St Eval on loan to Coastal Command in July and again in August 1942)
Nov 1943 feb 1944 RAF Skellingthorpe
Feb 1944 Apr 1944 RAF Coningsby
Apr 1944 Jun 1945 RAF Skellingthorpe
June 1945 Jan 1946 RAF Sturgate
Jan 1946 May 1951 RAF Waddington
Jul 1947 Dec 1947 RAF Hemswell (Detachment)
Dec 1950 Apr 1951 RAF TengahSingapore (Detachment)
May 1951 Aug 1953 RAF Marham
Aug 1953 Jun 1955 RAF Wittering
Mar 1954 Jun 1954 RAF EastleighKenya (Detachment)
Jul 1955 Mar 1958 RAF Upwood
Oct 1956 Jan 1957 NicosiaCyprus (Detachment)

No. 61 Squadron Royal Air Force

Commanding officers.

Aug 17            Major E R Pretyman

Jun 18             Major B M Murray

Apr 18             Major E Henty

Sep 18             Major E B Mason

 

Mar 37            Sqn Ldr C H Brill

Sep 39             Wg Cdr C M de Crespigny

Feb 40             Wg Cdr F M Denny

May 40            Wg Cdr W C Sheen DSO

Nov 40            Wg Cdr G E Valentine DSO

Sep 41             Wg Cdr T C Weir DFC

Jun 42             Wg Cdr R M Coad AFC

Feb 43             Wg Cdr W M Penman DFC AFC

Oct 43             Wg Cdr R N Stidolph DFC

Apr 44             Wg Cdr A W Doubleday DSO DFC

Sep 44             Wg Cdr W D Pexton DFC AFC

Feb 45             Wg Cdr C W Scott AFC

Jun 45             Wg Cdr J M Tombs

Aug 45            Wg Cdr R H Humphries

Feb 46             Wg Cdr J L Kirk OBE

Nov 46            Wg Cdr C D Milne DFC

Apr 47             Sqn Ldr W Jones DFC

Aug 47            Sqn Ldr S J C Harper DFC

Oct 49             Sqn Ldr T E Ison DSO DFC

Jun 52             Sqn Ldr C D Owen DFC

Aug 52            Sqn Ldr A P Huchala DFC RCAF

Aug 54            Sqn Ldr J H Gaston

     Mar 55            Unknown

     Aug 55             Sqn Ldr Hartley

     Feb 56              Wg Cdr Fuller

RAF Syerston 1942

       

Lancasters near Bomb Dump at Syerston