No. 25 (F) Squadron



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  Number 25 Squadron was formed at Montrose in Scotland on 25 September 1915. Montrose was first occupied by the Royal Flying Corps in February 1913, when No 2 Squadron moved there from Farnborough. On the outbreak of war, No 2 Squadron proceeded overseas and the station at Montrose was handed over to the Army.

Montrose was re-occupied by the RFC in July 1915 when No 6 Reserve Squadron was formed there. The Reserve Squadrons were in fact training units. However, with the approach of winter, the prevailing weather conditions in that part of Scotland were so consistently unfit for flying that no progress was being made with elementary flying training. It was therefore decided to use the station for advanced training only and for that purpose the permanent staff and equipment of No 6 Squadron were turned into No 25 Squadron RFC on 25 September 1915. The Squadrons first commanding officer was Major Felton Vessey Holt DSO of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who later rose to Air Vice-Marshal and commanded the Fighting Area when he was killed in a mid-air collision. At first the unit was equipped with half a dozen elementary types of aircraft which included; S7 Longhorn, Curtiss, Maurice Farman, Martinsyde Elephants, Caudron and Avro. These, with the exception of the Caudron and Maurice, were replaced by BE2Cs soon afterwards.

For the first 3 months of the Squadron’s existence No 25 Squadron was used as a pool from which pilots were drawn as replacements for the Expeditionary Force in France. However, on 31 December the Squadron started moving south to Thetford in Norfolk, initially equipped with the various trainer types but 2 months later re-equipping with its operational aircraft the two-seat FE2b, together with a few Bristol Scouts. The FE2b was a two-seat pusher fighting reconnaissance machine designed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment. The majority of the 12 machines were presentation machines. Four were presented by the Government of Zanzibar, one by residents of South Australia, one by the Board of Trade, Montreal and another by members of the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce. All the aircraft were marked with their benefactor.

At Thetford the Squadron continued with the advanced training of pilots and in addition trained a number of officers as observers. Since all its aircrew had been instructors there was a minimal work-up period. A further duty undertaken by the Squadron was the provision of night flying pilots for the defence of London against Zeppelin attacks. The threat of the Zeppelin had become more and more serious. Special Squadrons were not yet in existence but after 2 airship attacks on the city in September 1915, a special strategic disposition of aeroplanes, guns and searchlights was made in the London area. The RFC share of the defence of the capital fell mainly upon the Reserve Squadrons and as a consequence No 25 Squadron lost several personnel to these units.

The Squadron went to St Omer in France on 20 February 1916 as a long-range reconnaissance and fighter unit. Initially the Squadron was tasked with flying into the routes adopted by the German aircraft on their way to raid England and intercepting them. But this never really worked and soon the squadron was transferred to the Western Front to protect GHQ and Audruicq, where a considerable ammunition dump was situated. Patrols were conducted daily in the company on No 21 Squadron, beginning an hour before sunrise and finishing at sunset. In March the Squadron began in earnest with the provision of escorts. The necessity of escorts marked an important phase in air tactics. When the war began aeroplanes on both sides were chiefly employed for reconnaissance. Their numbers were few and the practice was for machines to go out as singletons. Mainly because air fighting was in the embryonic stage and because of a sense of chivalry, machines went about their duties with little danger from the air; their chief dread was fire from the ground. 
Sentimental considerations soon gave way to the stern necessities of war. Machines on reconnaissance and artillery work began to attack hostile machine as the occasion arose and fast single seat aircraft armed with machine guns were detailed to attack enemy machines conducting operations behind the lines. With the introduction of the German Fokker monoplane, with a synchronised forward-firing machine gun; reconnaissance and bombing machines were compelled to go out in numbers, one aircraft to do the work and the others to act as escort.

On 1 April the Squadron moved to Auchel (Lozinghem) Aerodrome and became part of the 10th Army Wing, 1st Brigade RFC operating with the 1st Army. The front of the 1st Army extended from just north of Fromelles to a little south of Souchez. Within these limits No 25 Squadrons patrols in association with No 27 Squadron and No 18 Squadron, were to protect reconnaissance and photographic machines working in the vicinity of the line and to prevent enemy aircraft doing the same task over friendly trenches! The pilots found with delight that the FE could hold its own against the Fokker monoplane and in fact, during April 1916 the enemy aircraft mostly avoided combat with them. However, in a patrol on 29 April, 2nd Lt Lord Doune and 2nd Lt R V Walker (observer) shot down and killed Baron von Saal Saafeld, the son of the Prince of Saxony.

During the 2 months April and May 1916, only 4 casualties due to enemy action were suffered by the Squadron. In June the casualties rose to 3 times that number and the majority of them were due to Fokkers. In June the Squadron strength was increased to 18 machines, 20 pilots and 18 observers (including 6 NCOs) in preparation for the battle of the Somme, where it took on tactical photo reconnaissance patrols and bombing raids behind enemy lines. This role was undertaken, in addition to its fighting duties which involved the maintenance of offensive patrols over the lines. During one of these on the evening of 18 June 1916, Lt McCubbin and Cpl Waller shot down the German Ace Max Immelman. This was the second encounter with No 25 Squadron on that day for Immelmann. In the late afternoon he had been scrambled to intercept 8 aircraft who had crossed the lines near Arras. He dispatched a No 25 Squadron FE2b flown by Lt C E Rogers to record his 16th victory and returned to base. In the evening he flew again and once more was in combat with No 25 Squadron, this time shooting down the FE2 of Lt R B Savage. However, in doing so he passed in front of Lt McCubbins aircraft which turned to follow the German. Immelman saw the danger, but almost simultaneously Cpl Waller the FE2s observer, was able to fire a long and accurate burst at the Fokker, which spun to the ground and crashed.

Prior to the infantry assault on 1 July, the Squadron was tasked with balloon busting raids in association with No32 Squadron. This operation was designed to embarrass the enemy by depriving him of this form of observation. Nine enemy balloon kites were shot down in total in two sorties.
Throughout the time No 25 Squadron had been in France, the Squadron had been practising night flying sorties, initially by way of an experiment, but then on 1 July 1916 the Squadron was formally tasked with night bombing of strategic targets. These were performed in conjunction with a variety of RFC Squadrons including specifically No’s 2, 10 and 40 Squadrons. On 19 July No 25 Squadron added to its duties by carrying out offensive patrols in support of the Army (what we would now call Close-Air Support). These patrols were made in conjunction with an attack by the XI Corps (1st Army) and II Anzac Corps on hostile trenches in the Somme area and were continued as long as the offensive lasted. The patrols were again performed in conjunction with No 32 Squadron and included patrols over enemy aerodromes and any other targets of opportunity.

During the next few months the Squadron continued to carry out patrols and photographic reconnaissance and less frequently, night bombing. Its main work was carrying the offensive behind enemy lines by offensive patrols and the odd bit of bombing. Although removed from the battle front and therefore employed on duties of a secondary nature, the Squadrons work was constant and strenuous. The pressure had to be maintained along the line to hold the German Squadrons and so prevent them reinforcing those on the Somme. Enemy aerodromes, junctions, billets, sidings and dumps radiating from Lillie were attached almost every day throughout the Somme battle. One of the largest sorties during the battle involved 12 Fees of No 25 Squadron, 7 BEs of No 16 Squadron and 7 BEs of No 10 Squadron all coordinating to attack Douai Railway station. Favourite targets of the Squadron were railways, trains and airfields (targets that were again to become favourites in the next war!).

During one of the many fights that occurred in this period Sgt T Mottershead and 2nd Lt C Street shot down a Fokker. Afterwards Sgt Mottershead was posted to No 20 Squadron and after his death was awarded a Victoria Cross.

The Squadron continued to take part in the combined raids until the end of the Somme battle. However, from the middle of October the bombing machines, which had hitherto done their work with little interference from hostile machines began to experience considerable resistance. The increased opposition was also experienced by the FEs engaged on offensive patrols. In November patrols were considerably increased in strength which also increased the number of aircraft involved in the fights that ensured. In one fight 12 FEs of No 25 Squadron, plus 2 de Havillands of No 29 Squadron were involved in a fight with 20 enemy scouts.
[Footnote: At the time of his death Lt Immelmann had been officially credited with the destruction of 16 Allied machines. He was one of the pilots of the Fokker monoplane. The original Fokker manoeuvre was a dive attach from height and if that did not succeed in sending the Allied machine down the Fokker would dive out of
range before returning to the attach. Immelmann improved on these tactics by discovering the climbing turn, which has been since named after him, by which he regained height and attacking position without losing touch with the enemy. His death greatly depressed the German Air Service at the outbreak of the Somme and it was not until the end of the struggle that Oswald Boelcke, later succeeded by Manfred von Richthofen, succeeded in restoring German prestige in the air.

The Squadron did a considerable amount of fighting during the next few months. However, with 1917 came a change of duties, when in addition to the bombing and offensive patrols it undertook an increased amount of photography under strong escort from their own aircraft. The FEs were becoming increasingly vulnerable against a new generation of German aircraft (mainly Halberstadts) and so the FE2s, supplemented now with a few Ds, were transferred to bombing duties and No 25 Squadron undertook night raids for the first six months of the year. The first FE2d machines, with which the Squadron was later re-equipped, were received during March 1917 and by the end of the first week in May the FE2b’s had all been replaced. However, the new type of machine was not retained for long. In June a further re-equipping was begun with the arrival of DH4. No 25 Squadron was the first RFC Squadron to receive the DH4 and with it was to receive a greatly enlarged capability. The main operations in June were centred around the northern part of the Front and consisted of line patrols photography and bombing. However, with the arrival of the DH4 the Squadron now became a long range unit. In June and July the Squadron carried out fewer line patrols and devoted more of its time to long range bombing, reconnaissance and photography patrols by day and night behind German lines. The targets in August were enemy aerodromes, railways and fuel dumps.

On 11 October 1917 the Squadron severed its long connection with the 10th (Army) Wing and moved to Boisinghem where it came under the orders of the 9th Wing. From this date the Squadron activities increased dramatically. Instead of operating over an area limited to the extent on one Army Front, its duties involved the Fronts covered by all the British Armies. Its work now consisted of long-range reconnaissance, photography and bombing of distant targets outside the Army area. In addition to the strategic raids the Squadron also bombed tactical targets. During these patrols the formations were protected by escorts of Bristol Fighters (eg. No 22 Squadron) and SE5s (No 84 Squadron).

During the first 2 months of 1918 the Squadron did less bombing and made an increasing number of photographic reconnaissance. In March bombing attacks were again more frequent, the Squadron attacking stations, sidings and again enemy aerodromes. All these raids were carried out form the aerodrome at Villers-Bretonneux on the Amiens-St Quentin road, which the Squadron occupied on 6 March. When the Germans started their last big offensive on 24 March 1918, the Squadron was forced to move again to Beauvois with No 27 and No 79 Squadrons, about 5 miles west of St Pol. On 25 March No 25 Squadron joined in the attacks on the advancing Germans, with No 27 Squadron and No 8 Naval Squadron in low level tactical bombing and strafing.

On 29 March the Squadron moved a little further NW and occupied an aerodrome at Ruisseauville, temporarily coming under the command of 81st Wing and later 54th Wing before returning to 9th Wing. In April, once the offensive was over, the Squadron returned to its high altitude long-range operations, sometimes going over
100nm into enemy territory, reconnoitering road and rail targets. This was a role well suited for the DH4. The DH4s performance was so superior that any combats which took place were usually in the Squadrons favour.
An attack on Courtrai Railway station on 23 June proved to be the last bombing raid made by the Squadron. Thereafter, its undivided attention was given to the work of long-range photo-reconnaissance. The continued advance of the allied armies rendered frequent changes in the areas to be reconnoitered during August and September. A large number of enemy aerodromes were photographed in October. During the closing months of the war the Squadron had its share of fighting although hostile aircraft were never attacked in so far as was necessary to secure the safe return of the machine of to gain the information. The last combats of the war for the Squadron on the morning of 9 November proved to be successful; 2nd Lts Seeds and Buckland engaged 7 Fokkers at 17000ft scoring 2 confirmed kills and scattering the rest to remain unscathed.

On 27 October the Squadron moved to La Brayelle near Douai and was still operating there at the date of the Armistice. A month later it moved forward to Mauberge whence the first aerial reconnaissance of the war was made in August 1914, while the British Expeditionary Force was marching to Mons.

The Squadron was scheduled to convert to DH9s when the war ended. In fact a few DH9s were delivered. However, the DH4s outlived them and were retained until 1919. In May 1919 the Squadron moved into Germany as part of the Army of Occupation moving to Bickendorf between 26 May and 7 July and Merheim from May until 6 September 1919. The Squadron then left enemy territory in September to return to the UK, moving to South Carlton in Lincolnshire. The Squadron remained there until December 1919 when following a move to Scopwick, Lincs it was reduced to a cadre. On 20 January 1920 the Squadron was disbanded at Scopwick, Lincs.

The Squadron began to reform at Hawkinge on 1 February 1920 as a permanent Squadron of the Royal Air Force commanded by Wg Cdr Sir Norman Leslie. As a permanent Squadron of the RAF, No 25 Squadron assumed the title of No 25 (Fighter) Squadron on 24 March 1920. The reformation was completed on 20 April 1920 equipped now with Sopwith Snipe single seat fighters. In fact, it was the only fighter squadron in the UK at that time and thus, with its 9 Snipes, was responsible for the defence of the whole of the country! In September 1922 it set off overseas to play its part in the Chanak crisis in Turkey, reinforcing the garrison at San Stefano, Constantinople.

No 25 was overseas for a year, flying policing patrols with No’s 4(AC), 207. 208 and a Flight from No 56 Squadron, but no action ensued and with the crisis over the Squadron returned to Hawkinge in the autumn on 1923. Commanded now by Squadron Leader A H Peck DSO MC, the Squadron was destined to stay there until a few weeks before the outbreak of World War II. During the first year at Hawkinge the Squadron flew in several defence exercises, but concentrated to a large extent on formation flying. As a result the Squadron performed at the Hendon Pageant in 1924; a performance that was the first in a number of highly successful and memorable displays.

A year later In October 1924 the Squadron became the first RAF unit to receive the highly maneuverable Gloster Grebe biplane. Initially there were some casualties as a result of wing weakness, however the fitting of interplane struts cured the problem and the Squadron built up from time that time. In 1925 the Squadron entered a new sphere of peace-time operations-that of Army Co-operation , whilst still maintaining the status and duties of a Fighter Squadron, these additional duties included a form of ground support and attack with guns and bombs. The Squadron still continued to display its multi-aircraft synchronised formation flying at Hendon and was chosen to fly escort for the President of France, King Fued of Egypt, the King and Queen of Afghanistan and the Prince of Wales.

In May 1929 Armstrong Whitworth Siskins 3as replaced the Grebes, but they lasted only three years before No 25 received Hawker Furies in February 1932. The last two years of the Siskin saw the Squadron largely engaged in Army Co-operation exercises although later more time was spent on interceptor tactics. In 1932 No 43 Squadron had already taken delivery of Furies and later when the Squadron’s traditional rivals No 1 Squadron received Furies, the three Squadrons (25, 43 and 1 Squadrons) all came to acquire the reputation of a corps d’elite – prestige that was to remain with them long after the Fury had disappeared from service. With the Furies the Squadron pioneered the art of tied-together aerobatics, three of the aircraft being connected to each other in vic formation by bungee cord to take –off, fly a whole aerobatic routine and land again without breaking the cord. Needless to say, this was a great draw at displays and featured more than once at the Hendon Empire Days (1933 – 1935). The Furies served with great success through the 1930s, culminating in a blistering ‘attack’ on the airfield in the final Hendon display in 1937. In 1933 the Squadron had achieved such a high standard of proficiency that it won outright the prestigious Phillip Sassoon Fighting Area Trophy with a score of 99.9%.

Following the heady days of the 1920s and early 1930s, the Squadron was in for a period of indecision. During November 1936 the Squadron was the recipient of the first operational Fury MkIIs but was forced to relinquish them a year later in October 1937 to No 41 Squadron when 2-seater Hawker Demons arrived as replacements.  These in turn were replaced 8 months later in June 1938 by the single seat Gloster Gladiators taken over from No 56 Squadron. These stayed for another 8 months and then came Bristol Blenheim Mk Ifs. This meant a great change for the pilots – and their single-engine biplanes replaced by twin-engined monoplanes and also brought to the Squadron navigators and air-gunners, so the whole atmosphere of the unit altered.

Intended for nigh and long-range fighter air defence duties the Blenheim fighters were moved to Northolt in August 1939 for the defence of the London area. On the 3 September No 25 Squadron became a night fighter Squadron. On 15 September the Squadron moved to Filton to act as night cover for the British Expeditionary Force which was sailing from Cardiff en route for France. This detachment lasted until October when the Squadron returned to Northolt and then later to North Weald. With the Blenheim Mk Ifs there was also a detached flight of Blenheim Mk IVs at Martlesham. These were equipped with early airborne interception equipment and spent time co-operating in the early development on AI radar. When war came in September 1939 these Blenheims set up a system of patrols over the North Sea to detect any raiders against the UK, a plan that was scotched by the absence of any enemy aircraft. The Squadron’s first operations other than these patrols took place at the end of November 1939, when it flew long-range fighter attacks against shipping and the seaplane base at Borkum. On 26 November 1939 the Squadron made a long-range daylight attack on the base but due to bad weather was unable to find its target; 2 days later 6 of the Squadron aircraft and crews combined with No 601 Squadron to make another attempt and managed to strafe the base and shipping. In 1940 by recording the first kill, a Do17 using an AI radar. In May 1940 No 25 Squadron received 2 Westland Whirlwinds for evaluation as night fighters, however, the aircraft was found to be unsuitable for that role.

In addition to standing by as a night-interceptor squadron, No 25 was also involved in North sea convoy protection and so in June and July 1940, when the war in France erupted, the Squadron became involved in flying escort to the ships evacuating troops from Dunkirk and attempting to provide patrols over the beach-head. All this took place by day, but thereafter the Squadron increasingly turned its attention to night defence, instituting nocturnal patrols, so that when night raids began to succeed the day attacks in the Battle of Britain, No 25 was brought into play. Initially the Squadron was unfortunate, its first action seeing the loss of 2 of its Blenheims to a Hurricane; however, the first Squadron kills were recorded on 4 September when a New Zealander Plt Off Michael Herrick shot down a He111 and a Do17 in quick succession, followed by a further He111 on September 5. No 25 Squadron soldiered on at is task with the Blenheims but help was forthcoming; the Squadron received its first 4 Bristol Beaufighters in September 1940 and as these worked up, albeit slowly, they provided a great step forward for the Squadron. Operational in October and victorious on 15 November, the Beaufighter finally replaced the Blenheim almost entirely in January 1941. By now the Squadron had left the London area having moved on October 1940 to Debden and was finding its ‘trade’ over the Midlands. After a further move to Wittering the Squadron was well placed to counter the 1941 Baedeker raids on the industrial towns of the Midlands, scoring 6 kills in May and 7 in June.


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