644 Squadron, 38 Group: History

Badge : In front of an increscent, a Pegasus rampant


Motto : 'Dentes draconis serimus' ('We sow dragon's teeth')

 

HISTORY

 

Squadron Code Letters '2P' & '9U'.
On 23 February 1944 'C' Flight, No.298 Squadron split away to form the nucleus of No.644 Squadron at Tarrant Ru
shton, Dorset, with Halifax V glider tugs.
The former 'C' Flight Commander, Squadron Leader A.G. Norman DFC was appointed as the new squadron's first Commanding Officer.
No.644 rapidly built up and trained as an operational unit in the supply dropping and glider tug roles.
However, accommodation at Tarrant Rushton was very limited so most of the work-up flying for the newly-arrived crews was done from Chelveston, Northants, alongside a USAAF unit.
During March, the Squadron achieved a full establishment of 30 Halifaxes and a new Commanding Officer, Wing Commander V.A. Pope was posted in.
No.644 Squadron flew its first operational sortie on the night of 30 March when it dropped some arms to SOE resistance forces in France.
By the end of April, it had flown 46 such operations for its first operational loss (LL228 / Flight Lieutenant Frank Cleaver DSO was lost during a mission over southern France, all crew were alive except Air Gunner Hoddinot who jumped too late).
Interspersed with this operations, No.644 continued training with Gliders. Halifaxes of No.644 Squadron (and also No. 298 Squadron) were retrofitted with Gee and Rebecca Mk II to allow more accurate navigation, and the early trouble-prone Merlin XX engines were replaced by more reliable Merlin 22s. Merlin 22s were important because in 38 Group, only Merlin 22 engined aircraft were cleared to tow the giant Glider Hamilcar.
On 22 April 1944, No.298 and No.644 Squadrons laid on a demonstration for General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander British and US Armies in Great Britain, Air Chief Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, KCB, DSO, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force controlling the air cover required for Operation Overlord, and Air Vice Marshall Leslie Hollinghurst, CBE, OBE, DFC, AOC 38 Group. 6 Halifaxes and glider combinations took off at 30-second intervals and, after gaining height, released the gliders which landed simultaneously. It demonstrated the ability to concentrate airborne troops in an assault.
Until 'D-Day' night missions for SOE continued (with sometimes returning damages planes by night fighters) and training also, with loss of LL346 on 27 April (the price of realistic training was high).
On 05 June 1944 was the start of Operation 'Overlord', invasion of Europe by allies:
On this night of 05-06 June, Operation 'Coup de Main', 3 Halifaxes aircraft of No.644 Squadron (and 3 of No.298) took off at about 22h30 from Tarrant Rushton and towed 3 Horsa gliders each, whose troops were to capture intact 2 vital bridges over the Orne River and the Caen Canal, between Benouville and Ranville. One of this 2 vital bridges was the famous 'Pegasus Bridge' taken by Major Howard during Operation 'Coup de Main'. The operation was highly successful with most of the gliders landing on the bridges approaches (see also No. 298 Squadron history for details). Just after the release, No.644 and No.298 Squadrons Halifaxes made a diversionary bombing attack on a powder factory situated south-east of Caen.
On 06 June itself, for the main phase of the airborne assault, Operation 'Tonga', No.644 Squadron provided 20 aircraft. It towed 15 Horsas and 2 'Giant' Hamilcars, all 17 carrying 6th Airborne troops - One Halifax was forced to turn back and the tow parted on 4 other gliders, but they landed safely in England. The remaining 3 aircraft bombed targets around Caen to create diversions.
Later on 06 June, after they returned to Tarrant Rushton and refuelled, 16 aircraft, towing 15 Hamilcars and 1 Horsa, participate in Operation 'Mallard', reinforcement of 6th Airborne. Although some aircraft suffured flak damage, all returned safely.
Note: During 'Mallard', the gliders, including the Hamilcars carrying Tetrachs light tanks, appeared overhead just as 21st Panzer Division was slogging it out with the Staffordshire Yeomanry, and that was too much for the Germans. Convinced they were about to be cut off, and already battling against strong opposition, they turned about and headed back for Caen while they still could!
Periodic resupply sorties to the 6th Airborne were flown until 27 June.
After this, supply drops to Resistance, SOE & SAS missions continued but also night tactical bombing. (See examples of Secret Missions flown by No.644 Squadron in 38 Group History part of this site, click here : Secret Missions in Brittany, France.

From 17 to 23 September 1944 were Operations 'Market, capture of 3 main bridges in Holland. No.644 participated in Operations Market I, II & III (until 19 September) where the Squadron was committed to move the 1st Airborne Division. 47 sorties were flown and no aircraft were lost during this operations. While other 38 Group Squadrons continued 'Market', No.644 returned to SOE operations.
On 05 August 1944, No.644 and No.298 Squadrons towed 10 Waco gliders for Operation Dingson 35A in Brittany, France (each glider carried 3 SAS and an armed jeep). No.644 Squadron participated and towed 5 Waco gliders. One Waco was lost (team of Pierre Philippon, a french SAS and a former member of the Resistance Movement, Réseau 'Bordeaux-Loupiac', who was from Quimper, Brittany). The SAS teams stayed in occupied territory with their armed jeeps until the arrival of Allies. Their job should be impressive because Germans sticked posters around Brittany promising 20 000 francs for the capture of each SAS dead or alive! But these SAS were loved and protected by the French people who welcomed them because they were the only British troops in the region.
With new year 1945, SOE operations (now mainly over Scandinavia) and night tactical bombing didn't stop.
In March 1945 was the last major airborne operation, its code 'Varsity', the Rhine crossing. No.644 Squadron, always with No.298 Squadron, detached to Woodbridge on 19 March in preparation. On 24 March, 30 No.644's Halifax/glider combinations (24 Hamilcars and 6 Horsas), carrying men of the 6th Airborne, took off from Woodbridge. Sadly 2 aircraft were lost to flak.
After March 1945, No.644 returned exclusively to SOE missions over Scandinavia.
On 08 May 1945, No.644 was employed to fly British troops to oversee the transition back to local control following the German surrenders in both Denmark (Operation 'Schnapps') and Norway (Operation 'Doomsday').
In June 1945, Wing Commander Ingle became the new Commanding Officer of No.644 Squadron.
With the war over, No.644 was soon involved in a continental shuttle, repatriating PoWs and flying general transport duties.
In November 1945, No.644 Squadron moved to Qastina, North of District of Gaza, Palestine, to support the 6th Airborne Division which was established there.
It was disbanded and renumbered No.47 Squadron on 01 September 1946.

 

Commanding Officers:

23 February 1944      Squadron Leader A.G. NORMAN DFC
                                 (Temp O.C.)

16 March 1944          Wing Commander V.A. POPE DSO

10 November 1944    Wing Commander E.L. ARCHER DSO, OBE, AFC,                                                                    DFC(N), LeoP(C), CdeG(1940)(P)(B)

                                 DFC(N): Dutch Flying Cross (Netherlands)

                                 LeoP(C): Order of Leopold (Chevalier) with Palm - Belgium

                                 CdeG(1940)(P)(B): Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm -                                                                                                                Belgium

25 June 1945             Wing Commander W.H. INGLE

 

Date  /  Base  /  Aircraft

23 February 1944   Formed at Tarrant Rushton in No.38 Group - nucleus from                                                                                  'C'Flight, No.298 Squadron

March 1944  /  Tarrant Rushton  /  Halifax V

October 1944  /  Tarrant Rushton  /  Halifax III, Halifax V

November 1944  Halifax V is retired

March 1945  /  Tarrant Rushton  /  Halifax III, Halifax A.VII

June 1945  Halifax III is retired

1 December 1945  /  Qastina  /  Halifax A.VII

August 1946  /  Qastina  /  Halifax A.VII, Halifax A.IX

1 September 1946   Disbanded (renumbered as No.47 Squadron)

 

© RAF WWII 38 GROUP SQUADRONS REUNITED

Halifax A V Series IA (LL331 9U-'K'), No. 644 Squadron, 38 Group, flown from Tarrant Rushton by Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Pope, twice during Operation Overlord (5 & 6 June 1944) and twice during Operations 'Market' (17 & 19 September 1944).

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