As the new year dawned S/L Bower, who had now taken over the diarist duties from F/O D. J. G.
(Red) Wilkes, indulged in a bit of reminiscing about the old:
It has been one of the most eventful (years) in our history, taking the squadron from practically
non-op in the north of England to fully op in France. It saw D/Day with the squadron covering
the beachhead. It has seen 45 Huns fall before the guns of the squadron, and also unfortunately it
has seen some grand friends and comrades take off on their last flights. It has been a happy time for
the squadron and it can be truthfully said that the squadron spirit has never been better than it has
in the past twelve months.
1945’s QUIET BEGINNING
After the Ardennes offensive, enemy air activity came almost to a standstill in 409’s sector. On 23 January
Somerville, flying with P/O Hardy as navigator, accounted for a ]u. 188 while another crew, F/Os M. G. Kent and J. Simpson, made a kill on a Ju. 88G. These were the only engagements in January; in February
there was only one when Kent and Simpson again brought down a Ju. 88.
Everyone was elated on 11 February by the news that W/C Somerville had been awarded the DSO, a
fitting tribute to his own prowess as well as to the squadron as a whole. The citation read in part: “This
officer has displayed outstanding efficiency, great courage and determination, qualities which have been
well reflected in the fine fighting spirit of the squadron he commands.” At the same time it was announced
that Britten and Fownes had each been awarded the DFC. The next day low cloud and rain cancelled all
night flying; night state was reduced to one crew at readiness, thus enabling the squadron to observe the
awards with a suitable celebration. About a month after this occasion W/C Somerville finished his tour of
duty with No. 409 and was succeeded by Frank Hatton. The former “B” Flight Commander had already
distinguished himself as a capable leader and an excellent flyer. The news of his appointment was
welcomed by all members of 409.
In March the weather improved sufficiently for the first softball game of the season to get under way.
The outlook for flying was better, too, and regular night patrols once again became the rule rather than
the exception. Preparations were now going ahead for Operation Plunder which was to carry the Allies
across the Rhine and into Germany. The night fighters of 85 Group kept constant vigilance to ensure the
German Air Force didn’t operate during the hours of darkness, but the Luftwaffe seemed powerless to
interfere with the invasion of its home land and was seldom in evidence. Two of the very few victories
won by the Group in this period went to Britten and Fownes, who destroyed a Me. 110 on 21 March and
a Ju. 88 on the 25th.
On 18 April the squadron moved onto German soil taking up headquarters at Rheine on the Ems River.
The prospects of increased air activity produced a noticeable lift in morale witnessed by great bustle and
good natured boisterousness as the Nighthawks prepared to settle down under canvas again. On 23 April
409 broke all its previous records, by shooting down no less than six enemy aircraft, three of them by
one crew, F/O E. E. Hermanson and F/L D. J. I. Hamm. Two others fell to F/O J. H. Skelly and P/O P. J.
Lim, a rookie crew on their first operational flight. The sixth went to P/Os P.J. Leslie and C. N.
Thurgood. With the exception of Hermanson’s first target, which was a FW. 190, the German aircraft
were Stukas and Ju. 52s, troop transports that had figured largely in German operations in Norway and
Crete. The Nighthawks’ biggest problem was to avoid overshooting these slow flying aircraft and the
pilots came into the attack with flaps and wheels down.
In bright moonlight the next night the squadron fired its guns in anger for the last time, taking toll of
three more German aircraft. P/O Len Fitchett and P/O Hardy shot down a Ju. 52 with a single burst
while S/L B. E. Plumer and P/O H. G. Beynon destroyed a FW. 190 on the ground when they straffed an
aerodrome close to the Russian demarcation Line. Appropriately enough, it was W/C Hatton who won
the squadron’s last victory. Hatton and Rivers took off at 0155 hrs on 24 April. At about 0400 hrs they
were vectored after a bogey that turned out to be a Ju. 290 four-engined bomber. A second blip on
River’s radar indicated that a fighter escort was nearby and Hatton approached the target with caution.
The Mosquito was suddenly illuminated by a series of red and white flares which made the pilot
manoeuver evasively to avoid an attack from astern. When the flares had gone out Hatton closed in firing
two long bursts into the big bomber. Bits and pieces fell off as the German plane made a slow turn to
port then fell and crashed with a loud explosion.
VICTORY AT LAST
The Germans still had a large number of aircraft, including about 700 night fighters, but the shortage of
petrol and the pasting their airfields had taken from our bombers left the Luftwaffe in a sad state. No. 409
found their few remaining sorties of the war to be rather quiet. On 4 May news of the surrender of all
German forces in Holland, Denmark and north western Germany was released. Nevertheless, a night state of two aircraft on readiness was maintained until 8 May when it was formally announced that the war had
ended.The Nighthawks now could rest; their war time flying was over.
VE-Day witnessed great activity at the Rheine airfield. Every few minutes Lancasters, Fortresses and
Dakotas were landing and taking off busily engaged in transporting ex-prisoners of war back to the U.K.
A happy climax to the VE-Day celebrations occurred when F/Os A. B. Sisson and D. S. Nicholson,
who had been shot down over enemy territory on 16 June 1944, found their way back to 409 Squadron
after having been liberated from a prison camp a few days previously. After VE-Day the squadron
settled down to a routine of morning parades and light duties. The weather was unusually warm and
two good swimming pools in the vicinity of Rheine were frequented after the daily chores were done.
On 13 May the squadron moved to Gilze, Holland, and on 3 June they headed for their last base at
Twente in north-east Holland. On 1 July 1945, just over four years from the day on which is was
formed, No. 409 Squadron was officially disbanded.
The last victory by W/C Hatton and Rivers had raised the squadron’s total of enemy aircraft
destroyed to 64½. In addition theyhad probably destroyed nine others, damaged 23 and had also shot
down 11 flying bombs. While these statistics testify to the fighting spirit of 409 they do not sum up the
squadron’s contribution to the final victory. One must remember the 52 members of 409 squadron who
made the supreme sacrifice, the long list of honours and awards, the endless hours flown on night
patrols and training flights, andthe unceasing toil of the ground crew to keep the night fighters in the sky.