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Library Reference Number: 160

No.180 Squadron & 2nd Tactical Air Force

F/Lt. A.L. Sharp, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA.

During world-war two after Germany had inflicted severe bomb damage in United Kingdom, RAF Bomber Command hit back and succeeded in bringing the German war machine to its knees. There came a point where plans turned to air support for Allied ground troops to re-enter Europe and overcome the German occupation. German Middle East Commander Rommel had been defeated in desert warfare, and the time now seemed ripe for a change in tactics. 1st & 2nd Tactical Air Forces were created to provide air support for ground troops. 1st TAF was assigned to the Italian campaign, while 2nd TAF participated in the D-Day invasions designed to re-enter German Occupied Europe. In this account, Alan Sharp describes how he joined No.180 Squadron, and consequently became involved in flying operations with the 2nd Tactical Air Force.

Joining the Royal Air Force in 1943, my initial training at 19 ITW was followed by training as a Wireless Operator at No.2 Radio School, Yatesbury, then No.11 Radio School, Hooton Park. My training surroundings then changed dramatically when I was posted to Egypt, flying Anson and Ventura aircraft at No.13 Air Gunnery School, El Ballah on the Suez, and No.75 OTU, Gianaclis, 40 miles south-west of Alexandria. Flying training completed by October 1944, I returned to UK by Dakota, flying firstly to Cairo then Hendon. I then attended No.13 OTU, Harwell and my first experience of flying in North American B25 Mitchell aircraft.

Posted to No.180 Squadron, I discovered the Unit had been formed on 13 September 1942 at West Raynham. The Squadron was destined to be a medium bomber squadron in No 2 Group. Equipped with North American Mitchells, it re-located to Foulsham in October and finally began operations on 22 January 1943. However, heavy losses on this first raid, including the Commanding Officer Wing Cdr C.C.Hodder AFC, led to it being removed from further operations until May 1943.

Shortly after resuming operations, the squadron, as part of No 2 Group, was transferred to 2nd Tactical Air Force and together with No's 98 and 320 Squadrons it formed No 139 Airfield (later No 139 Wing). Moving to Dunsfold in August 1943, it was heavily involved in daylight tactical operations in support of the forthcoming invasion. Following the D-Day landings, it also flew some night intruder missions in support of the push out of Normandy.

In October 1944 the squadron moved into Belgium, from where it continued to support the advancing armies. It was then on 6th April 1945, along with my whole crew I moved to Melsbroek airfield in Belgium, near Brussels. It was to our surprise there, that a local youth could understand our Africaans speaking crew. We continued our operational flights in Mitchell aircraft from Melsbroek and Achmer Airfields until 2nd May 1945.

The importance of the 2nd Tactical Air Force's work in supporting British, Canadian and Allied ground forces in their efforts to drive the Nazis from occupied Europe became abundantly clear, this was made even more evident when Air Marshal Tedder and Air Marshal Coningham visited our Unit at Achmer Airfield. Air Marshal Arthur Coningham had valuable experience as Air Officer Commanding the Western Desert Air Forces, and introduced many of the tactics (such as 'taxi rank' methods) to this area.

At this vital stage of world-war two with the Germans on the run, it was clearly essential that tactics should be focussed on damage limitation by the retreating enemy on bridges, railways and all communication links that could prove essential for the incoming Allied liberation forces. Towards this objective, 2nd Tactical Air Force became a huge comprehensive organisation containing all manner of aircraft flown by aircrews of many different nationalities intent on bringing Operation Overlord to a successful conclusion in liberating Europe.

For myself and my own crew, the targets during our operational flying from Melsbroek and Achmer Airfields included Arnhem (Holland); Kloppenburg (Germany); Zutphen (Holland); Marshalling Yards at Oldenburg, Bremen; Buildings at Dunkirk; Barracks at Meer (Germany); Airfield at Lubeck (Germany); Marshalling Yards at Itzahoe (Germany). Those operations were planned to support the advancing armies, and the Squadron operated until VE Day. Mosquitoes replaced the Mitchells in September 1945 and in March 1946 it moved to Wahn as part of the British Air Forces of Occupation. However, on 31 March 1946 the squadron was disbanded when it was re-numbered No 69 Squadron.

As stated in the introduction, a vast number of Air Force Units from a range of Allied Countries took part in No.2 Tactical Air Force. In offering support to ground forces in their task of recapturing Occupied Countries in Europe, communication was the key word in co-ordinating this monumental task. In working together as a team we attempted to fulfil those operations to the best of our ability.

I subsequently re-mustered to Equipment Branch at the end of hostilities in Europe, and before my demobilisation in 1947, served for a period at RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire.

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