~ 1937 THE RE-BIRTH OF A SQUADRON ~
WORLD WAR II
The 113 Squadron reappeared from the mists of time in 1937 when, along with many other defunct units, it was reformed as part of the urgent expansion of the RAF brought about by the realization of the worsening political situation in Europe, and particularly German rearmament. It was in May of that year that an Air Ministry Order set things in motion and the squadron became part of 1 Group, Bomber Command, stationed at Upper Heyford and equipped with 13 Hawker Hinds pending conversion to Bristol Blenheims as soon as they could be made available. The first Commanding Officer was S/Ldr. Bartholemew and flying commenced on 8th. June. The first crash, not an uncommon event with Hinds, occurred on the 24th June when it is recorded that whilst taking off from Abingdon, Acting P/O Helsby wrote off his aircraft although he survived sustaining a broken jaw.
On 5th. August 1937 the squadron was transferred to 5 Group Bomber Command and posted to Grantham, but there was still no sign of modern aircraft and training continued throughout the year in the Hinds, which must have been most frustrating for both air and ground crews flying and servicing single engine, two seat, open cockpit biplanes instead of the Blenheim, an entirely different concept with twin engines and needing a three man crew.
In any case the training on the Hinds continued but not without incident, Corp Stan Harrison recalls one event just before leaving for Egypt when a ginger haired Sgt pilot crashed a Hind into a tree whilst night landing, Stan was in hospital when the pilot was brought in but he believes that the injuries were not life threatening. The Hinds were still in use when the squadron was ordered overseas in April 1938 and travelled by troopship (HMT Lancashire) to Alexandria, Egypt, under a new CO, S/Ldr. Cator, arriving finally at Heliopolis Egypt on 10th. May.
"GOING OVER" HMT Lancashire May 1938
It is unknown what they are doing but it appears that they are (loading or unloading) a (person or persons) and their bags from the ship by way of having them wrap themselves around a beam & hoisting them up. Note the chap left foreground with his legs and arms wrapped around the beam. (Someone coming aboard with mail maybe?) Also note that whatever they are doing it must be dangerous as most have very serious expressions on their faces.
Copyright: Corporal Edward Stanley Harrison
There's a little bit of heaven
Fell from out the sky one day
And it nestled in the ocean
Not so very far away
And when the Air Force saw it
It looked so bleak and bare
They said that's what we're looking for
We'll send our Air Force there.
So they sent out river gunboats
Armoured cars and S.H.Q.
And they sent the famous 113
Out in the blinking blue
So Peachy I'll be going
To a land that's far remote
And until then you'll hear me say
Roll on that bloody boat.
SOURCE: Corp Norman (Mark) G Lamb
Not long behind the squadron came several of the Squadron members families. One of these families was the son and wife of F/Sgt Bernard (Dick) Allen. From F/Sgt Allen's son John we get a rare glimpse of Squadron life behind the scenes: "On 2 nd September Mum and I embarked on HMT Nevassa in order to join Dad. The ship called at Gibraltar, Malta and Jaffa before arriving in Alexandria. For about the first year we lived in a flat on Rue Hippodrome, overlooking the racecourse. A vacancy in the married quarters then came up and we moved on to the aerodrome.113‘s hangars weren’t very far up the road. Across the aerodrome was 216 squadron. It was dedicated to troop carrying and, during the early days of the war, night bombing. It was equipped with lumbering twin engined biplane Vickers Valentias and equally poor performing Bristol Bombays. As I recall behind the 113 hangars was 208 squadron, which had at least one Lysander". (ED: The soon to be new C/O of 113 squadron was S/Ldr Keily who came from 216 Squadron, hilariously it appears as though his new posting was from one side of the aerodrome to the other.)
113 squadron hangers were situated in a row at right angles to the main road that ran through the camp. “A” flight was closest to the road. The flight’s Squadron leader was a 26 year old RN Bateson. (Later, W/C Bateson DSO) In 1939, when he returned from a flight, he used to dive bomb the flight offices. The Hind was not designed to be a dive bomber and staggered through the air at the bottom of the dive as it was pulled out into a climb. Dad used to remonstrate with Bateson over this practise, who in turn replied that it was all right because he was up there and didn’t want to crash. Dad used to reply that it might be all right for him but that he was underneath and didn’t like it.
Sometimes Bateson would return from a flight on a Sunday afternoon. Dad would, of course, know the schedule. Bateson would fly low over our house before circling to land. Dad would promptly put me on the crossbar of his bike and ride up to the hangar to meet him. I would climb into the plane while they opened the hangar door, and sit there in grand style as it was pushed inside.
I recall sometimes members of the squadron would fly to Jaffa in Palestine, and if they were in season, they would load up the planes with sacks of Jaffa oranges for the return trip. There were also regular dances at the Sergeant’s Mess and they were very lively affairs. On 9 th September 1939 our family was at an outdoor cinema in the city when, in the middle of the performance, the air raid sirens sounded and all the lights went out. It was a false alarm but we lost no time in returning to the camp. At Xmas 1939 the camp school put on a concert in one of 216 squadrons hangars. It was only supposed to be a parent occasion but the camp asked if we would do a second performance for all personnel. We played to a packed house!
As the war drew closer the decision was made to move all of the families out of the camp in case it came under attack. The RAF took over a street in the city called Rue Gabaris and each family was allotted a flat. They were furnished, and our personal belongings were delivered to us. One flat was designated as a school, run by the teachers from the camp school.
A Fantastic photo of
The 113 Squadron in their Hawker Hinds in Egypt
Friday the 13th - Taken January 13, 1939
Copyright: Corporal Edward Stanley Harrison
LAC John Pritchard comments on this early period; "The 113 with their Hawker Hinds had been sent out from the UK in a great hurry whilst Mussolini rattled his sabre on the Libyan border. The political scene was hotting up, Hitler had taken over Austria and the Sudetanland, and Chamberlain had waved his bit of paper announcing peace in our time. My new squadron moved out to the border at Mersa Matruh. Little was seen of the other side and as the heat went out of it, we moved back to Heliopolis. I was able to get into Cairo quite often, played cricket and hockey at the Gisira Club, and saw something of the pyramids".
Training at last gave way to important work on 28th. September 1938 when the squadron was posted to a `War Station', at Mersa Matruh and took part in a complete photographic survey of the Western Desert right up to the Libyan border, which must have been of vital help in the subsequent desert battles. You may recall this survey work was also a "claim to fame" of the 113 during the first world war.
Believed to be Mersa Matruh 1938 / 1939
Note one of the Hinds of 113 Squadron bottom right and also what
appears to be train cars in the upper left.
The building in foreground is a hangar.
Source: John Allen, son of F/Sgt (W/O) Dick Allen
In March, S/Ldr. Keily from 216 squadron took over command from S/Ldr Cator as the new CO., and his first flying with 113 was on 2nd march 1939 flying Hind K6631 as Squadron Leader. Little is known of the details of this work but the survey was completed in May 1939 and the unit returned to Heliopolis.
Life in these prewar days at Heliopolis was fairly easy going for the Erks (Ground Crews) as Corp N Say explains. "The war hadn’t yet arrived out there so it was under peacetime organisation. We got up at six in the morning, went off up to the hangar where we did some work and at eight o’clock we went down to have breakfast Then back up to the hangar for the colour hoisting, a bit more work, a break for tea and at half past eleven we packed up for the day, back to the mess hall for lunch and we were allowed out to Cairo until one o’clock the next morning. This was every day of the week except Sundays when they had a church parade."
At last, in a monumentous day for both Keily personally, and the squadron, the first Blenheim MK 1 was collected on June 1st 1939 from Aboukir on the very day on which he was awarded the Air Force Cross. This incidentally was 113's first decoration of its new existence. His log records this as his first flight on Blenheims, a test flight in L1542 with Sgt Ratcliff then off to Heliopolis with F/Lt Bateson, (who later in the war became famous as a Mosquito pilot ). No reason is given in the squadron records for Keily's award, probably it was in connection with the photographic survey, although it may well also have been a small recognition of the patience shown by all ranks in waiting so long for their promised front line aircraft to appear.
In fact the bulk of the Blenheims did not `arrive' in the Middle East as expected, let alone on the squadron, and as late as August 1939 `several squadron pilots' had to be sent `home' to collect their new aircraft and ferry them back to Heliopolis.
John Allen, son of F/Sgt Dick Allen recalls this great event which had a humourous conclusion. In 1939 the squadron was re-equipped with the Bristol Blenheim Mk I. Pilots were sent to England to fly them back to Egypt. The whole of the camp knew when they were due to arrive and when the time came on 12 th June everyone lined the road to watch them come in. The landing went off well, but as they taxied in front of the spectators, the lead plane, with its engines still running, gracefully settled onto the ground. The crew jumped out and the crash wagons rushed up. Apparently the undercarriage had failed to lock down.
With a huge sigh of relief no doubt, the CO was able to report in the Operations Record Book that `by the outbreak of war' the squadron was `fully equipped'. It was a close run thing and there must have been some very hasty conversion courses to twin engine flying!