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British Military Aviation in 1941

1 January

The first mobile Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) radar station, at Sopley, is sited and manned by this date.

1-2 January

Approximately 20,000 incendiary devices are dropped during an attack on Bremen, by 95 Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command aircraft.

2-3 January

The Italian Air Force contingent in Belgium (Corpo Aereo Italiano) mounts its last raid on the United Kingdom, when four Fiat BR20 bombers attempt to bomb Ipswich.

10 January

Vickers Wellingtons operating from Malta bomb the Italian Fleet anchorage at Naples. The battleship Guilio Cesarei is badly damaged and the Italian Navy withdraws its remaining battleships further north to Genoa.

10 January

The first 'Circus' operation - daylight raids by small numbers of bombers with large fighter escorts against short-range 'fringe' targets, with the aim of bringing enemy's fighters to battle - is mounted. Bristol Blenheims of No.114 Squadron, escorted by nine squadrons of fighters, attack the Foret de Guines.

10 January

During an attack by Luftwaffe Junkers Ju87 Stukas on convoy Excess south of Malta, the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is struck by six bombs and seriously damaged. The carrier subsequently puts into Valetta harbour in Malta, for repairs.

16 January

The Luftwaffe mounts its first heavy attack on Malta, targeted on the carrier HMS Illustrious. Despite generating some 200 sorties against the carrier, the Luftwaffe is unable to prevent it from sailing for Alexandria on 23 January.

27 January

In the first combined operation between Malta's reconnaissance and strike aircraft, the German vessel Ingo (3,950 tons) is sunk by the Fairey Swordfish of No.830 and No.806 Squadrons Fleet Air Arm.

5 February

The Air Training Corps is constituted by Royal Warrant.

6 February

The Royal Air Force's Air Sea Rescue Service takes up its duties for the first time. Its title is chosen to differentiate it from the contemporary Naval Sea Rescue Service.

10-11 February

The first operation by British airborne forces (Operation Colossus) is carried out by 38 men of 'X' Troop, No.11 Special Air Service Battalion, against two aqueducts at Traqino in Southern Italy. 'X' Troop are dropped by six Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys of No.78 Squadron, led by Wing Commander J.B. Tait and a further two aircraft, one of which fails to return, mount a diversionary raid on Foggia. The paratroopers succeed in destroying the end pier of Traqino Viaduct, however, they are captured before they can rendezvous with the submarine HMS Triumph for retrieval.

11 February

The first four-engine bomber design to enter service with RAF Bomber Command, the Short Stirling, makes its operational debut. Three Stirlings of No.7 Squadron form part of a force of 43 aircraft that attack oil storage tanks at Rotterdam.

12 February

Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters make their first appearance over Malta, escorting German bombers.

24-25 February

The first operational use of Avro Manchester in attacks on Brest in France.

26 February

A severe German raid on the airfield at Luqa destroys six RAF Vickers Wellington bombers and damages a further 9 aircraft. Subsequently, No.148 Squadron is recalled from Malta to the Middle East on 9 March 1941 and the squadron returns to Malta on 12 April.

28 February

No.11 and No.113 Squadrons (Bristol Blenheims), No.33 Squadron (Hawker Hurricanes) and No.208 Squadron (Westland Lysanders) reinforces the Royal Air Force contingent in Greece.

10-11 March

The first operational use of Handley Page Halifax bombers takes place against targets at Le Havre in France.

11 March

House Resolution HR1776 is passed by the United States' Congress. This Resolution authorises the 'Lend-Lease' (or 'Lease-Lend') programme - the device by which the USA provided war material to over 38 nations in lieu of credits or loans. The United Kingdom is the first recipient of Lend-Lease. Prior to the inception of the programme, Britain had been obliged to pay for all of the weapons and equipment purchased from United States manufacturers, a financially crippling requirement. United States-manufactured aircraft ordered by the British Purchasing Commission for the Royal Air Force after March 1941 are provided via Lend-Lease.

29 March

RAF Bomber Command begins a prolonged bombing campaign against the French port of Brest, with the aim of damaging the German Navy battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau (and subsequently the cruiser Prinz Eugen), preventing them from leaving the port to attack shipping in the Atlantic. In the 10 months following this date, Bomber Command mounts 2,928 sorties against the port, 171 of which are in daylight. Although few of the weapons dropped hit the ships, the need to defend the port does draw away resources more profitably used elsewhere. The warships retired to Germany on 12 February 1942.

31 March - 1 April

The first two 4,000 pound High Capacity bombs to be dropped by RAF Bomber Command are delivered by a Vickers Wellington of No.149 Squadron flown by Squadron Leader K. Wass and a Wellington of No.9 Squadron flown by Pilot Officer Franks. The target for both weapons is Emden.

The 4,000 pound High Capacity Mk1 bomb was formally introduced into service in January 1942. However, by that time no fewer than 402 such weapons had already been dropped on operations!

3 April

The Iraqi Revolt: pro-Axis Iraqi politician Raschid Ali, backed by four generals, seizes power in Baghdad from the regent Abdullah Illah. The later fled to the Royal Air Force station at Habbaniyah, 50 miles west of the capital. Royal Air Force forces are present at Habbaniyah under the terms of the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty.

3 April

Operation Winch: twelve Hawker Hurricanes are flown off the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and all arrive safely on Malta.

6 April Victoria Cross

A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flying Officer K. Campbell for an attack on the German battlecruiser Gneisenau while docked in the port of Brest in France. He was flying a Bristol Beaufort N1016 (OA-X) of No.22 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command.

6 April

27 divisions of the German Army, including seven Panzer (armoured) divisions, enter Greece and Yugoslavia and both countries are rapidly overrun.

22 April

Following the surrender of the Army of the Epirus and heavy air fighting over Athens, British forces begin to make preparations to evacuate Greece.

24 April

The Iraqi Revolt: 400 men of King's Own Royal Regiment are flown by No.31 Squadron from Shaibah to RAF Habbaniyah to reinforce the armoured cars of No.1 RAF Armoured Car Company in the ground defence role.

24 April

A further 23 Hawker Hurricanes are flown to Malta to reinforce the defences (Operation Dunlop). Malta's air strength is subsequently further bolstered by the arrival of detachments from No.21 Squadron (Bristol Blenheim, replaced by a detachment from No.139 Squadron in May) on 27 April and No.252 Squadron (Bristol Beaufighter) on 1 May.

25 April

The Defence (Women's Forces) Regulations of this date declare that all personnel enrolled in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) are members of the Armed Forces of the Crown. The Air Council is empowered to apply the Air Force Act to the WAAF in such a manner as it sees fit and instructions to this end are issued by the Air Council on 12 June 1941.

30 April

The Iraqi Revolt: following the further deterioration of relations between Britain and Raschid Ali's government, Iraqi forces totalling 9,000 troops and 28 pieces of artillery lie siege to RAF Habbaniya from positions overlooking the station. Habbaniya contains only training units, including No.4 Flying Training School with a large complement of elderly Hawker Audax and Fairey Gordon biplane trainers, and Airspeed Oxford twin-engine trainers. 70 training aircraft are rapidly adapted to carry light bombs, and six Gloster Gladiators arrive from Egypt to supplement the three Gladiator trainers on the station. These aircraft are formed into four ad hoc 'bombing' squadrons and a fighter flight.

1 May

The last Commonwealth forces are evacuated from Greece.

2 May

The Iraqi Revolt: Air Vice-Marshal H.G. Smart has been instructed to restore the British position in Iraq and therefore decides to attack the besieging Iraqi forces around Habbaniya. At 0445hrs, ten Vickers Wellingtons of No.70 Squadron flying from Habbaniyah attack the Iraqi positions. Soon afterwards Hawker Audaxes, Fairey Gordons and Airspeed Oxfords from No.4 Flying Training School also attack.

The Iraqis respond by heavy shelling of the station and adjacent airfield. Aircraft are forced to take-off under observed shellfire and make of an improvised landing ground on the station golf course. A total of 193 sorties are flown during the day, for the loss of two aircraft in the air and one on the ground. Iraqi shelling is noticeably reduced.

4-6 May

The Iraqi Revolt: continuous attacks by aircraft of No.4 Flight Training School suppress the Iraqi artillery and other forces on the plateau and, their morale broken, they decamp during the night of 5-6 May. Royal Air Force and British and Empire ground forces then set about restoring the Regent to power.

10-11 May

The Luftwaffe launches its last major raid in the night Blitz against the United Kingdom. Between 2315hrs and 0524hrs, 507 aircraft from Luftflotten 2 and 3 drop 711 tonnes of high explosive and 86,173 incendiaries over London. Casualties amongst the population of London are finally assessed as 1,436 killed and 1,762 badly injured and 2,154 fires are started across the capital. Ten Luftwaffe aircraft are lost.

13 May

The Iraqi Revolt: German aircraft arrive at Mosul in northern Iraq to support Raschid Ali's revolt but under constant harassing attack from Royal Air Force units in Iraq they achieve little.

15 May

The first flight by a British jet-propelled aircraft, the Gloster Whittle E28/39 Pioneer, takes place at RAF Cranwell. The aircraft is flown by test pilot D.E.G. 'Gerry' Sayer on a flight lasting 17 minutes.

19 May

Following intense air attacks by the Luftwaffe, the last RAF airworthy aircraft on Crete is evacuated to Egypt. The Luftwaffe have established complete air superiority over the island and its surrounding waters.

20 May

Operation Merkur (Mercury): the German invasion of the island of Crete, begins with an airborne assault by the Luftwaffe's 7th Parachute Division. Although Allied ground units on Crete, and naval vessels in the surrounding waters, fight tenaciously, the defenders are forced to withdraw from the island during the period 28 May to 1 June.

18,000 British and Commonwealth troops are evacuated by the Royal Navy - 2,000 men are killed during the battle for Crete and a further 12,000 taken prisoner. Royal Navy losses around the island are also extremely heavy. However, the defenders, for their part, inflicte heavy casualties on the Luftwaffe paratroop and airlift units that take part in the assault - over 4,000 men are killed, mostly from 7th Parachute Division and 220 of the 600 Junkers Ju52 transport aircraft used in the operation are destroyed. Mercury was to be the last large-scale airborne operation mounted by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

20 May

The German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen pass through the Kattegat en route for the North Atlantic convoy routes.

21 May

A Royal Air Force photographic reconnaissance Supermarine Spitfire of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit sights the Bismarck in a Fjord near Bergen in Norway.

21 May

Operation Splice: 46 Hawker Hurricanes are flown to Malta, however, only four aircraft are retained, together with the pilots of No.249 Squadron. A detachment from No.82 Squadron (Bristol Blenheim) also arrive on the island.

22 May

A Martin Maryland photographic reconnaissance aircraft of No.877 Squadron Fleet Air Arm confirms that the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen have left Bergen.

24 May

The Bismarck and Prinz Eugen are engaged in surface action by HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales. During the engagement Hood is sunk and Prince of Wales damaged, however, Bismarck is also sufficiently damaged to require her to break off her attempt to enter the North Atlantic and head for Brest on the Atlantic coast of France. Shadowing British warships subsequently lose contact with the Bismarck off Greenland.

26 May

The Bismarck is sighted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith of the United States Navy, approximately 550 miles west of Lands End. Although the United States is not yet at war with Germany, Ensign Smith is flying as a member of the crew of a Consolidated Catalina of No.209 Squadron piloted by Pilot Officer D.A. Briggs. Fairey Swordfish aircraft from the carrier HMS Ark Royal later cripple the Bismarck in a torpedo attack.

27 May

The Bismarck, able to steam only in slow circles, is sunk by gunfire and torpedoes from Royal Navy surface forces at 1101hrs.

6 June

Operation Rocket: 43 Hawker Hurricanes arrive to reinforce Malta, together with the personnel of No.46 Squadron.

12 June

Fourteen Bristol Beaufort torpedo aircraft from No.22 and No.42 Squadrons fly a search from Leuchars and Wick for the German pocket battleship Lutzow, which has been sighted off the coast of Norway. Flight Sergeant R.H. Loveitt successfully locate the battleship by moonlight and carry out a successful torpedo attack, which forces the ship to return to Kiel in Germany for repairs. Flight Sergeant Loveitt is subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for this action.

12-13 June

RAF Bomber Command drops 445 tons of bombs on the Ruhr - the heaviest tonnage delivered to date.

12-13 June

The first operational sortie over Germany by a bomber squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Four Vickers Wellingtons of 405 (Vancouver) Squadron RCAF bomb Schwerte Marshalling yards. The RCAF eventually provide an entire bomber group [No.6 (RCAF) Group] in Bomber Command.

14 June

British Commonwealth forces in North Africa launch Operation Battleaxe in an attempt to drive Axis forces out of Cyrenaica and relieve the siege of Tobruk. The offensive is supported by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadrons of 253 Wing, with two squadrons of Hawker Hurricanes and one each of Bristol Blenheims and Curtiss Tomahawks. The South African Air Force also commits one squadron of Hurricanes and a Squadron of Martin Marylands. The offensive is a costly failure and points to the need for improved ground air co-operation.

15 June

The air defences of Malta are reinforced by Hawker Hurricanes flown off the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Victorious and of the 47 aircraft despatched, 43 arrive safely. A further 64 aircraft are flown in by the end of the month.

22 June

The first 'Gee' chain ground stations at Daventry, Ventnor and Stenigot are completed. Gee was a medium range radio aid to navigation and target identification which employed ground transmitters and an airborne receiver. The navigator plots returns on the screen of the receiver on a special Gee chart.

22 June

The German armed forces launch Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Luftwaffe will play a key role in the campaigns on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945.

24 June

The first aircraft are delivered from America to West Africa via the South Atlantic route.

4 July

The Victoria Cross is awarded to Wing Commander H.I. Edwards in recognition of the Victoria Crossgallantry displayed by this officer during Operation Wreckage, a daylight bombing raid on Bremen in Germany. The aircraft involved was Bristol Blenheim IV V6028 'GB-D', No.105 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.

7-8 July

The Victoria Cross is awarded to Sergeant J.A. Ward for climbing onto the wing of an aircraft in flight in an attempt to extinguish a fire while returning from an attack on Munster in Germany. The aircraft involved was Vickers Wellington L7818, No.75 (New Zealand) Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.

8 July

The Royal Air Force (RAF) makes the first daylight attack on Wilhelmshaven using Fortress I. This is the first operational use of the Boeing B17.

20 July

RAF Ferry Command is formed, under the command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill. This new formation takes over the work of the Atlantic Ferry Organisation, which is tasked with ferrying aircraft from the USA to the United Kingdom.

1 August

A Short Sunderland of No.230 Squadron becomes the first Royal Air Force (RAF) maritime reconnaissance aircraft to be shot down during an attack on an enemy submarine by the submarine under attack. While searching for a hostile submarine reported to be somewhere in the Gulf of Sollum, the crew of the Sunderland sight the Italian submarine Delfino on the surface and immediately proceed to attack. The Sunderland releases six depth charges, which do not permanently damage to the Delfino, however, machine gun fire from the submarine damages the aircraft so severely that it subsequently crashes. Four survivors from the twelve-man crew of the Sunderland are rescued by the Delfino.

3 August

The United Kingdom develops a 'Catafighter' scheme to provide limited air cover over North Atlantic convoys. A Hawker Sea Hurricane launched from HMS Maplin destroys a German Focke-Wulf Fw200 shadowing the convoy.

6 August

The Vickers Wellington bombers of No.38 Squadron arrive on Malta. The squadron returns to Egypt on 25 October.

9-12 August

In meetings on United Kingdom and United States warships in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland Churchill and Roosevelt draft the Atlantic Charter. This pledges their countries to preserve world freedom and at the end of hostilities improve world conditions.

12-13 August

RAF Bomber Command drops 82 tons of High Explosive on Berlin, in the heaviest raid on the German capital to that date.

25 August

No.1419 (Special Duties) Flight is expanded to squadron status as No.138 Squadron.

27 August

The Type VIIC U-boat U-570 is attacked by two Lockheed Hudsons of No.269 Squadron off Iceland and so heavily damaged that it is unable to submerge. The U-570 then surrender to Hudson 'S' of No.269 Squadron, piloted by Squadron Leader J.H. Thompson, which continues to circle the aircraft until relieved by a Coastal Command Consolidated Catalina. Naval forces arrive and tow the U-boat to Iceland and U-570 is eventually repaired and sailed to the United Kingdom, becoming HM Submarine Graph.

7 September

Hawker Hurricane I fighters of No.81 and No.134 Squadrons fly off HMS Argus to land on a Soviet airfield at Vaenga, near Murmansk, to help re-enforce local fighter defences.

15-16 September

Sergeant J.A. Ward VC is killed in action when the Vickers Wellington Ic 'X3205' of No.75 (New Zealand) Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, he is piloting is hit by anti-aircraft fire during a raid on Hamburg and crashes in the target area. He and three members of the crew are later buried in Hamburg Cemetery, Ohlsdorf and two others that survived are taken prisoner.

20 September

The first sorties are flown by Hawker Hurricane fighter-bombers based on Malta against Italian airfields on Sicily.

9 October

Western Desert Air Force Headquarters is formed at Maaton Bagush in Libya under the command of Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham.

10 October

Two Hawker Hurricane squadrons, No.81 and No.134 Squadrons, are formed into No.151 Wing under the command of Wing Commander H.N.G. Ramsbottom-Isherwood and despatched to north Russia to strengthen the air defences around Murmansk and other ports receiving supplies from Britain. The pilots include Pilot Officer Neil Cameron, who later becomes a Marshal of the Royal Air Force and Chief of the Defence Staff. The Hurricanes are later handed over to the Soviet Naval Air Arm.

16 October

In the first phase of Operation Callboy, further Fleet Air Arm torpedo bombers, eleven Fairey Albacores and one Fairey Swordfish, are flown to Malta from the deck of HMS Ark Royal.

28 October

Air Headquarters, West Africa, is formed under command of Air Commodore E.A.B. Rice.

29 October

Between June and October 1941, Allied forces sank 220,000 tons of Axis shipping on the Convoy routes between Italy and North Africa. Of this total, 110, 000 tons was sunk by Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm aircraft, with three quarters of the tonnage falling victim to Malta-based aircraft.

In response to this threat to Axis supply lines to North Africa, Hitler orders the transfer of Luftflotte 2 from the Russian Front to the Mediterranean with the aim of neutralising Malta (Führer Directive No.38). This formation includes several Geschwaders of Junkers Ju88 bombers and Junkers Ju87 Stuka dive-bombers, as well as Messerschmitt Bf109 and Bf110 fighters.

10 November

During a speech at the Mansion House, Prime Minister Winston Churchill states that "We now have an Air Force which is at least equal in size & number, not to mention quality, to the German Air Force".

12 November

Further reinforcements for the Malta defences, in the shape of 37 Hawker Hurricanes, are flown from the aircraft carriers HMS Argus and Ark Royal. However, HMS Ark Royal is torpedoed by the German submarine U-81 on her return journey to Gibraltar and sinks on 14 November.

18 November

British Commonwealth Forces launch a second offensive, Operation Crusader, in the Western Desert. Air Marshal Tedder, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Middle East, succeeds in assembling a formidable force of aircraft under the control of A.V.M. Coningham's Desert Air Force. In all, the British Commonwealth air forces dispose of sixteen squadrons of fighters (Hawker Hurricanes, Curtiss Tomahawks and Bristol Beaufighters), eight squadrons of bombers (Bristol Blenheims and Martin Marylands) and three tactical reconnaissance squadrons (Hurricanes and Douglas Bostons). The Royal Air Force quickly establishes a measure of air superiority and although the land offensive achieves initial success it fails to push the Axis forces back to Benghazi.

30 November

Whitley VII, No.502 Squadron, Z9190, fitted with ASV Mk II long range radar scores Coastal Command's first ASV destruction of an enemy submarine the U-206 in the Bay of Biscay.

6 December

Two Japanese convoys, escorted by warships, are sighted heading west 80 miles southwest of Cape Cambodia by Hudsons of No.1 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, based at Khota Bharu in Malaya.

7 December

Britain declares war on Finland, Hungary and Romania.

7 December

Two Consolidated Catalina flying boats of No.205 Squadron, based at Seletar in Singapore, are despatched to shadow a Japanese convoy and one aircraft is lost to Japanese fighters.

7-8 December

Hudsons attack Japanese transports and barges landing troops at Kota Bharu in Malaya. One transport is destroyed and two damaged, and two Hudsons are lost. Japanese troops also land Singora in Siam and Patani, 130 miles northwest of Kota Bharu.

8 December

Britain and the USA declare war on Japan.

8-9 December

In the aftermath of the Japanese landings in northern Malaya, Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadrons mount an intensive series of attacks on enemy troop positions, landing areas and airfields. Such heavy losses are suffered that the RAF is virtually a spent force after the first day of operations.

9 December Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is posthumously awarded to Squadron Leader A.S. King-Scarf for a bombing raid on Singora airfield in Thailand, flying in a Bristol Blenheim I L1134 (PT-F) of No.62 Squadron. Due to Malayan campaign records being destroyed, the authorities did not hear of Scarf's actions until 1946 when the Victoria Cross is gazetted.

11 December

Germany and Italy declare war on the USA and the USA declares war on Germany and Italy.

21 December

The Luftwaffe begin a renewed air offensive against Malta. Heavy raids are mounted on the airfield at Luqa on 26 and 29 February, during the course of which 21 Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft are destroyed on the ground.

21-22 December

A Fairey Swordfish equipped with ASV of No.812 Squadron Fleet Air Arm sinks German U-451. This is the first submarine to be destroyed by an aircraft at night.

23 December

Buffaloes of No.67 Squadron destroy six bombers and four fighters of the Japanese invasion force over the Burmese capital, Rangoon. The Royal Air Force (RAF) loses five Buffaloes.

25 December

Hong Kong surrenders to invading Japanese forces.

25 December

In the second air attack on Rangoon, the Royal Air Force (RAF) disperses the attacking force, destroying eighteen bombers and six fighters before they reach the capital. Pilots of No.67 Squadron claim to have destroyed a further twelve aircraft over Rangoon itself.

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