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British Military Aviation in 1943

27 January

Strategic bombers of the United States Eighth Air Force complete their first mission against a target in Germany, attacking a submarine construction yard at Wilhelmshaven.

30-31 January

"airborne navigation and bombing radar is first used by RAF Bomber Command. Pathfinder crews of No.7 and No.35 Squadrons, No.8 Group, RAF Bomber Command, employ H2S during a raid on Hamburg.

2 February

Mediterranean Air Command is formed under the command of Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder.

25 February

Bomber Command begin 'round-the-clock' bombing.

26 February

The North Western African Air Force is formed.

5-6 March

RAF Bomber Command opens the 'Battle of the Ruhr' with an attack by 442 aircraft on Essen. Between this date and the middle of July, Bomber Command deliver concentrated attacks against all of the major industrial cities of the Ruhr.

Two factors can be seen to have facilitated this campaign. Firstly, the strength of Bomber Command, both in terms of the number of aircraft that it was able to deploy and the quality of the four-engined bombers (the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Haliax) that formed an increasing proportion of the Command's front line, for the first time permitted mass attacks on German targets.

Secondly, the introduction of the 'Oboe' blind-bombing system and 'H2S' navigation and bombing radar enabled targets to be marked with some accuracy by the Pathfinder Force. The 'Battle of the Ruhr' marked the beginning of RAF Bomber Command's primary offensive against German urban and industrial targets.

25 March

RAF Transport Command is formed and charged with conducting RAF transport operations in the United Kingdom and overseas. The existing RAF Ferry Command is absorbed into Transport Command as No.45 Group. The Air Officer Commanding RAF Ferry Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, is appointed Air Officer Commanding of Transport Command.

1 April

The RAF presents the Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a pair of wings to mark their 25th Anniversary.

May

During this month Allied air and naval forces sink 41 U-Boats, bringing total losses from the beginning of 1943 to 98. As this rate of loss is insupportable, Admiral Karl Dönitz, commanding the German U-boat arm, is forced to restrict operations against Atlantic convoys.

3 May Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross is awarded to Squadron Leader L.H. Trent for his attack on an Amsterdam power station during which his squadron was attacked by very large numbers of enemy fighters. Trent's aircraft was a Lockheed Ventura (AJ209 'EG-V') of No.487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

5 May

An Airborne Lifeboat is used operationally for the first time, when it is dropped from an aircraft of No.279 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF).

7 May

Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft sink three U-boats in one day. A Handley Page Halifax of No.58 Squadron sinks U-109 and a Short Sunderland of No.10 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force sank U-663, both engagements take place in the Bay of Biscay. Meanwhile a Lockheed Hudson of No.233 Squadron sinks the U-447 off Gibraltar.

8 May

Allied aircraft heavily attack the airfield on Pantelleria Island between Cape Bon and Sicily.

12 May

A Consolidated Liberator maritime patrol aircraft of No.86 Squadron drops a Mark 24 acoustic homing torpedo (codenamed Fido), seriously damaging U-Boat U-456 and driving it to the surface. It is originally thought to have been sunk as the result of subsequent attacks by a Short Sunderland of No.423 Squadron RCAF, and the warships HMS Lagan and HMCS Drumheller. However, it now appears that U-456 was forced to dive by approaching destroyers and then sank because of the damage inflicted by the Liberator. This may properly be said to mark the first successful use of an air-dropped precision weapon in air warfare. The Sunderland and the two warships had actually combined to sink U-753.

16-17 May

A force of 19 specially modified Avro Lancasters of No.617 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, led by the squadron commander Wing Commander Guy Gibson, attack a series of dams in the Ruhr Valley using Upkeep rotating mines designed by Barnes Wallis. Only twelve Lancasters reach the target area. One is forced to return after flying so low that it strikes the sea, which tears away the Upkeep bomb. Five are shot down by enemy Flak (anti-aircraft fire) and one is so badly damaged by Flak that it is forced to turn back.

Five of the twelve surviving Lancasters, led by Wing Commander Gibson, attack and breach the Möhne Dam and a further three attack the Eder Dam, which is also breached. Of the remaining aircraft, three attacked the Sorpe Dam and one the Schwelme Dam, neither of which are breached, and one fails to find its target in misty conditions and returns without releasing its bomb. Three further Lancasters are lost after they release their weapons. 53 aircrew are killed and three captured.

Victoria Cross

The raid is a significant success, creating widespread flooding. Wing Commander Gibson is subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, having delivered his attack with great accuracy and afterwards circling very low for half an hour, drawing the enemy fire to his aircraft to clear the way for the attacks that follow. 34 other aircrew from the squadron are also decorated.

23-24 May

During a heavy raid on Dortmund, the total weight of bombs dropped by Bomber Command on Germany reaches 100,000 tons. To mark the occasion, the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, RAF Bomber Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, sends this message, "In 1939, Göring promised that not a single enemy bomb would reach the Ruhr. Congratulations on having delivered the first 100,000 tons of bombs on Germany to refute him".

1 June

Army Co-operation Command is disbanded and the Tactical Air Force is formed in the United Kingdom under command of Air Marshal J.H. D'Albiac.

2 June

A Short Sunderland of No.464 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force is attacked over the Bay of Biscay by eight Junkers Ju88s. The ensuing combat last for 45 minutes and sees the Sunderland shoot down three of the attacking Ju88s. The Sunderland is badly damaged, with one of its crew killed and three wounded. Nevertheless, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant C.B. Walker brings the aircraft safely back and is subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The combat indicated the seriousness with which the Germans viewed the Allied air threat to their U-boats transiting the Bay of Biscay from their French coastal ports. The Germans deployed long range Junkers Ju88s of Kampfgeschwader 40 and shorter ranged Focke Wulf Fw190 fighters to try to combat the threat of Allied aircraft. In response the Royal Air Force (RAF) deployed Bristol Beaufighter and later de Havilland Mosquito squadrons to try to counter the threat of German interceptors. The patrols became known as Instep operations. The RAF lost 15 aircraft in patrols over the Bay of Biscay during June 1943. 4 Junkers Ju88s were claimed as destroyed by Instep patrols.

6-10 June

Pantelleria Island is heavily attacked by Allied Forces. The island subsequently surrenders on the following day.

15 June

The Royal Air Force 's first Autogiro Squadron, No.529 Squadron, is formed at Halton from No.1448 Flight.

28 June Royal

Air Force (RAF) photographic reconnaissance reveals that rockets with an estimated range of up to 130 miles are being developed at the German research facility at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast.

30 June

Serrate operations - fighter interception by homing on to enemy transmissions; combined with airborne interception radar to give range indications - begin against German nightfighters.

4 July

The first glider (sailplane) is towed across the Atlantic, from Dorval in Canada to Prestwick in Scotland, by a Dakota of RAF Transport Command.

9 July

Duncan Sandys reports to a Parliamentary committee, established to investigate German weapon development, that there is evidence that the Germans might use pilotless aircraft (the V1 'flying bomb') and long range guns, as well as rockets (V2) for attacks on Britain.

9-10 July

The invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) opens with an airborne assault mounted from airfields in North Africa. United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and Royal Air Force transport aircraft tow in the gliders (sailplanes) of the 1st British Airborne Division and drop the paratroops of the US 82nd Airborne Division.

Poor weather, combined with the inexperience of many of the USAAF transport aircraft crews that participate in the operation, results in only 250 of the 3,000 US paratroops reaching designated drop zones.

The 1st Airborne Division's air landing fare even worse, as 69 out of the 137 gliders released land in the rough seas, drowning large numbers of men. Only twelve gliders, all towed by RAF aircraft with crews better versed in night operations, reach the correct landing zones. Fortunately the sea-borne landing fared rather better.

12-13 July

Acting Wing Commander J.D. Nettleton VC is declared missing in action while serving with No.44 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command, when the Avro Lancaster I he was piloting (ED331) fails to return from a raid on Torino. He and his crew have no known graves and are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.

13 July

No.244 Wing, Desert Air Force (No.92 and No.145 Squadrons RAF and No.1 Squadron South African Air Force) land in Sicily from Malta.

18 July

The United States Goodyear airship K74, on patrol off Florida, attacks a surfaced U-boat. The U-134 fights back and shoots down the airship, one of whose crew is killed by a shark. This is the only airship lost to enemy action during the Second World War. U-134 is damaged and forced to return to base.

24/25 July - 2/3 August

The 'Battle of Hamburg' (Operation Gomorrah): between these dates, Hamburg is subjected to intense raids by RAF Bomber Command (four attacks) and the 8th United States Army Air Force (USAAF). Bomber Command alone mounts 3,091 sorties, during which it drops a total of 8,344 tons of high explosive and incendiaries on the city.

Much of Hamburg was devastated by the bombing and the firestorm which follows the attack of 27-28 July, and approximately 45,000 German civilians are killed. During the course of the Battle, 87 Bomber Command aircraft are lost, 552 British and Allied airmen are killed, 65 captured and 7 interned in Sweden.

The first attack of the Battle of Hamburg on 24-25 July also saw the first use of Window (tinfoil strips dropped from aircraft to simulate aircraft echoes and confuse ground search and nightfighter radars) by RAF Bomber Command. The forerunner of modern 'chaff', Window proved very successful - only 12 of the 700 bombers despatched were lost.

25 July

No.322 Wing (Supermarine Spitfire) foils a Luftwaffe attempt to reinforce Sicily by air. The Germans attempt to land reinforcements by Junkers Ju52 transport aircraft on a coastal strip at Milazzo in the north of the island. 21 Ju52s and four escorting Messerchmitt Bf109s are shot down.

11 August Victoria Cross

A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flying Officer L.A. Trigg of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) for sinking the U-boat 'U-468' south west of Dakar. Trigg's aircraft was a Consolidated Liberator (BZ832 'D') of No.200 Squadron.

12-13 August

A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Sergeant A.L. Aaron for his actions during a mission to attack Turin in Italy. The aircraft involved was Short Stirling EF452 'HA-O' of No.218 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.

13 August

The campaign in Sicily ends with the Allied capture of Messina. During the course of the campaign, the Allies destroyed more than 1,000 Axis aircraft on the ground and 740 in the air. Allied losses amounted to 385, of which 25 were lost to 'friendly fire' over the assault beaches.

17 August

The Eighth United States Army Air Force despatches 376 Boeing B17 Flying Fortress strategic bombers to two targets in southern Germany - the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt (230 aircraft) and the Messerschmitt factory at Regensburg (146 aircraft). No long-range fighter escort could be provided and as a consequence casualties amongst the attackers are heavy - sixty aircraft fail to return.

17-18 August

The research establishment at Peenemunde on the Baltic coast is attacked by 600 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command (Operation Hydra). Although only part of the complex is destroyed, this raid results in the dispersal of V2 rocket production, thereby delaying the V2's introduction into service.

23/24 August - 3/4 September

RAF Bomber Command opens the preliminary phase of the 'Battle of Berlin' with a series of three major raids on the German capital. During these attacks, the Command despatches a total of 1,652 sorties and loses 125 aircraft. Operations against Berlin are suspended in early September due to difficulties in marking targets within the city.

2 September

The term 'radar' is officially adopted by the RAF in preference to the abbreviation, 'RDF', previously used to describe this equipment (Air Ministry Order AMO 863/43).

3 September

Units of the British Eighth Army cross the Straits of Messina from Sicily to land, unopposed at Reggio di Calabria, on the Italian mainland (Operation Baytown). This marked the return of Allied troops to mainland Europe.

8 September

Italy surrenders.

8-9 September

Faced with mounting heavy bomber losses during its daylight strategic bombing campaign, the United States Eighth Air Force begins a small-scale trial examining the employment of USAAF heavy bombers in night raids, mounted in conjunction with RAF Bomber Command. Five Boeing B17 Flying Fortresses of the 422nd Bombardment Squadron accompany 257 aircraft of RAF Bomber Command in a raid against a German long-range gun battery at Boulogne. Flying Fortresses from the 422nd Bombardment Squadron participate in RAF Bomber Command attacks on a further seven occasions, culminating in a raid on Frankfurt-am-Main on the night of 4/5 October 1943, before the trial is discontinued.

9 September

Units of the United States Fifth Army land at Salerno on the Italian mainland (Operation Avalanche).

9 September

Six Dornier Do217s of Kampfgeschwader 100, operating from Marseille, attack units of the Italian fleet, which are proceeding to Malta to surrender. Using Fritz-X radio guided glide bombs the Dorniers sink the battleship Roma with two missiles and severely damage the battleship Italia.

14 September

Supermarine Spitfires of No.324 Wing RAF, Supermarine Seafires of the Fleet Air Arm and Lockheed Lightnings of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) deploy ashore to provide land based fighter cover over Salerno landings. During this day the 1st Tactical Air Force flies 700 sorties.

14-15 September

Six Douglas Dakotas of No.216 Squadron RAF led by Squadron Leader Forsyth drop 122 paratroops on the Greek island of Kos (or Cos) in the Dodecanese. RAF Regiment units are transported by air to Kos on the following day and further landings are subsequently made on the neighbouring islands of Leros and Samos. However, all three islands are re-taken by German forces, with heavy Allied ground, air and naval losses, in November 1943.

15-16 September

Following an abortive attack on the previous night, two crews of No.617 Squadron RAF Bomber Command succeed in dropping the first 12,000 pound High Capacity bombs delivered by the Command. The target is the Dortmund-Ems Canal, however, a breach is not achieved.

16 September

The Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite is severely damaged off the Salerno landing beaches by Fritz-X radio guided glide bombs dropped by Dornier Do217 of Kampfgeschwader 100. Warspite has to be towed to Malta for repairs.

16 September

The Salerno beachead is secured. The air battles over Salerno cost the Luftwaffe 221 aircraft and the Allies 89 aircraft.

22-23 September

The 'spoof' raid technique is used by RAF Bomber Command for the first time. The main target for the raid on this night is Hanover and the 'spoof' target is Oldenburg.

13 October

Italy declares war on Germany.

14 October

Following their raid of 17 August 1943, the United States Eighth Army Air Force launch a second attack on the important ball-bearing production factories located at Schweinfurt in southern Germany. A total of 291 heavy bombers are despatched without long-range fighter escort and sixty are lost. Faced with such heavy losses, the USAAF suspends daylight heavy bomber operations against German targets.

19 October

A posthumous Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Lieutenant W.E. Newton of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for displaying "great courage and an iron determination to inflict the utmost damage on Victoria Crossthe enemy" during his service in Salamaua in New Guinea. The aircraft involved was a Douglas Boston of No.22 (RAAF) Squadron.

23 October

The Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force is formed.

3 November

The Victoria Cross is awarded to Flight Lieutenant W. Reid for his actions in the bombing of Dusseldorf. The aircraft involved was Avro Lancaster LM360 'O' of No.61 Squadron, RAF Bomber Command.

7 November

A de Havilland Mosquito FB XVIII of No.248 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command, piloted by Flying Officer A.J.L. Bonnett of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) makes the first attack on a U-boat using a 6-pounder (57mm) Molins gun. Bonnett fires eight rounds at the U-123 and achieves several hits on the submarine's conning tower and hull. The damaged submarine docks at the submarine base at Lorient.

15 November

The Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF) is formed to control Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Force (USAAF) units during the forthcoming invasion of Europe, under the command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory.

15 November

RAF Fighter Command is renamed Air Defence Great Britain, with Air Marshal R.M. Hill appointed Air Officer Commanding in Chief.

16 November

Air Command South-East Asia is formed, under the command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse.

18-19 November

The main phase of the 'Battle of Berlin' opens with an attack, by 440 Avro Lancasters and four de Havilland Mosquitoes, on the German capital.

During the Battle as a whole (23/24 August 1943 - 30/31 March 1944), RAF Bomber Command mounted nineteen major raids on Berlin. 10,813 sorties were generated by the Command, of which approximately 9,560 reached the target area and 33,390 tons of bombs were dropped (including at least 5 million incendiaries. Large sections of the city were destroyed and 10,305 German civilians and service personnel were killed. A total of 625 aircraft were lost during the offensive, 2,960 bomber crewmembers were lost en route to, over, or returning from the target and a further 987 were taken prisoner.

23 November

No.100 (Special Duties) Group is formed at West Raynham in RAF Bomber Command, under the command of Air Commodore E.B. Addison. This Group is formed in an effort to draw together Bomber Command's existing Radio Counter Measures (RCM) electronic warfare operations and during the course of the bomber offensive against Germany, No.100 Group and its forebears pioneered the use of offensive Electronic Warfare.

28 November

Aerial photographs of the German research station at Peenemunde reveal a pilotless aircraft on a launching ramp.

2/3 December

'Duppel', the German equivalent of 'Window' (tinfoil strips dropped from aircraft to simulate aircraft echoes and confuse ground search and nightfighter radars), is used for the first time by German aircraft engaged in a minelaying operation in Bari harbour.

10 December

The Mediterranean Air Command and North-West African Air Force are amalgamated to form Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, consisting of all operational Allied Air Units in the Mediterranean theatre, excluding the Middle East.

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