No 68 Squadron
Gloster Meteor NF11
History of 68 Squadron whilst at RAF Laarbruch
17 July 1957 – 21 January 1959
In July 1957 Wahn closed down as an RAF Base, on being handed back to the Germans.
68 Squadron moved to Laarbruch ( Squadron Commander Wg Cdr M. Scannell DFC AFC), and at the same time there was a reduction in the Squadron's unit establishment from 16 to 12 Meteor NF11's plus one T7. At Laarbruch there was immediate difficulty in obtaining spare parts and other equipment. All these factors contributed to low flying hours for the month - 221 by day and 81 by night, however the Squadron did take part in a 'Guest' exercise and also one with 618 Signals Unit, using their MSQ 1 equipment. There was other flying training, but no air-to-ground because Monschau range seems to have been permanently unserviceable. The following were repatriated to the UK: Flt Lts AJ Neville and JMA Parker; and Fg Offs JB Blakeley and GW Jones. Fg Off MF Boggis went to 618 Signals Unit and Fg Off Kershaw to HQ 2 Group. In came Sqn Ldr JH Rogers (to replace Sqn Ldr CLC Mason) with his navigator Flt Lt LG Huddy. Although the aeroplane establishment reduced, the number of pilots and navigators remained at approximately 20 of each. The ground crew strength was 12 SNCO's, 16 corporals and 72 airmen. Before leaving Wahn a cocktail party was given by 68 Squadron, the honoured guests being Wahn officers and their ladies, a highlight of the occasion was the first public performance of The Moonrakers aerobatic team. At the party the Squadron Commander presented Wg Cdr DE Gibbs with a 68 Squadron tie, making him an Honorary Member in recognition of his outstanding support as OC Tech Wing at Wahn.
In August there was a loss of flying days due to August Bank Holiday, and 291 hours were flown in total. Things had improved at Laarbruch but the main problem still, was fitting in the Meteor let-down pattern with the Canberras and the RF 84F's. Added to the fact that 24-hour Air Traffic Control was not available at Laarbruch, this meant that the battle flight had to be stationed at Wildenrath overnight. The exchange of aircrews between 68 Squadron and 723 Eskadrille Danish Air Force at Aalborg was resumed. A visit was made to the Squadron by AVM HJ Kirkpatrick, recently appointed SASO at 2nd TAF.
The weather in September was terrible, with wind and rain, and the result was that at least 6 aircrew caught colds and were unfit to fly for several days. The weather also interfered with the big NATO exercise 'Counterpunch', this involved air and ground crews being bedded down in the hangar and being provided with meals there. However after two days the exercise was cancelled, which was extremely disappointing considering the preparation carried out by the Squadron. During the month the crews had the use of an epidiascope for aircraft recognition purposes. There was no soccer played in September due to the waterlogged pitch!
In October an influenza epidemic swept through Germany and some aircrew were affected, and in the last part of the month fog blotted out everything on the airfield. The little flying work that was done included two 'Round Robin' refuelling exercises, some Pl's and navigation. A visiting team gave lectures on 'The Effects of an Atomic Explosion', 'Damage Control', 'Radioactivity Measuring Instruments' and 'Elementary First Aid'. The aircrew also had their annual range practice with small arms. Flt Lt T MacDonald left the Squadron, being the first to leave under the new "voluntary premature termination of service" scheme. On the Squadron a new three-flight system was introduced with Flt Lt MG Waudby as flight commander of 'C' Flight. On the 19th, seven current members of the Squadron flew over to attend the Squadron Reunion at the Dorchester Hotel in London: Sqn Ldr MT Harding,Flt Lt RL Holmes, Fg Offs J Hyland, J Mitchell, JC Holdway, PJ Muggeridge and JAS Thomson. Form 540 goes on to say 'several ex-members who have recently left the Squadron, as well as the Old Brigade, were also present'.
Due to the age of the Meteors, the Squadron became quite worried about airframe unserviceability, on some occasions the entire flying programme had to be postponed while airframe faults were investigated. Flying hours were therefore reduced to 290 in November. However the Squadron moved to Sylt for the air-to-air exercises and scored an average of 20.7% - Flt Lt Jennings being best with 35.5%. Back at Laarbruch 68 threw a party in the crewroom with guests from RAF Laarbruch and the Royal Netherlands Air Force there, Gp Capt CB Winn DSO, OBE, DFC was present. At the end of the month the Rt Hon Ian Orr-Ewing MP, Under-Secretary of State for Air visited the Squadron.
In December bad weather and the Christmas Grant reduced the monthly total flying to 133 hours. Much of the time was spent by the aircrew on the ground attending lectures. Flt Lt MG Waudby left to take a Squadron Leader's post on 96 Squadron at Aalhorn. The new Airman's Bar, especially contracted for the Christmas Holiday was well and truly opened.
January 1958 was the fourth month in sequence when the hours the Squadron flew were not up to target - only 178 by day and 28 by night. This was due to poor aircraft availability and the bad weather factor, in fact there were nine days completely unsuitable for flying and 10 more were marginal. However operation 'Argus' took place with 68 Squadron in a defensive role, flying seven sorties, and making nine claims. A further exercise was when Fighter Command made sweeps into the ATAF area. In general training, 250 interceptions were carried out of which 140 were at high level. Sqn Ldr Collyer arrived as NR Leader, and Fg Off DJ Dewdney was repatriated, tour expired.
Very bad weather again in February reduced the hours flown to 232 by day and 76 by night. The flying was general training on interceptions plus some air-to-ground firing on a target range at Nordhorn. There were ground lectures on aircraft recognition, navigation, intelligence and current affairs. Flt Lt DR Patrick was posted to HQ Flying Wing at Laarbruch, and Sgt Pilot Longsdale was repatriated, tour expired.
A large amount of second-line servicing fell due in March and this reduced the hours flown to 284. However it did give the aircrews the opportunity to devote ground training to aircraft engineering and servicing. There were two standard exercises during the month: a 'Guest' and an 'Amled' with successful operations by the Squadron against F84F's and Canberras. During these operations there were two hasty returns to base: in the first instance because of a leaking ventral tank, and in the second, instrument failure. Three members were posted out: Fg Offs GA Pearce, JP Dennison and PJC Davey, this reduced the crew strengths to 16 pilots and 17 navigators. On the 15th a very good party was given by the aircrew to which they invited the ground Officers and SNCO's and Wives, when the prizes awarded at Sylt were officially presented. Silver bullets went to Flt Lt JC Holdway and Fg Off JG Morgan of 'A' Flight, and Flt Lt JK Jennings and Fg Off Coucill of 'B' Flight. The latter also received two bottles of champagne for a score better than 50%. Another bottle was given to Sgt Blow and his navigator Fg Off NED Walker. The opportunity was taken to present Fg Off J Hyland with a gift in anticipation of his wedding in April.
Things improved in April with 345 hours flying completed, which according to the Form 540 reflected great credit on the ground crews maintaining the ageing aircraft in a serviceable condition. The exercise undertaken during the month were 'Battlecall' and another 'Amled'. There was also much formation flying training.
There was also a satisfactory number of hours flown in May - 321 - mainly on routine training. On the 13th there was an operational scramble, but the bogey turned out to be a USAF T33 which had flown too far East and returned in a panic! The Instrument Rating Team from CFE at West Raynham visited the Station and tested all the pilots, commenting favourably on the standard of instrument flying on 68 Squadron. On the 30th Wg Cdr FW Davison was posted to HQ Fighter Command, and his navigator, Fg Off GA Richards left the RAF. A party was held in the crewroom to say goodbye to these officers, and Sqn Ldr Harding on behalf of the Squadron, presented Frank Davison with a silver cigarette box, and he in turn gave the traditional present to the Squadron of a tankard. The new Squadron Commander, Wg Cdr M Scannell, DFC, AFC arrived to take over.
In June the Queen's Birthday Parade, and the AOC's Annual Inspection and Parade, meant a disappointing number of hours flown. The immobilisation of some personnel because of the effects of a typhoid inoculation, also did not help the training programme. Flt Lt A Sadler arrived to become the CO's navigator. In his first report, Wg Cdr Scannell said that the Squadron's morale was good despite the age and performance of the aircraft with which it was equipped.
A total of 327 hours were flown in July, which was considered satisfactory. The aircraft servicing was better, with SACEUR's target being met. There was an exercise 'Argus' and an 'Amled', in each of which several "kills" were recorded. There was air-to-ground firing at Nordhorn with Fit Lt RL Holmes shooting a 78%, which can only be described as brilliant!
Described as the wettest August for 130 years, the weather obviously interfered with the flying programme. There was also a shortage of aircrew because of Promotion Exams. However an exercise 'Argus' was completed with 219 interceptions, together with some formation flying. Unusually air-to-ground firing was carried out using old MT vehicles instead of the more usual plain targets. During the air-to-ground firing, the armourers set an all-time record of only one stoppage per 10,000 rounds fired! Flt Lt JAS Thomson and Fg Off Mitchell were repatriated on completion of their tour, Fg Off NED Walker was also posted out, and Sgt(RO) JR Wright was posted in. There was a party on the 9th to accept a very fine set of murals by Fg Off's J Mitchell and J Hyland, depicting aircraft from the Squadron's History.
In September there was air-to-air practice firing planned but the Sylt Airfield was unserviceable, and the visit was postponed until November. The weather was much better this month at Laarbruch, and 348 hours were flown which was thought to be satisfactory. Unfortunately on the very day of the much-practised fly-past to mark the disbandment of 2 Group it was foggy, preventing a final join-up of the Squadrons. There was routine flying training during the month with 244 interceptions completed, and on the ground there were lectures on various subjects. Welcome reinforcements arrived with Flt Lt AG Westerman and PJ Cabourne, and Fg Offs JA Quilley and Adam. Sgt Blow retired to civvy street.
The weather continued to be very good early in October with plenty of sunshine, but inevitably this led to thick fog in the second half of the month. Operation 'Sunbeam', which was Fighter Command's major annual exercise was completed successfully. At night 68 Squadron played the bomber role in this exercise, but by day became fighters again intercepting the 2nd TAF Canberras returning from attacks on the UK. Unfortunately there was little time for the cine gun practice required prior to the visit to Sylt the next month. Flt Lts Jennings and Holmes left the Squadron during the month, and the following were posted in: Flt Lts AP Stowell, JR Francis, FA Mallett and P Morgan, and FS HR Scott. The new officers were well and truly inducted at a Guest Night on the 31st when the traditional 'Night Intruder' was drunk with the usual results.
At Sylt there was the most appalling weather yet experienced, much to the chagrin of the Squadron members. There were days on end when no flying was possible, and 'other days which started well, spoiled later by the sea mist suddenly sweeping across the airfield. Only 164 hours were flown. Prior to 68 Squadron's visit, 96 Squadron had scored 26% - 68's score of 15% did not appeal to the Commanding Officer! There were no flying accidents during November, but Flt Lt IS Macpherson achieved a certain notoriety when he had to land on the perimeter track at Laarbruch because the runway was blocked. Flt Lt Fitcher and Fg Off Hall were posted in. Although 68 Squadron at Sylt was not renowned for its shooting, its ability to consume champagne was never in doubt. On Saturday the 22nd the entire Mess stock of 61 bottles, including pink, was consumed by the members in just over 2 hours.
Back at Laarbruch bad weather, much essential work on the aeroplanes, and the Christmas Grant interrupted the flying programme, and only 150 hours were flown during the month. An important piece of news did not help to enthuse the Squadron - 68 Squadron was to be disbanded on 20th January 1959, and re-numbered No. 5 Squadron. Form 540 states that everybody was sorry that this had to be, because 68 had an outstanding record as a nightfighter squadron. The change was however in accordance with Air Ministry policy of keeping the most senior squadrons of the RAF in existence.
The Air Ministry then agreed that the Squadron silver which had been collected during the post-war period is to remain in the care of No. 5 Squadron, it will be accounted for separately, and will always be available should 68 Squadron ever be re-formed. No. 68 Squadron Forms 540 and the Badge will be sent to the Air Historical Branch for safe keeping. The Dornier 217 machine-gun trophy will be returned to RAF Coltishall under the agreed terms. The silver candlesticks which 68 Squadron was holding in trust for RAF Wahn are being transferred to RAF Laarbruch for safe keeping, under the agreed terms, by which 68 Squadron is responsible for them, and they are to be re-presented to RAF Wahn should that Station ever be re-opened.
The last flight of No. 68 Squadron was an air test of 50 minutes by Flt Lt SG Knight and Fg Off WDG Blundell.
The final entry on the Form 540 states:
'It is sad to think that No. 68 Squadron is being disbanded for what is probably the final time. It is holding the distinction of being one of the only two Meteor-equipped Night-fighter Squadrons existent in the RAF, and notwithstanding the age of the equipment, morale was high and we trust we were maintaining the high standard set by our predecessors.' Peter Croft, Kew. June 1994
68 SQUADRON R.A.F. AIRCREW STRENGTH AT DISBANDMENT 21 January 1959
(Information by Luca Araniti, Italy)
A team of 4 Meteor NF11s from 68 Squadron based at RAF Wahn, then at RAF Laarbruch in Germany.
The team was led by Flt Lt John M.A. Parker, who was to become Air Attache in Paris between 1980 and 1983.
- Flt Lt J.M.A. Parker and Fg Off J.B. Blakeley - Fg Offs G.W. Jones and M. Boggis
- P Off J. Davoine and F Sgt E. McMillan - Flt Lt R.L. Holmes and Fg Off D. Blundell
Three more photos - given to the museum by Trevor Charnley, whose grandfather Flt.Sgt Frederick Blundon
is in the centre of the left photo.