After World War I
As the guns fell silent over the Western Front the armies still faced each other. The German army
was by no means beaten and everyone fully expected hostilities to flare up again. No. 4 Sqn carried
on flying reconnaissance mission, the difference being this time nobody was shooting at them. The
Squadron did however lose aircrew as training accidents began to take their toll. The first sign of
a return to normality came on 3 December when the Squadron moved back to Linselles. There was now
time for much well deserved leave for personnel, and the Squadron celebrated its first peaceful
Christmas for many years.
On 6 January 1919, Major Saul was posted back to the UK and promoted; his place was taken by
Major H.B. Prior who presided over the squadron as it was withdrawn from the line and personnel
posted away. The squadron was reduced to a cadre on 13 February and moved to Northolt. The personnel
consisted of Major Prior, an adjutant and a handful of administrative personnel. Like so many of the
famous squadrons of the RAF in the Great War, No. 4 Squadron ended with having no aircraft attached.
The cadre moved to Uxbridge on 20 September 1919 where it was disbanded.
Less than a year was to elapse before No. 4 Squadron was reformed, but that was to be with a
very different aircraft, and the operations it was involved in were what was to become known as a
No. 4 Sqn languished as a cadre at Uxbridge for over six months. During this period the
establishment of the RAF was decimated, until on 1 March 1920, the Air Force had reached its
lowest ebb. Of the more than two hundred squadrons which the Air Force had at the end of the Great
War, only twenty-nine remained, and seven of those were of cadre status, with a minimum number of
personnel and no aircraft.
Accordingly a modest expansion was authorised, and 4 Cadre received authorization to reform
as a squadron. On 30 March 1920, Sqn Ldr C.H.B. Blount M.C. replaced Major Prior, and the Squadron
was officially reestablished at Farnborough one month later. Supplies of the venerable RE.8 had
thankfully dried up and by a strange oversight, considering the fiscal parsimony of the War Office
at the time, Bristol had been allowed to fulfil its contracts for the Bristol F.2b Fighter. This
had been one of the most successful British designs of the Great War, a large fast two seater with
the manoeuvrability of a scout. The large numbers of these available led to the conversion of it to
many roles which it had not been designed for, but the airframe was rugged and adaptable, and the
varying conversions met with success. Four hundred and thirty-five machines were converted to army
co-operation standard and the type became the standard for these squadrons. No. 4 Sqns "Brisfits"
were finished in the standard wartime scheme of PC10 doped upper surfaces and for some reason the
Squadron resisted the move towards aluminium doped airframes which the rest of the Air Force adopted.
The Squadron was now ready for its first task, and it was not slow in coming. After the
uprising in Ireland had been harshly put down by the British in 1917, things had been relatively
quiet. But in 1919 there was a resurgence of revolutionary activity in Ireland. Sinn Fein solemnly
renewed its proclamation of the Republic, organised elections throughout Ireland and then claimed a
victory and formed its own parliament, the "Dáil". Local authorities took their orders from the
Republican "ministers" ignoring the legally appointed Irish government. What was potentially a
crisis for the British government was lessened however, as Sinn Fein maintained law and order. Not
so the Irish Republican Brotherhood, however. This was a secret society of revolutionary hotheads.
At their direction the National Volunteers, a terrorist army which had been mostly destroyed by the
British three years earlier, was reconstituted as the Irish Republican Army which had the avowed
intention of achieving its aims, by fair means if necessary, but preferably by foul. The IRA
plunged into a war against the British without waiting for authority from the Dáil, and without
the Dáil ever intending to give it.
Civil war flared yet again in Ireland, and the British took strong measures. In 1920 the
Royal Irish Constabulary was withdrawn and replaced by the Black and Tans, theoretically recruits
for the RIC, but in fact mercenaries and the dregs of the British Army, and the "Auxis" or
Auxiliary Division. So began a war that has since dragged on in one form or another to the present
With many roads through the Irish countryside being considered too dangerous to travel and with
many telegraph wires being cut, the ideal method of communication was the aeroplane.
Accordingly the War Office set about supplying the British army in Ireland with air transport.
In November 1920 A Flt of 4 Sqn was detached to Aldergrove airfield, just outside Belfast, under the
command of 11 (Irish) Wing. The flight was kept busy flying on communications duties and as Ulster
was a loyalist stronghold, the dangers to Squadron personnel were minimised. Aircraft were detached
to the airfields at Ballykelly and Baldonnel, and in May 1921 the whole flight had been relocated
at Baldonnel, outside Dublin. Despite civil war raging throughout the countryside the detachment
was completed in good order and A Flt returned to Farnborough on completion of its tour of duty on
18 January 1922.
The remainder of the Squadron had not been idle however; a summer camp at Stonehenge had given
opportunity for the development of new techniques and in conjunction with the other Army Co-operation
Squadrons, No. 4 had developed a method of picking up written messages without landing. This involved
snagging a rope held between two poles on the ground with a rigid hook trailed from the aircraft.
Messages could now be received from small units in the field and relayed to the Corps HQ without the
expense of equipping each section with large and bulky wireless sets. This technique was practised
constantly, and demonstrated every year at the Hendon Pageant, which was the RAF's annual flag waving
However the peaceful routine of exercises and summer camps was not to last for long. Yet another
international crisis had blown up, this time in Turkey.
The terms of the Armistice which Britain had signed with Turkey in 1920, the Treaty of Sevres,
forced the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, but also stated that all occupying garrisons would be
swiftly removed from Turkish soil. Now freed from the constraints of ministering to their empire, the
Turks gained a new-found national spirit under their leader, Kemal Pasha, the hero of Gallipoli. Kemal
proclaimed a national state in Turkey and France and Italy, recognising that Kemal stood in the right,
withdrew from their respective spheres of influence, ceding their land to Turkey. Not so Great Britain
however. Lloyd George had always had a remarkably anti-Turkish attitude, and in a fit of pique had
stationed a Greek garrison on the west coast of Turkey, not far from Gallipoli, and dominating the
approaches to Constantinople and the Straits. This was a mortal insult to the Turks as the Greek and
Turkish peoples have been enemies since time immemorial. In August 1922 Kemal's army routed the Greeks
and advanced towards Constantinople. Eventually they came across a small British outpost at Chanak,
and halted. Not wishing to antagonise such a powerful country as Great Britain, Kemal called for talks
to settle the dispute. Lloyd George, however, was ready to go to war, despite the fact that the Turks
had made no act of war against the British.
Accordingly an expeditionary force was readied to come to the aid of the beleaguered British
garrison at Chanak, and No. 4 Sqn was again off on its travels.
Working round the clock, the Squadron managed to crate the aircraft, pack all the stores and
issue personnel with tropical kit. However not everyone was inoculated for overseas service and over
half of the airmen on the squadron had to be replaced. Aircraft nearly due for servicings were
likewise replaced by crated aircraft from the Depot at Ascot and eventually everything was loaded
onto trains at Farnborough for shipment to Portsmouth.
On arrival at the docks, the aircraft and stores were transferred to HMS Ark Royal by crane.
The Ark was a seaplane carrier and as such had no flight deck, relying on two cranes to lift its
complement of Fairey IIIDs to and from the water. The intention was to offload 4 Sqn's aircraft at
a dockyard on arrival at Chanak.
The force, which for its air component comprised Nos. 4, 25 and 207 Sqns and a complete
headquarters staff, set sail for Turkey on 26 Sept 1922, and routed via the Suez canal, arriving
off Chanak on 8 October.
Flying Officer P.K. Campbell was a pilot on the Squadron at the time, and the following is
his account of the arrival; "Our first thought was to get our aircraft ashore and up to the landing
ground where they could be assembled. How wrong we were, for at this early stage we struck our first
snag, for whilst the jetty was adequate for handling normal supplies and equipment, no facilities
were available for lifting an aeroplane ashore from a lighter. To carry on to Constantinople by sea,
transport to and erect our aircraft at San Stefano and then fly them down to Kilya was ruled out as
this would delay our becoming operational by at least a further week." The CO, Sqn Ldr Blount,
conceived the alternative of trans-shipping our aircraft from HMS Ark Royal to HMS Argus, erect
them on Argus and fly them off the carrier's deck. Certainly no Bristol Fighter had ever been flown
from a carriers deck before, neither had any pilot in the Squadron flown from a ship's deck.
Furthermore, the Navy pointed out that no assistance in take-off could be provided to help a somewhat
slow aircraft off the deck and into the air.
The following day all twelve aircraft were transferred from Ark Royal to Argus together with
the necessary bits and pieces. This was a two-stage process as each aircraft had first to be lifted
onto the quarter deck of Argus and then lifted again up to the flight deck. It should be noted that
in their state of transportation the aircraft were complete apart from their wings, i.e.
centre-section, tail unit and undercarriage remained fixed to the fuselage, so, for assembly, the
wings had to be boxed, fitted to the fuselage and the rigging checked.
All appeared to be going to plan when it was discovered, fortunately before any assembly had
commenced, that when fully rigged it could not be transferred from the hangar below deck up to the
flight deck. Although the Bristol Fighter had filled many diverse roles in a distinguished career,
it had never tried its hand at being a carrier- borne aircraft and was therefore incapable of
folding its wings in true nautical fashion.
Undeterred by this set back, all aircraft were returned to the flight deck where the airmen set
to work to make them airworthy. This was not without its problems for Argus, anchored well off shore,
was continually on the swing due to the strong current running down the "Narrows", that neck of the
Dardanelles between Kilya on the Gallipoli side and Chanak on the Asiatic side. Rigging a biplane by
conventional methods was out of the question. Here was an instance where the practised eye of the
rigger would be more reliable than the conventional "plumb-bob".
Although this rather unconventional method of rigging was being adopted, nobody appeared to have
the slightest qualms as to its effectiveness, least of all the riggers themselves, who obviously had
complete faith in their work for there were more than enough volunteers for the "back seat" when the
time for take-off arrived.
On the morning of October 11th, all was pronounced ready for "go". Engines had been warmed up,
last minute checks made and we were on the move. HMS Argus weighed anchor and set course up the
Dardanelles towards the Sea of Marmora with an escort of two destroyers, one to port, the other to
starboard, an escort we assumed to have been earmarked by the Navy as "picker uppers" of ditched
Bristols. Although their services were not required it was a nice thought.
That afternoon, with Argus steaming into wind, the aircraft were flown off which was without
exception a new experience for the pilots, and landed at the airfield at Kilya Bay. The first four
patrols were flown the following day.
By this time the Chanak Crisis was over. Ultimatums had been given (although the British
Charge d'Affaires had refused to pass on one of the more extreme letters), and honour was satisfied.
Kemal agreed to recognise the neutrality of the Chanak peninsula, and Lloyd George, seeing sense at
the eleventh hour, ensured that the new Turkish government would be friendly towards Britain.
The expeditionary force remained at Chanak however as there were still doubts about Turkish
intentions, and for 4 Sqn conditions at Kilya Bay were atrocious. The first two weeks of the
operation were hampered by dust storms which frequently blew up without warning, and by the heat,
which could drastically warp the wooden structure of the aircraft. However with the start of the
rainy season this all changed, and the airfield at Kilya was frequently turned into a quagmire in
which the aircraft bogged in up to their axles. Towards the end of October gales were experienced
and as the hangers used were little more than glorified tents, these, together with the tents used
as living accommodation, were blown down and torn to shreds, with many of the aircraft being badly
damaged. In an attempt to combat the mud problem, a runway was made with wire netting stretched over
canvas. Despite this, the aircraft still tended to sink on take off, and so to lighten the weight of
the aircraft, each one flew its mission only partially fuelled, so severely limiting the operational
radius. Conditions eventually got so bad that the aircraft had to be parked on duckboards, even when
in the hangars.
Missions flown followed the same patterns as they had during the Great War, with reconnaissance
flights covering the southern area of the declared neutral zone. Whereas at Farnborough all the
photographic processing had been done by the School of Photography, at Kilya this work was done under
primitive conditions in two bell tents and a three ton truck. The tents were so worn that processing
was hampered on bright moonlit nights! The commander of the British garrison at Constantinople feared
an uprising in the city and decided that a massed formation of aircraft over the city as a show of
strength was necessary. Aircraft were appropriated from all the units of the wing, and 4 sqn
contributed two Flights, comprising eight aircraft. The demonstration took place on November 21st,
successfully quelling any thoughts of insurrection in the city.
Due to the congestion at Kilya, a move was made to Kilid el Bahr on 11 December and the only
transport found was horse-drawn wagons. With the immediate danger over, there was a return to a more
leisurely training routine.
One of the more important aspects of the training was the development of a standardisation of
the methods used by the Army and Navy in the techniques used in artillery observation. Up until this
point, the Navy's guns had been controlled by seaplanes using one system and the Army's by landplanes
using a second system. This was clearly a duplication of effort and so the opportunity was taken to
develop a common system.
The first successful exercise was held in June 1923 when aircraft of 4 Sqn directed fire from
naval guns onto a shore target.
No. 4 Sqn remained at Kilid el Bahr for nearly a year, but eventually the situation was deemed
stable enough for the expeditionary force to be withdrawn. The Squadron returned to Kilya at the end
of August 1923 and commenced embarkation on HMS Ark Royal on 2 September. The embarkation was
completed in good order in two days, and Ark Royal sailed for Malta on 5 September.
No. 4 Sqn returned to Farnborough on 18 September, and after some well deserved leave for all
squadron personnel, set about working up for a return to duty.
Life at Farnborough settled down into a cosy routine. Training flights were flown daily, and
once a year summer camp was held at either Stonehenge or Boscombe Down, with the opportunity of
exercising with the army under field conditions on Salisbury Plain. The Hendon Pageant also gave an
opportunity to show the mettle of the Squadron. There were only four home-based Army Co-operation
squadrons and as each took it in turns to present the display at Hendon, No. 4 Sqn became a familiar
sight to the regular Pageant visitors.
Tactics and techniques changed little during the inter-war years and although equipment changed
over the years, it was still basically employed under the same concept of the BE.2s of 1914.
This meant that during exercises, the squadron had to operate from ordinary fields in the
neighbourhood of the Army HQ to which it was attached. Therefore all the squadron personnel had to
deploy and live in tents next to the aircraft for the duration of the exercise. Living conditions
were usually bad, for air and groundcrew alike, but this method of operation did have the advantage
of getting the reconnaissance information to the headquarters very rapidly.
Missions flown could be of anything up to two hours duration, and the workload on the pilot
was very heavy. Although the Bristol Fighter was a two-seater, the second crewman was employed solely
as an air-gunner, who confined his activities to looking out for enemy aircraft. Therefore the pilot
had to fly the aircraft, navigate to and from the target, take the photographs and if necessary
compose reports and transmit them to base using the Morse transmitter.
Unfortunately the landing grounds chosen were not necessarily ideal, as their location was
dictated by the position of the relevant Corps HQ, the commanders of which would be unlikely to site
their encampment in a tactically unsuitable position just to suit the junior service. Therefore there
were a great many instances of aircraft coming to grief on landing or take off from these improvised
From 27 March 1924, all squadrons of the RAF were authorised to included their role in the
squadron title, and so from May, No. 4 was officially redesignated No. 4 (Army Co-operation) Squadron.
Although this practice was officially terminated in May 1939 for security reasons, many units continue
to this day to include their role in their title, and although not officially sanctioned, it is looked
upon as an essential part of unit esprit de corps.
On 4 April 1925 the CO, Sqn Ldr Blount was succeeded by Sqn Ldr J.C. Slessor, who commanded the
Squadron through the Royal Review on Laffans Plain during the summer. At this time 4 Sqn was granted
a special privilege by King George in that it was the only squadron in the Royal Air Force that was
inspected at "advance arms" instead of the more normal "present arms".
The following year saw the General Strike, and because the government was wary of the
possibility of armed insurrection and sabotage in the North, No. 4 Sqn was sent to Turnhouse to
patrol the railway systems.
Sqn Ldr Slessor was in turn replaced by Sqn Ldr N.H. Bottomley on 15 October 1928. By this
time the Bristol Fighter was becoming a bit long in the tooth and with all the extra equipment
added for the Army Co- operation role was becoming considerably slower and more ungainly. However,
new equipment was to hand.
The Air Ministry had issued specifications for a Bristol F.2b replacement in 1921, which had
resulted in a spate of proposals from various companies, but for sundry reasons none had come up
to scratch. The specification had been revised and reissued in 1924 as Spec. 8/24, later renumbered
30/24,calling for a Bristol F.2b replacement designed from the outset as an army co-operation type.
Four companies responded with designs; the Armstrong Whitworth Atlas, Vickers Vespa, Bristol
Boarhound and De Havilland Hyena. All underwent makers trials, going through differing forms and
eventually were ready for service trials. Although, as today, there was a Royal Aircraft
Establishment, the Air Force preferred to sent prototypes to operational units for evaluation in
so-called "service trials". Being based at Farnborough, No. 4 Sqn was the ideal choice and over a
period of a year all four types were delivered to the Squadron from Martelsham Heath and the School
of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum.
The service trials confirmed the results of the type trials at Martelsham, and the Armstrong
Whitworth Atlas was deemed to have been the most successful type and it was ordered in numbers to
re-equip the RAF Army Co-operation squadrons, although they had to wait for a further two years and
4 Sqn itself had to wait another four.
The Armstrong Whitworth Atlas was the first aircraft to enter service with the RAF that had
been specifically designed as an Army Co-operation type. Although only marginally larger than the
Bristol Fighter, it was considerably heavier, with an all metal framework, but an engine with almost
twice the power of that of the Bristol fighter gave it a vastly improved performance. All the
equipment which had been added as an afterthought to the Bristol were design fitments in the Atlas,
and its crews took to it like ducks to water. The aircraft first entered service in October 1927,
and reformed squadrons (32 Sqn being the first) got priority for the first deliveries. No. 4 Sqn
soldiered on with the Bristol Fighter for a further two years, but eventually, as aircraft became
available, became re-equipped with the Atlas, the first aircraft arriving in October 1929. Although
a highly efficient design, such was the rate of advance of aircraft design in the late 1920's that
even when it was entering service the Atlas was falling behind in the race for performance.
Only three years after the service entry of the Atlas, the RAF had taken delivery of a bomber
which threatened to make all other aircraft, fighter and bomber alike, obsolete in one fell swoop.
This was the Hawker Hart, and it was in the forefront of contemporary aircraft design. A sleek two
seater biplane, designed by Sydney Camm, the Hart was as fast, if not faster than the current crop
of single-seat fighters available. The Armstrong Whitworth Siskin was the best fighter the RAF had,
and in the annual air defence exercises in 1930 the Hart easily outflew them. Hawker had taken on
the mantle of the primary aircraft manufacturer in Britain, a distinction which it was never to
entirely give up. However, Camm was not content to rest on his laurels, and set about developing
the Hart for other duties. In quick succession Hawker produced the Hind general purpose bomber and
trainer, the Demon twin- seat fighter and the Audax Army Co-operation aircraft, all based on the
Hart airframe, with a similar performance.
It was the Audax that finally gave No. 4 Sqn an aircraft with which it could hold its own with
the very best that the rest of the Air Force had to offer. No. 4 Sqn was the first squadron to
receive the Audax, the first examples arriving in December 1931. Conversion took less than three
months as the equipment fit was identical to that of the Atlas, although the speed of the Audax was
over 30 m.p.h. greater. By the summer of 1931 No. 4 Sqn was fully conversant with the Audax, and had
the signal honour of demonstrating the new aircraft at the Hendon Pageant, where the Army
Co-operation squadrons were finally almost indistinguishable from their traditionally more fortunate
(equipment- wise) brothers in Bomber and Fighter Commands.
The Squadrons Audaxes were finished, as were most aircraft of the time, in aluminium silver dope,
with the standard six red white and blue cockades and rudder striping, but now, to fall in line with
policy, squadron markings began to be carried. These comprised a large red figure 4 on the fuselage
sides between the gunners cockpit and the roundel. Although not as flamboyant as the markings that
the fighter squadrons were wearing, this made a welcome change. The aircraft also had the flight colour
applied to their wheel hubs; A Flt wearing red, B Flt yellow and C Flt blue, and to cap it all the CO's
and flight commanders aircraft had their fins painted in the relevant colours. All in all the aircraft
became much more distinctive in comparison to the rather nondescript Atlases.
Probably the best pointer to the capabilities of the Audax came when the Squadron was tasked with
the service trials of the sole Atlas Mk.II, G- ABIV. The Armstrong Whitworth representative was given
a flight in the Audax and claimed incredulously, "This just slips through the air - ours batters its
way through the particles." Not surprisingly, the Atlas Mk.II was not accepted for service.
Again life settled down to a standard routine, no different in character to what the squadron had
been used to. Commanding officers, came and went, the most famous (up to that point) being Sqn Ldr
F.M.F. West, who joined No. 4 Squadron on 4 October 1933.
During the first days of the German August offensive in 1918, Captain F.M.F. West had been a
pilot with 8 Sqn, flying Armstrong Whitworth FK8s. On 8 August 1918, West and his usual observer, Lt
J.A.G. Haslam were flying a tank contact patrol and had also been briefed to be on the lookout for
enemy troop concentrations. They came under heavy machine- gun fire and were forced to crash-land at
their aerodrome. The following day, the two were again engaged in a contact patrol and were again hit
by ground fire and returned damaged. The 10 August saw them making a third attempt at this hazardous
mission, in FK8 no.C8594, and yet again their aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire, but not
before they had noted significant concentrations of troops, which in West's opinion were the reserve
for the German assault. The pair attempted to return to base with this important information, but en
route were intercepted by seven German scouts. Of the ensuing action, West later reported;" We were
heavily attacked and one of them got quite close to me and an explosive bullet virtually severed my
left leg. I was fortunate enough not to faint and to carry on flying until we reached our lines and
somehow managed to land reasonably safely.... It was very painful and that kept me going." This
typical understatement disguises the fact that West was virtually paralysed down his left side, with
his badly injured left leg jamming his rudder pedals, and according to his observer was drifting in
and out of consciousness. On landing the undercarriage of their FK8 collapsed and West and Haslam were
rescued from the wreck by Canadian troops. Whilst on a stretcher and in obvious pain, West was able to
relate details and the location of the German reserve to the Canadian officer. For his valour, West was
awarded the Victoria Cross.
The annual practice camps and exercises continued in the same vein as before. The years programme
was spilt into three parts: the winter training period, culminating in a detachment to North Coates,
Fittes or Eastchurch for gunnery and bombing; the collective training period leading up to the RAF
Pageant at Hendon; and the Autumn manoeuvres with the Army.
During March 1934, the Squadron attended an Armament Training Camp on the East Coast of England,
probably at Thame. The weather was atrocious for the duration of the Camp, and conditions for the
personnel were grim. The commander of C Flight at the time was Flt Lt F.G.S. Mitchell, who paints a
rather bleak picture; "The weather, with fog, rain and sleet snow flurries and gales, interfered with
our flying programmes to a marked degree, as did fishing boats sailing through the danger area which
halted our activities till they were clear.
Our quarters were wooden huts with tarred felt roofs, built up a foot or two from the ground on
stilts, and when the bitterly cold wind blew in from the sea, it lifted the linoleum covering clear
off the floor, blowing in between the wooden floor boards. Heating of our rooms was nil to begin with,
as no provision had been made for domestic heating. We were given to understand that the powers that
be used to refer to these camps as "Summer Training Camps", and thus no thought had been given to the
supply of suitable coal to heat living quarters, in spite of the fact that each room was provided
with a small but very efficient stove. The problem was initially solved by getting in touch with the
village coal merchant who drove to the camp in his horse and cart and sold us the hundredweight sacks
of splendid quality coal at half-a-crown a bag. In the Mess ante-room only fine slack was available,
which sometimes gave a thin grey wisp of smoke as the only sign that there must have been a little
heat somewhere at the back of the grate - but no heat whatsoever was forthcoming, as a result of which
the ante-room was little used. What good coal there was had to be reserved absolutely for the cooking
stoves in the kitchens until proper deliveries of good fuel were made in due course." As has been
stated, the weather interfered with flying, but Capt Hargreaves, the Infantry Liaison Officer, saw no
problem, putting the rest of the Squadron to shame when he landed his private Klemm monoplane at the
Camp, whilst the Squadron was grounded! Although serious, the routine of the Camps could have its
lighter side, as Mitchell relates; "One summer my Flight had to move to a field in Essex called Friday
Wood to manoeuvres with various Guards Regiments and we understood that in a lighter phase the
opposing sides aimed to capture a portrait of the very beautiful wife of one CO which he kept in his
tent. I presume that whichever unit had the portrait, it ended up with its rightful owner in the end.
During the last night, when all the soldiers were dog tired and deeply asleep, the five officers of
my flight were conducted by the umpires, about 2 a.m., to a hedge bounding a field in which some of
the Guards units were bivouacked. At a pre-arranged signal all five of C Flight officers yelled
bloodcurdling banshee noises, fired an occasional Verey light, beat old tin cans and used police
rattles. The troops had not been told of this impending attack by the RAF. Pandemonium broke loose in
the camp lines and some senior officers yelled something to the effect "Call your men off at once or
you will stampede our horses". We faded back into the night as quickly and quietly as we had arrived,
and returned to our dew-soaked tented camp, leaving the soldiers none the wiser as to who had made the
At the time they thought it was another army unit, but they were informed a little later as to
who it was that had completely wrecked their nights sleep. The Guards broke camp early on their way
back to base and their route took them along a road on the edge of the field in which our tented
camp was pitched. Most of us were sound asleep at that time, but the Army took vengeance on us with
every kind of clatter as they marched by.
In "Army Co-op" squadrons in those days we used to have a good sprinkling of Army officers and
in my flight I had two, both of whom had driven home from Burma in a very old Essex sedan car ˜ which
is quite a story on its own. One was Lt Chris Hill of the East Kent Regiment, who was last seen
piloting a Blenheim, in trouble, back towards the Dutch coast during the war. The other was Lt Tony
Wildon of the Sherwood Foresters, killed in a motoring accident on his way to a hunt ball with his
sister in Ireland shortly before the 1939 war began. They were both splendid chaps who flew from
Farnborough to Halton to play polo throughout the season.
Another officer in my flight, and straight from Cambridge, was Flg Off The Viscount Acheson,
who became assistant Air Attache in Paris, where I also met him." Viscount Acheson himself has
memories of the Squadron, written to Flight magazine in later years: "I remember that once, when
A Flight was attached to the one and only armoured brigade at Tilshead in 1934, our "airfield" was
a strip of ground on the side of a hill approximately 75 yards by 350 yards, the long leg being
along the slope. Landing on this strip caused a deal of excitement (and amusement to the watching
Army officers) whenever the wind was not up or down the long leg. Furthermore, the position was
complicated when the tanks lost their way one night on returning from a manoeuvre, and wandered
across the middle of our strip, only failing to demolish our tents by a matter of six feet. The
mess their tracks made of the strip made our life even more exciting." One of the lesser known
episodes of 4 Sqn at this time was the experimental work carried out on the Avro Rota autogyro.
This aircraft was a licence built version of the Cierva C.30A. One aircraft of this type, K4237,
was transferred to 4 Sqn from the School of Army Co- operation at Old Sarum for service trials.
The following article originally appeared in Aircraft Illustrated for October 1971, and was
written by T. Crockett, who was an LAC rigger on 4 Sqn.
"It was with considerable apprehension that I approached the flight commander's office
after the flight sergeant had told me to report there forthwith. Numerous possible misdemeanours
raced through my mind as I approached the great man's office.
I had not been checked for a haircut recently, so it could not be that; I had not been late
on parade; and my Audax aircraft K2018 was, as far as I knew, on the very top line.
What on earth could he want to see me about, I wondered, as I followed the Flt Sgt to the
office of Captain Hannay who, incidentally, was seconded to the RAF and was a fine pilot, who had
seen service in the First World War.
After considering all the bad possibilities of the forthcoming interview, I began to think
optimistically of the brighter prospects of the situation. Perhaps at long last I was to be taken
on the strength as an air gunner, and not only wear the coveted flying bullet on my sleeve, but
increase my pay by the terrific sum of ten shillings and sixpence per week. It was also a great
asset to log a large number of flying hours when applying for a Sgt pilots course, which in those
days was the ambition of almost every serving airman.
I was further confused when on being marched in by the Flt Sgt, I was invited to sit down,
and it must have taken me a full ten seconds to unwind myself from the orthodox position of
attention top a seated position on the very edge of the chair. The flight commanders first words
sent my hopes soaring way above the office roof.
"Why are you so keen to fly?", he said. Immediately I answered with the usual reply of that
period: "Dead keen to get on aircrew duties, Sir" (Monetary increases were the last thing to
mention in those days.) He paused for a moment and then said "On Monday I'm going to Old Sarum
to learn how to fly an autogyro and I would like you to come along and learn how to service the
aircraft. You will get plenty of flying as we shall be landing away from base most of the time
and you will have to fly with me." I was staggered, but managed to say that I would be delighted
and, after the usual salute, left the office in a very bewildered state of mind.
My first reaction was to find out what an autogyro was, and it was only after several
enquiries that I found someone who new anything about them. I was horrified to learn that they
were aircraft that flew without mainplanes, but relied on rotating blades to maintain their flight.
To say that I was shaken to the core would be an understatement, but it was too late then to try
and back out, so I was committed.
We flew down on the Monday and I duly started my course under the instruction of"Josie"
Collins who I believe is now employed at the A&AEE, Boscombe Down.
The course was held in a hangar and consisted of working with the ground crew who were
servicing the aircraft. As I entered the hangar I anxiously peered round to see this latest
miracle of aeronautical science. Captain Hannay looked at it and said "What do you think of it?"
I swallowed hard thinking, "Bloody hell, what have I let myself in for?", but replied "looks
rather unorthodox, Sir. No mainplanes of any description and no rudder." The practical
instruction was excellent although the theory of flight and aerodynamics instruction was
almost non existent., but after the allotted two weeks we flew the 'gyro back to Farnborough
to rejoin 4 (Army Co-operation ) Squadron.
During the summer of 1935 we worked in close liaison with the army, and the dilapidated
appearance of the autogyro in the heading photograph is due to the red distemper with which it
was covered to identify which army group it belonged to.
Many famous generals flew in that old 'gyro, including Lord Wavell who will always be
remembered for his Western Desert campaigns. In the light of present day helicopters they were
either very brave men or entirely ignorant of aerodynamics, which of course also applied to myself,
because I flew many hours in that old 'gyro. In these days of the autopilot, governors to maintain
a constant rotor rpm, flapping hinges and cyclic pitch changes etc, I would say that I came under
the category of the ignorant.
In spite of our limited experience of this type of aircraft we had plenty of fun that summer.
General Wavell was particularly interested and we frequently flew to some isolated field and taxied
into a corner until the general appeared in a luxurious staff car; we then changed places and the
general flew off to observe the progress of the ground exercise, whilst I was driven back to the
nearest army detachment in the car. There the ADC gave me sixpence for lunch, which in those days
was sufficient to obtain quite a reasonable meal in the army canteen.
At the appointed time I rejoined the ADC and we drove off to await the arrival of the 'gyro at
a pre-determined position - theoretically hundreds of miles from its original take-off point. Once
again we changed places, I in the 'gyro and the general in the car, and the captain flew the gyro back
to base, which in some cases was just a tented camp site.
Looking back I suppose I thoroughly enjoyed that summer, but one thing I did not relish was when
the pilot attempted to hover. In this manoeuvre the pilot throttled back, head into the wind, until
the groundspeed was zero. Unfortunately the engine occasionally stopped and we had to autorotate and
hope for a safe landing. The engine was very reluctant to restart when hot, and so we invariably ended
up pushing the 'gyro back home . luckily usually on the edge of the airfield. However, we had always
been spotted and we were quickly joined by plenty of willing helpers, although some of their remarks
are quite unprintable.
Another big snag was that the pilot often became overconfident and attempted to land in a very
small field. The result was that we eventually landed with yards of telephone wires wrapped around
the tail wheel, to the annoyance of the local GPO." Although a qualified success, the Rota autogyro
was not accepted for service in the RAF in any numbers.
Sqn Ldr West commanded the Squadron until 16 January 1936 when he was replaced by Sqn Ldr E.J.
Kingston-McLoughry, and the first air liaison officer, Capt J.R. Kirkman, R.A. was posted to the
Squadron. Kingston- McLoughry was to preside over the final stage of the evolution of the inter-war
markings, when in 1936 an official policy was promulgated for the application of Squadron markings.
As related above, the fighter squadrons had always favoured flamboyant markings, some covering almost
the whole of their upper wing surfaces in gaudy colours and geometric symbols. By the mid-1930s, with
the increase of tension in Europe, this practice was clearly getting out of hand, and so official
guidelines were released for the application of squadron markings. These were to comprise a unit symbol
(intended to become the Squadron badge) superimposed on a frame. This frame depended on the role of the
squadron, and comprised an arrowhead for fighter units, a "grenade" for bomber units, and a six-pointed
star for army co-operation and reconnaissance units. Squadrons were required to invent a badge using
standard heraldic designs and present the completed design to the Clarenceux King of Arms for scrutiny
and eventual royal assent. The guidelines were published on 16 January 1936, the same day that
Kingston-McLoughry took command of No. 4 Sqn. The badge that was finally settled on was a sun in
splendour divided per bend by a flash of lightning.
The red and black segmented sun was intended to signify twenty-four hour operations, while the
lightning flash signifies speed and is also a reference to the early use of wireless telephony by the
Squadron. Units were also authorised to create a motto; that for No. 4 Sqn being In futurum videre -
"To see into the future".
The badge and motto were duly submitted to the Clarenceaux King of Arms and were approved by HRH
King Edward VIII in May 1936. All aircraft of the Squadron had the badge and frame applied to the fin
as prescribed, but for some reason the squadron number was not removed from the fuselage sides,
leaving No. 4 Sqn as one of the few units to carry both badge and squadron number.
Incidentally, it was Sqn Ldr Kingston-McLoughry who took the precaution of having Cody's famous
tree at Farnborough fenced in and preserved.
Late in 1936 it was decided to concentrate most of the Army Co-operation squadrons at Odiham, and
so preparations commenced for the move, which took place on 16 February 1937. By this time even the
Audax had become outmoded; the fighter squadrons of the RAF were taking delivery of the new
monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and Spitfire, and even the bomber units had modern monoplanes in the
form of the Whitley and Wellington. More importantly, the potential aggressor in Europe, Nazi Germany,
had large numbers of the Messerschmitt Bf.109, a monoplane fighter to rival the Spitfire, and would
shortly be using them in action in Spain.
In an attempt to redress the balance, new designs were being built, but in the meantime a stopgap
was needed. This was the Hawker Hector, a further development of the Audax. It was distinguishable
from the earlier aircraft be the longer nose, which housed a 24-cylinder Dagger engine, and the unswept
upper wing, but was identical in equipment fit. Although 20 m.p.h. faster than the Audax, it would still
be a liability when pitted against the latest fighters. The first Hectors to be delivered to the RAF
were received by No. 4 Sqn in May 1937, when command of the Squadron passed to Sqn Ldr GH Loughman, and
they were finished in much the same scheme as the earlier Audaxes, with the exception of the squadron
During the summer of 1937 No. 4 Sqn took part in the first airborne army exercise ever to be held
in England. The scenario was for a platoon of infantry to be emplaned in two transport aircraft; a Vimy
and a Bombay, all that were available, and to attack a simulated airbase on Worthy Down. This was duly
carried out, with the Hectors of No. 4 Sqn providing immediate close support for the "friendly" troops
once they had deplaned. Although the exercise evolved the necessary drills for the tactical emplaning
and deplaning of infantry, the scenario of large and vulnerable transport aircraft landing under fire
from heavily defended targets was a tactical non-starter.
With storm clouds gathering over Europe however, a large number of RAF aircraft were hurriedly
prepared for war and camouflaged around the time of the Munich Crisis. This comprised a disruptive
pattern of dark brown (known as Dark Earth) and Dark Green over the upper surfaces of the aircraft,
and the replacement of the red white and blue cockades with a dull red and blue roundel, although the
squadron badge was still worn. Mr Chamberlain's hurried consultations with the German Chancellor,
Herr Hitler, brought about a new confidence of "peace in our time" and once the panic was over many of
No. 4 Sqn's aircraft reverted to their more normal peacetime schemes.
However, modern equipment was finally available and in December 1938, No. 4 Sqn received the
first deliveries of its new aircraft, the Westland Lysander. The Lysander, or "Lizzie" as it was
invariably known to its air and groundcrews, was destined to be the last of the traditional multi-role
army co-operation types. It was also the first monoplane to be operated by 4 Sqn. Large and ungainly
looking at first sight, the Lysander was an extremely rugged design, its high wing giving the crew
excellent visibility and the heavy spatted undercarriage was capable of absorbing the shocks of even
the most punishing heavy landing. The aircraft was well liked by those who flew and maintained it,
but unfortunately its design concept was outmoded even before the Lysander left the drawing board.
However this small fact was ignored by all, as was the disadvantage of its low speed in flight and
the aircraft's legendary manoeuvrability in the air was deemed more than capable of redressing the
Re-equipment took little more than a month, and the Squadron commenced a hard work-up programme,
designed to get crews combat ready on their new mounts in short order. Although many hoped that the
threatened war with Germany would not happen, officialdom had finally opened its eyes, and nobody was
taking any chances. With the threat of war, the Royal Air Force had suddenly become tactically minded,
and all new aircraft were delivered in camouflage schemes, the Lysander being no exception. The toning
down process which had begun with the hurried painting of the Squadrons Hectors continued apace. Gone
were the bright red white and blue cockades, to be replaced by dull red and blue roundels with no
tell-tale white ring to give away an aircraft's position to enemy eyes. Although the Squadron badge
still adorned the fin in its six pointed star, the understanding was that this would be removed on the
commencement of hostilities. In an attempt to improve security each flying unit was issued a
two-letter code which, together with the individual aircraft letter, was to be painted either side of
the fuselage roundel in a medium grey colour. No. 4 Sqn was allotted the code "TV" and pretty soon
all the Lysanders were coded in the new system, one of the first deliveries being Lysander Mk.II L4742
TV-B. Therefore very quickly the Squadrons aircraft took on a drab aspect from which they were never
to regain their former glories.
The work-up continued smoothly with an armament practice camp at Aldergrove in Northern Ireland
in March and fighter affiliation training with the Blenheims of 32 Sqn at Wittering the following month.
Preparations for war proceeded with the mobilization of reservists, and by the time war was finally
declared, 4 Sqn was on a war footing with its full establishment of personnel, about half of whom were
Reservists, hurriedly recalled from civilian life and retrained.
Two days before war was declared, the Squadron gained a new CO, Sqn Ldr G.P. Charles, and a new
Adjutant, Flt Lt Bencher. Bencher was one of the old school, and seems to have been prevented from
becoming aircrew because of his short-sightedness in one eye. To overcome this he wore a monocle, and
was soon a familiar sight stalking around the squadron area at Odiham.
Click to see Part 3 - World War II
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