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WELLINGTONS OF 75(NZ) SQUADRON OVER RAF FELTWELL
The article that follows arrived unsolicited on the 29th May from a Mr Michael Curtis. The coincidence of it appearing only a few weeks after I republished the History of RAF Feltwell article in Mays issue was just too much to believe. The accompanying letter explains that Mr Curtis parents were billeted during 1940 at Field Farm, Hockwold, owned by Mr D. Peacock. His father was a Pilot Officer at the base and he has commissioned a painting of his fathers Wellington flying over the airfield that he presented to him for a recent birthday. A limited number of prints have been made for sale. (Details follow the article.) Mr Curtis was commissioned into the Technical Branch of the RAF in July 1964 when the base was an Officer Cadet Training Unit and he has been interested in RAF Feltwell since then. He has kindly agreed to send me the results of his research and I hope to publish them over the coming months. Paul.
The picture depicts 3 Wellingtons of No 75(NZ) Squadron flying over RAF Feltwell in Norfolk. The setting was taken from an official aerial photograph of the airfield circa 1942. The airfield had been disguised by the use of simulated hedges and fields. (The farm complex in the picture is Field Farm. Ed.)
RAF Feltwell opened in 12th March 1937, as part of 3 Group. And it was at Feltwell on 4th April 1940 that the RNZAF Heavy Bomber Flight, flying Wellingtons, became 75(NZ) Squadron. During 1940 the Feltwell-based Squadron carried out attacks on marshalling yards, industrial centres in Germany, invasion ports, and airfields in occupied territory. In 1941 No 75 Squadron was engaged in all major raids with attacks on Germany from Hamburg to Berlin, the French ports and submarine bases. The Squadron also took part in the attempt to halt the escape of the Gneisenau and Prince Eugen from the channel, and the "thousand bomber" raids on Cologne and Essen in 1942. The Squadron moved from RAF Feltwell in the summer of 1942.
The aircraft in the foreground is Wellington V-Victor, tail number L7848, which carries the emblem "Cuthbert" with which the crew diced. On 10th September 1940 it carried out a raid on the docks at Ostende , captained by Pilot Officer R M Curtis, RAF. This successful attack, which included dropping parachute flares for a naval bombardment, merited a message of appreciation from the Admiralty, followed later by the award of the DFC. Some nights later, on a sortie to Berlin, this aircraft suffered hydraulic failure rendering the undercarriage and flaps unserviceable; this resulted in a belly landing back at Feltwell. Records (A.M. Form 78) show, however, that V-Victor was repaired, and still on active service on 17 June 1941. In September 1942 it was transferred to 21 OTU, and from July 1943 was used as a Synthetic Trainer.
The squadron badge is In front of 2 mining hammers in saltire a Tiki', commemorating the fact that the squadron was composed of New Zealand personnel. A Tiki is a Maori neck ornament regarded as a lucky emblem, and the 2 hammers were derived from the Coat of Arms of New Zealand. Underneath the badge is the squadron motto 'Ake Ake Kia Kaha' which, freely translated means 'Forever and Ever be Strong'
The squadron was disbanded on 15th October 1945, and the number plate was officially transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force on 11th October 1946. During the fifties and sixties the squadron was equipped with Vampires and Canberras, and was then re-equipped with A4 Skyhawks which were still in service in 2000. The squadron was disbanded again in December 2001.
Feltwell is still an RAF Station, and since the end of WWII has been used variously as a Bomber Support Development Unit, Thor Base, Officer Cadet Training Unit, Signals development, and latterly by the USAF.
Out of a total of 11,461 Wellingtons produced, 2 now remain. Only one of these saw active service, firstly with 149 Squadron based at RAF Mildenhall, and then with No 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth. This aircraft, 'R for Robert' - N2980, took part in the Battle of Heligoland Bight, and on 18th December 1939 was part of a force of 22 Wellingtons tasked to make a daylight attack on German shipping at Wilhelmshaven. The force was decimated by German fighters, and only 7 aircraft survived to fight again. Records show that 'R for Robert' landed at RAF Coltishall at 1600 hrs after the battle, and its pilot, Sqn Ldr Paul Harris, was awarded the DFC. On 6th October 1940 N2980 was taken 'on charge' by No 20 OTU, and some weeks later (31st December 1940) was on an ill-fated navigational training mission. The aircraft, piloted by Sqn Ldr Marwood-Elton, flew into a snowstorm some 20 minutes from Lossiemouth when the starboard engine failed. Because of the poor weather the captain ordered the trainee navigators to bail out and then, with the copilot managed to ditch the aircraft on Loch Ness. The Wellington soon sank and settled 70 metres below the surface. Wellington 'R for Robert' was salvaged from Loch Ness 21st September 1985 and transported to the Brooklands Museum of Motor Racing and Aviation where it has been restored, and is on display. It is interesting to note that this aircraft was flown by Fg Off Curtis (then an instructor on No 20 OTU) on 23rd December 1940, just a week before the crash.
The artist, John Stevens, is based in Norfolk and specialises in Aviation and Motor Sport. A limited edition of only 100 signed (by the Pilot of V-Victor and the Artist) prints was produced in 1998.
Further information can be obtained from Mr M.I.M Curtis (Email: michaelcurtis389REMOVE@btinternet.com )
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