Canadian Wings :: The History & Heritage of the Royal Canadian Air Force

History of 143 (RCAF) Wing

The formation of Second Tactical Air Force (2nd T.A.F.) on June 1 1943, gave birth to 143 Wing, R.C.A.F. on 10th January 1944. Like all wings in T.A.F. its role was to support the army in the field. The Squadrons forming the wing arrived overseas individually: 438 Squadron, 439 Squadron and 440 Squadron embarking 2nd November 1943, 15th December 1943 and 17th January 1944, respectively. The formation of the wing took place at AYR in Scotland and training started almost immediately. Then on 18th March 1944, the wing moved to HURN in England and two days later carried out its first operation. From 26th March 1944 until Dday the wing took part in the pre-invasion attacks, bombing for the most part V1 Sites, radio installations, gun positions and bridges. 143 Wing was the first wing equipped with single-engine aircraft to carry 1000 lb bombs.

During this stage of operations the wing moved to FUNTINGDON on 30th March and back to HURN on 20th April 1944. On 11th May 1944, the static setup at HURN took over and the ground personnel of the wing prepared for their move to the Continent. On Dday, 6th June 1944, the aircraft of 143 Wing were the first close-support aircraft over invasion beaches; and on 12th June 1944, the wing started on its way through the so-called ,sausage machine".

[A] Party swarmed off invasion craft on the night 22/23 June 1944, D-plus 16 in the midst of one of the many air attacks the enemy carried out on the beaches. 438 and 440 Squadrons landed at B.6 439 landed at B.5 (FRESNE CAMILLE) where the, were under artillery fire. Having operated from these 'bases for two days, the squadrons arrived at LANTHEUIL (B.9) on 28th June 1944. [B] party arrived at LANTHEUIL on 26th June 1944, so when the squadrons landed the wing was complete at its first base on the continent.

The arrival of the wing at its bridgehead base at LANTHEUIL, just South of CREULLY, launched the wing on ops as a full-fledged part of Tactical Air Force. The wing was in the field with the Army, at times only four or five miles from the enemy, answering the Army's calls for support under all conditions and attacking all types of targets.

LANTHEUIL had one strip with summerfelt tracking and heavy rains often hampered operations. The entire wing was under canvas and slit reaches dotted the area affording protection against enemy air attacks and shell fire. For the first month and a half, the tired pilots and ground crew slept through the thunderous barrages laid down by our own artillery, firing from positions almost on the airfield. Added to this was the noise of our aircraft being warmed up, enemy aircraft and our night fighters overhead as well as the ack-ack firing and the patter of ack- ack fragments as they landed.

While at B. 9 and midst the allied preparations to build up a combined force capable of dealing a death blow to Nazism, the wing carried out 2359 sorties. The battles to enlarge the bridgehead and the enemy's attacks to contain our forces received the greater part of the wing's efforts until the breakout and the Falaise Gap, when the wing ran up a very large score while attacking Hun motor transport and tanks retreating across France to the Seine River.

Now came the big day; the wing was to start following a fast-moving Army across France and maintain operations against the enemy en route. On 30th August 1944, [A] party started out the following day were at ST. ANDRE DE L'EURE to receive the aircraft and the remainder of the wing was on its way up. In the short space of two days and under adverse weather conditions, the wing carried out 24 sorties against the Hun still fleeing towards the Fatherland.

Still keeping pace with the army, [A] party left ST. ANDRE DE L'EURE on the 3rd September 1944 and a day later the wing was intact at AMIENS. AMIENS was in fact only a staging point and on 6th September 1944, [A] party started out for the newly-liberated capital of Belgium. On 7th September 1944, the aircraft arrived at BRUSSELS and the remainder of the wing arrived late in the evening. Being one of the first large Allied formations to stop in the Brussels area for any length of time, the wing received an enthusiastic reception from the Belgian people. The battered German Army had managed to reform and were now making an effort to hold the outer defence bastions of the Reich. The wing carried out 621 sorties assisting the Army in blasting the Hun from prepared defence positions and aiding the Army across natural barriers formed by the Belgian canal system.

Following the regular pattern of movement the wing advanced into Holland and on 26th September 1944 were operating from EINDHOVEN. Here on 5th October 1944, 168 R.A.F. Squadron joined the wing and remained until 26th February 1945. On the very frontier of Germany and often over Germany itself, the four squadrons carried out 6484 sorties either in direct support of the army or in attacks against the German Army's rear areas. Here to,), the wing received a first hand account of the Luftwaffe's last desperate attempt to justify its existence. In the early morning of 1st January 1945, with the wing routine work being carried out as usual, about 60 enemy aircraft attacked the field for a period of 25 minutes. It was a well-planned attack made in con- junction with the German Ardennes Offensive and achieved a great deal of local success due to the fact that their tactics did not make any sort of warning possible. Although the Luftwaffe suffered very heavy losses, 143 Wing did not remain unscathed. 438 Squadron were caught on the end of the runway and two of the pilots attempted to take off under attack from the enemy aircraft. They were able to shoot down one Hun but this valiant effort cost them their lives.

A 168 Squadron pilot up on an A and E test destroyed one before he too was shot down. The groundcrew of 438 squadron shot down one enemy aircraft and a section of 4 aircraft of 439 returned to base having shot down four enemy aircraft returning to Germany. The attack left the airfield in something of a shambles. Three pilots and four airmen were killed, one ground officer and 18 airmen injured and substantial damage done to equipment, buildings and aircraft as a result of our own bombs exploding in fires started during the attack. Quick work on everyone's part put the airfield operational and before the day was out all squadrons were in the air attacking tanks and road transport in the Ardennes, where the wing played an important role in defeating the Hun.

With the crossing of the Rhine, 143 Wing moved to GOCH in Germany and started operations from this base on 13th April 1945. With the Hun in full retreat once more the wing added considerably to their already impressive claims.

Eindhoven had been the longest stop since arriving on the continent but T. A. F. was on the move again with the Army. Having left Eindhoven and carried out almost 200 sorties in 7 days from Goch, [A] party headed for Achmer on the 8th April 1945. For the first and only time the routine movement of the wing was disrupted. Stubborn resistance by the Hun kept them close enough to Achmer to keep it under fire and [A] party was forced to stage a few miles from the airfield until it was cleared. On 11th April 1945 clearing operations were completed by the Army and by 13tb April, the wing was in possession and operating, having carried out a total of 225 sorties from Goch.

In seven days of operations from ACHMER, the wing carried out 493 sorties in close co-operation with the Army, so giving the Hun no opportunity of forming any organized defence: then, on 21st April 1945, the wing moved to CELLE for the knockout blow to the shattered remnants of the German Army. Confusion reigned supreme in the Fatherland and its Armies and the last 396 sorties carried out by the wing from this base well inside Germany assisted in ending the long struggle for world freedom.

On 4th May 1945, the wing was taken off operations and on 5th May 1945, the German Army in N. W. Europe threw in the towel. On the 8th May 1945, 143 Wing, having supported the Second British Army along almost 800 miles of fighting in N.W. Europe, celebrated VE-Day. On 30th June 1945, the wing moved to FLENSBURG, and for the first time since D-Day into static quarters.

With the war in Europe at an end, a quick return home became everyone's dream. It remained a dream for some time as a thousand and one things had to be taken care of first. The German Army, Air Force and Navy had been defeated but all had to be disarmed, demobilized or put into concentration; Germany had to be occupied and Japan still had to be defeated. Anyone who wanted to return home immediately had to wait until shipping became available and the necessary machinery was put into operation. Then, logically enough, the long-term chaps returned first.

Resultantly the wing had to be employed and this was quickly realized, education and training programs came into being, sports played an important part, the entertainment and auxiliary services assisted in filling time what had once been taken up with flying, servicing, arming or some other of the tiny things so essential and done so well on operations. The wing on the continent carried out bombing and strafing missions dropping 14,724,000 pounds of bombs and firing 1,078,000 rounds of cannon ammunition during 10,292 hours flying.

After this short and hectic life of 20 months, packed with all the excitement and horror of modern warfare, 143 Wing was quietly disbanded on 7th September 1945.

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