N° 25 Squadron - B-26 "Marauder" Operations "Laduduma Ezulweni" (Thunder from the Sky)    
 

A warning order received on the 12th April 1944, instructed the squadron to prepare to embark for the North in the near future.

The Balkan Air Force, under Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal William Elliot, was formed by General Eisenhower on the 7th June 1944. They began operations on the 1st July 1944, with No. 25 squadron SAAF forming part of this newly created Air Force. They were tasked with co-ordinating Allied operations in the Adriatic. The mission was threefold: they were to providing air support to the Partisans led by Josip Broz Tito; establish a base on the Dalmatian coast; and organise attacks on German forces in Yugoslavia and the Adriatic..

The composition of the Balkan Air Force:
254 Wing - 25 sqdn SAAF, 13 sqdn Royal Hellenic Air Force, Sturmo Baltimore 28° and 132° Gruppo.
281 Wing - 6 and 253 sqdn RAF, 352 Yugoslav sqdn.
283 Wing - 16 and 19 sqdn SAAF, 39, 213 and 260 sqdn RAF.
334 Wing - 148 sqdn RAF, and 1586 Polish Flight.

N° 25 squadron operated the Marauder from November 1944, replacing their Venturas. They were based at Biferno Aerodrome, near Campomarino in Italy, when the first three Marauders arrived on the 17th October 1944. The first test-flights on these new aircraft, was carried out by Major Eric M. Lewis, DSO, DFC, of 16 squadron SAAF. He was a former OC of the squadron whilst it was based in the Union, and was now flying the Bristol Beaufighter Mk.X, with 16 squadron SAAF, which was also based at Biferno. N°'s 16 and 19 squadrons from the SAAF also formed part of the Balkan Air Force. Major Lewis had flown the Marauder during 1943, and now gave up much of his spare time to assist the 25 squadron pilots to familiarise themselves with the Marauder. Due to his experience on the type, he was able to dispel all the shaky rumours they had previously heard about the Marauder, resulting in the aircrews having more confidence with the change from the Ventura to the Marauder.

Whilst the conversion to the Marauders was underway, the squadron fulfilled their operational commitments during October & November, by operating both Ventura and Marauder aircraft simultaneously. Pilots who were ferrying the Marauders to the squadron, flew the return trip by ferrying the Venturas which were now taken off squadron strength, to 156 Maintenance Unit in North Africa.

NOVEMBER 1944
 
By the end of November twelve Marauders had been delivered to the squadron, with only two Venturas still remaining on squadron strength, The last Ventura bombing raid occured on the 8th November as by the 9th, sufficient Marauders had been taken on squadron strength for bombing practice to commence. Subsequently the squadron was non-operational from the 8th to the 19th, whilst conversion training was undertaken. This coincided with a period of bad weather and thus did not greatly affect the squadron's operational abilities. Conversion training for the pilots was broken down into three phases. 1) Cockpit drill and familiarisation inspection of the aircraft. 2) Lectures by senior officers. 3) Flying.

Each pilot flew around 10 hours on the Marauder before being signed off for operations.

The squadron's first operational Marauder raid took place on the 20th November, when four Marauders under the leadership of Major Freeman, attacked the marshalling yards at Konjic, dropping 40 x 250lb bombs. .

During November Lt-Col C. Cormack DFC, took over command of the squadron from Lt-Col L.H.G Shuttleworth, who had been with the squadron for almost two years.

Extract from the November 1944 medical report, by the squadron medical officer, Capt. R.S. Cullis. "... In accordance with the practice in other opeational Marauder Squadrons, the oxygen equipment was removed from the aircraft on arrival. But, it was found that aircrew returning from raids abnormally tired and several observers complained of difficulty in making simple calculations. It was found that some raid leaders were flying at up to 12,000 feet for quite long periods. This matter was brought to the attention of the Commanding Officer and high flying is now avoided. The usual bombing height is 9 to 10,000 feet ...."

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
20 Nov
Marshalling Yards at KONJIC. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4
22 Nov
85
Southern Road bridge at PODGORICA. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4
23 Nov
86
Southern Road bridge at PODGORICA. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4
24 Nov
87
Southern Road bridge at PODGORICA. Capt. Benson
4
26 Nov
88
Stores at RALJOVAC. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4

5 operations, 20 sorties and a total of 59.10 hours were flown on operations with the new Marauders during November.

 
 
     
DECEMBER 1944
 
The Italian winter weather started to impact on operational flying, as on fourteen occasion during the month, flying was cancelled due to no visibility either over the targets or no visiblity at the landing ground at Biferno. The first of the winter snow fell during December, and this provided most of the squadron with a new experience and the typical snow fun and games was had by all. The bad no-flying weather however, gave the squadron the opportunity to enjoy the christmas festive season, and avoided the need to take their hangovers into the air. There was almost continous rain during the month, and the living conditions under tents were extremely difficult and cold. Added to this was the resultant muddy underfoot conditions, which made the wearing of gum-boots a necesity as the rain had turned the snowy ground into a slush. Due to the fabricated PSP (pierced steel planking) runway at Biferno, the squadron was able to continue flying operations, despite the muddy surrounding grounds. This providing that the flying weather was at least favourable.

A message from HQ of the Balkan Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal William Elliot, received on the 11th December, congratulated the squadron for their fine efforts in the successful conversion onto Marauders.

The major efforts of the squadron for the month was concentrated on bombing the retreating German 21st Mountain Corps from the PODGORICA-DANILOVOGRAD area.

On the 17th a collision occurred between HD577 and HD648, whilst an engine run up was being performed in a parking bay. The subsequent court of enquiry determined that the fitter concerned had started the engines, without ensuring that there where chocks under the wheels. Both the aircraft were badly damaged and were taken off squadron strength & issued to 254 Wing for repairs. They were immediately replaced by HD615 and HD667.

December also yielded a leap forward in technology, as the squadron started using VHF radios for the radio communications between the aircraft and aerodrome control. This was a great improvement in communications over the original HF radios used previously.

From the 25 Squadron War Diary for December 1944. "... Tests were carried out during the month to determine the quickest and most efficient method of bombing up. It was found that it takes an hour and a half for four men working at full speed to load an aircraft fully with four 250-lb G.P. and six 500-lb G.P. bombs, if the conventional method of winches is used for all bombs. This would mean that the ten or eleven armourers in each flight would not be able to cope with 8 aircraft if two raids a day were called for. Due to the fact that armourers up to W.E.T. strength were not forthcoming, some quicker method had to be considered. The 250-lb bombs are now being lifted manually and this saves quite a bit of time ..."

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
1 Dec
89
Road Bridge at BIOCE. Capt. Benson
4
1 Dec
90
Road Bridge at BIOCE. F/O Leadbetter
4
3 Dec
91
Coastal Defense Gun Positions at LUSSINO PICCOLO. Maj. Freeman AFC.
9
4 Dec
92
Road Bridge at BIOCE. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4
4 Dec
93
Road Bridge at BIOCE. Capt. Benson
4
6 Dec
94
Port at GRACAC. Maj. Freeman AFC.
7
11 Dec
95
Railway Bridge at ZENICA. Maj. Freeman AFC.
4
12 Dec
96
M/T on the BIOCE-PODGORICA Road. Maj. Freeman AFC.
9
15 Dec
97
M/T on the BIOCE-MATESAVO-ANDRIJEVICA Road. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
9
16 Dec
98
M/T on the BIOCE-LIJEVA-REJIKA Road. Maj. Thresher
9
16 Dec
99
M/T on the BIOCE-MATESAVO Road. Maj. Freeman AFC.
8
17 Dec
100
M/T on the BIOCE-MATESAVO-KOLASIN Road. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
8
18 Dec
101
M/T on the BIOCE-MATESAVO-KOLASIN Road. Maj. Thresher
7
19 Dec
102
M/T, North of KLOPOT, on the BIOCE-KOLASIN Road. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
9
19 Dec
103
M/T, North of KLOPOT, on the BIOCE-KOLASIN Road. Maj. Thresher
7
20 Dec
104
M/T on the KLOPOT-MATESAVO Road. Maj. Freeman AFC.
9
26 Dec
105
Troop Concentrations South of BRODEREVO. Maj. Thresher
9
27 Dec
106
Railway bridge at ZENICA. Maj. Freeman AFC.
10
28 Dec
107
MT on Road through BUSOVACA. Maj. Thresher
9
29 Dec
108
Railway bridge at ZENICA. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
8

20 operations, 147 sorties and a total of 452.40 hours were flown on operations during December.

 
 
     
JANUARY 1945
 
From an operational perspective, January was a very quiet month, with the squadron being stood down, due to bad weather, on 15 occasions during the month. Operational sorties were flown on only six days, and on two of these days, the bombers were unable to penetrate the 10/10 cloud and returned to base. This was the quietest period the squadron had known since departing South Africa. This period was however, utilised by the squadron mechanics and armourers to overhaul gun turrets and check equipment.

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
3 Jan
109
ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf, Italy Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
12
4 Jan
110
Enemy Garrison at OBSCINA, Yugoslavia. Maj. Freeman AFC.
10
15 Jan
111
(p) Railroad Bridge at ZENICA, (s) Coastal Defence Guns at LUSSIN PICCOLO. Maj. Thresher
11
16 Jan
112
ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf, Italy. Maj. Thresher
11
18 Jan
113
ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf, Italy. Capt. Benson
11
18 Jan
114
(p) Shipping in Coves between SENJ and JABLANAC, (s) Docks at SENJ, Yugoslavia. Maj. Freeman AFC.
7
26 Jan
115
(p) Railway Bridge at JASENOVAC, (s) Marshalling yards at NOVSKA, Yugoslavia. Maj. Freeman AFC.
12

7 operations, 74 sorties and a total of 190.00 hours were flown on operations during December. Also indicitave of the bad weather was the total tonnage of bombs dropped for the month, being only 65 tons.

" ... Due to the number of stand-downs during the month, flight armourers were able to concentrate their attention on overhauling turrets and testing out gun installations. All equipment was re-checked, and parts which were liable to give trouble in the near future were repaced wherever possible. Some difficulty was being experienced in the loading of the right hand gun of the tail turret - especially in the F model Marauder. It was discovered that the link and belt shoot is rather short, so that when the guns are moved to the left, the rounds entering the feedway of the gun jam at an angle against the feed pawl. By a long process the feed belt shoots have been stretched to their limit and butt tests prove that the fault has now been rectified. ..."

Marauders 618 and 552 arrived on the 13th, and with the arrival of 629 and 669, on the 19th January, the squadron strength was increased to 16 aircraft. A fire broke out on the 19th, whilst Marauder 603 was being drained of petrol. Luckily no damage was done to the aircraft. This mainly due to the promt action of Airman R.G. Gordon, though he himself sustained minor burns. The court of enquiry revealed that an un-insulated auxilliary power unit standing next to the aircraft, had sparked through the steel planking runway into the petrol drum, and ignited the fuel.

 
 
     
FEBRUARY 1945
 
The new month brought with it an improvement in the weather and operational sorties increased. Numerous aircraft were damaged by flak during the month. On the 5th, Marauder 574 was holed, and the minor damage was repaired by the squadron. A new co-pilot's window could however, not be obtained and the aircraft was issued off to 254 Wing for repairs, being replaced by Marauder 577. Four more aircraft were damaged by flak on the 21st in an attack against the Arsa Channel Coaling Wharf, and were all repaired at the squadron.

" ... Early in the month a useful tip from 3 Wing enabled us to finalise the installation of the oxygen equipment in the Marauders. As the tube adapters were not yet to hand, we were advised to use .50 cartridge cases in their place; this proved to be entirely satisfactory and all crew members have been using their oxygen equipment since. ..."

Eleven out of thirteen aircraft were holed by flak during a bombing operation against the Arsa Channel Coaling Wharf on the 25th February 1945. This also saw the squadron receive its first casualty due to enemy action, when 2Lt N. de Gruchy, a mid-upper turret gunner in Capt. Sidelsky's aircraft, was wounded by shrapnel in the right upper arm.Six of these aircraft were deemed unrepairable at the squadron, but the mechanics showed remarkable enthusiasm & tenacity in repairing three of them over a period of eleven days. In addition to repairing these three, the mechanics repaired the remaining five aircraft which had sustained minor damage. The three marauders which could not be repaired at the squadron were sent off to the Wing for repairs. These three aircraft were 552, 629 and 657. A single replacement for these was received in 712, leaving the squadron strength short by two aircraft.

However, on the 27th, Marauder 574 was returned to the squadron, and on the 28th, Marauder 439 was received, bringing the aircraft on squadron strength back up to 16.

An unusual accident occured on the 27th February when Marauder 650 suffered damage from a packet of pamphlets. These were dropped from one of the squadron aircraft above, and struck 650's starboard mainplane causing a tear in the leading edge and damaging the petrol vent.

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
1 Feb
116
Town of ZUZEMBERK. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
16
2 Feb
117
Town of ZUZEMBERK. Maj. Thresher
12
3 Feb
118
SISAK Marshalling Yards Maj. Freeman AFC.
13
5 Feb
119
JASENOVAC Railroad Bridge. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
12
7 Feb
120
SENJ Harbour Installations Maj. Thresher
13
8 Feb
121
(p) NOVSKA Marshalling Yards, (s) Village at BRINJE, Yugoslavia Maj. Freeman AFC.
11
9 Feb
122
SISAK Marshalling Yards Maj. Thresher
12
10 Feb
123
(p) ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf, (s) Coastal Defence Guns at LUSSIN PICCOLO. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
12
13 Feb
124
BIHAC Marshalling Yards, Yugoslavia Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
15 Feb
125
BANOVA JARUGA Marshalling Yards Maj. Thresher
12
15 Feb
126
Photo Recce. of KONJIC Marshalling Yards G/C Stapleton DFC. AFC.
1
16 Feb
127
NOVSKA Marshalling Yards Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
15
18 Feb
128
Landing craft & Small craft at KRALJEVICA Harbour. Lt. Baker
12
20 Feb
129
KRALJEVICA Harbour Shipping & Dock Installations. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
12
21 Feb
130
ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf. Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
22 Feb
131
KRALJEVICA Harbour Shipping & Dock Installations. Maj. Thresher
13
24 Feb
132
Marshalling Yards at BIHAC, BANOVA JARUGA and SUNJA. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
15
25 Feb
133
(p) ARSA Channel Coaling Wharf, (s) Shipping & harbour at JABLANAC. Maj. Freeman AFC.
13
26 Feb
134
BANOVA JARUGA Marshalling Yard. Maj. Thresher
8
26 Feb
135
South Railway Bridge at DOBOJ. Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
8
27 Feb
136
SISAK Marshalling Yards Lt.Col. Cormack DFC.
8

21 operations, 242 sorties, and a total of 675.15 hours were flown on operations during February. The total bombs dropped over target areas amounted to 381 tons. The total amount of sorties flown was the highest in 254 Wing for the month.

 
 
     
MARCH 1945
 
Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
1 Mar
137
Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island. Maj. Freeman AFC.
8
8 Mar
138
(p) Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island, (s) practice JABUKA Island Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
10 Mar
139
Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island. Maj. Thresher
11
11 Mar
140
Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island. Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
12 Mar
141
Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island. Maj. Thresher
12
11 Mar
142
Photo Recce and Bombing of HILL 828 Capt. Benson
1
13 Mar
143
Coastal Defense Guns at STROJAN POINT on RAB Island. Capt. Gerneke
13
14 Mar
144
Road Bridge at GOSPIC. Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
18 Mar
145
105mm Gun Positions on RAB Island. (WO555745) Maj. Thresher
10
19 Mar
146
Buildings and Strongpoints at BIHAC, roads leading to ZEGAR and KRIZ (WP472830) Capt. Gerneke
12
20 Mar
147
NOVAHAPELA Rail Station at BATRINA (SF865285) Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
21 Mar
148
Oil Installations at BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Thresher
12
22 Mar
149
Gun Positions at KRISTOFOR POINT on RAB Island Capt. Gerneke
13
23 Mar
150
Marshalling Yards at SUNJA Maj. Freeman AFC.
12
24 Mar
151
Railway Lines between POPOVACA - BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Thresher
12
25 Mar
152
OKUCANI Rail Station. Capt. Gerneke
12
26 Mar
153
Marshalling Yards at SUNJA Maj. Freeman AFC.
12

17 operations, 189 sorties and a total of 525.40 hours were flown on operations during March. The total of bombs dropped over the target area amounted to 278 tons.

 
 
     
APRIL 1945
 
The squadron lost it's first Marauder, HD669 "X", on the 1st April during operation no.154. Tasked to bomb the marshalling yards at OKUCANCI, 12 Marauders in 2 boxes of 6 aircraft, were airborne from Biferno at 11:00. The 1st box was led by Maj. Thresher, with Lt. Baker leading the 2nd box. Before reaching the target, the no.4 aircraft, "X", in Lt. Baker's box, had engine trouble with the port engine smoking. The aicraft turned and set course for Zara in Yugoslavia. The city was abandoned by the German army in October 1944, and then seized and now controlled by the partisans,. The no.6 aircraft, "J" was detailed as an escort to the stricken "X". Both the aircraft jettisoned their bombs and continued for Zara. After the port engine caught fire and the crew were unable to extinguish the fire, the seven crew bailed out. Still 75km from Zara, they bailed out at 12:01, with the aircraft descending from 6500 ft to 3000 ft. HD669 spiralled towards the sea and exploded at an altitude of 500 ft. The crew were rescued and safely returned to the squadron. Crew of HD669: Lt. J.D. Phillips (Pilot), Lt. L.O. Tseubes (observer), D.A. Chaplin (second pilot), A. Axelrod (spare gunner), F/Sgt. T. Murray RAF (Wireless operator), Sgt. K.. Brookes RAF (gunner), Sgt. J. Hale RAF (gunner).

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
1 Apr
154
Marshalling Yards at OKUCANI . Maj. Thresher
12
2 Apr
155
Marshalling Yards at POPOVACA Capt. Gerneke
12
3 Apr
156
Marshallinh Yards at BANOVA JARUGA Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12
3 Apr
157
Road Bridge at OTOKA. Maj. Thresher
6
3 Apr
158
Road Bridge at OTOKA. Maj. Cummings
1
5 Apr
159
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Gerneke
12
5 Apr
160
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
6
8 Apr
161
Coastal Defense Guns at KRISTOFOR POINT on RAB ISL:AND. Maj. Thresher
12
9 Apr
162
Marshalling Yards at ST. PETROVO SELO. Maj. Gerneke
10
10 Apr
163
Marshalling Yards at ZENICA. Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12
10 Apr
164
Coastal Defense Gun Positions at LUSSINO PICCOLO. F/O Leadbetter
6
11 Apr
165
Railway Line West of ST. PETROVO SELO, between SF758319 and SF808307. Maj. Gerneke
12
11 Apr
166
Railway Line West of ST. PETROVO SELO, between SF758319 and SF808307. Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12
12 Apr
167
Marshalling Yards at OKUCANI. (NOVA GRADISCA attacked in eror) Lt Van Rooyen
9
12 Apr
168
Marshalling Yards at OKUCANI. Maj. Gerneke
10
14 Apr
169
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Thresher
12
16 Apr
170
Cut Railway Line NOVSKA-BROD ( SF753320) Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12
16 Apr
171
Two Coastal Defence Guns on KRK ISLAND. (RJ445033) Maj. Gerneke
12
17 Apr
172
Cut Railway Line NOVSKA-BROD ( SF753320) Maj. Thresher
10
17 Apr
173
Cut Railway Line NOVSKA-BROD (SF719330) Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
10
18 Apr
174
Cut Railway Line NOVSKA-BROD (SF601348) Lt. Baker
10
18 Apr
175
Cut Railway Line NOVSKA-BROD (SF601348) Maj. Gerneke
10
19 Apr
176
Gun Battery LUSSINO ISLAND (WO314528) Maj. Thresher
12
20 Apr
177
Gun Positions on CHERSO ISLAND (RJ255170) Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
10
20 Apr
178
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. F/Lt. Leadbetter
6
20 Apr
179
Marshalling Yards at POPOVACA Lt. Baker
4
21 Apr
180
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Gerneke
10
23 Apr
181
Marshalling Yards at BANOVA JARUGA. Maj. Thresher
10
24 Apr
182
Marshalling Yards at POPOVACA Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12
24 Apr
183
Midget Submarine HQ.at PORTO DI BRIONI Lt. Baker
6
25 Apr
184
Harbour and Installations at PARENZO Maj. Gerneke
11
26 Apr
185
Marshalling Yards at POPOVACA. Maj. Thresher
12

32 operations, 313 sorties and a total of 960.15 hours were flown on operations during April. The total of bombs dropped over the target area amounted to 508 tons.

 
 
     
MAY 1945
 
The squadron's last operational raid was a tragic one, with the loss of their first aicraft due to enemy action..

Date:
Ops N°:
Target:
Formation Leader:
Aircraft:
4 May
Interdiction of the Railroad line between DUGO SELO - POPOVACA (RK840870) Lt. Col Bosch AFC.
12

1 operation, 12 sorties and a total of 39.10 were flown on operations during May. The total of bombs dropped over the target area amounted to ???.

 
 
     
  B-26G "Marauder III", P, HD667, N° 25 Sqdn, Biferno, Italy, May 1945.
The "Last Marauder" ...
 
 
     
JUNE/JULY 1945
 
The last of the squadron's Marauder III's to be lost, was HD627, which crashed on the 24th June. The aircraft had been on communications work, when she crashed on take-off from Athens in Greece. The cause of the accident was never ascertained, but it was speculated that one of the engines failed, as one propellor was found to be partly feathered. Also eye-witnesses reported that one of the engines had cut. All eleven occupants perished in the crash. Six were 25 squadron aircrew, two were squadron ground staff, and three were passengers. The eight 25 squadron personel were: Capt. D.C. Greeff (205418V), Lt. J.B. Lockwood (47229V), Lt. O.C. Meiklejohn (581361V), Lt. E.C. Martin (207202V), Lt. E.H. Wells (243153V), Lt. J. Sutherland (206417V), Air Mechanic W.D. Morice (208355V), Air Mechanic M.M. Pretorius (313600V).

All Marauders were flown off squadron strength shortly after at the end of June.

Extract from the 25 Squadron War Diary for June/July 1945. "... The aircraft were flown off at the end of June, and to many of the ground staff, their departure was like the loss of an old friend. It seemed that a bit of additional attention was given to each aircraft, as no trouble at all was experienced in the ferrying to Brindidi. With the aircraft gone, the aerodrome was abandoned as far as we were concerned and the fellows tackled a variety of jobs, from driving convoys to pulling down tents ...."