39 Squadron Marauder History 1944-45
No. 39 Squadron, Royal Air Force, operating as part of Balkan Air Force in support of Marshal Tito's Partisan Army in Yugoslavia was the last unit to convert to the Marauder.
A Command decision in the Autumn of 1944, to make the change from low-level rocket-firing attacks using the Beaufighter, to medium-level bombing, using the Marauder, was made.
Crews began training at No. 70 Operational Training Unit, Shandur, in Egypt's Canal Zone, during August and September, and the first crews arrived on the Squadron at Biferno, S.Italy, in November. Aircraft started to arrive in December, some delivered by ferry crews and some
collected by Squadron crews, and by mid--January, sixteen aircraft were in position and a final training programme was in progress. Further crews continued to arrive, including some
containing Beaufighter pilots who had elected to stay with the Squadron in its new role.
On February 7 1945 the first medium level mission was flown, when the harbour installations at Senj, Yugoslavia were attacked by twelve Squadron aircraft. Between then and May 4th., when the last mission was flown (this was, I believe, the last Marauder mission flown anywhere), a total of 63 missions were flown without loss, although many aircraft were so seriously damaged they never flew again.
Opposition was confined to Flak, that was often intense and highly accurate, and remained
dangerous to the very end, evidenced by our sister squadron, No. 25, SAAF, losing an aircraft on the same May 4th. mission.
39 was part of No. 254 Wing, which consisted of four Martin bomber squadrons, two Marauder mediums and two Baltimore (A-30) lights, of the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force. Note. the Italian units were called Co-Belligerents, because they had been allies of Germany until the
Italian surrender in 1943. Missions were mostly flown as individual squadrons, but occasionally the whole Wing was tasked to attack the same target at the same time, with the four squadrons in trail formation.
Squadron missions were flown either as two box formations of six aircraft each, or as three box formations of four aircraft each. On one occasion only, a full squadron layout of twelve aircraft was employed, and on another, the Squadron flew to the target area in two boxes of six, before being let loose to attack singly in line astern, with each bombardier selecting his own target.
Crews consisted of Pilot, Bombardier/2nd. Pilot, Navigator, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner
(who manned the waist guns over the target), Mid-Upper Gunner and Tail Gunner. This was slightly varied in the four SAAF crews on the Squadron, who employed two Pilots, a Navigator/Bombardier together with the normal WOP/AG and two A G's. One RAF crew also had the same composition. Crew members came from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Britain.
In the ground echelon, the backbone was drawn from the Beaufighter personnel, but because of the complexity of the Marauder, personnel were posted in from other units. The servicing and support numbers were almost 100 Per cent more than for the Beaufighter.
All missions were flown from the Biferno base. It's single runway consisted of 2000 yards of steel mat, laid on sandbags directly onto the sandy beach alongside the Adriatic Sea. Take-off s and landings were always to the north, with water ahead, water to the right (within 20 yards), and a swampy area to the left, through which the dispersal's and taxiways were laid, also on steel mat.
Crew experience ranged from those with one or more combat tours behind them, to those, the majority, who had come straight from the flight schools and who had arrived on the Squadron with around 50 hours on the Marauder as their only modern multi-engined experience. Many of the young pilots had less than 250 hours total flight time. The aircraft was universally liked by the crews, while at the same time being respected, knowing that the” lady” required that of those that flew her.
Because German fighters had been pretty well swept from the skies over Yugoslavia by early 1945, it was decided to remove the four side package guns, and most aircraft also had their single nose gun removed. It was never plain why this was done, but was a cause of considerable regret when the one single line astern mission gave the crews the option, after the bombing was completed, of going down to deck level to strafe targets of opportunity, sadly limited then to the mid-upper and tail guns.
Aircraft serviceability was excellent, particularly after the first few missions were over and the shake—down period completed.
Drop heights were from 6000 ft. to 12000 ft. with one exception the attack in April on the naval barracks and midget submarine installations at Porto Brioni in N.Italy, which had to be flown at 16,600 ft. By then all oxygen equipment had been removed from the aircraft!
Bomb loads were usually standard at 4000 lbs. (six x 500’s and 4 x 250 Ibs) ,on a number of occasions special delayed action bombs were carried, and on others anti—personnel ordnance (s) designed for above ground bursts were carried.
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