“The ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future.“
In the 37 days between 1 May and 6 June 1944 the RAF’s No.140 Squadron flew at total of 143 operational sorties over France in an effort to provide badly needed foresight to the Allied Supreme Command on what would happen on Invasion Day, and soon thereafter. No.140 Squadron was one of the many Photo Reconnaissance squadrons, RAF as well as USAAF all tasked similarly.
Their collective targets were many and varied; some units focused on the beaches and immediate inland areas of the invasion sites while others ranged deeper into France photographing targets such as transport infrastructure, inland terrain mapping and enemy depots and airfields. The latter group, while not as obviously critical perhaps, was vital in ensuring that the forces on the beachheads weren’t trapped there. Knowing the terrain the breakout would need to traverse, and the infrastructure the enemy would need to rush reinforcements to the battle was vital in this regard. It was at this class of target, or “job” as each sortie was known, that the crews of No.140’s Mosquitos applied their craft, often at night.
Almost exactly a year earlier, in June 1943 No.140 Squadron had, along with Nos.16 and 69 Squadrons formed the newly created Number 34 Wing of the 2nd Tactical Airforce under the command of SHAEF as part of the operational reorganisation in preparation for the invasion of France the following year. In grossly oversimplified terms, this meant that while the RAF’s Fighter Wing PR Squadrons continued to take photos of what the RAF (usually Bomber Command) wanted to see, the 2TAF 34 Wing PR squadrons took photos of what the Army wanted to see.
That same year in November the squadron reequipped with DeHavilland Mosquito PR.XI’s and soon after by PR.XVI’s as well. Although they retained some of their Spitfires, and in fact the last few sorties flown by them as late as August 1944, the Mosquito was their aircraft of choice and remained so until the end of the war.
Through the spring of 1944 the Squadron visited Normandy on multiple occasions. Flying at high altitude and shooting on the largest camera the photos were essentially mapping rather than intelligence in purpose. An example of the work undertaken are below; these were taken on a 36″ camera photos at 32,000ft taken on 10th April by F/O E. Parry and Sgt. H. Ashby in a PR.XVI MM301;
The pace of operations continued through April and into May in the build up to the invasion. The map below shows the breadth of targets No.140 aircraft covered between 1st May and 6th June. From railways and topography at Nantes and Chateaudun to beaches in Brittany and airfields around Paris. There’s clearly a pattern of the targets; while the Spitfires of No.16 Squadron were taking beachhead photos No.140 were taking photographs of the next phase of the campaign, the breakout for the beachheads.
They flew at all times of the night and day through May and into early June. Many of the operations were dawn and an equal number dusk; fifteen were at night, particularly in June and to targets were flak had been reported and/or was expected.
Night time airborne photo reconnaissance is a somewhat counter-intuitive concept. How can an aircraft, at some altitude photograph the ground, at night, while travelling at some hundreds of knots? With a Flashbomb.
Looking very much like regular bombs, the flashbombs were loaded in the Mosquito’s bomb bay and released in batches to explode with hundreds of millions of candlepower illumination, indeed powerful enough that the photoelectric triggers of the aircraft’s cameras would fire for synchronised camera operation.
Their use was not without risk, indeed on September 22, 1944 PR.XVI MM312 (the aircraft modelled, below) was almost brought down by a prematurely exploding flashbomb. The damage sustained by MM312 included the bomb bay and its doors, the port flaps were blown off, damage to the engine nacelle, the hydraulic system, and the fuselage structure. In a remarkable feat of airmanship its pilot, Flying Officer H.S. Flight was able to bring the stricken aircraft back to its base in Belgium and landed safely. The aircraft was so badly damaged however that it was struck off charge as unrepairable.
Whether the operation was in daylight or at night there was always potential for incident. Reliability issues with the aircraft were fairly commonplace; supercharger failure, fuel pump failures, oxygen system failures, camera trigger system failures, camera failures, and even total engine failures.
There were other incidents which prevented completion of their jobs. On 10th May F/O Anderson and F/Sgt. Warren abandoned their sortie…
…before reaching target due to being followed by an unidentified aircraft which did not attack.No.140 Squadron Record of Operations, May 1944
…presumably abandoning to prevent giving away their target. Several ops were aborted for reasons such as that on the 24th of May by F/O Douglas and F/Sgt. Richards…
…after encountering large formations of U.S. heavy bomber and escorting fighters.No.140 Squadron Record of Operations, May 1944
They weren’t the only crews to encounter USAAF activity in the same area, the next day the same thing happened to F/O Ardley and Sgt. McLaren on their trip to Roubaix and Dinan.
There were even more bizarre situations encountered – and overcome – on ops; F/L Shearman and F/O Bird got the required photos of Bassin in Normandy despite being…
…intercepted over Cherbourg by two Spitfires Mk.XIV which later identified the Mosquito before opening fireNo.140 Squadron Record of Operations, May 1944
…there’s a couple of ways to read that! it seems likely the author means the Spitfires identified that their potential target was a Mosquito and didn’t open fire.
The enemy, of course, was also determined that the ops were not successful. When encountering enemy aircraft the PR Mosquito’s only defence was its speed, and very effective it was too. On May 8th for example F/Lt. Shearman and F/Lt. Riley were intercepted by two Me 109’s…
…but [they] were left behind when throttles were opened up.No.140 Squadron Record of Operations, May 1944
Flak posed a much greater risk. Several aircraft returned to base at Northolt damaged by flak, most relatively minor. The closer to D-Day however, the more the flak seemed to find them, culminating on 6th June, D-Day itself when F/O Grotty and F/Sgt. Duckworth’s PR.XVI MM301 was hit…
…by light flak over Amiens. Tailplanes holed, hydraulic pipes and petrol tanks pierced, but pilot landed without damaging aircraft further.No.140 Squadron Record of Operations, June1944
One suspects that the intelligence officer may have had a sense of humour based on some of his phrasing…
While May had seen no casualties, June wasn’t to be so fortunate. At 10.15 on 5th June 26 year old F/O Jesse Reynolds and F/Sgt. Frank Baker left Northolt in a Mosquito PR.IX MM250 on sortie to Nogent and LeMans in south central France. They did not return (both are commemorated at the Bauge Communal Cemetery in France) and are assumed to have been shot down by flak. Just the next day, 6th June 32 year old F/O Frank G. Rudduck and 22 year old F/Sgt. Henry C. Dent left Northolt at 06.50 in PR.XVI MM279 on a sortie to Montdidier and Bambrai north of Paris and did not return (both buried at the Cadzand General Cemetery in Belgium), again, most likely brought down by flak. Both aircraft losses noted with the sadly simple notation;
Aircraft failed to return. Crew presumed missing. No Information AvailableNo. 140 Squadron record of operations, June 1944
The pace of operations continued through June and July with the squadron flying around 600 sorties in the period June through August 1944. Of these, about a quarter were night-time operations. To put that number in perspective, in the remaining nine months of the war they flew approximately 700 more sorties. Interestingly, more than half of these were night-time sorties. In September the Squadron moved the continent; first to Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) A-12, Balleroy in France and thence to B-48, Amiens-Glisy, also France, before settling at B-58, Melsbroek (Brussels), Belgium until their final move in April 1945 to Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
In addition to the four men lost on 5th/6th June, the Squadron lost another thirteen aircrew killed in action during the remaining months of the war. The Squadron’s overall attrition rate at war’s end was a little over 11%.
Reading though the Records of Operations for the remainder of June, into July and then August is to read a list of the upcoming battles as the Allies broke out from the Beacheads, the approaches to Caen, Falaise, and the approaches to Paris. While the single engine PR squadrons of the 2TAF photographed the current battles and their immediate surrounds the Mosquitos of 140 Squadron ranged ahead to where the next battles were going to take place. In September the Squadron moved to France, and then soon after to Belgium. Towards the end of the war in April 1945 their mission changed to one of visual reconnaissance of shipping off the the coast of Norway and Denmark.
The foresight they and the other PR pilots provided to the planners of the upcoming battles was a critical contribution to Normandy, the advance through France, Operation Market Garden, and the campaign into the Netherlands where their war took took them, and they remained until its conclusion.
The cost was steep; thirteen more of No. 140 Squadron’s aircrew were to lose their lives through the remainder of the war. In doing so though, they helped provide a part of the foresight that saved countless lives in the war’s remaining battles and was a crucial contribution to final victory in 1945. Just as for the solo Spitfire pilots described in the piece elsewhere on this site titled Alone, Above All, the loss of these squadron mates going unwitnessed and unexplained must have been hard to take, but the work was important and the results crucial, and I suspect that was enough to keep them going.
Airfix 1/48 Scale DeHavilland Mosquito PR.XVI
An unusual kit, this one. Airfix took their venerable 1970’s Mosquito FB.VI kit, threw in a new fuselage, upper wing, engine nacelles, and so other bits and pieces and voila! a PR.XVI. The finished kit then becomes a hybrid of new tool/old tool and raised panelling/recessed panel lines. The chit chat on the interwebs is such that the fit is iffy, the panel lines on the new wings are trenches; why didn’t Airfix simply finish what they started and make a whole new kit? I dunno, but I wanted a late-mark PR Mossie and this was what I got.
Unsurprisingly, the build begins with the cockpit. Equally unsurprisingly, I did far more than I intended to do with it. Cockpits aren’t my favourite thing to do, but once I get into them I tend to enjoy it and go further than – in this case, because of the Mosquito’s closed canopy – is sensible. Nonetheless, a couple of new techniques were tried and both were successful. There is no decal for the instruments so I simply painted the panel black and then scribed through the paint with a sewing needle to represent the insrument dials. Add a bit of clear gloss for glass and it looks pretty good I reckon. Secondly, I used the peel-off thin foil lids to my contact lens packaging for the seatbelts. I put a piece of Tamiya tape on the foil to give it a little texture and then simply cut and glued them on. A little detailing with black and silver paint and they’re done.
Next comes the main assembly and this was, as promised, a little fraught. I’m actually getting better – more patient – with assembly and by taking my time and having a higher threshold of satisfaction with the dry fit, I was able to make a pretty good assembly.
I did have to use spreaders for the nacelles, shims for the wings, filler for the fuselage, and lots of filing. The biggest miss for Airfix was the port engine nacelle which was considerably undersized and required filling with Tamiya Putty and sculpting in order to match the propellor’s radius. But, I think I achieved a good enough fit that I don’t have to attach the wings prior to painting.
Next came masking which, again, I see as a chore especially sans pre-cut masks, but which turns into a mindfulness exercise and was accomplished without much drama.
I put a bit of effort into the canopy by masking and painting the interior framework British interior green, and also some effort to the wing tip nav lights which always give me a headache if I leave them for later in the process, after painting.
I wanted to depict this model with full D-Day stripes so I started with those. Of course, in my haste I forgot to take in-progress pics of painting the stripes, but here you can see that I didn’t do it any differently from the norm; white first, then mask the white stripes and apply the black.
With the stripes painted and masked, I turned to the PRU Blue and again went with my new favourite paint, Hataka which had worked so well for me on my recent Lancaster build, G-for George. I was a bit disappointed though, his time. Perhaps I go t a bad one, perhaps it’s just the colour itself, but the coverage was terrible and it took six or seven coats to achieve the finish I was aiming for. The progression is below, and bear in mind that each frame is two or three more coats…
To make things worse, you can just see in the photos that the paint orange-peeled a little which often causes problems with the decals. Nonetheless less, I persevered and after a couple of painting sessions I had the entire airframe painted.
The only variation to the standard PRU Blue were the drop tanks. These were swapped of and on different aircraft and while the IWM pic above shows that aircraft’s painted black, I felt it was more likely that on D-Day, and with the order to paint the stripes only coming from Command on the 4th, that there was a fairly strong chance that the tanks would still be in their PRU-Blue. I masked and painted mine with Vallejo’s Faded PRU Blue.
I an effort to reduce the orange-peel on the wings I polished the finish with some paper towel and was able to knock it down somewhat. With that done, I applied a clear coat in preparations for the decals.
Decalling went reasonably well. I did have some silvering to deal with due to the orange-peel on the wings, but otherwise no issues. The red do-not-walk markings over the radiators were the most difficult to settle down, and I had to go over them several times with a pin or blade to eliminate some silvering issues.
At this point I made another educated guess on the appearance of the serial number. The images of the No.544 Mosquito show the serial number carefully painted over the D-Day stripe which, given the time to do so would have been quite easy to achieve. I don’t think that time was available on 4th June though. I decided therefore to paint over the D-Day stripe with PRU Blue and represent the serial number as if it had been painted around rather than painted over and replaced.
MM312, the Mosquito PR.XVI with is the subject of this piece, was delivered to No.140 Squadron in early May 1944 and flew its first sortie (to Vernieul and Bernay in France) on the 4th. Through May it flew no more sorties, and in fact did not fly on operations again until the 5th June, and flew another operation on the 6th, D-Day. During this period it would have flown several more times on testing and non-operational flights but it’s fair to say that MM312 was not a well used aircraft in the early hours of 7th June when it returned form its D-Day operation and the moment at which I modelled it.
The paint and overall condition of the airframe would therefore be in very good shape, not much different to factory fresh. However, two sorties in 24 hours would have left exhaust staining, and some grime would have accumulated on the airframe in any event just from being in the squadron environment and its various flights. There would also have been some scuffing or at least foot printing from when the D-Day stripes were applied. My plan therefore was to produce a fairly pristine aircraft with some grime and a representation of the exhaust staining, albeit somewhat more restrained as that seen above on the No.544 Squadron Mosquito.
As usual, I applied a dark wash to emphasise commonly used panel covers and control surfaces, as well as to pop out the details in the undercarriage. I did very little else except for some pastel work on the main wheels before working on the exhaust staining. I used the airbrush, first applying the darker colour – very dark grey – and then a mix of Buff and Light Grey for the lighter colour. I pulled the staining back to around 75% of the wing chord, and tried to fade it consistently. I also applied a little to the tail. The results are below, perhaps a little over-done but by the same token a representation of the work done not only by this aircraft, but the squadron as a whole.
The fuselage received the same level of treatment before the final application of the first clear flat coat and the subsequent coming together of the wings with the fuselage. A note on the final clear flat coat; it’s actually a gloss-flat coat. I like to add a bit of clear gloss to the last coat as it seems to smooth out the surface and create a more realistic surface finish than a perfectly flat one. It’s a subtle thing, and might only be to my eye, but I like to do it nonetheless.
Final assembly was not more complicated than gluing the wings on, a little tidying up of the seam around the radiators and a final clear flat coat and pastel application. Below, the progression (if you can make it out in these exceptionally bad photos) of the wing root seam clean-up.
With that done, I removed the masking form the canopy and nose, then glued the antenna post and used stretched sprue for the antenna wire.
References and Credits
- National Cold War Exhibition – No. 140 Squadron History
- Shawbits; a personal site with a large family connection to 140 Squadron
- The UK National Archives
- The National Collection of Aerial Photographs
- The Collection of the Imperial War Museum
- Wikipedia De Havilland Mosquito
- Aviation Safety Database
- Petapxel’s article of Photoflash and its use
- Database website listing DH Mosquito production numbers
This article, its text, and photos of the model(s) is my original work and is protected by copyright in its entirety, except where noted. All research sources are listed above in the References and Credits section above, including photos from official sources. All other images were sourced from the internet and are used here under protection of fair-use. Any copyrighted images will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its rightful owner.