Field Post


'Britain at War' Magazine, PO Box 100, Stamford, Lincolnshire, PE9 1XQ |



Parachute pioneers

I enjoyed the feature on the Bruneval Raid, which also highlighted the pioneering work of the Whitley crews of No.51 Squadron, RAF – 2 Para’s ad hoc transports.

As part of 4 Group, Bomber Command, the squadron had suffered against the Luftwaffe’s improvements to its night defences through 1941, losing five aircraft against Essen in mid-January, for example.

With its range, relatively spacious fuselage and ventral exit hatch, the Whitley was used to train the first British parachute troops. In early 1941, several 51 Squadron crews began training for the first British airborne attack – Operation Colossus. The paratroops were flown out to Malta from where on February 10 they were dropped over southern Italy to destroy the aqueduct at Tragino.

In spite of many difficulties, the air drop was accomplished, for which 51’s crews received three DFCs and three DFMs while Squadron Leader Willie Tait received the DSO – the first such award for the unit. The squadron then returned to more normal activities, including attacks on the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in Brest during April. Raids on German cities continued through the year and later one of the RAF’s great characters, Wg Cdr ‘Percy’ Pickard, became CO.

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