48 Squadron was formed at Netheravon on the 15th April 1916; the first unit of the then Royal Flying Corps to be equipped with the Bristol B.F.2 aircraft. Posted to France on the 8th March 1917, the Squadron accounted for three hundred and seventeen kills during the First World War, and possessed no fewer than thirty-two aces. Topping this list, with twenty confirmed kills, was the Squadron's New Zealand-born commander, Keith Park; who, during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War, commanded 11 Group of Fighter Command, upon whom the full weight of the Luftwaffe's offensive was directed. After the Armistice was declared in November 1918, 48 Squadron was posted to India, and on the 1st April 1920 it was renamed 5 Squadron.
48 Squadron was reformed on the 29th November 1935. A month later it was transferred to RAF Manston where it contributed to the formation of the School of Air Navigation; the Squadron's strength at this time became somewhat excessive with eighty aircraft under its command. In September 1938, with the prospect of another war with Germany on the horizon, 48 Squadron was moved to Eastchurch where its crews and their Anson aircraft were converted to the general reconnaissance role. Only a matter of days before war was finally declared a year later, the Squadron relocated to Thorney Island, where were involved in coastal patrols for enemy shipping and submarines. In May 1940, with the withdrawal from Dunkirk well underway, the Squadron's aircraft patrolled the area in an effort to dissuade German E-Boats, very fast torpedo launchers, from attacking British shipping involved in the evacuation.
During the following years, 48 Squadron operated from various bases in an anti-submarine capacity. In July 1940 they were based at Hooten Park, Cheshire, a year later were moved to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides, then on to Skitten in Caithness, and finally to Wick on the 1st January 1942. It was here that their ageing Anson aircraft were replaced by the more capable Hudsons. With twenty-four of these divided between "A" and "B" Flights, 48 Squadron continued to watch the North Sea for submarines, but they were also assigned other duties, including reconnaissance, convoy escort and attacks on enemy surface shipping. Their field of operations extended as far as the Norwegian coast, however these sorties were only carried out at night due to the risk of interception by German fighters, for which they were no match. The first months at Wick proved to be a costly affair with nine aircraft lost, mostly as a result of heavy landings due to poor weather conditions. Indeed, snowfalls were so heavy at this time that the crews no longer bothered to clear it from the runway, but instead ran a steam-roller over the snow and marked the centre line of the runway with soot.
Between January and March 1942, 48 Squadron suffered heavily with the loss of twenty crews, however their luck improved with the warmer weather of Spring. On the 24th April, a two-thousand ton enemy ship was attacked and set on fire, and three days later the Squadron achieved similar success when they bombed an oil depot. Several aircraft were lost during May when their Hudsons attacked a formation of Ju-88 bombers, but at sea their good fortune continued. On the 17th May they participated in a fifty-four aircraft attack upon enemy shipping, included amongst which was the heavy cruiser "Prinz Eugen", to the south-west of Norway, on the 23rd a U-Boat was attacked and damaged, and on the 13th June the Squadron registered attacks upon no fewer than four U-Boats, one of which was damaged.
During July, the Squadron took part in an extensive reconnaissance programme along the Norwegian coast in an effort to locate German warships anchored in the fjords, and so provide an early warning system for the PQ-17 convoy which was heading for Murmansk via the extremely dangerous Arctic route; this ill-fated convoy, lost the vast majority of its thirty-six merchant ships. The 15th July was a sad day for 48 Squadron due to the loss of one of its most experienced pilots; Flight Lieutenant Jim Pedersen, and his crew of Sergeants Drogue, Langoulant, and Willis.
In December 1942, 48 Squadron was moved to Gibraltar and continued its anti-submarine role over the Mediterranean. On the 28th March 1943, one of the Squadron's Hudsons sighted U-77 and inflicted some damage upon it. This aircraft called for assistance from a nearby Hudson of 233 Squadron, and its attack destroyed the submarine. Both squadrons were awarded the kill.
In February 1944, 48 Squadron returned to England and was transferred to Transport Command. Exchanging its Hudsons for Dakotas, the Squadron became a part of 46 Group and proceeded to train intensively in the art of transporting and supplying the Airborne Forces. On the 6th June, the Squadron was involved in both lifts of the 6th Airborne Division to their drop zones in France. On the first lift their aircraft carried five hundred and seventeen paratroopers into action, and on the second they towed twenty-two Horsa gliders to their landing zones. In addition to this, the first lift aircraft each carried twelve 20lb bombs, which were used on targets in the vicinity of the landings, intended to disguise the transport aircraft as bombers carrying out a routine sortie.
Throughout the Normandy battle, 46 Group ran a daily shuttle service between England and France, its aircraft flying in cargo and passengers to temporary air strips, and evacuating casualties on the return trip. This proved to be a most valuable service as not only did it play a useful role in supporting the offensive in Normandy, but it was also responsible for saving many lives that would have been lost had they not been speedily withdrawn to British hospitals where they could receive proper treatment. In June alone, 48 and 271 Squadrons between them had evacuated eight hundred and sixty-nine casualties from France.
From the 17th to the 24th September 1944, 48 Squadron were fully engaged in supporting the 1st Airborne Division during the Battle of Arnhem and, due to the perilous resupply sorties, its aircraft suffered the heaviest losses of the Group, with seven aircraft shot down and the lives lost of sixteen aircrew and nine RASC despatchers.
Following Arnhem, the Squadron replaced its losses and resumed the shuttle service to the front line. This continued without respite until the 24th March 1945, when twelve of its aircraft were used to tow Horsa gliders of the 6th Airborne Division to their landing zones around Hamminkeln, the second and ultimately successful attempt by the Allies to secure a crossing over the River Rhine.
In anticipation of supporting an airborne assault in Burma, and potentially against the Japanese mainland, 48 Squadron were posted to India in August 1945. However within days of this move the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and their surrender soon followed. The Squadron was disbanded on the 16th January 1946, although it was reborn in name just a month later when 215 Squadron was renumbered accordingly. Until the 3rd March 1967, when it was disbanded, this unit fulfilled a variety of transport duties in Malaya with Dakota, Valetta and Hastings aircraft. On the 1st October of that same year, however, the Squadron was again reformed, at Singapore with Hercules aircraft, and it operated here until its return to the British Isles in September 1971, where it was finally disbanded on the 7th January 1976.
Commanders of 48 Squadron
Wing Commander M. Hallam