512 Squadron was formed at Hendon on the 18th June 1943, part of Transport Command's 44 Group. Amongst routine internal flights, its first duties included the movement of freight and passengers to Gibraltar, and then to Maison Blache, near Algiers. Later these flights were widened to include internal flights in North Africa, and long-haul journeys to Bombay, India. On the 6th October, the Squadron suffered its first fatalities when Flying Officer Robertson's Dakota struck barrage balloon cables over London, killing all nine people aboard. More losses followed in December, one aircraft crashed on take-off, and another was forced to ditch on Spain; who were a neutral power in the war and so the crew was interned.


On the 1st February 1944, a number of Dakotas and their crews were removed from 512 Squadron to form the basis of 575 Squadron, and later in that month both of these units were assigned to the newly formed 46 Group, created for the purpose of deploying and supplying airborne troops. They left Hendon for Broadwell, and during this move some of the ground crews travelled to their new home inside Horsa gliders towed by the Squadron's Dakotas. Over the following months, 512 Squadron trained intensively in preparation for the invasion of Normandy, in particular they concentrated on formation flying and navigation over long distances, by day and night. Until the end of May, they participated in numerous large-scale exercises alongside various units of the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions. "Exercise Muen" on the 21st April was a typical example; nineteen of the 512 Squadron's Dakotas dropped two hundred and forty-eight paratroopers at dawn, and within the hour eighteen of these aircraft had returned with gliders.


512 Squadron flew its first operational sortie during the night of the 24/25th April 1944, when their Dakotas flew over France to St. Lo and Vire to drop leaflets; a useful way of allowing air crews to gain experience. Throughout May, training with Airborne Forces intensified, and by the end of the month the Squadron was ready to play its part in the imminent invasion.




On the 5th June 1944, all thirty-three of their Dakotas were deployed in tandem with 575 Squadron, carrying paratroopers of the 9th Parachute Battalion, who were tasked with the destruction of the Merville Battery. Due to low cloud and navigational difficulties, all units of the 6th Airborne Division were scattered during the drop, but the problem was acute for the 9th Battalion, mainly because the pathfinders who were to illuminate their zone were dropped too far from it to be able to set up their beacons. Consequently only a quarter of the battalion landed on target. All of 512 Squadron returned safely to base, though they had little time to rest as they returned to Normandy during the evening of D-Day, towing eighteen Horsa gliders. Some losses were sustained on this mission, Operation Mallard; one aircraft was damaged by flak and another was forced to ditch on the return flight. Five more Dakotas took part in a resupply flight that night, one of which was shot down. Another was lost during a resupply flight on the 7th June, but not through enemy action, rather a tragic case of misidentification on behalf of friendly naval forces below. As the month progressed, the Squadron was called to participate in further resupply missions, but no more losses were suffered.


On the 17th June, 512 Squadron flew the ground crews of 124 Wing to the B6 Coulombes airstrip in France, and on the return flight evacuated one hundred and thirty-eight wounded men so that they could receive proper hospital treatment in Britain. For 46 Group this duty, of flying men and equipment into Normandy and removing the wounded to England, became a daily routine henceforth. These valuable flights continued without respite for several months, but it came at a cost, when, on the 12th August, a Dakota was lost when it crashed upon landing at Amblie. By this time the front line was far from Normandy, and so the Squadron received several Ansons to use in this short-range transport role, thereby allowing the Dakota element to concentrate on maintaining a pace with the rapidly advancing armies.




This daily shuttle service was temporarily halted in September when it became clear that an important airborne operation was imminent. On the 17th September, 512 Squadron towed twenty-two Horsa gliders to Arnhem, all carrying men and equipment of the 1st Border. Several of these were forced to cast-off prematurely, however all of the aircraft returned safely to base. The Second Lift took place on the following day, and the increased level of opposition it faced gave an indication of what was to come; the Squadron towed twenty-four Horsas on this lift, one aircraft was shot down and a further nine were damaged by flak.


Fourteen aircraft participated in the resupply drop on Tuesday 19th September without suffering any losses, but two were shot down on the following day. In an attempt to reduce the flying time to Arnhem and so improve the efficiency of the resupply effort, 575 Squadron were ordered to occupy a forward base in Belgium on Saturday 23rd September, and 512 Squadron helped to ferry in their ground crews. Operation Market Garden came to an end two days later, having cost the Squadron three aircraft lost and a considerable number damaged, yet the human cost was remarkably light and just two of their men had been killed.


Thereafter, 512 Squadron resumed its shuttle service to the front line and found that its services were in considerable demand; during October alone their aircraft completed three hundred and ninety-eight such sorties. Their work was unlikely to be hampered by enemy interference, yet poor weather could be a threat to the aircrews; on the 1st November a Dakota was lost whilst attempting to land in foggy conditions.


The Rhine Crossing


The Squadron continued to fly in supplies and evacuate wounded every day, weather permitting, until March 1945 when a second attempt was made to secure a bridgehead across the Rhine. On the 24th March, twenty-four of 512 Squadron's Dakotas had the honour of leading the formation of four hundred aircraft on the first and only lift of Operation Varsity, all towing Horsa gliders containing men and equipment of the 6th Airborne Division. Wing Commander Dutton DFC led the way forward, and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his able navigation of the armada in the face of heavy enemy fire. The Squadron lost one of its aircraft over the landing zones, but the remainder landed safely at Evère, in Belgium. They had received orders to land and refuel here in the event of being needed to further support the landings with a resupply flight, however the Allies made such rapid progress that any further action was deemed unnecessary.


A detachment had been based at Evère for some time, and although the main body of 512 Squadron returned to Broadwell in the aftermath of Operation Varsity, they received orders to base themselves at Evère on a more permanent basis only a few days later on the 31st March, with the intention of carrying out general transport duties throughout Europe. The war ended swiftly but Transport Command's services were more in demand than ever; if anything the Squadron's work rate increased, bringing in supplies to the troops and helping to repatriate freed prisoners of war.


In early July, the Squadron was moved back to England, to Holme in Yorkshire, where their sole task was the flying of troops to India. On the 8th October, they were posted to Palestine where they carried out various transport duties throughout the Middle East, yet their stay here was brief; on the 2nd December they flew to Bari, in Italy, from where they carried out sorties to Austria, Greece, Egypt, Romania and the Balkans, as well as internal flights within Italy. In January 1946, the Squadron was relieved at Bari by 187 Squadron, and they received orders to return to England for disbandment. The withdrawal began during the following month, and 512 Squadron was officially disbanded on the 14th March.


The information contain in this history has come from the article "Wings of Pegasus", by Andrew Thomas. Thanks to Alan Hartley for his help.


Commanders of 512 Squadron



Wing Commander M. Booth


Wing Commander K. J. D. Dickson


Wing Commander R. M. Blennerhassett


Wing Commander B. A. Coventry DFC


Wing Commander R. G. Dutton DFC


Lieutenant-Colonel P. G. McA. Murdock


Squadron Leader W. A. Mostyn-Brown


Wing Commander P. Fleming