RAF Units
The Royal Air Force / Commonwealth
Photographic Reconnaissance Squadrons

1939 - 1946


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Squadrons

 
400 (City of Toronto) Sqn (Canadian)
Formed in 1932 as No.10 Army Cooperation Squadron, it was renamed in 1937 to 110 Squadron. Moving to England in 1940 and was based at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, being equipped with Lysanders. On the 1st March of 1940 the Squadron was again renamed to No.400 and equipped with Tomahawks, however, they did not become operational until late 1940. In July 1942 they replaced their Tomahawks with Mustang Is, during this year the Squadron carried out daylight photo recce missions. In 1944 the Squadron again changed its aircraft, this time to the  Mosquito PR.XIV and the Spitfire PR.XI, this gave the Unit a full-time photographic reconnaissance role. After the D-Day landings on the 6th June 1944, the Squadron moved to the European mainland and provided the advancing Allied armies both low and high level tactical reconnaissance. On the 7th August 1945 the Squadron was disbanded.
 
414 (Sarnia Imperials) Sqn (Canadian)
Formed as a Army Cooperation Squadron on the 12th August 1941 and was equipped with Tomahawks and Lysander aircraft. In mid 1942 it started to be re-equipped Mustang Is and it was with these it saw action during the ill-fated Dieppe landings of 19th August 1942. By the early part of 1944, the Squadron was flying both tactical and photographic reconnaissance sorties and on D-Day it undertook spotting missions for naval gun fire. The Squadron was disbanded at Lunenburg on the 7th August 1945.
 
540 Sqn
This Squadron was formed on the 19th October 1942 from H and L Flights of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) at RAF Benson and then was based a RAF Lecuhars in Scotland. They carried out photographic reconnaissance sorties over the Baltic and Norway. It did have a detachment at RAF Benson which carried out missions over France and Italy, with another detachment based in Gibraltar which undertook a wide range of sorties. The Squadron moved in 1944 back to RAF Benson then undertaking missions ranging over Austria and even the Canary Islands. Moving to the European mainland in March 1945 and was disbanded on the 30th September 1945. In the early stages of its life, the Squadron was equipped with the Spitfire PR.IV, however, the main aircraft used by the unit was the photo reconnaissance Mosquito PR.I, PR.IV, PR.VIII, PR.IX and the PR.XVI variant.
 
541 Sqn
Formed from B and F Flights of the PRU at RAF Benson on the 19th October 1942. The unit undertook  photo reconnaissance missions over Europe until Germany surrendered. The Squadron flew the various marks of the reconnaissance Spitfire:
Oct 42 to Nov 43 - PR.IV
Nov 42 to Dec 42 - PR.IX
Jan 43 to May 46 - PR.XI
May 44 to Jan 45 - PR.X
Sep 44 to Sep 46 - PR.XIX
They did receive some South African Air Force pilots with their Mustangs IIIs and they flew these along side the Spitfires. In early 1943 the Spitfires from 544 Sqn based in Gibraltar were absorbed into the Squadron. In September 1944 the Squadron were flying sorties over the Dutch town of Arnhem in preparation for the airborne landings.
 
542 Sqn
Again formed from two Flights of the PRU, A & E, at RAF Benson on the 19th October 1942, the Squadron flow from the near by airfield of Mount Farm. Flying reconnaissance missions over Europe until the end of the war. Like its sister Squadron 542 flew the various marks of the photo reconnaissance Spitfire:
Oct 42 to Jun 43 - PR.IV
Feb 43 to Jul 43 - PR.IX
Feb 43 to Aug 45 - PR.XI
Jun 44 to Jun 45 - PR.X
Jun 45 to Aug 45 - PR.XIX
Flying Officer Jerry Fray was the first reconnaissance pilot to obtain images after the raid by 617 Sqn on the Ruhr Dams. Flying a Spitfire PR.IX serial number EN343, his sortie was organised so he  would be able to take photographs over the target areas at first light. Early 1944 they were given the task of monitoring NOBALL, this was the VI rocket sites in Northern France. With the coming D-Day landings the Squadron undertook 255 sorties in the month of June. By the end of the war, the Squadron had 2458 operational sorties, it was switched away from reconnaissance duties, to delivering diplomatic mail. Being disbanded on the 27th August 1945 at RAF Benson.
 
543 Sqn
Like the previous two squadrons 543 Sqn was formed as a photographic reconnaissance Squadron at RAF Benson on the 19th October 1942. With A flight detached to St Eval, Cornwell and another Flight B stationed as the USAAF reconnaissance base at Mount Farm in Oxfordshire to train reconnaissance pilots before they were posted overseas. The Squadron was equipped with the following Spitfires:
Oct 42 to Oct 43 - PR.IV
Nov 42 to Oct 43 - PR.IX
In early September 1943 the Squadron was chosen to undertake the second photographic reconnaissance detachment to Vaenga in Russia under Operation SOURCE. The detachment undertake missions for the attack on the Germany battleship Tirpitz. Later in its history, they did receive a number of reconnaissance Mosquitos. The Squadron was disbanded on the 18 December  1943 when it became "surplus to requirements". A Flight was divided between 541 and 542 squadrons and with B Flight going to form No. 309 Ferry Training and Aircraft Dispatch Unit, whose task was to train all pilots intending to fly their aircraft to overseas PR squadrons.
 
544 Sqn
Like the other 540 squadrons, 543 was formed from two flights from the PRU at RAF Benson on the 19th October 1942. The Squadron was divided into flights, one, A Flight, equipped with Ansons and Wellingtons  and B Flight stationed in Gibraltar with reconnaissance Spitfires PR.IV & PR.IX, only the latter was fully operational, undertaking reconnaissance for the North African landings and also keep an over-watch of the Spanish airfields. A Flight was used for the trials in night photography which began in January 1943.
A Maryland now part of B Flight was detached to Agadir and undertook secret operations in that area. In April 1943, the Wellingtons were replaced with Mosquitos, of note, was on the 28 July 1943 Mosquito DZ600 was shot down by RAF night fighters just 6 miles from its home base of Benson.
In October 1943, B Flight at Gibraltar was transferred to 541 Sqn and a new B Flight reformed back a Benson with Mosquitos. The Squadron main tasking was now day and night photographic reconnaissance over Germany and Western Europe.
In early 1943, they started to undertake long-range sorties to the South of France, Southern Germany and Austria via San Severo in Italy. B Flight again moved to Lecuhars in Scotland in 1943, they were to began sorties over Norway. A Flight then changed its area of interest this time to Eastern Germany and Poland.
The Squadron changed its tasking for the D-Day landings before switching back in July 1944 to its long-range missions. In October 1944 their reconnaissance Mosquito's flew into Moscow for tasking over Eastern Germany and again Poland. Other sorties were flown over the Crimea, Cairo and Italy. One of the squadron's aircraft had its cameras removed and under Operation HAYCOCK carried diplomatic mail to Hassani in Greece, this was extended to Italy and Egypt in early 1945.
As the war in Europe was coming to an end, 544 became part of the "Tiger Force" in the Far East. No.544 Squadron was disbanded back at RAF Benson on the 13th October 1945.
 
680 Sqn
On the 1st February 1943 at Heliopolis, No.2 PRU was re-named 680 Squadron. Equipped with both Spitfire and Beaufighter aircraft it carried out reconnaissance missions over the Greek islands. A Flight moved to Castel Benito to cover Gabes and the Mareth Line and in mid 1943 B Flight was sent to Cyprus to cover the Dodecanese Islands. During May 1943 the Flights consolidated back at Heliopolis, with C Flight moved to the island of Cyprus.
Missions undertaken by the Squadron became more "shipping" reconnaissance duties and this carried on until 1944 and in February of this year the Squadron started to be re-equipped with Blenheims, Baltimores, Mosquitos and a number Hurricanes.
The Squadron's Spitfires remained in service until June by which time 680 Sqn had switched flying mainly Mosquitos. In August 1944 the Squadron moved to Italy, A Flight, equipped with Mosquitos, undertook sorties over Yugoslavia and Hungary. B Flight, which still had a number of its Spitfires, concentrated on again shipping reconnaissance in the Greece and Salonika areas. By late 1944 missions was being undertaken over Germany, with the Squadron becoming more involved in mapping and survey missions. In early 1945 the Squadron moved again, this time to Egypt again carrying out survey duties. On the 13th September 1946 the Squadron disbanded and reforming as No.13 Squadron.
 
681 Sqn
Formed by re-naming No.3 PRU at Dum Dum on the 2nd January 1943. It was equipped with Spitfire PR.IVs and Hurricanes Mk.IIs. C flight of the Squadron was a Dutch unit flying North American Mitchells.  The Unit undertook missions over Burma flying up to ninety sorties each month. Top of their target list in 1943 were Rangoon, the Andaman Islands and Mandalay. On July 1943 to help with the long range Mitchells, a number of Mosquitos joined C Flight however they were short lived, all the "twin engined" were moved to formed 683 Squadron, leaving the Squadron with just its Spitfires. By the end of the year theywere chiefly flying sorties for the Army in Mandalay.
Tasking increased in 1944, with the monthly number of sorties flow going over one hundred regularly. Near to the end of 1944, the Squadron was carrying out recce missions mainly looking at river and coastal traffic on the Irrawaddy and other rivers in the region and then in early 1945 saw the Squadron's aircraft made Rangoon their main area of interest.
Undertaking missions farther a field, the Squadron started to look at Bangkok and the Burma railway. In the dying months of the war, they were tasked with photographing roads and any possible escape routes for the Japanese, also airfields and POW camps.
In September they were tasked with sorties over Hong Kong. By the end of the year the Squadron had moved to Malaya, with detachments sent to Batavia to cover the Indonesian campaign, mainly carrying out tactical reconnaissance missions. Another detachment of aircraft were sent to Saigon to provide operational support over Indo-China. The Squadron moved to Palm in India on the 1st August 1946 and was re-numbered No.34 Squadron.
 
682 Sqn
Reformed from No. 4 PRU at Maison Blanche on the 1st February 1943 it was equipped with the Spitfire PR.IV, PR.IX and the PR.XI. These were used to undertake sorties in support of the Army in Tunisia and over Italy. In April 1943 the Squadron received, for long range reconnaissance, the Mosquito, with one mission taking the aircraft over the French Alps. In July mainly flying over Italy and with airfields as it targets, the Squadron carried out 145 sorties. By August all the Mosquitos had left the Squadron leaving just the Spitfires.
For the remainder of the year, the Squadron undertook shipping reconnaissance around Italy and later that year a detachment was based at Foggia in Italy, with the whole Squadron moving there by the end of the year. In March 1944, the Squadron covered the 5th US Army front at Anzio.
In September of 1944 the Squadron concentrated on Southern France helping with the forthcoming invasion. This lead the Squadron to detach B Flight to both Alghero and Borgo to cover the whole event, the later moved to France to follow the armies to the north leaving A Flight to carry out reconnaissance over the Italian fronts. In March 1945 the two flights came together again in Italy and undertook missions on the final stages of the fighting.
At the end of the war, the Squadron carried out aerial survey duties and sent a detachment to Malta for Naval calibration work. On the 14th September 1945 the Squadron was disbanded.
 
683 Sqn
Formed at Luqa in Malta on 8th February 1943 from B Flight of No. 69 Squadron. First equipped with Spitfire PR.IVs, they carried out reconnaissance missions over Sicily and Italy, mainly looking at the airfields and shipping movements. In early March the Squadron received its first Mosquito. In June of this year, the Squadron was tasked with sorties for the invasion of Sicily, also in this month the Squadron said goodbye to its Mosquitos leaving the Spitfires to carry on with the remaining tasking.
In early 1944 the Squadron were photographing Rome, Venice, the Po Valley and Trieste, with a detachment based at Trigno covering Yugoslavia. By April and using Spitfire PR.IXs, which now had replaced the PR.IVs, the Squadron was covering Toulon, Belgrade, Vienna and Budapest. Later the Squadron were undertaking sorties over France and Southern Germany, also at this time there was one Flight that was carrying out Tac Recce in support of the Army in Italy.
In September of 1944 the Squadron started to receive the Spitfire PR.XIX, in the beginning this variant had a poor serviceability rate, however, by the end of the year this had been sorted and the Squadron started to fly over Greece. At the end of the war, missions were continued over Yugoslavia, then is carried out mapping sorties over Austria, which was then followed by a complete mapping survey Italian and Sicilian coastlines. Later the Squadron went on to photograph the coastlines of Corsica and Greece.
In the summer of 1945 the Squadron moved a detachment of aircraft to Greece and carried out sorties over the Greek Islands. In its present form, the Squadron was disbanded on the 22n September 1945 and then re-forming on the 1st November 1950 with the Avro Lancaster PR.I carrying out survey and mapping duties unit it finally disbanded on the 30th November 1953
 
684 Sqn
On the 29th September 1943 and at Dum Dum airfield, No.684 Squadron was formed. It was equipped with the Mitchell and Mosquito aircraft from 681 Squadron and it was put onto reconnaissance duties straight away flying over Rangoon and the Andaman Islands. Being equipped with long range aircraft, the Squadron was able to take on tasking as far as Thailand. In February of 1944 the Squadron was on the move, this time to Calcutta where it was re-equipped with Mosquito PR.IXs and PR.XVIs. In August of this year a detachment was sent to Ceylon to undertake survey and mapping tasking, apart from the Mosquitos also a number of Mitchells were sent.
In April 1945 the Squadron received a number Beaufighters for courier duties, carrying photographs and other required items. The Squadron then sent another detachment out in 1945, this time to the Coco Islands and by the late of this year, photographic cover was being obtained over French Indo-China.
After the end of hostilities, the Squadrons first task was to transport the film of the Japanese surrenders at Rangoon, Singapore and Penang. In late 1945 it started a carrying out survey cover of French Indio-China, Thailand and the Kia Isthmus and in December it took charge of a number of Spitfire PR.XIs from No. 681 Squadron.
In early 1946 the Squadron moved to Bangkok with also a detachment was sent to Baigachi to undertake a survey task for the Indian Government. The Squadron was re-named to No.81 on the 1st September 1946 at Bangkok.

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