46 Group History

It would be impossible to honour the No.38 Group Squadrons without also honouring the Squadrons of his sister Group:

The No.46 Group.

On 17 January 1944, No.46 Group was formed unlike No.38 Group as part of RAF Transport Command. Its purposes were the transport support role during the D-Day landings on 06 June 1944.

The Headquarters was at The Cedars, Hatch End, Middlesex.
The first Air Officer Commanding No.46 was Air Commodore Arthur Leonard ‘Fido’ Fiddament CB CBE DFC.

Originally No.46 Group should have been formed with 5 Squadrons:
Nos.271 and 512 Squadrons from Transport Command and 3 new Squadrons: Nos.569, 575 and 597. But Nos.569 and 597 were never formed.

3 other Squadrons also joined No.46 Group Squadrons: Nos.233 and 48 Squadrons (in February 1944). No.437 (RCAF) Squadron was the first Canadian transport Squadron to be formed in England. It was established on 4th September 1944 and flew operation Market Garden from its first day on 17 September 1944!

No.46 Group used mainly the Douglas Dakota aircraft (the English name of the famous Douglas C47 Skytrain). But they also flew the Handley Page Harrows that was already in some of the No.46 Group Squadrons.

The beginning of No.46 Group was not easy. The airfields assigned to the new Group needed considerable work to fit for the transport support role. We were just 4 months away from June 1944!

46 Group, photo with medals of Wing Commander (also Lieutenant Colonel) Louis Arbon Strange
Lieutenant Colonel Louis Arbon Strange (Copyright: © dailymail.co.uk)

Fortunately, one of the original officers on the Air Staff of No.46 Group was Wing Commander (also Lieutenant Colonel) Louis Arbon Strange DSO, OBE, MC, DFC & Bar (*).
Wing Commander Strange had commanded the Parachute Training School at RAF Ringway from 1940 to 1941. His knowledge of the Airborne Forces was a chance for No.46 Group. Wing Commander Strange also learned all he could from the staff and stations of No.38 Group. He didn’t hesitate to “steal” members or equipments of No.38 Group in total discretion!

Without Wing Commander Strange contribution, No.46 Group Squadrons would never have been ready for D-Day.

After the D-Day landings, Air Commodore Fiddament – who had served under the order of Wing Commander Strange during the First World War – sent him a letter of appreciation for his work.

46 Group, photo of a Huricane of No. 1697 (Air Despatch Letter Service) Flight
Mail being loaded into a Hawker Hurricane Mark IIC of No. 1697 (Air Despatch Letter Service) Flight, at B2/Bazenville, Normandy, for despatch to the United Kingdom. Copyright: © IWM

In June 1944, No.46 Group Squadrons aircraft flew continually between England and France. The Squadrons crucial role was to deliver Freight and to evacuate wounded from the fighting in Normandy.

On 10 June, it is to be noticed that 2 Hurricanes of 1697 Air Despatch Letter Service Flight – a unit of No.46 Group (Squadron Leader James Eric Storrar DFC & Bar and Wing Commander Michael Leo Ffrench Beytagh DFC) became the first aircraft to land in France after D-Day.

In September 1944, No.46 Group provided aircraft to fly Operation Market Garden. Losses for No.38 and No.46 Groups were terrible.

A resume of the horrific flights during operation Market Garden is described on the great website of the Government of Canada about No.437 (RCAF) Squadron – the youngest Squadron of No 46 Group – but this can be applied to all the Nos.38 and 46 Group Squadrons who participated to the operation Market Garden (**):

One soldier on the ground wrote that . . .

“The cold-blooded pluck and heroism of the pilots was incredible. They came in in their lumbering . . . machines at fifteen hundred feet searching for our position . . . The German gunners were firing at point-blank range, and the supply planes were more or less sitting targets . . . How those pilots could have gone into it with their eyes open is beyond my imagination . . . They came along in the unarmed, slow twin-engined Dakotas as regular as clockwork. The greatest tragedy of all, I think, is that hardly any of the supplies reached us”.

Paratroops dropped by 46 Group Dakotas in 1944
PARATROOPS DROPPED BY R.A.F. (CH 13078) Original wartime caption: Picture (issued 1944) shows – Paratroops dropped from R.A.F. Douglas Dakota aircraft during exercises somewhere in England. Copyright: © IWM

It was on 19 September 1944 during operation Market Garden that Flight Lieutenant David Lord VC, DFC, No.271 Squadron, lost his life and earned his Victoria Cross, the only one awarded to a member of Transport Command.


 Flight Lieutenant Lord was pilot and captain of a Dakota aircraft detailed to drop supplies at Arnhem on the afternoon of the 19th September, 1944. Our airborne troops had been surrounded and were being pressed into a small area defended by a large number of anti-aircraft guns. Air crews were warned that intense opposition would be met over the dropping zone. To ensure accuracy they were ordered to fly at 900 feet when dropping their containers.
While flying at 1,500 feet near Arnhem the starboard wing of Flight Lieutenant Lord’s aircraft was twice hit by anti-aircraft fire. The starboard engine was set on fire. He would have been justified in leaving the main stream of supply aircraft and continuing at the same height or even abandoning his aircraft. But on learning that his crew were uninjured and that the dropping zone would be reached in three minutes he said he would complete his mission, as the troops were in dire need of the supplies.
By now the starboard engine was burning furiously. Flight Lieutenant Lord came down to 900 feet, where he was singled out for the concentrated fire of all the anti-aircraft guns.
On reaching the dropping zone he kept the aircraft on a straight and level course while supplies were dropped. At the end of the run he was told that two containers remained. Although he must have known that the collapse of the starboard wing could not be long delayed, Flight Lieutenant Lord circled, rejoined the stream of aircraft and made a second run to drop the remaining supplies. These manoeuvres took eight minutes in all, the aircraft being continuously under heavy anti-aircraft fire.
His task completed, Flight Lieutenant Lord ordered his crew to abandon the Dakota, making no attempt himself to leave the aircraft, which was down to 500 feet. A few seconds later, the starboard wing collapsed and the aircraft fell in flames.
There was only one survivor, who was flung out while assisting other members of the crew to put on their parachutes. By continuing his mission in a damaged and burning aircraft, descending to drop the supplies accurately, returning to the dropping zone a second time and, finally, remaining at the controls to give his crew a chance of escape, Flight Lieutenant Lord displayed supreme valour and self-sacrifice. 

Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette of 9 November 1945. 13 November 1945, Numb. 37347, p. 5533

Also in No.271 Squadron were Major Pierre Simon Joubert AFC from the South African Air Force – who will die in 1945 at the age of 48 – that was said to have been the oldest captain of an operational aircraft in the Royal Air Force and Flight Lieutenant James Keith O’Neill Edwards DFC who was shot down over Arnhem and became a Prisoner of War. Flight Lieutenant Edwards will be famous after war as the comedian Professor ‘Jimmy’ Edwards (***).

Despite the heavy losses of September 1944, No.46 Group Squadrons had continued his flights of evacuation of wounded and delivery of freight between England and the frontline in Europe.

The training with the Airborne Forces also never stopped.

No.46 Group participated to the greatest airborne operation of all times in one time at one place:
Operation Varsity on 24 March 1945 – The Rhine Crossing.

A 46 Group Dakota pilot and his paratroop 'stick commander'
Original wartime caption with a Douglas Dakota aircraft.
Picture (issued 1944) – An R.A.F. pilot of the paratroop aircraft and the paratroop ‘stick commander’ discuss the pre-jump plan. Copyright: © IWM

After Operation Varsity, No.46 Group Squadrons returned to the evacuations and deliveries tasks.

No.46 Group participated to the Berlin Airlift (June 1948- September 1949). Soon after it first disbanded on 15 October 1949 to reform on 1st November 1949.

The Group disbanded again on 31 March 1950 and reformed on 1st September 1972.

Finally No.46 Group disbanded on 1st January 1976 to be included in No.38 Group.

(*) https://www.a-e-g.org.uk/louis-strange.html
Louis Strange was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar and the Military Cross. He was the only airmen to win a DFC in both world wars. He received the Military Cross for gaining ‘ace’ status with six ‘kills’.
His incredible First World War escapades were celebrated in a comic strip of the military magazine Top Spot. Numerous other books also recounted his exploits.

(**) https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/maple-leaf/rcaf/2019/08/operation-market-garden-437-squadron-s-baptism-of-fire.html

(***) An FW190 had shot several times his Dakota KG444 on the return flight from Arnhem. Jimmy Edwards so gave the order to the crew to bale out from the Dakota that was going to crash. After having put the automatic pilot, Jimmy raced down the aircraft to bale out through the open door. But lying near the door were the 4 air Despatchers and Jimmy yelled “Why haven’t you jumped. “Can’t, sir” came the reply, “all wounded in the legs”.
So Jimmy threw his chute down and went back to the cockpit. But Jimmy couldn’t see through the windscreen which was now covered in black soot and oil.
Jimmy knocked out the escape exit in the roof. By standing in the seat with the head in the slip stream he brought the aircraft down into a small wood. The small saplings broke his speed without breaking the aircraft up.
As he landed the nose dug in and catapulted Jimmy out of the top hatch . On the ground Bill Randall (the wireless operator, who had also stayed on board) joined Jimmy.
As they were on the ground, the FW190 came again in for the kill. But only 3 rounds were fired and it ran out of munitions.
Jim had many burns to his face and ears. His ears shrivelled like cockleshells (the reason he will wear later his hair long to hide them).
For his brave action Jimmy received his Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Jimmy will be become a member of the Guinea Pig Club.
Unfortunately only one Air Despatcher of Dakota KG444 survived.
(Written with the help of the fantastic article ‘It’s only a number’ by Ian Hartley. Published in ‘Air Mail’ the journal of the Royal Air Force Association October–December 2002)

Next page: 46 Group Roll of Honour