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No. 514 Squadron RAF

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No. 514 Squadron RAF

No. 514 Squadron RAF
Active 1 September 1943 – 22 August 1945
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Role Bomber Squadron
Part of No. 3 Group RAF, Bomber Command[1]
Motto Latin: Nil Obstare Potest
(Translation: "Nothing can withstand")[2][3]
Squadron Badge heraldry A cloud pierced by a sword[3]
The design indicates the function of the squadron, i.e. its role of a GH-equipped blind-bombing squadron[2]
Squadron Codes JI (Sep 1943 – Aug 1945)[4][5]
A2 (Dec 1943 – Aug 1945, 'C' Flt only)[6][7]
Aircraft flown
Bomber Avro Lancaster

No. 514 Squadron RAF was a bomber squadron of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.

Having developed the GH tactics to a degree that impressive results were regularly being achieved, 3 Group was allowed the latitude to operate independently of other Bomber Command groups when required, although the group’s aircraft participated in major raids until the end of hostilities. 514 Sqn was born on 1 September 1943, though the Adjutant was the first member of its staff to arrive at RAF Foulsham in Norfolk on 6 September. Five days later the squadron’s first Lancaster Mk.II, DS735, arrived. Nearly two months’ hard work led to the squadron making its operational debut, to the Mannesheim Works at Düsseldorf, on a raid to trial GH bombing on November 3, 1943. 514 Squadron was thus fully operational by the start of the winter-long Battle of Berlin, which started in earnest on 18 November 1943. The sixteen operations in which 514 Sqn took part cost seven aircraft through enemy action along with another which over-ran the runway on its return, fortunately without casualties on that occasion.

Midway through November 1943, 514 Sqn received orders to move from its Norfolk base to RAF Waterbeach, four miles north of Cambridge, where it remained for the rest of its existence. The move was shrouded in secrecy, the official reason being that the runway needed resurfacing. The truth was that RAF Foulsham had been transferred to 100 Group, whose aircraft operated counter-measures against German defences. The movement was organised and carried out in just over a week. Three of the squadron’s aircraft travelled from Foulsham to Waterbeach via Berlin, carrying out a bombing raid en route. The crew’s kit, including bicycles, was stowed on board for the trip.

The strength of the squadron was soon increased to three flights of ten aircraft. 514 Squadron aircraft bore two means of identification; the serial number, unique to each aircraft and which stayed with it permanently along with the squadron code, which was often changed, particularly when individual aircraft were transferred between Flights. This was in the form JI- followed by a single letter (for aircraft of ‘A’ and ‘B’ flights) and A2- (for ‘C’ Flight). The ORB usually shortened this to the single letter itself, e.g. JI-B was shortened to ‘B’ whilst A2-B was shortened to ‘B2’. ‘A’ Flight used the codes JI-A to JI-K (omitting JI-I), ‘B’ Flight JI-L to JI-U and ‘C’ Flight A2-B to A2-L (again omitting A2-I). It has been suggested that this was to confuse German Intelligence. Each flight was commanded by a Squadron Leader, these changing periodically as the individual officer reached the end of his tour, was transferred elsewhere or, in the sad case of S/Ldr Ernest Sly, lost on operations. A decorated veteran of previous tours, S/Ldr Sly was the highest-ranking officer lost by 514 Squadron on ops.

514 Sqn was one of the few to be equipped from the outset with the Bristol Hercules-powered Mk.II Lanc. The variant was intended to solve the concern that a shortage of Rolls-Royce Merlin engine might hamper the supply of Lancasters in 1943 / 44. In the event, the shortage did not materialise and the surviving Mk.IIs were withdrawn in Autumn 1944, the final operational deployment being 23 September 1944 to Neuss. Some 300 were produced. The Mk.II occasionally featured a ventral machine gun (not on DS816 however), as the variant was not fitted with H2S. Other features included the bulged bomb bay. The aircraft climbed more quickly than other variants, though not quite as high. It could carry a lower bomb weight but the Hercules engine, being air-cooled, was more resistant to damage than the Merlin.

Survival was partly a matter of skill, but mostly of luck, as demonstrated by the loss of the highly experienced and decorated S/Ldr Sly on the same operation as the crew of Flight Sergeant PE Mason, on their first op. One pilot, continually riding his luck, was Flying Officer Lou Greenburgh. F/O Greenburgh ditched his aircraft in the North Sea at the end of December 1943, his crew surviving to tell the tale. On another raid, two of his crew baled out of their out-of-control Lancaster before F/O Greenburgh regained control and made a safe return to England. Undeterred, F/O Greenburgh returned again to ops and was shot down again in June 1944, with the loss of his Wireless Operator and the capture of his gunners and Flight Engineer. The intrepid F/O Greenburgh evaded capture, and having had his aircraft shot down twice and damaged twice in 22 operations, survived the war.

As winter wore on, the emphasis of Bomber Command’s operations switched from Berlin to targets linked to aircraft production, this becoming predominant from mid-February 1944 onwards. Following 'Big Week', the combined RAF / US Eighth Air Force assault on aircraft production, a brief return to Berlin was followed by sporadic attacks against other German cities. In early spring, the strategy of Bomber Command moved from destroying the industrial infrastructure to paving the way for the Allied landings on D-Day. This played to the strength of GH-equipped squadrons, targets being smaller and, being in the territory of our occupied allies, requiring precision if friendly casualties were to be avoided. Through April and May most such ops were against the railway infrastructure in Occupied France, primarily marshalling yards and repair depots. The targeting of maintenance facilities was to ensure that the rail network could no longer be easily patched up after the final raids before D-Day itself. German officials commented after the war that crippling the railway network had been the most significant factor in preventing German forces from fighting off the Allied invasion.

The Luftwaffe, recognising the switch in focus from Germany to more tactical targets in France, lost no time in moving its night fighters in response. This resulted in continuing losses to the squadron's aircraft and crews, though greater support was available on the ground to aircrew who managed to escape from their crippled Lancasters, including the irrepressible F/O Greenburgh, shot down over France in June 1944.

As D-Day approached, a variety of targets offered themselves, particularly coastal gun batteries posing a very real threat to the invasion fleet. Most of these were in the Pas de Calais area. These attacks also supported the intention to deceive the Germans into believing that the imminent invasion would be in that location, rather than on the Normandy beaches.

Bomber Command had, by now, demonstrated its capabilities as a tactical force, capable of the precision bombing of entrenched German forces even whilst in close proximity to Allied troops. There were occasional, nonetheless tragic, errors; a number of Canadian ground troops were killed by bombs when they had, for an unknown reason, used yellow flares which were confused with target indicators of the same colour, in use that day. Civilian casualties were also, regrettably, inevitable though these were much lower than might have been anticipated. With air supremacy established over the Normandy bridgehead, and most targets within range of supporting fighter cover, Bomber Command was now able to operate over France by day as well as night.

Mk.I and Mk. III Lancasters gradually replaced the Mk.II from June 1944 onwards. The first operational sortie by Mk. I Lancs were on 21 June 1944 to Domleger, having been beaten into 514 Sqn service by Mk.III PB143, JI-B, which attacked Montdidier on 17 June 1944. Whilst the Mk.I Lancaster was powered by Rolls-Royce Merlins, the Mk.III aircraft, whilst built in England, were powered by Packard Merlins, built in the USA under licence.

The flexibility of the bomber force was admirably shown when, for six weeks in July and August 1944, the South East of England was menaced by V1 and V2 flying bombs. An intensive campaign to eradicate the construction sites and storage depots was effective in eradicating the threat. Other targets at this time included the German E-Boat light naval strike force at Le Havre, which was decimated in a spectacularly successful attack, in which 514 Sqn played a full part, whilst other raids were made against beleaguered German forces dug into fortified defences in the Channel Ports, particularly Boulogne and Calais.Northern France having been secured by the Allies, the next campaign for Bomber Command was 'The Oil Plan', targeting German oil production and storage. Whilst Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Air Officer Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, famously had little time for 'panacea' targets, he did accept that the continuing availability and supply of fuel was of fundamental importance to the German war effort, and to the Luftwaffe in particular. Attacking the transport infrastructure in Germany went hand-in-glove with attempts to destroy fuel storage and, especially, the synthetic oil production facilities. Naturally these were vigorously defended, most notably the Rhein-Preussen facility at Meerbeck, Homberg, where an attack on July 20, 1944 saw four of the squadron's aircraft lost. 514 Sqn would ultimately lose as many Lancasters attacking that single facility as it did during the sixteen raids the squadron conducted against Berlin. As the war approached its conclusion, operations continued against oil facilities, as well as communications lines and troop concentrations as the Allied ground forces moved towards, and eventually into, Germany itself. The squadron took part in the controversial raid on Dresden, this being seen at the time as a routine operation to a communications target. In the prevailing circumstance of total war, morals and ethics could not be a key concern for the squadron as an organisation. It must never be forgotten that this was a fight for national, as well as personal, survival. The atrocities of the Nazi regime, now so clear, mean that the endeavours of the squadron and its crews were never anything less than absolutely necessary.

The war's end meant a few short months of more rewarding activity for 514 Sqn. Operation Manna, the dropping of desperately needed food parcels for the Dutch, was followed by a long series of flights to collect prisoners of war from France and Italy. Tragedy was still not finished with the squadron when a Lancaster carrying 24 POWs and six crew crashed on leaving Juvincourt in France with the loss of all on board.

In the course of its two-year operational life, 514 Sqn flew 3675 sorties on 218 bombing raids, in the course of which it dropped 14,650 tons of bombs. A further four mining operations were also undertaken, with 70 sea mines being dropped. 426 aircrew and nine ground crew lost their lives whilst serving with the squadron. 66 Lancasters were lost on operations with a further fourteen crashing either on ops or local flying. Twelve were brought down by flak, 38 by night fighters (other unaccounted losses are considered as most likely to have been shot down by night fighters, due to intense enemy activity on the occasion in question), one collided with another aircraft, and at least three were brought down by bombs from higher-flying aircraft whilst six were lost without trace. Of these it is possible that two 514 Sqn aircraft collided over the North Sea whilst en route to or from Leipzig, and another aircraft possibly collided with another squadron’s Lancaster which crashed near Caen. None of these aircraft ever having been found, it is impossible to know for certain.

Whilst most losses occurred singly, it was inevitable that some raids saw heavier losses, Magdeburg and Leipzig costing three Lancasters each, an ill-starred trip to Homberg four aircraft whilst the worst occasion was the attack on Nuremberg. The raid on the night of 29 / 30 March 1944 saw four Lancasters from 514 Sqn shot down by night fighters whilst a further two crash landed on their return. The night was the bloodiest of Bomber Command's entire war, as well as 514 Sqn's worst raid.

On 22 August 1945, the ORB simply noted '514 Squadron disbanded'. The written record suggests no fanfare or fuss to mark the end of the two-year life of the unit. There was a Farewell Dinner in the Officers’ Mess, and on that note 514 Squadron passed into history.

Its members were awarded with 1 DSO, 84 DFCs, one Bar to the DFC and 26 DFMs.[2]


  • Aircraft operated 1
  • Squadron bases 2
  • Reunions 3
  • Museum 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
    • Notes 6.1
    • Bibliography 6.2
  • External links 7

Aircraft operated

Aircraft operated by no. 514 Squadron RAF, data from[2][3][8]
From To Aircraft Version
September 1943 July 1944 Avro Lancaster Mk.II
June 1944 August 1945 Avro Lancaster Mks.I and III

Squadron bases

Bases and airfields used by no. 514 squadron RAF, data from[2][3][8]
From To Base
1 September 1943 23 November 1943 RAF Foulsham, Norfolk
23 November 1943 22 August 1945 RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire


From 1988 to 2012 the Squadron held an annual Reunion in June at Waterbeach Barracks hosted by the Royal Engineers. A service of remembrance was held in the parish church, and the BBMF Lancaster made a flypast over the former RAF airfield.[9]

In 2013, following the barracks' closure, a reunion is to be held in the village on 15 June 2013, with the Lancaster flypast over the Recreation Ground.[10]


The 514 Squadron Association and the Army established a Museum in Waterbeach Barracks in 1985. This museum closed in September 2012, as the Barracks closed permanently in March 2013, although the contents have been saved.[11] It hoped the new Waterbeach Military Heritage Museum will use a former RAF building when the site is sold for housing, but in the meantime the collection is in storage.[12]

See also



  1. ^ Delve 1994, pp. 68, 77.
  2. ^ a b c d e Moyes 1976, p. 267.
  3. ^ a b c d Halley 1988, p. 395.
  4. ^ Bowyer and Rawlings 1979, p. 58.
  5. ^ Flintham and Thomas 2003, p. 80.
  6. ^ Bowyer and Rawlings 1979, p. 19.
  7. ^ Flintham and Thomas 2003, p. 61.
  8. ^ a b Jefford 2001, p. 96.
  9. ^ Waterbeach Military Heritage Museum, unpublished archives.
  10. ^ "514 Squadron RAF Waterbeach". 
  11. ^ "Museum's collection is saved". Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Waterbeach Military Heritage Museum". Retrieved 6 January 2013. 


  • Bowyer, Michael J.F. and John D.R. Rawlings. Squadron Codes, 1937–56. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-85059-364-6.
  • Delve, Ken. The Source Book of the RAF. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1994. ISBN 1-85310-451-5.
  • Dison, Harry. Some of the story of 514 Squadron: Lancasters at Waterbeach, 1999. (Self published, available from the Museum)
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2003. ISBN 0-7509-3171-X.
  • Flintham, Vic and Andrew Thomas. Combat Codes: A full explanation and listing of British, Commonwealth and Allied air force unit codes since 1938. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-84037-281-8.
  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Hamlin, John F. & Oliver J. Merrington At the 'Beach: the story of Royal Air Force Waterbeach and Waterbeach Barracks. Peterborough: GMS Enterprises, 2011. ISBN 1-904514-63-4
  • Hepworth, Simon and Porrelli, Andrew. 'Striking Through Clouds, The War Diary of No. 514 Squadron, RAF'. Zug, Switzerland. Mention The War! Publications 2014. ISBN 1495440486
  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE, BA, RAF(Retd.). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1988 (second edition 2001). ISBN 1-85310-053-6.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 2nd edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.

External links

  • 514 Squadron RAF website - commemorates all who served in the Squadron
  • 514 Squadron Facebook page
  • Squadron history, on RAF website
  • No. 514 Squadron RAF movement and equipment history
  • The Wartime Memories Project - 514 Sqn
  • Waterbeach Military Heritage Museum
  • Squadron histories for nos. 500–520 squadron on RAFweb's Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation
  • Former Air Gunner tells his story
  • Video about the last flight of 514 Squadron Lancaster A2-C, lost July 28, 1944
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