196 Squadron was formed at RAF Driffield on the 7th September 1942. Assigned to 4 Group of Bomber Command and equipped with Wellington aircraft, the Squadron carried out many raids upon German ports and industrial targets between February and October 1943, and they also participated in minelaying, known in the trade as "gardening". A subsequent move to Leconfield and 3 Group saw the Squadron trading in their Wellington aircraft for the more capable Stirling bomber.
On the 18th November 1943, 196 Squadron was transferred from Bomber Command to the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. During the following months they were moved to numerous bases, initially Leicester East, then Tarrant Rushton on the 7th January 1944, before finally settling at Keevil on the 19th March, having made room at the previous base for the newly formed 644 Squadron. As of February that year, 196 Squadron became involved in Special Operations Executive (SOE) sorties and dropped supplies of arms to the French Resistance, their aircraft using Tarrant Rushton as a forward base. These missions involved an element of danger as aircraft were sometimes required to fly alone at heights of just 200 feet, perilously exposing them to ground fire.
As part of the Normandy Invasion, twenty-three of 196 Squadron's Stirlings left Keevil at 23:00 on the 5th June 1944, carrying paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division to their drop zone near Ranville. Upon returning to base in the early hours of the following morning, the aircraft were immediately re-fuelled and prepared for take-off shortly after midday to transport the remainder of the Division to France. For this Second Lift, 196 Squadron provided seventeen aircraft, each towing a Horsa glider. Their final act in support of the Invasion came on the 8th June, when seven of their Stirlings joined others in a supply drop to the 6th Airborne Division. Thereafter the Squadron returned to its SOE resupply duties.
196 and 299 Squadrons, who shared RAF Keevil, flew an equal number of sorties during Operation Market Garden, amounting to more than any other Squadron in either 38 or 46 Groups. In total one hundred and twelve sorties were flown by 196 Squadron, fifty-six of which involved Horsa towing, the remaining fifty-six were resupply flights.
It was the resupply missions that cost the Squadron dearly. The first fatalities were suffered on the third day of the Operation, Tuesday 19th September, when Warrant Officer Prowd's Stirling was brought down and four men were killed. Wednesday proved to be the worst experience for 196 Squadron because of the seventeen Stirlings involved, one was forced to ditch en-route to Arnhem, without casualties, and a further five were shot down over the drop zone. In spite of these significant losses the human cost was fortunately not as severe as it might have been, ten men died but most had escaped the crashes unscathed. The Squadron's fortunes did not improve on Thursday 21st September because as soon as it had dropped its supplies over Arnhem, the formation was attacked by German Fw-190 fighter aircraft and three Stirlings were quickly lost.
In all, 196 Squadron lost ten aircraft during Operation Market Garden and a considerable number had been damaged. Twenty-six aircrew had been killed, as had a further eight RASC despatchers, and two men were taken prisoner. Thirty-three crew members who had bailed out over Arnhem, however, were successfully evacuated to the Allied lines when the 1st Airborne Division withdrew across the River Rhine on the night of the 25th/26th September.
The Rhine Crossing
Having recovered from its heavy losses over Arnhem, 196 Squadron returned to its SOE resupply role. A Stirling was lost on one such mission to southern Norway on the 25th February 1945. The Squadron temporarily reverted to the bombing role during the same month, carrying out tactical strikes in direct support of ground forces.
On the 24th March, a second attempt was made to secure a crossing of the River Rhine, and for the first and only lift of this highly successful operation, the Squadron provided thirty aircraft to carry elements of the 6th Airborne Division to their drop zones around Hamminkeln. Thereafter, the Squadron flew a number of sorties to drop supplies of petrol to the advancing armies.
In May 1945, following the German surrender, 196 Squadron helped to transport the 1st Airborne Division to Norway and Denmark in order to oversee the disarmament of the German forces. The first flight to Norway was plagued by bad weather, in particular fog, and one Stirling crashed and all aboard were killed; six aircrew and thirteen passengers of HQ Company, the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment.
Although the War was over, the services of Transport Command were needed more than ever, and so the aircraft of 38 Group became involved in transporting freight and passengers all over Europe.
196 Squadron was disbanded on the 16th March 1946.
Commanders of 196 Squadron
Wing Commander W. M. L. Baker