297 Squadron was first formed as the Parachute Experimental Squadron on the 15th December 1941, initially they were based at Ringway but after only a week were moved to Netheravon. In February 1942, the first Whitley aircraft began to arrive and these were used to help train paratroopers. The Squadron moved to Hurn on the 4th June, and then to Thruxton on the 24th October. From these bases a steady programme of training with the Airborne Forces continued, but 297 Squadron also conducted a number of "Nickel" raids; dropping leaflets over occupied territory. In September 1943, the Squadron moved to Stoney Cross, and between August 1943 and February 1944, the Whitleys were phased out of service and replaced with Albemarles. As of February, 297 Squadron carried out a number of Special Operations Executive (SOE) missions, dropping supplies to the French Resistance. With the Invasion of Normandy drawing near, the Squadron was relocated to RAF Brize Norton.




297 Squadron were heavily involved in the opening stages of the Invasion, and their tasks on the night of the 5th June were four-fold. In the first phase, four Albemarles were detailed to carry ten men of the 22nd Independent Parachute Company and thirty paratroopers comprising the Advance Party of the 5th Parachute Brigade, whose job it was to land at DZ-N, near Ranville, ahead of the main force to mark and lightly secure the zone. All aircraft dropped their parachutists on target, the only problem encountered was that two of the aircraft were compelled to mark a second pass over the drop zone to enable all the men to jump, having experienced difficulty in negotiating the aperture door on the first run.


Half an hour later, the main force of the 5th Parachute Brigade arrived over DZ-N, and nine of 297 Squadron's Albemarles were involved in this lift. The air space over the zone was highly congested and several aircraft were forced to make a second pass over the zone to enable their troops to jump, but all of the Squadron's charges were successfully deployed at the cost of a few aircraft having sustained superficial damage from anti-aircraft weapons. One Albemarle had more serious problems, and with only one of its engines functioning had to make a landing at Ford.


The main glider lift on the first night was not to arrive until 03:30, thereby allowing the engineers of the 591st Parachute Squadron enough time to clear two landing strips of mined anti-glider obstacles on DZ-N. The glider lift was not an especially large one, however a further nine of the Squadron's aircraft towed Horsas to this zone. One of these was forced to cast-off immediately after take-off, but the remainder arrived safely at Ranville. After the gliders had been separated from their tug aircraft, the formation deliberately jettisoned their tow ropes over reported enemy positions. 297 Squadron suffered no losses as a result of this lift, though again several aircraft reported superficial flak damage.


In addition to these gliders, 297 Squadron brought in a further three Horsas which were to attempt a coup-de-main raid upon the Merville Battery. The men in the gliders, containing elements of "A" Company the 9th Parachute Battalion and engineers of the 591st Parachute Squadron, were charged with the perilous task of landing inside the battery itself and overcoming opposition with Sten guns and flame-throwers, whilst the remainder of the Battalion, who by this time would be on the ground and waiting outside the Battery, put in the main assault across the surrounding minefield. The 9th Battalion were dogged with extreme misfortune, having lost three-quarters of their infantry strength during the drop and almost all of their specialist equipment; the glider raid similarly did not go according to plan. One of the gliders cast-off over England, but the other two reached their release points successfully. The paratroopers on the ground had not been able to recover neither the Eureka beacons or the flares which were to guide the gliders to their target, and as they were relying on sight alone, in poor conditions, one glider landed two miles off target, having mistaken a village for its objective. The other found the Battery and was preparing t land when it was spotted and came under fire from a machine-gun, wounding four of the passengers and throwing the craft off course. Having narrowly avoided landing in the minefield, the pilots were finally able to land their glider safely, but 800 yards outside the Battery. Undeterred by their misfortune, the remainder of the 9th Battalion attacked the Merville Battery and at a heavy cost, overcame its garrison and destroyed the guns.


On the following evening, the main glider element of the 6th Airborne Division was delivered to Normandy, and 297 Squadron provided 20 aircraft to this effort. One of the Horsas had to cast off over England and another lost its undercarriage on take-off, though it continued towards the target. The remaining 19 Horsas were successfully delivered, in spite of the light flak which shot down 1 aircraft, at the loss of all aboard, and inflicted some minor damage upon others.


On the 7th June, 297 Squadron took part in Operation Cooney and provided 2 of the 9 aircraft of 38 Group that were used to deploy elements of the 4th French Parachute Battalion, SASB, between Redon and St. Malo. These men were to disrupt enemy communications between West Britanny and the remainder of France, and in all 58 soldiers were dropped on no fewer than 17 undefended drop zones. Despite the smallness of these drop zones, rendering them a considerable challenge to locate, 297 Squadron succeeded in locating both zones on which it was to deploy its troops.




Due to the short range of the Albemarle aircraft, 297 Squadron temporarily moved to Manston on the 15th September 1944, so that they could play their part in Market Garden. On the First Lift they towed 26 Horsas and 2 Wacos to Arnhem without loss. Albemarles were unsuited to the resupply role, and so it was that 297 Squadron's last sorties to Arnhem were flown on Monday 18th September, when they brought in 24 Horsas with the Second Lift. No losses were sustained during either of the two lifts.


The Rhine Crossing


On the 30th September 1944, 297 Squadron left Brize Norton for Earls Colne, where they converted to Halifax aircraft. On the 24th March 1945, a second and successful attempt was made to cross the Rhine, this time using the 6th Airborne Division, and 30 Halifax aircraft were detailed to tow Horsas to their landing zones, all of which arrived safely.


When the war in Europe came to an end, 297 Squadron were used to transport troops all over the continent. The Squadron was disbanded on the 1st April 1946, although it was technically reformed at Tarrant Rushton on the same day with the renumbering of 295 Squadron, a fellow unit in 38 Group. The Squadron returned to its former Airborne Forces role, however a deviation from this came in December 1948, when the now Hastings-equipped Squadron participated in the Berlin Airlift. Until October 1949, their chief role was the delivery of coal to the besieged city, and on the return flight they exported a range of manufactured produce. Following this, 297 Squadron returned to the Airborne Forces fold, but was disbanded on the 15th November 1950, its crews mostly being used to swell the ranks of 24 Squadron.


Commanders of 297 Squadron



Wing Commander J. G. Minifie


Wing Commander J. R. Grice