298 Squadron was formed at Thruxton on the 24th August 1942; flying Whitleys in conjunction with the Airborne Forces, however on the 19th October, after only two months in existence, the Squadron was disbanded. It was reformed at Tarrant Rushton a year later on the 4th November 1943, using "A" Flight of 295 Squadron as a nucleus. Over the following months, 298 Squadron was brought up to full strength and equipped throughout with forty converted Halifax V bombers. Although a Halifax could carry parachutists, the chief role of this powerful four-engined aircraft was to tow heavily laden gliders, in particular the Hamilcar. With forty aircraft to its name, it was a very large, almost unwieldy Squadron, however numbers were reduced to a more acceptable level on the 23rd February 1944, when "C" Flight was detached to form the basis of 644 Squadron, also based at Tarrant Rushton.
On the 4th June 1944, the Halifaxes of 298 Squadron received their "invasion marks" of black and white bands painted on the wingtips and along the fuselage to distinguish them as Allied aircraft. For matters of secrecy, these planes were confined to the ground until D-Day.
The primary role of 298 and 644 Squadrons on the first night of the landings was to tow the six Horsa gliders, three to each Squadron, that were to seize by a coup de main raid the Bénouville and Ranville Bridges, spanning the Caen Canal and River Orne respectively. The attack, carried out by Major John Howard with a part of "B" and all of "D" Company the 2nd Battalion The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry under his command, became one of the most famous actions of the war; the capture of the Bénouville Bridge has become more commonly known as Pegasus Bridge.
As these troops were to be the first men of the 6th Airborne Division to land in Normandy, their aircraft, led by Wing Commander Duder, took off at 22:30 on the 5th June, half an hour before the pathfinder aircraft. It had been planned that the gliders would be released at six thousand feet, however low cloud forced this to be adjusted to four thousand five hundred. At 00:16, the first glider landed on its appointed zone, fifty yards from Bénouville Bridge. Due to navigational difficulties, one of the gliders landed eight miles from its objective, but the remaining five arrived intact, and their troops quickly overwhelmed the garrisons and then defended the bridges until the remainder of the 6th Airborne Division arrived to relieve them several hours later. The Halifaxes, having released the gliders, then proceeded to attack a factory in Caen with the small load of light bombs that they were carrying. The intention of this act was to disguise the presence of the Airborne troops by making it seem as if the intense aerial activity of that night heralded nothing more than a routine bombing raid.
Flying several hours behind the main drop of the 3rd and 5th Parachute Brigades was a relatively small glider lift, carrying as many anti-tank guns as the air forces could accommodate on the first night. The arrival of these units in Normandy had been deliberately delayed to allow the engineers of the 591st Parachute Squadron enough time to clear two landing strips of mined anti-glider obstacles on LZ-N, near Ranville. 298 Squadron provided seventeen aircraft to this deployment, towing fifteen Horsa gliders and two Hamilcars; the Horsa lift took off at 1:30, the Hamilcars forty minutes later. One glider of each type was forced to cast off over England, in addition to which another Horsa fell away shortly before the formation crossed the French coast, whilst the final Hamilcar did likewise soon after, but was able to land within half a mile of its objective and so its passengers suffered little inconvenience. Patches of cloud below the planned release height of one thousand five hundred feet greatly complicated navigation, and a substantial amount of light flak did not help matters, yet both the tug crews and the troops in the gliders were full of praise for the glider pilots who had managed to hold on in the face of this fire and found the landing zone. One Halifax was brought down during this lift, but the crew successfully bailed out and all were able to return to base two days later.
The Squadrons of 38 and 46 Groups had little time to rest because as of 13:30 on the 6th June, their crews were in the air again, carrying the main glider element of the 6th Airborne Division to France. 298 Squadron towed one Horsa and fifteen Hamilcars on this lift, the latter carrying a mixture of Universal Carriers and the Tetrarch light tanks of the 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment. All the gliders were delivered to their zones without loss, however the formation of was fired upon during their return flight and several of Halifaxes were damaged. One of these was forced to ditch eight miles out to sea, but the crew were soon collected by a naval vessel, thanks to Squadron Leader Biggs who circled his aircraft over the crash site and fired Very Lights to draw attention to the area.
Small numbers of the Squadron's aircraft were used on four resupply drops to the 6th Airborne Division over the coming weeks, all of which were completed without loss.
Special Operations Executive
Following the conclusion of their part in the Invasion, 298 Squadron flew many supply drops over France to men of the SAS and the Special Operations Executive, and they also participated in a number of tactical bombing raids. Losses were sustained on some of these missions. On the 16th July, one Halifax was lost and its six-man crew killed whilst flying an SOE sortie codenamed "Stationer 175". A similar mission, "Diplomat 9", took place on the 5th August 1944 and an aircraft was shot down by a German fighter; one man died but the remaining crew successfully bailed out. On the 24th August, three men died when their Halifax was shot down on "Pimento 98", and on the 30th August another aircraft and all six crew were lost on "Osric 122". Another SOE mission was flown on the 11th September, but the Halifax involved crashed into high ground, killing all four aboard.
298 Squadron returned to its Airborne Forces role on the 17th September 1944, when it participated in the lift of the 1st Airborne Division to Arnhem. This battle proved to be an extremely costly affair for the air forces, especially on the later resupply flights, however 298 Squadron suffered no losses throughout. Their aircraft were not particularly suited for supply drops and so the Squadron was used in a glider-towing capacity only, its role in proceedings therefore came to an end on Tuesday 19th September, having flown a total of forty-five sorties, delivering fifteen Hamilcar gliders and thirty Horsas.
Special Operations Executive
Following Operation Market Garden, 298 Squadron resumed their SAS/SOE duties. A Halifax crashed and one man was killed on the 20th September, when it ran out of fuel during landing after the successful completion of an SAS resupply mission. On the following day another aircraft was lost when it flew too low on a similar mission and collided with the ground; killing three of the six crew. The Squadron suffered no further losses during the remainder of 1944, but two men were killed when their aircraft crashed on a navigational exercise on the 9th February 1945, and on the 25th February the six man crew of a Halifax were lost when they were hit by flak during an SOE mission to Norway.
The Rhine Crossing
In March 1945, 298 and 644 Squadrons temporarily left Tarrant Rushton for Woodbridge, a base closer to mainland Europe, so that they might participate in Operation Varsity, the second and successful attempt to cross the Rhine, this time using the 6th Airborne Division. On the 24th March, 298 Squadron towed twenty-four Hamilcars and five Horsas to their landing zones at Hamminkeln, during which one Halifax was brought down by flak and its six-man crew were killed.
Three days later another crew were lost when their aircraft stalled and crashed during a night-time navigational exercise. Thereafter the Squadron reverted to its former SAS/SOE resupply role, although their field of operations was now largely concerned with only Norway and Denmark. On the 30th March, 298 and 644 Squadrons contributed eleven aircraft to SOE resupply missions in these countries; one aircraft and six men were lost on the "Ostler 2" sortie. Further six-man crews were lost on flights to Scandinavia on the 3rd, 13th, and 19th April.
Immediately after the war in Europe came to an end, 298 Squadron flew elements of the 1st Airborne Division to both Norway and Denmark, so that they could oversee the surrender of German forces in those countries. In July 1945, the Squadron was posted to Raipur, in India, from where they carried out a range of transport duties until they returned to the Airborne support role in July 1946. 298 Squadron was disbanded on the 21st December 1946.
Thanks to Alan Hartley for his help with this history.
Commanders of 298 Squadron
Wing Commander D. H. Duder DSO, DFC