575 Squadron was formed at Hendon on the 1st February 1944, using a number of Dakotas and crews from 512 Squadron as a nucleus. Five days later, the two squadrons received orders to move to Broadwell to became a part of 46 Group, Transport Command, dedicated to the role of transporting and supplying airborne troops. The ground crews were flown to their new home inside the Dakotas, whilst other aircraft towed Horsa gliders carrying further men and a miscellany of essential equipment.
Throughout the coming months, 575 Squadron trained intensively to become accustomed to their new role. To give the air crews valuable experience of flying over enemy territory at night, four of the Squadron's Dakotas were detailed to fly to France on the 2nd April and drop propaganda leaflets. Further "raids" of this nature were undertaken on St. Lo and Vire on the 24th and 25th April. The Squadron participated in its first major training exercise, codenamed "Dreme", on the night of the 4th April, in which thirty Dakotas of 575 and 512 Squadrons towed and released gliders containing elements of the 1st Airlanding Brigade. Further exercises, involving up to thirty-five aircraft, were mounted throughout the month with the chief aim of improving skills at flying in close formation and navigating over great distances in darkness. Yet even exercises contained an element of risk; on the 18th April, a Dakota towing a Horsa crashed on take-off from Brize Norton. With D-Day imminent, May was a busy month for the airborne fraternity, and numerous exercises were carried out by 575 Squadron alongside various units of the 6th Airborne Division.
On the 5th June, 512 and 575 Squadrons were tasked with carrying elements of the 3rd Parachute Brigade, in particular the 1st Canadian and 9th Parachute Battalions, to DZ-V some miles to the east of where the main force of the 6th Airborne Division was to land. Twenty-one of 575 Squadrons Dakotas were used during this first lift, and between them the two squadrons dropped some one thousand parachutists. Due to poor weather conditions complicating navigation, and the pathfinders who were to illuminate the drop zone with their beacons landing astray, the drop was badly scattered and only threadbare elements of both battalions were able to form up and go about their business. All of 575 Squadron's aircraft returned safely to base, however, where they were promptly refuelled in preparation for the Second Lift to Normandy during the evening. Again, twenty-one Dakotas were used, each towing a Horsa. One combination crashed during take-off, but the remaining gliders reached the landing zone safely and their tug aircraft returned to base without mishap. During the following days, the Squadron participated in several resupply sorties in support of the 6th Airborne Division, all flown without loss.
During June, the Squadron received a number of Anson aircraft for use in general transport tasks. On the 17th June, fifteen Dakotas flew the ground crews of a 2nd Tactical Air Force fighter squadron to the B2 airstrip at Bazenville in the Normandy beachhead, and on the return flight they evacuated over two hundred wounded men so that they could receive proper medical attention in Britain. This flight set the pattern for the coming months, during which the Squadron carried freight and passengers to France on a daily basis and returned with as many wounded as they could carry. This was an extremely important service because not only did it help to bring valuable supplies to the front line as quickly as possible, but it also saved the lives of many men who would otherwise have died if they had not been removed to a properly equipped hospital. The shuttle service gave the Dakota crews little time for rest; in August alone, 575 Squadron had flown two hundred and fifteen such sorties.
The flights were temporarily halted in early September when Transport Command was informed that an airborne operation was imminent. On the 17th September, nineteen of 575 Squadron's aircraft were used to tow Horsas to their landing zones near Arnhem, each carrying men and equipment of the 1st Border. Several gliders were forced to cast-off during the flight, however all aircraft returned to base without incident. Twenty-three aircraft brought in Horsas on the Second Lift during the following afternoon. Two Horsas had to cast-off before reaching their zone; one of these released itself when it saw that its tug aircraft was in trouble after it had been hit by flak, killing its pilot, Flying Officer Ed Henry. The co-pilot, Warrant Officer Bert Smith, took control of the damaged Dakota and was able to bring it safely back to base. In spite of heavy flak the Squadron suffered no losses during this lift, although Flying Officer McTeare's aircraft came close to disaster when the glider tow rope of another Dakota became wrapped around his wing, but despite the resulting instability of the aircraft he was able to make a safe landing at Framlington.
Over the following days the Squadron played its part in the numerous resupply flights. Anti-aircraft fire was intense, however, and on Tuesday 19th September two Dakotas were shot down and another was so badly damaged that it was forced to make a crash landing, having limped back to England. On Saturday 23rd, eighteen aircraft of 575 Squadron established themselves at a forward base at Evère, in Belgium, greatly reducing the flying time and hopefully enabling them to better support the 1st Airborne Division. Having flown sorties from here on the 23rd and 24th September, seven of the Squadron's aircraft alone marked the last of the resupply flight on Monday 25th. Although the fire from the ground was intense and four of the seven aircraft were damaged, all returned to base except for one which, having been hit a second time near Eindhoven during the return flight, lost its port engine and was forced to put down near Pael, in Belgium, however no one aboard was injured.
The Battle of Arnhem had cost the Squadron the lives of five aircrew and four Despatchers. Thereafter its aircraft resumed the daily shuttle service to the continent, carrying freight to the front line and bringing back wounded. These missions continued without respite until March 1945, when the Squadron was put on standby for another airborne operation.
The Rhine Crossing
On the 24th March, 575 Squadron towed twenty-four Horsa gliders, carrying men and equipment of the 6th Airborne Division, to their landing zones around Hamminkeln. No losses were suffered, and on the return flight the Dakotas landed at Evère to refuel in anticipation of being called upon to support the landings with a resupply flight. In the event, the Allies had made such progress that any further action on their part was deemed unnecessary.
575 Squadron returned to their former shuttle duties, which were now more in demand than ever. In March alone, in addition to their commitment to Operation Varsity, they flew a total of two hundred and seventy-three sorties, and during the next month they completed four hundred. The Squadron became increasingly busy during the post-war period, supplies were still needed in great quantities, and although there were no wounded to evacuate from battlefields, there were many thousands of prisoners of war who had to be ferried home.
On the 5th August, 575 Squadron moved to Melbourne, in Yorkshire, and during October they flew numerous long-distance flights to India. In November, they moved to Blakehill Farm, but their stay was brief and they were soon preparing for a move to Bari, in Italy. Shortly before their departure there came the tragic loss of one of the Squadron's Dakotas, which crashed whilst taking-off on the 14th January 1946. At Bari the Squadron undertook general transport duties to the Balkans as well as internal flights within Italy. A number of Ansons were acquired to carry out short-range flights, leaving the Dakotas free to extend their schedules to Malta, Egypt, and Palestine. 575 Squadron continued to perform these tasks throughout the summer until it was disbanded on the 15th August 1946.
The information contain in this history has come from the article "Wings of the Airborne Army", by Andrew Thomas. Thanks to Alan Hartley for his help.
Commanders of 575 Squadron
Wing Commander T. A. Jefferson AFC
Wing Commander E. C. Deanesly DFC
Wing Commander B. L. Duigan DSO, DFC