RAF Squadrons in May 1940

Planes and bases of the Royal Air Force on May 10, 1940. Number of squadrons, locations and aircraft types at the beginning of the Western campaign.

A trio of Bristol Blenheim IV bombers.
A trio of Bristol Blenheim IV bombers. The Blenheim was found to be extremely vulnerable to modern fighters.

In January 1940 it was decided to unite the Air Component and the Advanced Air Striking Force under the command of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief British Air Forces in France, Air Marshal Barratt. As soon as possible after its arrival in France, the RAF took part in operations which brought it in contact with German aircraft. Although a number of German machines were shot down, RAF losses were heavy as many of their planes (the Fairey Battles and Blenheims for example) were found to be inadequately armed and ill-suited to combat with modern fighter planes like the Messerschmitt Bf109.

Britain was anxious not to squander its precious aircraft by using them as a sort of fire brigade at the beck and call of the Allied land forces. The RAF wanted to ensure that its bombers were only used to cause maximum destruction to the enemy, although strategic bombing of targets in Germany was only authorized on 15 May 1940. Fighters based in France and England were to be deployed against the enemy as long as it did not impair Britain’s ability to defend herself. On 10 May 1940, 416 of Britain’s total number of 1,873 first-line aircraft were stationed in France, but on 20 May it was decided to bring back to England the remaining 66 fighters so that they could continue the war from English airfields.

The first phase of the German plan for the invasion of England was to gain control of the air and so during the months of July and August 1940 the RAF prepared its forces for the inevitable battle against the Luftwaffe.

The responsibilities of the RAF in the Mediterranean theater were complex and wide-ranging, covering a vast geographical area and calling for action in a variety of different roles ranging from ground support work to strategic bombing. Until 1942 the RAF was often short of aircraft and equipment but following the Axis defeat at Alamein and the arrival of American forces in North Africa the RAF was able to build up a material superiority that was to play a decisive part in securing victory in the Mediterranean.

Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters of No.80 squadron in North Africa
Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters of No.80 squadron in North Africa. The unit was later moved to Greece to support the Greek army.
The peacetime responsibilities of the Air Officer Commanding, Middle East, encompassed the air forces in Egypt, Palestine, the Sudan, and Kenya, but in the event of war he was also to control the air element in Aden, Malta and Iraq. This vast Command was subsequently expanded to include Persia and the remainder of the Mediterranean theater up to 100 miles (ca. 161 km) west of Malta. The period between September 1939 and the Italian declaration of war in June 1940 was used to build up the RAF’s capabilities in the Middle East within the limitations imposed by the maintenance of the air defense of Great Britain and by operations in France. Yet when Italy declared war the RAF was still greatly outnumbered by the Regia Aeronautica, with the Middle East Air Force comprising only 29 squadrons many of which were equipped with aircraft approaching obsolescence.
The Middle East Air Force was to operate against the Italians in two main theaters, the Mediterranean, and East Africa and the Red Sea; the first attacks being launched on 11 June 1940.
By the end of the year a considerable measure of air superiority had been achieved but a further battlefront was created by the Italian invasion of Greece on 28 October, to which the RAF responded by sending nine squadrons to support the Greek Army.

Active RAF Squadrons on 10 May 1940:

1Berry-au-Bac (France)Hurricane I2Abbeville (France) Lysander I, II
3Merville (France)Hurricane I4Monchy-Lagache (France) Lysander I, II
5Fort Sanderman (India)Wapiti IIA6Ramleh (Palestine) Lysander I, II
7FinningleyHampden I8Khormaskar (Aden) Vincent, Blenheim I
9HoningtonWellington IC10Dishforth Whitley IV, V
11Ismalia (Egypt)Blenheim I12Amifontaine (France)Battle
13Douai (France) Lysander I, II14Amman (Palestine)Wellesley
15AlconburyBlenheim IV16BertanglesLysander II
17HawkingeHurricane I18Meharicourt (France)Blenheim IV
19Horsham St FaithSpitfire I20Kohat (India)Audax
21WattonBleinheim IV22North CoatesBeaufort I
23WitteringBlenheim IF24Hendonvarious communication types
25North WealsBlenheim IF26Dieppe (France) Lysander I, II
27Risalpur (India) Wapiti IIA, Hart, Tiger Moth28Kohat (India)Audax
29DebdenBlenheim IF30Ismalia (Egypt) Blenheim I, IF
31Peshawar (India)Valentia32Biggin HillHurricane I
33Mersa Matruh (Egypt)Gladiator34Tengah (Singapore)Blenheim I
35operational training unit-36Seletar (Malaya)Vildebeest III
37FeltwellWellington IA38Marham Wellington IA, IC
39Heliopolis (India)Blenheim I40WytonBlenheim IV
41CatterickSpitfire I42Thorney IslandBeaufort I
43WickHurricane I44WaddingtonHampden I
45Fuka (Sudan)Blenheim I46transfer on carrier Glorious to NorwayHurricane I
47Khartoum (Sudan) Vincent, Wellesley48Thorney Island Anson I, Beaufort I
49ScamptonHampden I50WaddingtonHampden I
51Dishforth Whitley IV, V52operational training unit-
53Poix (France)Blenheim IV54HornchurchSpitfire I
55Ismalia (Egypt)Blenheim I56GarvesendHurricane I
57Rosieres-en-Saneterre (France)Blenheim IV58Linton-on-OuseWhitley V
59Poix (France)Blenheim IV60Ambala (India)Blenheim I
61HemswellHampden I62Tengah (Singapore)Blenheim I
63operational training unit-64Church FentonSpitfire I
65HornchurchSpitfire I66DuxfordSpitfire I
70Habbaniya (Egypt)Valentia72AcklingtonSpitfire I
73Reims (France)Hurricane I74HornchurchSpitfire I
75Feltwell Wellington I, IA, IC77DriffieldWhitley V
78Linton-on-OuseWhitley V79Biggin HillHurricane I
80Amriya (Egypt)Gladiator81Amiens (France)Tiger Moth (communications)
82WattonBlenheim IV83ScamptonHampden I
84Shaibah (Iraq)Blenheim I85Lille (France)Hurricane I
87Lille (France)Hurricane I88Mourmelon (France)Battle
92NortholtSpitfire I94Sheikh Othman (Aden)Gladiator
97 Driffield (disbanded May 20) without aircrafts98Chateau Bougon (France)Battle
99Newmarket Wellington I, IA, IC100Seletar (Singapore) Vildebeest II, III
101West RaynhamBlenheim IV102DriffieldWhitley V
103Betheniville (France)Battle104operational training unit-
105Villeneuve-les-Vertus (France)Battle106FinningleyHampden I
107WattishamBlenheim IV108operational training unit-
110WattishamBlenheim IV111WickHurricane I
112Helwan (Egypt) Gladiator, Gauntlet II113Heliopolis (Egypt)Blenheim IV
114Conde-Vraux (France)Blenheim IV115Marham Wellington IA, IC
139Plivot (France)Blenheim IV141Grangemouth Defiant I, Gladiator, Blenheim IF, Battle
142Berry-au-Bac (France)Battle144HemswellHampden I
145TangmereHurricane I148StradishallWellington IC
149Mildenhall Wellington I, IA, IC150Ecury-sur-Coole (France)Battle
151North WealdHurricane I152AcklingtonSpitfire I
185operational training unit-201InvergordonSunderland I
202GibraltarLondon II203Sheikh Othman (Aden) Blenheim I, IV
204Sullon Voe (Shetland Is)Sunderland I205Seletar (Ceylon)Singapore III
206Bircham Newton Anson, Hudson207operational training unit-
208Heliopolis (Egypt) Lysander I, II209ObanLerwick I
210Pembroke DockSunderland I211El Daba (Egypt)Blenheim I
212Heston Blenheim IV, Spitfire I213WitteringHurricane I
214Stradishall Wellington I, IA, IC216Heliopolis (Egypt) Valentia, Bombay
217St.Eval Anson, Beaufort I218Mouscou Femme (France)Battle
219CatterickBlenheim IF220ThornabyHudson
222DigbySpitfire I223Khartoum (Sudan)Wellesley
226Reims (France)Battle228Pembroke DockSunderland I
229DigbyHurricane I230Alexandria (Egypt)Sunderland I
232not operational-233LeucharsHudson
234Church Fenton (from May 22)Spitfire I235Bircham Newton Blenheim IVF, IF
236SpekeBlenheim IF237Nairobi (Kenya) Audax, Hardy
240InvergordonLondon II242Church FentonHurricane I
245LeconfieldHurricane I248GosportBlenheim IVF
253Kenley Hurricane I, Battle254HatstonBlenheim IV
263TurnhouseGladiator264Martlesham HeathDefiant I
266Martlesham HeathSpitfire I269WickAnson
271Doncaster Harrow (Transport) Bombay, Ford 5273China Bay (Ceylon) Vildebeest, Seal
500DetlingAnson501BethenvilleHurricane I
502AldergroveAnson504DebdenHurricane I
600ManstonBlenheim IF601TangmereHurricane I
602DyceSpitfire I603TurnhouseSpitfire I
604NortholtBlenheim IF605WickHurricane I
607Vintry-en-Artois (France) Hurricane I, Gladiator608ThornabyAnson
609DremSpitfire I610Biggin HillSpitfire I
611DigbySpitfire I612DyceAnson
613Odiham Lysander, Hector614OdihamLysander
615Abbeville (France) Hurricane I, Gladiator616LeconfieldSpitfire I

Note: Squadron Nos. 400 to 499 were squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force. Not all numbers were used and unfortunately there are no detailed information available.

Overview of Royal Air Force squadrons equipment and location:

AircraftEngland France, Norway Mediterranean,Middle East, Africa India, Malaya Total
Blenheim IF, IVF9---9
Tiger Mouth-1-12

The RAF squadron strength was between 6 and 18 aircraft.

References and literature

The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force (James J. Halley)
Luftkrieg (Piekalkiewicz)
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Das große Buch der Luftkämpfe (Ian Parsons)

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