3 Squadron AIRCRAFT
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by Steve Mackenzie
F/Lt Arthur Dawkins sitting on the cockpit sill of his P-40L CV-B FS449. In the background can be seen CV-<> FS482 in its Temperate Camouflage scheme.
Compare to the Desert Scheme aircraft behind it. Photo A. Dawkins
In mid-1943 (before the Sicily Campaign), 3 Sqn RAAF started receiving the P-40L Merlin-engined Kittyhawk Mk.IIa into its inventory. The RAF had contracted to take 100 examples of this type under Lend Lease and gave them serials FS400-FS499. They were very similar to the P-40Fs (Kittyhawk Mk.II) previously operated, but had a major change in the extended rear fuselage (to a total length of 33'4"). Other minor changes (useful in identification) are 'Fishtail'-type exhausts instead of the straight 'Tube'-type used in the P-40F, a different prop and additional framing on the portside (only) of the windscreen (used to create a 'Quarter Window' for bad weather visibility).
Peter Gilbert with a P-40L. Photo taken on Malta Jun/Jul 1943. RAAF Official
3 Sqn RAAF, who were the only users of the type in the RAF, started receiving the first few just before they moved to Malta in preparation for the Sicilian invasion. At the time due to a shortage of the P-40F model, they were also operating a small number of Kittyhawk Mk.IIIs (long fuselage P-40K-10 type, serials FR4xx batch) in one flight to make up the shortfall. For a short while they operated all three sub-versions, which must have made for an interesting time with mixed formations due to differences in performance.
By late 1943 the P-40Ls had entirely replaced the other two types in the service of 3 Sqn.
Technical Aspects & Roles
While the Kittyhawk units were in theory fighter squadrons, they only met German aircraft on a couple of occasions for the remainder of the war. This was because their role was Close Air Support near the front line areas. In Italy the 'Cab Rank' system was developed whereby fighters would loiter in a given area until directed to a specific target (using map co-ordinates) by the ground controller who was himself usually an ex-Kittyhawk pilot 'resting' between tours. In addition they would attack interdiction targets (bridges, road junctions, road traffic, enemy headquarters) up to 150+ miles behind the front line in pre-briefed attacks. Formations in Italy were normally of six aircraft, it was rare that a full Sqn effort of 12 would be laid on.
Bomb loads with the P-40Ls initially consisted of either one 500 lb bomb on the centre line shackles or 2 x 250 lb bombs in a side-by-side arrangement. The early aircraft received also still had the shackles under each wing to carry 3 x 40lb bombs, but these were rarely used and appear to have been done away with later. Later they often carried one 1000lb bomb centrally on short range raids from Cutella in Italy. Occasionally while on longer range interdiction sorties to strafe German road traffic, a drop tank was carried on the centreline shackles instead of a bomb. Another interesting point was the use of 'screamers' under the wingtips to produce an imitation of the Ju-87s trademark dive. These were actually pieces of German equipment that were liberated from a bomb dump in Sicily and fitted under each wing of some aircraft (see photos).
|Typical loads carried. 40, 250 & 500 lb bombs, Drop Tank under fuselage. Photos Reg Moore|
|Twin 250 lb and 500 lb bomb installation details. Photos A.Dawkins & Reg Moore|
|Left - 40 lb bomb shackles under wing. Right - 'Screamer' fitted under wing tip. RAAF Official & B Burchfield|
During the period June-Dec 1943, the Squadron led a very nomadic existence. They operated from the following airstrips, moving as follows - June, Malta; July, Pachino & Agnone in Sicily; 14 Sep, Grottaglie near Taranto Italy; 22nd of September, Bari briefly, then to Foggia main complex; in Nov they had to move from the main Foggia field as the main complex was required for Allied Strategic bomber units (B-17s, B-24s and Wellingtons). They moved to Melini & Celone which were satellite strips in the Foggia complex used for fighter operations.
The weather was very bad in Spring of 1943 (Oct-Dec) with heavy rains which caused the Allied advance to grind to a halt in Oct. Armed reconnaissance missions gave way on the 24th of October to a series of anti-shipping operations over the Adriatic Sea using long-range fuel tanks fitted onto the Kittyhawks. Shipping around the Yugoslav Islands and German fortifications in Yugoslavia were common targets set by the ground controllers, working in two-way communication with individual patrols.
New Year 1944 brought rain & snow etc to greet a Squadron advance party who had travelled to Cutella, near Termoli, to prepare for the Squadron's arrival. After the weather cleared bombing operations recommenced. Cutella on the east coast of Italy was the home for the Sqn for the next five months (till the end of May 1944) when they moved forward to follow the Allied Armies who had broken through the German 'Winter Line' in May, liberating Rome on June 4th (which was slightly overshadowed by events in Normandy 2 days later).
Cutella was a very pleasant strip built on the sand dunes and about 1/2 mile inland from the sea which enabled the crews to go swimming in Summer weather. The old strip is now bisected by a local highway. It was at Cutella that 3 Squadron began bombing with 1,000 pounders after it had been tested and proven safe by W/Cdr Wilmont.
|Two photos of operations from Cutella. CV-A appears to be carrying 2 x 250 lb bomb load. The first a/c in the line-up appears to be Ken Richard's CV-K (see later). Photos Reg Moore|
|Pilots studying a target map before a mission. Photo of an actual Grid map used in Italy. Photos K.Richards & B Burchfield|
|Inside the Mess and a photo of the operations van. Photos B Burchfield|
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