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Ken Batchelor



Group Captain

Ken Batchelor - Biography

In 1932, while an impecunious architectural student, I joined 600 (City of London) Squadron of the then Auxiliary Air Force at Hendon and had my first flight in the back cockpit of a Wapiti. Posters advertised “Join the RAF and see the world” so I did just that in 1934. Arriving at 4 FTS in Abu Sueir in Egypt I learned that one was likely to be posted at the end of the pilot course to any squadron in the Middle or Far East with little prospect of returning home for another four or five years. Flying the last of the 504 Lynx Avros, and the Atlas, as well as inverted spinning on both made a good start to 30 years more service.

My first unit was 84 (B) Squadron at Shaibah in Iraq then an RAF command keeping the peace there and policing the Arab Sheikdoms down the Persian Gulf with our Vincents.

Home in 1938 at Henlow in the ‘Pilotless Aircraft Section’. I was testing Queen Bees, radio controlled Tiger Moths, which the Army and Navy used as expensive AA targets. Being landed automatically by elementary radio signals was an unnerving experience. Fortunately, an old Virginia, early Moths, Tutors and Magisters provided relaxation while a floatplane course on a Swordfish on ‘boots’ at Calshot was a superb diversion. Later that year I formed a flight of 15 Henleys, and a camp in Wales, to provide target towing, simulated dive bombing and night flying for three AA practice camps on the coast. The Henley, virtually a two-seat ‘pregnant’ Hurricane, should have been our early war day bomber instead of the Fairey Battle, some of which we also had.

In 1940 my pilots all went to Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons while I, then a Squadron Leader, after OTU conversion, joined 9 Squadron at Honington as a flight commander on Wellington Ic’s. Completing my operational tour I was promoted and took command of Honington’s satellite at E. Wretham with 311 (Czech) Bomber Squadron and its small OTU before serving as a Controller/Wing Co. Ops at HQ 3 Group.

Command of 138 Special Duty Squadron with Halifaxes at Tempsford followed in 1943, but I left before the end of my tour to take command of Chedburgh which had two Stirling squadrons. Command of 138 (SD) Squadron at Tempsford in Bomber Command in 1943 was an unique experi­ence, after my first tour on normal bombing operations. Until mid 1944 it was one of only two squadrons in the UK dropping agents and arms to the Resistance Forces throughout occupied Europe, from Poland to the Mediterranean. Flying low everywhere to avoid radar cover it played a part in many significant clandestine operations. We delivered the team who assassinated Heydrich, the Reichs Protector of Czechoslovakia. Another Halifax dropped the saboteurs who destroyed the heavy water plant and stock piles in Norway, causing Germany to abandon what otherwise could have been a successful effort to develop atomic weapons. I was sorry to leave less than half-way through my tour to command a Stirling Station on promotion.

In 1944 I became Station Commander at Mildenhall, until the end of 1945, with two Lancaster squadrons. Our regular effort was 36 sorties every day or night with 16,000 lbs of bombs. As quite an exception to the usual Bomber Command ‘gaggle’, both squadrons operated on daylight attacks on oil targets in the Ruhr, flying in strict formation. This enabled us, with our own innovation of the first effective airfield radar surveillance system, to land planes at 40 second intervals. Each landed in the right order without any R/T chatter, control merely checked spacings on the radar.

At the end of 1945 I went to the N.W. Frontier of India as Senior Air Staff Officer to the Group responsible for the flying training of the Royal Indian Air Force and for the RIAF and RAF fighter/ground attack squadrons. In 1947 I joined the northern Army as Air Advisor during the Independence massacres.

Back home in 1948 various interesting postings ensued, Combined Operations HQ, the NATO Military Executive then in Washington and, in 1957, Commander of 8 FTS at Swinderby. This, with its 80 Vampires, was probably the busiest station in the RAF at that time. I retired in 1964 after two years on the Staff of Fighter Command.

Notes on Aircraft flown in Combat, 1939-45

With 30 operational sorties on a Wellington Ic I had a very high regard for that rugged geodetic aeroplane, which could take a lot of punishment. It was not as fast as its four-engined successor – a round trip to Berlin took over 8 hours. Moreover, its operational ceiling was little more than half that reached later by Lancasters. This often meant flying in bad weather rather than over it, and it certainly attracted a great deal of flak. I lost a prop once, it flew off over the sea and left the engine on fire, but the trusty old warhorse got us home. Halifaxes, Stirlings and Lancasters had exhilarating performances by comparison.

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