No.3 Group and the Stirling’s swansong
Given the Short Stirling’s recent performance or lack of it during the autumn campaign of 1943 the decision to equip the squadrons of No.3 Group with the Avro Lancaster was brought forward. Disproportional operational losses, availability and increase in early returns resulted in the squadrons being taken off operations against targets in Germany in late November 1943. The groups Stirling’s participated in 13 operations during November dispatching 421 sorties, in December it had dropped to 198 sorties of which most were mining.
The decision taken in July 1943 was biting, the Short Stirling had to be replaced, sooner than anticipated. At the beginning of November the group had a respectful 194 operational Short Stirling’s on strength, within the month this had dropped to 115. Two Squadron’s No.196 and No.620 were transferred to No.38 Group on November 18th followed by the disbandment of No.513 Squadron on the 21st, the squadrons aircraft were flown to No.1660 Conversion Unit. The decline continued with No.XV Squadron based at RAF Mildenhall replacing it’s Stirling’s with Avro Lancaster’s in December, No.622 followed within a matter of weeks. By January 1944, only No.75(NZ)-No.90-No.149 (East India) -No.214 (Federated Malay States ) and No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron were still equipped and operational.
For No.623 Squadron the end came on Monday December 6th 1943 with No.3 Group HQ Administrational Instruction No.99. The squadron’s ground crews were posted between No.3 Lancaster Finishing School, No.1653 Conversion Unit or remained at Downham Market. The crews as already recorded were posted to squadrons within No.3 Group. Of the squadrons Short Stirling’s these would initially remain at RAF Downham Market until the arrival of No.214 (FMS) Squadron. Not all the Stirling’s would be taken on charge by No.214, some would help form conversions units and end their days pounding the runways of No.1660 Con.Unit at RAF Swinderby and No.1661 Con.Unit at RAF Windthorpe. The squadrons last commanding officer Wing Commander Milligan AFC in a letter sent to me in 1991 recalled the news of the squadrons order to disband :
“The disbandment of No.623 Squadron came as a most unwelcome shock to all of us because everyone was part of a fine squadron at a very difficult time and we were all proud of the part we played and no body had any desire to be moved or posted to anther squadron or squadron and start making friends all over again. Some crews were lucky and in that they were nearing the end of their tours, they were rested, however sadly there was nothing we could do about it”