IC– Item Charlie
“It was a very fine squadron“ Wing Commander Milligan AFC
The formation of No.623 Squadron was already in doubt even before it happened. By the time the squadron was formed the future of the Short Stirling with No.3 Group had been decided. A conference was held on July 30th 1943 to discuss the future role of the aircraft and concluded there were four possibilities for its future use, transport, special duties, maritime and meteorological reconnaissance. Due to the limitations of the original design specifications and its operational failings in certain key areas the future as a front line bomber was now under the microscope. Discussions with Shorts and Austin Motors by the Controller of Aircraft however agreed that production at these two plants should continue as the Short Stirling would not be completely phased out until mid 1944. It had long been known that the C-in-C Bomber Command Sir Arthur Harris had a particular aversion for the Short Stirling and its manufacturers. A letter from Sir Arthur Harris to the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair sums up the despair felt at HQ Bomber Command and by Harris in particular at the thought of the continuing use of the Stirling:
“… The Stirling and the Halifax are now our major worries. They presage disaster unless solutions are found. I understand that the Stirling is to go in favour of the Lancaster as fast as the changeover can be achieved. The Stirling Group has now virtually collapsed. They make no worthwhile contribution to our war effort in return for their overheads. They are at half strength, and serviceability is such that in spite of the much-reduced operational rate and long periods of complete idleness due to weather I am lucky if I can raise 30 Stirling’s from No.3 Group for one night’s work after doing a week of nothing, or 20 the night after. There should be a wholesale sacking of the incompetents who have turned out approximately 50% rogue aircraft from Short and Harland’s, Belfast and Austin’s, not forgetting the Supervisors responsible at the parent firm. Much the same applies to the Halifax issue, nothing ponderable is being done to make this deplorable product worthy for war or fit to meet those jeopardise, which confront our gallant crews….”
Harsh words from the C-in-C, however for the crews of No.3 Group and No.623 Squadron it meant nothing. They were equipped with the Short Stirling for the foreseeable future. This would only change if production of the Avro Lancaster fulfilled the needs of the Air Ministry and kept pace with Bomber Command operational demands and losses. Sadly the debacle of the forth coming winter campaign against Berlin would see production of the Avro Lancaster only just keeping the squadrons equipped, however this was in the future.
Against this back drop between June and July 1943 a number of new squadrons were formed. The first was No.620 Squadron on Thursday June 17th at RAF Chedburgh under the command of Wing Commander Donald Henry Lee. In August two more squadrons were formed, No.622 Squadron and No.623 Squadron. The former was formed on Tuesday 10th August 1943 by hiving off “C” Flight of No.XV Squadron based at RAF Mildenhall. The squadron was initially under the temporary command of Squadron Leader John Martin who was succeeded by Wing Commander George Hugh Nichols Gibson DFC on August 20th. Also on the same day No.623 was formed by selecting seven crews of No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron base at RAF Downham Market. These seven crews each with various degrees of operations experience were drawn from A – B and C Flights and would form the nucleus of No.623 Squadron.
The squadron was eventually to be a 2 flight squadron to the establishment of WAR/BC/337 with 16 I.E plus 4 I.R aircraft. The squadron would initially be under the day to day control of the experience former “A” flight commander of No. 218 Squadron, Squadron Leader Frederick John Austin, however No.218 Squadron commanding officer Wing Commander William Oldbury formally of No.620 Squadron had overall operational command until the squadron received its first commanding officer. The seven selected crews and their aircraft moved across the tarmac and occupied the former dispersal area of C Flight of 218 Squadrons . The ground crews painted out the former red HA code of 218 and reapplied the code letters IC.
On Wednesday August 18th 1943 Wing Commander Edwin John Little DFC 3 x MiD arrived to assume command of the squadron. John Little was an experience pilot having completed a tour with No.40 Squadron during 1941 where he was awarded the D.F.C. Known by family and friends as Jack he had joined the Royal Air Force in 1936 and served with No.101 (Bomber) Squadron before various posting prior to the declaration of war on September 3rd 1939. Jack Little looked older than his 28 years due mainly to his receding hairline, a keen sportsman he was a rather serious young man whose personal beliefs were at odds with the occupation he was in, bombing. A devoted and fervent Christian Jack was unlike many of his contemporaries, a prolific writer he was known to be most happy writing sermons and prayers. On most Sundays he would be found in Church preaching or helping out, such was the character of the man. He had since 1941 held a number of posts as CFI and CGI at various Operational Training Units during which time he had been awarded three Mention In Dispatches.