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 90 Squadron
 381st Bomb Group
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      90 Squadron at RAF Ridgewell

 

 

 

On December 29 1942 a group of 90 Squadron Short Stirlings lined up on approach to their new base at Ridgewell. As it touched down the first Stirling bounced and careered into a  ditch. Luckily the crew was safe, but the remainder of the squadron returned to their old base at RAF Bottesford. This was not the start of operations at Ridgewell that the Squadron had planned for!

The squadron returned the next day and prepared for their first sortie, mine laying operations, on January 8 1943. The crews called mine laying 'gardening', because each sea area around the European coasts was given a code-name of flowers or vegetables! By the end of April the squadron dropped a record 1,050 mines.

90 Squadron started as a training squadron at the outbreak of war but re¬formed with 2 Group RAF on 7 May 1941 flying B-17 Fortresses. This role proved unsuccessful and the squadron was disbanded in February 1942, re-forming again on 7 November 1942, this time with 3 Group, flying Short Stirlings.

 

In their time at Ridgewell, 90 Squadron took part in a succession of raids directed mainly at French west coast ports, although on February 4 they raided Turin and on March 1/2 1943 made their first raid on Berlin.

The greatest flaw with the Stirling was it’s low operational ceiling, brought about by a war office requirement, at the design stage, that the aircraft should fit into a standard RAF hangar, limiting the wingspan to under 100ft. This was already bringing fear-some experiences for the crews. Sergeant William Davine, during a raid on Duisburg,became terribly wounded during the bomber's first run up, but continued to give instructions for a second run and the crew nursed him and the battered bomber home. The same night Pilot Officer Gordon William Young's machine was attacked four times by fighters but he managed to get home, whilst Pilot Officer F. Shippard's Stirling was attacked by a fighter 15 miles off the enemy coast. He brought his aircraft home by holding the control column between his knees to prevent the aircraft climbing.

 

On the night of 16th April over Mannheim one of 90 Squadron’s Stirlings crash-landed near Laon in France. Seven of the crew managed to escape, evading capture and subsequently arriving back in England via the French under-ground. Unfortunately the pilot, Pilot Officer White, who was badly injured in the chest, was taken prisoner; White was on his last trip before completing his first successful tour of operations! Two aircraft failed to return to Ridgewell on 12th May after the fourth attack on Duisburg - one had come down over Holland and the other shot down by a night-fighter whilst returning over the North Sea, none of the crew were rescued.

 

The last Ruhr operation involving Ridgewell took place on 29th May and was directed at Wuppertal, some 15 miles south-east of Essen. It proved to be a costly mission overall with 33 aircraft lost (4.6%) from all the attacking squadrons, just one being from Ridgewell. The next day the squadron moved once again - to West Wickham in Cambridgeshire, although a few Stirlings remained for a while, sharing the airfield handstandings with the forthcoming USAAF Flying Fortresses. During their stay at Ridgewell 54 missions had been launched from the airfield and seven aircraft had been lost over Ruhr targets. The squadron later moved to Tuddenham in Suffolk and it was from there that it completed the war. There is a memorial to No 90 squadron on the village green at Tuddenham. The 4th Bomb Wing Substitution Unit, USAAF, moved in as the station was put under Care & Maintenance.

 
 
        The RAF handover of Station 167 to the USAAF (June 1943)
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90 Squadron memorial
   
In September 2006 a ceremony was held at the Airfield hospital site to dedicate a memorial to the RAF personnel from 90 Squadron. This splendid memorial (above left),  crafted by master stonemason RC Coppin of Braintree, also commemorates personal from the 94 and 95 maintenance units. Over 200 people, including many veterans, attended the ceremony which was led by the Rev. Michael Hewitt. The stone was arranged by members of the RAF Ridgewell Memorial Fund and erected on land provided by the Garrod family. It sits just to the right side of the original 381st Bomb Group Memorial (above right).

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