The Dutch 322 Fighter Squadron revving their engines
The foreign World War Two squadrons, operating within the RAF, originally counted three Dutch squadrons: 320, 321 and 322. Squadrons 320 and 321 later merged into one squadron and continued serving as a coastal bomber squadron.
This blog is concerned with 322 which was a fighter squadron.
Although plans for the formation of a Dutch fighter squadron were in the making early on in the war it wasn’t until 12 June 1943 that the squadron was officially formed. To build a national squadron from scratch with limited means in terms of time, available finances, personnel, training possibilities and aircraft was quite a feat. One of the main initiators of this squadron was Prince Bernhard, German son-in-law of Queen Wilhelmina who lived in exile in London. The squadron’s first home was at Woodvale at the west coast of England, just north of Liverpool.
One of the squadron's Flight Commanders, Kees van Eendenburg, who was also one of the first 'Engelandvaarders', explains the Spitfire cockpit lay-out to Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, a keen pilot himself. Photo taken at Hartford Bridge 18-5-1944
Many of the 322 squadron’s crew members were ‘Engelandvaarders’ who had freshly arrived from their training overseas. Due to a lack of capacity in England during the first years of the war, the Dutch RAF crews were trained in Canada. Much to their disappointment and even more to the disappointment of the experienced pilots who had already been operating with the RAF, their first base was far from the South of England where the real action was. But understandably, before the squadron was realistically ready for operation, the focus in the beginning was on practice and team building. And so the first half year the squadron alternated between Woodvale and Llanbedr in Wales practicing dogfights and a whole range of other exercises. That is, when the English weather permitted.
The squadron was equipped with Spitfires, renown for their speed, maneuverability, power and, not to forget, wonderful design. As the war advanced so did the development of these ‘wizard’ Spits as they were fondly called by their pilots.
A noteworthy detail is the financing of the 322 Spitfires. The initial nine aircraft were funded with resources raised in the colonial Dutch East Indies. The machines were given as a birthday present by the Dutch government to Winston Churchill. In a letter to Prince Bernhard Churchill phrases his gratitude to the people of the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), as follows:
"It is proof, if indeed proof be necessary, that these loyal subjects of the House of Orange will spare no self-sacrifice for the triumph of those ideals which they share with the peoples of the British Empire."
Mascot and logo
Flight Commander Kühlmann is holding the squadron mascot 'Garrison Commander' Polly Grey.
From left to right: F/O Wolters, F/Lt. Schudel (squadron doctor), F/O Jonker, Major F.C. Kühlmann, F/O Archer, F/O Burgwal, F/O Arts, F/O K. van Eendenburg, F/O Meyers. Photo taken at West Malling, July 1944
Like every other squadron the 322 had its own mascot to bring much needed good luck. The parrot, called Polly Grey, accompanied the squadron on all its travels between air bases and was sometimes allowed a flight maneuver of its own as the Squadron Commander notes in his Operations Record Book:
"The Squadron Parrot did a Sector Recco this morning - Good Show. Someone let him out of his cage and he flew around for quite a while before doing a good landing and returning to his ‘Hanger".
The squadron’s logo ‘Niet praten maar doen’ (Not words but acts) reflects the squadron’s eagerness to come into action. Finally, after six months of practicing, in January 1944, the squadron did become operational when it moved to the south-east of England.
What happened to the squadron once work began in earnest will be revealed in our next post on 19 November 2017.
'Polly Grey' - Watercolour illustration by Peter Utton
Prince Bernhard and Kees van Eendenburg - Private collection fam. van Eendenburg
322 squadron with Polly Grey - Private collection fam. van Eendenburg
322 Squadron. Sporen van zijn verleden, lijnen in zijn geschiedenis - W.H. Lutgert, Bart Sorgedrager
'Eenige Wakkere Jongens'. Nederlandse oorlogsvliegers in de Britse luchtstrijdkrachten 1940-1945 - Erwin van Loo
Het wapen der militaire luchtvaart in de Engelse periode 1940-1945. Uit de serie Geschiedenis van de Koninklijke Luchtmacht, hoofddeel 1, deel 3 - Kolonel J. Tammes
Operations Record Book 322 squadron, August 1943, National Archives, London