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63 Operational Training Unit, Honiley
If a member of your family was at Honiley, please can you contact us if you have any photographs, anecdotes, a log book or paperwork? We aim to build an archive of 63 OTU that will become a resource for families and researchers alike, by copying original material, particularly log books and photographs. Thank you.

Link to Personnel of 63 Operational Training Unit

9 Group had operated the Honiley sector since August 1940. Enemy aircraft seldom operated over the Midlands in 1943 and in May, 96 Squadron's Beaufighters left, leaving the Honiley sector un-defended. 9 Group took over all of Fighter Command's Operational Training Units instead.  It had already incorporated 51 OTU at Cranfield and 62 OTU at Ouston in April 1943. The need for night fighter crews had increased since the squadrons were flying intruder operations over the continent more frequently. 60 OTU reformed at High Ercall with Mosquitoes in May 1943, to train crews for intruder units. In August, 60 OTU had a detachment at Honiley. Presumably the demand was greater than could be met by 60 OTU alone and a further new unit was needed. As it was to be equipped with Beaufighters, which were being phased out of the UK-based squadrons, it may have been intended to supply the Beaufighter squadrons in the Mediterranean from its inception. Personnel started gathering at Honiley in August 1943 and 63 Operational Training Unit opened officially on 7 September. It became the fourth for training night fighter crews. 51 OTU and 54 at Charterhall had performed the role since July 1941 and late 1940 respectively.

63 OTU was established with 25 obsolete Merlin engine Beaufighter IIs, 8 dual control Beauforts, a flight of 10 Wellington XI and XVII flying classrooms equipped with radar and sundry other aircraft.  The unit was split into two squadrons. 1 Squadron was probably the conversion unit, to qualify the crews on the Beaufighter and 2 Squadron was the air firing unit. From 16 October 1943, 2 Squadron of 63 OTU operated from Chedworth in 60/63 OTU Combined Gunnery School. This was equipped with Beaufighters and Mosquitos. The air firing may have taken place over the Severn estuary. The remnants of 2 Squadron joined 1 Squadron at Honiley on 25 October.

The first course started on 7 September 1943.  It was scheduled to end on 16 November, but was extended for 2 weeks due to bad weather. The unit was intended to have a 12 week course, an intake of 20 crews every 4 weeks, an output of 17 crews every 4 weeks and a population of 60 crews (ref. Ken Delve 'Fighter Command, 1936-68: an operational & historical record'). Some of the crews from the first course were posted to night fighter squadrons in the UK but, as fewer than 17 have been identified, it seems likely that the balance went abroad. In common with bomber OTUs in the Midlands, the next course actually started 2 weeks after the first. This was scheduled to end on 28 December, but was also extended as the weather curtailed flying. In December, after one crew had been killed in a crash, the unit recorded that the course would provide 9 crews for overseas.

Numbers 3 and 4 courses began in October and December 1943, but needs were changing rapidly and on 6 February the unit was instructed to stop training the crews for night fighters.  Instead they were to switch to light bomber training for 2 Group, as soon as syllabuses and instructors arrived. On 25 January three of the Wellingtons went to RAF Valley to assist the training of 125 Squadron with the radar in Mosquito HJ867, newly arrived from 410 Squadron (ref. 125 Sqn ORB). On 12 February a 'Mk X conversion flight' arrived from Fairwood Common. This was probably another flight using Wellington flying classrooms fitted with the new Mk X Airborne Interception radar. What the trainees thought about being trained in equipment they wouldn't encounter in light bombers isn't recorded. The switch may not have happened before the unit closed on 21 March and it seems the trainees remained at Honiley for a month before being posted to 13 OTU at Bicester. This was already training crews for 2 Group using Bostons, Mitchells and Mosquitos. The newly trained crews then moved to squadrons in the 2nd Tactical Air Force, flying low-level daylight raids over France and Holland.

In a final role-change, 63 OTU ran a single engine night conversion course for Hurricane pilots. The Hurricane was obsolete as a fighter by 1944, but the Hurricane IV was being used for ground-attack, particularly with rockets. 184 Squadron was still using the Hurricane IV for cross-channel anti-shipping and anti-tank operations but was already re-equipping with the Typhoon and its last Hurricanes left in March 1944. The only operational unit left in Europe was 6 Squadron in Italy. The Hurricane OTUs in the UK had already disbanded or converted to Typhoons, so this course may have been an after-thought to supply 6 Squadron with replacement crews. In May the squadron noted no replacements were forthcoming and 5 METS at Shallufa in Egypt would need to train new ones, then within days newly trained pilots started to arrive anyway. 5 officers and 15 Sergeants started the night conversion course at Honiley on 9 February 1944. Within a month, five of them had been killed in crashes. Three of the Hurricanes dived into the ground at night, two having attempted to pull out with insufficient height. The unit's Hurricanes were all Mk Is, many having flown in the Battle of Britain. The new Hurricane pilots didn't go to 516 Squadron, which was using Hurricanes for Commando exercises in Scotland, so any who remained in the UK may have gone to the small anti-aircraft co-operation squadrons dotted around the country, or to 3 Tactical Exercise Unit. 3 TEU formed at Annan on 21 March 1944 to train ground attack pilots and its C squadron was detached to Honiley on 10 May. It was equipped with Hurricane Is and IVs, plus Typhoons. The whole unit moved to Honiley on 13 June and by the time it left for Aston Down a month later, it had given up most of its Hurricanes and become a Typhoon and Mustang conversion unit.


Link to Personnel of 63 Operational Training Unit

Airfield
Dates
Comment
Honiley, Warks
7 September 1943 to 21 March 1944
Parent base
Chedworth, Gloucs
19 October 1943 to February 1944
60/ 63 OTU Combined Gunnery School

Aircraft fuselage code HI-.  Please help us find any photographs taken at 63 OTU Honiley, or of its aircraft and aircrew.

Type
Aircraft used at 63 OTU
Bristol Beaufighter II
R2279 R2304 R2307 R2310 R2320 R2330 R2346 R2373 R2380 R2384 R2392 R2394 R2397 R2340 R2453 R2461 T3024 T3027 T3036 T3047 T3088 T3103 T3104 T3146 T3160 T3169 T3179 T3366 T3376 T3379 T3383 T3387 T3411 T3415 T3416 T3430 V8138 V8139 V8141 V8146 V8168 V8184 V8194 V8207 V8213
Bristol Beaufort (dual control)
N1110 JM548 JM549 JM554 JM587 JM590 LR886 LR887 LR891 LR892
Bristol Blenheim V (dual control)
AZ987 BA156
Hawker Hurricane I
L1664 L2021 N2555 P3026 P3776 P5187 V6642 V6680 V6741 V7105 V7287 V7624 W9182 W9209 Z4050 Z4705 Z4939 AF970 AG101 AG236
Vickers Wellington XI XVII
MP523 MP525 MP529 MP533 MP535 MP546 MP562


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