349 during the Second World War
Since May 1940, the Belgian government was in exile in London. By the end of the year, while the Second World War was raging across the European continent, the Belgian politicians were concerned about a possible German invasion in Belgian-Congo, now Democratic Republic of Congo.
The colony was a major source of resources and of vital importance to the Allied war effort. In the interest of defending those resources, the Belgian authorities approached their British allies. Their goal? Create one or more Belgian aviation units that would be able to protect Belgian and Allied interests in Africa. After a few months of debating, the British Air Ministry accepted the Belgian demands and provided Belgium with no less than twenty-four Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk Mk.1s.
Jan 1943 Ikeja, Nigeria
On November 10, 1942, No. 349 (Belgian) Squadron was officially founded as a Belgian unit within the British Royal Air Force. Shortly thereafter, all personnel and material embarked a civilian ship (S.S. Amstelkerk) in service of the Royal Navy heading towards West-Africa. After a long journey where they had been chased by German Submarines and tormented by heavy storms, the Squadron finally set foot on Lagos.
Chapter from the 1st Squadron report written by CO Malengreau:
After a long voyage, we arrived at destination at last. General impression was that we had been extraordinarily lucky, after having evaded incessant attacks by German submarines, we finally found ourselves on our own, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, fighting one of the worst storms the vessel had ever endured. This cost us two Tomahawks , even before they ever took the air. The crates containing the planes were literally blown over board like wisps of straw, notwithstanding the strong mooring lines.
On January 11, 1943, the Squadron started its operational duties out of Ikeja, Nigeria with only five P-40s and two T-6 Harvards.
The beginning was hard because of the poor serviceability of the P40 Tomahawks. Also the tropical climate caused serious health problems such as Malaria to ground and air crew .
Nevertheless, the pilots of No. 349 (Belgian) Squadron didn't see a lot of action during their time in Ikeja. While the Squadron was conceived for local defense duties over Belgian Congo, they didn't become operational as such, ferrying aircraft to and from the Middle-East.
Only a few months after their arrival, in May 1943, after German and Italian forces in Africa were forced to surrender, 349's job in Africa was finished and the Squadron was disbanded and its personnel was transferred back to the UK.
Jun 1943 Wittering/Kingscliffe, United Kingdom
Not even a month later, on June 5, 1943, the Squadron was reformed at RAF Wittering, where it received its first Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V.
Flight Lieutenant I.G. Du Monceau de Bergendal D.F.C. was appointed Officer Commanding of the the newly reformed Squadron. The squadron had accommodations at Collyweston and flew from Kingscliffe. By August the Squadron received the last Spitfire V a/b.
Aug 1943 Wellingore / Digby, United Kingdom
Despite the short stay in Wellingore, it is the place from which 349 Squadron flew its first operational flight, even if it was only a defensive mission. After only two weeks 349 Squadron was ordered to move to Digby. At Digby 349 Squadron stayed 2 weeks as well and kept flying defensive missions.
Aug 1943 Acklington, United Kingdom
Arrived at Acklington the 349 Squadron had to change accommodations for the third time in one month. The 27th Aug 349 Squadron had its first scramble. It was a rather uneventful one, the enemy aircraft turned out to be a MOSQUITO.