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. 

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 in service of the Royal Navy heading towards West-Africa. On January 11, 1943, the Squadron started its operational duties out of Ikeja, Nigeria with only three P-40s and two T-6 Harvards.

Since the Germans were too occupied by the Allied troops in Northern-Africa, 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.

 

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. In August of the same year, 349 moved again, this time to RAF Digby, where it was declared operational. It's role? Executing low level sweeps and bomber escorts for the RAF Bomber Command during their raids over France.

 

In early 1944, No. 349 Belgian Squadron started training as a fighter-bomber unit, executing dozens of missions in that particular role over occupied Europe.