RAF No 352 (Jugoslav) Squadron

RAF No 352 (Jugoslav) Squadron

No. 352 Squadron RAF was a Yugoslav-manned fighter-bomber squadron of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The squadron was also known as First NOVJ Squadron.

History

Formed at Benina, Libya on 22 April 1944, this squadron was the first Yugoslav-manned fighter unit to be formed in the Mediterranean. Equipped with Hurricanes initially, it received Supermarine Spitfires in June and in August moved to Italy to join the No.281 Wing. The squadron provided escort for fighter-bomber squadrons and engaged in ground attack missions for the rest of the war, using the island of Vis as an advanced base until 1 January 1945, when the squadron's air echelon became permanently based there.

The squadron was organized by the war formation prescribed for RAF mobile fighter squadrons, having two flights with 8 Supermarine Spitfires per flight. Flying and technical staff composed of personnel from the Royal Yugoslav Air Force moved to NOVJ, and staff from the First Air Base NOVJ.

The squadron carried out its first operational mission on the 18th August, 1944.

The first squadron commander was Captain Mileta Protić, Political commissar was Franjo Kluz, commander of "A" flight was Captain Ratko Jovanović, and commander of "B" flight was Captain Arkadije Popov. Sadly, all three of these men had been killed by the end of the year: a suitable indicator of the intensity of the fighting in the ground-support operations at the time. Protić and Popov are commemorated on the CWGC memorial in Malta, and Jovanovic in the CWGC cemetery at Belgrade.

Hinko Šoić took over as Squadron Commander and the new Flight commanders were, respectively, Branko Kraus and Đuro Ivanšević. Ivanšević survived the war and became the Regimental Commander of the short-lived 1st Fighter Regiment, the amalgamation of the two RAF-trained squadrons.

During the war, 27 pilots became casualties, of whom 10 were killed, including the Squadron Commander and both Flight Commanders, and Franjo Kluz, first partisan pilot and national hero of Yugoslavia.

Through the nine months of the war, No. 352 Squadron RAF carried out 367 combat operations with 1210 take offs. These tasks include supporting troops in Yugoslavia, fighter protection and reconnaissance. The squadron used Canne, Vis and Zemunik airbases.

Headquarters remained in Italy until it was moved to the Yugoslav mainland to join its air echelon in April 1945 and the squadron disbanded from the RAF on 16 May 1945. On 18 May 1945, together with No. 351 Squadron it formed 1st Fighter Regiment of SFR Yugoslav Air Force.

Aircraft operated

Aircraft operated
From To Aircraft Variant
April 1944 June 1944 Hawker Hurricane IIC
June 1944 August 1944 Supermarine Spitfire VB
June 1944 June 1945 Supermarine Spitfire VC Trop
  June 1945 Supermarine Spitfire IX

RAF No 352 (Jugoslav) Squadron

No Badge Authorised

This was the first Yugoslav unit to be formed, taking place on 22 April 1944 at Benina in Libya. It was initially equipped with Hurricane IICs but in June, Spitfires began to arrive and the Hurricanes had bee totally replaced by July.

It moved across the Mediterranean in August joining No 281 Wing in Italy, where it provided fighter escort to its fellow Yugoslav squadron, No 351 as well as carrying out its own ground attack operations. The squadron used an advanced operating base on the island of Vis and from January 1945, it moved there as a complete unit, although the squadron HQ remained in Italy.

On 12 April the squadron joined No 351 at Prkos on the Yugoslav coast, where it disbanded on 15 June 1945.

Squadron Codes used: - - None Carried

At the Teheran Conference, November 28 to December 1, 1943, the USA joined the UK and USSR in recognizing the Narodno Oslobodilac(ka Vojska Jugoslavije - NOVJ as an equal member of the anti-Axis coalition. The Allies decided to offer NOVJ military as well as humanitary aid, by providing for the wounded and for the large-scale exodus of the civilian population from the Dalmatian coastal area. The United Kingdom was, geographically, the nearest of the three forces and also the first Allied power with the most detailed knowledge of the actual events in the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It was aware of NOVJ being the only force in the country that was really fighting the Axis. Most of the merit for what happened in Teheran is due to Sir Winston Churchill. Even before the conference, leaving political considerations aside, the great man decided to support militarily all forces fighting the Germans. He knew with certainity about what force there where in Yugoslavia. The man in his personal confidence Brigadier (later Sir) Fitzroy MacLean (with previous commando experience in Iran and North Africa), sat near the Vrhovni štab (SHQ) NOVJ and was a key man in the negotiation of the United Kingdom's military aid to NOVJ. That aid included the formation of Air Force units to meet NOVJs needs.

All the pilots, observers, mechanics and other aeroplane experts were withdrawn from NOVJ units and assembled at the Air base of the Glavni štab Hrvatske (GHQ of Croatia) on Krbavsko polje, near Udbina, and at the SHQ Air base at Livno. A large number of pilots and other air personnel deserted the NDH AF and joined the NOVJ. All of them reached Italy via Vis island, being initially at a base near Bari. The group grew in number due to the influx of Istrian Slovenes, themselves former Italian military captured by the British. The airmen then sailed from Italy to Alexandria, transferring to Benghazi, before being based on the Beninah desert airfield in the vicinity of the town. Here the group increased it's size considerably after being joined by 2nd (Yugoslav) Squadron personnel, as well as some USAAF airmen of Yugoslav descent. In the event, there were more pilots and other staff than where needed to man the two initial squadrons that the R.A.F. was to provide.

The training of pilots and technical personnel for two squadrons, No 352 (Fighter-Bomber) with Spitfire Mk V C and No 351 (Fighter-Bomber) with Hurricane Mk IV RP (Rocket Projectile), began immediately. The crews had a full R.A.F. training. The pilots began training with the Harvard Mk II B, advancing to the Hurricane Mk II C, with No 352 Sqn. pilots continuing on the Spitfire Mk V C. No 352 Squadron pilots main training was in air fighting, ground attack being considered of secondary importance. The armament of a Spitfire Mk V C consisted of four .303 (7,7 mm) machine guns and two 20 mm cannons, with provision for two 250 lb (113 kg) bombs. The Spitfire (of any variant) was a "royal falcon" for air combat, but no more than a very vulnerable "hen" in the ground-strafing role. Hurricane Mk IV RP was vice versa - easy prey for any modern fighter, but, due to its eight 11,3 kg or 27,2 kg rockets, a proper "hawk" for ground attack. Furthermore, Hurricane could dodge Flak the moment it released its rockets, whilst the Spitfire had to fly right over the target to release it's bombs.

This book describes the hard warpath of No 352 (Y) Squadron R.A.F. Suffice it to say that the unit lost its Squadron Leader, four Flight Lieutenants and almost a third of its pilots in a very short time. These losses were much above the R.A.F. or B.A.F. average and some words of explanation might be in order for a reader of today. No 352 was basically a fighter squadron, its training concentrated on air combat. Ground attack was of secondary importance, for the Spitfire was not well suited in that role. Unfortunately for its pilots, the time of "dogfighting" was over. German fighter pilots were far from being cowards, but they were ordered to avoid a dogfight and to attack transport aircraft and, if possible, unescorted bombers. In an attempt to escape, a Henschel "recce" aircraft, that the No 352 Squadron pilots happened to spot and strafe, hit a hillside and burned. In another case a Focke Wulf FW 190, in the Metlika area, dived immediately, and all that No 352's pilots were able to do was to send a farewell burst after it, the German fighter outdiving the Spitfire every time.

In the event, it happened that the Spitfires had a period of very intensive ground attack missions before the Hurricanes became operational. The most difficult task was strafing retreating German columns in the hills, where they could only be hit from a particular direction. The only way to score a hit with bombs or gunfire was to enter the zone of fire of the very efficient German AAA. German 20 mm four-barrelled guns with experienced crews were very dangerous. Their only weak spot was that they were towed rather than being mounted on a vehicle. One or at the most two attacks were possible before the Flak got into action. The third and subsequent attacks were extremely risky and this explains the unusually high losses of No 352 Squadron. Under such circumstances, a British or Australian Flight of four Spitfires would, for example, strafe a column once and in rare cases twice. If that resulted in six or seven out of ten German trucks aflame, and three or four intact, the pilots would say "Goodbye, see you next day". They knew that the third and fourth run would be extremely dangerous, for unless the Flak was destroyed, they would meet with very accurate fire.

Unlike that, our pilots would not be satisfied with four trucks missed, and they would press home the third and fourth run, until all the trucks were burning. At the same time the Flak fire would get very accurate. This example is but an illustration why their losses were high. Today, one might raise the question of our pilots training, and ask were they aware of the danger at all. They did ask, they were aware, and they deliberately faced the danger. They set their own code and rules of behaviour. A lot was expected of them, and they strived to achieve more than the Spitfire was fit for in such a unsuitable role. With the arrival of the Hurricanes, with their eight rockets, attacks upon German columns became much more successful. Most important of all, the moment it released its rockets, the Hurricane was free to manouvre instantly to avoid Flak fire. At that time Spitfires flew as cover for the Hurricanes, or attacked other targets, and their losses dropped markedly.

Technical and other services, with their round-the-clock duty posts, also did their share in enabling No 352 Squadron to complete so many combat flights. Wheels and tyres were all too easily damaged on tarmac-covered airfields, if they came too close to the edge of the runway. The aircraft very often got damaged in combat and had to be repaired and maintained regularly. Despite all the problems, the number of serviceable aircraft was high at all times. It is of interest that 75% of the personnel of the R.A.F's first NOVJ unit's, No 352 (Y) Fighter-Bomber Squadron, were Croats and coastal Slovenes. This is today, of course, merely statistical data of history. That said, all the pilots demonstrated impressive courage in battle, while all other staff did their duties with great dedication.

General-pukovnik (ret.)
Zlatko Rendulić Ph.D.

  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn B JK808 Yugoslavia 1944 00
  • Spitfire MkIX RAF 352Sqn MK444 Yugoslavia 1945 00
  • Spitfire MkIX RAF 352Sqn MK444 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01-02
  • Spitfire MkIX RAF 352Sqn W MK133 forced landed Yugoslavia Apr 1945 01
  • Spitfire MkVc RAF 352Sqn A ES197 Mileta Protic Italy Aug 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn B JK808 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn B JL235 Yugoslavia 1944 0A
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn B JL235 Yugoslavia 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn C JK608 JK808 with G N Canne Italy 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn C JK608 Yugoslavia 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn D BR130 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 00
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn D BR130 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn D BR130 Yugoslavia Oct 1944 01-03
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn E MH583 Yugoslavia Oct 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn F EP665 Yugoslavia Oct 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn F JK764 Yugoslavia 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn G EP886 Yugoslavia 1944 0A
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn G MH592 Hinko Sonic Yugoslavia 1944 01-06
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn G MH592 Yugoslavia 1944 0A
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn G MH592 Yugoslavia 1944 0B
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn J JG948 Yugoslavia 1944 00
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn J JG948 Yugoslavia 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn J MA346 Yugoslavia Mar 1945
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn J MA346 Yugoslavia Mar 1945
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn J MA346 Yugoslavia Mar 1945
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn K EP439 Yugoslavia 1944 0A
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn L EF702 Yugoslavia 1944 01-02
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn L JG932 Yugoslavia 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn L JK764 Yugoslavia 1944 01-02
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn M JK544 Yugoslavia Aug 1944 00
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn M JK544 Yugoslavia Aug 1944 01-02
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn O JG836 Yugoslavia 1944 0A
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn O JK314 Yugoslavia 1945 01-02
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn P JL168 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn P Yugoslavia Dec 1944 01-03
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn R JK284 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn R JK868 Yugoslavia Mar 1945 01-02
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn X ES257 Canne Italy 1944 00
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn X ES257 Canne Italy 1944 01
  • Spitfire MkVc Trop RAF 352Sqn Yugoslavia 1944 01

Book References:
RAF No 352 (Jugoslav) Squadron by Tino Jelavic

 

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This webpage was updated 25th January 2019